Nervously, he took a turn around the room, one of the studies, brown leather, and old books, the sun creeping in from the glorious day outside and lighting dust motes in the air. He’d been shown in like a stranger when he came to the Smials, after he’d hurried over in answer to the hasty message. Perhaps that was fair, after all he hadn’t visited in months, where once he’d run in and out like he lived here. But that hadn’t just been his fault, and it was natural, after all, Pip was busy these days…
Merry found he’d stopped and was clenching his hands hard on a chair back. Carefully he let go and continued his pacing, realising his throat was dry with nerves. Stupid. It’s only Pip, your dearest friend. A few months should make no difference, it’s still just Pip. You go and see Sam and Rosie all the time. But Merry was uncomfortably aware that this was different, just as it had always been with Pip, just as he’d missed Pip more than he’d thought possible, even more than when they’d been separated on the journey for the Ring, when Gandalf had rode off with him and Merry didn’t know if he would ever see him again. This was different.
There was a noise at the door and Merry spun round to see Pippin barrel through it, curls disordered, shirt hanging out, looking so absurdly young, that Merry found his heart in his mouth, and his hands grew clammy. But before he could move, or speak, Pip had thrown himself at Merry, an enormous hug, and Merry had time for the soft touch of curls against his cheek, and a sweet scent, like vanilla, so achingly familiar that the blood rushed to his face, before he was released again and Pip was turning away.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here, Merry. I’m going mad on my own, there’s nothing I can do, I get in the way, they won’t have me in there. I get shooed out every time I open my mouth to ask a question. I don’t know what to do!”
“Calm down, Pip. That’s the first thing. You’ll be no help to anyone if you carry on like that.”
Merry found his voice carried normally, he expected it to crack or otherwise show the over-whelming rush of emotion he felt at the sight of that so-familiar face, now puckered and frowning with distress. But Pip didn’t seem to notice, he was pacing now himself, all nervous energy, fingers plucking at his clothes, at his watch-chain, no wonder his shirt was untucked – Pip had always been a fiddler and a twiddler. It was no wonder he’d always got into trouble, fiddling with skeletons and palantirs, and smoking too much to keep his hands occupied… Merry came back to himself to see the older Pip twisting his hands together and staring at him.
“But I want to do something, Merry. It’s so hard, to just wait.”
“It’s not our business, you know that. It’s lasses’ business. She’s in the best hands, isn’t she? You’ve had every healer and ‘pothecary in the Shire over to the Smials in the last few months, I’ve heard. And they’ve all said the same, that everything’s fine. You know that, Pip.”
“Come and sit down.”
Merry caught his eye and somehow, just as he had always used to do, Pip quietened. He let out a little sigh, unaware of it probably, and shuffled over to the empty fireplace and flopped down onto the leather couch, moodily staring into the old ashes. Hastily, Merry cast about for something to occupy his Pip, they could hardly play tag or any of the old games at a time like this, but he knew his Pip, he would need something to do, and soon. There was a chess set on the table, but Pip was never a good chess player at the best of times, Merry doubted he’d have the patience for a game now. There was a tray with brandy and glasses, but Pip would drink too fast, because he was worried, and that would mean he’d be in an unforgivable state later. There was… There was a tangle of knitting, left by some Tookish auntie, all loose wool and green stripes, and it gave him an idea.
He swept the wool up onto the brandy tray and carried the lot over to the hearth.
“Here now, pour me a drink. I’ve just ridden over from Brandy Hall like the Black Riders themselves were after me, because I got your message. The least you can do is be a good host.”
Pip laughed a little, his brow lightening.
“I suppose I can’t say, ‘pour it yourself’ like I used to, now I’m a respectable hobbit with responsibilities.” But that pulled him down into gloom again. Merry felt his heart clench as memories squeezed it, that was always Pippin, sun chasing shadow, shadow chasing sun, so quickly passing, like hurrying clouds.
“And pour one for yourself, as if I needed to remind you. It’ll calm you.”
With another of those little worried sighs, Pippin bent and carefully started pouring, passing a glass over to his friend before starting another. Merry noticed his hands had a slight tremble, most unlike the Pippin he knew, and it pained him, even knowing why. The blackest danger hadn’t made Pip tremble like that.
“How long since it started then?”
The brandy sloshed and the decanter rang against the glass, and Merry reached forward and took them away out of suddenly numb fingers.
“It’s been hours – I’ve lost count. It was night when I sent word… What’s the time now?”
“Oh Merry…” And as sudden as that, Pip was in his arms, tears soaking his collar, his sobs breathing warm air along his neck and ear, making him shiver, as he made soothing noises and patted Pip’s back as he had so many times before. Childish tears, they had been, over slights or bumps, and later, tears of pain for Gandalf, or of despair or rage. These were the tears of a hobbit fully grown, who knew the terrors life could bring, who was scared to his marrow and trying not to show it, had been unable to until now, and all the while Merry held him and rocked him and whispered nonsense into his hair.
“She’s so small, Merry.” The voice was muffled in his collar. “My Diamond… So small and precious. What will I do if …”
“Don’t think like that. Hobbit lasses are strong, there’s no reason to suppose the worst, Pip.”
“But you don’t know…”
Merry stilled his stroking hands and at that Pippin pulled away a little, tears still shining on his cheek, the tip of his nose pink.
“What do you mean?” Merry asked.
“We kept it as quiet as we could, as quiet as you can in the Smials, not even my sisters knew. Diamond wanted it that way, she was so upset – she said all the sympathy would make it worse.”
Pippin was back to fiddling again, pulling his watch out and clicking the catch, open and shut, open and shut. His restless eyes wandered the room, never looking at Merry’s patient face. Finally, he glanced at him, looking anxious and lost. Merry desperately wanted to take all the pain away, to have the old Pippin back again, but he waited quietly knowing that Pip would tell him, if he only waited.
