Title: Elusive Scents in Wartime
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Word Count: 1350
Summary: Reassurance and comfort can appear unexpectedly, especially during time of war.
"Are you sure I can't help you?" Pippin asked, combing his damp hair.
Merry sounded as stubborn as ever, and Pippin's worry eased for a moment. He'd never been so afraid for him as when he'd had to help him up to the Houses of Healing. He was assaulted by an image of Merry, ashen faced, breathing shallowly, his right arm so cold Pippin shuddered as a chill raced along his spine.
That was before Strider helped him, he chastised himself. He'll be fine now.
"I'm not used to washing with my left hand, but I can get the job done," Merry declared. "Whoever you bribed to get hot water and soap, I own him a debt."
There was a sound of water splashing in the makeshift washtub.
"What makes you think I bribed someone?" Pippin retorted. "I was doing the healers a favour by getting you cleaned up. You may be a valiant hero, but your smell preceded you."
"It did not!"
"Dear, dear Merry, you were more ripe than Henrietta Hornblower's cabbage stew."
Merry muttered a particularly vivid profanity and Pippin grinned. "Are you almost done? I'm famished," he said.
"Keep your britches on, Pippin. I'm rinsing off now. I don't know if I'll ever get all of that battle smell off of me," Merry continued, his voice becoming pensive.
Pippin didn't know how to reply to that. Over the last several nightmarish hours he'd smelled things he'd never imagined, like burning flesh. Nausea churned in his empty stomach; he swallowed hard against it. A few minutes later he and Merry went to the kitchens, where they feasted on a hearty breakfast. Despite the horrors he'd witnessed, Pippin was a hobbit through and through, and never one to be unable to stomach a meal.
"Another helping?" he suggested, gesturing at a tureen containing a goulash of potatoes, leeks, eggs and green peppers.
Merry gave it a long look, then shook his head. "I've had plenty for now."
Pippin felt his brows furrow. Anxiety held him in its grip once again.
"For goodness' sake! Don't look at me like that." Merry scowled back at him. "I feel fine."
"You're an atrocious liar."
"Well, not fine, exactly." Merry raised his cup of tea to his mouth and took a swallow. "Much better than yesterday. Let's go outside, shall we?"
"Yes," Pippin replied, eager to escape the rooms of stone and his memories of the madness he'd witnessed.
"I'll see if Dern— if Lady Éowyn is awake yet. I'll meet you in the gardens."
Pippin watched Merry's every move, every subtle nuance from the awkward handling of his kerchief with both hands to the concern evident in the tension around his mouth.
"You won't be long?" Pippin queried as he buttered a hard bread roll.
Pippin saw that Merry's thoughts were already focussed on the incomprehensible shieldmaiden. Loneliness and feelings of being a useless stander-by washed through him. The roll tasted like clay. He had to wash it down with the last of his tea, forcing it down as quickly as he could.
"Why hasn't Gimli come to visit?" he said under his breath once he was out in the gardens. Behind him he heard the door open and joy caused his heart to stumble. Whirling around, he saw it was Merry. Pippin's smile was still genuine, however, especially when he saw that Merry had the slightest spring in his step.
"She's still sleeping," Merry interrupted, fishing about in his jerkin and producing his pipe. "But there's colour in her face. She doesn't look dead. She'll be all right, now that Aragorn's worked his healing on her."
Nodding, Pippin retrieved his own pipe and pouch of Longbottom leaf. He packed his pipe, surprised at the melancholy he felt as he did so. "I hope Gimli protected that pipe I gave him," he said aloud, though the comment wasn't really directed at Merry.
Merry lit his pipe and then cupped his hands around Pippin's to do the same.
"I hope he protected himself!" Merry exclaimed through the side of his mouth, teeth clenched on the stem of his pipe.
"He's a Dwarf." Pippin puffed a few times, savouring the hot fragrance of tobacco smoke in his mouth. "He doesn't need protection. It's only if you're the enemy. Then you'd best take shelter from his axe."
The heavy doors to the garden creaked open again, but Pippin didn't turn to look, assuming it was one of the wounded soldiers seeking fresh air.
"Thank you for your assistance."
The melodious voice carried across the grass and Pippin wheeled toward it, his pulse racing. There they were: Legolas and Gimli, a study in opposites. Legolas waved off the guide who had brought them up to this level, but Gimli strode purposefully toward Merry and Pippin, his smile obvious to Pippin even from a distance.
"I was just thinking that it was a perfect morning to enjoy a smoke," Gimli said once he'd reached the hobbits. His gloved hand reached into a bag laced to his belt. "It's most fitting that I be with you two. You're a welcome sight. We've travelled leagues to be able to have you in our sights again."
Pippin hung back as the Dwarf gave Merry a firm squeeze on his shoulder. When Gimli growled, "Come here, you foolish Took," Pippin grinned and walked into his crushing embrace. "Don't you do anything so dangerous again. Even Aragorn looked as though he'd aged at least ten years after gazing at that vile seeing-stone."
"Not to worry," Pippin replied, stepping back to rest his hands on Gimli's trunk-like upper arms. "It's ordinary war and battle for me from here on."
He kept his tone light, even though he was deathly serious. Gimli nodded, glancing at his attire with raised eyebrows, but he kept any remarks about Pippin's livery to himself.
"And providing pipeweed. I'm in your debt for the pipe I carry," Gimli said thoughtfully. "I will owe you even further by asking for some of your tobacco."
"That debit is paid!" Pippin insisted, handing over a tin of the fragrant leaves as Legolas joined their small collective.
He engaged Merry in conversation while Pippin looked on, surprised at how unscathed he appeared despite fighting in battle the day before. Gimli seemed to be in high spirits as well. He'd not tended to any of the gashes in his vest and leggings. Standing so close to him, Pippin was overcome by the Gimli's earthy scent. It was layered with a metal tang and musk that made Merry think of scorched leather. He smiled around his pipe, remembering how intimidated and awkward he'd initially felt around this gruff Dwarf. At some point it had changed and now he considered him a trusted companion.
As a group of two pairs, the reunited friends began to walk in the groves. Gimli puffed on his pipe, releasing a pungent stream of smoke with a sigh of contentment.
"I'm so very glad to see you." The words poured off Pippin's tongue in a rush. "The things that have happened— and it's not over. But now you're here, and Legolas, Strider, and Gandalf."
Gimli looked sideways at him, one hand fingering a gnarled plait in his beard. "Our ranks have thinned. I would be more at peace if some of my folk were here, but wishes are as brittle as tin. Besides, there are still orcs in the northern mountains. A Dwarf's axe is always kept sharp. Enough of such talk for now!'
A smile settled on Pippin's lips. He glanced down at a patch of crocuses, their bright colour reminding him with a jolt that it was coming on to spring.
"There's good stone here," Gimli continued, launching into analysis and approval of the construction of Minas Tirith.
As he gestured, Pippin caught a whiff of metal polish. It entwined with the tobacco of their pipes, scoring the peaceful moment in his memory as deeply as the designs carved into Gimli's vambraces. This was the scent of reunion; he would never forget it.