Pippin's stomach hurt. He hadn't eaten in two days, and hadn't been comfortably full in much longer than that, but that wasn't why he felt sick. Beside him, Merry did his best to stroke Pippin's hair and be reassuring. It wasn't helping much, but it was certainly better than being alone. He and Merry had been separated for most of the time they had been prisoners of the orcs; now at last they were given a few moments together, though certainly not due to some orc's kindness.
"Pippin?" Merry whispered at the risk of being overheard by the orcs. "How are you feeling, Pippin?"
"How do you think?" Pippin hissed back, immediately sorry for snapping. "I ... I want to go home. I'm hungry. I'm tired. And he's ..." Merry heard Pippin choke back a sob. Then, "Tell me a story, Merry. Something with pretty lasses and food and no adventures at all?"
Merry glanced around. "Not now. Maybe later, when they're asleep, if they keep us together. Or maybe we can break out of these ropes and go scurrying about the forest like Strider, living off our wits until we can be rescued."
Pippin's chin quivered. "If we're living off my wits we're doomed. Can I have some of yours?"
Merry smiled. "Don't worry, Pip. It'll all turn out alright in the end." He paused for a moment, wondering if he should bring it up. "Try not to think about it, alright?"
"How can I not? He died right there in front of me, with arrows sticking out of him like a great big pincushion!" At this Pippin's tears could be restrained no longer, and he struggled to keep his sobs down to wet squeaks. Merry sighed, hoping the orcs that had taken them prisoner would not notice; they delighted in tormenting the hobbits, especially Pippin, who was more sensitive. Merry had tried to tell Pip not to react, just to think of the Shire and honey mead and try to lose himself somewhere else, but Pip wasn't much of a daydreamer when his personal comfort was being disrupted. His torture was becoming something of a favorite pastime of the orcs.
Pippin's muffled cries ceased suddenly. Merry looked at him, and saw standing off in the shadows a small, crouched shape. Pippin had seen it first; Merry reflected that he must be in very bad shape indeed if Pippin were more in tune with the world than Merry was. Pippin jabbed Merry in the ribs with his elbow. "Merry! Hush up now! I think there's an orc watching us!" Merry thought that Pippin would be wise to take his own advice, but he hunkered down into the shadows and tried to remain still, for there was an orc crouched not too far off from the companions, watching the hobbits from the shadows.
The little orc wasn't even the size of a man; he was stunted, maybe five feet tall if he stretched himself out, with narrow shoulders and one foot that was turned a full ninety degrees to the other. He was missing several fingers, and one of his ears appeared to have been chewed off. He was dressed in several layers of rags that made him look like a pile of dirty laundry. He was a very dark shade of green, and had only his upper set of fangs. There were gaps where his lower ones used to be.
The ragged little creature crept up beside Pippin and sniffed him. Pippin, perhaps out of fear or surprise or just the build-up of indignities over the past several days, shoved the orc away, managing with all his strength to topple it onto its back. "Leave me alone!" he rasped, fear clutching his throat.
The orc huddled into a little mass a few feet away. "I didn't mean any harm," he said quietly, his voice surprisingly smooth for an orc. It looked up at Pippin through the shadows of his rags with golden eyes. "I was only curious. There are so few that are smaller than I am. I thought maybe you were children."
"No! We're hobbits!" Merry announced, louder than he'd intended to.
The orc eyed his warily. "I've never heard of hobbits."
"Oh, and I suppose you've wandered the length and breadth of Middle Earth, have you?" Despite his exhaustion and bruising, Pippin felt a sudden, irrepressible urge to show this little monster that he had some spirit left in him. "Well I could tell a few of you orcs more than you'd ever wish to know, such as where you can shove -" He was cut off quite suddenly by Merry cuffing him upside the head with his bound hands.
"What he means," Merry said quickly, "is that we are older than we appear, so we have seen many things that would seem strange and wondrous to you, who have seen war and death but little else." The orc crept closer at this, barely holding himself off the ground. He had the look of a kicked dog, wary and ready to bolt.
Pippin regarded the creature skeptically. "I know what it's like to be small," he said softly. The creature seemed so pitiful, so decrepit that he wanted to comfort it. Comfort an orc? Had he lost his mind? "And the world holds many things that are greater than hobbits or orcs and even this war. It's kind of scary being littler than all the great and mighty warriors, isn't it? But it needn't be so scary, if there's someone who will protect you."
The orc looked away. "No one protects the weak in the Uruk-hai army. They only get in the way of the strong."
"Well, that's silly!" Pippin declared proudly. "Everything has its place, even the small and weak. Like you, I'm sure you have a place in the grand scheme of things. Gandalf used to tell us to make the most of the time we have, and I'm sure you'll just that, even if you haven't found your rightful path yet. Look at us – the smallest of the peoples of Middle Earth, yet we have our little places, where we tend and care for the earth and its bounty, and every year the plants and animals spring forth with new life, all happy to see us still there, loyal to our homes and gardens ..." He trailed off, hoping he had not said too much already.
