A Birthday, a Cold, a Memory and a Gift

Summary: A post-ROTK story about Frodo and Pippin shortly before Frodo leaves for the Grey Havens. Told in four parts. No slash, violence, etc.

A/N: This isn't really an "illness fic" although there will be a cold involved. I just wanted to attempt something a little sad and sweet. Any comments are very welcome, particularly if you have tips about Frodo, who I'm finding to be an incredibly difficult character to write. Nonetheless, I hope I've done him a bit of justice here and that you enjoy my story.

Setting: Crickhollow, midsummer, 1421. Frodo is nearly 53 and will leave for the Grey Havens in a month or two. Merry is 39. Pippin has just turned 31.

Disclaimer: Characters and Places are so not mine.

Chapter One

Peregrin Took had eleven nieces. They were, in no particular order (as no one could ever keep them in any particular order): Parcilla, Premutine, Peregrinna, Pelvinca, Pespertine, Presincta, Parestia, Paladina, Eglantine II and the twins Pelanora and Peladora.

And at the moment, they were all shrieking.

"Uncle Pippin! Uncle Pippin! Uncle Pippin!"

Frodo cast Pippin a sympathetic smile as the dutiful young uncle came over to see what it was they wanted. Just the sight of all those little Tooks in their party dresses fluttering about like tiny crazed birds made Frodo's head spin.

"Well," Pippin put his hands on his hips and bent down to address them. "What is it?"

"Uncle Pippin!" Pespertine cried, wrapping her arms about his knees, "Come play with us!"

Pippin looked out at the sea of little lasses and sighed. He did enjoy his place as very most favoritist uncle. He was, after all, the one who showed them all how to make and fly a kite, how to catch a wriggly frog, how to steal only the cookies from the very edges of the tray so their mothers wouldn't notice and how, once you had accomplished the thankless task of emptying a tin pie pan, you could flip it over and with a particular flick of your wrist could send it sailing in a pleasing arc half way across the yard.

"Well, alright," he gave in, "but I can't play long, as it is my party and it's my job to make sure that everyone has a good time. And that includes the adults. So, shall we say piggy-backs, then? One apiece to that great tree there and back?"

There were numerous shrieks of agreement.

"Right," Pippin nodded, "Line up then. I'll take you one at a time."

The nieces did as they were told, forming a rather uneven, fidgety line behind their uncle. Then he scooped up the first lass, who happened to be Paladina, hoisted her up onto his shoulders, secured her arms around his neck and her legs about his middle, and galloped off down the established path. Her delighted laughter rose up, but was lost in the party music.

One of the smaller lasses, who stood at the end of the line, started to fidget more than the others. It seemed an eternity before her turn would come. Her eyes began to search about, looking for something to occupy her until then. She spotted Frodo sitting alone at a table and immediately abandoned her not-so-great-anyway place in line.

"Hi," she whispered, climbing up to the seat beside him.

"Hello." He smiled.

"Are you Frodo?"

"Yes. And who are you?"

"I'm Peladora," she said, then slumped her shoulders, "but everyone always thinks I'm Pelanora."

Frodo nodded solemnly. "That happens to me too."

Peladora was looking at his hand with interest. "What happened to your finger?"

"Don't remember."

"Parestia said a dragon ate it."

"Maybe that's what happened."

She shook her head. "I don't believe in dragons."

"Well," Frodo shrugged, "Maybe not, then."

"Are you very old?"

"Yes. Very."

"Are you older than Uncle Pippin?"

"No. He's quite ancient."

"He's 31 today."

"So I've been told."

"He's very tall."

"He is indeed."

"Have you ever ridden piggy-back with him?"

"I'm sorry to say I haven't."

"Oh. It's scary."

"Is it?"

"Yes. But I'm not afraid."

"No?"

"No. Uncle Pippin told us he never drops anyone."

"I don't suppose he does."

"Well," Peladora eased herself down from the bench, "I better go. It's almost my turn."

