***Disclaimer*** These are not my characters. I'm merely borrowing them from J.R.R. Tolkien. My story is partially based on the novels and partially on the movie. Some things have been altered from the original, as this is strictly my interpretation and my exploration of the friendship that Merry and Pippin have. The few lines in Moria that Gandalf speaks are from both the movie and the novel, and I felt they should be included here, as trying to replace such wonderful words would be an exercise in futility. I merely borrow them and do not intend for them to be seen as my own.

Threads of Friendship

"Has it been only a day or two since this all began?" Pippin thought tiredly. To the young hobbit, it seemed like a greater span of time had passed since Gandalf had sent him to find Merry, Pippin's cousin. He had found Merry at the gates of the city of Gondor, wobbling on his feet and nearly spent.

With the aid of Gandalf, Merry was taken to the Houses of Healing, where he was laid upon a soft bed. The healers of Gondor plied their craft, but to no avail. With each passing hour, Pippin's spirits sank a bit further into despair.

Although Pippin was normally a prime example of his race, cheerful and optimistic, seeing his cousin in this state instilled in him a fear he had never known before. He had not felt quite this way in the very darkest parts of their journey, not even when he and Merry had been captured and tortured by the Uruk Hai.

Seeing Merry lying on the bed, unconscious, his skin gray and cold, finally showed Pippin what he had never fully allowed himself to consider: Merry could die on this journey. He was such a constant companion that Pippin had never considered imagining his life without his friend. Even when their paths had parted ten days before, Pippin was certain that all would be well and they would soon be swapping stories like old times. And now . . . Pippin shook his head.

"I must do something or I'll go mad!" Pippin thought, pacing around the room. His heart pounded and his nerves felt as though they were on fire. To calm his spirits, he allowed his mind to back to fond memories of days past. A small smile crept onto his face and even in his grief, Pippin let out a small laugh.

"I was just thinking, Merry," he said aloud, "about Frodo and Bilbo's last party in the Shire, Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday." Pippin paused for a moment. "What am I doing?" he thought. "How is this going to help any? And I must look a fool, talking to Merry when he can't even answer back!" Then he sighed and decided, "Well, it is better than sitting quietly with only my own thoughts for company."

Pulling a chair up to the bed, Pippin continued, "You had such a mischievous glint in your eyes that night. You'd drunk a couple of pints, danced with a few girls, and then you decided to do something that would make everyone remember that party! You'd spotted Gandalf's cart full of fireworks out back on the party grounds and I could see the thoughts whirling through your head."

Pippin chucked softly. "I don't know how you talked me into it but when we set off that big one, what a commotion! Whoosh!" He illustrated the point with his hands. "And then this 'dragon' came wheeling over the party, sending everyone into a panic. Once they realized it wasn't real, they all clapped and cheered. Gandalf, on the other hand, wasn't quite so pleased."

"He found us and hauled us to the kitchen tent by our ears, like we were younglings." Pippin absently rubbed his ear. "I guess I am still one by Shire reckoning. And there he sat all night, smoking his pipe, making sure we stuck to our punishment, washing all those dishes!" Pippin's hands still ached from the memory.

He sighed. "That was the night all this started, wasn't it, Merry? Bilbo left Bag End. . . Frodo inherited the Ring. . . and all our lives changed. Frodo and Sam were on their way to Bree when we ran into them. We helped them to leave the Shire and wound up going along to Bree. And there our paths were committed." He paused and stood up for a moment to stretch his legs. He could see the fiery descent of the sun out the small window.

Pippin continued, "Remember when we first met Aragorn in Bree, Merry? Of course, then we only knew him as Strider. You didn't want to trust him, but Frodo said we must, that we had no choice." Pippin grew silent for a moment, and then the ghost of a wry smile lit his face.

