Sobbing quietly, Pippin padded after Gandalf as he ascended the levels with his small burden. Pippin wasn't paying any attention to his surroundings; he just kept his eyes fastened to the back of Gandalf's white robe and followed as quickly as he could. Would they never get there? What city would put their Houses of Healing on one of their upper levels? Merry needed attention NOW, not twenty minutes later when they would finally arrive.
Tears blurring his vision, Pippin stumbled over a brick that Gandalf had lightly stepped over. He fell to his knees and reached out with his right hand to break his fall. Uttering a curse, he took a moment to wipe his eyes before getting back up to follow Gandalf and Merry. He ignored the cries of "Ernil i Pheriannath!" that some of the Gondorians were hailing him with. He was in no mood for any attention like that, not when his dearest friend was so badly hurt.
Finally, they were there. Gandalf strode into the Houses and approached one of the healers. "Hameth, this halfling is gravely wounded, and I fear he suffers from the Black Breath. Please attend to him as soon as possible."
"Yes, Lord Mithrandir," bowed Hameth, who gathered Merry into his capable arms and headed down the corridor. Pippin was about to follow when he felt a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Hold, Peregrin Took," Gandalf said, not unkindly. "Let the healers tend to him before you ask to see him. You yourself are not in the best of shape. Would you like some refreshment?"
"No, Gandalf," Pippin said dully. "I am not hungry. I just want to see Merry and make sure he is all right."
Gently, Gandalf led Pippin outside and set him down on one of the benches flanking the entrance to the Houses of Healing. "Pippin, Merry is not all right. He needs immediate care and attention. I promise that you will be able to see him, but not today. Meanwhile, you need some food in your belly, and you also need to sleep. You are dead on your feet, my young friend. The house you and I shared has remained undamaged; let us return there, for there is food there that you will find refreshing. Come, Peregrin. It's only one more level up."
Sighing, Pippin got up and cast a longing gaze at the Houses of Healing. Gandalf said, "We will both come to check on him first thing in the morning, I promise." Nodding, Pippin turned away and walked with Gandalf up to their house.
Pippin sat by Merry's bedside, holding his good hand and stroking his brow. With every ounce of his mental energy, Pippin willed Merry to open his eyes. He had been here, without moving, for hours. Pippin had refused all refreshment, and had steadfastly refused to leave his cousin's side since arriving early that morning. It was now nigh on to evening. The healers couldn't bring themselves to forcibly remove the perian; after all, he was a hero in their eyes, having alerted Gandalf to Faramir's dilemma.
The other perian, the one lying so pale and still, was also a hero, if the rumours were true. Supposedly, he had stabbed the Nazgul that had attacked and killed King Theoden. He and Eowyn had finished off the creature, and now both lay badly wounded, perhaps dying. Faramir's ultimate fate was also unknown at this time; he lay in a burning fever that would not abate.
Pippin's thoughts were only on Merry, and they slid back into the past, to the only other time Pippin had nearly lost Merry.
They had both been very young at the time; Pippin was 10, and Merry 18, not even a tween yet. The two were inseparable, even with the age difference. Merry didn't seem to mind his little shadow following him everywhere. Merry had no siblings, so it was an opportunity for him to act as big brother ... just as Frodo had done for him.
Every year during Afteryule, Merry would go to visit Pippin at Whitwell for a fortnight. This year, however, Merry had come down with some sort of lung congestion that didn't seem to want to relinquish its hold on its young victim. Esmeralda and Saradoc had very nearly lost Merry that winter, and Pippin had been very aware of that fact. The Tooks had been summoned to Brandy Hall during the worst of Merry's illness, just in case Merry didn't get any better and farewells needed to be said. Pippin's father was Esmeralda's brother, so the two families were very close. Both sets of parents knew what their lads were to each other, so they didn't want to risk the chance of Merry passing away while Pippin was away from him.
Even as young as Pippin was, he had understood the gravity of the situation. He insisted on staying with Merry at all times, even to take his meals. An extra cot had been set up in Merry's room so that Pippin could remain with Merry throughout the nights. There was nothing to be done; the young Took would not be separated from his brother of the heart. If the unthinkable were to happen, Pippin would not risk being away from Merry's side when it did.
Thankfully, Merry steadily got better over the course of a week, until he was no longer in danger. That had been the worst time in Pippin's life ... until now.
Now, something much more insidious was at work here. The evil of Sauron had gotten a hold of this young esquire of Rohan, and would not easily loosen its grip. Pippin was all too aware of that fact, and once again refused to leave his cousin's side.
Pippin bowed his head and clasped Merry's hand in both of his. Pippin normally never thought about spiritual things, but right now, he prayed. He prayed to all the Valar to keep Merry safe, and he even said a prayer to Eru, hoping that by doing so he wasn't being presumptuous. Pippin hadn't exactly led the most virtuous of lives in the Shire, and he hoped the Valar wouldn't hold that against him. All he wanted was for Merry to receive a little help, to help him out of the darkness that had him in its grip. Pippin thought that spiritual beings probably took no notice of small beings like himself and Merry, but he was willing to try anything anything that would bolster the chances of Merry's recovery.
Hobbits in general didn't have much spiritual awareness; they contented themselves with simple, tangible things, like good tilled earth, ale, and six meals a day. They didn't trouble themselves with the larger issues of the world, and they liked it that way. They didn't want the outside world to intrude too heavily into their little corner of Middle Earth.
But the time had come to stop hiding away from the rest of the world. Pippin was starting to learn how to see the bigger picture, and wondered if, somehow, he and Merry had been destined to be in the places they had ended up during the Quest. After all, Merry did help to slay the Witch-King, which had won the battle for them. Pippin had helped distract Sauron when he looked into the palantir, and he had helped to save Faramir's life. Coincidences just no longer seemed like coincidences anymore. It was almost as if some things were meant to happen. He just hoped that Merry's death wasn't one of them.
A commotion at the door distracted Pippin from his thoughts. He looked up as Aragorn strode into Merry's room. "Strider!" Pippin cried, jumping up to greet his friend. "Strider, can you help Merry? Please, can you?"
Aragorn smiled sadly. "I believe that I can, Pippin, but I will have to ask you to leave the room for awhile. Can you do that? Perhaps go get something to eat, and a bit of sleep?"
Pippin sighed. "Yes, actually, I am quite hungry. And sleepy, now that you mention it. Well, he will certainly be in good hands with you, Strider. Just .. make him better, alright?"
"I will do my best, Pippin."
On the way back to his and Gandalf's house, Pippin sent up a silent thank you for the timely arrival of Aragorn the King.