Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings. Title of the story was borrowed from The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter IV, page 101 in my edition.

Author's Note: I don't write nearly enough LotR fanfic, so I'm attempting to remedy that problem with some hobbit angst. I always wished that Tolkien had given us more interaction between Frodo and Pippin, hence this bittersweet friendship piece.

To Heal My Heart and Drown My Woe

The Ring is mine.

Those words haunted Frodo in his sleep, echoing through his dreams on dark nights, and he spent many an evening tossing and turning in his bed at Minas Tirith. Perhaps he could forget everything, at least for a little while, if it wasn't for the red, sensitive stump where his tenth finger used to be, and sometimes when he woke from his dreams he could still feel that missing finger, paining him with ghostlike tenacity. Often he tried to flex that finger or make a complete fist with it, only to find that his hand would never be whole again.

Frodo never told anyone, but sometimes he felt just like his damaged hand. Ripped and torn asunder, never to be whole in waking life, in spite of the absence of shadow and the light his companions brought. How delightful they all were, and how concerned they were for his well-being, but even Sam couldn't know how despair haunted Frodo's sleep, reminding him repeatedly of how close he came to failing and dooming them all.

The Ring is mine.

But no, the Ring had been destroyed, despite the phantom burning sensation where his finger once was, as if he could still feel that band of gold resting there. If Gollum hadn't leaped upon him at exactly the right time, who knew what would have happened after Frodo claimed the Ring for himself? The hobbits of the Shire would be worse than slaves once the shadow swept the land, and Aragorn's chance at becoming king would be lost.

And what of Frodo? What would have happened to Frodo himself if the Ring had not been destroyed?

Sometimes he saw himself as a twisted, broken creature, no better than Gollum, doing the forced bidding of the Dark Lord and longing for one more glimpse of the "precious." And sometimes, on the darkest nights, he saw himself as a terrible version of his former self, warped and corrupted by the evil of the Ring, bent on the doom and destruction of all living things. This second image disturbed him more than the first and he kept these dark imaginings to himself, lest anyone suspect he was troubled. They all had a habit of watching him carefully when they thought he wasn't looking, as if he were made of glass and would shatter at the smallest crisis, but Frodo didn't have the heart to tell off his faithful companions. Sam and Gandalf in particular kept a careful eye on him, and Merry and Pippin had grown more perceptive than ever; it was difficult to get anything past either of his cousins.

Yet Frodo was grateful to be surrounded by friends once more, especially now that the danger was past, and part of him wished to dwell in the house they all shared until the end of his days, while part of him ached for the Shire, and still another part of him longed for something more that only the Elves could provide. The house was a comfort nonetheless, especially during the night when he knew he wasn't alone, and that the brave companions he traveled with for months on end were close at hand.

Solitude pervaded the house in the late morning hours and Frodo looked about the room he shared with Sam, Merry, and Pippin, taking in the various odds and ends that filled up the spaces. Papers and ink cluttered the dresser that sat against the wall, proof of the work Frodo had done on writing down their adventures, and flowers that Sam had carefully chosen sat in a pot upon the windowsill. Weapons and armor, bearing the colors and devices of Rohan and Gondor, gave evidence that Merry and Pippin resided in the room, and Frodo gazed upon these objects with a mixture of awe and sadness. How accomplished his cousins had become, and yet how changed! Frodo could remember a time when none of them, including himself, knew how to wield the simplest weapon, and now those skills were put to regular use. Bilbo would be proud, undoubtedly, and Frodo wondered when he would see the old hobbit again. If anyone could lighten his heart and help him forget the darkness that lurked in his dreams, perhaps it was Bilbo.

"Standing about, lost in thought on a day like this!" said a voice behind Frodo, interrupting his musings. "Haven't you got a book to write, dear cousin?"

Frodo turned around to find Pippin standing in the doorway, and he still marveled that he had to look up into his face. "And haven't you got duties to perform?" he retorted, doing his best to keep his spirits high, at least in appearance if not in his heart.

"Not at the moment," Pippin replied. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me. What are you doing shut up in here alone when the sun is shining so brightly?"

"To escape from the likes of you, of course. Why, I hardly know you anymore now that you're so tall and skilled with a blade."

"I haven't changed quite so much. I would bet all the gold in Minas Tirith that I can still drink you under the table."

Frodo broke into a genuine smile, feeling his spirits lift just a little. "I don't doubt it. Is that what you've been doing with your time since we parted so long ago? Refining your drinking abilities?"

"If that were true, I would have challenged the orcs and trolls at the Black Gate to a drinking contest and defeated them that way," Pippin replied. "But I'm not here to discuss my abilities in ale consumption. I've come to rescue you from this stuffy room and bring you out into the fresh air."

Frodo studied Pippin's face, wondering how much he guessed about his inner despair. If Pippin suspected that Frodo was still tormented by shadows, he would do all he could to brighten him up, whether Frodo wanted him to or not. The young hobbit who reveled in fun and mischief still lived within the more mature, more thoughtful knight of Gondor, and Frodo couldn't refuse the offer to be "rescued." The last thing he wanted to do was worry his friends when they each had endured so many worries throughout the war.

"Very well," he said. "I imagine you'll keep pestering me until I finally do your bidding, and who am I to argue with a hobbit who slew a troll single-handedly?"

"Now that's more like it," said Pippin. "Out into the sunshine with you, before you wither and fade away in front of my eyes."

