Disclaimer: Middle-Earth and everything in it belongs to Tolkien, I just get to visit from time to time.

1430 S.R.

"Pippin, it's over. Please come inside now," Merry touched him on the arm lightly, just enough to get his attention.

"Not...not just yet, Merry. I'd like to stay with her a little longer," Pippin replied, his voice shaking ever so slightly.

Merry gave him a measuring look, then sighed and nodded. "All right, Pip. But just for a few minutes." Knowing that Pippin needed a bit of privacy, he withdrew to the shelter of a clump of trees, trying to keep dry as he waited for his cousin to make his final farewells.

He watched Pippin bend over the ugly hole in the ground, seemingly oblivious to the rain that was threatening to soak him even through the thick, oiled cloak he wore. For one hideous moment, Merry thought Pippin intended to throw himself in the hole, and prepared to dash out to the grave to prevent his grieving cousin from doing anything foolish.

It wasn't necessary, however. In a short time, Pippin straightened and turned, eyes cast down, and began the long trudge from the graveyard back to the warmth of the Smials. His own heart aching fit to break, Merry moved to his side, matching his pace to Pippin's.

The fever had swept through the Smials like a fire, burning everything in its path. Pippin had fallen ill first and Diamond had fought tooth and nail alongside the healer to keep her husband alive through days of delirium and pain. It was only after Pippin began to recover that she fell ill herself. Weakened by the long vigil, she had succumbed to the fever quickly. Pippin, still very weak from his own illness, got up from his sickbed only just in time to say goodbye to his wife.

It had been a full week before the healer judged Pippin recovered enough to attend his wife's funeral. Looking at Pippin now, Merry was concerned that the healer, Adagar Brockhouse, had been premature in his declaration that Pippin was strong enough for this. His cousin's face was white as a sheet and his hands were shaking, but he managed to walk the distance back to the Smials on his own. He even managed to hold himself together long enough to spend a few minutes in the large reception room, listening to everyone's condolences and thanking them for coming.

When he noticed Pippin beginning to weave on his feet, however, Merry decided it was time to intervene. He caught Uncle Paladin's eye, and they moved in together, Merry slipping an arm around Pippin's shoulder to lead him away, and Paladin distracting the well-meaning but tactless Aunt who had just tut-tutted over the fragile constitution of those poor North-Tooks.

"Come, Pip, let's get you back to bed," Merry murmured as he maneuvered the grief-stricken hobbit down the hall and into his private quarters.

"Where's Faramir?" Pippin asked in a dazed voice. "He hasn't been fed, he'll be hungry."

"Faramir is sleeping," Merry replied. "Pervinca fed him and got him tucked in all nice and snug. Now we need to do the same for you."

Pippin did not resist as Merry stripped him of his wet clothing and pulled a warm, dry nightshirt over his head, but he did not help, either. Taking him by the shoulders, Merry led him to the bed and pushed him down until he was sitting on the mattress.

"Swing your feet up, here, Pippin and we'll get you settled in." This accomplished, Merry turned to the nightstand, taking a cup and preparing the tonic left by Adagar.

Placing the cup in Pippin's hands, Merry spoke gently, "Here you go, Pip. Dag said this will help you rest. Drink it up, now, and then try to sleep."

"I always thought we'd grow old together," Pippin mumbled, as much to himself as to Merry. "We were supposed to grow old together. That was the plan. We had a plan." He turned to Merry, tears on his cheeks and a look of pure puzzlement on his face. "We had a plan," he repeated, as if that could somehow change the course of past events. He said no more then, drinking the tonic Merry had handed him and letting Merry help him slide down in the bed. Within minutes, sleep had claimed him.

Merry sat at his side for a long while, thoughts captured by that plaintive protest, "we had a plan." In his mind, he saw his own beloved Estella, far away in Buckland, awaiting word of her husband and his family. He thought about all the plans he and Estella had, the small son that was waiting for him to come home, the other children they hoped one day to have, the companion he had always assumed would be by his side throughout his life.

"Oh my poor Pip," he breathed, laying his head down on the bed, next to his cousin. He didn't notice the tears that clouded his eyes and dampened the sheet under his cheek. It was a very long time before sleep found him.