"You were so angry at Frodo then, telling us to follow this dangerous looking ranger into the wild, not knowing if he truly was Gandalf's friend or if he was a servant of the enemy. Sam trusted him because Frodo said to. I daresay he'd walk into a chasm if it were because his 'Mr. Frodo' gave him the order. I didn't know what to believe. I guess maybe Sam and I aren't that different. I didn't really trust this Strider, but that was only because you didn't. Not until Amun Sul at least. He certainly proved his loyalties there, defending us all against those Nazgul. . ." Pippin's voice cracked, then faltered, and he bowed his head, tears streaming from his eyes. "Oh, Merry," he murmured tearfully. "What have you gotten yourself into?"

Pippin felt a hand clasp his shoulder, and he turned with a start. Aragorn stood behind him.

"How long have you been there?" he demanded defensively.

"Long enough, my friend," Aragorn responded.

"Well, you shouldn't eavesdrop at any rate. It's a sign of rudeness and it's inconsiderate to listen to another's words without them knowing!" Pippin snapped. He immediately regretted his words as he saw his words hit their mark. Aragorn recoiled slightly. "Oh, Strider! I'm so sorry!"

Aragorn gave Pippin a small smile. "It's all right, Pippin. I do forget my manners at times and need to be reminded." His smile broadened. "Must be as a result of all those years in the wild."

Pippin returned the smile. Suddenly, in his sleep, Merry let out a cry. Pippin immediately turned back to his friend, cursing himself for forgetting his duty. He placed his hand on Merry's forehead, brushing back the damp curls, and his concern deepened at the warmth he felt there.

Aragorn walked to the bedside and stood across from Pippin, watching the younger hobbit tend to the elder with care. "Pippin, how long has it been since you last slept?"

Pippin looked up briefly from his ministrations. "I. . . I don't recall," he said evasively, bowing his head. He returned to his work, taking Merry's cold right arm in his hands, trying to rub life back into it.

"Pippin, you cannot watch over Merry all the time. He will be fine, once we get the athelas. Trust me. This battle you cannot fight for him."

The hobbit chuckled ruefully. "Fight this battle for him? I'm not trying to fight anything for him; I just want to help in any possible way. For as long as I can remember, Merry has been there to get me into trouble and to get me back out of it again. He's my friend and I won't leave him, not now." He looked up. "Don't you see, Aragorn? It's because of me all this happened, that Merry came. I insisted back in Rivendell that we tag along. And look at Merry now!"

Pippin walked over to the nearby table and picked up a soft cloth. Returning to Merry's side, he soaked it in the water bowl, wrung it out and wiped it over the older hobbit's fevered brow.

Aragorn grabbed his hand. "Peregrin, you cannot help him or anyone else if you lose your own strength in the process. Merry made his own decisions on this journey, including this last choice. Do not blame yourself. Let me send for Gandalf. I am certain he would be glad to watch over. . ."

"No!" Pippin said sharply. "No, Aragorn," he said more gently, "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I must stay here with Merry. He shouldn't be left alone and I'm not about to leave him. If I left and he were to. . . to. . "Pippin shuddered and cleared his throat. "Can't you see, Aragorn? If anything were to happen to Merry, I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

Aragorn released Pippin's hand. "I understand, Pippin. If you need anything.."

"I know, Aragorn," Pippin murmured, "thank you."

As Aragorn began to walk away, Pippin turned and called after him. "Aragorn!"

The man turned. "Yes, Pippin?"

"I'm sorry for shouting at you," the hobbit said, regret evident in his voice. "I'm just so worried about Merry. I've never seen him like this before."

"I know, Pippin," Aragorn replied, "but you must have faith. When this is all over, you'll both return to the Shire, marry lovely hobbit maids, and father the most mischievous children the Shire has yet to see. That is, with the exception of their fathers." Aragorn smiled.

"I'd like that," Pippin said, a small smile touching the corners of his own lips. "Good night, Aragorn."

"Good night, Pippin."

