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Come and Catch Me  by storyfish

Disclaimer:  Merry and the Shadow and Pippin and Aragorn aren't mine.  *pouts*

Notes:  Written for Marigold's Challenge #20!


Come and Catch Me

1.  In the Dead of the Night

Merry woke in the dead of the night.  Above him, the stone arches of the Houses of Healing were lit by a pale slant of moon, thin and red with smoke and shadow and fire.  A cold sweat sat between his shoulder blades.  And on his mind was only one thing:  Pippin.  He had to see Pippin.

It was a nightmare that woke him.  That's all it was, wasn't it?  As Pippin marched on the Black Gate, sword in hand, Merry dreamed something horrible in the dead of the night. 

A dream?  Yes, just a dream.  But he could not shake its shadow from him.

So Merry had to see Pippin.  Impossible, of course.  But Merry was so tired.  So tired of fighting through the darkness, of seeking Pippin's smile in his mind.  His smile was the only thing that reminded Merry that elsewhere, far away, there was still sweet sunlight and bright Shire grasses.  Pippin's smile would shake the Shadow from him.  But Pippin was gone.  And the nightmare lingered.

The nightmare sat next to his bed and stared into Merry's eyes and saw his fear.  It sunk its claws into Merry's arm. 

And somehow, Merry already knew something had happened to his dearest cousin, there at the Black Gate.  And though he tried not to believe it, the cold deep in his arm whispered, he's dead, dead, dead. 

And when Merry's heart cried, No!, the nightmare hissed, and the cold grew teeth.

Where were you as the blade thrust him through?

Not there.

And who was there to catch him as he fell? 

No one. 

And where were you as he, blood-spattered, gasped his last?  You, his most-trusted friend, his brother?

Far, far away.  Safe in bed as he fell alone. 

Oh, and he was alone, lost and alone as the dark closed in.  Alone and scared, your name a choked-off cry on his lips.

And Merry could hear him then, though he fought against it--from far off, a weak Merry! dissolving into the cold and distant stars.

Where are you, Merry?

2.  Merry Dreamed This

Pippin giggled at Merry, nose scrunched in amusement, a crown of clovers woven through his curls.  The waning sun cast a soft orange glow on the smattering of freckles across his nose and on the insects drifting upward out of the Shire grasses, their tiny winged forms alight like dust-motes in sunbeams. 

Around them, all was quiet as memory.  Even the soft chirrups of insects came slowly, as if from beneath a great depth of water.

"Merry, Merry, slow-as-can-be!  Merry, Merry, can't-catch-me!" Pippin sang, giggling again, his laughter rhyme and rhythm, another part of the song.  Then he turned and ran away, over the crest of the hill, small limbs flying.

This was where Merry realized it was a dream, though he was powerless to wake from it.  Because even though Pippin ran with all the giddy unsteadiness of a child who just learned how to work his legs, Merry towered with his newfound Ent-height.  And though Pippin ran slowly, almost floating each time his feet left the ground, Merry's own limbs were clumsy and cold and could not gain on him.

When Merry reached the hill's top, the sunset was fading to twilight.  The other side was cloaked in shadow. And where the shadow fell, the grasses were deadened, turned grey, and all the insects silent as winter.

"Pippin?"  Merry called softly, almost afraid what would answer.  Already he knew:  Pippin was gone.

A rush of feathers against the grass was loud as a thunderclap in the silence.  Merry stumbled downhill to the sound.  A wild falcon lay in the grass, his chest fluttering with rapid breaths, his eyes half-closed against the dying of the sun.

Merry reached for him, but the yellow eye widened, the hooked beak snapped.  Merry withdrew his hand, trembling as the bird labored to right himself.  His wings beat the crumbling grasses around him to dust.

And then the falcon was in the air, dust falling from his wings to the ground like ashes from a distant fire.  He wheeled above Merry's head, once, then flew towards the red flame of the setting sun.

Merry, he keened.  Come and catch me, was his cry. 

But Merry could not follow.  He was just a hobbit, after all.  He could not fly, could not catch him, no matter how the falcon called.

And then it was night, too late.  The sky was empty and dark.  And Merry stood on the hilltop, calling and calling for the falcon, calling until his throat bled.  Calling until his eyes overflowed with the knowledge that he'd been left behind.  He'd been left behind, and none would return for him.

