1. A Cousin's Touch
All was blurred lines and subtle hues. A fog seemed to cover the lands that he could see extending for leagues upon leagues-- that he could sense going beyond his sight. Some of the lands seemed familiar, but only seemed, nothing rang true.
He was alone. A small speck of life in this vast realm that he strained to sense more clearly. To his eyes the world was shrouded behind a filmy veil; to his ears came only the muffled sounds of distant wind; to his skin came no caress of either heat or chill; no scents nor taste. Worst of all there was no presence of a living being. He was alone.
That was the worst of it. Somehow the whole of this barren world felt as though it was falling in on him. Alone he would drown in its mists and suffocate on its emptiness. He knew his blood was slowing within his veins. He took in no breath. Pippin was as empty as the hazy void.
The sound of a sudden, sharp intake of breath echoed lightly off the walls of the small bedroom in the white stone city of Minas Tirith. Pippin's eyes opened wide as the air filled his lungs. He choked, gasped, then drew in another deep breath. His heart's thudding filled his ears. He felt clammy sweat matting the hair on his forehead. A tear trickled slowly from the corner of his eye across his temple and into his right ear. Sluggishly, Pippin's right hand rose to rub away the tickling the tear was causing. He waited until the pounding of his heart had eased then slowly sat up. He did not feel dizzy. It took time to untangle himself from the sweat-damp bedding before he could drag his oddly heavy legs to the edge of his bed. Cautiously Pippin stood. His feet and legs felt strange but they held him up. He lit a small oil lamp to take with him, then walked slowly and quietly to the door of his room and out into the corridor.
It had all been a dream. He knew that, yet . . . Knight of Gondor though he was, a battle veteran though he was, he felt an urgent need for reassurance. Pippin had to know he was not really alone. He stopped outside the door to Merry's room, reached for the latch but stopped short of touching it. Strange, he felt no need to be with Merry. Although Merry would understand about being left alone, there was something else Pippin needed this night. A different perspective. Merry was too close. He stood a few moments with his hand hovering near the latch but not touching it. "No," he thought as his hand slowly fell to his side. "Not Merry."
Pippin wandered a bit through the large house that he and the other Hobbits had been given for their stay in Minas Tirith. The rooms were nice, but not homey. He had come to love the White City and the men and women who dwelt there, but the cold stone and sharp edges never felt quite right to him. He missed the round coziness of Hobbit holes. Even the huge smials of Brandy Hall and the Great Smials of the Tooks felt cozy compared to the houses and halls of Minas Tirith. Pippin wrapped his left arm around himself as the odd, lonely emptiness of his dream followed him down the hallways of the sleeping house.
Pippin came out of his gloomy thoughts when he noticed that he had stopped walking. He was in front of a closed door. He looked around to get his bearings then looked back at the door. This was where he needed to be. He worked the latch and went into Frodo's bedroom.
A small lamp was lit, giving the room a comforting glow. Pippin sat his small lamp on the table beside it, adding to the glow. He smiled at the dark-haired lump in the bed. He chuckled as he looked from the head to the foot of the Hobbit- sized bed that was shorter than his own, but his chuckle faded quickly away. So much had happened.
Pippin's head drooped, and his arms of their own accord wrapped around him once again. He felt to his very core a young, lonely and frightened hobbit. He shivered. Frodo stirred in his sleep. His back was to Pippin, and his right hand worked out from under the bedclothes to rest on his left shoulder. Pippin's eyes grew wide at the sight of Frodo's hand with its missing ring finger. Gradually, Pippin moved closer. He sat on the edge of the bed then lay down next to Frodo, his eyes never leaving Frodo's right hand.
Memories of the past few months filled Pippin's mind and chilled him. He had time and again put the young, frightened part of himself into an imaginary bottle and corked it tight until it seemed he needed to seal the bottle shut as well. His dream this night had stripped away the wax seal, loosened the cork, and all the needs of his still young heart were trickling out. Pippin needed comforting, reassurance and answers to troubling questions. He looked at the shape of his cousin's body beneath the covers. He touched Frodo's dark curls. Yes, Frodo was really here. Everything had the familiar look and scent of his older cousin. The older cousin who, like Merry, had more than once held Pippin in a strong, loving embrace when the scary things of childhood had become too much for the youngest of them to handle. But something no longer felt the same. Perhaps, Frodo needed comforting as well this time. Pippin reached out and touched the knuckle below the stub of Frodo's missing finger.
