Gasping, he woke to find sunlight filtering into the tent. He was gripping his right arm and drenched in sweat. His arm felt like a thousand icicles were piercing it. Had he been dreaming, or had he fainted after Pippin...
He turned to look at the cot next to him. It was empty.
Merry closed his eyes. So it hadn't been a dream; he had held Pippin as he had taken his last breath. Merry must have swooned, and sometime during the night someone must have found Pippin's lifeless body and taken it away. Indescribable anguish cascaded through his body once again.
Shuddering, he stopped the sob from escaping his lips. A feeling of numbness and detachment descended upon him. He lay back down on the bed, back facing Pippin's cot, and closed his eyes. He would just go to sleep and never get up again, he decided. He didn't want to deal with the pain of life without Pippin, so he wouldn't. He actually felt peace start to settle over him. Sighing, he started to mentally say farewell to those remaining behind. I'm sorry, Frodo, he said to himself. I'm sorry I couldn't stay to say goodbye. Strider, thank you for all that you have done and tried to do. Gandalf...then his mind shut off and he drifted endlessly.
Gandalf strode toward Merry and Pippin's tent, squinting into the sun. It was just past noon; Merry should have gotten plenty of rest by now, and should be awakening. He stepped into the tent and saw that Merry was curled on his side, apparently asleep. Smiling fondly, Gandalf softly walked over and made to shake Merry awake. He stopped as he bent over and got a good look at Merry's face. It was ashen gray, and his lips were tinged with blue. Starting to panic, Gandalf put his hand in front of Merry's mouth. There was a shallow exhalation...and then several seconds before the next one. Alarmed, Gandalf touched Merry's arm, and almost cried aloud at the chill. He bolted from the tent and ran into the healing pavilion. "Aragorn," he shouted, "Come quickly, Merry has taken deathly ill." Alarmed, Aragorn passed on the patient he was tending to another healer, and ran with Gandalf back to Pippin's tent.
Shoving Pippin's cot aside, he kneeled at Merry's side and tenderly turned him over onto his back. "The Black Breath," he said soberly. "It's almost as bad as when he first stabbed the Witch-King. Gandalf, please get me some athelas and some hot water, quickly! And make sure none of Merry's friends are witness to this." Understanding, Gandalf left with a determined step.
Aragorn looked into Merry's face and stroked the hobbit's forehead. "What has caused this, Merry?" he asked gently. "Something has taken hold of your mind. Well, I won't let it keep you, Merry, I swear. I'll call you back if it takes all of my remaining strength." Grimly, Aragorn rubbed Merry's arm and waited for Gandalf's return.
Merry's breathing was harsh and ragged. He was desperately trying to stay where he was, and not respond to the insistent voice that was trying to bring him back. Leave me alone! he thought. I don't want to return...there's nothing there for me anymore. Just let me be! Suddenly, he sensed the presence of a bright spirit, something that he had thought extinguished. Intrigued, he started struggling toward that presence, almost unwillingly.
"That's right, Merry," Aragorn's voice cajoled. "Come back! Leave the shadow, and return to those that love you." Placing his palm on Merry's forehead, he felt the first stirrings of consciousness. He kept sending mental images of the only one to whom Merry would return. Aragorn had never felt such resistance before, especially from a hobbit. Usually the hobbits' well-known stubbornness would help to bring them back to life, but in this case, apparently the hobbit's will had other ideas.
Finally, a groan escaped Merry's lips, and he started to move restlessly. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Glancing around, feeling a sense of expectation that he did not understand, he noticed that there was no trace of Pippin's cot. It was as if he had never been. What then came out of his mouth was the last thing Aragorn had expected. "Why did you bring me back?" he asked miserably. Gulping back despair, he said accusingly, "All you have brought me back to is pain, Strider. I just wanted to be left alone!"
Aragorn stared. "Merry, what is wrong with you?" he asked. "Don't you remember? Pippin woke up last night..."
"Yes, Strider, I know!" Merry fairly yelled.
"I held him as he drew his last breath! I was there when he entered this world, and I was with him when he left. He..."
Aragorn rested his fingertips lightly upon Merry's lips, halting the flow of words. "Merry," he said gently, "Pippin isn't dead."