The End! Thank you for letting me bury you all in fluff! More stories coming soon...

My mom is the one who came up with the idea of Aragorn needing to kiss Pippin's finger in Chapter 7; thanks, mom!

This chapter introduces an incident referred to in "Light Out of Darkness," Chapter 6.

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

ESTEL'S BIRTHDAY

Chapter 8 -- Home and Away

March 2

x

When Frodo, Aragorn, and Scamp returned from their walk, Bilbo and Sam were beginning to assemble all the gear. Frodo had known they were returning home today, but he couldn't help feeling disappointed.

"I know you want us to stay another night, Frodo lad," Bilbo said, patting the boy on his shoulder, "but it's time we got Pippin back to where his parents can find him. I suspect they'll show up tomorrow morning."

"But..."

"I want Pippin under a roof tonight, warm and dry."

"I agree, Bilbo," Aragorn nodded. "The weather is about to take a turn." For the first time, Frodo noticed the dark clouds massing in the east.

It didn't take the four friends long to break camp and pack up the cart, and soon all that was left was the small tent in which Pippin was napping. Frodo crawled in and scooped up his young cousin, blankets and all, and carried the sleeping toddler to the cart.

"If we can't camp outside tonight," Frodo said to Bilbo, "let's camp inside. Maybe a blanket-tent in front of the hearth fire? We can tell stories and pretend."

"I don't see why not. It may be a bit snug for Estel, though." Bilbo grinned up at the Ranger. "Feel free to escape to your room, and a soft bed, at any time this evening, my friend. Frodo's penchant for stories -- both telling and hearing -- is rather unquenchable."

"I promise to escape at the first hint of danger," Aragorn assured him with a smile.

Sam picked up a shovel. "I'll go bury the campfire ashes, Mr. Bilbo."

"Why bother?" Frodo asked. "The fire's out. Besides, it's likely going to rain soon."

"Sam is correct," Aragorn said gravely. "You can never take a chance with fire, Frodo, even if you believe it to be nothing but cold ash. If you have water, drown it. If you have sand or soil, bury it."

"Sam," Aragorn said when the boy returned, "would you like to ride back with me, on Arthad? It may be your last chance for awhile, as I do not know when I will next be visiting the Shire."

Sam's face lit up with joy. "Would that be all right with you, Mr. Frodo?" he asked.

"Better you than me, Sam," Frodo laughed. He whistled for Scamp, who ran to his side and leaped into the cart. "I'll stick to Shire ponies when I need to ride anywhere."

Pippin stirred in Frodo's arms and looked around. "Fwodo?"

"We're going home, Pip," Frodo said softly. "Do you want to say goodbye to the ducks?"

"Bye bye, duckies," Pippin murmured, then yawned and fell back to sleep.

x

It was a short trip back to Bag End, where the cart was unloaded and Pippin was settled into Frodo's bed to finish his nap. The storm broke in the evening, just after supper, and Sam, who had been given special permission to stay at Bag End for the night, watched in amazement as Frodo and Bilbo arranged chairs in such a way that a number of blankets draped over them created a good-sized "tent".

Pippin clapped his hands with glee, and dove into the "tent", the floor of which had been padded with pillows and quilts. Scamp instantly followed the tot.

"I think there's room for everyone," Frodo said to Aragorn. "You don't have to stay long, Estel; I know you'll sleep better in a real bed. But could you just come and tell one story?"

"Fwodo!" Pippin yelled from somewhere inside the blankety folds, "It's too dark!"

Frodo grinned and tucked up the end of one of the blankets so light would get in, then crawled inside, followed by Sam.

A short while later, Bilbo emerged from his study and prepared a tray of tea, juice, and fruit tarts for the 'campers'. Entering the parlor, he couldn't keep from smiling at the long legs sticking out from under the blankets. A soft voice could be heard from within the shelter.

"...and then Elwing cast herself into the sea with the great Jewel, and emerged as a beautiful white bird. She reunited with her husband, Eärendil, and together they sailed to Valinor, never to return. Eärendil sails the skies with the Jewel even now, and Elwing flies to meet him each evening, in bird form, when he approaches the Blessed Realm."

"She really turned into a bird, sir?" Sam's voice was full of awe.

"That is the tale as I have heard it, from Eärendil's own son," replied Aragorn. "And now..." Bilbo saw the blankets begin to shift. "...I will leave you to your adventure. I'll see you in the morning."

Aragorn inched out from beneath the blankets and chairs, and smiled at Bilbo. "Pippin only wanted stories with birds in them," he whispered. "I suspect that he'll be requesting a pet duck when he returns home."

"I'll warn his parents," Bilbo grinned. "His father is rather allergic to feathers." He carefully knelt and slid the snack tray into the tent. "Thank you," came several muffled voices.

