I started working on this story six months ago then put it aside for awhile -- but the time has come for more fluff! This is a sequel to "Reflections of the Past" -- which took place at Bag End after Frodo had been living there for several years, and when the Bagginses' newly-adopted puppy livened up one of Aragorn's visits.

In this AU universe, begun in the story "Quarantined", Aragorn first met Frodo and Sam when Frodo was 22 and Sam was 11. They strongly bonded and became fast friends in a very short period of time, during a serious illness and subsequent adventure. I know that in "By Chance or Purpose" (another "Quarantined" sequel) Aragorn meets Pippin for the first time when the hobbits arrive in Bree, but... oh well. A very flexible universe, this!

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

.

ESTEL'S BIRTHDAY

Chapter 1 -- Love at First Sight

February 28

.

"If that child is bitten, or nipped, or even frightened for a moment..."

"He won't be."

Bilbo looked doubtful. "There's no way to guarantee that, Frodo lad."

"But there is," Frodo said confidently. "I had a long talk with Scamp last night."

"Did you?" Bilbo asked in amusement.

"Bilbo," Frodo said patiently, "did you or did you not encounter talking spiders?"

"Yes, but---"

"I know Scamp is only nine months old, but don't you think a dog is smarter than a spider?"

"Frodo, that's not---"

"And since a dog is smarter than a spider, can you positively state that this wise beast isn't capable of understanding what I say?" Frodo crouched down to pat Scamp, who rolled onto her back.

"If I had known you would try outsmarting me at every turn, youngster," Bilbo sighed, "I would have left you at Brandy Hall. Or better yet, sent you off with Estel to fend for yourself in the Wild."

"You can still send me back," Frodo said casually, rubbing Scamp's tummy. "What a shame, though, since I wouldn't be able to make you any more of those oatmeal-raisin cookies you love so much."

"Hmmph." Bilbo beamed with pride at the tween before retiring to his study, chuckling to himself. If Paladin and Eglantine were willing to entrust Pippin into their care for a few days, he would see to it that their beloved only son was returned to them safe and sound.

"Don't you prove me wrong," Frodo addressed Scamp seriously. "Bilbo will be positively insufferable. Besides, Pip might just bite you back."

= = = =

It was early evening, and Pippin squealed with delight when he spotted Frodo and Bilbo standing in the open doorway of Bag End. He squirmed impatiently until his father lifted him down from the carriage and set the lad on the ground. At once, the toddler ran on tiny legs to his older cousin yelling, "Fwodo! Fwodo!"

"Is that my Pippin?" Frodo cried, catching the child up in his arms and swinging him about. "Look how you've grown!"

"Gwown!" Pippin giggled. "All gwown now!"

"Bilbo," Paladin sighed as his cousin came to greet him, "are you certain you want to look after Pippin? He never stops moving, eating, or giggling, often all three at once."

"Of course I am," Bilbo replied with a laugh, shaking his cousin's hand.

"Bag End is so perfectly located between Tuckborough and Long Cleve," Paladin mused. He unloaded several small carpetbags and an overflowing box of toys. "After I retrieve Eglantine from her visit there, we'll swing by to pick up the lad on our way home."

"Paladin," Bilbo said, "I know that you could very well have left Pippin home with his sisters and family. Thank you for letting him come for a visit."

"You're his family as well, Bilbo," Paladin smiled. "Once a Took, always a Took. And not only has Frodo positively flourished in your care, I know what a wonder he is with children. I used to watch him with Merry, always so patient and kind. And he took to Pippin instantly."

"It was mutual." The two older hobbits stood watching as Frodo walked about the garden with Pippin in his arms, naming the different flowers that would soon be blooming.

"Woses are my favowites, Fwodo! Woses sleeping now? Wake up, woses!"

"I know from your letter that your Ranger friend is due for a visit," Paladin continued, "which is fine. The Rangers have my deepest respect and thanks for all they do for us."

"You're a rare one, Paladin," Bilbo said quietly.

