Merry was very quiet on the way back from the Havens; he and Pippin had been singing for a time, but that had tapered off awhile ago. They had parted ways with Sam a couple of miles back, and now were travelling on to Crickhollow. Pippin's thoughts rushed ahead to where they would be sleeping that night, all the time keeping a close eye on his cousin.
All three cousins had been very close, but due to being closer in age and Frodo's frequent visits to Buckland, Merry had been closer to Frodo than Pippin had been. Although the parting had been grievous for both of them, Pippin knew that it had hit Merry the hardest. No tears had escaped Merry's eyes yet, but Pippin knew that it was just a matter of time. Merry never had been one to hide his feelings for very long, and Pippin was slightly concerned that he hadn't broken down before now. Pippin himself had wept freely once they had caught up to Frodo and Sam, and he wondered why Merry had not.
They decided to stay at the Floating Log in Frogmorton rather than camp out again. The weather had turned decidedly fall-like; rain was drizzling down, and the wind had picked up a pace. The promise of the comfort of a soft bed and hot food proved too much to resist, and the hobbits left their ponies in the care of the stables, then marched inside.
The place was fairly quiet, being late of a Wednesday evening. The owner happily showed them to their table, then bustled off to get them some ale while they decided what to eat. After the ale arrived, Merry sat quietly nursing it as he surreptitiously eyed the goings-on in the common room. Too quiet, Pippin decided. After a time, he ventured, "Merry, are you alright?"
Pippin was rewarded with a small smile. "Yes, Pippin, I'm fine. I just...miss him, you know?"
Pippin reached out and squeezed Merry's arm. "Yes, I know, Merry; I miss him too. Do you want to talk about it?"
Merry shrugged. "What's there to talk about, Pip? He's gone; he's never coming back. What else is there to say?"
The bitterness in Merry's tone startled Pippin. Surely Merry understood that Frodo had had no choice, that this was the only way he could find peace. Surely Merry didn't think that he had wanted to leave his friends and family, the only home he had ever known, behind to go live with the Elves.
"He had no choice, Merry," Pippin said curtly. "You know that as well as I do."
"Maybe I do," Merry returned, "But it doesn't mean I have to like it."
"Spare me your self-pity!" Pippin retorted. "Do you think I wanted to see him go? Don't you think that I wish he could have found the healing he needed with us, instead of with some cold, immortal beings who'll never understand him as we do?" Tears threatened to fall, but Pippin refused to let them. "For the Valar's sake, Merry...do you think he wanted to carry the Ring all that way, only to have the memory of it cling to him even after he thought it destroyed? He was wounded far worse than either of us!"
"You don't understand!" Merry said hotly. He quickly stood up, face red. "I'm not hungry; I'm going to get us a room, and then I'm going to go to sleep. Good night, Pip." With that, Merry turned around and strode away.
Pippin was shocked. Rarely did he and Merry argue, and never publicly. He gave a sheepish grin to the patrons who were looking his way quizzically, gave a nod, and hunched down in his chair. His appetite had been wiped away as well. He had been famished not ten minutes ago; now, he wouldn't be able to choke down bread. Sighing, he decided that after he finished his ale, he would take a walk to clear his head. He wanted to give Merry some space right now; he sensed that his cousin needed it.
The weather wasn't too nasty yet, just a light drizzle. Pippin walked around the inn twice, thoughts scattering like the leaves before a breeze. He tried not to dwell on what might be bothering Merry. He knew his cousin all too well; he wouldn't tell Pippin until he was good and ready. After about 20 minutes, he went in and ordered a bit of cheese and fruit; it wouldn't do to go to bed on an empty stomach, he told himself. He sat quietly and ate, then ordered a bit more to take up for Merry in case he wasn't asleep yet. Armed with good intentions, he slowly make his way to their room.
He was greeted to a dark room and woeful sobs.
Pippin carefully set the food down and made his way over to Merry's bed. He could barely make out his cousin's huddled form. Heart aching in sympathy, Pippin sat on the edge of the bed and placed his hand comfortingly on Merry's shaking shoulder. "I'm here, cousin; it's alright."
"It'll never be alright again," Merry choked out. Pippin closed his eyes. At a loss, he whispered, "I know."
"It wasn't supposed to be this way," Merry sobbed. "I...I was going to ask him the next time I saw him."
"Ask him what, Merry?"
"Oh, I haven't told you yet, have I, Pip?"
In spite of himself, Pippin smiled. "No, Merry, I don't believe you have."
Sniffling, Merry sat up and faced Pippin. "Well, you know that Estella and I have been talking about getting married?"
"Well, we decided that soon we're going to make our engagement official." Tear-laden eyes locked with Pippin's. "I was going to have the three of you stand for me at our wedding....you, Frodo and Sam. The four Travellers, once again, on the happiest day of my life. But then we got Gandalf's message, and I never got the chance to ask Frodo." Merry swallowed. "I can't imagine one of you not being there on my wedding day. He's supposed to be there, Pippin. All of you are supposed to be there."
"And I know that I'm being a selfish git, but I can't help it. He was...is...my best friend, Pippin, aside from you. Nothing will seem right without him there."
"I know, Merry, it's going to be hard. But we have to remember what he did, and the price he paid so that our home..the Shire...could be safe. If it weren't for him, you and Estella wouldn't even have the opportunity to make a life together. We can't mourn without end, Merry. That would nullify his sacrifice, and we can't have that."
"I know, Pippin, it's just going to take some time, that's all."
Pippin smiled in understanding. "That's my lad. I brought you some food, in case you're hungry."
"Oh, bless you, Pippin! What would I do without you?"
Merry got up and made his way to the table while Pippin set to making a fire in their small hearth. When he finished, Pippin sat next to him, brought out his pipe and readied it for a smoke. Merry ate quietly, and the two hobbits sat in muted companionship, each lost in his own thoughts.
Pippin knew that they would both heal. It would be a slow process, but it would happen. If nothing else, they had each other to see them through. Gazing at his cousin through a haze of smoke, Pippin sent his thoughts toward Merry: "I'll be here, Merry...for as long as it takes."