Frodo jerked awake. With surprising quickness he turned his upper body to look behind him. A pair of intensely green eyes stared at him from out of a pale face framed with golden brown curls. Frodo sighed with relief. It was only Pippin. Pippin? It was a long while since he had awakened to find his youngest cousin had crawled into bed with him during the night. He saw Pippin's eyes filling with tears and felt Pippin tightly grip his deformed right hand.
"I'm sorry, Frodo," Pippin whispered. "I did not mean to wake you."
"It is alright, Pippin," Frodo replied as he rolled over the rest of the way and rested up on his left forearm. "It is just . . . Well it has been awhile since . . ." Frodo wasn't quite sure what to say.
"It has been a long time since I was a frightened little hobbit lad and needed to crawl into bed with you for comfort in the middle of the night." Pippin's voice shook, and he tucked his chin against his chest so Frodo could no longer see his eyes. "I will go if you wish." Despite his words of leaving, Pippin still held tight to Frodo's hand. He started to rub the stub of the missing finger and its knuckle with his thumb. Frodo raised the hand to rest on Pippin's shoulder. Pippin's grip relaxed, but he did not let go as Frodo opened his hand to lightly rub Pippin's shoulder.
"You need not go, Pippin," Frodo said gently as he continued to squeeze his younger cousin's shoulder. "You are no trouble. Did you have a bad dream?" Frodo felt a tremor pass through the younger hobbit.
"Alone," came the soft, shaky answer. "I was alone in the wide world. There was no one else, and the aloneness was killing me." Frodo felt and heard Pippin draw a quick, shuddering breath. "I was dying. Alone and untouched and uncared-for. I needed . . . I need to be touched, Frodo, to know I'm not really all alone." Pippin looked up into his cousin's gentle, bright blue eyes. "I think I've become rather, well, Man-like, Frodo. I'm trying hard to be a proper Knight of Gondor, but I'm not sure how that works with being a hobbit." Pippin closed his eyes as another shudder passed through him, then he looked again at Frodo. "I'm having trouble crying. Can you imagine that, Frodo? Me having trouble crying? I think my laugh has changed as well. It . . . It . . . doesn't make my stomach shake."
Frodo smiled at Pippin's description and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "We have all changed, Pip. Even Aragorn. I am certain he sometimes wonders if he has become more hobbit-like. I've noticed him hugging a good many people."
"I have noticed that too," said Pippin, and he grinned. But his grin didn't seem to light his eyes as it should have. He rolled onto his back and stared at the flat grey ceiling. He still clutched Frodo's hand, holding it tight against his chest over his heart, continuing to absentmindedly rub the remains of the missing digit.
"I wish we hadn't come back here." Pippin's voice was tight and strained. "I wish Strider could have set up to rule from Ithilien or . . . or . . . somewhere. I wish we hadn't come back to Minas Tirith."
Frodo looked carefully at his cousin. "The truth behind all this is coming," he thought to himself.
"Minas Tirith is Strider's home now, the capital of his great kingdom," Pippin continued. "Gandalf has known it and cared for its citizens for ages. Gimli and Legolas came here as conquerors riding the river in the black ships." Pippin glanced at Frodo then turned his eyes back to the ceiling. "You and Sam arrived as heros to a city that had started to clean up from the battle. Merry fought his battle on the Pelennor Fields, not in the city itself. For him Minas Tirith was a refuge and a place of healing." Pippin closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "For me it is too full of hard memories. Things I heard, and things I saw. Words that were said, . . . and some of the memories bring back thoughts of other things, things that happened elsewhere. I wish we were somewhere else."
Frodo and Pippin lay quietly, each for the moment with his own thoughts. Frodo watched as Pippin's thumb continued to rub the place where his ring finger used to be. Everyone else avoided touching him there. Even Sam avoided the awkward gap between Frodo's other fingers.
"What memories, Pippin?" Frodo whispered, his eyes not leaving his and Pippin's hands. "I haven't heard much really about all that happened here. Bits and pieces is all." Frodo huffed, "I think everyone is afraid to tell me. Afraid it will upset me or some such nonsense." There was another awkward silence, then Frodo asked again, "What memories, Pippin?"
