Note: Yes, I'm a pervy hobbit fancier (is there a clique for us? *g*), specially a fancier of all things Merry and Pippin...

You could say this was an independent lovesong
It's nothing like to us what love meant to them
That's not to say the love we have isn't big or that strong
I'm doing it a different way
I'm doing it a different way
Scarlet - Independent Love Song

It was over and they had survived. Not just that, they had actually won, against all odds they had prevailed.

And now they were all weary and very very tired. Merry suspected that some of them, namely Frodo who Merry had yet to hear laughing, might never manage to shake off this weariness, might never be able again to experience pure joy and happiness.

Merry knew that he and Pippin, and even Sam, would not forget what had happened, but find a way to step out of the shadows they had gone through and live despite of it. But it had changed them nonetheless.

The physical changes were the most obvious of course -- who after all had ever seen two hobbits grow as tall as Merry and Pippin had, thanks to the wondrous Ent draught? But those were not the changes that mattered.

The important changes were not obvious, were in fact easily overlooked. Who except Merry would notice the sadness lingering in Pippin's eyes, aged beyond their years by what they had seen? And who except Pippin would know that Merry hadn't unaidedly slept a night through since Moria?

Merry was sure that the others all had scars like this to show, none of them had escaped unscathed. Aragorn had Arwen's love, however, as Legolas and Gimli had their unusual friendship, and Frodo found some measure of comfort in his faithful Sam. The others all had their partners, their families, their friends to help them heal, so Merry's main concern was Pippin.

Pippin. His Pippin. The one with whom Merry had set out that day to steal some of farmer Maggot's crop, who had gone through all the darkness and danger with him, and who he'd almost lost in the end.

So of course it was now Merry's job to see that they stayed together, secure in the knowledge that they'd always have each other. It was important to know that, to know that they were not alone in being changed, not alone in their difficulties to settle back into their former lives.

Merry's heart clenched at the mere thought of not having Pippin around anymore, of not seeing his face before falling asleep and after waking up. So he was aware that his plan of being there for Pippin was not purely selfless, but the fact remained that Pippin needed him just as much as he needed Pippin.

It was not something Merry could explain, it had simply become a fact of life, too elemental for questioning and doubt.

With the old Pippin Merry would have simply proceeded and trusted Pippin to just follow along. But then, if Pippin were still the old there wouldn't be any need for all of this.

So, turning away from the window of Buckland hall he had been standing at, staring outside into the fading twilight of dusk, Merry went to see what the new Pippin thought about all this.

He found his cousin in the room he had been sleeping in. Ever since they had freed the Shire, Pippin and Merry both had found excuses for Pippin to stay here, in the room next to Merry's, instead of going home.

Although, more often than not Merry ended up perched on Pippin's bedside, finding comfort from the shadows and red flames of his dreams in the peaceful face of his cousin, so open, vulnerable and innocent in the forgetfulness of sleep.

Most of the times Pippin seemed to notice Merry's presence and woke up, looking up at him out of sleepy eyes, his curls a mess and his smile mischievous.

"Come here!" were unavoidably Pippin's first words, slurred with sleep, always accompanied by him lifting his down cover to allow Merry to slip in.

Merry never hesitated to accept the offer and cuddle up next to Pippin's warm body, letting his bright presence chase away the darkness. Almost every morning found them curled around each other, Merry's face buried in Pippin's hair, his arms around Pippin's waist, while Pippin's breath was moist against Merry's neck and Pippin's hands were fisted in Merry's shirt, holding him close.

They had slept like this often during their journey, and it was an unspoken agreement between them that the fact that they were back in the Shire, where things like this simply were not done, would not stop them from finding comfort that way.

Only now Merry had come to talk about exactly those things.

At the moment, the Shire people were still too grateful to their rescuers to pay attention to their quirks and not hobbit-like behavior, but that would wear off and then the whispering would start, the looks and rumours. Merry needed to know how much Pippin wanted things to stay the way they were now, how much he wanted them to stay together.

Pippin was sitting on the broad windowseat, head resting against the glass, staring outside, lost in thought the way Merry had been before coming here. He didn't hear Merry come in at first -- or maybe he did, but didn't do anything about it.

That was another new thing, this silence they shared. Before the war Pippin had always been chattering away, a cheerful, sometimes annoying sound, background noise during most of Merry's life. Now Pippin didn't feel the need for speech anymore, at least not always and not with Merry.

Words sometimes seemed insufficient to describe what they both were feeling.

Not now, though, so Merry stepped completely inside the cozy room and stood behind Pippin, his hands coming to rest lightly on the younger hobbit's shoulder. Touching was another thing they shared more than they used to, now.

"Pip?" Merry kept his voice soft, not wanting to disturb the blanket of quietness surrounding Pippin.

His cousin turned slightly to meet Merry's gaze, and Merry couldn't help but be relieved when he saw the small smile on the face he knew better than his own.

"Hmm? Something the matter, Merry?"

