Title: Four Foxes

Author: Slipstream

Rating: PG

Summary: Off-shot of "Wake to Sleep." The Vampire!Hobbits are in Rivendell and, while it may be the Last Homely House, it doesn't quite cater to bloodsuckers. Merry and Pippin are getting hungry, very hungry, and Elrond's personal flock of peacocks are looking mighty tasty…

Disclaimer: Tolkien loves me this I know… // For dear Frodo tells me so…// All hobbits to him belong…// They aren't mine though how I long…// Yes, Tolkien loves me…!

Notes: This stemmed from one of the lines on a previous Vampire!Hobbit fic of mine called "Wake to Sleep." This is to be read in conjuncture with that, in no particular order, although it makes sense to read "Wake" first as it has more of an explanation of the whole Vampire!Hobbit thing. (Blame Olwen.) This fic is just pure silliness on my part, somewhat based on childhood experiences trying to catch pigs and a separate incident involving an angry flock of geese and a bag of bread and another involving my father and a not quite asleep rooster who did NOT want to have his tail feathers pulled. I have never chased a peacock, but I imagine they would be just as hard to catch as the pigs and bite much harder than the mean geese and be just as fast and cranky as that rooster. Pippin's lisp should make it so much more fun for everybody to try to read his accent! =) If you're having a time figuring it out, just replace the majority of the 'th's with an 's.' Enjoy!

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Legolas laughed suddenly. "It was *you* who got into Elrond's peacock pen! The 'cursed little foxes' that pestered his flock!"

"Stupid nasty birds," mumbled Pippin. "Nothing to sink your teeth into under all those feathers. *Mice* are more nourishin'."

-"Wake to Sleep" -Slipstream

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"Merry, I'm hungry…"

"I know, Pippin."

"Merry, I'm *really* hungry…"

"I *know*, Pippin!"

"Merry, I'm tho hungry it *hurth*…!"

"Shut it, Pip! You're not makin' it any better for the neither of us!"

Pippin pouted, an expression made strange by the fact that his dry lips were sticking to his abnormally long, sharp eyeteeth.

Merry sighed. "And pull your fangs back in. We don't want to tip off just any elf that comes along!"

"I can't. They're thtuck."

Merry turned to peer at his younger cousin with eyes long accustomed to the dark. "What?"

"I thaid I *can't*!" urged Pippin, his voice lisping a little around his sharp teeth. "Ith not working! They won't go back into their theath! 'N Iff'n we don't get thomthing to drink thoon, I think I'll try thiping on you…!"

"Stop wrigglin' 'n your breeches 'n be patient. I'll get the four of us dinner yet." Merry turned back to his post, a mulberry bush thick enough to hide two vampire hobbits from the view of anyone who happened to stray into the garden.

Pippin fidgeted a little to see what his cousin was staring at through a little hole in the thick leaf cover. "What is it? Not fith again…"

"No. Not fish. We got soppin' wet last time gettin' 'em 'n they tasted rotten, anyway."

Still pouting, Pippin settled his head into his folded palms, mindful not to scratch himself on his claws. "Tho what, then?"

Merry grinned. "My dear Pip, how would you like to feast on the fanciest fouls to be found in fifty furlongs?"

Pippin's golden-red eyes widened noticeably. "BIRDTH?!?! You found uth thom birdth!?"

"Shhh! You'll wake 'em up!"

Pippin, however was far too excited to be hushed. He hadn't fed properly since the ford, and Rivendell just wasn't designed to meet the needs of darklings. And Gandalf had been too busy tending Frodo for them to tell him the entirety of the peculiarities of the situation. Merry and Pippin had been forced to fend for the four of them, with Frodo near death and Sam too worried to leave his master's side. Their efforts had lead to nothing more than the knowledge of the true difficulty in catching the fish in the garden fountain, just how bad lizards tasted, and that if one lingered too long in the kitchens in hopes of pilfering a chicken you were like to be set to work doing dishes.