"Boromir." The name came as a sigh from Pippin's lips. "His Father made it sound as though, well, as though Boromir had thrown his life away defending something as worthless as two halflings." It sounded like the term left a sour taste in his mouth. Pippin turned his head and looked steadily into Frodo's eyes. "I know now what happened between Boromir and you. I didn't then, but I do now. And I know why the Ring could tempt him so easily. His Father's mind had already been captured and the poison had started to spread. But Boromir truly cared about us, about all of us." Pippin looked down for a moment to regain himself then looked at Frodo again. "He had such a look of determination about him, Frodo. He was going to redeem himself for what he did to you with his own blood, Frodo, with his own life."
Frodo saw the tears begin to well up in Pippin's eyes. He expected his cousin to begin sobbing, but the sobs never came, just a bit of sniffing as most of the tears drained out of Pippin's eyes without falling.
"I watched him fall, Frodo. I . . . watched him fall. Later, I learned he died trying to save us. And then to have his Father throw it in my face!" Pippin looked back at the ceiling, his jaw clenched at the memory of Denethor's scorn. "‘How did you escape, and yet he did not?' " Pippin's voice grew louder. "That was what Denethor asked, Frodo. His voice and eyes were cold. His tone sarcastic and accusing. Boromir's death deserved better than that, Frodo. Boromir valued us Hobbits. He cared about us and . . ." Pippin gasped and swallowed. "He had grown to love us. I wasn't going to just stand there and . . ." Pippin's heart was racing, he gasped in air. "I did it for Boromir, Frodo. I pledged to serve his city, his country, his Father for him. I had barely been in the city an hour, and I had pledged myself to a man I hated."
Frodo felt Pippin's heartbeat gradually slow as Pippin calmed down. He saw his young cousin's face soften, and when he spoke again it was in a gentler tone.
"I don't hate Denethor now." Pippin turned to look into Frodo's eyes once again, as though he was searching for something in them. "He was like Gollum, Frodo."
The Ring-bearer jerked and tried to pull his hand away. His eyes flashed. How dare Pippin suggest . . . But the look in Pippin's eyes held him, drawing him in. There was a depth of understanding there that Frodo hadn't expected to find in his Tookish young cousin. Frodo gradually relaxed.
Pippin's words were sorrow-filled and hushed. "Denethor listened to the voice from the palantir, and it slowly drove him mad. He gradually burdened Boromir with his demands until Boromir would go to any lengths to meet his Father's expectations. That was why the Ring could work its evil on Boromir." Pippin finally withdrew his gaze from Frodo's and looked down at their hands. He slowly, gently started to move his thumb back and forth again on Frodo's scarred skin. "Denethor had little but contempt for Faramir," Pippin continued quietly. "His every word to him was sharp and stabbing. So unlike my Father or Merry's. Even the Gaffer isn't that hard on Sam."
The color slowly faded from Pippins face as he began to tremble. Frodo felt the hand holding his grow chill and damp. He could barely hear Pippin speak.
"He burned himself to death, Frodo. I could smell the oil and wood burning, hear the flames roaring and his . . . his . . . ," Pippin's inhaled breath hissed between his clenched teeth. "His scream." Pippin eyes clenched closed and he shuddered. "He was going to burn Faramir. He was going to burn his own son. And when Gandalf had pulled Faramir from the pyre . . ." Frodo heard another hissing breath. "Denethor tried to stab Faramir. Frodo, he was that desperate to kill his own son. Then he brought out that cursed Stone."
The hand clasping Frodo's grew even colder and his dear cousin was trembling so hard his teeth were chattering. Pippin's eyes opened to stare vacantly at the flickering shadows on the ceiling, seeing again the flames of Denethor's pyre. Frodo could almost hear that evil voice in his head again, feel it chilling his heart and his reasoning. He had not thought of the palantiri that way before. But yes, the Dark Lord had taken them over as well. The same voice, the same evil.
"Denethor had looked at me strangely at our first meeting," Pippin continued in a small, quavering voice. "When he mentioned to Gandalf that, though the Stones had been lost, the lords of Gondor yet had keen sight. He had seen me when I looked into the Orthanc stone. When I heard the voice and felt . . . I felt Sauron in my mind and he made my whole being writhe in agony. Sauron had let Denethor see as he played with my mind and tormented me. It haunts my dreams, Frodo. I hear that voice. In my dreams Sauron has twisted and destroyed my Father, then my Father tries to set me aflame."