"I could find something to guard and protect, something beautiful," the orc said, a hint of hope entering his voice. He raised his head proudly and let the hood and cloak fall away from his face. Pippin was surprised to see his features were less distorted than most of the other orcs. He squinted at the orc. "What are you, anyway? You don't look like a proper orc to me, and you sure don't sound like one." Merry elbowed him hard in the side.
The orc looked back at the ground in shame. "No, I'm not a proper Uruk-hai. I was poorly made. I wasn't completed, in a way. You know, orcs were once elves - tortured, maimed, changed, and made evil."
Pippin thought that odd; most creatures, not even orcs, would refer to themselves as evil. No matter how awful a thing was, it usually believed itself to be the good guy in some way. "Aye, I know that. Gandalf told us ..." he trailed off, not wanting to recall the pain of Gandalf's death, which would shortly be followed by the pain of Boromir's recent demise. All for protecting them. But the beginnings to his sad remembrance were cut short by the orc throwing his head back and hooting to a passing owl, who didn't answer him. The orc looked sadly at Pippin. "There is a vestige of the elven left in us, even the worst of us. Yearning for the quiet, dark, peaceful places of the earth, the mists and hollows and glens. A connection to the beasts of the forests and fields, though they turn away from our hideousness. The urge to protect the plants and creatures under our care. Some of us remember, and are happy and sad to know what was lost." He sighed, glancing with mournful eyes at the rising moon. "I've said too much already. The despair of one of your captors is not your concern." At this the orc turned and disappeared into the undergrowth, as fast and silent as any elf.
Pippin hollered after him, to Merry's dismay, "I don't think you're that hideous!" Pippin turned to Merry. "How bizarre."
"Yeah. Definitely weird." He pulled Pippin close to him, remembering the orc's comment that smaller things needed to be protected. The sorrowful words of the strange-looking Uruk-hai rung in his mind, until they became so jumbled in his exhaustion that he couldn't think anymore. Pippin curled up in Merry's lap as best he could with his hands and feet bound, and tried to forget that they weren't in some familiar hollow near the Shire, waiting for supper to be ready.
That was the last night for some time that Merry and Pippin were allowed to be near each other. They were jostled and thrown about, whipped into running along with the orcs and slung across the shoulders of an Uruk-hai when they could run no longer. Orc draughts kept them awake and moving, though the fire in Pippin's stomach was almost as bad as the pain in his bruised legs. His dreams were as bad as the waking, with evil all around him and hairy arms pushing and pulling him and harsh voices reminding him of what was to come.
Pippin thought sometimes he saw the little deformed orc that had approached them, but he could never be sure. He seemed to be the lone bird that chirped pleasantly in the trees above, or the noise in the woods that distracted the orc guards from sporting with the hobbit. He was delivered from the greatest of torments by innocent interruptions, spirits in the forest and excellent timing. Small favors also befell him – finding a stray scrap left just where he might see it, a bundled rag with a few nice-tasting herbs left inside it that left him more invigorated than the burning orc draughts, and perhaps other things that he may not have noticed. He wondered if Merry had noticed the same things. He wondered if it was indeed the little orc that didn't seem so horrid as the rest, or if it was his imagination, inventing a protector to comfort him.
When at last the riders of Rohan overtook the Uruk-hai, Pippin and Merry were able to slip away thanks to the greed and gullibility of one of Sauron's orcs. Believing that Pippin had the one ring, the orc Grishnakh made off with the pair, determined to find it and return it to his lord Sauron and reap the glory for himself. But one of the riders spotted the lone orc and dispatched him as a straggler or a runaway, unaware of the two hobbits he'd delivered from murder or worse.
Merry and Pippin freed themselves of the knots around their hands and feet, and ate a bit of lembas to regain their strength. They then fled the plain where the orcs had their camp and found the forest with its river flowing towards the forest of Fangorn. Though warned against it still they ran, fearful of being discovered again. Further down the river, they stopped their flight to watch the battle rage between the orcs and the men of Rohan.
Pippin stopped by the riverbank for a drink and to wash his sore wrists in the cool, clean water. Merry was whistling a bouncy tune and tossing pebbles against a log. A hint of movement on the opposite bank caught Pippin's eye, and he hissed at Merry to stop for a minute.
"What is it, Pip?" Merry asked, coming to crouch beside him.
"Just hush! I thought I saw something."
"Could be an orc, I guess. I don't know; I kept thinking I was seeing something moving, but this time I'm sure. Maybe one followed us all this way for revenge and is going' to eat one of us raw an' make the other one watch -"
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Pippin! That's no way to talk!" Merry stood up and gazed fearlessly into the undergrowth on the other side of the river. "Come now, Mr. Whoever-You-Are! That's no way to treat fellow travelers, creeping along like that! If you're friendly, you might as well come out now. If not, well, go on your way, for we've no use for a skulking little beastie, and I assure you we're no good for eating."