The kitchen escapade had, however, landed them one half-dead rooster, and they had supped upon its blood. Sam had only taken a share when Merry pointed out that, if he didn't take *something* he was likely to loose control of the blood-crave and try to feast on Frodo, or worse yet, Elrond. Paling at the thought of being so rude as to eat his host, Sam relented. When Elrond and his helpers had been out getting new sheets for the sick bed they had been able to dribble a little of the chicken-blood down Frodo's throat, praying silently that it did him some good, as it had on their journey.

But that had been last night, and one fourth share of a single chicken's circulatory system was not enough to sustain any vampiric being over half a week. Pippin was desperate. He shoved Merry out of the way, peering at his discovery.

What he saw was quite different than what he expected. He looked at Merry, aghast. "Merry! We canna eat Mather Elrondth flock of peacockth!!!"

Merry's wicked grin was made all the more devilish by two sharp teeth. "We can, and we shall! Or mayhaps you'd like to try suckin' your own wrist for another weak, eh?"

Pippin was silent. He looked at the royal blue birds again. "Ye think it'll be easy to cath 'em?"

Merry laughed. "Easy to catch? Pip, it'll be a breeze." He licked his lips. "Just look at 'em, prunin' in the moonlight. Buncha dumb, overspruced, richly clad chickens, s'what I say."

Indeed the birds did appear docile. Sleepy, even. They sat huddled together in little groups, long tails dragging on the ground, their ornamented heads bobbing in the moonlight. Their snoring came as little coos carried by a gentle breeze. Pippin could smell the warm blood beneath their feathered skins. His teeth ached.

It appeared too easy. The only problem was the low, for an elf, ornate metal fence of their night-pen, high enough to present a problem both for the peacocks and the hobbits.

"Tho, how are we going to reach them?"

Merry wiggled forward a little more and pointed. "You see the corner of the pen, over there? Where the two edges meet? There's no little spikes and barbs over there, and the corner should make easy footing. I'll hoist you up, 'n you can catch 'em and toss 'em right back over the fence, eh?"

Pippin squinted. "Won't they notith? In the morning?"

But Merry was already on his feet, pulling at Pippin's waistcoat. "C'mon, Pip. Think of it in terms of stealing mushrooms. They can always get more, 'n besides, it's this or starve!"

As a hobbit, the idea of starvation was appalling to Pippin, so he quickly left behind any sense of moral duty or courtesy towards his host.

Their feet made no sound upon the dew-covered grass as they crept upon the flock with the grace of a predator who has caught his prey unawares. At the corner of the pen, Merry made a little step with his hands and knees, hoisting Pippin up high enough to clamber over the small, iron barbs. He was pricked only twice, but did not care, so close was he now to his goal.

Pippin licked his lips as he eyed the equivalent of a birthday feast for vampires. As birds of beauty, they had never known strain nor hardships, their hides plump and the blood in their veins smelling richly of cholesterol. Merry whispered at him to hurry the bloody hell up and not just stand there gawking. Pippin was only too glad to oblige.

He swept up, quick and silent as the wind, and grabbed the closest bird firm around the neck, remembering to twist hard enough to paralyze and not kill.

He stood there, inthralled, breathing in the sent of warm blood so close that he cut his lip on his own teeth. He was so infatuated with his catch that he didn't notice that the bird wasn't quite as dead as it seemed until it bit him, and hard.

Pippin dropped the bird with a yelped curse, shaking that mauled finger indignantly. The peacock rolled over on the grass, flopping and squawking and generally awakening the rest of the brood to the rude intrusion upon their pen. The lot began to coo and shake their feathers in anger.

Merry swore loudly and fluently from outside the pin. "Pippin! You botched it! Quick, grab some!"

Pippin was trying, but it was proving rather difficult, indeed. He scooped up the original bird, clamping one hand around its beak firmly, but the rest were another matter entirely. A peacock, it seemed, was not as stupid as one would assume. They possessed a strange, intricate language all their own, and a fighting style composed of sharp claws, quick beaks, and a flurry of multi-colored feathers.