As he returned to wiping Merry's brow, Pippin could hear Aragorn's footsteps grow quieter in the hallway. "Frodo was right, Merry, to trust Strider. I can't think of our fellowship without him." Pippin returned the cloth to the washbasin and dried his hands on his trousers. "He brought us back together and led us on after Gandalf fell in Moria."

Moria. Pippin's eyes closed momentarily at the thought of that part of their journey. He hadn't meant to think of it. The memories poured over Pippin like a flood.

The watcher in the water grabbing Frodo . . . the other members of the fellowship saving him. . . "We have but one choice. We must face the long dark of Moria.". . . Pippin's Tookish nature drawing him to grasp the arrow stuck in the skeleton, causing it to crash down the well shaft. . . "Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!"

Pippin sat down and placed his head in his hands, momentarily overcome by the memory. Though Gandalf had returned and all was well with him, Pippin still felt grief and remorse over Moria. The wizard's words still stung Pippin, even now, nearly two months to the day.

"Why?" Pippin thought. "Why does it still affect me so?" In his heart, though, Pippin already knew the answer. It was their first encounter with the orcs, the first time he'd had to kill, and the first time a member of the company was lost. It was also the first time the young hobbit had thought he would not survive the journey.

Once more the master of himself, Pippin began to sift back through the memories. Although he was afraid to do so, he knew that he must if he wanted his mind to be at peace.

The orcs, alerted to their presence by Pippin's mistake, swarmed with fierce malice. Aragorn had instructed the hobbits to keep close to Gandalf, but Pippin paid no heed, being the first of the hobbits to leap into battle with a defiant cry. . . Frodo, stabbed by the cave troll, slumped to the ground. . . Merry and Pippin leaped onto the troll's back, stabbing with an intensity borne out of grief, thinking their cousin dead. . . Merry thrown to the ground by the troll. . . Pippin slashed the troll's neck, causing it to rear backwards, thus giving Legolas the opportunity to shoot an arrow into the mouth of the troll, killing it.

Onward the company ran until they were cornered by orcs. Pippin was certain this would be the end of them all. Suddenly, a guttural roar echoed through the mine and the orcs fled in fear. "A Balrog. . . a demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you. Run!"

As they fled, Pippin thought, "What could possibly terrify Gandalf so?" But they were soon to find out.

The company ran across the bridge of Khazad Dum, Gandalf bringing up the rear. The ground trembled as they ran, and rocks tumbled from the ceiling, narrowly missing them. As they reached the stairs and Pippin began to think they would make it out safely, a deafening roar filled the cavern. The company turned as one and saw the Balrog rise out of flame. It dwarfed Gandalf, who stood alone on the stone bridge, holding his staff in one hand and Glamdring in the other.

Pippin, from his vantage point on the stairs, could not hear what Gandalf said. He saw the creature spread its wings and a fiery whip appeared in its hand. Fear clenched Pippin's stomach. The whip cracked down on Gandalf, breaking the silence with a terrible sound. Gandalf lifted Glamdring and his staff high into the air and brought them down with a fury and strength that surprised the young hobbit.

"You shall not pass!" The words of Gandalf seemed to reverberate forever and at the impact of the sword and staff, a shining white bolt struck the bridge, causing it to crack under the Balrog's feet. The demon fell into the mighty chasm, letting forth a mighty roar of defeat as he spiraled downwards into the darkness. Pippin let out a sigh of relief as Gandalf turned to face them, clearly exhausted.

Without warning, the Balrog's whip snaked up and wrapped around Gandalf's leg, pulling him to the brink of the broken bridge. As the wizard's fingers grasped for the rocky shards, Frodo ran forward. Boromir grabbed Frodo, sensing the danger, and swept him into his arms, cradling the Ringbearer almost like a child.

With his last remaining ounce of strength, Gandalf pulled himself up slightly and commanded the company, "Fly you fools!" Before the stunned eyes of the Fellowship, he released his tenuous grip on the bridge and plummeted after the Balrog. Pippin's legs nearly gave way beneath him, but Merry prevented him from falling. The rest of the journey out was a blur for Pippin, apart from the soul-wrenching cries for Gandalf from his cousin Frodo and Sam's unchecked tears.

