Old Wounds

Notes: For Elisa Valero (), for the 2007. You wanted hurt/comfort with a nice dose of angst, and I hope I delivered! Also, I took the liberty of naming Merry's son Theoden, seeing that Tolkien doesn't give us any information on him except for his existence. Many thanks to Dana for valuable feedback.

Sometimes his arm still hurt. How many years had it been since the War of the Ring ended? He should know, after all, he had written 'The Book of Years'. However, sometimes it felt like a thousand years had passed, sometimes as if it was only yesterday that they were out on that battlefield, fighting for their lives and for all the Peoples of Middle Earth. They had won, but none of those that had been there escaped the darkness without scars.

With a sigh that spoke as much of fatigue as of pain, the Master of Buckland rose from his desk, stretching in an effort to shake off the bone-deep exhaustion that was claiming him more and more often. Meriadoc Brandybuck was not old, not by hobbit standards, but his youth was long gone and the responsibilities of his office seemed to weigh heavier every year. Instead of giving him satisfaction, the minutiae of running Buckland and governing its inhabitants became more and more of a burden, one he would gladly give up in return for... Merry paused his musings. What would he do if he wasn't Master anymore? Spend more time researching and writing his herb lore? Sit around the pub like Sam's old gaffer used to, reminiscing about times long gone? Travel Middle Earth once again, look in on old friends? It all felt empty, meaningless, and Merry knew all too well why.

He was missing a part of his heart, had been for many years, and now that his son was grown, Merry had started to realize that the wound had never really healed, phantom pain his constant companion. The Witchking had wounded his arm, but Pippin... Peregrin Took had wounded him much deeper, and it was beginning to take its toll on Merry. For many years he had had it under control -- his marriage to Estella was good, warm and loving if not very passionate, he adored being a father, and the duties as Master and his scholarly interests had fulfilled him. He had been content with his lot, without regrets.

Or so he had thought, until the day a couple of months ago when Theoden had come home with glowing eyes, telling his parents happily about Marigold Proudfoot. Estella had been the one to react first, hugging Theoden warmly. Her eyes had met Merry's over their son's head, wistful and just a bit angry. It had only lasted a few seconds, then he had been by her side, embracing both of them, but Merry had realized that his wife knew why he had been frozen to the spot, overwhelmed by a memory he had thought long buried.

The day Pippin came to tell him about Diamond had been the day Merry received his deepest wound, one that he had thought might even kill him, until his sense of duty and Sam's grave but gentle care had pulled him back. The pain had dulled and he had even found happiness again, in the laughter of his son and the prospering of his people. But now it had all come back, and it was all Merry could do to keep himself together well enough to function and not worry Theoden. No suck luck with Estella, of course, who could read him better than anyone -- even better than Pippin, at this point, an idea Merry would have thought preposterous after the War. Then, in those years in Crickhollow, he had imagined they would always continue to be MerryandPippin, almost the same being. Until Pippin had gone and fallen in love, and it hadn't been with Merry.

They were still very good friends, these days, a miracle Estella had wrought, whose presence had enabled Merry to let Pippin back into his life, bit by bit. Pippin had even been witness at Merry's and Estella's marriage, and the joy in his cousin's eyes had gone a long way towards dismantling the protective wall Merry had erected between them. And when Diamond died during a long, cold winter a couple of years ago, Merry had been the first to offer Pippn comfort. Now, however, Merry was not sure he could look Pippin in the eyes the next time he saw him, not when suddenly he remembered it all so clearly, as if it was only yesterday that they had shared, not only a house, but a life, filled wth laughter and kisses and the shared memories of pain and courage.

Maybe Merry could bury himself in his study until Theoden's wedding, then abdicate in favour of his son and disappear, maybe visit Rivendell again. The Elves knew about grief and loss, after all, perhaps they would be able to help Merry to finally find peace and healing. But the thought of leaving the Shire -- leaving Pippin -- behind, sent an almost crippling wave of pain through Merry, and he fell back into his chair, cradling his arm as if it was responsible for all of his misery. He stared blindly out of the window and forced back unwelcome tears, something he had caught himself doing more and more frequently these past few weeks. He almost missed Estella's soft knock on the study door, a familiar sound that brought him back from the blackness he had been staring into.

"Merry, you have a visitor," Estella's voice was gentle but determined. "And no, he can't come back another day -- I asked him to come, and he came, and you're very well going to see him."

Merry's head shot up. He knew who his visitor was, and why Estella had asked him to come. They had always been friends first, then husband-and-wife, but this time Merry wished she didn't know him so well. He wasn't sure he was ready to deal with this -- actually, he was sure he wasn't ready, he had spent most of his life not dealing. However, he could hear well-known footsteps in the hall and heard Estella explain something in hushed whispers -- "is hurting, needs you, take care of him" -- and it wasn't his choice anymore.

"Oh, Mer..." Pippin was on his knees beside Merry's chair, his hands gripping Merry's tightly, his head bowed as he took in Merry's pain. His once-golden curls were greying, and a wave of tenderness rolled through Merry, sweeping away darkness and hurt. He freed one of his hands from Pippin's strong fingers and forced him to look up.

"You're here." Merry hardly knew what he was saying, but he knew he was smiling widely, feeling a bit like a fool but not caring.

"Of course I'm here. This is where I belong." The look in Pippin's eyes -- still green, although maybe not quite as bright as they used to be and lined from years of laughter and experience -- said much more, but Merry and Pippin had never needed many words to say what was most important. When their lips parted, Merry sighed once again, but this time with relief and gratitude, as he felt the wound deep inside him start to heal.

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