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Cakes and Apples
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Over on Livejournal, the Shire Kitchens community had a Food-Fic challenge. Here's one of the things I wrote for it. Email me if you'd like the recipe. :)


~~~

"What's this, Pip? You, not hungry?" Merry spoke lightly, though worry knotted cold within him. Pippin had barely eaten all day, and though he denied any pains in his belly he was quiet and peaked and pale.

And he smiled ruefully. Rue, on Pippin's sweet cheery face! "I don't want the soup," Pippin said, a little guiltily. "You should eat it."

"What do you want?" Merry set the tray aside so he could climb in beside Pippin, who curled into him as best as his splints and bandages would allow. "Tell me, and I'll fetch it for you."

"You can't." Pippin tucked his face into the crook of Merry's neck, and the skin there prickled as if it were happy all on its own to feel his breath. "I want an apple cake, and it's springtime and we're in the middle of an army. There aren't apples to be had."

"Let me worry on that." If there were an apple for leagues around, Merry swore to himself he'd have it for Pippin. "What sort of apple cake?"

"The kind made in a skillet, with butter and sugar and cider in a syrup on the bottom, you know?" Pippin sighed a little, his smile curving across Merry's skin. "We'd slice the apples and fan them out in the pan, sprinkle on a little cinnamon and cook them a bit, while we'd whisk up a batter with melted butter and an egg, sugar and nutmeg and soft flour. Then in goes the batter, and the whole thing into the oven for a quarter hour."

"More like a half hour," Merry parried absently, nestling his face into spice-colored curls, calling up memories of such cakes, and Bag End mornings with them: Pippin bouncing about the warm sweet-smelling kitchen, impatient and half-dressed; Frodo muzzily peering over the edge of his teacup; Bilbo at the great stove, didactic and precise, laughter in his eyes as he regarded his young cousins and more and more often the gardener's boy from down the Row. Then Bilbo was gone, and Bag End was Frodo's, and Sam was the cook, at first hesitant and unsure till with Frodo's encouragement he cooked as confidently as if the kitchen were his own. All the while, across all those visits, Pippin grew taller and longer-limbed, and ate a larger share of the cakes, but he always bounced around the kitchen and he never wanted to wait.

Would Pippin ever bounce like that again? Would Frodo and Sam even awaken?

Merry pushed away the worries before he could bog down in them, and did not let himself weep into Pippin's hair. Instead he kissed the top of Pippin's head, and smiled when the only reply was a drowsing mumble. Carefully disentangling himself, Merry kissed Pippin's cheek just to feel the warmth of it. Pippin was alive, Frodo and Sam were alive. And if Pippin wanted an apple cake, Merry would see to it that he had one.

After all, they had allies.

Merry climbed from the cot, pulled the blankets up over Pippin, and left the tent.

*

Apple and cinnamon perfuming the air, soft blankets round his shoulders, Pippin drowsily thought himself waking in Bag End of a morning, asleep beneath the skylight in the guest room that was always his. Except that the bed was too hard, and the light was wrong, and, oh, yes, he ached all over. Pippin woke to afternoon sunshine in a tent on Cormallen, opened his eyes, and breathed, and then grinned when he realized that the mouthwatering scent at least was real.

"Pippin Took, will you ever wake?" Merry's voice vibrated with laughter, and when Legolas stepped over to help Pippin sit up he winked, which made Pippin gape in shocked delight. A winking Elf was surely a portent.

"The trouble I go to for you," Merry continued, and when Pippin was upright he saw that Merry held a plate in his hands, and on it was a dark, glistening, redolent apple cake, just the sort Pippin had described.

"Oh, Merry," Pippin cried before he caught himself enough to add, "But I'm worth it, am I not?"

"I suppose you are, at that." Carefully holding the cake steady, Merry sat on the side of the cot. Pippin reached up with his good hand, and Merry held the cake out, but what Pippin wanted, even more than a piece of cake, was to thread his fingers through Merry's and squeeze his hand. "Thank you," Pippin murmured, blinking fast because his eyes watered nearly as much as his mouth.

Merry smiled lopsidedly, his eyes warm and dark, a tear running down one cheek. "You're welcome," he said softly; then, more loudly and brightly, with an energetic flourish that nearly concealed the swipe of his sleeve across his eyes, Merry said, "it's all Legolas' doing, at any rate. When I told him what I wanted, he found me a good sound apple and a cup of sugar and even a kind old cook to let me use his kitchen tent. Thank you, our gracious prince."

Pippin laughed at that, and Legolas smiled with a little bow. "It was my pleasure to be of aid."

"Thank you indeed, Legolas. You simply must share this with us," Pippin offered, and Legolas inclined his head. "Once you eat, Peregrin. Your strength is still not what it was."

"Well, if you insist." Pippin broke a crisp edge off the cake, and it came away with a tender, glossy slice of apple. Merry watched so intently that the smile was sliding off his face, so Pippin nudged him with his better foot and, when Merry opened his mouth, shoved the bite of cake in. "Just making sure it doesn't have salt instead of sugar," Pippin said cheekily, grinning all the wider at Legolas's genteelly muffled snort. Merry's eyebrows fairly danced on his brow, saying all his full mouth couldn't.

Pippin's smile softened in response, as he broke off a bite of cake for himself, licking the cider syrup from his fingers as the apple melted on his tongue. It tasted even better than he remembered.

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