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Someone had left a scone on the table. Pippin had been looking at it for nearly five minutes now, wondering how it possibly could have been overlooked at breakfast. Or then again at second breakfast and elevenses (which were being served only upon his insistence, and were quite skimpy).
Perhaps, he mused, Merry had meant to have it at luncheon. Or to have as an afternoon snack. Or to have at tea time.
Perhaps, he thought after eyeing the scone a bit longer, Merry had meant for Pippin to have it at luncheon.
It would be a very Merry thing to do, he decided a few moments later.
And surely Merry would not mind if Pippin had the treat he had set aside for him a little early.
Thankful all over again for his recovered eyesight, Pippin used it to confirm that the tent was momentarily empty save for himself. If he scooted down to the end of the cot thus, then it was no more than half-a-dozen steps to the table . . .
The journey was tentative and teetering and a bit painful on the wounded leg, but it was not long before Pippin was just about to gleefully close his fingers about his prize --
"Peregrin Took!" a voice so like his Uncle Saradoc's bellowed at full volume, and Pippin snatched his hand away from the scone as though it had just caught on fire.
"It wasn't me!" he squealed before thinking, because, of course, there was no one else it could be, and he was caught right in the act. Ruefully, he turned to face Merry and seek forgiveness.
But to his bewilderment, Merry did not look angry. In fact, Merry had that look on his face that he only got when he was trying not to cry. "Merry?" Pippin asked tentatively.
Merry gave himself a little shake and hurried over to Pippin's side. "Come on, back in bed," he ordered, grasping Pippin's left arm so the younger hobbit could lean on him as he steadied him the few steps back to the cot. Pippin, disconcerted by Merry's reaction, meekly let himself be led and then tucked back in.
"Did you want this scone?" Merry asked, already walking away from the bed to fetch it for Pippin. But he stopped at the table with his back to his cousin, the fingers of his left hand clutching at the edge of the surface, his right hand twitching at his side.
"Merry, I'm sorry," Pippin said uncertainly. "Are you angry with me?"
There was no answer. Merry lowered his head and continued to clutch at the table for dear life, shoulders now shaking. He abruptly made a snuffling sound, and Pippin realized with horror that Merry was crying.
"Merry!" he exclaimed, and began to climb back out of bed.
"Oh, no, you don't," Merry snapped, spinning abruptly and moving to push Pippin back in the bed, tears still trickling down his face. He fumbled for a handkerchief in his jacket pocket and then swiped angrily at his wet face with it as he sat alongside Pippin. "No one said you could get out of bed by yourself yet, Pippin," he said from the safety of the handkerchief. "You could hurt yourself worse, you know, by trying things you're not ready to do yet."
"Sorry, Merry," Pippin said meekly, patting his cousin's knee. "Don't cry, Merry. I won't do it again."
Merry made a strangled noise of annoyance and emerged from the handkerchief, smiling even as he still cried. "Of course you will do it again, Pippin, and anything else you think you can get away with. I'm not angry, and it's not why I'm crying. I'm sorry, I don't know what it was. I just . . . You . . . I didn't," he stammered, finally blurting out, "I didn't know that I'd ever see you walking again, Pippin, or stealing my tea, or that you'd even be able to see my tea, or-or anything, Pippin. I was a-afraid that you would never, never be able to, or be here to --"
"Oh, Merry," Pippin said tenderly, and held open his arms. Merry was nestled within them a moment later, sobbing onto Pippin's shoulder while Pippin stroked his back and kissed his hair.
Merry finally cried himself out, and lay heavily in Pippin's arms, drained from the outburst. Pippin patted Merry's head reassuringly a few times, and then eyed the scone some more. Merry took some deep, steadying breaths and untangled himself from Pippin, who ducked his head to look into Merry's eyes and smile encouragingly.
"Better?" he asked, and Merry nodded, finding and making use of a fresh handkerchief atop a nearby trunk of supplies.
"You're still bad for getting out of bed alone," he muttered a moment later, poking Pippin gently in the chest for emphasis.
"It was awfully nice of you to save that scone for me, Merry," Pippin answered hopefully.
Accepting half of the scone from Merry a moment later, Pippin studied his cousin thoughtfully. Merry climbed up on the foot of the bed to consume his half of the treat.
"You do have a lot to be grateful for, you know, Mer," Pippin said seriously.
"Yes, I do," Merry replied just as seriously. "So much so that it overwhelms me sometimes."
Pippin nodded solemnly in understanding. "I can't even imagine how horrid it would have been for you, bringing me home blind and crippled and mangled," he said, popping a bite of scone into his mouth.
Merry raised his head to give Pippin an incredulous look. Pippin ignored it and blithely continued, "I remember all the dreadful trouble you and Fredegar got into when I fell off the back of that cart after you hadn't kept a good enough eye on me at the Golden Perch. That was just one little broken wrist, and Briony scared the two of you away from the Smials for half a year. Can you imagine what she would have done to you if you'd brought me home looking like this?"
Pippin was doing a poor job of hiding a smile now, but Merry's face was utterly solemn.
"Exile, Pippin," he answered. "Exile would have been the only safe route left to me. Perhaps they would have taken me in at Rivendell, though that might be too close to the Shire for me to be safe from her."
"And I doubt Lord Elrond would appreciate having to arrange a special watch on his lands for elderly, bad-tempered --"
"With very good aim," Merry added, finishing off his scone and then crawling up to the head of the cot to hug Pippin fiercely. Pippin returned the hug with enthusiasm.
"The things I save you from, Merry," he giggled.
"Wherever would I be without you, Pip," was the sincere answer.
(Note: Briony is my invention and can be found in several of my other stories. Pippin's childhood nurse, she was the terror of Merry's youth.)
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