After the dark of Moria and what they had just witnessed, the company hoped to find respite outside, but the snowy mountains failed to house any relief for them. If anything, their grief was magnified. The sharp unforgiving rocks blanketed by frigid, bleak snow offered no remorse.

Pippin had wanted to find a corner to hide in, to allow the darkness, his sorrow, and his guilt to bury him there, but this desire was prevented by Merry. His cousin pulled him along, half dragging, half carrying him out of the mine.

Only once outside did Merry allow Pippin to fall to the ground. Merry sat in the cold bitter snow, cradling the distraught Pippin in his arms.

"It's my fault, Merry!" he whispered through his tears. "Mine!"

"Shhhh, Pip," Merry consoled, though he too was full of grief. He ran his hand over Pippin's hair. "Don't you say that! It wasn't anyone's fault what happened."

"It was mine!" Pippin cried wildly, one hand clasped on his sword hilt, the other to his everĀ­present scarf. "I brought this upon us, and now Gandalf is. . . " A wracking sob tore through the young hobbit's body, and he strained to catch his breath.

"Pippin, we all knew there was a chance we might not survive this quest," Merry said, pulling his cousin into a tight embrace, tears now streaming down his own face. "Especially Gandalf. He knew that Balrog was there; he must have. Why else would he, a wizard, have been so afraid to enter Moria?"

Merry brushed back the tangled curls from Pippin's forehead. "So don't blame yourself, Pip. You've got to go on because we need you, though whether you believe that is your own choice. Yes, you made a very foolish mistake back there, but look at all the good you've done. You've helped protect Frodo, and if it hadn't been for you, Legolas might not have been able to kill that cave troll."

Pippin looked up at his elder cousin and sniffed back tears. From the look on his face, Merry could plainly see Pippin had never thought of himself as any use before now. "Merry, I. . . I don't quite know what to say."

Merry laughed softly and ruffled Pippin's hair. "That'd be a first!"

"Thank you, Merry," Pippin said, kissing Merry's hand.

"Think nothing of it, Pip. What are friends for?"

"Peregrin Took," Gandalf's voice commanded, bringing Pippin back to the present. The wizard was looking down at him, concern visible in his face. Aragorn stood next to him.

"I'm fine," Pippin said hurriedly, seeing the concern now in both their faces. "I was just thinking of Moria."

Gandalf shared a quick glance with Aragorn before kneeling before the hobbit. "Pippin, I know what you carry within you, and I am sorry I did not say this before but what happened was not your fault. I believe now we would have been found one way or another. So do not carry any guilt. If there is any guilt to be had, it is mine, for the harsh words I unleashed upon you there. Would you accept my apology, Pippin?" Gandalf asked, looking him in the eye.

Pippin was taken aback. "Why, yes, Gandalf, but. . ."

"Then say nothing more. The matter is settled, my dear hobbit," Gandalf said with a slight smile as he rose to his feet, "for there is work to be done here. The athelas that is needed has been found and Aragorn has readied himself."

As Pippin watched, Aragorn placed his hands on Merry's forehead, gently stroking his brow. "Meriadoc," he whispered. Pippin held his breath. Then Aragorn's hands graced Merry's eyelids, which fluttered under the touch and he let out a soft whimper. His hands moved back up and he gently moved them over Merry's curls. Aragorn's brow furrowed as he called softly again, "Meriadoc."

The ranger, born of the line of kings, swayed slightly on his feet. Then Pippin caught the scent of the Shire in spring, of life and health, and a soft glow filled the room. Merry's eyes opened and blinked in the light of the room. Pippin let out a cry of joy as Merry turned his head and spied his cousin at his bedside.

"Pippin, I'm hungry," he said, his voice a bit weak.

