Learning His Lesson

"The north twenty needs to be plowed tomorrow. Take Bercilac: Milo was going to do it, but since he sprained his ankle, your mother won't hear of him getting up."

"Yes, Father." Sprained ankle, ha. Milo looked far too smug about the pampering he was getting for it to be a bad sprain. Merry was going to apple-pie Milo's bed next week.

"That reminds me, we need to get another pony or two. Old Daisy is slowing down at last."

"Yes, Father." Not that they didn't need another pony, but Old Daisy had been 'slowing down' since Merry was in leading strings.

"And don't forget to choose someone for your First Night! Bad enough your mother's planning one of her parties over your coming of age: the young folk are pestering her about your First Night, and I won't have it."

Some problems cannot be 'yes, father'ed away. Merry Brandybuck abruptly realized that a First Night is one of them.

Of course he hadn't chosen someone. A First Night is a very serious thing. Rumor has it that a quarter of the Shire's marriages are formed from a First Night choice, although since the identity of someone's First Night choice is supposed to be a dead secret, there's no way of being certain. From Merry's point of view, however, that meant he couldn't choose any of the eligible females in Buckland. She was sure to consider it an opportunity, secret or no secret, and Merry had no desire to give his First Night to someone who saw him first as the Heir of Buckland.

So. No women. No Bucklanders at all. Merry gave serious, if momentary, thought to skipping the question altogether. Unfortunately, the only hobbit who'd done so within the past hundred years was Frodo Baggins, who was widely acknowledged to have had good reason to be distracted, and had a reputation of being a bit odd, besides. Hmmm. Maybe Frodo... no. Something had happened a couple years ago, something involving that servant of Frodo's, Samwise Gamgee. Merry wasn't quite sure exactly how Sam's First Night had played out, but he would wager Shire to Bree that if he asked Frodo to be his First Night, then he, Merry, would wake up a few hours later with a vicious headache, in a bramble-bush, without any clothes. Not Frodo, then. And most of Merry's other friends were underage themselves. No matter how much Pippin begged, Merry wasn't such a cad that he'd debauch someone too young for it, just because he didn't want to forego his own First Night.

Then, two days before Merry's birthday, a visitor came to Brandy Hall. Male. A Took, as it happened. Looking for a wife, so rumor went.

Merry rubbed his hands. Bullseye. All that remained was to ask.


"Pleased to meet you."

That was the total of their first conversation. The Took's name was Ferdibrand. This wasn't very helpful. Mothers, it seemed, were convenient, but not that convenient. Undaunted, Merry tried again.

"I think there are still some spice cookies left."

"Thank you."

That was the extent of their second conversation. Tea with elderly female relatives might be helpful to Ferdibrand's aims, but not to Merry's. Merry gritted his teeth and vowed a third attempt. This time, it involved him, Ferdibrand Took, a private hallway in the depths of Brandy Hall, and no interruptions whatsoever.

"You want what?"

It perhaps should have involved rope as well.

"I want you to give me my First Night," Merry repeated patiently. "Look, I'm not that unattractive, am I?"

"No, no, but you're..." Ferdibrand's voice trailed off. He coughed, and then said weakly, "You're male."

"Yes, I know," Merry said, and then stared. "You mean -- you don't--"

Ferdibrand blushed, and found the floor fascinating.

"You haven't even thought about it?"

Ferdibrand blushed even harder. "I like lasses!"

"Couldn't you like me? It's just for one night!"

"It's not right," Ferdibrand insisted, although he still found the floor fascinating. "It's your First Night. And I don't think -- I couldn't -- I'm not going to think you're a lass in the dark, so don't even suggest it!"

Since that was exactly what Merry was going to say, he had to close his mouth and think quickly. "Look, I'm not holding out for some grand romantic experience. I'm not asking you as a substitute. Just one night, a few kisses, perhaps a touch or two -- and then I'll help you find your wife."