"Fine way to speak to an ally," came a soft voice. From upstream, very much not where Merry had been looking, the little orc that had once approached them crouched in the thrushes on the riverbank. He filled a canteen and tossed an impaled fish their way. Pippin snatched it up out of the water and stared at it. The orc scowled. "Well, eat it if you want it or give it back. There are lean times ahead."
Pippin handed the fish to Merry, asking softly if he could make a fire to cook it. "You're the one from before, with elven ideas in your head."
"I did what I could to protect and help you, you're welcome."
"So it was you."
The orc shrugged and stood up, lanky and awkward. At his full height, he was a good deal taller than he seemed when he was scrunched down. He was no Boromir, Pippin thought, but he could protect us. He chased the thought away with a shake of his head. Boromir's death was still too recent to think of a replacement. As Legolas had once said of Gandalf, "For me the grief is still too near."
The orc ambled down the riverbank with an odd gait. Pippin watched him, deciding that he looked like a deformed, mutilated green elf. Which, in the end, made him look not much like an elf at all. But he could see more of the original elven attitude in this one, much like he had observed in Legolas – the attention to the space around him, quiet movements, and long moments of absolute stillness that made him disappear into the surrounding forest. He crouched on the bank opposite Pippin, then lowered himself into the swift, knee-deep water. He crossed the river, stepping deftly across the stony bottom, until he stood eye-level with Pippin as he stood in the river and Pippin crouched on the high bank.
"My name is Dram, and my legion is dead." He took out a nasty-looking serrated knife and handed it, handle-first, to Pippin. "I would rather someone with a good and stout heart took my life than another Uruk-hai, or a man upon a horse who would never understand." He raised his chin to expose his throat. Pippin looked at the knife, then at Dram. "Ah, I've never killed anybody before."
Dram lowered his eyes to look at him. "No orcs, no goblins on your way to Gondor?"
"Well, yeah, a couple of goblins, now that you mention it."
"And what makes killing me any different from killing goblins?"
"Well I'm having to look you in the eye for one thing!" Pippin snapped. "And I know you've got some good in you, even if you do ramble on about how awful your life is because you're not an elf. Well I'm not an elf either, I'm just a little hobbit, but I have some food in me and I've had some water – though I'm sure you standing in it isn't improving the quality downstream – so I'm not complaining. Why should you? I think life is pretty alright now, don't you, Merry?"
Pippin had been violently gesturing with the knife still in one hand. Merry took this invitational pause to snatch the knife out of Pippin's hand. He turned to Dram. "I think what Pippin's trying to say is that if you can find some good to do in the world, that would be better than just throwing your life away. I admit it would be hard for me to like myself if I were born a part of the Uruk-hai and in service to Saruman, but your fate isn't written for you by anyone but yourself."
Dram stared at the two hobbits, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. "But I don't know what to do with myself."
"Well, what did you do with the Uruk-hai?"
"Mostly went behind their backs to salvage little bits of the lives they destroyed in their rampages. Like helping you, or running ahead of the hunting parties to warn the does with young fawns. But there was very little that could be done for most things."
Merry sat down on the riverbank next to Pippin. "You said before that the strong should protect the weak."
"Yes, and I think that is true."
"So find something to protect, something worth saving."
The Uruk-hai stood before them, covered in rags that were gradually getting wet. He looked back and forth between the two hobbits, then said, "I believe the two of you are worth saving, if you would like a guardian. There are still straggling bands of orcs here and there."
Pippin jumped up. "Oh, I was hoping you would agree! This is wonderful, Merry! We have a guardian again!"
Merry smiled pleasantly enough, but he hoped for everyone's sake Pippin wouldn't get too attached to Dram, or try to treat him like he was Boromir's replacement. He'd tried to warn Pippin the first time, when he had grown so fond of Boromir, that an adventure like this was no place for deep attachments. But Pippin had not listened before, and he doubted he would listen now.
They spent the day travelling along the river, getting further into the border of the forest. They didn't hurry, as the day was pleasantly warm and the canopy-filtered sunlight dim enough to make the trio lazy. They caught fish and dug roots for their meals, and nibbled a bit on the lembas. When they shared a bite of this with Dram, he leaned his head back, closed his eyes and sighed. "It speaks to me of days I have never known yet which live in the memories of my bones," he said softly in his smooth, low voice. "Warm, dry forest floors thick with ivy, springs welling up out of the deep earth to feed the ferns and willows, meals with friends comfortable with each others' silences ..." He laid against a tree and seemed to melt into the wood.