"Hello, Uncle Paladin," Frodo came to greet Pippin's father, one of the many cousins he had always called 'Uncle'. "We're having Pippin for supper. Are you sure you can't stay?"

"Not eat me," Pippin giggled. "Eat you for supper, Fwodo!"

"Can you believe it, Bilbo?" Frodo asked, his eyes shining. "It's been months since Pip's seen us, and he remembered me right away!"

"He's an intelligent lad, all right," Bilbo agreed.

"There's no denying that. Don't let him wear you out, Frodo," Paladin grinned. "Be good for Bilbo and Frodo, Pip," he continued, giving his son a hug and many kisses. Pippin nodded vigorously.

= = = =

Taking into account the excitement of arrival, unpacking (although 'scattering' was closer to the mark), and supper, Frodo had decided to wait until Pippin settled down a bit before introducing him to Scamp. With a finally-sleepy Pippin curled up in Bilbo's lap, listening to a story about buried treasure, Frodo went to his bedroom to retrieve Scamp and carried her over to the chair.

"Pippin," Bilbo said softly, "Frodo has something to show you."

Pip looked up at Frodo and smiled, then his eyes grew wide with wonder as he spied the wriggling bundle of golden-brown fur cradled in his cousin's arms. Frodo knelt next to the chair, close enough for the child to touch the pup if he chose, but far enough away so as not to frighten him. Pippin sat still as a statue.

"This is Scamp, Pip," Frodo said quietly. "Would you like to touch her and say hello?"

Pippin reached out his hand and touched the small dog, then pulled his hand back quickly. When nothing dreadful happened, he reached out again, this time resting his whole hand on Scamp's head. "Puppy," he giggled.

"Pat her," Frodo suggested, moving closer. "She likes to be rubbed behind her ears."

Pippin's tiny hand moved over the pup's head, clearly enjoying the soft, silky feel of the dog's fur and long ears. Frodo saw with relief that Scamp's tail had begun to wag a bit. When neither dog nor child appeared that they were going to bite the other, Frodo very slowly deposited Scamp into Bilbo's lap next to Pippin, where the pup sniffed at the child's tiny, jam-scented fingers, then began to lick them.

"Puppy puppy puppy!" Pippin crowed, trying to pull Scamp into his own lap by grabbing one ear and one leg.

"Gently," Bilbo warned. "You must be very, very gentle with her, Pip. Like this." He took hold of the boy's hands and showed him how to smooth them over the pup's back, rubbing and scratching. Scamp's tail began to thump in earnest at all the attention, and her eyes closed in utter peace. Frodo met Bilbo's eyes and smiled. So far, so good.

"Pip is fearless," Frodo marveled.

"He's a full-blooded Took," Bilbo explained with a sigh. "When he grows older, you'll see why Gandalf's always kept an eye on that side of the family."

"He picked you to go adventuring," Frodo pointed out. "Was it because you're a Took?"

"Half Took," Bilbo chuckled, "but half has brought me enough upheaval as it is." He gently disengaged Pippin's hands from their exploration of Scamp's ears. "Time for bed, my little lad."

Pippin looked up at Bilbo in dismay. "Bed with puppy?" he asked plaintively. He suddenly yawned.

"I happen to know that you can speak in sentences when you choose to, Peregrin," Frodo addressed the child with mock severity. "Can you say, 'Please, cousin Frodo, may I sleep in your bed with Scamp, just for tonight?'" Pippin just giggled at Scamp, who was simultaneously trying to roll onto her back and wriggle into the child's lap.

"Love at first sight." Frodo got to his feet and pointed down the hallway -- which Scamp recognized as the signal to jump off the chair and dash down the corridor to wait for Frodo to arrive in 'their' room. "I hope that Pip takes to Estel this quickly."

"Let's hope that Estel takes to him," Bilbo said with a smile. He put the book down and stood up with his sleepy burden in his arms. "He comes here to find a little peace and quiet, you know."

"I know," Frodo grinned. "Perhaps someday, he'll actually find some!"

-- TBC --

There will be a physical description of wee!Pippin in Chapter 2 -- I thought it would be more fun if it was from Aragorn's POV.