“She’s had two miscarriages already, Merry, and this time, this time we were both so hopeful, but this time the babe’s early. What if I lose her, what if I lose them both? I couldn’t bear it!”
Merry found his heart wrung, thinking of all his sweet Pippin had been enduring alone, responsible grown up hobbit though he might be now, and then swiftly feeling guilt, that he hadn’t come and visited more often, that he hadn’t known what was going on. That he had allowed his own selfishness to get in the way of their friendship when Pippin had needed it the most.
“Ah, it’s not that bad, Pip. You mustn’t think that way, you’ve got to be strong for Diamond’s sake. Come on, drink your brandy. If you need telling twice, I’ll send the healer for you as well!”
They sat quiet for while and drank a glass down. Into the silence Merry said,
“I’m sorry. It must have been hard for you both.”
“I feel so helpless, Merry. There’s never anything I can do.” He turned to face the older hobbit. “When we were off adventuring, and there was danger and battles, and the world was ending, you know how we felt so small, that the world was too big for hobbits?”
“Well, it was meant to be better when we got back to the Shire, after we dealt with Sharkey, and it was all over, it was meant to be ‘happy ever after’ wasn’t it, Merry?”
“In the stories, Pip. I don’t think life is really like that.”
“No, it isn’t.”
And Merry had never heard such bitterness in Pippin’s voice before. It was high time he distracted him, if he could.
“You’ll wear your watch out if you keep on clicking the catch like that. Here, take this…” He handed him an end of the green wool and started teasing a length out from the tangle. Pippin regarded the knitting in his lap with surprise.
“This is Auntie Primrose’s, isn’t it? I’m not sure she’d like us meddling. She’ll have my guts for garters if you ruin it, Merry.”
“I’m not going to ruin it, I’m just going to borrow some of it for a while.”
Pippin took on a far away look. “Do you remember when we ‘found’ some of Auntie Primrose’s home-made nettle wine?”
“And you drank too much and were sick as a dog.”
“But it tasted just like lemonade…”
“And she found us at exactly the wrong moment…”
“Well, she never liked those slippers, she said so.”
“My ear stung for days after she’d hauled us through half the Smials…”
They sat and smiled at each other, lost in the shared memory, and Merry thought he’d burst for love of his friend, his Pip, who’d shared everything with him from when he was too small to be following his big cousin about, but following him none the less. And then he thought, I’m still sharing things – he wanted me here. Even if I haven’t seen him for months, he still asked me to come. To be with him, to wait with him, even if the news was bad. And even as the thought warmed him, his clever fingers carried on about their task and he found he had a decent length of wool to hand. It was but the work of a moment to snip the length free and knot it firmly.
“Come here and hold out your hands.” Pippin looked puzzled but obediently shuffled over a little and held them out, small hands, rough in places from sword practice, that he still kept up, Merry could tell. Swiftly, he started looping the wool over and under, twisting and shaping, trying not to feel their warmth, their strength, the shape of each nail.
“What are you doing?”
He didn’t look up from his task as Pip’s curious question stirred the hair on the back of his neck, causing his breath to hitch.
“There. What does it look like?”
Wonderingly, Pip said, “It’s a cat’s cradle.”
And it was. Merry thought he would have forgotten, but the old string games came back to him as if it was yesterday they played and not years ago, before travail and adulthood had robbed them of their sweetness.
“Can you remember any others?”
And they sat and laughed and remembered, and all the while the string and fingers flew and they found all the old favourites – the witch’s broom, the cup and saucer, the wolf, the owl. Just for a while, a little while, they were both children again, until finally, eyes shining, Pippin made the cat’s cradle once more.
“You’ll teach your son to do this some day, Pip.” Merry said quietly. “You’ll play with him, and tell him stories, and you won’t even remember today. I promise you.”
“I shall, Merry. I’ll remember how terrified I was, and how you made the fear go away, just like you always do. And I’ll always be glad you were here, with me.”
The moment stretched, so it seemed to Merry, looking at his Pip across a length of yarn and an impossible gulf, and yet so full of love and laughter and memories that it almost broke his heart. So it seemed inevitable that it was then that the study door flew open and an anxious hobbit maid, with high and eager voice, called for Mr Peregrin to come at once, for he was the father of as fine and healthy a hobbit-lad as could be wished for, and how mother and babe were doing well.
One more moment it took, for the wool to be untangled, and then Pippin was on his feet and hurrying for the door, all thoughts of childish games put aside once more, and Merry watched him go, a sadness pulling him down, knowing that it would not be the same again, that it would never be the same. But Pip paused at the door, and looked back, his face bright, sunshine now, not clouds, and said,
“Merry. You’ll stay, won’t you? You’ll stay and see Diamond – and the baby? Promise me? We have to fill our pipes and drink his health – and we’ll have to think of a name for him. You won’t go before we’ve celebrated, will you?”
“I won’t go, Pip. I’ll be waiting right here.”
And then, comforted, Pip turned away and hurried off, to his wife, to his family, and Merry sat and poured himself another glass of brandy. It wasn’t the same, it never would be, and it certainly would never be as he sometimes wished for in the darkest hours of the night, warm in his bed. But perhaps it could still be good, as long as Pip still needed him, sometimes. And Merry was uncomfortably aware of how much he needed Pip, and had missed him, more than he’d known. They were like two halves of a coin, two cherries on a bough, or… They were like the cat’s cradle. However their lives were knotted and shaped, they were still the ends of the same bit of string, and always would be. It wasn’t everything, perhaps, but maybe – just maybe – it was enough.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.