Pippin studied their new friend out of the corner of his eye. He'd bathed in a small ox bow lake – more of a puddle, in Merry's estimation – and was quite cleaned up now. His face was rather pleasant when he wasn't in a foul temper. He had wide golden eyes, thick with lashes, which Pippin understood to be rather rare on orcs, especially the Uruk-hai. His nose was broad and curved, and Pippin thought it to be quite a regal-looking feature. His lips were thin when he wore a stern expression, but they relaxed easily into a pleasing shape, despite the overhanging fangs. He had high cheekbones and a strong jaw that reminded the hobbits a bit of Legolas. If not for being green with golden eyes and having fangs and claws, he might have passed for a fairly homely, short elf.
His hair was clean, but was still knotted from having been rarely, if ever, combed. Pippin observed this for a moment, then picked up a spiky pinecone and crept over to where Dram leaned against the tree.
"Do you mind?" he asked softly. Dram opened one eye. "Mind what?"
Pippin motioned with the pinecone towards his head, then when that didn't convey his intentions, hesitantly brushed a lock with it. Dram took the pinecone from him and broke it in half length-wise, then handed it back to Pippin. "There. That would be easier, wouldn't it?" He smiled and turned his back to Pippin so he could reach his hair.
It was less tangled than it looked, and Pippin soon had the worst of the knots out. Dram's hair hung halfway down his back and Pippin thought it was very pretty all combed out. He reached up to Dram's temple and took a lock in his thick hobbit fingers.
"I watched Legolas do this before," he said nervously. "I think I can do it."
"Do what? Who's Legolas?"
"An elven friend of ours. He's quite a fine fellow, pretty as a girl but don't tell him that, as he's a fine shot with a bow. Prince of Mirkwood, actually. Maybe you'll meet him, if we ever see the rest of the Fellowship again."
"What were a couple of hobbits doing with an elven prince?"
Pippin stopped his awkward braiding and looked at Merry. "Ah, well, he and some others were going to Gondor, and we'd never seen the world outside the Shire so we tagged along." Which wasn't so far from the truth, Pippin thought. He tended to forget that he was talking with an Uruk-hai; though he was nice enough, Dram was still a servant of Saruman. He'd been made to be that way, and Pippin imagined it was not something easily forgotten or set aside.
"Do you know any other elves?" Dram asked quietly.
"Well, there's Galadriel of Lothlorien, though I dare say she knows us more than we know her. And Haldir, though he's kind of a snooty fellow. And Lord Elrond and Lady Arwen, they're both quite fine. Elrond saved our friend from a horrid death so he's rather high on our list of good elven folk."
"Do you think they would like me?"
"No, I really can't say they would. Elves are rather set in their ideas, being immortal and all. Men and hobbits are more likely to change their minds about things. Hey, are Uruk-hai immortals? You were elves once, right?"
"We were, but I don't know how long we live. I don't know if Saruman even knows. We were quite hastily made. If he had taken more time with us, of course, I wouldn't be the way I am."
"That's quite curious." Pippin had finished his awkward rendition of Legolas's temple braid. "See what you think of that," he said. Dram leaned over and looked at his reflection in the river. He smiled, fingering the braid. "Is this elven?"
"Yes. Well, sort of. A hobbit version of an elvish braid. Which makes it only kind of elegant but very practical."
Dram laughed and leaned back against the tree. Pippin smiled. "You have a nice laugh." He thought it sounded like Boromir's laugh – full and rolling, and of genuine good cheer. He sighed, remembering Boromir's hand stroking his curls and telling him he'd protect him. Boromir carrying them through the snow when it was too much for them, rowing the boat out of Lothlorien, teaching them to sword-fight. He missed him greatly. He crawled over to where Dram lay in the dappled sunlight and leaned up against him, nuzzling the Uruk-hai's neck with his nose. He smelled like moss and leaves and old stone. Dram wrapped a strong, sinewy arm around Pippin and hugged him gently.
"Don't worry, little one. As long as I can protect you, I will."
By the time Merry returned from gathering berries, the two of them had fallen asleep in the shade.
It was Merry's watch. He sleepily pondered the long day's events, lingering over what might have been bothering Pippin. He'd seemed cheery enough, but Merry knew him well enough to know when something underneath was nagging at him. There was something melancholy about his expression when he thought no one was looking. It was unlike him.
Not that they didn't have anything to mourn. First Gandalf, then Boromir had given their lives in protection of the hobbits and the rest of the Fellowship. Gandalf they had known all their lives as the bringer of bright and shiny things, fireworks and trinkets, wisdom and grace in their wholesome but rather monotonous lives in the Shire. To see him fall into darkness had been a loss they would feel all their lives. "A light brighter than any I have known," Merry thought, "even brighter than Frodo or Pippin, who I fear have dimmed under the heavy weight of evil and pain."
Pippin had felt Boromir's loss heavier than any, Merry knew. Boromir had shown them such kindness and gentleness, especially the youngest hobbit. Merry knew that Pippin had thought him lovely, and had followed him around like a puppy, complete with wide, trusting eyes. He knew in his heart that Boromir was dead, but as they had not seen him die, he still carried with him some hope that he lived still. Pippin, ever so much more dramatic, seemed to have convinced himself of Boromir's demise for sure. Of course, there was no guarantee any of them had survived. He wondered if he would ever see Aragorn or Legolas or Gimli again. He would miss them forever if he did not.
