Author's Note: So this is a sort of dialogue story. It's Merry talking first, then Pippin. You'll get the hang of it eventually. I had it formatted with the one bloke on the one side of the page and the other bloke on the other, but it didn't carry over. Enjoy, review, et cetera, et cetera. Oh, and if my hobbit-calendar math is incorrect, can someone please let me know?

Disclaimer: I do not own Merry or Pippin. They own me. They hide me in a closet and force me to write fic about them. Save me!

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Trees

It was a sunny day.

No it wasn't! It was overcast!

Who's telling the story here?

Me.

You little – no you're not! I am! You said!

I lied.

Stop laughing, you! Shut up laughing!

I like laughing!

What – fine. All right, so it was a sunny day –

It was overcast –

There was some sun!

But it was still –

All right! All right! All right! It was a slightly cloudy day with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, all right? It was a perfectly normal day! The grass was green, the sky was blue, the trees were trees, okay?

Er…

What?

The grass was brown… we'd been having a drought…

The grass was green, Pippin. It was a Saturday, and the grass was green.

Close enough.

Right. Right? Okay. So it was a Saturday in – in –

Year 1410 of the Shire.

Oh, right. And you were a pipsqueak.

Hey, you weren't a grizzled elder yourself.

That's irrelevant. It was a sunny – a slightly sunny Saturday, and it was your 20th birthday. And you were mad, because –

I don't think you should tell this part yet.

Why?

You already know it. You can wait.

Well… it was your 20th birthday, that was all I knew about you at the time, and – and you stormed off to a grove of trees right near the mill.

It was a really nice grove, too. Wasn't it?

It was. It was beautiful. The trees were willows and something else, something I couldn't identify – they may have been maples or oaks, but I couldn't tell you – but they were tall and strong and beautiful, with solid trunks and thick, stout branches – they were perfect for climbing, weren't they?

They were, weren't they? And the ground was cool in their shade, and the grass was soft and healthy and such a beautiful green, just like the leaves on the trees.

I thought you said the grass was brown!

No, but don't you remember? You have to remember, Merry. This was a special place. It was cool and green and beautiful when everywhere outside this little space was scorched and brown and broken. And all the little birds in those trees were asleep, and they had such expressions of happiness on their little faces.

How did you see the birds?

You're such an ass. I was in the tree. The biggest one, remember?

Oh – oh, I remember now, Pippin! It was so big, and such a good tree! It was a friendly tree! It held you like it was your mother. Do you remember, Pip?

I remember. Oh, I was so angry, I was boiling up inside. I don't think I even remembered why I was so angry at that point, but I couldn't see straight. I just remembered… everything, and I couldn't escape any other way, so I ran around the lake, so blinded by my anger and my tears –

You kept hitting bushes.

– and finally I saw this tree, and I looked up at it, and it was so beautiful and strong, and I began to climb it before I knew what I was doing. I reached the middle of the tree, where the leaves were thickest, and I started to cry. I just sat up there, crying for ages. I don't know how long. But no one heard me! That's when I started to wonder about those trees.

I followed you, though.

I know you did. Probably following the trail of toppled bushes, hmm?

Leave off, Pippin, I'd been following you since you left your father's house. You had such a hate-filled face on, and I… wanted to know if I could help. So I followed you around the lake, going more slowly than you, but watching you the whole way. I watched you go into that grove of trees, and I watched you climb that tree, and then I heard you crying. You were so loud, I wondered why no one went over to you or even seemed to notice your noise.

Only you heard me?

Only me, it seemed. So I went into the grove and sat on the grassy carpet, and I let you cry yourself dry. And then, once you'd quieted down, I said –

I remember. You said, "You okay, Peregrin?" Just like that: "Are you okay?"

And you didn't say anything. You just shook your head really hard, back and forth, and your hair was shaking, like some sort of maddened rat was stuck on your head, and I thought your head was going to fall off.

And you just watched me, and you smiled at me, and you said, "Can you come down just for a minute, Pippin?" You'd never called me Pippin before. You looked so worried and sincere, and so I forced a smile and started to climb down the tree –

-- you were trying to go fast --

-- and then I slipped --

-- and you fell --

-- and you caught me. I would've just fallen a few feet, I would've been fine, but you still caught me. No one else would have done that.

