In which Merry gets an eye-opener, and Pippin gets a promise
1409 SR, Bag End
The next time I woke, I was immediately more oriented, and promptly opened my eyes. Morning light was peeping in around the curtains. The fire crackled merrily and the room smelled crisp and freshly cleaned. Pippin was sitting in the armchair near the bed, cross-legged as though he were sitting on the ground, and holding a large book in his lap. He was looking at me, though, and not his reading material, his head cocked to one side and a faint smile on his lips at seeing me awake.
I blinked at him and licked my lips. "Hullo," I said, suddenly unsure of just what to say to him, and though my voice sounded weak, it was my own.
"Hullo," he answered, and smiled a little more, but he did not get up from the chair. "Feeling better, then?"
I nodded slowly, closing my eyes again briefly and passing my hand over them to try and rub the sleep out. I took a deep, deep breath, and it was such a pleasure to do so without pain or effort that I took several more. When I opened them again, Pippin still had not moved, and he had a strange look on his face that I could not place. I wasn't certain what it was -- appraisal? aloofness? anger? -- but it was nothing like the open affection I was used to, and I found it disconcerting.
I was relieved to see for myself, however, that he was well, and much improved from the exhausted state he had been in when I first woke. I had vague memories of the fevered dreams and recollections I had experienced over the past . . . how many days had it been? It had been a week when I woke up to find my mother with me, and I guessed that this was the following day. I knew I had dreamed mostly of Pippin and his own youthful illnesses, no doubt brought on by the fear for his health that had led me to Bag End in the first place. Reliving those experiences had brought a resurgence of love and concern to me, and I also felt increased respect and awe for this small cousin who had fought this dire battle over and over again, and triumphed every time. I had known before that every breath cost him, but now, from my own personal experience, I understood that I had been guilty of underestimating this small, determined hobbit his entire life.
I started to say something to him, but a small, dry cough came out instead. My throat was still raw and parched, and my lips dry and cracked. Pippin set his book aside and came over to the chest of drawers to pour me a mug of water from the bedside pitcher. I found, to my delight, that I could sit myself up and handle the mug on my own. Watching me out of the corner of his eye, Pip busied himself with some things on the chest of drawers, and when I handed him back the water mug, he placed a fresh one of hot tea in my hands.
"Thank you," I said after taking a few sips.
"You're welcome," he said, hovering near the bedside. He stood at his post until I had finished my tea, and then dutifully took the mug from me and put it back on the chest of drawers. "Do you want anything else?" he asked.
I shook my head, then reached out for his hand. "Come here," I requested, but instead he pulled away, putting his hands in his pockets and moving back from the bed.
"Pippin!" I exclaimed in surprise. I could see the tension in every line of his body, from his clenched jaw to his curled toes.
"You were horribly sick, you know, Merry," he said in a grave voice.
"Oh, Pip," I answered, thinking I understood the problem. "I know, and I'm sorry, but I'm all right now. You don't have to be afraid -- everything is going to be just fine."
He gave a little snort of a laugh, restlessly rocking on the balls of his feet. "Afraid?" he said. "Is that what you think I am?" Then those green eyes flashed at me and I realized I had completely misjudged the situation.
Pippin was angry with me. He was angry with me so seldom that in my weakened state I had not recognized it. I took a deep breath and folded my hands.
"Pippin," I began, intending to tell him that it was not surprising he should be angry with me, and that it would pass as his fears dimmed, but he cut me off.
"Oh, be quiet," he said, scowling. "Be quiet and let me speak, Mr. You-Need-To-Start-Thinking-About-The-Consequences-Before-You-Act."
My jaw snapped shut again, and I clutched the edge of the quilt, as if it could help me ride out the incoming squall. My sweet-tempered cousin was seldom ever angry with anyone, but when he was he was a force to be reckoned with, and I could not recall ever having seen him as angry as he was at this moment. And that he was this angry with me was something I found almost inconceivable. Pippin was pacing now, and I wondered how I could have mistaken this righteous anger for fear. He stopped and whirled on me, and I instinctively pressed myself back into the pillows.
"My whole life, you have looked out for me, in every way imaginable. You've taught me, you've protected me, you've cared for me, all so much that now I begin to wonder if there is any room left inside you for anything else." His voice shook from anger and strain wrought over so many days and nights beside my sickbed.
I said nothing, for I could not dispute that sometimes it did seem as though all of my being was given up with love for Pippin.
Pip's lips were trembling, but I was not certain if it was anger or tears he was holding in. I could see that his hands were clenched inside his pockets, and his shoulders were back. When he spoke next, however, his voice was calmer.
"And in taking care of me, you have always demanded that I take care of myself. But do I not deserve the same consideration from you? Do you somehow imagine that my pain from losing you would be any less than yours should you lose me? Do you think my world would be any less shattered? If I had been so ill as you feared I was, what good would you have done me having made yourself sick in your hurry to get here? You know better, Merry, I know you do, you who are always telling me I should think things through before doing them."
