Drifting Into Dawn

Four weeks of walking through nighttime, and sleeping through day. Four weeks of hard ground, cold meals, and nothing but a horizon that grew slowly -- very slowly -- closer. Sometimes it seemed to Pippin that it faded into the distance, as though their party had walked the wrong direction during the night.

He'd asked, only once, if Strider were sure they were going the right way. The Man had smiled and said yes, his manner friendly enough. But there had been an amused glint in his eyes that had stung, all the same. Pippin had kept his questions to himself and to Merry after that. He'd have given them to Frodo, if Frodo hadn't taken to walking beside Gandalf or Strider. Pippin could hear that they talked quite a bit, and he suspected they were about things he didn't want to know.

He might have been happy to hear all about it, had they been sitting around the kitchen table at home, filling in the corners after a huge meal and telling stories. But this -- this quest, the stuff stories were rarely ever made of -- was a lot more real than a story had any right to be.

Bilbo hadn't talked about how cold ground felt to sleep on, or how exhausting it was to walk for hours, or how frightening it was to be so far away from home. And Bilbo hadn't even had other hobbits along.

Pippin glanced back to where Merry was walking. He could just make out the features of his face; Merry caught his eye and smiled briefly before Pippin turned back around. The sun was only just beginning to peek over the edge of the world, and Pippin knew they'd stop soon and make camp. Four weeks and he'd got used to never talking with Merry of the things he wanted to say, of never holding his hand, and of never lying beside him to sleep. He'd got used to it, and it was like the layer of dirt that seemed to live on his hands and face and clothing. It didn't seem unusual anymore, and deep down it horrified him.

He wanted a long, hot bath. He wanted a hot meal that filled him up.

He wanted to hold onto Merry.

A few minutes later Strider called a halt. Pippin sat down right where he was, not taking another step. He heard a chuckle behind him -- Boromir, who stepped around him and looked down as he went past. The expression on his face was kind, and amused.

All the members of their fellowship were like that, Pippin had learnt quickly. Friendly, supportive. Kind. Amused by the ways of hobbits.

He wished-- he knew perfectly well what he wished, but he knew better than to dare it. They'd all started being friends, and Boromir had been teaching he and Merry how to sword-fight. All of them had shared stories about their homelands, and Gandalf and Strider had told stories of the history of the lands they were walking through. Everyone seemed at ease in each other's company.

Except.

Pippin watched as the others began making camp, forming somewhat of an odd-shaped circle around the tiny fire Strider built. There would be no warmth from it, so Pippin didn't go to sit at its edge. He stayed where he was, accepting the pack Sam tossed him from Bill's back. He began to undo his bedroll, despite the fact it would be awhile before he would fall asleep. Focusing on the small task kept him from looking over to find Merry.

He wondered, briefly, what it would be like if the entire party were made up of hobbits. Shorter days spent walking, more meals. More pipes allowed, more stories. Like as not they'd have been lost the first week, he thought, remembering how little he'd remembered anything from Elrond's maps.

Pippin rubbed at his nose, thinking of a cold splash of water from a stream. There had been no running water the last two days, though Strider said there would be tomorrow. Their canteens were sufficient for drinking, but none to waste for such things as cleaning one's face.

Pippin told himself, irritably, that a fellowship of hobbits would have brought two ponies, one with bags and bags of water for baths.

He laid down on his bedroll, rolling onto his back. The sky was lightening, and soon it would be day's break. There had been a time when he'd never seen the dawn. Always safe asleep, rising late for breakfast that someone else prepared. His father always made him wash the dishes, to prevent him from growing up spoilt. Pippin didn't think he had been, though surely this trip would break him of any such tendencies for good. Perhaps his father would be pleased with him, when he returned, and say he'd grown into adult four years early.

"Pip."

He looked over to find Merry kneeling beside him, undoing his own bedroll. Pippin watched as he spread his blanket out near his own -- not too near. But near as possible.

Pippin said nothing as he watched, as Merry sat down and held out some bread and a wedge of cheese. Pippin sat up and took them, not feeling nearly as hungry as he ought to have. He moved over to sit with his hip nestled up against Merry's, and found he couldn't help but lean over and put his head on Merry's shoulder.

He felt Merry's hand brush his leg, and they continued eating.


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