And you were so light, Pippin. You were like a little twig, you were so skinny and so light. I felt like I could throw you up in the air and you'd never ever come down.

And you caught me so fast. You caught me right before I hit the ground – my feet were just a thumb's width from the ground – and you were holding me so tight to you. I could smell your hair. It smelled like hazelnut. I remember. And I remember feeling so happy that someone was worried about me. I didn't really know you –

-- nor I you --

-- but you were concerned for my safety. It was new for me. And then you said, "Are you safe? Did you break anything?" And I said, "Yes. Thank you. I'm safe. I'm fine."

And your eyes – your eyes were so wide, Pippin, it was almost funny. And I told you it was no problem, and I made you sit down next to where the willow trees draped into the lake.

I remember they made a curtain, almost like a veil, and still no one was watching us or even looking in our direction, and it almost seemed as if, from their view, the trees didn't exist, as if instead there was just a blank space of dead grass by the lake, like any other.

And you asked me, "Why can't anyone see us?" and then, "Do you think it's these trees? Do you think there's something in here?" You looked so genuine and worried, I felt that I had to take you seriously or you would break. So I looked around, and thought, and then I said, "No, I don't think these trees are normal. I think we're hidden completely from everyone. I don't think anyone even knows about this place anymore."

And I looked at you, and your hair was blowing in the breeze, and I felt cold suddenly, and I asked you, "Do you think anyone ever did know about it?" And you looked at me and smiled again, and you said, "Who knows? It's ours now!"

And you looked at me, with your mouth open just a little bit, and then you smiled and brushed the tears out of your eyes and said, "You mean ours like yours and mine?"

And you smiled at me even wider and said, "Of course I do, you bloody idiot! I'm not giving a secret like this away, and I certainly hope you won't!" And I laughed and watched you from under my hair and I promised myself that I would never ever ever give it away.

I had brought a loaf of bread in a bag, and I pulled it out then, tore it in half, and gave you the bigger piece. You ate that so fast –

I remember. I was so hungry. I'd left the house before lunchtime.

And I watched you eat. You were so funny to watch! Later you said you hadn't meant to be funny, but you ate really loudly! I couldn't help but laugh, and then I couldn't stop laughing. Then when you saw I was laughing, you began to act such a clown for me – climbing the tree like a squirrel, throwing things down onto my head until I was just a pile of seeds and leaves, eating even more voraciously, burping like a pig. You just wouldn't stop.

I didn't know I was funny. It was nice to make someone laugh.

And when you finally came down, I had crawled out of the leaves and made them into a little couch. I was sitting on it and dipping my feet in the water. You crawled up onto the leaf pile and asked me, "How far do you think we can go without being seen?" And I grinned at you and said, "Why don't you check?" and knocked you into the lake.

That was mean. It was dark in there, and I couldn't swim very well.

Which I noticed immediately, since you sunk like a rock. I didn't think it was that deep where we were, but I guess I didn't measure properly. I was so angry about that, Pippin. It was so awful. I jumped in right after you and dragged you out, and I could just barely stand up – since you were shorter than me, you had no chance. I threw you onto the leaves and tried to open your eyes, but you were too quick for me –

I opened my eyes, glared at you, and smacked you as hard as I could.

That turned out to be pretty hard. It hurt. Then you took your shirt off and threw it at me, hollering, "What in the Shire was that, you fool?" and other nice things. You were soaking wet, of course; and you continued to hit me. The only safe place I could think of was in the lake, so in I went, and it was cold.

And I was still standing on the bank, screaming at you. Once you had gotten far enough out that I couldn't throw anything at you, you trod water and shouted back, "I'm sorry! I thought you could swim!" And I stared at you, and you stared at me, and we both burst into laughter. I rolled around in the leaf pile like I was diseased, and you lay on your back in the water and kicked, sending up a wall of water nearly as tall as me. I never did figure out what was so funny.

Neither did I, but does that really matter?

I don't really think so.

I don't either. But we laughed anyway, until we couldn't breathe. We started to calm down at one point, and then I said, gasping, "I think I wet the lake!" and we started up again. It took ages for us to calm down, didn't it, Pippin?