"You don't want to miss that."

"No, I don't."

Frodo watched the tiny Took run back to the now-dwindling line and sighed. He gazed about the yard of the Crickhollow house, decorated with gay colored streamers and lanterns, filled with music and food and laughter and singing and happy friends and relations. It made him rather sad when he thought that this would be the last Shire birthday party he would ever attend.

~~~~

"Hoy, Frodo," Pippin grinned, released at last and taking a seat across from him. "At last I get to talk to you unhindered."

"Happy Birthday, my dear Pip." Frodo lifted his glass.

"Thank you."

"How does it feel to be 31?"

"Much the same as to be 30, I'm afraid, though perhaps the drastic changes don't take effect until the day is entirely through."

"Yes, I think that is the way it works if I remember," Frodo smiled. "Just wait until you come of age. Then you'll really get a wallop."

"I'm sure." Pippin took out his pipe, but didn't light it. "How's Sam?"

"Sorry he couldn't come, I bet. He and Rose have their hands quite full at the moment with little Elanor, though."

"Ah, I've had enough of those for the moment." Pippin laughed.

"And where is Meriadoc Brandybuck, I wonder," Frodo said, craning his head about to get a better view of the party guests. "I haven't seen hide nor hair of him yet."

"Oh, he's probably over with old Fatty Bolger and his sister. They're quite pallsy-wallsy these days, it seems."

"Fatty or his sister?"

"Both."

Frodo understood. "Estella is a fine lass."

Pippin shrugged. "I suppose."

"Come now, Pip, surely a couple of sweet lasses have caught your eye."

"Oh, plenty have caught my eye, alright, but none long enough that I care to go on thinking about them now." Pippin reached over for Frodo's glass and took a sip of the Baggins's ale since he had none of his own at the moment. "And anyway," he continued, "I should think it would be rather nice to be a lonely bachelor like yourself."

"Silly Took," Frodo laughed, "You speak such nonsense. Give it a couple years and you'll be a fat old Thain dragging around your little Pecan and Parsley and Posy and Peppermint."

"Goodness how I hope not!" Pippin moaned and put his head comically in his hands.

"Alright, alright," Frodo smiled, "I'll not mention it again. I wouldn't want to spoil your lovely party."

Pippin brought his face back out with a smile. He picked up his pipe again and seemed to consider whether or not he should smoke it, then decided against it and tucked it back inside his coat.

Frodo thought this was a bit odd, then it occurred to him that Pippin looked rather flushed.

"You feeling well, Pip?"

"I'm feeling fabulous," Pippin smiled, "it's my birthday."

Frodo shook his head. "I'm serious."

Pippin frowned. "So am I."

He stood then and took Frodo by the arm. "Now come and let's see if we can't find a bit of this delicious spread everyone's been complimenting me on all night. And there should be a cake around here somewhere, too, if I'm not mistaken. With candles, I suppose."

Frodo allowed himself to be lead to the food tables, but he could not keep the feeling of dread from rising in his stomach. Pippin not well was not a good thing. And his lying about it generally meant that it was worse.

But then, Frodo thought, perhaps it was not a lie. Perhaps he was just paranoid because of his own illnesses. Pippin had not be sick in many years. He was healthier and sturdier than he had ever been before. And, besides, it Was his birthday. It was not the hobbit way to take ill when there was a party to enjoyed and fancy fare to be eaten.

These worrisome matters dropped back immediately in Frodo's head as he spotted Merry at a table, seated just as Pippin had predicted between Fatty Bolger and his sister. Yet Merry's attention, Frodo could see clearly even from this distance, was focused solely on Estella.

Frodo took a seat directly across from them at the table and began to eat his dinner quietly, waiting for Merry to notice his presence. It took a bit of time, but eventually the Brandybuck turned to reach for his half-pint and spotted his cousin. A saucy smile spread over his face.

"Why, hello there, Frodo Baggins. I see you've decided to leave your dusty library and very important books to join us for the evening. How splendid!"

"Hallo Merry." Frodo grinned back, but felt a twinge of guilt. He had very nearly decided not to come. The past few months in particular, he had grown increasingly leery of leaving the safe privacy of Bag End, so much so that attending a large gathering like this felt far more like a trial than a party.

"Have you seen the birthday cake yet?" Merry asked. It seemed an odd question so at first Frodo thought he was joking, but then he noticed the earnestness about the hobbit's eyes.

"Uh, no, I haven't. I have seen the birthday lad, though."

Merry brushed that away. "Ah, he's nothing special. Nothing new, anyway. But the cake is grand."

"Is it?" Frodo was becoming rather confused with the direction of this conversation and wondered if maybe he had made the wrong choice in coming. He was rather out of practice with idle talk these days.

"Of course it is," Merry beamed proudly, "Estella here made it. She's quite exceptional in the kitchen."

Now Frodo understood. He felt a brief wave of pity for Pippin. The two famous bachelors of Crickhollow were not long to remain in the plural. There was a certain look in Merry's eyes that could not be argued with. The last time he had seen a hobbit this smitten for a lass it was Sam for Rosie. It was sad, in a way, that they did not stay carefree lads forever…

But things must change, he reminded himself, and that is not really a tragedy. Merry and Pippin and Sam were going to continue growing and leading happy lives, whether he would take part or not. He was glad to know this.

"I'm certain," he said then, putting a bright expression on his face, "And I doubt that this is the only area in which she is exceptional, her beauty not the least obvious."

Estella blushed and Merry looked to Frodo appreciatively.

"It really is good to see you, Frodo." He said. "We must find a way to make these visits more frequent."

Frodo just managed to keep his voice steady. "Well, I'm here now."

"That you are." Merry laughed. "Now let us eat and enjoy that pleasure together."

Frodo nodded, grateful for the opportunity to occupy his mouth with something other than conversation.