There was warmth in Pippin's eyes, a warmth that spread through Merry's whole body. Merry felt himself release a tension he hadn't known he felt.

"I think we need to talk, Pip -- about what we're going to do, now that the Shire is safe again."

Pippin just looked at him calmly, another change -- the bubbly, restless youngster had grown thoughtful and ready to listen before talking.

"Do you want to go back to Tookland? Is that what you want -- going back to the way things were before?" Merry tried to keep his voice from shaking. Pippin had to be able to voice his opinion without being influenced by Merry.

Pippin didn't seem at all surprised by Merry's question. It looked as if he had expected it to come up and given it some thought of his own.

"Is that what you'd like, Merry? Going back to normal? The two of us living in our own homes and leading our own lives?" His voice was calm, but Merry knew him better than anyone and he saw the way the muscles in his shoulders tightened.

It made him feel better, somehow, to know that Pippin was nervous, too.

"I only want what's best for us both, Pip -- and it's not as if we couldn't still see each other often, even if you were living with your family again..."

Pippin only looked at him, eyes dark and intense, studying Merry as if to figure out what thoughts were hidden behind his careful words. Merry swallowed, aware that Pippin could probably read him just as well as the other way around.

"And what if I told you that I didn't want my old life back, Merry? That 'normal' doesn't hold any appeal to me, not anymore?"

Merry felt a broad grin threaten to escape his carefully neutral mask, and his fingers involuntarily tightened their grip on Pippin's shoulders.

"Are you serious, Pip? You know how people always talked about Bilbo, because he went away on an adventure and never settled down, never got married the way it's expected. Just imagine what they'd be saying if you and me were not only not married but living together. There'd be rumours flying around until the day we die -- and after that as well, probably..."

Pippin had listened to all this without betraying any of his reactions. Now he turned on the windowseat, so he sat with his legs left and right from Merry, facing him directly.

"What if I told you that I've never been more serious in my whole life? People have always been wagging their tongues about 'that no-good young Took', and I've never really cared. So why should it matter now, after all that we've seen in the world outside the Shire?"

Merry couldn't hold Pippin's clear gaze anymore and looked down instead, watching Pippin thread their fingers together and suppressing a shiver at the familiar gesture.

"Do you really think I could be happy without you, Merry? You're what keeps me sane, you're what makes my life bearable -- and more than bearable, even. I'm too different now to go back to the way things were -- and I think so are you." Pippin smiled now, a bright smile, unwavering and true. "Face it, Merry -- we're never going to be normal again, too much has happened. We'll never find happiness anymore if it's not with each other."

This time Merry didn't suppress the grin that threatened to crack his face.

"You never cease to amaze me, Peregrin Took!" he exclaimed, well aware that he was radiating relief and happiness. He forced himself to calm down a bit and meet Pippin's gaze seriously.

"All you've said I feel as well -- I only wanted to make sure that you feel the same way." Merry's voice dropped, as he tried to make Pippin see what his words meant to him. "I don't want a normal life either -- not if that meant living it without you. You are my life, Pip, I need you more than anything, and definitely more than an unblemished reputation!"

Seeing tears glisten in Pippin's warm eyes, Merry became aware that he was crying himself. He didn't quite know who moved first, but all at once they were embracing each other, clinging to one another as if their lives depended on it. Merry thought that they probably did.

It was Pippin who finally broke away a bit, although his hands still rested on Merry's waist.

When he spoke it was with a mischievous glint in his eyes and a teasing grin. Merry knew that expression -- Pippin was up to something. Oh, how he had missed this! Whatever Pippin had planned, Merry knew he'd say yes, unable to refuse him anything.

"Sooo, Meriadoc -- how about we give people something to talk about? I mean, since they'll already imagine all kinds of things, don't you think we could just as well do at least some of them..."

Merry swallowed hard, not solely because of what Pippin's words implied, but also because he found himself pulled forward by Pippin's muscular legs, his body flush with Pippin's, so that there was no mistaking the hardness rubbing against Merry's own hardening erection. He had to steady himself against the window to stop himself from losing his balance, which brought his face within inches of Pippin's challenging smile.

A mix of growl and laughter escaped Merry as let himself believe that this was happening, that Pippin wanted him in exactly the same way he wanted Pippin.

"I think that's an excellent idea, actually..." Merry whispered, his breath grazing Pippin's ear hotly. He heard Pippin make a curious low sound, almost a mewl, and then Pippin's whole body jerked against Merry's, sparking all kinds of interesting sensations, in response to Merry's deep kiss.

Merry looked immensely forward to finding out what other noises and movements Pippin could make if prompted in the right way.

Before Merry succumbed completely to the task of creating a sound foundation for all the rumours that would circulate about 'that queer Brandybuck and Took livin' together with no woman nowhere in sight', his last clear thought was that being normal was overrated.

Merry decided that while the war definitely had changed them both, the change was not necessarily for the worse. How could it be, when Pippin was writhing against him, gasping over and over again "Love you, love you, love you, Merry"?

That was all that mattered, after all.