Absolute ages. But once we did, we were both completely exhausted. You paddled out to where the willow branches touched the water, making the veil – it was about 15 feet from the bank. You looked around and said, "I don't think anyone heard us laughing, which is something. D'you think this place is magic?" and I said, "Dunno. Can a place be magic, Meriadoc?"

And I swam slowly back to the water's edge and climbed out onto the bank, taking my shirt off as well and throwing it into the shallow water. I plopped down next to you on the leaves and looked at you and adopted a serious expression and said, "Two things. First off, I don't think this place is magic, or at least not ordinary magic, but it's got power. I can feel it. Secondly," and here I smiled at you and poked at your cheek, "my name is Merry."

I remember.

Your face went pink and you looked at your lap and smiled a little to yourself, and I remember your hair fell over your face, like a soft auburn curtain, like a work of art… it made such sense to me.

And then I remember you lay back on the leaf bed and asked me, "So, Pippin Took… how did you get to this place?" And I looked at the willow branches trailing in the lake, and the world outside, and laughed a little. "Luck, I suppose, and the grace of my father." You must have noticed the bitterness in my voice, because you looked up, concerned, and said, "Your father?" And my eyes began to tear again, and my heart clenched, and I bent over and clutched a leaf in my fist until it crumbled into dust. You looked scared. You whispered, "You don't have to tell me, Pippin."

"Yes, I do," you said. "Yes, I do." You said that over and over again. You looked so broken and tired, I didn't want to push you, but I didn't have to – you told me everything that he'd done to you, everywhere he'd hurt you. You told me about your birthdays, and how he'd do something new each year, and how this time you had to leave, you just had to, no matter what came of it, you just couldn't take it anymore. And you began to cry, and soon I was crying with you, and I reached out to you, and you collapsed into my arms like a doll with its strings cut.

And you held me as my body was wracked with sobs, holding me still, holding me close, and I could feel the beating of your heart and the tenseness of your muscles, holding me softly as a baby, and it just made me cry more, because no one had ever held me like that before. It took me a long time to realize that you were crying as well, and once I had, I focused on your own tremors and the fact that you were trying to control yourself for me, and that quieted my own sobs. I lifted my head at last, with salty tears flowing down my face, stinging me where I'd scraped against the tree, and you looked at me with such sorrow in your eyes. And I tried to smile, and you tried to smile back at me, and slowly… slowly… you extended your finger to wipe my tears away from my eyes.

My heart sped up in my chest, and I could feel your own heart racing, thumping close to me, pressed right up against me, and you gave me a real smile, and you looked at me with your eyes – those eyes that reflected the water and the sky so perfectly – and slowly… slowly… you lifted your hand and put it to my cheek, and your hand was so soft…

Your skin was still wet, from the lake and from your tears, and I moved your hair away from your face and smiled as widely as I'd ever smiled before, and I put my other hand on your neck, and you half-closed your eyes and leaned your head sideways to rest on my hand, and then slowly… slowly… you moved your own hand and put it to my cheek.

Your face was as soft as your hands on me, and I put my other hand on your forehead and brushed your hair back from your pale, pale face. And my heart was going even faster than before, and I could feel yours about to burst out of your chest, and so I ended it – you ended it – we both ended it at the same time –

I moved forward –

-- I moved forward --

--you moved forward –

-- you moved forward --

-- and everything was slow, suddenly, everything, moving like molasses, and I was watching your mouth, curved just a little bit upward into a soft smile --

-- and my heart slowed down with the world, and suddenly everything was calm, and everyone outside the grove was scurrying around compared with us, and still no one could see us, and I was watching your mouth, so solemn and sweet --

-- and then we met --

-- and you held me even more tightly than before, hard and gentle at the same time --

-- and there was no one else in the world but us. We were the only living beings in Middle-Earth at that moment. Time stopped, and we were the kings, you and me, and we needn't listen to anyone else --

-- and I was so happy, so happy I thought I'd burst --

-- and I let my heart stop for you, I kissed you on the mouth and the face and the eyes and held you close and whispered to you…

… I remember that… you said…

…"This"…

…"is"…

…"our"…

…"place."

"This is our place. Forever and ever, Merry. Don't ever tell!"

… and my heart slowed down, and you put your head on my shoulder, and I whispered in your ear, "I won't tell. I promise."