I was breathless again, but now it was with self-reproach and revelation. No, it had not ever occurred to me to imagine how Pippin would feel at losing me. My only thoughts had ever been of how I could not bear to lose him. I stared at him in shock. I knew that his love for me was no less all-encompassing than mine for him, yet such an obvious truth had never so much as crossed my mind.
"Oh, Pippin," I whispered. "I am so, so sorry."
"You should be," he said angrily, moving a bit closer to the bedside. "You of all people know what it feels like to think the person you love dearest in all the world may leave you. How could you endanger yourself so thoughtlessly and put me through that? How could you, Merry?"
Now he was crying, hot tears and gulping breaths and shaking limbs. "I love you more than anything, Merry," he choked out. "What is the point of you taking care of me if you throw away the only thing I really need?"
"Oh, Pip," I cried as my own tears started to fall, and I started to get out of bed and go to him, but before I could, my arms were full of wet, shaking hobbit and I just buried my face in his curls and sobbed, "I'm sorry, Pippin, I truly am, I never meant to hurt you. You are right, I never thought . . . Please, please, please forgive me."
"I'm sorry, too, Merry," he sobbed, pressing his face into the crook of my neck. "I know it could have just as soon been me, that I behaved foolishly as well, but you were so sick and I was bad scared and then I was so angry with you because I love you best of all," and then we just held each other until we were cried out, Pippin's fingers clutching the front of my nightshirt while mine dug into the back of his weskit.
Finally, Pippin pried himself away from me, and I nearly wept again at his absence. He was back soon enough, pressing a handkerchief into my hand and wiping his own face off with another. My poor handkerchief was drenched after the first pass over my face, and Pip took it back from me. "Oh, here," he said, tossing the soiled handkerchief onto the chest of drawers and throwing a handful of fresh ones onto the bed. Then he clambered up beside me, sitting cross-legged as he had earlier in the armchair, and reached out to take one of my hands in both of his. He sniffled one last time for good measure.
"I never knew what it was like for you," he said.
"I never meant you to," I said around the lump in my throat that was threatening to erupt in a fresh bout of tears. I wondered if my mother had spared me the scolding that I deserved because she suspected that I would be on the receiving end of one from Pippin that would be harsher than anything she might have said. And Pippin was right, and I deserved it. I had truly never given much thought to myself, or my own mortality, or how my own illness or loss would affect the ones who loved me best, but certainly I had made sure in many small ways that Pippin understood his responsibility to safeguard his health as much as he could. He had taken the lessons to heart, whilst I, the teacher, had never understood that what I was teaching applied to myself. How very silly, and blind, I had been.
Pip sniffled again and squeezed my hand. "No, I mean really," he said. "We were afraid for you, your fever kept getting so high and we couldn't get it to stay down, and I was horribly frightened, of course, but I can scarce imagine how you faced up to going on, Merry, thinking that I had died and you had lost me forever."
I stared at him -- the memory of that day, so recently relived in my fevered state, was very near the forefront of my mind. But I had never spoken to Pippin of all that had transpired during that dreadful time, least of all that grim morning.
"Pippin, I never told you about that day . . ."
He grinned weakly at me. "Merry, I have not left your side for more than an hour or two all week. You talked a lot -- delirium, Mr. Goodbody said, brought on by the fever -- and I made Frodo help me piece together what little I could not work out. I stood with you outside the door to my room while you gathered enough courage to come in and say goodbye." A single glistening tear rolled down his face, still flushed and puffy from his earlier bout of weeping.
"I'm so sorry, Pip. I never meant that you should know about . . ." I tried to look away, overcome by the memory and disconcerted by Pippin's knowledge of it.
"Don't be sorry." I looked back into clear green eyes that did not seem distressed by this new knowledge. "Is it such a bad thing, Merry, to know you are so beloved?" He reached out to touch my cheek with a single fingertip, and the gesture prompted my own tears to well back up.
"Here, now, don't you go crying like that again, or you'll not be able to breathe and I will be in trouble with Mr. Goodbody," Pippin said, smiling reassuringly and fumbling about the quilt for the handkerchiefs he had tossed there earlier. I took the proffered handkerchief with a mumbled thanks and hid my face in it for a moment as I composed myself.
"You spoke a lot in your dreaming, Merry, so much of it about me that sometimes it seemed as if you didn't know if it was you or I that was ill," Pippin said softly once he saw that I was able to listen once more.
I thought back through what I remembered passing through my confused mind those past days. "Sometimes I didn't," I had to admit, and looked into Pippin's eyes and found myself locked there by solemn wisdom that belied my cousin's youth and disposition.
"You worry so about me that you are in danger of losing yourself," he said, then took a deep breath, clearly steeling himself for something. "I do not wish to be the one standing outside your bedroom door one day, trying to summon enough courage to enter."
I nodded at him, and reached out my hand to take his and squeeze it. "I never want you to have to go through what I went through that day," I said, my voice a bare whisper.
