The Best of Intentions
From his place at the edge of camp, Aragorn saw that the hobbits were arranged in their usual order: Sam, Frodo, Pippin, and Merry. This careful arrangement had become as much a part of the nightly bedtime routine as the extra blankets always heaped upon Pippin – blankets that, in turn, were kicked off and rearranged as soon as the others were asleep. Tonight was no different than the last, or the ones before, and Aragorn watched with amusement as the familiar scene took place.
Once his companions were snoring lightly, Pippin sat up and regarded the pile of blankets draped over him with clear distaste. Heaving a great sigh, he reorganized them so that the other hobbits were equally covered.
As he was tucking in the last blanket around Frodo, Pippin caught Aragorn watching. The man offered a smile in greeting, a smile which, when returned, seemed forced and did not meet the young hobbit's eyes.
After a moment's hesitation Pippin carefully extracted himself from the nest of blankets and crossed the camp. Climbing upon the rock serving as Aragorn's chair, Pippin took his place beside the man, his feet swinging freely above the ground. "Hullo, Strider."
"Good evening, Pippin," Aragorn replied, glancing down at the hobbit, whose face was uncharacteristically somber. "Are you having trouble sleeping? You need your rest; we have another long day ahead of us tomorrow."
Pippin shrugged a little, and made no verbal reply, a fact that surprised Aragorn, for in the few days he had known the hobbits it had become clear to him that this particular one had the tendency to chatter.
"What troubles you, Pippin?" Aragorn asked. "Is it worry for your cousin?"
"No," Pippin said. "Well, I am worried about Frodo, but it's not only that. It's everyone else's constant worrying over me. You've seen what's been happening with the blankets," he added, clearly affronted.
Aragorn nodded. "They seem to fear you catching a chill. Are you feeling well?" he inquired, concerned.
"Yes," Pippin insisted. "I've never felt better. I haven't been sick in ages."
"Ages?" Aragorn asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Not since last winter," Pippin replied. "Well, last spring, I should say. It was one long illness, actually, and it took some time for me to feel myself again. But I really am quite healthy now!" he declared, his eyes begging Aragorn to believe him.
"I do not doubt it, Pippin," Aragorn said with a smile, though inwardly he decided to keep a closer eye on this hobbit's health.
Pippin grinned, glad that someone finally believed him, though his smile soon faded. "It's more than just the blankets, though - it's everything! We were all bitten by midges, but whose bites did they insist on inspecting? Mine! I must have permanent dents in my back from being poked and prodded so much," he said, sniffing in indignation.
"They watch me all the time, making sure that I don't wander too far or catch a chill," he continued. "I know that Merry has some sort of tonic tucked away in his pack, though he's tried to hide it from me." Pippin sighed heavily. "It really is quite irritating to be so overprotected, especially when it's Frodo who needs all the looking after."
Aragorn fought back a chuckle. "Frodo?"
"It's true," Pippin said, nodding fervently. "Just look at what my poor old cousin has done lately: tried to leave the Shire on a very dangerous mission without his friends, managed to vanish in the middle of the Prancing Pony, and got us mixed up with a Ranger."
They both shared a laugh over this, but it was clear to Aragorn that Pippin was troubled by more than blankets and tonics.
"I have observed the four of you over the past few days," Aragorn said, "and I have discovered one common trait amongst you: a desire to help and protect each other, and always with the best of intentions."
Pippin nodded slowly, his brow furrowed. "Sam looks after Frodo better than anyone and Merry went after the Black Riders in Bree. But I've done nothing yet to help," he replied, his voice dropping to a whisper.
"Help is found in many different forms, and not all of them appear heroic at a first glance," Aragorn said. "You have already aided your cousin more than you know, Pippin."
"How?" he asked, wrinkling his nose.
"With your laughter and jests, and your youth and high spirits," Aragorn replied. "Your wit and teasing goes far in cheering us all. Just today you said that Frodo looked twice the hobbit that he had been," he remembered, smiling a little at the memory of how dismayed Frodo had been to tighten his belt, and how he had brightened at Pippin's comment.
"It doesn't feel like I'm helping Frodo, just by being myself," Pippin protested.
"But that is precisely what your cousin needs: normalcy and a reminder of home at so dangerous a time," Aragorn replied.
Pippin sat in silence for a while, thinking this over. "Sometimes I wonder if I should make light of things, when everything is so strange and frightening," he admitted finally. "But then Merry might laugh at something I say, or Frodo may smile, and I think it must be all right." He glanced up at Aragorn, silently asking his opinion.
"It is," Aragorn agreed. "My task is to see the four of you to safety in Gandalf's stead. I cannot take the time to raise everyone's spirits, so I am thankful that you have taken that duty upon yourself, Pippin. You are less of a burden, and more of a help, than you know."
Pippin smiled gratefully. "I never thought of it that way. I always thought I was just a nuisance and a distraction. Well, I might still be that," he amended with a laugh, "but I feel better now that I know I'm helping Frodo, at least a little."
Aragorn smiled in return. "I'm glad. Now, perhaps, you may get some rest, Master Took. We must continue our march early in the morning, and any sleepy stragglers will be left behind." He directed a menacing look at Pippin, but the hobbit merely laughed as he slipped down from the rock.
"Good night, Strider," he said, "and thank you."
"You're very welcome," Aragorn replied. "Good night."
With a final, grinning glance back, Pippin scampered across the camp and burrowed beneath the blankets, careful not to jostle his cousins as he settled himself between them. For a few moments he fidgeted with his cloak, now serving as his pillow, before lying back and drifting off to sleep.
Standing, Aragorn walked along the edge of the camp and looked out into the wild. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Frodo, Sam and Merry sit up, glance at each other and then at Pippin, before leaning over the sleeping hobbit to have a hurried, animated conversation. After a while they subsided, and lay back down, but not before shaking their heads and smiling fondly at their youngest companion.
Aragorn smiled as well. Of all the travelling companions he had ever had, hobbits were undoubtedly the most interesting, whether it was their intention or not.