1. The Questions
"A silver lining sometimes isn't enough to make some wrongs seem right." --Creed, "Don't Stop Dancing"
"It's not fair."
I jumped slightly at the sound of my cousin's voice, so absorbed with my own thoughts that I hadn't heard him approach. I hadn't been expecting him to visit Frodo and Sam, so I hadn't been listening for him. For probably the first time in his life, Pippin was able to sneak up on me.
"Aren't you on orders from Aragorn to remain in your bed?" I asked, turning a critical eye on him. "You're still recovering, Pippin, and you need your rest or else it will take even longer before you're as good as new."
"I'm fine, Merry, really." His words, though, were belied by the way he was standing. He was leaning heavily on a small branch that he used as a walking stick when the healers let him up from his bed, and I could see that he was putting no weight at all on his right leg. What parts of him not covered by his nightshirt were still horribly bruised, even though a week had passed since the battle where he had almost been killed. "I just want to see how Frodo and Sam are doing, see how they're recovering."
No matter how much I could argue with him, I knew that he wouldn't budge until he had gotten his way, so I gestured to the other chair in the tent, into which he gratefully sank. As he looked upon our cousin and friend, I could see the worry in his eyes, the pain marring his features.
"Pip, are you all right?" I asked worriedly. "Are you in pain? Do you want me to go get a healer?"
Pippin didn't seem to hear me, but continued to silently stare at our sleeping friends. Just as I was getting up to retrieve a healer, though, he began to speak. His voice was so quiet that I almost didn't hear him at first.
"It's not fair, Merry,"
Though I didn't completely understand what Pippin meant, those four words broke my heart and nearly brought me to tears. The way his voice cracked and the single tear that made its way down his battered cheek made me want to rush to his side and tell him that everything would be all right. But I knew instinctively that doing that would cause him to break down, and I could tell that he still had more to say. "What's not fair, Pip?"
For a long moment, Pippin didn't answer, but I didn't pressure him. Something was obviously grieving him; it wouldn't help matters any if I pushed him into revealing his thoughts. He would speak when he was good and ready, and not a moment sooner. I could wait.
"Do you remember, the summer before old Bilbo left, when you and Frodo taught me how to swim?" Pippin's voice was low, but I had no trouble hearing him over the distant murmur of the camp around us.
"Aye, I do," I told him, the memories of that day coming back to me as if no time had passed since then, though it had been almost seventeen years previous.
"I was so excited to be learning how to swim," he continued. I could see a smile starting to form on his face as he remembered that day. "It was all I could talk about for days. I was so happy that my father let you and Frodo teach me, instead of taking it upon himself. It was so much more fun with you two." He paused to take a deep breath. "As soon as I got in the river, I latched myself onto Frodo. The river was so deep and I realized that Frodo's parents had died in that water. I was scared to death. I wouldn't let go for anything, not my parents or my sisters or even you, Merry."
Pippin turned to look at me and for the first time, I realized that he had grown up. There was a maturity and wisdom in his eyes that only being bloodied in battle can give. And he had definitely been bloodied. When the troll had fallen on him, he hadn't been crushed, but he had still been badly injured. He had several cracked ribs, his arm had nearly been sliced off where his sword had been pushed back into him, his ankle had been broken, and he was badly bruised all over his body. But he would survive and thrive once he healed.
But now, he no longer looked like my much-loved younger cousin. He looked like a soldier, seasoned to the battlefield. He looked like an old man, weary of all that he had seen in his long life. He looked like what I imagine I looked like at the time.
Looking back to the two unconscious Hobbits, Pippin continued. "But, somehow, Frodo coaxed me into letting go of my death grip on his neck. He took me to the bank and walked with me into the river, at my own pace, holding tight onto my hand the whole time." The smile disappeared from Pippin's face as he closed his eyes, sighing. "We had so much fun that day, singing and splashing each other. I didn't learn to swim that day, but you and Frodo were patient with me, and before the summer was over, I was swimming as well as a fish."
Pippin paused in his recitation. His breathing was deep and measured, like he was concentrating on holding back tears. His head was leaned back so that he was facing the ceiling of the tent, though he couldn't see it through his closed eyes. His bruised hands were clenched into fists on his lap.
"We were so carefree and innocent back then," he stated, his voice choked off slightly. "This whole year has been a dark cloud, marring our perfect sky, and I fear some part of it will always remain. We've all lost our innocence and we will never regain it. We will never again be like we were that summer. We've all seen and experienced too much to ever be like that again. That is what's not fair, Merry."
"Pip." My heart was breaking for my dear cousin. Tears were now coursing down his cheeks, pouring past his closed eyelids. He was shaking horribly, though with anger or grief I couldn't tell. "Oh Pip." I forced my suddenly leaden limbs into motion and I went to Pippin's side and gently embraced him.
Leaning into me, Pippin buried his face in my shoulder. I gently rubbed his back, trying to soothe him. "Every dark cloud has a silver lining, Pippin, including this one. You must try to see that," I whispered earnestly into his ear. "At least we're all alive and on the way to good health. We'll all go back to the Shire and try to go on with our lives. Things won't ever go back to how they used to be, but we'll make a new normal life for ourselves."
"What if we can't?" Pippin burst out suddenly, pulling away from me with more strength that I thought he possessed at the moment. "What if we can't just fit back into the Shire? What if we're considered outcasts? What if we all get treated like Bilbo was after his return from his adventure? What then, Merry?"
For a moment, I couldn't respond. I was too flabbergasted. Pippin was very upset, and had obviously put a lot of thought into this. I couldn't just blurt out the first thing that came to mind. After a long moment of thought, all I could come up with was, "I don't know, Pip. I just don't know."
Before either of us could say anymore, the flap of the tent was lifted and Gandalf entered. "I thought I might find you here, when I couldn't find you in your bed, Master Peregrin," he said jovially, a smile upon his face. He didn't seem to take any notice of the tension in the room or the tears on Pippin's cheeks, or if he did, he had the good taste not to mention either. "Now that you've seen Frodo and Sam, it's time for you to return to your own bed and rest."
Before he could be lifted up and carried away, Pippin leaned in close to my ear. "What if it turns out that it would have been better had we never returned home?"
Long after Pippin had been taken away to his bed, his question still haunted me. Though I thought it over long and hard, I never was able to come up with an answer.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.