For Lily the Hobbit and NancyLea, for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.
“He didn’t tell you he was leaving?”
Merry turned his head to look at his father’s brother, and Merimac could see that his nephew was considering what--and if--he should respond. At last the younger Hobbit shook his head. “No, he didn’t. No--he wanted only to slip away one final time, and let us remember him the way we last saw him, I suppose.”
“Did he at least say goodbye once you got there?”
Again Merry shook his head, turning his eyes back westward. “No. He didn’t speak at all. Sam said he’d barely spoken since they joined with the Elves. Nor did any of the Elves say anything to us--at least, not the ones who were leaving with Frodo and Bilbo. They sang--a hymn about the Sea, or so Sam told us afterwards. He’s very knowledgeable, our Samwise. Far more so than we ever realized. Not even Lord Elrond spoke to us, and we knew him, Mac! Only Gandalf spoke to us, or wished us farewell.”
He took a deep breath, and shook his head. “How could we miss it, Mac--him preparing to slip away again? We could see it last time, before we left with him and the Ring. That’s how we knew to be ready to go with him as well. But this time the last looks he took weren’t as desperate as the last time, and we didn’t recognize them for what they were. Oh, we knew that he wouldn’t--couldn’t--remain long; but we thought--hoped--believed--that this time he would allow us to talk about it with him, at least! But he didn’t! He didn’t even tell Sam where he was going! Sam thought it was just to Rivendell! That he was going away--all the way away--Sam never even dreamed....”
Mac laid his hand on the younger Hobbit’s shoulder, and Merry turned into his embrace. He wept soundlessly for a time. “How will I ever do it?” Merry finally choked against his uncle’s hair. “How will I ever be Master of Buckland and the Hall without him here? How will I ever get up the courage to speak to Estella? I’d dreamed of him being there by my side when I did, and since he was deputy Mayor I’d thought perhaps of having him and Dad together marrying us! But now----”
Mac just held him close until Merry stopped weeping and just leaned against him. At last Merry said, “I’m sorry, Mac. Please forgive me.” He started to pull away.
“I know how close the two of you were, Meriadoc Brandybuck,” Mac sighed, letting him go and looking up to meet his eyes. “I know how hard it is for you--that it’s been for all of us, watching him get thinner and more distant. Your parents are as torn in two as you are, although your mum is holding up better than I’d expected. She seems more hopeful, somehow, knowing he went with the Elves, as if she’s certain he will recover.”
“I hope so, Mac. You didn’t hold him as we did, though, at the Havens. He was so thin--so very thin. A wisp of wind could have carried him away, I fear. And it would have, had he stayed.”
Again Merry took a deep breath and straightened, sensing Merimac's own grief, and sought to comfort the both of them. “Gandalf, Lord Elrond, and the Lady were all with him, and I saw how close to him they stood. They’ll protect him, and help him find his way. They’ll do all they can to see him recover, body and heart. He needs his heart filled again, Mac.”
He turned his eyes westward again, as if straining to see Frodo as he’d last seen him, on the deck of a ship that Mac could barely imagine. “He didn’t speak to us, Mac, not with words. I don’t know that he could at that point. But he did hold us each one last time, and kissed our foreheads. It’s the closest he’s ever come in my lifetime to saying goodbye.”
He looked back, and smiled ruefully to see Merimac wiping away his own tears. “They’ll take care of him, Mac, Gandalf and the Elves. They love Frodo Baggins, I think, as much as we do. They’ll cherish him for us.”
Mac nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. He only prayed that Merry was right. If not, he vowed to himself, he would swim that Sea himself and demand satisfaction!