Stunned silence. "What did you say?"
"Pippin is alive."
"B-but I saw him! I held him! I watched him die, Strider!"
Aragorn shook his head. "No, Merry...I believe the shadow placed dark thoughts into your dreams while you were sleeping. He is most certainly not dead."
"Then where is he?" Merry demanded. "Why was he not in his cot when I awoke earlier, and why is even his cot missing now?"
"Calm down, Merry. I will explain everything."
Merry fell back weakly, feeling like all of the breath had been knocked out of him. "Tell me what happened, Strider," he begged.
"Pippin woke up while you were asleep last night. Gandalf had been keeping watch over the both of you; you know how fond he is of his little ones. Although weak and in pain, Pippin was quite alert, and quite hungry." Merry's mouth quirked at this. "You were so exhausted that you slept right through our activity, although we did try to be very quiet so as not to disturb you."
"I actually did hear some people talking and moving about, but I thought I was dreaming."
"Ah. Well, when Pippin realized you were right there beside him, he was overjoyed, of course. He immediately wanted to wake you. We told him no, that you were exhausted from keeping watch at his bedside and desperately needed your sleep. He was disappointed, of course. We allowed him to touch your face, and that soft contact was enough to wake you up briefly. You looked at him, smiled and said 'Hullo Pip. How are you feeling?' Pippin grinned back and replied, 'Better now that you're here.' 'That's good,' you said, before promptly falling back to sleep again. That's how fatigued you were. It never crossed my mind that you wouldn't remember."
"I felt it," Merry whispered. "I felt his touch in my sleep. I must have been just on the edge of waking up."
"Well, we reassured him that he was going to be alright, and gave him medicine, water and broth, since his stomach can't take anything more at this point. After all that, he was once again exhausted and ready to sleep. So we left the two of you to your slumber. We woke Pippin up at 11 this morning for his medicine. He was feeling a bit more refreshed by that point, so we decided to take him to the healing tent and give him a bath, change his bandages and put him into some fresh clothes. That is why his cot was empty." Aragorn paused for a moment. "Did you wake right after you dreamed that Pippin had...passed on?"
Merry nodded. "I didn't know if I had been dreaming, or if I had fainted from grief. When I saw the empty cot, I thought the latter."
"Of course you would. It would only follow." Aragorn smiled sympathetically. "What happened after that?"
"I thought Pippin was dead," he said flatly, as if that explained everything. "I decided I would just go to sleep and never wake up. Then you called me back. I didn't want to come, but I could sense a presence...something I wanted to get back to, although I didn't know what it was. I do now." He looked at Aragorn sheepishly. "When I woke up again, I was looking for something...and when I didn't see Pippin's cot, I knew what it was. Why is Pippin's cot gone, by the way?"
"Gandalf came to wake you up, and found you on death's door, with your arm chilled to the bone. He summoned me while I was in the middle of my ministrations with Pippin. I left him with another healer and came to you. When I saw what was wrong, I told Gandalf to make sure to keep your friends away while I called you back. Not only would it terribly upset them, I needed to be sure I didn't have any distractions and that all my focus could be on you. So Pippin's cot was brought to my tent so that he could recover in peace while I tended to you." At this, Aragorn frowned. "Merry, you wouldn't have died; you would have been claimed by the shadow. I'm afraid it would have been a fate worse than life without Pippin."
Merry shuddered. "Thank goodness, then, that it didn't happen. Or I should say, thank YOU." Merry smiled. "Thank you, Strider, for not letting me go. And thank you also for bringing Pippin back to us."
Aragorn smiled. "Actually, it was your presence that made the difference, Merry. As soon as you got here, he steadily improved, and now he is awake."
Being reminded that Pippin was conscious somewhere close by made Merry excited, anxious and nervous all at once. "Please, take me to him!"
"I will do better than that; I will bring him back here. You need to rest a bit after your ordeal. I will bring him to you now." With that, Aragorn strode from the tent.
It had been an exhausting day for Pippin. Waking up to so many hurts after so long...he had been unconscious for 10 days. Being reunited with all of his friends had been very emotionally draining, as well as physically tiring. He hadn't been able to eat any solid food yet, but he heartily ate the soup that was made for him. And he wasn't about to let Merry out of his sight for one second. Not that Merry minded one bit. He didn't have much choice anyway, being relegated to bed rest for the remainder of the day by an insistent Aragorn.
Now, Pippin was nestling secure in his cousin's arms as he slept a deep, dreamless sleep. Merry watched him as he slept, thankful that he was resting so peacefully due to Aragorn's potions. He stroked Pippin's cheek as he watched, tears of gratitude forming in his eyes. He whispered quietly, "Do you know how much you mean to me?" He was silent for a few minutes. "Why can I only tell you these things while you're sleeping or while I'm dreaming?" he sighed. He was just beginning to realize that some things were better left unsaid. He knew Pippins heart, and Pippin knew what was in Merry's; no words needed to be exchanged for such feelings to be expressed. Sighing contentedly, Merry kissed Pippin's forehead, then closed his eyes and finally drifted off to sleep.