~~~~

As the meal dwindled down, Estella and Fatty left the cousins to supervise the handling of the cake that was to be brought out soon. Merry moved so that he was sitting beside Frodo and the two lit their pipes to share a smoke while Pippin gave his speech.

"He's quite improved on his speech-giving, Frodo. You'll be impressed. I've heard him practicing this in his baths all week."

"No more 'thank you all for coming now let's have some cake'?"

"Well, that's still about the gist of it, but he's learning to be a bit more eloquent."

The both sat up and applauded as Pippin took his place. Merry removed his pipe from his mouth and replaced it with two fingers, letting out a whistle that was particular to the Brandybucks, as well as one finely tutored Took.

Pippin cleared his throat and smiled broadly. Gone were the days of standing on a barrel or a box to give a speech and he was grateful. Being now the tallest hobbit in the Shire all he had to do was stand and everyone could see him clearly. He put his hands behind his back, as he had always been taught to when speaking publicly, opened his mouth and began.

"My esteemed fellow hobbits, lads and lasses, family and neighbors, friends and miscellaneous like and associates. It pleases me so much that you have joined me here tonight on this rather important occasion of my thirty-first birthday, more so than I believe I could accurately describe, although I should like to try..."

"Esteemed?" Frodo whispered.

"I gave him that one." Merry replied.

"I expected as much."

"…more than a second helping of potato pie or discovering an extra sausage hidden beneath your pancake when you thought you'd eaten them all…" Pippin's eyes were enormous and glassy with excitement.

Merry leaned back and shook his head. "He's improvising now," he informed Frodo.

"Yes, I can tell."

"…or a day when it has been raining but it chooses to stop just when you must go out…"

Frodo frowned. "Does he look a bit pale to you, Merry?"

"Pip's always a bit pale. It doesn't do to worry about it."

"That's true."

"…and if you'll agree with me as I'm sure you have that all these things bring a great deal of pleasure to a hobbit, then you must understand the degree to what I speak of when I say that your presence here gives me even more such pleasure. So, for that I am most humbly grateful. And now, let us enjoy this very fine cake and this even finer evening!"

