Title: Embers
Author: Andraste
Notes: This was the first piece of fanfiction I ever wrote. It's Merry/Pippin, set after 'Return of the King', and does contain spoilers for that book. It's also slash, so please don't read if that offends you. And it's a work in progress!
Archiving: Please don't archive this anywhere without my permission; if you do ask, I'll probably say yes, providing my authorship and notes are left intact.
Feedback: yes, please.

Part One


The house at Crickhollow was cold, and Merry left Pippin to light a fire on the hearth as he himself went to see to the stabling of their ponies. Pausing on his way back to the house, he noticed how silent and dark the countryside was, as if the world shared his grief. There would be a storm before morning; he could smell it, dark and dull in the air.

Merry divested himself of his cloak in the hall, hanging it carefully on its hook, and entered the sitting-room. There were two candles lit on the mantel, and no other lights except that of the fire which burned pale and inadequate on the hearth; Pippin was kneeling in front of it, his back angled away from Merry, doing his best to fan the flames.

"The wood's damp," said Merry. "You'll need to wait and let it dry out a bit." His words fell heavily into the silence, like sections chopped from a log.

Pippin made no reply. Merry moved forward, intending to take matters with the fire into his own hands; Pippin was always impulsive, choking the fire with too much kindling or smothering it with too-large logs. Merry knew the way a fire had to be cared for; the kindling laid carefully, so that it resembled a lattice, with the tiny twigs and leaves poked down between to catch the sparks and get the flames travelling, and then the thicker sticks and logs laid atop that, once it had caught hold and burned brightly, giving the fire enough to feed on until it crackled and roared and could boil a kettle or heat soup in a few minutes.

He approached Pippin and put a hand on his shoulder, smiling, intending to put him aside with a light jest and tend the fire himself; but Pippin turned towards him and Merry's heart caught in his throat, for Pippin was crying, tears glistening on his face, lips open and trembling. He looked astonishingly, achingly young.

Merry felt something inside him quiver and recoil from the pain in those eyes that had never yet failed to give him smile for smile. He opened his mouth to speak, to offer some comfort, but Pippin forestalled him, rocking back on his heels.

"He was going to leave without telling us goodbye". He sniffed and dragged the back of his hand roughly over his eyes.

"Oh, Pip." Merry knelt beside him and reached out to brush the hair back from Pippin's forehead, a gesture both of them had found comforting in the past, but Pippin jerked away from him angrily and slumped down onto his knees.

"He was going to leave without saying goodbye. He was just going, just like that, without saying anything, without even letting us kiss him goodbye and give him our love. He was just going, going, going without anything - " Pippin's voice choked off, tears spilling over and falling onto his shirt front; his face was contorted with rage and grief. To Merry's horror, he raised his clenched fists and beat his thighs with them, striking blows hard enough to causes bruises. Again. Again. On the fourth stroke Merry managed to catch at the flying wrists, grasping them firmly against his cousin's struggles; as he pulled at them Pippin suddenly went limp, falling forward with his head in Merry's lap, just as he had done as a child when he came to Merry for comfort.

Merry stroked his cousin's soft hair, conscious of a thudding in his chest. He moved his long fingers over Pippin's head and shoulders and arms, caressing and stroking, trying to impart some comfort. They had sat together like this on the slopes outside Moria, their lungs taking stinging gasps of cold air, a sparse covering of snow on the rocks, and Pippin had wept and Merry had kneaded his shoulder in a helpless attempt at consolation.

Memories of the helplessness and grief of Moria led Merry to thinking about the day they had just experienced; the remote loving look on Frodo's face as he kissed Merry goodbye, and Sam's erect shoulders sagging suddenly as they turned to mount the ponies. Pippin's desperate expression as they set out on receiving Gandalf's message, his tears and smiles at the Havens, his upright stance and set face as they rode home. The hollowness of realising that Frodo had gone away, not only where he could not be followed, but into a state of mind which none of those remaining could understand or hope to lessen for him. A great surge of grief and rage and loneliness rose up within Merry. It was too much; he fell forward and folded himself over Pippin's body, pulling Pippin over into his arms as he himself slid to the floor.

Merry cradled Pippin against his chest, relishing the feel of the warm body against his; the soft flesh and firm muscle alive and moving in his arms, the lithe limbs wrapping themselves around him, the soft breath on his neck - and oh, the scent of Pippin's hair! Pippin was the most familiar and beloved thing in the world, and Merry wanted to protect him and cling to him and crawl inside his skin with him, all at the same time.

Pippin was openly and unashamedly sobbing now, his face pressed into Merry's neck; Merry could feel his hot tears and the sweep of his breath. He gently tugged at Pippin's hair, wanting to smile into his eyes and comfort him. Pippin's head fell back on Merry's shoulder, and his face became visible, hectic and flushed with crying. Tears spilled from his eyes as he sobbed out "Oh Merry, I can't bear it -"

The words caught at Merry's heart like hooks, threatening to draw out the grief he himself had kept folded and walled inside. And how long could he bear it, keeping such feelings inside, before they crawled out onto the surface of his skin? He needed to keep strong, to keep his mind steady, to think of the right thing to say to comfort Pippin. His Pippin, his baby cousin, who had toddled after him until his legs grew long and nimble enough to outrun anyone. Who had always shared with Merry the apples he scrumped from trees around Bywater, who would wrinkle his nose and screw up his mouth when one of his sisters kissed him but would happily fly into Merry's arms and cover his cheek with extravagant smacks delivered enthusiastically enough to sting.

The sweet curve of the mouth, the quivering chin, the sparkling green eyes, all were his baby cousin still; but the soldier of Gondor showed himself in the determined attempt to hold the chin steady, in the way the green eyes were now veiled with water like a garden in the rain. Young eyes, the eyes of a child, with a grown adult's pain in them.

"Pip, Pippin," Merry murmured. "It's all right, it's all right. I'm here." He knew, even as Pippin drew a suddering breath to speak again, that it was not all right, that it might not be all right ever again, but any words would be inadequate and both he and Pippin knew it. All he could offer was the comfort of his own presence.

"How could he just go like that? Leave the Shire, the ones who love him most, leave everything -" Pippin's voice was thick with tears. Merry stroked his hair gently.

"He was too much hurt, Pip. You know what Gandalf said. He couldn't stay. He had to find healing." Merry stroked his long fingers down from the back of Pippin's head, over his shaking shoulders and down gently over the rippling length of his back. "But he saved us all, Pip, and there will be stories and tales about him, and about all of us, told for many long years, after we've gone, about how brave and -"

"I don't want tales and songs and stories. I want Frodo back."