For the falcon was gone, gone and away, just like Frodo and Sam.  Already they'd flown beyond the sun, overseas to the stars.

And Merry could not follow. 

3.  The Shadow, Truth-Giver

They took Merry to him at dawn, the moment he set foot in Ithilien.  Above them, the sky was still grey and cool, and the white cluster of healing tents seemed huddled together like a flock of geese, heads tucked into wings against the morning damp.

"You must keep hope," Aragorn said. "Each day he breathes is a gift."

The tent was dimly lit inside; the early sun pale as a ghost against the canvas sides. 

Pippin lay on a cot, a small form shrouded in layer upon layer of blood and ointment-stained bandages.  His head was thrown back; a pale bruised neck stretched up to swollen, white-chapped lips, stained blue from bruises or want of air.  A lone curl brushed his forehead, a question-mark of autumn-brown winding amongst the fever-sweat beads on Pippin's wax skin, across the dull-red seams where his skin had split. 

The curl was the only part of Pippin that Merry recognized.  It was the only part of him that still looked like the Shire.

And Merry fell to his knees beside the cot.  He could not tear his eyes from the curl, the question-mark, asking:  It comes in pints?  But what about second breakfast?  So where are we going?  Are these magic cloaks?  I wonder how long it is since I slept in a bed?  What is the time?  Why did you bring me here?

But Pippin himself was silent, silent as the grave.  Even when Merry's fingers whispered across his cheek, the slope of his battered nose, and up his temple to rest in the crook of the question-mark curl, Pippin made no motion save the uneven rise-and-fall of his chest, the wheeze of shallow breaths.

And the nightmare grinned, and the shadows in the tent-corners deepened.  I told you so.

It might have broken Merry, seeing Pippin like that.  But because of the night-whisperings, he'd already known.  He was prepared for the worst.

The Shadow was, after all, a truth-giver. 

And now Merry could not remember why he'd ever bothered resisting the Shadow.   The Shadow was a mercy.  When they all faded away, Pippin and Frodo and Sam, the Shadow wouldn't force Merry to linger.  One night, it would steal his breath as he slept and they'd all be together again.

"He may yet return to us, Merry," Aragorn said, a hand on Merry's shoulder.

Merry nodded, woodenly.  The truth:  Pippin will not return.  But I will soon join him.

And then Merry's view of Pippin was obstructed by Aragorn's solemn eyes.  They held Merry's gaze for a second, then drew away, and Merry could see Pippin again. 

He was still dying.

But inside Merry, something small noted that Aragorn's forehead had creased as he searched Merry's eyes.  Creased, as if what he saw there disturbed him. 

And was that a hand that grasped Merry's right arm?  It was so hard to tell.  He was numb, numb and cold.  Already a corpse.  The truth:  Aragorn sent for me so he could bury us, bury us all together in one grave.

 After all, hobbits should never be alone.


4.  And Merry Also Dreamed This

Pippin giggled at Merry, nose scrunched in amusement, a crown of clovers woven through his curls.  The waning sun cast a soft orange glow on the smattering of freckles across his nose and on the insects drifting upward out of the Shire grasses, their tiny winged forms alight like dust-motes in sunbeams. 

Around them, all was quiet as memory.  Pippin swung up, arm over arm, further into the apple tree that sprang from the grasses at the top of the hill.

"Merry!" he called, high voice piping the word like it was a melody.

"Yes, Pippin?"  Merry answered, his newfound Ent-height coming in handy.  Young Pippin probably thought he was quite far up the tree, yet here Merry was, only an arm's length beneath him.

"If I fall, you'll catch me, right?"  Pippin asked, tilting his head backwards so he gazed into Merry's eyes upside-down.

"Of course I will," Merry said, slightly insulted Pippin would doubt him, even for a second.

Pippin swung a bit as he gripped his branch better with both hands.  "But what if I left and climbed Old Man Willow by myself and he swallowed me up, and I called and called, but you were having tea with Pearl and Pimpernel and Pervinca and you couldn't hear me?"

"Why, I'd know where you were anyway and come and catch you."

"But you wouldn't know!  I would've been quiet and sneaky and no one would know where I was!"  Pippin said, now swinging by his knees, indignant, his arms crossed.

"I'd know," Merry said.