Merry and Frodo cheered with the rest of the hobbits as Pippin took a rather modest bow, the band struck up a cheerful tune, and the cake began to make the rounds.

~~~~

Eventually the party began to wind down and although it was considered a success, most of the hobbits began regretfully to take their leave.

Frodo wandered about a bit, having given up on Merry after Estella had returned and the two commenced to feed each other slices of cake, giggling at their private treat and making moon eyes at one another. Frodo thought quite bitterly that the sight rivaled anything he had seen in Mordor.

He moved among the empty tables, now covered with spilled drinks and crumbs, and the disheveled lawns that would certainly be a disaster in the light of the morning. He was half-heartedly looking for Pippin, but he didn't care so much if he didn't happen upon him too soon. The night air and the peace of being alone was rather relaxing to him now.

He walked along the path, following it to the stables and through the small orchard, over the soft summer grasses and back up to the house, admiring the soft moonlight and the sweet smell of the Buckland air.

He came upon Pippin at last, bidding farewell to his sister Pearl and her five daughters. The nieces had each been given as their gift a kite with the letter "P" emblazoned on the body in a different color for each lass so there could be no argument over whose kite belonged to whom or who had received a better gift. Very bright of the Took, Frodo felt, and diplomatic as well.

Pippin said his last good-byes to the clan and offered his final kisses. After they had hopped into their carriage and rode off toward town, Pippin turned to Frodo and gave him a weak smile. He looked exhausted. Frodo attempted to make light of it.

"Goodness but you're getting lazy in your old age, Pip. When I was thirty-one I could carry on all night and then some. You look as though you're prepared to retire to a rocking chair and a blanket."

"It's not the number of my years," Pippin laughed, "it's the number of my relations!"

"Well," Frodo smiled, "Can you spare a bit for one more, then, and show me where I'm to sleep?"

"Of course," Pippin took his arm and lead him back to the house, "You are my very favorite Baggins-relation, you know."

"That's quite an honor."

"It is." Pippin poked him, "Don't knock it."

"I would never."

The entered through the back door into the kitchen, which has grown dark and cold. Pippin muttered something under his breath and poked the fire in the hearth until it came back to life a bit.

Frodo glanced about and frowned. "Has Merry already gone to bed and not wished us goodnight?"

Pippin snorted a bit as he abandoned the poker and took instead the tinder box in one hand and a candle in the other. He motioned for Frodo to follow and began leading the way to the guest quarters.

"I doubt that he's going to be in bed for quite some time," he said over his shoulder, "For he's gone to bid Estella goodnight at her doorstep and that can take several hours these days."

"But the Bolgers live just around the bend."

"Oh, it's not the getting there bit that takes such time. It's the parting."

"I see."

Pippin lead Frodo into a small, tidy room and set the candle down on the night table. He lit a second candle that was near it, then knelt and set to work on the fireplace.

"This is quite nice, Pippin, thank you," Frodo said and located his pack on a chair in the corner. He immediately began to rummage through it, locating his nightclothes and setting out what he would need in the morning.

"The fire should pick up a bit soon," Pippin said apologetically, stepping back from the small flame he'd tindered. "It should be right and warm in here then."

"It's wonderful. Thank you. Now go get some sleep. You look half-dead."

"Alright," Pippin nodded and, bending down, he gave his cousin a soft kiss on the cheek, something he hadn't done since he was a lad and had had to stand on his toes to accomplish the task. "Goodnight."

Frodo felt a tight catch in his throat and brushed back a few of Pippin's near-blonde curls with his finger, the only response he could manage at the moment.

Pippin smiled and took one of the two candles, cupped a hand to shield the flame and made his way to the door. He paused just before leaving. "Goodnight." He said again.

This time Frodo found his voice. "Happy Birthday."

Pippin laughed and closed the door behind him.

"Goodnight." Frodo said quietly after he had gone. "Sleep well, Little Pip."