Out into the sunshine they went, Pippin leading the way through the streets and courtyards he knew so well, while Frodo tilted his face towards the sky and basked in the light. Walking through Minas Tirith was nothing like strolling down the lanes of the Shire, where all was green and thick with flowers, but the fresh air felt nice in spite of the noise and bustle of the city. Pippin certainly appeared to be thriving, judging from the cheerful greetings he gave to the Big Folk as he passed them, and the people returned his greetings with extra warmth. Who would have guessed that a hobbit from the Shire would have such a positive effect in such faraway lands? Surely even Gandalf did not foresee how well Pippin would adapt to the White City, and how well the city's people would take to the strange little person in their midst.

And yet Frodo still felt guilty for taking his young cousin out into the wide world, for it wasn't fun and games throughout most of the quest. Pippin had seen his share of hardship, though he seldom spoke of it and bore no scars upon his spirit, for which Frodo was thankful.

"Come along, now," said Pippin, pulling Frodo along with eager hands. They had reached one of the gardens that Sam had helped restore, a particular favorite spot of Frodo's. "You're lucky I found you when I did, or else you would have spent countless hours locked away in that room, with nothing but books and ink for company!"

"Aren't you the one who threatened to lock me in a tower so I could write of my journey?" Frodo replied. "I'll never get anything done if you make a habit of dragging me outdoors."

Pippin just smiled, though his smile had a wry quality that reminded Frodo of how much he had grown, and he led Frodo to a carved stone bench, just low enough for two hobbits to sit upon its surface. Frodo felt at peace sitting in the warm air, while the gentlest of breezes touched his curls. But the old reminder of what he had lost flared up again and it must have shown on his face, for Pippin took a close look at him and said:

"You'd better have out with it now rather than later, Frodo. What's ailing you?"

"You must promise not to laugh at a poor old hobbit," said Frodo, knowing that Pippin's inquisitiveness would never be quenched unless he told him. "I don't quite know how to put this into words, but my finger aches."

Pippin frowned a bit. "Your finger..."

Frodo held up the hand that contained the stump, still red and tender despite Aragorn's frequent treatment. "The one I lost at Mount Doom. I can still feel it sometimes, even though it's no longer there, and sometimes it pains me as if my hand were still whole. I'm afraid you wouldn't understand, Pippin."

"But I believe you have other troubles I would understand," said Pippin, gazing at the stump on Frodo's hand with a quiet thoughtfulness he rarely displayed before the war. "Last night I woke and heard you murmuring in your sleep. Poor Sam slept like a log, bless him, but Merry woke as well and told me to keep an eye on you. He said it would keep me out of mischief, but I know he worries about you, and so do I."

Frodo didn't know what to say. It seemed like he was always underestimating his dear friends, thinking he could carry on with his life without interrupting those of others, but of course Merry and Pippin could still read him like a book, no matter how many months they had been parted from him. Frodo still remembered how he felt long ago in Crickhollow, when he had finished moving into a house he would never inhabit and fretted over how he would tell his friends he was leaving the Shire without them. How silly he had been to think that Merry and Pippin wouldn't figure out his true intentions. They had watched him and worried over him carefully, just as they watched and worried now, and Frodo couldn't help but think of how close he had come to darkening their lives forever.

"I do not deserve you, dear Pippin," Frodo murmured. "Nor do I deserve Merry, or Sam."

"Well of course you do," said Pippin. "You destroyed the Ring and saved us all!"

"But I didn't save you at all, in the end. I claimed the Ring for myself, Pippin, and instead of the hobbit who sits beside you I would have been something dark and terrible, a hero turned villain. I'm afraid I wouldn't have known you anymore if the quest had failed, and you wouldn't have known me either."

"You are not the only one who could have brought despair to everyone you care about, you know."

Frodo was surprised to hear these words, especially when Pippin spoke them in such a solemn tone. "I can't imagine you of all hobbits being responsible for such a sad fate. Whatever do you mean?"

"Exactly what I said," Pippin replied. "I told you the tale of the Palantir, but I never told you how fear would grip me in the middle of the night for days afterward, and I longed to give myself a good kick in the backside because I could have put you in danger, Frodo. I could have put us all in danger with my carelessness, and only a miracle kept me from telling the enemy all he wished to know."

"Then you are stronger than I am," said Frodo. "You did not succumb to its power."

"Now that is the silliest thing you've said all day. I would have never made it to Mordor in one piece, and you probably would have left that dratted Palantir alone if you had been in my place."

"And now we are trying to outdo each other in modesty."

"I suppose we are," said Pippin. His hands sat in his lap and he traced the line of one of his fingers, as if imagining what it would be like to have a stump there instead. "Either one of us could have become the villain, in the end," he murmured. "One little mistake could cost us the whole world."

Frodo shuddered in the gentle breeze. His one mistake nearly did cost him the world, and it took a bite from Gollum to make everything right again. "I don't know how I will ever feel whole with such a burden still upon my shoulders," he said. "The Ring is gone, but a bit of its weight lingers behind, always reminding me of what may have been."

"Then you ought to focus your mind on what is, and what will be," said Pippin. "And I'll take my own advice if I know what's good for me."

"You've become quite wise since I saw you last. I believe Gandalf's influence has done you some good."

"If I'm so wise, then I'll stop this dreary talk and buy us a round of ales. I did say I could still out drink you, after all, and I'd like to prove it."

Frodo's missing finger still ached a bit, though he found it troubled him less after talking with Pippin. He rose from the stone bench, feeling warm air and sun on his face, and banished away the shadows that had threatened to take hold of him. "Peregrin Took, my lad, I would like to take you up on that fine offer."

"We have ourselves a challenge, then," said Pippin, rising as well. "If we fetch Legolas and Gimli, we may have a full-fledged drinking war on our hands. Come along!" Bright and eager once more, he gave Frodo a playful nudge on the shoulder and led the way in search of their friends.

Frodo managed a small smile and strode after Pippin, through the garden and into the light.