Let Me Not Rule Over the Departed Dead

"I should rather labor as another's serf, in the home of a man without fortune, one whose livelihood was meager, than rule over all the departed dead." -- Homer

He didn't know if this would kill him. The ache in his heart, or the journey itself, or both. He hadn't known, hadn't realised until now that this could kill him. It could kill any of them.

Pippin stared at the ground ahead of him as he walked, breaking into a jog whenever those around him did, and thought as little as possible about what had gone wrong. Which was to say, he could think of nothing else.

He was shocked beyond feeling anything, by what had happened. There was a tightness in his stomach which told him he would not be able to eat, at all, until it went away. He wanted desperately to think about nothing more than walking, one foot in front of the other and looking out for rocks not to trip over. But the numbness inside seemed to fill him with images, and sounds, and recriminations until it felt absurd to call it numbness at all.

What had he done?

It was a ridiculous question. He knew what he'd done, even had it not been witnessed by the entire Fellowship. There was no question, what had he done. The true question was -- how could he have done it?

Pippin watched the rocks give way, slowly, to dirt and grass, and knew they were approaching Lothlorien. They would find rest, there, and safety, according to Aragorn. Pippin wasn't sure he believed it. How could he possibly feel safe, after this?

He kept his eyes still on the ground, just far enough ahead that he didn't walk into anyone or anything. He couldn't bring himself to try looking around, unwilling to know if anyone was looking his way and what might be on their faces if they were. He heard footsteps approaching, the heavy fall and long stride told him it was one of the Men -- Boromir, then, for Aragorn would still be up ahead of the line, leading.

Pippin glanced sideways, but not up. It seemed to suffice for an invitation. "How are you doing, little one?" Boromir asked, quietly.

He was surprised by the question, and looked up at the man. "How... how am I supposed to be doing?" He kept his voice low as he could, because he felt, otherwise, that he would be wailing his question loud as the wind.

Boromir put his hand on Pippin's shoulder, and gave him a look that spoke only of sympathy, and pain. Pippin looked away, unable to add the other's pain to his own without breaking completely into pieces. They walked side by side for several steps, and Pippin wondered what had brought him over. How long before he left, again. Pippin stumbled when he heard, whispered, "It was not your fault."

Boromir's hand shifted to his arm, catching him before he could fall. Pippin nearly stopped walking to stare up at Boromir, who must surely have lost his mind. He kept walking only from the determination to keep from drawing anyone's attention to himself. But Boromir's words were so outrageous, he could hardly think of a response.

His expression didn't change, and they continued walking. Pippin couldn't quite look away, now, staring at Boromir and waiting for him to explain the joke. Boromir was watching ahead, now, but he glanced down at Pippin as he said, "Did you know the orcs would come?"

Pippin shook his head. Of course he hadn't -- he wasn't stupid, it just... hadn't occurred to him. Obviously it had occurred to everyone else, from Gandalf's stern words. Gandalf.

He had to look down again, and swallow the sounds his chest seemed intent to make.

"Did you know there was a Balrog in the mines?" came Boromir's next whispered question. Pippin shook his head, feeling suddenly worse. All that he had done -- one stone, dropped, and all that had followed.

"Did you intend for Gandalf to stay behind, to fight?"

"No!" Pippin choked out. Somehow managed to keep his voice as quiet as Boromir's, though how, he didn't know. Perhaps the tightness in his throat explained.

Boromir looked down again. Pain, sympathy -- something else, too. Something Pippin was only used to seeing on Merry's face. "They were accidents, Pippin, and it can hardly be your fault that it happened."

"How can you say that?" Pippin wondered if men had such different eyesight from hobbits, that he hadn't seen. "If the orcs hadn't come, if the balrog hadn't come, Gandalf would be here now. How can't that be my doing?"

"Did you intend it?"

Pippin did stop, that time. Just for a moment, as he gaped up at Boromir. "No," was all he could say. As if he had, as if he could possibly have wanted to. He managed to get his feet moving again, so that no one would turn back and yell at him to get on, already, or be left behind.