He didn't like the way they were looking at him. "Merry . . ."

The first wave of birds attacked, pecking and pulling at his breeches. He squealed loudly and turned to run, slipping on the night dew.

"Stupid..!" Merry began to shout all sorts of advice and encouragement, reminding Pip not to forget their dinner while he was running his keister about. Pippin noticed that his older cousin was making no move towards the fence, though.

Sick of being chased by his evolutionary inferiors, Pippin made a sudden turn and charge the flock. The birds squawked in confusion fear, flapping their wings in desperate attempt to retreat. Cackling madly, he made a swipe at them, catching only tailfeathers on his outstretched claws.

"Quick, Pip! Toss me the bird!" called Merry as he made a pass close to the fence. Pip flung the bird over the iron spikes, hearing Merry's whoop of delight at the long spatter of blood that trailed though the air.

Round and round they went. The birds were beginning to tire, and Pippin was only getting hungrier and more daring. On one mad turn at high speeds he slipped on the churned mud and accidentaly swashed a slower peacock, his second kill. The rest of the flock was upon him, pecking and scratching and battering him with their flashing feathers.

"Bugger off! Bugger off, you!" he cursed, beating them back with their dead comrade.

"Pippin! Lights!" Merry suddenly shouted in a hoarse whisper.

Indeed, lights were beginning to appear on the balconies of Rivendell, no doubt in response to the clamor of peacock distress from below. Pippin swore loudly and fluently, scrambling up to make a desperate escape over the fence. Merry freed him of his burden before frantically pulling him up, ripping his jacket in the process.

The peacock king, mistaking this clamor as a sign of victory, gave a final, crowing coo noise and charged.

"Oh now you don't, you great bathtard," muttered Pippin, grinning menacingly, his growl somewhat set off by his lisp. The youngest of the hobbits was not going to leave without some sort of revenge. The moment the giant peacock reached the fence he thrust his hand inside, grabbing onto the blue neck and pulling hard. The bird flapped several times as it was slammed again and again against the iron, before it finally gave up with a low coo as Pippin managed to work its mangled body though the grid work.

He held his prize aloft. "Ha . . . Got you . . ."

"Better get you here quick, if you don't want to get caught!" called out Merry from the bushes, indicating the increasing number of lit lanterns.

Pippin scrambled silently into the underbrush, eyes seeing clear all of the dangers in front of him, even on this almost moonless night. He and Merry melted into the black moments before the arrival of the first elves.

Several minutes later, they collapsed into the bushes in the gardens that their rooms overlooked. "I think we lost them," panted Merry. Pippin wasted no time with conversation and began to immediately attack the king-bird with his teeth.

Merry laughed a little, reaching out a claw to still his cousin. "Come now, Peregrin Took, wait up! We have to save some for Sam and Frodo . . ."

Pippin spit out a mouthful of feathers. "You thave thome for them, then. I did all the runnin' about, tho I detherve thith one for mythelf."

Merry shrugged and began to remove the largest tail feathers from the other two, cleaning them up so they wouldn't be quite so messy to bring inside. He bit into one and began to urgently suck, still mindful to save enough between the other two birds for the rest of their company. Minutes passed in relative silence as the two nosferatu fed happily.

"ARRGH!" Pippin thrust his peacock away angrily. "Dry already! There's more feathers to that bird than blood and bone, I wager! Bloody hell!"

Merry grinned and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "You get what you deserve, greedy hobbit. At least you're lisp is gone, now that you've had something to eat. That was down right annoying." Pippin continued to pout, so he swatted at him affectionately. "Aw, c'mon, then. Cheer up! Let's sneak these other two in to Sam and Frodo, eh?"