"Why?"  Pippin asked.

"Because you're my little cousin.  And I'll always be there to catch you," Merry said.

Pippin swung back upright onto the branch and kicked his feet in rhythm to the soft cricket-songs in the grasses.  Sunset had faded to twilight, and the tree cast a purple shadow onto Pippin's face.  Merry's stomach knotted.  It looked like a bruise.

"Pippin, it's getting dark.  Time for you to come down."

"But I don't want to," Pippin said, tightening his grip on the branch, mouth set stubbornly.

"You won't even have to climb down.  Just let go, and I'll catch you."

Pippin looked dubiously down at Merry's outstretched arms, then shook his head.  "No!"

Merry was beginning to feel impatient.  "Why not?"

Pippin's face crumpled, and his child-eyes glistened with tears.  "You say you'll catch me, but you won't!  You won't!"

"Of course I will, you silly Took.  Why wouldn't I?"

But Pippin wouldn't answer, and hid his face in the shadow of the tree.

"Come on, Pip.  Don't you trust me?"

Pippin nodded.

"Then let go," Merry said.

"And you'll catch me?"  Pippin's voice was more a breath than a whisper, like leaves brushing each other in the dark.

"I promise."

And so Pippin loosened his hold on the branch. 

Merry stretched out his arms to catch him, then cried out in horror.  He had no hands.  Beyond his sleeves, his frayed white cuffs, there was nothing but air.

And Pippin fell and fell.

5.  Waking the Dead

Someone was knocking on the door of Merry's tomb.  Not loudly, but with quiet insistence, a rhythmic thud-thud like the beating of a heart.  And Merry's shroud was warm and comforting, like a quilt, so he didn't want to rise from his coffin and answer the door.  After all, he'd always assumed that once you were dead, unexpected company didn't just show up for tea anymore.  But seeing as the hobbit (or hobbits?) at the door didn't want to go away, he supposed he could put a kettle on.

Merry opened his eyes. 

Someone had placed him on the cot with Pippin.  His face was crooked against Pippin's left side, and all along Merry's right, he could feel the warmth from his cousin's body thawing the ice from his limbs.  Merry blinked a few times.  Bright sunlight flooded the tent-fabric above him, and there was a whisper of athelas on the air.  How odd that the tent had seemed so dark before. 

Merry sighed, unwilling to wake completely.  He was really quite comfortable, his ear nestled into the bandages stretched cross his cousin's chest.  Through layers of white, he heard the knocking again.  No, not knocking.  The steady, strong thud-thud of Pippin's heart.

Merry's breath caught and he sat up, wobbling a bit as his right arm failed to support him completely.  Yes, his cousin's face was still pale and bruised, his eyes closed.  But he was warm, and his breath was as steady as his heart, if less deep and strong.  Merry was nearly dizzy with the realization:  Pippin no longer looked like a corpse.

The white bandages on Pippin's chest expanded as he heaved a deep sigh.  A flicker of movement beneath his thin, blue-veined eyelids.

"Pippin?"  Merry whispered, hardly daring to hope.

A blink.  Bright green eyes stared into his.  And suddenly, Merry remembered:

The green hills, speckled gold and blue with flowers, the wind teasing the long grasses into a rustling that sounded like the ocean.

The green of Pippin's eyes as they reflected the sparkling explosions of Gandalf's fireworks, how they glowed with delight as the golden star-bits rained around them and through the green, green leaves of the Party Tree.

The green of Estella Bolger's skirts as she twirled, waist warm and solid beneath his hand, her fingers sweet and charged with lightening as they danced to fiddle-songs and beating drums.

The green of the round door to Bag End as it opened and Frodo peeked out, his dark curls tousled from waking too early after a long night of dancing and ale, his face spreading into a grin as he cried:  "Meriadoc Brandybuck, you rascal!  Where have you been keeping yourself these days?"

"Hullo, Merry," Pippin said, his voice barely a whisper from between chapped lips.

"Pippin," Merry choked out, trembling and full of something green and fresh as song, something halfway between laughter and tears. 

And that's when Merry knew--it was he, not Pippin, who'd been falling all along.  Pippin held out a hand and Merry blindly reached for it. 

Where were you?  Come and catch me.

And here, as Merry folded Pippin's bruised hand in both of his own, here was Merry's solid ground.




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