Pippin looked up at the man and the wizard and let out a laugh, tears glimmering in his eyes. There was still hope to be found.

A day had passed since Aragorn healed Merry and already the hobbit was much improved. His sword arm still ached and he was a bit weak but he was well on his way to being his normal self. Following Merry's awakening, Pippin finally allowed himself to rest and sleep, much to the relief of his friends. Now the two hobbits sat in the gardens, enjoying each other's company once more.

"I wish Sam could see this," Merry said, fingering a plant leaf. "He would quite like this place, I believe. So much greenery and loveliness. . . quite a change from. . " His face paled slightly.

"Merry, don't think of it! You needn't speak of it, not yet," Pippin said quickly.

Merry shot his cousin a grateful glance, then walked over and sat on the grass. "Where do you think this will all end, Pip? My heart is so heavy, and I worry for Frodo and Sam. I wish this was all over so we could return home." He let out a great sigh and lay back onto the soft grass.

"I know, Merry," Pippin said, sitting down beside him. "I tire of it, too. But I think that this shall be over soon and for the better. Aragorn will see to that!"

Carefully sitting up, mindful of his arm, Merry looked at Pippin. "I do wish I could go with you tomorrow, Pip. I feel so useless just sitting here instead of going into battle." He pulled distractedly at a blade of grass with his good arm.

Pippin searched for the right words to say to provide relief to his cousin. "Merry, you're anything but useless. You saved us all by killing that thing, you and Eowyn. Now we have a chance to win this war for good."

Merry let out a small sigh and patted Pippin's leg. "Maybe you're right. I'd just feel better if I were out there, instead of cooped up here." Pippin could think of no comforting reply, so he sat in silence beside Merry, taking in the slow descent of the sun and the peaceful sounds of the birds singing high above. The pair remained seated in the garden's healing quiet until the sun had long since set and the moon had risen. Finally, with a pained sigh, knowing what darkness lay ahead for his cousin, Merry said, "Hadn't you better get some rest, Pip? The morning will come early."

Nodding, Pippin stood up, and then helped his cousin to his feet. Looking at Merry and the sad expression his face held, he fumbled for words. "I . . . Merry. . . "

The older hobbit clasped him in a tight hug. "Take care of yourself, Pippin." Pippin returned the embrace, closing his eyes, clinging to the safety it contained. His thoughts whirled, and he longed to stay with Merry instead of causing him more pain at this parting. Yet, deep down, he know that he must go. He was not simply a hobbit of the Shire any longer. He was a guard of the Citadel, and his duty called him.

Suddenly, his eyes snapped open with a thought of how he might ease Merry's loneliness. Stepping backwards, Pippin reached up to his neck and removed his scarf. Blinking back tears, he placed it in Merry's hands.

With a slight frown, Merry pushed it back. "No, Pippin, this is yours! You always wear this."

"Take it, Merry," Pippin said, covering Merry's hands with his own. "I want you to have it. I can't wear it while in uniform and besides, this way you know I'll be back with you to get it." He smiled faintly, hoping to buoy Merry's spirits, but then he noticed the look of grief on his cousin's face and his smile dropped. "Please, Merry, keep it with you. I know you'll keep it safe, and maybe it will help keep you company until I return." Pippin's eyes searched his companion's face, looking for some sign of agreement or approval. Merry slowly nodded and clasped Pippin on the shoulder. Pippin sighed in relief and said, "Well, I'd best be on my way."

The two friends hugged once more and spoke words of parting before Pippin left the gardens to return to his room. Merry looked at the scarf, still clasped in his hand. He remained in the darkened garden for a few minutes more, standing under the boughs of a massive oak tree. The moonlight that wafted through the branches was unfriendly and cold. Merry shivered, then noticed that the scarf in his hands had not yet lost Pippin's warmth.

"Please be careful, Pip," Merry whispered after his friend, a cold dread creeping up his spine. He slowly walked over to a stone bench and sat down, fingering the scarf.