It was dark and there was flame and there was screaming. Merry tried to run away, but he tripped and fell dizzily down into the never-ending black. Nothing he could catch hold of, nothing he could do. He fell and fell and then he hit the ground and opened his eyes.
Safe in Lorien. No fear, no fire, no foes. Just the beating of his heart and the breathing of his sleeping friends.
Rolling over, Merry tried to calm himself. A cricket chirped nearby and the night air was sweet. He threw an arm around Pippin and went back to sleep, only Pippin wasn't there.
Merry sat up. The ground beside him was empty and Pippin's blanket was gone. Rubbing his eyes, Merry got up and went to look around.
The night was dark, but lamps burned in the treetops. Far away, he could hear the elves still singing. Merry wandered through the clearing, around the huge tree, and found Pippin wrapped in his blanket, sitting with his back against the trunk.
Merry sat down beside him and put his arm around Pippin's shoulders. For a while they did not speak. Pippin looked out into the wood. Then Merry pulled him closer. "Pippin?"
Pippin shook his head.
"What is it?"
"Why aren't you sleeping? Were you lying on a tree root?"
Still no answer, but Merry felt Pippin tense beneath his arm.
"Are you hungry?"
And Pippin began to cry.
Merry had never seen Pippin cry before that day, not even when he was fourteen and fell from a tree and broke his arm. He had bitten his lip and made a joke of it instead.
Merry rubbed Pippin's back, trying to soothe him, remembering his own dream. "It's all right, Pip. We're safe now."
Pippin stared straight ahead, tears rolling down his face. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry, it's my fault." Pippin dragged his knuckles across his eyes and down his cheeks.
Merry didn't know what to say. The streaks on Pippin's face gleamed softly in the faint light.
"I didn't mean to do it."
"I know you didn't. Everyone knows that."
"It was an accident. I'm sorry."
"I know you are." Merry sighed, stroked Pippin's hair, and wished he were wiser or braver or older. "Shh, it's all right."
"And I'm sorry I threw rocks in the water and I'm sorry I came along at all." Pippin covered his face with his hands. "I'm sorry I gave Frodo's name in Bree and stole all those vegetables from Farmer Maggot."
"And that I ran away from home that time and and that I took Mayor Whitfoot's beer." Pippin turned to Merry. "I'm sorry I ate your birthday cake when you were seventeen."
"And that you got the measles last year and that you cried when you were a baby?"
Pippin smiled briefly, then turned away. "Merry, what will I do?"
"You'll just have to bear it, Pip. It will get easier day by day." Merry handed Pippin his handkerchief.
"It doesn't feel like it." Pippin blew his nose and wiped his face. "Thanks. I lost mine last week."
Merry chuckled. "What are elves' handkerchiefs like, do you think?"
"Thin as spider web, strong as steel, soft as down, no doubt."
"Woven on the looms of old, of which the stories tell." Merry grinned at Pippin and they both began to giggle.
"They'll hold a lake of tears and still be dry."
"And glow to light your way on nights when there's no moon."
"And above all, they are never, ever misplaced." Pippin tucked Merry's handkerchief away in his own pocket.
Merry looked at Pippin and laughed and leaned over to kiss his forehead. But Pippin raised his face and took his friend in his arms. Merry put a hand on Pippin's cheek and an arm around his waist and they sat for a long while, kissing in the night while the elves and crickets sang.
But when Pippin began to tug at Merry's shirt, Merry pulled back. "What about the others?"
"The others are asleep." Pippin didn't stop.
"And the elves?"
"Elves are old and bloodless, Merry. If they're roused, it will be good for them." Pippin smiled. "And good for you."
"And you too, I suppose," said Merry. And he yielded, as he knew he would.
So they spread the blanket on the soft grass and lay down together and whether anyone saw them, they neither knew nor cared.
Afterwards, they dressed and sat a while longer under the mallorn tree, Pippin leaning on Merry's chest.
"Are you all right?"
"Well...better, anyhow. I'm not sorry about Will Whitfoot's beer anymore."
Merry ruffled Pippin's hair. "Then let's go to bed. With any luck, we can lie in tomorrow."
Quietly, they made their way back and settled under their blankets. Merry began to drift off.
"Merry," Pippin whispered.
"Go to sleep, Pip."
"What is it?"
"Now I'm hungry."