Merry had lost himself so completely in thought that he started when Pippin poked him roughly. He sighed and hopped down from his perch on a rock. "Watch over already?"
"And none too soon. Fine watchman you make, not even noticing when I walk up to you." Pippin looked especially sour tonight, Merry thought, his face all shadowed despite the glare of the full moon. Merry patted him on the shoulder. "Easy now, Pip. What worries you so? The weight of loss bears down on us all, but I fear you in your young age and small size feel it more heavily than I."
Pippin's chin quivered, then he rushed into Merry's arms, sobbing softly. "Oh Merry, I just miss him so! And I never told him! How I wish I had said something to him, now that I will never have the chance!"
Merry stroked Pippin's hair gently and cooed softly to him. "There, there, cousin. Don't fret. Perhaps it's better anyway that he didn't know how you felt."
Pippin pulled away to look at Merry. "What? You never said before that you felt my feelings misplaced. Why? Because he was a man, and I a young male hobbit? Was it stature or sex that make you say this?" Pippin's expression had turned bitter again.
"Neither, little one. Rather, that you are an innocent and he was not. He thought of us as children, not only because we are small but also because we have seen so little of the world. I think Boromir valued the naivete he saw in us, especially you, because the children of man lose it so quickly. He might have thought less of you, then, had he known that you ... thought of him like that."
Pippin sat down on the bare ground with a thump, a hollow and despairing look upon his face. "Why torture me with this?"
"Because there is another who thinks you worthy of protection, most likely for the same reasons. You are small, you are young ..." he patted Pippin's shoulder; "and you are an innocent."
Pippin knocked Merry's hand away. "I am not! I have seen war and murder; I have seen men's hearts betray them and evil overcome good! What value has innocence in a world where people of all races die for less ignorance than I possess?" At this Pippin jumped up and ran into the woods. Merry looked after him and sighed. "Thank you for proving my point," he muttered to himself.
Merry walked back to camp and roused Dram. "Hey, Pippin's run off. I can't track in the woods at night; can you?"
Dram sleepily nodded and sat up, shaking off his dreams. "Which direction?"
"I'll show you. Though, I think I should warn you, he's in quite a state. Mad at the world because he is too small and naïve to care for himself."
"Rubbish," Dram grunted. "But I'll find him." And he darted off in the direction Merry indicated, running in his peculiar gate with one foot turned perpendicular to the other.
When Dram found Pippin, he was crying piteously near a little brook. The Uruk-hai crept down the embankment slowly and sat beside him in the damp dirt. He cautiously put a hand on Pippin's shoulder. Pippin started and gasped, then seeing how it was, turned back to watching the brook. Dram sat for a while next to him, waiting for him to speak.
Finally, Pippin said, "I'm like this little brook, you know? Going through life next to big rivers, hoping no one will notice me because if they do they can trounce right over me or through me with no thought as to the damage they do. I need things like these deep banks and tall trees to protect me, and I don't seem to do anyone any good."
"That's not entirely true," Dram answered. "This little brook feeds the roots of great trees that could not be so grand without it. And like the brook you seem to be facing up pretty well to the horrible things happening all around you." He put one arm around the hobbit and poked him in the chest with one of two fingers that remained on his other hand. "There is a source in you, little one, like a spring. Even if boulders and oaks and thundering armies change the course of your flow, the source will remain. The strength that is naturally in you will well up and run where it will, regardless of the damage the world may do to your chosen path."
Pippin sighed and leaned against Dram, considering his words. He wondered if it were true, if he did have some strength left in him that would still remain, or if he would eventually run out. He looked up at Dram. "Drifting away from analogy, if you will, I ... I'm not as innocent as people think. I mean, I may not have done much, but I know about the world. I've been listening to their stories all along. If there's one thing I've learned it's that you have to make the most of the time you have, and not let fear or disapproval or pain get in the way of your life."
Dram nodded slowly. "I have lived my entire life in service to Saruman, so I know very little of the ways of other races. But this feels like sound advice to my heart."
Pippin stared up at Dram, so lovely in the full moonlight, with his crooked braid over his one good ear. Pippin reached up and touched the braid, then touched his ear. He ran his fingers down to Dram's earlobe, then down to the deep hollow between his collarbones. Dram patiently endured the examination, seeming not to understand the significance but enjoying Pippin's attention nonetheless. Pippin examined the ragged bits of clothing between his fingers. "Why do you wear these?"
"Well, there wasn't anything else to wear. I was kind of at the bottom of the pecking order, you understand."
Pippin nodded. "I see. Well, we at least ought to clean them, don't you think?"
"I cleaned them once, as best I could, when I washed myself."
