Deadweight

They'd been walking for two days. Merry was quite sure he'd never, in his life, had this much exercise, and he was also quite sure hobbits weren't *meant* to exercise this much. Walking did wonders for one's appetite, and he could already tell his trousers were in danger of not fitting, in another week. But hobbits didn't *need* help increasing their appetites, and...well, Merry rather liked the solid feel of his body, the weight that it already was. He wasn't alone in his opinion, either, if the sidelong glances that he used to catch, were anything to judge by.

Besides, as seldom as the Man in charge of their group stopped for meals, Merry was pretty sure he'd have lost a stone or more without the walking.

Merry kept his thoughts to himself, as they hiked along. He knew there were more important things to be concerned with than the effects of their exercise. The consequences of taking the journey might make weight-loss a trivial concern if the Black Riders caught up with them again. But it didn't make Merry stop thinking about it, or from wishing that they could stop for second breakfast, and elevenses, and afternoon tea.

Thinking about meals missed helped him not think about other things he was missing. Men -- and elves, and dwarves -- didn't seem to be the same sort of creatures as hobbits in more ways than the obvious. None of their companions seemed concerned with skipped meals the way the hobbits were -- even Frodo, distracted as he was by the millstone around his neck, retained his concern for the necessities of life.

Not so, their companions. Merry was convinced, after only two days' journey with the band, that none of them thought a whit of *any* of life's necessities. It was going to drive Merry mad, he knew, and it made him half-wonder just exactly why he'd agreed ? demanded ? to accompany Frodo and Sam on the journey. He knew he would never have let his two friends go without him, because...well, because. They were his friends and they were undertaking something dangerous and urgent, that there was simply no question of Merry and Pippin accompanying them, or not. They were friends, and hobbits weren't about to put their own comfort above their friends.

It would have been nice to have both, was all. Friends, and a warm hobbit hole where you could sleep in a bed and eat warm food as often as you liked, and where you could reach out and hold the hand of someone you loved, without thinking who might be watching.

As he walked, Merry stared at the horizon, as far away as he could see. It hadn't changed since yesterday, and Legolas assured him it wouldn't change for several days to come. It was nothing like any of the vistas he'd seen in the Shire, and its difference reminded him. This was a different world, and things like hobbit necessities were no longer necessities. It would be a long time, Merry knew, before they would be.

Merry trudged along, keeping his pace up as best he could. He tried to wrench his thoughts back towards eating, remembering the last meal he'd had at Brandybuck Hall, or the dinner they'd had their first night camped, just outside the Shire, when they hadn't thought to be quick about things. But his thoughts kept drifting, and it was becoming more and more difficult not to look over at Pippin.

A hand brushed his arm, and Merry looked over to find Sam beside him. Sam smiled briefly, but didn't say anything. Merry wondered if his thoughts were that plainly written on his face -- or if Sam just knew. He returned the smile, and a moment later, Sam was walking a pace ahead, again, between Merry and Frodo.

It was an hour til lunch that second day, when Merry found himself noticing something odd. Every time they stopped, for rest or meals, Sam and Frodo seemed...everywhere. When they had gathered around for breakfast before taking to trail, Sam had sat down next to Pippin, handing over plate and cup, leaning across Merry to reach the satchel of bread. He'd set his hand on Merry's knee as he'd leant, and he'd clapped Pippin on the arm as he'd passed the bread along. Frodo had walked past to find a clear patch to sit, and Merry had seen him give Pippin a smile, and Sam a touch on the shoulder.

Normally none of it would have made Merry think twice. But every time they stopped -- whether they were just standing along the trail, or making camp, Sam and Frodo were there. Smiling, and talking quietly, and always, quite casually, touching. Each other, Merry, Pippin -- as if they were still back in the Shire. Sam and Frodo were the most natural thing in the world.

And not as though they had only started two days ago. Merry thought quickly back and realised, that yes -- the day they left Rivendell, it had started. As if.... Merry's revelation took an unpleasant turn. Were they worried so much about what might happen? Did Frodo feel guilty that his friends might have been dragged into something too great for them to handle?

Or were they simply so grateful that Merry and Pippin had come along, that they could only share it through touches, and not through simply saying 'thank you'?

Merry shook his head. It made no sense. Frodo could simply say "Thank you" and it would be done. If he even thought he had to say it at all -- as unthinkable as it was that they would have let Frodo and Sam take this journey alone, it was unthinkable that Merry and Pippin would need their thanks. Had it been Pippin making a quest, Frodo and Sam would have been right there, beside them with no hesitation.

He managed to get Sam alone, when they stopped for luncheon. There would be no fire, but there was a stream not far off and Merry had volunteered himself and Sam to refill the flasks. He waited 'til they were at the stream, and the noise of the water would mask their voices, before he asked.

Sam looked over, guiltily, and Merry knew he must have been right. "Sorry, Merry," Sam began, and he didn't sound entirely sorry. Merry just waited, to find out which of his guesses had been right. "It was Mr. Frodo's idea. He said...that if he and I was to do it, then no one would notice anything odd about it if you and Pippin...." As he trailed off, he looked ready to be scolded.

Merry could barely think. "If Pippin and I..?"

"You know. If you were to be touching each other. Mr. Frodo thought the others would think it was just the way we are. Hobbits, I mean. Friendly, and...affectionate with their friends. They wouldn't...know anything by seeing anything."

Merry stared into Sam's earnest face, as he realised what he was hearing. Surprised, he thought, wouldn't even begin to cover trying to explain how he felt.

Sam shrugged, and spoke again as Merry didn't. "I noticed you wasn't. Hadn't started, I mean, and I thought maybe you didn't realise. I would have got you off alone to tell you, if you hadn't done the same before I could." He smiled, then, and seemed to realise Merry couldn't think of anything to say. He clapped Merry on the shoulder. "We should get the rest of the flasks filled, and back to camp before Pippin and Mr. Frodo forget to leave us any lunch."

"They wouldn't," Merry said, reflexively. He was still staring at Sam, who was now bending down beside the stream with a flask in either hand. "Sam?" Sam looked up at him. "Thank you."

Sam grinned. "You know as well I do, Meriadoc, that thanks ain't necessary. But I'll pass it along to Mr. Frodo all the same. And... you'll tell Pippin."

Merry grinned at the glint in Sam's eye. "Perhaps I'll show him, instead."


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