Underground. It meant cosy, homey, surrounded by living soil, by deep roots and burrowing creatures. It meant homes beneath the rolling hills, full of life and warmth and joy. Air filled with a sweet smoke and the scent of something simmering in the kitchen.
It didn't mean this hollow, musty shell of stone and ore, tainted with disuse, that made Pippin's head and feet itch. This place they called Moria. Even Merry's arm tight around his shoulders couldn't keep him settled, keep him still.
"Where are you going?"
"I want to look around," said Pippin, tugging Merry's sleeve until he got to his feet. "We can't just sit here."
"And what's wrong with just sitting?" asked Merry, but he followed, like Pippin had been sure he would. "We haven't just sat in longer than I care to think."
"It's not a place to be sitting," said Pippin, staring up up up at the bare stone that arched high over their heads. "It's a place to be passing through as quick as our feet will take us."
"Your feet won't be taking you anywhere if you don't stay off them more than a minute at a time." Pippin shushed him, pressing his fingers over Merry's mouth. He'd sit when he was in the open air again, with soft grass beneath his bottom and sunlight on his face.
"I want to know what's over here," he said, taking sure steps toward a crevice in the rock. "I want to see."
"You want to see everything."
"Only till there's nothing left to see." The crevice was broader than their shoulders by far, broad enough for any of their party to pass. Broad enough for the dwarves who would have used it in times past.
"What's so interesting over here?"
"I don't know yet," said Pippin. "That's why we're going to see." It didn't much matter what was there, so long as it was something new, something to occupy them for a few moments, until it was time to press on.
Halfway through the passage, as the light grew dimmer, Pippin heard a sound behind them, a dry skidcrunch. He wondered who had followed them, for he was sure someone had. But then they came out on the other side, at the edge of a huge, cavernous space, and he thought no more of that.
Another two steps and they would have gone over, down into the deep blackness. He heard Merry's sharp intake of breath and reached out to cling to his trousers, full fisted.
"I wonder what's down there?" he said finally, taking a step forward and squinting over the edge.
"I don't think there's anything down there, Pippin," said Merry. "I think there's a lot of nothing for a very long way."
There had to be something, an end to it somewhere, but Pippin understood the nothingness that Merry saw. He cupped his hands to his mouth and made to call out into the deeps until Merry snatched them back.
"Don't be a fool," he said. "We're travelling quiet for a reason." Pippin had only wanted to see how long it would take his echo to be swallowed by the deep dark. "When I say there's nothing down there, I don't mean nothing nothing."
Pippin let his hands fall to his sides and continued to peer out, at the stone, at the crumbling stairs, at the empty spaces. "This is a very dead place, isn't it, Merry?"
"A very dead place, Pippin."
Pippin stepped back again to the wall and ran his fingers over the rock face. There was no trace of moss or lichen, no moisture, no life, nothing but stone and dust and memory.
The light behind them grew brighter, but they could see no better, no more. Just endless darkness.
"I don't like it here at all, Merry."
"I don't think anyone does."
"I think," said Gandalf from behind them, "that it's time you were getting back, young hobbits. This is no place to go off adventuring."
Pippin didn't argue. They followed Gandalf back and didn't even look back over their shoulders once, not even when there was a soft cracking, crumbling sound from where they'd stood.
"Will you sit now?" asked Merry, as he made himself comfortable in the warm circle of light again, against a large rock. Pippin nodded and sat still and stiff beside him. "Good."
He couldn't get it out of his head, how horrid it would be to be a dead place. A place where nothing lived and nothing grew, not ever. Not dormant, just dead. Pippin couldn't think of anything more terrible.
He pressed up tight against Merry's side and slipped his fingers between layers of cloth until he felt warm, comforting flesh. And hoped they would be out of this place before they had to sleep.