Pippin plucked a plant from the bank. "Here's a plant that lathers up a bit and smells nice besides. We can use this for soap and get your clothes really clean."
Despite the fact that he thought this unnecessary, Dram shrugged and pulled off what passed for a tunic. Pippin breathed in sharply, taking in the criss-cross patterns of scars across Dram's back. Dram noticed him noticing and lifted a hand to pat Pippin's shoulder. "Don't worry. I'm alright. These healed some time ago."
Pippin looked at him with wide, searching eyes. "You've seen such cruelty."
Dram just shrugged and started scrubbing his shirt with the plant Pippin had found. Pippin reached out a hand to make him pause. Dram stopped and looked quizzically at Pippin.
"You've seen such cruelty at the hands of others."
Dram went back to scrubbing. "Don't feel pity for me, Pip. I've lived a short while yet and I'm sure some good will come of me. What others have done to me matters not."
"But someone should show you some kindness, some affection."
"Feh. Who would? I'm too elven to be an orc, too orcish to be a man, too green and hideous to be an elf. It's a rare gift that kindness be shown across racial lines. What's left? Shall I become a hobbit?"
"I don't care what you are," Pippin said quietly. He put his hand on Dram's, making him stop scrubbing. "And I don't care about your shirt."
"But you wanted me to clean it."
"I wanted to see you without it."
Dram cocked his head to the side. "Why?"
Pippin leaned forward then, in a burst of courage, and kissed him. It was rather awkward, kissing someone with a large set of fangs, but he worked around them. Dram dropped the shirt in surprise but offered no protest. Pippin grasped his chin and opened his mouth, running his tongue along the inside of Dram's lip. Dram breathed in deeply then forgot to breath for a bit, until finally he sighed in a strange sort of purr and pulled Pippin close to him with soapy hands. When Pippin broke off the kiss for a moment, Dram pressed his lips to Pippin's ear. "What is this?" he rasped softly.
"This is me finding you beautiful," Pippin answered, running his hands through Dram's hair. It felt so good to touch him; he was warm and dry and soft, his skin wasn't rough at all, except on his sword-callused hands. Pippin nestled in as close to him as he could get, feeling Dram's naked back with its lines of scar tissue and protruding vertebrae. "You need to eat more," he whispered.
Dram chuckled warmly and began kissing Pippin's neck. Pippin breathed in sharply and leaned his head to the side. "Is this alright?" Dram whispered.
"Quite," Pippin answered breathlessly. "That's lovely. Though I'll tell you, I haven't done much like this in my life, though I've heard plenty of stories – mostly from girls, mind you, I think they've got the wildest minds. But anyway, whatever you want to do, just do it, because I can't give you much direction. But if I stay stop, then stop, alright?"
"Alright." He paused long. "Why do I feel like this?"
Pippin gulped, trying not to think of Boromir as he explained. "Love makes us do truly bizarre things, like touch each other and want to be touched where normally we don't. But I am here because I feel safe with you, because you are beautiful to me and there is a good heart in you. I want to be as close to you as I can get. I hope you feel the same for me."
Dram smiled. "Wise little one, you would rule the world with your simple knowledge, if only they would listen."
"I'll settle for you listening tonight."
With that, Pippin laid back onto the sandy bank. Dram stretched out beside him. He hesitantly unbuttoned Pippin's shirt. He ran his hands over Pippin's chest, examining him tangibly. "So unlike me," he said softly. "No scars, no protruding bone or poorly set breaks ... You have had a much gentler life." He ran his hands up Pippin's sides, evoking a small moan and then a giggle from Pippin. Dram lifted Pippin's chin and kissed him again, breathing into the hobbit's mouth. "So delicate," he whispered.
"Not as delicate as I seem," Pippin insisted. He breathed softly down Dram's neck, then kissed his throat, first gently, then nipped him. Dram groaned deeply. It sounded almost like a growl, so deep and thrumming, vibrating the two of them down to their bones. Pippin shuddered at that sound; it was a bit frightening to a young hobbit, especially with an Uruk-hai's claws making little indentations on his shoulders. He had a sudden image of this going badly and sat up. Dram propped himself up on his elbows, looking a bit bewildered and concerned. Pippin looked at him with wide, measuring eyes.
"Pip? You alright? I didn't do anything wrong, did I?"
Pippin smiled. "No, it's okay."
Dram smiled and kissed Pippin again, touching his stomach and sides with shaking hands. Pippin liked the way his hands felt, so strong and gentle. He felt so unbelievably happy, so immeasurably relieved to have someone touching him and wanting him and loving him that he threw his arms around Dram and burst out laughing as tears tugged at the corners of his eyes.
Dram nuzzled Pippin's neck and held him close. "Why are you laughing?" he asked. Pippin squeezed him with all his might in reply. When he had regained control over himself, he pulled back to look at Dram. "This long journey into the darkest part of the world has had me believing that love was useless, and only hurt in the end. I have seen men's hearts betray and corrupt them, and my dearest and most sensitive companions laid low by loss and grief. But you have showed me that love can overcome all barriers and bring joy back into the lives of those who had no hope of relief or comfort. You have protected me from the worst of all enemies – that of my own heart's despair."
