"Oh Merry," Pippin whispered brokenly as he held the sobbing hobbit in his arms. Tears welled in his own eyes as he fiercely embraced his cousin. How he knew how this felt! He himself had been through it only months before, and it was this fact that allowed him to reserve control while Merry completely and utterly broke down.
Estella had passed away not one hour ago.
Estella had been steadily declining for about a year now, and none of the healers had had any idea how to help her. The best they could do was give medicine that helped ease the pain and discomfort. It had started with shortness of breath and extreme fatigue, and had steadily worsened until Estella's frame was thin and frail; she had been completely bed-ridden for the past month, too weak to even lift her head for the past week. Merry had been preparing himself for the worst for some time now, with always a brave front in public. The only one who knew that, in reality, Merry felt wrenching pain and helplessness, was his cousin the Thain, Peregrin Took.
It tore Pippin's heart out to watch Merry's hope fade day by day. At least with Diamond it had been quick, albeit unexpected. Pippin had been devastated, and nigh on inconsolable for the longest time. Merry had been there with him every step of the way, and he fully intended to be there for Merry in the same way.
"Merry-lad", Pippin whispered softly, even though at 98 Merry was decades away from being a 'lad'. "If I could take away this pain for you, I would." He smiled softly as he rubbed Merry's back. "Do you remember your wedding day, Merry? I remember it like it was yesterday. You were so happy, and Estella so beautiful. I was so proud to stand for you on that day; I knew what happiness lay ahead for you. You had so many fine years together; you have so many happy memories to cherish."
As Pippin calmly continued to talk, Merry's sobs gradually subsided until all that remained were mere sniffles. Pippin continued to rub Merry's back as silence descended. "Pippin?"
"I miss her....I miss her already. How did you go on after Diamond....?"
"Friends...my friends. Specifically, you and Sam. You two were my lifeline, you know. I couldn't have survived those first few days afterwards if it hadn't been for you." Pippin smiled sadly at his cousin. "Merry, I won't lie to you; the next few days are going to be some of the most difficult you've ever experienced. But you'll never be alone, I swear. I'll stay with you here at the Hall for as long as you like; Faramir and Beregond can take care of things at home for me for a good long while. Please...let me stay."
Merry sighed with relief. "Of course, Pippin...please, stay! If you hadn't offered, I would have asked. I .... don't want to be alone tonight."
"I know. Let me send off a post to Faramir, and let him and his brother know I'll be staying on for a few more weeks yet. I won't leave until you're ready, Merry."
"Thank you, Pippin."
"No thanks are necessary, Merry, you know that."
"Can I ask you to do one more thing for me?" Merry asked hesitantly. Pippin wondered what it was Merry wanted to ask; he was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and he looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"Of course, Merry. What is it?"
"Would you mind terribly if you slept in our....my room tonight?" Merry blushed a bright crimson shade. "I know it's silly, but I'm afraid to be left alone."
"No, I don't mind, Merry. I'll gladly keep you company tonight. Let me get a cot set up, and then Iíll see you to bed, eh? It's been a long day."
For the past three weeks, Estella had been moved to a room separate from the one she and Merry had shared, to allow for around-the-clock care. As Pippin ushered Merry into his room, he took a quick glance around. What he saw caused him to sigh in dismay. Merry, by nature, was a very neat hobbit.....a place for everything, and everything in its place, could be his motto. However, now the room was in disarray. The bed was unmade, which was a very bad sign, considering Merry's fastidious nature. Dirty clothes were strewn willy-nilly on the floor, and there was dust everywhere. Well, considering what Merry had been through, it was really not surprising; but it was nonetheless disheartening. Even during the most desperate days of the quest, Merry had kept an order about him that was comforting. This just seemed...wrong, somehow.
Sublimating these thoughts, Pippin gently led Merry to the bed. "Get yourself ready, Merry, and I'll set up a cot in here. Iíll stay with you all night, I promise, alright?" Mutely, Merry nodded, his eyes distant and unseeing. Pippin left Merry to his devices, and went back to his guest-room to retrieve his nightshirt and a change of clothes before he went in search of a cot.
When Pippin got back, he was shocked to a standstill. Merry was kneeling on the floor beside the bed, his head bowed down to the floor and both arms curled about his head. He was whimpering and keening, all the while trembling like a leaf in a summer storm. Pippin immediately rushed to his side; kneeling beside his cousin, he gathered him into his arms, cooing nonsense words as he tried to calm Merry down. Pippin's heart clenched with sorrow and sympathy. He sat down on the floor, and brought Merry's head into his lap, and started stroking Merry's hair as he struggled for the right words. Merry continued to whimper, but he had stopped shaking. Pippin quit trying to find the right words, and settled for just being there, silently comforting his dearest friend as Merry tried to cope with anguish too deep for words.
Pippin pressed a kiss into Merry's hair as he sat there helplessly, just letting Merry empty himself of his grief. This night was going to be the worst in Merry's life, Pippin had no doubt. The night Diamond died had been the worst in Pippin's life .. even worse than sitting in the Houses of Healing, staring at a too-still Merry who lay dying of the Black Breath. Pippin had never utterly despaired before...not until he had lost Diamond. He knew that Merry was now feeling the same way he had then....absolutely powerless and at the mercy of fate. Pippin knew that feeling intimately...and there was no way he was going to leave Merry to face it on his own.
As it turned out, Pippin didn't need the cot. After helping Merry undress and don his nightshirt, Pippin slipped into the bed with Merry and held him close until his breathing evened out. Not wanting to disturb Merry, Pippin continued to lay there until he himself fell asleep as well. It wasn't the first time the hobbits had shared a bed for comfort; shades of Crickhollow kept swirling through Pippin's mind. There were many nights there after the quest when one of them would stumble to the other's room after a particularly bad nightmare. Pippin smiled to himself as he remembered wondering why they even bothered with two separate bedrooms. His smile faded. If they hadn't had each other during that dark time, Pippin didn't know what would have happened.
More dark times had come after that, and Merry and Pippin had always been there for each other....from the babes each had lost, to the loss of their parents, the deaths of Pippin's sisters, the departure of Frodo....and now this most devastating of losses, the loss of a spouse. Pippin swallowed past the lump in his throat. His thoughts flew to the hobbit sleeping peacefully beside him. 'I'll be here for as long as it takes, Merry, I promise you,' he thought before he once again descended into sleep.