When Merry entered the bedroom after bathing, Pippin was sitting in a chair facing the fire, the flames picking out gold in his curls and throwing his fine profile into shadow. His face was unusually still, and Merry was suddenly struck with how different Pippin's face looked when he was thoughtful. It seemed so unnatural for Pippin's face to be still and quiet. He stepped into the room, but before he could ask, Pippin raised his head and said without preamble "I'm thinking about Frodo."

Merry closed the door behind him, walking over to sit on the hearthrug at Pippin's feet. "What are your thoughts about him?"

Pippin gazed into the fire, not turning to look at Merry. "I was feeling very guilty before. It seemed so wrong that we could be so happy. After Frodo. And, well, you know... because of Frodo." The corner of his mouth turned up, but Merry spotted the faint quiver which betrayed his feelings. He put his hand on Pippin's knee, feeling the hard bone and firm muscle beneath his fingers.

Pippin was still gazing into the fire. "Do you think he'll find healing, over the Sea? Do you think he'll get better, and be happy again?"

Merry was silent for long moments, turning the question over in his mind; but in the end he could find no reassuring words, and the simplest answer was also the truth. "I don't know, Pippin. I hope so." He watched the firelight dance on Pippin's skin, making shadows and lights. "I feel bad about it too; it hurts to think about him. And you were right before; it isn't fair. But we just have to bear it."

They sat in silence for a long time, Merry breathing long and deep, trying to loosen the tight knot in his chest, while Pippin's hand crept to Merry's head and stroked it gently.


Merry was startled by the sound of Pippin's voice; he raised his head to find that intense green gaze focused on him, and it echoed a memory, which swam away quick as a fish when he tried to catch it. "Pippin?"

"It's not enough just to bear it, Merry. It's not enough."

"What do you mean?"

"We have to do more than that. We can't just say 'Well, we have to bear it' and go on feeling empty because Frodo's gone, and grieved because he was hurt so before he left, and guilty because we're still here and because we're able to... well." Pippin's voice softened; his fingers brushed Merry's hair aside, lingering on the brown scar on his forehead. "We were both right, it isn't fair. But we can't let that drain all the good things away for us. Frodo's part of the world now, Merry. It's only here because of him. Frodo is why we need to live, and love each other, and be as happy as we can be. Because he made everything safe for us, and because he's gone. What would Frodo think, if the only people who couldn't be happy in the world he made safe were... were us? And if all the thoughts we had of him were sad ones?"

He paused for breath, and Merry realised with a painful jolt who it was that Pippin's intense expression reminded him of; it was Frodo, Frodo as he had been before the journey, when he would lean forward over a book of verse and earnestly discuss its contents. He had never thought of the two as even remotely similar before, but recognising the stamp of common ancestry on their faces moved him unbearably.

"Merry, don't you see? We'll remember Frodo sadly, because he's gone, but we can't let ourselves just think of him that way. We have to remember the good things he was part of too. Like the party he gave on his Birthday a few years back, when he had the big cake with the sugar flowers on top, and little lanterns on all the trees along Bagshot Row to light the carriages home."

Merry breathed deeply, and managed a smile. "Or the time he lifted a whole pitcher of ale up to drink from it, and he was so drunk that he overbalanced it and poured the whole thing over his face!"

"Or the time he made that mushroom soup without cream or milk or butter!"

"The one that he thickened with so much flour it turned out like mushroom *glue*?"

"Aye, that's the one."

"And he laughed and laughed when we flicked it at each other across the table, and then we ate it anyway!"

"And the way he used to get so smug because he could skip stones across the water and you couldn't."

"Or when he won a game and he'd be trying not to laugh." The memories surged up suddenly, a great tide that swept him off his feet; he drew a deep breath, and it caught in his throat and released itself in a sob.

"Merry, Merry!" Pippin's hands were in his hair again, stroking his head, gentle and firm. "Don't cry."

"I'm not crying," choked Merry. "I'm, I don't know what I am, Pippin, but you're right, you are, I know it. Oh, Pippin. You're right." He leaned into Pippin's touch, shaking, astounded by Pippin's wisdom and by his own ignorance of what now seemed to be the simplest of truths.

Pippin's hands cupped Merry's face, strong and gentle, and lifted his head.

"Come to bed," said Pippin softly.


Merry had thought that the first time was a beginning, but he realised that it had been something else; acceptance, closing, catharsis. That had been desperate and gasping and born of need and longing and grief, and the need to seal a bond between them. That had been the ending of an old existence, and the salving of old wounds. This was something else entirely.

Forever after when he remembered this evening it splashed over him in a tide of emotions and memories that pulsed in all his senses. The scent of soap, lemon polish, smoke and fresh sweat; the taste of salt and clean skin, and the smoky pipeweed flavour in Pippin's mouth. The tiny circles of sensation Pippin's fingers left as they pressed against his skin, so warm that he almost expected them to be glowing gold when he looked at them. The sound of their scattered gasps, astounded breathless laughter and soft murmurs; and the sight of Pippin's face, hard and soft by turns as emotions flowed over it, intent with studied concentration as he bent his head to kiss or lick or nibble gently. The fire crackled in the hearth, the wind rose outside and swept ragged clouds past the moon, and Merry and Pippin lay wrapped in tenderness in a room that felt like summer, in one another's arms, hearing time measured out in each other's slow heartbeats.

"That was good," said Pippin, smiling, leaning over to press his cheek against Merry's.

Merry looked up into his glowing eyes and smiled back; but a thought struck him as Pippin turned over and settled himself against Merry's side.



Merry hesitated, not wanting to spoil the beauty of Pippin's sleepy smile, but the thought was niggling at him and it had to come out. "I hope Sam's going to be all right."

Pippin was silent for a moment, and then said, "I'm sure he will be. He's got Rose and the baby. Rose won't let him lose himself."

Merry thought for a few minutes. "I suppose you're right. But we should go and see him soon, and make sure."

"Of course." Pippin yawned and kissed Merry's bare shoulder. "Don't worry so much, Merry, please. Sam will be all right. He's with someone who loves him."

Merry smiled in spite of himself. "That doesn't necessarily make everything all right, Pippin."

"No." Pippin answered. "But it makes things easier to bear. Everything's easier, if you're with someone who loves you." He kissed Merry's shoulder. "Sam's with someone who loves him. And so are you, Merry. And so am I."

"And Frodo?"

Pippin was silent for a moment, and answered slowly, "Frodo's safe, and cared for, and he knows he's loved. A part of us went with him, just as a part of him will always be with us. And that's the most any of us can wish for."

Merry nodded slowly, and let the tide of Pippin's slow breathing sweep him away into sleep.