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Inside the marble halls of Rivendell all was dark and cool, much like the souls of elves, Sam reflected, keeping an ever vigilant eye on his master in his sick bed. Frodo lay lost within the expanse of sheets, his skin as pale as the sliver of moonlight that cast itself in a single line across the linens. The shadows made by the Raith knife only made Frodo's face seem thinner and sicker, as his mouth hung open slightly to reveal two nubs of sharp teeth protruding from gums just as pale. He stared upward at the ceiling, but his eyes were two blank balls that saw nothing and only cast their frozen gaze about in pain and hunger.

Sam knew the feeling, for he felt it, too. Within his heart and his stomach the two aches churned: an ache to see Mr. Frodo awake and well and an ache to fell the nearest breathing thing and drain it of its blooed. Frodo was not breathing, a simple fact that kept him safe from Sam and Pippin and Merry.

A sound from the balcony caused Sam's pointed ears to perk up, and he turned in time to see two furry heads hoist themselves onto the third story balcony.

"Where's Gandalf?" a soft voice whispered.

Sam relaxed, glad to hear his two friends. "Asleep in his room, for the next few hours. Thinks I am, too, and one of Elrond's elves here to keep watch. Don't worry, it's safe."

"Hullo, Sam." Merry stepped into the room, holding out two peacocks. "We brought food for you and Frodo."

Sam took the birds with trembling claws, smelling their blood in the air. He swallowed. "We best feed Frodo first, so I don't drink it all." He gestured to a tall cupboard. "Get out fresh linens for him, and a new night-shirt. We can change 'em after he's fed a little so he doesn't have to sleep in bloody sheets."

While Pippin went to fetch the blankets and clothing Sam and Merry set about rearranging Frodo for his feeding. Warry of his shoulder, they positioned him close to the edge of the bed, where they could reach. Sam climbed up behind his master, settling his head firmly against his chest. Frodo began to groan and fret, sweat pouring off his brow.

"There now, Mr. Frodo, you can smell that, can't you?" Sam brushed the locks of dark hair away from his brow. "Don't worry. Master Merry's getting it all ready for you, and then you can have a bite, eh? Sound good?"

In answer, teeth sprouted longer and sharper in Frodo's mouth.

Merry had cleared most of the feathers away from a part of the bird's shoulder where a vein was easily visible. He slashed it with his teeth now, the held the slowly bleeding body to Frodo's mouth.

For the first few drops Frodo was unresponsive, then he hissed, making a gurgling noise that rose deep from his lungs. Half in a dream, he sunk teeth into the bird slowly, aided by Sam's soothing voice and hands and Merry's gentle handling of the food. Merry used a claw to further widen the gash, dribbling more blood down his throat as Frodo began to suck eagerly, like a child. As he drank a faint coloring rose to his lips and cheeks and the cataracts faded slightly from his eyes, revealing the outline of stunning irises. When he could drink no more he sighed, his mouth falling slack and his head lolling, weightless. With Sam's gentle urgings his eyes fluttered and then closed as he slipped off into a gentle sleep.

Sam continued to wipe the sweat and blood from his master's face, absently. "He's not been sleeping well. Nightmares. I can feel them in my veins." His own hands wandered to the two small, circular scars at the base of his neck. "Feeding always helps, though, even at his sickest."

Merry nodded and held to remains of the peacock to him. "Here, Sam. Drink. You need it. The rest of us have eaten."

Slipping from his position of support, Sam laid Frodo back into the soft mattress. He sighed. "I shall, while you two get him cleaned and the bed changed. Then we shall dispose of this bloody mess and maybe get some rest . . ."

They had just finished arranging the last of the pillows around the injured hobbit and Pippin had settled down for a nap in the corner when the door opened, casting the room into a soft glow. Sam and Merry froze, so certain had they been in their midnight solitude, and cast guilty looks to the tall figure in the door.

"All four of you! Well, this hardly seems a surprise! At least now my old bones shan't have to search for you any longer." Laughing softly as his joke, Gandalf entered the room and seated himself in the large rocking chair beside Frodo's bed.