Tears were streaming from the corners of Pippin's eyes, getting caught up in his golden brown curls and pasting them down to the sides of his face. "Later that day, I almost lost Merry. I almost lost myself, my heart and my spirit that day." Pippin closed his eyes against the pain of his memories. "Three days after that I left with the army of the West. During those three days I had duty and cared for Merry with no time or desire to talk of the grim deeds I had witnessed. Then with every step of the army towards Mordor, our hearts grew heavy, and the hope we had felt in saving Minas Tirith withered and died. It was then I realized how little I had thought about you and Sam." Pippin squeezed Frodo's hand tighter. "I could see you in my mind trying to live at all in that horrible place where the very air was alive with despair. And when that foul being showed us your things . . ."
Finally Pippin looked at his cousin. Frodo had not known that this once innocent young hobbit had endured so much anguish. His heart twisted in his chest with anger and guilt. But Pippin's eyes held no blame, only deep sorrow, and his thumb still caressed the stub on Frodo's right hand.
"However did you survive, Frodo? How did you make it to the mountain and walk inside it? How can you be here?"
"I didn't, Pippin. The Ring drove me mad just as it drove Gollum mad and the palantir drove Denethor mad."
Frodo eased down off his elbow, lay on his side and closed his eyes. He was surprised at how quickly his mind took him back to Mount Doom. He felt the heat. His mouth went dry and held the all too familiar taste of hot ash. He could smell the fumes. He stood on the side of the mountain and could see the crouching figure of Gollum. That was when he had felt it happen, at that moment on the mountain's flank had come the final snapping of his mind. And now he was the Frodo of Mount Doom once again.
"You cannot betray me or slay me now!"
"What!" Pippin exclaimed, wide-eyed with surprise. Frodo had nearly shouted the words.
"Who is this?" Frodo's eyes were glassy, and his voice now small and distant. "Why am I . . . am I? Am I saying these things? I feel myself moving and talking but . . . somehow . . . I am away from it all. Being dragged along." For a moment the glassy stare was replaced with a fierce glowing. "Farewell, Sam! On Mount Doom doom shall fall." The booming voice issued once again from Frodo's mouth.
Pippin felt the blood in him run cold. Where had his questions sent his cousin? Every sense told him there was danger in what was happening. Pippin was pierced with the sudden knowledge that evil itself had been greatly weakened but not destroyed. It was still reaching for Frodo. For the first time since he had taken hold of it, Pippin let go of Frodo's hand. He sat up, grabbed Frodo's shoulder and shook him hard.
"Frodo! Frodo come back! The Ring is gone! You brought about It's end, It . . . It . . . It cannot have you dearest cousin! Frodo!" As he fought to regain Frodo, the emotions, the fears, the love that Pippin had bottled up poured forth at last. He continued to call to his cousin between deep sobs and gasping breaths. Whatever had he done? "Frodo! Frodo, please!"
The stiffened body in Pippin's grasp, like ice melting, loosened and relaxed. Frodo's eyes closed and a long sigh escaped him. He lifted his right hand toward Pippin who took it once again, holding it this time between both of his hands.
"I'm here, Pippin. I'm here." Frodo swallowed then said nothing for a while. He felt weak and emptied. He had not expected such a reaction. He hadn't thought the memories would be that powerful. But now, it all faded back to mere thoughts. He was no longer on the mountain side but in a bed in a house in Minas Tirith. He touched the memories cautiously. This time they made no move to overwhelm him.
"It dragged me along, Pippin," Frodo finally said. "I wanted what It wanted - I despised what It wanted. I could no longer tell if I spoke or It did, if I moved my feet and hands or It moved them."
Pippin could barely endure the look in the intense blue eyes that opened to bore into his own. He took a deep breath and held his gaze steady with Frodo's. Tears still flooded down his face unchecked. His forefinger now took his thumb's former place and soothingly stroked the stub on Frodo's right hand.
"I stood on the brink of the abyss, and It taunted me. ‘You have failed and all is at an end. I have taken you, and you shall never be free of my rule.' " A strange smile formed on Frodo's lips, and he cackled a bit madly. "But It was afraid, Pippin! The Ring wasn't quite sure if It had completely ruined me." He cackled again and closed his eyes. "And the Dark Lord felt It's doubt, It's fear that I might yet cast It to Its doom. And he trembled!"
The last was a shout, and Frodo's eyes flew open, once again gleaming with madness.
"But he was wrong. The Ring was wrong. I was no more. I was draining away when Gollum grabbed me." The light in Frodo's eyes faded, and he looked at his hand, lying cradled in Pippin's gentle grasp. "I had failed. And I bear that reminder forever more."