That brought Ferdibrand up short. He looked up from the floor, eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"You're doing me a favor, I'll do you a favor. Agreed?"

A moment's hesitation, then, "Agreed."

The customary way to seal the promise of a First Night is with a kiss. Merry sealed his with a handshake. He tried not to regard it as an omen.

At dinner that night, he immediately noticed certain advantages of his choice. Ferdibrand did not flutter his eyelashes in Merry's direction, try to play footsie under the table, or offer Merry the last piece of... pie. Merry retained horrific memories of Bercilac's First Night, two years ago, when absolutely everyone knew out Bercilac's choice a good week ahead of time. Besides, the Brandy Hall table was crowded enough that it was absolutely impossible to be sure one was actually playing footsie with the right hobbit, and not, say, that hobbit's grandmother who was sitting beside him. Best of all, Merry's mother pulled him aside, just after dinner, to ask if Merry had... if Merry... well, if he'd made the decision yet. And Merry could tell her yes he had.

Then came his actual First Night.

The party went splendidly. Of course it did: Merry's mother wouldn't stand for anything less. Not for her any unexpected disappearances of the primary guest. Merry drank very little wine, because she kept taking away his glass. When Merry asked why, she blushed and assured him it was in his best interest, really. Merry would have been more inclined to believe her if she didn't keep draining the glass after taking it away from him.

At a certain point in the festivities, Merry caught Ferdibrand's eye, nodded significantly, and escaped to his bedroom. He checked his rudimentary preparations -- clean sheets, fire laid in the fireplace -- changed into his dressing gown, lit the fire, and then waited.

And waited.

And waited. Plenty of time to wonder if perhaps he was supposed to go to Ferdibrand's room instead? No, he didn't even know where it was. Did Ferdibrand know where Merry's room was? Everybody knew where Merry's room was, he'd only have to ask. But if he asked, he'd blow the Secret, and Ferdibrand certainly wouldn't want to do that. He must know. Or he'd ask Merry's mother. He had understood Merry's signal, hadn't he? Maybe Merry should go look for him. But if he went back into the party and tugged at anyone's sleeve, they'd all know --

He jumped as his door abruptly swung open. Ferdibrand stepped inside, then closed it again and leaned back against it, breathing quickly.

Merry slid down off the bed. "Where were you?" He sounded far too sulky for a hobbit just come of age, but he had some right, didn't he?

"I couldn't find your room," Ferdibrand said. He didn't move away from the door.

"You didn't--"

"Of course I didn't ask anyone." Ferdibrand sounded nearly as snappish as Merry felt. "I found the way all right, didn't I?"

But not quickly enough. Merry bit his tongue, hard. This was his First Night, and even though it wasn't with his True Love, or even with someone experienced, he really didn't think it would be a good idea to start it off with a fight. "All right," he said instead. "Now what?"

Ferdibrand hesitated -- rather too long, in Merry's estimation, as Ferdibrand had already had two days plus the time he spent getting lost in which to nerve himself up for this, so really he had no excuse. At last he squared his shoulders, marched over to Merry, and kissed him. Or rather, tried to kiss him.

Merry eventually plotted out what exactly had happened. Ferdibrand bent to kiss him. He, of course, turned his head so as to give Ferdibrand the best angle. Ferdibrand, not expecting the head-turn, wound up mashing his nose against Merry's cheekbone. He staggered back, bringing up one hand to check his nose. Merry simultaneously leaned forward to see what had been done -- his cheek didn't hurt that much -- and got his eye into exactly the wrong spot.


The end result, of course, was Ferdibrand protectively cupping his nose and Merry gingerly checking his eye to be sure it hadn't been poked out. No: it just hurt. And Ferdibrand's nose wasn't bleeding, either. After a moment of blinking at each other, Ferdibrand took a deep breath and stepped forward.