Sam caught his breath, figuratively speaking, and smiled thinly at the old wizard. "Hello, Gandalf. What brings you here? I thought you to be sleeping."

"As I you," he replied, eyes twinkling beneath the great bushiness of his eyebrows. They looked weary, though, when they viewed the bed and its occupant. "I came to check upon our dear Mr. Baggins and company, after such a ruckus there was downstairs that awakened me."

"Ruckus?" inquired Merry, suddenly nervous but hiding it well due to his experience in trouble making. Pippin chose that moment to awaken and joined them, rubbing his eyes with little fists.

"Why, did you not hear it?" They shook their heads no. "Master Elrond, or Elrond's games keeper, that is, is quite upset, tramping about the gardens below. It seems that a pair of foxes got into the peacock pen and made off with a few of the birds. . ." Gandalf laughed. "It is quite a sight to see, that elf scouring the grounds, looking for signs of the little brutes. There's naught to be found, however. They're all gone. Trampled in the mad dash of gardeners and panicking peacocks."

"So you. . . ah. . . had a look yourself, did you?" asked Pippin sweetly, but failing at the innocence that Merry had achieve earlier. "Find anything?"

The old wizard looked thoughtful. "Now that you mention it, yes. Yes, I did. Very strange, it was. A bit away from the rest of the panic, under a mulberry bush, a single bare foot-print and a tail feather. Very strange, indeed. No idea what it means."

Pippin started to sweat, and Merry, glancing accusingly over in his direction, realized with horror that a single peacock feather was peeking out of the back of Pippin's curls, the dot on the tip staring out at them like an eye. Sam saw it, too.

Gandalf was enraptured in his own universe, staring moodily at Frodo's still form. He leaned forward, muttering some incantation that brought the oil lamps in the room blazing to almost their full light. The other hobbits blinked, as they had been sitting in near darkness, and hoped their eyes were a normal color. Gandalf took hold of Frodo's chin and turned his face towards the light.

"He has a good color, now. Were you able to get some food down him, Samwise?"

Sam gulped. "Aye, sir. Food and. . . Food and drink, sir."

Gandalf nodded. "Good. You need to get down him as much as you can, Samwise. As *much* as you can. That will sustain him, in these dark times when no food or drink other than that shall quench his thirst. It will fight off the darkness." He looked at him, and Sam wondered if he was hinting at something that the hobbits had thought secret.

"Oh, my dear hobbits, would that I had been there! Or that I had known, or remembered. . . The full powers of the Ring, and those who serve It, should never be forgotten, or they should haunt all those closest for all eternity. . ." He shook his head. "But these things are in the past, said and done, and all is as it must be, in the end. We cannot change these things."

He stood, leaning on his staff as he gazed out the window. Pippin noticed nervously how dangerously close Gandalf's foot was to the bloodied sheets.

"Yes, feed your master well, Samwise, Merry, Pippin, as well as yourselves. You cannot afford to drink too little, I fear." He turned back to them, a hint of the twinkle returning. "And should you have any trouble finding finding what substance you need, come to me, and do not seek it on your own. I feel that you lot should not make very good little foxes."

Pippin blinked, sharing alook with Sam and Merry. Did Gandalf know? Was he alluding…?

The wizard turned and made his way back towards the door, humming softly as he did. Before he left, Pippin called out in a small voice. "Gandalf. . . ?"

He turned. Pippin swallowed. "What. . . what happened to the footprint? That you found? . . . Under the mulberry bush. . . ?"

The hobbits gazed at him, eyes wide, as Gandalf scratched his beard in thought. He smiled, mischief playing upon his whiskered mouth to rival the young Took's. "Why, I do believe that I stepped in it, Pippin. Quite the shame, really. None would believe me that it was there, anymore, such a mess I made, save the little feet that made it."

Laughing, he closed the door behind him upon three stunned faces and one white face resting gently, a glisten of red shining at the corner of the lip.

-Fin