Dram stroked Pippin's curls. "You have spoken my heart's words for me. It is a pity I am not so well spoken or I would answer them back to you. But I will say this. You have given me hope for myself ... You make me want to be more than I was meant to become."
The pair spent long moments staring into each other's eyes, lost in the bliss that is early love and trust. Finally Pippin sighed and said, "We had best get back to camp. Merry has been up all night so far, keeping watch; it is my turn now, and you had best get some sleep, as you have the third watch. It isn't fair for Merry to stay up longer than he has to for our sake."
Dram nodded. "After all, it isn't as if we are likely to be separated anytime soon." He got up and held out a hand to help Pippin up. Pippin redressed himself quickly. They had to search for a bit to find Dram's shirt, as it had washed downstream some ways and had caught in some nettles.
When they got back to camp they found Merry already asleep, and then they were glad to have come back, for there would have been no one to watch over his vulnerable form. Dram hung his shirt on a tree branch to dry in the night, and went to lie near Merry. Merry awoke and chuckled. "Well, I see Pippin half succeeded," he guffawed, eyeing the half-naked Uruk-hai. Dram cocked an eyebrow. "Eh?"
"You must be a bit cold without a shirt."
"Mm, perhaps a bit. It needed washing."
"Of course." He lifted his cloak, used now for a blanket. "If you think you'll get a chill ..."
After a moment's consideration, Dram scuffled across the dirt floor of the forest and curled up next to Merry under his cloak. Pippin smiled at them as he took up his post; what could be better than watching the two people he adored most in the world sleep soundly under his care?
When Dram's watch came, he almost didn't wake him but that he was too exhausted to stay awake. He offered Dram his cloak to wrap around him, as Dram's shirt wasn't yet dry. Without a word Dram took up his post, and Pippin joined Merry under Merry's cloak, and promptly fell asleep, dreaming happily of love and the Shire.
In the morning, the trio set off again, tramping through the woods with nary a care as to the commotion they kicked up around them. The air was thick and a bit hard to breathe, but that didn't dampen their spirits, especially Pippin's.
Pippin stopped for a drink at the Entwash, then looked up to realize that he didn't see Dram. He didn't think anything of it for a bit; he recalled Legolas's habit of scouting ahead farther than earshot. Still, he called for Dram, and there was no answer. So caught up in he with wondering where the Uruk-hai had slipped off to that he didn't notice the tree moving behind him.
He had just been saying to Merry that he almost liked the place when he heard a voice say, "Almost felt you liked the forest! That's good! That's uncommonly kind of you." Pippin and Merry had come face to face with an Ent, a race nearly as old as the elves and a good deal more forgotten about.
Pippin and Merry spent several days in the company of Treebeard, learning about Ents and telling him what they knew of the outside world, careful not to make any mention of the ring. Pippin wondered about Dram, but hearing the Ent's opinion of orcs and the Uruk-hai in particular, he felt sure that Dram had hidden away somewhere. He must be quite experienced in being hated and feared, Pippin thought sadly. But there was nothing he could do about the wayward Uruk-hai at the moment, so he enjoyed his time with Treebeard and tried not to worry about Dram.
By Merry and Pippin's urgings, the Ents were roused against Saruman. Pippin felt very proud to be a part of this, and he liked the gentle nature of the Ents very much. He thought he had seen a glimpse of a green, ragged figure dart out from the underbrush a fair ways off, much as he had seen when he had been held captive by Ugluk and his Uruk-hai. He was sure now that Dram was nearby and biding his time, keeping a watchful eye over the hobbits he had sworn to protect. When a young Ent named Bregalad spoke of the orcs destroying the rowan trees of his homeland, Pippin thought he heard soft, muffled sobs from somewhere in the depths of the forest; of course, he couldn't have been sure.
It was shortly before the Ents attacked Isengard that Pippin had a chance to speak to Dram once more. He was wandering about in the forest, having straying from his Entish protectors, when a firm hand spun him round. The next moment Pippin's mouth and body were crushed against Dram's as he knelt on his knees so they were roughly the same height. After a moment of surprise, Pippin kissed him back and held him tightly. He opened his mouth wide and Dram obligingly flicked his tongue across Pippin's lips. Pippin responded by driving his tongue into Dram's mouth, moaning deeply and pulling Dram's hips against his. He thrust his hands beneath Dram's shirt, clawing his back, and bit eagerly at his throat and shoulder. Dram groaned and rolled his hips against Pippin's, quickly excited by Pippin's enthusiasm.
