Author's Note: For those who haven't read the description or the books, this is a book-verse ff. So don't be confused when they begin to talk about men and Sharkey and the Battle of Bywater. Just leave it as Saruman (who was callled Sharkey in the Shire) tries to take over the Shire with the help from some vagabonds. Also, just to give you a good picture of Estella, imagine Emilie de Ravin as Belle in Once Upon a Time (Season 1 Episode 14 in particular). That's all, so enjoy the story!

A Talk in the Night

A sob went through the darkening alley as twilight crept upon the inhabitants of the Shire. It was a wrenching noise, as if it had forced its way up the throat against the will of its owner.

Another sound was also heard from that street, the rustling of a cloak; and after that sob, the rustling increased, because when Estella Bolger heard that cry of anguish, she immediately became worried, for whoever it was from, and rushed down the road towards the source. She was slightly taken aback to see handsome Meriadoc Brandybuck sitting with his back on the alley wall, his face wet with tears from his puffy eyes.

Not wanting to scare him, she whispered in a voice so quiet it was nearly lost in the gentle breeze, "Merry?"

When Merry heard her voice, he immediately shot straight up while wiping his nose. "Hullo Estella," he muttered. His face went red from the embarrassment of being caught sobbing so childishly, even in front of such a close friend as Estella.

Estella, realizing his embarrassment, said quickly, "Don't worry Merry. Don't get up. It's fine. In fact," she pondered what she was saying before she said it, "I'm going to sit down with you."

"Oh, Estella, you don't have…" Merry began. But before he could even finish his sentence, she had plopped down next to him, a small puff of dust from the floor emitting as she sat.

"Oh yes I do Merry Brandybuck! What kind of friend would I be if I thought something as silly as getting a dress dirty would be worse than sitting next to a friend?"

Merry couldn't answer this, so instead of retorting, he looked glassy-eyed towards the opposite wall.

Not getting any immediate response, Estella finally said in a worried tone, "What's happened Merry?"

"What makes you think something happened?" he asked flatly, still staring at the wall.

"Well," Estella started slowly, "you wouldn't be crying in an alleyway if something hadn't happened."

That's when Merry turned to her, and began to cry again, harder than before. Now he had someone to vent to, and he wasn't going to stop.

As he cried, rocking back and forth, like a toddler, Estella wanted so much to put her arms around him, but she held back. That would be far too forward. Comforting a friend could only go so far.

After two minutes, Merry finally muttered the truth, "Angelica Baggins… she's….she's engaged."

This took a second to register with Estella. "Oh yes, I heard about that. I heard it was to the old miller in Tookland. It was the first engagement in a long… oh." And that's when Estella remembered. How could she have possibly forgotten? The one fact that used to keep her up for months had been completely driven out of her head. "Merry, I'm so sorry. I forgot the two of you were…"

"Courting? Well, that was before the war. That was before I had disappeared for a year. That was before Sharkey and the men came."

Estella stared at him and slightly shuddered. Not only was she thinking about how awful disgusting, and vain Angelica Baggins was, she also couldn't help but remember the hardship of the reign of Sharkey and the men in the Shire that had only ended when Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam Gamgee returned from their mysterious journey. Every Hobbit who tried to stand up to them before they showed up, like her brother Fatty, was thrown in jail, leaving many of the Hobbit-lasses back home to take care of themselves and attempt to survive in a wicked Shire.

"Merry, I'm so sorry. How'd you find out?" She was hoping that Miss Baggins would at least have the courtesy to let him down lightly.

"Well, I walked over to her house, since I hadn't seen her yet since I had gotten back. She was sitting there under a tree, looking at her reflection in the pond in her garden. I had asked her if she would like to take a walk, and she accepted, like nothing had happened. So we walked, and she talked of things, and I talked of things, but nothing on the idea of marriage. And when I brought her home, her father was outside, working in the garden, and after Angelica had walked into their hole, Mr. Baggins apologized to me about Angelica's behavior… and told me… told me the truth."

Estella listened to this story with utter amazement. She knew Angelica was cruel form childhood experiences, but never thought she was capable of that. Taking advantage of Merry one last time before she was tied down forever? But what angered Estella most was that after a second of thought Merry murmured, as if to himself, "It's all my fault."

"What do you mean it's your fault?" Estella demanded. "How could you possibly say that?"

Merry was rather shocked by her sudden passion for the subject. "Well," he said, his nose still running a bit, "I should've told her I was leaving, you know with Frodo. I mean, I knew that I was going with him, but I didn't tell her. And then, it's not like I didn't look at other people while I was gone." Estella gave him a slight look of disappointment and hurt when he said that comment, because she knew he wasn't talking about her. "But of course the White Lady of Rohan wouldn't look at me, so she married another as well. I am no better than Angelica, really."

Estella couldn't take it. Is this what Angelica did to lads? Made them feel ashamed of themselves even though it was truly her wrong?

She shook her head, and said, like a mother would to a child, "Now, Merry Brandybuck, don't you dare say that it's your fault! Because it's not! That conceited little witch is to blame!" But when she saw Merry's face staring at her in alarm, she attempted to clam about. "What I'm saying is, is that you shouldn't blame yourself for the fault of others. You had to go with Frodo. He was your friend and he needed you. And Sam Gamgee left without telling his lass, Rosie Cotton, that he was leaving with Frodo, and they're engaged now! And really, if any girl is foolish enough to leave you, she's not worth your time."

Merry looked towards her, "You think so?"

"I know so," Estella said, with a smile. And before she could stop herself, she added, "You know what else I know? That there is a girl out there, somewhere, who is meant for you Merry. And I bet she knows it too, but…she's just to shy to say it."

Merry attempted to take this in, and stared again across the wall, and began to smile at the thought.

And for a few minutes they just sat there, the darkness surrounding them, the only thing they could hear was the occasional rustle of leaves and the hoot of an owl. Until, finally, for some odd reason a bit of bravery rushed inside Estella and she thought she could tell him. Just maybe she could tell him her bit of truth. If he could confide in her, why couldn't he confide right back? She had already dropped the hint; maybe he just needed a bit more reinforcement?

"Merry?" she said.

"Mmm..?" Merry replied, slowly turning to her, obviously still thinking what Estella had said before.

But as soon as she had his attention, her courage failed. How could she so silly? Thinking that she could actually tell him? Especially after he had this heartache. She couldn't take advantage of his vulnerability. So instead, she changed the path her sentence would go, and told him, "Thank you… for saving Fatty from the men. You know, getting him out of jail. We never thought we'd see him again."

Merry stared at her, as if surprised. "Your welcome," he replied slowly, "But really I should be thanking you. You're such a great friend Estella." And with that he put his hand on her shoulder in a friendly sort of way. She shivered at his touch, but he remained in his clueless state. After saying this, Merry looked up the sky, and noticed the stars twinkling in the inky blackness of it all. Immediately, realization came to his face, and he said, "Oh, Estella, I'm sorry. I made you late. If I hadn't stopped you, you could've made it home before night."

Estella laughed at him. "Don't worry; my house is just a half mile south. I'll be fine."

"Don't be silly," Merry replied, standing up and stretching. "What sort of friend would I be if I let you walk home alone?"

"Merry I'll be fine," Estella answered, also getting up from her position. She had forgotten how long she had been sitting, and the numbness in her bones reminded her quickly. "Besides, this is the Shire. What could possibly hurt me; the trees?"

Merry smiled, as if the conversation a few moments ago had happened. "You never know."

And with that, they walked out of the alley and made their way down the street, and once again the silence once again took over the Shire night, and everything was peaceful again.