Though perhaps he should be, he realised. Surely between he and Gandalf, they needed Gandalf more. He tightened his jaw, and thought it over again. Perhaps he should head off, once they reached the forest and find some tiny hole appropriate for a hobbit.

There was a hand on his head, and it slipped back down to his shoulder, a moment later. "You didn't intend it, Pippin, No one blames you." Boromir spoke quietly, but intently. It almost made Pippin want to believe him. Only he didn't understand why Boromir was saying any of this, at all.

"It doesn't change what I did," he replied. "I should have thrown myself in."

The grip on his shoulder tightened, and Pippin found himself pulled to a stop and around to face Boromir, now knelt beside him. Pippin could see behind them, several paces, Sam leading Bill, and behind them walked Merry and Gimli. Pippin tried to hurry on, but Boromir kept his hold on Pippin's arm. He stopped struggling, and waited.

"You cannot give up," Boromir said. His eyes seemed to be searching for something, in Pippin's expression.

"But the company doesn't need me. You need Gandalf. I know I can't bring him back," Pippin whispered, and he was going to start crying again, and Sam and Bill and Gimli were walking past, giving them wide berth and not looking over as they went by. Pippin rubbed his eye with the back of his hand and felt twelve years old again. "What if I get another one of you killed?" Pippin couldn't believe he had dared ask such a thing. Not that he wouldn't understand if Boromir said what Pippin was hearing inside -- that he was a liability, that his being here was a mistake.

"Then we die."

Pippin thought he'd stopped breathing. It would fit, he supposed, to die of shock. But Boromir reached up, and touched his cheek.

"Each of us joined this fellowship knowing that we might die. That to complete our mission, we might have to die. All that matters is getting the Ring to Mount Doom, and destroying it. None of the rest of us matter, Pippin. Nothing else matters, but that."

Pippin looked away, again, and Boromir stood, tugging on his hand.

"Come," he said, and he pulled Pippin gently forward to begin walking again. Pippin dared glance up, but saw that no one was looking back at them.

"I... I can't," Pippin said, hoping that Boromir would let him go and let him slip away. "There's nothing I can do except get in the way." They'd been right, he realised. The elves who had argued that he was too young. He couldn't do this, and he didn't want to discover just how incapable he was of being part of it. He hadn't even known they would be expected to die, along the way. Give up their lives for the Ring...

Softly, Boromir said, "How do you know what you will do unless you wait and see? How can you know what you bring to this fellowship, if you don't give it a chance? Gandalf himself said you should accompany us. If you were to give up now, all you would accomplish would be to prove him wrong."

"But--"

"I know you're frightened," Boromir spoke calmly. "It's not wrong to be. But you cannot turn back now. We need you, or you would not be here. All of us are here for something."

"How can you be sure?" He wanted to believe it. Wanted to think that there was a reason for all of this, and that he hadn't destroyed their chance to succeed, by dropping a stone.

"I don't know," came the unexpected answer. "All I know is what I feel. You cannot leave, Pippin. I know that. I don't know why -- it might simply be that it would be cowardice to run. It may be that you are the one to save us all. I cannot say. But I know that you are needed, as much as any of us."

Pippin walked silently, for several minutes. Boromir said nothing more, apparently content that he'd said all he could say. Pippin wasn't sure he could grasp what the man was saying -- much less believe that he had any role to play in their quest.

But it helped, somehow, to hear it said. He might not believe it, and perhaps no one else would agree with Boromir. But... it helped.

"Why... did you stop to speak to me?" The question came before he could stop it.

"Because you would not listen to Merry, when he said the same thing."

Pippin rubbed his nose, feeling again like he was about to start sobbing. Lying on the rocks, unable to do anything more than cry and try not to scream, feeling Merry's hands rubbing his arm -- there had been words, then, soft and keening in his ear. He hadn't heard them, dismissed them as impossible. "But--" He wanted to ask why Boromir had been the one.

But he didn't have to, because Boromir had stopped, again. Pulling Pippin around to face him, Boromir didn't answer right away. Then he just pulled Pippin into his arms.

"Because you cannot leave," was all Boromir said.