Pippin grasped Dram's cheeks, turning his head to look into his eyes. "We only have a little time, it seems," he said breathlessly. "Soon we will both be caught up in this war, swept off to our own destinies, whatever they may be." He didn't know where these words came from, but they broke his heart as he spoke them. He must have known somewhere in his heart that a hobbit and an Uruk-hai were not meant for lasting love, as much as they clung to each other in this black moment in the world.
Dram knew this as well, and tears threatened to spill out of his eyes. "I knew it would be so," he said quietly. "Yet I wished it would not have to come to pass."
"These forests have the protection of the Ents," Pippin said, "yet the Ents are slow to rouse and not so quick and worldly. Perhaps they would have you as their helper, and allow you to stay in these woods to protect the trees with them."
"I have seen enough of the Ents to know they are slow to change their minds, and they hate orcs as much as any race."
"Yes, but I believe I can convince them of your worth."
"Do you truly think me worthy?"
Pippin ran a hand down Dram's face and neck, to his collarbone, to the center of his chest. "Yes. Your heart is true and fair, and I wish to see it at rest. I believe you would be happy here, in the dark stillness of the forest."
Dram looked around for a moment, feeling the stillness of the air, the damp heat of the filtered sunlight. He smiled. "I believe you are right." His smile faltered a bit as he looked back at Pippin and continued, "My one regret is not having you as a companion, for my heart tells me you would not be content to stay."
Pippin hugged Dram and stared over his shoulder towards the sun, moving swiftly towards the west. His heart felt like it would pull him in two – one half to stay rooted here in the forest, and the other half to go flying back to the Shire, his home.
His home. He knew where he belonged. He closed his eyes and stroked Dram's hair. "I must leave soon. Merry was right. I should not have revealed my feelings to you; now you will always know regret, and so shall I."
"Nonsense!" Dram pulled away from him. "Without you, I would not have known kindness – a gentle hand, soft words. I would not have understood why the swan brings food to his nesting mate, or why wolf pups stay with their pack year after year. I would not understand why the Ents languish in their forests, or why you yearn for the fields you know." He smiled softly. "And I would not have understood why I wished for your company year after year. At least now I can put a name to those things and know them for what they are, rather than stand outside my heart and wonder at its contents." He stroked Pippin's face with a rough, clawed hand and was as gentle as any doe. "You have taught me all that I know about love, and without that start I would never have understood."
Pippin sniffed, feeling a lump growing in his throat. "I would not have known myself without you ..." He stopped, feeling he could not go on. When he regained himself, he pulled away from Dram. "I must go and speak with the Ents. I will return to this place when I have their answer."
It was some time after the fall of Saruman that Pippin finally convinced the Ents to accept, at least on probation, the Uruk-hai that skulked in their forest and hid in the holes of the earth. The Ents were glad to have a young, quick-thinking creature to take messages and scout the areas they sometimes forgot about for years at a time. Pippin called to Dram from their agreed meeting place. He rose up from one of the shadows, startling Pippin but not the Ents, who had already seen him.
The discussion to work out particulars of their living arrangements would take several days, and Pippin knew they didn't have that long. "I wish I could stay to see you settled," he said.
Dram smiled. "Don't worry, little one. Everything will work out. You have done very well. If anyone of high status takes notice of you I am sure you will go far in the world."
"Oh, I hope not. That could keep me out in the world far past what I had in mind!"
"What we have in mind is very rarely what actually happens. You need only look at our present situation to know that. No one expected a hobbit to make it so far in such a world, Saruman didn't make me to be a protector of Fangorn forest, the Ents certainly didn't plan that, and ..." He paused and took Pippin's hand. "No one could have foreseen the attachment we formed to each other."
"War makes strange bedfellows," Merry added.
"Hrrumph," one of the Ents muttered. "You hobbits can shorten anything to less than five words!"
"But what beautiful words they are," Dram said softly. His eyes were full of tears, but no regret lingered in them. He pulled Pippin close to him, and the two clung to each other tightly. Pippin mentally catalogued everything he could sense about Dram in that moment. His hair was soft and clean, smelling like moss and rich soil. The little braid Pippin had put there was nearly undone. His clothes were rough and ragged but clean. He was warm. Pippin didn't want to let go; it took long moments and a strength that he hadn't known before to pull away. "Good-bye," he said softly. "I ... "
But the Uruk-hai was gone, disappeared into the shadows of the trees. The Ents faded away, coming to stillness where they stood or moving slowly into other parts of the forest. Merry put a hand on Pippin's shoulder. "Let's go, Pip." He smiled at Pippin's sorrowful face. "He knew, Pippin. Don't fret. Now let's get going; the others are waiting for us. There's a long road ahead of us."
"Yes," Pippin said, straightening up. He smiled towards the forest, feeling his strength renewed and his heart at peace. "But there's a longer road behind us."
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Story notes: I accepted this plot bunny of "nice Uruk-hai" because it was the weirdest thing on the challenge page. It's my first fan fiction so I'd appreciate some feedback – but if you hate the concept, don't blame me, it's one of you other folk who came up with it.