This time it went better. Ferdibrand's lips were warm and soft against Merry's. For a moment, Merry's breath caught in his throat: I'm kissing someone, I'm being kissed... But only for a moment. Soft and warm was nice enough, but wasn't there anything more? Movement or something? Merry tried opening his mouth as sort of a hint, but that didn't work well either. It only got spit on Ferdibrand's lips.

Ferdibrand took the hint after a minute or so, or at least he opened his mouth as well, and put his tongue in Merry's mouth. Merry did his best not to flinch. Was this supposed to be fun? Someone else's spit in his mouth, and what did Ferdibrand think he was doing? This was boring. Something had to be wrong.

Merry broke the kiss, which had the added advantage of letting him breathe. Ferdibrand looked flushed, but that was probably the fire. Or else maybe he'd been having problems breathing as well. He went to lean in again, but Merry leaned back. "Um." Think quickly, Meriadoc! "Can I try this time?"

It went slightly better this time. Merry tried to remember what he'd seen the times he'd spied on his cousins, mouth open and jaws working, and do it himself. Ferdibrand's lips opened to Merry's tongue: the spit wasn't as unexpected the second time. Then Ferdibrand broke from the kiss. "You don't need to move your mouth that much," he said patiently. "I'm not a cream-cake. You don't need to chew me up first."

Third time proved the charm. Ferdibrand didn't thrust his tongue in: more sort of a gentle tangle, even a caress. Merry hadn't ever thought of his tongue being sensitive like that. It was... nice. Interesting. Slow-growing warmth, and not because of the fire this time. Merry pulled back long enough to breathe, then tackled Ferdibrand's buttons.

Ferdibrand jumped, and squeaked in a most undignified fashion, then glared at Merry. "Give a fellow some warning next time!"

"What, for unbuttoning?"

Ferdibrand sighed. "Your fingers are cold," he said, each word carefully spaced out. "Feel." He tugged apart the top of Merry's dressing gown, took Merry's hand, and slid it in beneath the fabric so Merry's hand rested over his heart. Merry grimaced down at their joined hands. Ferdibrand was right -- his fingers were cold.

"They'll warm up," he said hopefully, looking up again.

Ferdibrand let go, and even stepped back. "I'm undressing myself."

Well. So much for seduction. Merry stripped off his dressing gown, caught himself just in time before tossing it at Ferdibrand, and instead carefully laid it over a nearby chair. It immediately slithered to the floor. Merry sighed, picked it up again, and dropped it into its usual heap on the seat of the chair, then turned back to Ferdibrand. Half-way done -- hmmm, not bad looking from the back. Good stout muscle on him. Merry thought about just staying over here by the fire and watching. His fingers would warm up quicker.

"Are you getting in the bed or not?"

All right, so much for the fire. Merry went and climbed into bed, and waited for Ferdibrand to join him. He couldn't see nearly so well here, with the fire behind Ferdibrand.

Kissing naked wasn't that much different from kissing clothed, except of course kissing naked meant you really intended to do something more than kissing. Merry thought the concept sounded better than it was. He liked kissing standing up better than kissing lying down, because when lying down he had to figure out where to put his legs, and his hands, and whether he should be on top of Ferdibrand or Ferdibrand on top of him or maybe both of them lying on their sides, and how to keep his arm from either getting in the way between them or falling asleep because it was under him (and not very comfortable there). They finally settled on Ferdibrand lying half on top of Merry, propped up on his arms, their legs rather entangled.

Then Ferdibrand started to move.

Merry approved of the feel of lips and teeth against his neck: it sent delicious shivers down his spine. Arms made him squirm, but only because he was ticklish there. Nipples were all right, but not worth the attention Ferdibrand wanted to pay to them. (It must be something lasses liked.) Down towards Merry's belly: still almost tickling, but also a sort of itchy feeling, every touch somewhere else making Merry want a touch there.

Just before Ferdibrand reached it, he stopped and sat up. "Do you want to try?" he said.

