"Is that mushroom soup?" Pippin asked, his voice a bit raspy.
"It is," I answered, setting the bowl back down on the tray.
"Is it your mushroom soup?" he queried.
"But of course," I said. "And some tea and bread, and a smidgen of apple crumble."
"Mmm." Pippin tossed back the covers and sat up. His curls were sticking every which way, and his face was somewhat flushed, but he seemed to be feeling much better. I sat at the edge of the bed and put the back of my hand to his forehead. He was warm, but the fever was not high. His breathing was still heavy and punctuated by rattles from his chest, but he had slept soundly following that morning's prescriptions, without more coughing fits, for several hours. The herbal steam had resulted in wracking coughs that were painful to watch, but he had expelled quite a bit of nasty phlegm from his lungs and his breathing had improved after that.
I took my hand from his face and rubbed his upper arm a bit, to reassure myself as much as to comfort him. "Hungry?" I asked, and he nodded, looking at the food critically as if to determine if he was interested in anything other than the soup. I moved the tray to his lap, and then added a cup of water poured from the bedside pitcher. "Eat it all," I commanded and he obediently placed the first spoonful of mushroom soup in his mouth.
Pippin paused to hold the liquid on his tongue for a moment, blissfully closing his eyes as he savored the taste. He swallowed and looked up at me with a smile. "You do make the best mushroom soup, Frodo," he said, and I swelled a little. I thought so, and Bilbo always had, too, but it was good to know I had not lost my touch. I ruffled Pippin's curls affectionately and then set about tidying the room as he ate: bundling up the many used handkerchiefs and making sure there were plenty of fresh ones; checking that the fire was still hot enough, but not emitting much smoke; bringing in freshly laundered linens and some extra nightshirts; refilling the water pitcher. Pippin was nearly finished by the time I was done, leaning back on his pillows and sipping the tea. He had devoured all of the soup and the apple crumble, but had only taken a single bite of the bread. I decided that was good enough and took the tray from him to place on the chest of drawers, letting him hold the tea mug. I seated myself in the chair at his beside and propped my feet on the bed frame with a sigh. He looked curiously at me.
"You're a lot of work, you know," I told him, and he grinned somewhat shyly. I grinned back at him to let him know I didn't mind how much work he was.
"So, feeling better, then?" I asked, and he nodded.
"I'm all achy," he said. "But it doesn't hurt so much to breathe."
"Good," I said, glad I hadn't killed the lad by opting for Ponto after all. "I think another herbal steam in a bit, then some more sleep before supper. And you can have that lavender bath and herbal tea before bed."
"I'm in bed now," Pippin pointed out pertly. "And I'll smell like a lass if you make me take a lavender bath."
I grinned. "I won't tell anyone. Well, almost no one." He scowled at me. "Just Freddy. And Ferumbras. Maybe your sisters."
"Frodo!" he said, but he was giggling and I winked at him. We sat in silence for several moments before I decided he was well enough for me to resume last night's conversation. I moved one of my feet to nudge Pippin's leg with a toe.
"So," I said quietly, "are you feeling any better about what happened with Merry?"
Pippin wrinkled his nose and studied the contents of the tea mug intently. He scrunched his mouth up as though something tasted bad. "No," he said sadly.
"Well, what can we do about that?" I asked. I had plenty of thoughts on the topic myself, but wanted the lad to work it out on his own if he could.
Pippin did not meet my eyes, and his mouth trembled a little. "I will tell him again how sorry I am, Frodo, of course," he said, "but I've already said it, and meant it, and he didn't care, so I don't know if there is anything else I can do."
I looked down at my clasped hands, resting on my stomach. "Pippin," I said slowly, "you know, Merry is growing up. He'll come of age in six years, and then he will have much more responsibility at Brandy Hall. His father is preparing him for that. I know it is easy to forget when you are children, but Merry is going to be Master of Buckland, and he must be ready for that day. It is not a bad thing that he is laying aside some of the trappings of childhood."
Pippin sniffled. "I know," he said. "And I will be Thain. But, Frodo -- no one ever asked me if I wanted to be Thain someday, or Merry to be Master. I would rather we were just ordinary hobbits."
I laughed. "But that is not how the world works, Pippin. We do not get to choose what life we are born into. And, anyway, what if you were just two hobbit lads from working families? Do you not think Merry would have to grow up, or you either? In fact, most likely Merry would already be working for a living, with no time at all for play and leisure, and you would not be terribly far behind." I thought of Sam, not yet of age but doing a hobbit's work already.
Pippin twisted the mug in his hands, thinking this over. "Still," he said somewhat sullenly, "what I did was not so awful, and I was sorry about the mess. Uncle Saradoc did not even scold me much. I don't think Merry was angry so much about the sheep as he was angry with me for the way I am all the time."
He looked so miserable, and had hit the nail so squarely on the head while still failing to see the whole point, that I got up and sat down beside him in the bed, encircling his slim shoulders with my arms. "Oh, Pip, my dearest," I said, kissing his curls. "You are right, of course, it was not really the sheep that Merry was angry about, but you do not see that just because Merry was angry with you does not mean that he does not love you still. If he did not, what would the point of his anger be? He simply would not care how you acted. And has it not occurred to you that maybe having to grow up before you do is just as difficult for Merry as it is for you? It must be hard for him to have to go on ahead of you, especially when he sees you still having fun with the other lads."
Pippin snuggled into my embrace and was still as he pondered all of this. "Well," he said finally, "I suppose it isn't much fun to see me off playing while he is learning to be Master. But I don't think I will believe that Merry really still loves me and will still put up with me until I hear him say it. But I will tell him I am sorry again, Frodo, and I will try to start thinking about what could happen before I do something."
I jostled him a little. "Like riding off from Buckland in wretched weather, followed by riding off from Tuckborough in still more awful weather?" I said, half-teasing and half-serious.
"Oh." The tips of his ears were turning red. "Yes, that wasn't a good way to start thinking things over, was it?"
"Probably not," I said dryly. "But I hope this drives the lesson home, with nothing worse than a few days in bed as the price."
"Yes, this should help me remember," he agreed. Then he sniffled a bit, and I reached out for a handkerchief to press into his hand. After he had blown his nose (and handed me the damp, soiled handkerchief), he said wistfully, "Things are not turning out as I thought they would. I thought Merry and I would always do everything together and never quarrel."
I squeezed him. "Just because things do not turn out exactly as we thought they would does not mean they are for the worse," I told him. "Look at my life. I thought for a long time as a child that I would never be happy again, and look what happened. Bilbo adopted me, and was the best friend I could ever have imagined, and now I am my own hobbit and master of Bag End, and nearly as happy as anyone could ever hope to be. We cannot always see the end, Pippin, but life will take us where we are supposed to be."
He didn't answer, but nuzzled into my shoulder, the tension slowly draining out of his body. I took the tea mug from his loosening hands and set it aside, then leaned back and stroked his hair until he drifted off to sleep. I lay there for a while longer, watching the fire and thinking about how life guides us down paths we could not have pictured on our own.
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.