Pippin was very still and solemn. "Then I want a promise, Merry. I made you a promise once, and I have done my best to keep it, and will continue to do so. Now I want the same from you."
I swallowed hard, quaking a little. Hobbits take promises very seriously, and if I made one to Pippin, I would keep until always. I thought of my words carefully before speaking, and made certain they were ones I could live by.
"Peregrin Took, from now on I will care for myself with the same vigilance that I safeguard you with," I said gravely, meaning every word. Pippin looked me hard in the eyes for long, silent moments, and then let his breath out in a gust and smiled tenderly at me.
"I could not ask for better than that. But make it a real promise," he said affectionately. "Make it a promise, and promise me right."
I smiled a little as I answered, "I'll be a good lad, all day and night," but when he leaned over for the wet, smacky kiss on the cheek we had always used to seal the promise, instead I reached out with my hands and tipped his face so I could place a long, firm kiss to his brow.
"I love you, Pippin," I said as I let go, because the simplest words seemed the best, and I held my arms out to him. "I love you too," he said in a muffled voice that trembled only slightly. When we finally moved apart, he flopped beside me in the bed rather than sit upright again. He turned to look at me and grinned broadly, then reached out with his feet to poke mine through the covers.
"Now that you've been properly chastised, and have promised to behave yourself, I'll stop nagging and we can talk about other things for awhile," he said conversationally. "Your mum and Mr. Goodbody say you are going to have to stay here at Bag End until you are completely well, and that could be weeks, so of course I will be staying as well. We are going to have to find some things to do to take up the time, though. I think we should plan some trips for this summer. It will be fun, Frodo has so many maps we can look over, and see just where we want to go. It's been a long time since we went to the North Farthing -- maybe we could go visit some of the Tooks up there for a bit. You know that Frodo will be up for that. I wish we could get him to take us somewhere real, outside of the Shire, I mean." He gave me the little delighted grin that generally meant I would be the one in trouble for our fun sooner or later. I grinned back.
"Someday he will, Pip, I am sure. But for now, I can't think of anything I'd rather do than tramp around the Shire with the two of you this summer. Maybe Frodo will even convince Sam to come along on a ramble or two."
His grin got a little wider (and a little more mischievous) and it warmed me to my toes. "I'm so glad you're better!" he said in a near-whisper that still managed to be an exclamation. "And awake! You have been asleep forever, you know."
"Mmm," I said, loathe to admit that I was getting sleepy again. But before I did fall asleep, I too had something to say. I was quite aware that any time I had understood anything at all of what was going on about me while I was ill, I had known that Pippin was there with me, lending me his strength and willing me to get better. "Thank you, Pippin, for taking such good care of me. I couldn't have borne it if you hadn't been with me." He snuggled next to me and took my arm and wrapped it around himself.
"I just tried to do the things you've always done to make it easier for me whenever I was ill. I didn't think I could be brave enough, or strong enough, so I just did my best and tried to take care of you like you always take care of me."
I squeezed him tight. "I'm not brave or strong when you're ill, Pip. Like you said, I just do my best and hope that I can love you so much that it will make a difference somehow."
He squeezed me back a bit and was silent, so I let my heavy eyelids drift shut.
"I heard you, you know," he whispered in a voice more hushed than I had ever heard come from him. "You said, 'I know you've tried so, so hard, and you're so tired, but please don't go,' so I knew I couldn't leave, knew I couldn't stop fighting, no matter how tired I was, because I had to come back to you. I knew it was you, and I'd made you a promise, so I came back."
I didn't know what to say, overwhelmed and awed to hear my exact words coming back to me, and to know that they had made all the difference, so I just held Pippin closer and shut my eyes tighter against the tears. As if he knew I was exhausted, he nestled a little closer. "Go to sleep, cousin. You're so tired, I know you are. Mr. Goodbody said sleep is the best thing for you, and it turns out he seems to know what he is doing, no matter how odd he acts."
I wanted nothing more than to follow his advice, but I had slept so much I was reluctant to give in to my weariness. I realized I didn't even know for sure what time it was, not that it mattered so much, but I did want to make sure that I hadn't lost any more days that I couldn't remember.
"Pip, it's Friday, isn't it?"
"Yes. Nearly luncheon by now, I would think."
"Mmm," I muttered as I began to drift off, finding that I found the thought of luncheon rather intriguing. "Wake me up for it?"
I heard him laugh, then he teased, "After I've gone to all the trouble to wear you out again? Frodo is making his mushroom soup in honor of your being better, and if you're asleep I feel fairly certain that if I look sad and hungry enough I can wheedle your share as well as my own. Besides, you do need your rest, you know."
Even though I couldn't gather enough energy to open my eyes I managed enough of a tickle to make Pip squeak and giggle, and then he hugged me with careful exuberance. I let myself drift off into peaceful slumber in the safety of his arms, his laughter reverberating in my ears and floating off with me into pleasant dreams.