No. He wanted Ferdibrand to finish. But that was the point of a First Night, wasn't it? If it were just a question of finishing, Merry could do that by himself. So they shifted positions (Merry was quite proud of himself for avoiding any unfortunate knee-groin collisions), and Merry tried to reproduce what Ferdibrand had done.

The effect, as even Merry had to admit, was of working down a checklist. Neck: not as sensitive as Merry's, although Ferdibrand gasped most satisfyingly when Merry accidentally licked his ear. Shoulders and down one arm: nothing, to the point where Merry blew a raspberry against the back of Ferdibrand's hand, just to get some reaction. Ferdibrand laughed, then made a stern face, so Merry didn't repeat the experiment on the other hand. Chest: nothing, although when Merry tried pinching one nipple, Ferdibrand squeaked and grabbed Merry's hand to stop him. Belly: Ferdibrand was even more ticklish than Merry. Ooops.

But Merry went on. He leaned in and licked at Ferdibrand, just there. Hmmm. Salty, sort of sour. Ferdibrand's hips bucked up so he nearly hit Merry in the face with it, so Merry took hold of his hips to hold him still while he tried again. Ferdibrand apparently liked tongue there, so he was good so far.

"Merry, either take me into your mouth or don't -- stop teasing!"

Ferdibrand was really getting quite bossy, Merry thought. But he did it anyway. The taste didn't really improve.

"Don't just hold it there -- suck at it!"

What? That sounded -- er, well, on second thought, Merry realized, he wasn't entitled to say anything sounded obscene, given he was kneeling, naked, on his bed, with Ferdibrand's erection in his mouth. Even assuming he could talk with his mouth full. He tried not to laugh at the thought, and obediently sucked at it. More of that salt-sour taste, yuck, and despite Merry's grip on his hips, Ferdibrand thrust up again, half-way into Merry's throat. Merry backed off quickly, coughing. "You're going to choke me!"

"Well, use your hand, then." Ferdibrand sounded very tense. "Just -- don't stop!"

It did work better with his hand there at the base, and if he kept Ferdibrand deep in his mouth, he couldn't taste the nasty stuff as much. Then Ferdibrand's thrusts sped up, and he yelled something (Merry couldn't tell what), and suddenly Merry's mouth was filled with something. Merry sat up immediately, coughing, and wishing he had some place he could spit out the taste.

"Sorry." Ferdibrand's voice was slow, even slurred. "I didn't... didn't think to warn you."

"It's all right." It wasn't, but Merry was too polite to say so.

"I'll make it up to you," Ferdibrand said softly, and tugged at Merry's arm.

Merry went willingly. His own arousal had quieted while he tended to Ferdibrand's, but it hadn't vanished. Ferdibrand's hands touching him there at last felt so good -- this, at least, Ferdibrand knew what he was doing. For this, Merry could forgive him almost knocking Merry's teeth out, and the taste that still lingered in his mouth.

"Did you want to try anything else?" Ferdibrand didn't sound sated any more. He sounded... nervous. Wary, maybe.

Merry thought about it. He thought about making Ferdibrand do what Merry had done, let him get the nasty taste this time. He thought about trying some of the other things he'd heard about.

Then he thought about spilling the oil on the sheets and having to explain to his mother how his bed got ruined. "No," he said decisively.

Ferdibrand breathed out a sigh of relief against Merry's neck. "Thank you."

The next morning was remarkably easy. Merry had to put up with some teasing when he came to breakfast, but a glare from his mother soon quashed that. His father frowned at him dubiously, but didn't actually ask if Merry had somehow skipped his First Night after all. And best of all, Lidemira Brandybuck was perfectly willing to marry Ferdibrand Took.

"He's not... um... very good," Merry warned her.

Lidemira smirked. "I'll train him."

So everything was settled to everyone's satisfaction. Except Merry's. He still had one niggling problem.

When Pippin Took got old enough, how was Merry going to explain why he wouldn't take Pippin's First Night?


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