"No, Frodo." Pippin's voice was quiet but strong and confident. He looked at the maimed hand he held then bent forward to kiss the place were Frodo's ring finger had been. He held Frodo's hand to his cheek, and his tears washed down upon it.
Frodo forgot to breathe in the rush of love he felt coming from his young cousin. He gaped at the sight of Pippin hugging the symbol of his shame and spilling loving tears upon its ugliness.
"Pippin," Frodo choked out, "I didn't destroy It. If it hadn't been for Gollum . . ."
"And why," interrupted Pippin, "was Gollum there?"
"The Ring drew him. It owned him. It . . . "
"No!" Pippin lifted his face from Frodo's hand, anger flashed in his green eyes. "No, Frodo! That is not the point. I know all that, but it would have made no difference if you had killed him."
Frodo's thoughts stopped short. What was this fool of a Took cousin of his getting at? Pippin saw the blank look on Frodo's face and quickly continued.
"You succeeded, cousin!" Pippin's face, through his tears, was alight with joy. "Your own mercy saved you. It saved us all!" Pippin looked thoughtful for a moment, then he went on. "Well, Hobbit sense really. The fact that most of us would rather help someone than hurt them. Bilbo didn't kill Gollum. You didn't kill him, and even Sam managed to not kill the poor wretch." Pippin impulsively brought Frodo's hand back to his lips where he kissed it again. "If you had not been who you are, you would have shown no mercy, no pity, no kindness, and would have put an end to Gollum without giving it a second thought. But you did not, and that saved it all!" Pippin smiled triumphantly. "The Ring had given up on Gollum. It no longer gave thought to him. It didn't care that he was there. But he was there to fight you. He bit off your finger, and the curse the Ring through you," he gave Frodo a nod, " pronounced on him came to pass. The Ring just never thought that Gollum would be holding It when he fell into the Fire of Doom. You didn't fail, cousin. The Ring was destroyed because you didn't fail, Sam didn't fail and old Bilbo didn't fail. Evil just couldn't stand up against that much mercy."
Frodo looked at Pippin as though he had never seen him before. He had not. This Pippin had been brought into existence when he saw the first Black Rider while they were still in the Shire. He had been nurtured by the hardships of a long journey and great loss. Frodo's feelings of guilt and shame hovered around him but now a glimmer of light made it's way through the gloom, perhaps Pippin had a point. Frodo's musings were rudely interrupted by Pippin laughing so hard the bed was shaking. His cousin was red in the face, gasping for air and pointing at him. Finally, Pippin caught enough of a breath to say something.
"You . . . the look . . . on . . . your face Frodo!" With that Pippin fell onto his back, rolled onto his side and lay there holding his stomach and laughing himself breathless once more. This time, Frodo joined him.
"I didn't think a Took could have that much sense in his head!" Frodo finally was able to say. At that comment Pippin playfully punched his older cousin in the shoulder.
"I beg your pardon, cousin! We Tooks can be quite insightful at times." Pippin shook his finger in Frodo's face. "And don't you be forgetting that you, my dear Frodo, are at least, if not more, one quarter Took!" They laughed a bit more but more calmly.
Frodo looked at Pippin. The whites of his green eyes were red from his earlier bout of tears, making them look even greener, but his eyes were now clear and sparkling with mirth. Pippin's smile was broad and genuine. The darkness that he had brought in with him was gone. And Frodo noticed that he too felt lighter than he had.
"You touched my hand," Frodo said softly. "No one else really has you know." He paused to swallow the lump in his throat. "It felt good, Pippin."
"You are most welcome, dearest Frodo!" Pippin's smile grew even broader. "I've wondered why Sam and Merry have avoided it. It's just you, just your hand. We've all touched and held it before. I . . . " he lowered his head and looked embarrassed, "I wanted to see what it felt like."
"What does it feel like, then?"
Pippin looked up and his eyes glittered. "It feels like your hand!" He smiled at Frodo a few moments then lowered his head again. "I cried, Frodo," Pippin whispered. "I cried, and it felt good."
"You laughed, too," Frodo added. "And not only your stomach shook, the whole bed shook!"
Pippin looked up, and they smiled at each other until Pippin yawned.
"I've grown sleepy, cousin," Pippin said before he yawned again. "Do you mind . . ."
"If you stay here?"
Pippin blushed and nodded.
"No, little cousin. I don't mind at all," Frodo replied, And they fell asleep, Frodo on his back and Pippin on his side facing him. Frodo's right hand rested on his chest wrapped in the gentle grip of Pippin's left hand.
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.