Aragorn followed Bilbo into the dining room, and they sat at the table with their own cups of tea.

"This visit hasn't been all that restful for you," Bilbo said. "Perhaps you should celebrate your next birthday out in the Wild, far from tweens, toddlers, and tumbling stars." He motioned to the large bowl on the table, which they had filled with the pieces of what Sam called the "star glass".

"Bilbo," Aragorn replied, draining his cup with a satisifed sigh, "with the possible exceptions of Rivendell and the Golden Wood, there is no more restful place in Middle-earth than the Shire. I am grateful to be so welcomed here, and to have found such friends."

"The boys love it when you visit," Bilbo said. "You'll make a wonderful father someday, Estel. Don't wait as long as I did, to discover how challenging -- and fulfilling -- it can be to share your life with someone."

"Should I be fortunate enough to wed, Bilbo," Aragorn said quietly, "I hope you can be there to see it. And should I know the joy of children in my life, may I do as good a job with them as you have, with Frodo."

They both looked up as a muffled shout came from the direction of the parlor, and Scamp raced by with a fruit tart in her mouth.

x

March 3

As Bilbo had predicted, Paladin and Eglantine arrived the next morning, just after second breakfast. Bilbo, Frodo, and Pippin were sitting under the tree in the field, saying goodbye to Aragorn, when the carriage appeared in the Lane.

"Mummy, daddy!" Pippin yelled, running to meet them. His mother stepped down from the carriage and scooped up her son, hugging him tightly.

"Were you a good boy for Bilbo and Frodo?"

Pippin nodded. "I was vewy good, mummy."

"He was, Aunt Eglantine," Frodo said, coming up to give her a hug, and to shake his uncle's hand. "I'll miss our little duckling."

"Duckling?" Eglantine asked.

"I saw baby ducks!" Pippin said excitedly. "And a mama duck!"

"Did you, Pip? Isn't that wonderful."

"And Sam wode Estel's pony!"

"Oh?" Paladin surmised that 'Estel' must be the name of the Ranger standing quietly nearby, and he eyed the enormous horse. "Did you ride the pony as well, Pip?" he asked casually.

Pippin shook his head, and his father gave Bilbo a nod of approval.

"Paladin, Eglantine, this is Estel," Bilbo said, motioning for Aragorn to approach. "He and his Men help to---"

"No need to explain, Bilbo." Paladin bowed slightly to Aragorn. "It is good to meet you, Estel. The Rangers have my greatest respect. I am at your service."

"Thank you, sir," Aragorn said, bending to shake the hobbit's hand. "I am at your service, and your family's." He responded as Bilbo had taught him was customary in the Shire. Paladin Took's accent was much stronger than his son's, but after so many days in Pippin's company, Aragorn now had no difficulty in understanding him. He smiled at Pippin's parents. "You have a wonderful son; it's been a pleasure getting to know him."

Aragorn stayed long enough to take tea with the hobbits. When it was time for the Tooks to leave, he accompanied the group outside and watched the goodbyes.

"Estel!" Pippin ran to Aragorn and hugged one of the long legs. Aragorn laughed and picked up the toddler, holding him close.

"Farewell, little one," Aragorn murmured in the tiny ear.

"Bye," Pippin said, throwing his tiny arms around the Man's neck.

"No feathers this time," Frodo chuckled.

"Feathers?" Eglantine asked as Aragorn set Pippin back on the ground.

"I have all the feathers!" Pippin cried with delight.

"Isn't that nice," Paladin said distractedly, assisting Bilbo in loading Pippin's bags and boxes into the carriage.

Aragorn stood with Frodo and Bilbo as the Tooks' carriage began to pull away. "I will never forget this birthday," he grinned. "Gandalf told me that hobbits can be surprising in the most unexpected ways, and he was certainly telling the truth."

Bilbo suddenly paled. "They're in his pockets! I should have warned them!"

"What are you talking about?" Frodo asked.

"That," Bilbo sighed, pointing to the carriage. Dozens of tiny white feathers had begun pouring out the open window, sneezes could be heard, and joyous, high-pitched giggles floated on the air long after the carriage had turned a corner, and disappeared down the Lane.

x

-- END --

Ainu Laire: And we come to an end of the fluff! For the moment, anyway... :)

apsennial: I can think of worse things than dreaming each night about a certain ranger! :)

Aratlithiel1: I love giving our beloved characters a comforting, cuddly tale in which to relax and enjoy life, and if my stories wrap you up in a puffy quilt and take you to a safe, happy place, I'm not sure I will ever achieve anything more wonderful.

Arrina: You're right -- Aragorn probably wouldn't even notice (or care) if he had feathers in his hair!

Aurora Baggins: What a joy to write a story where everyone, hobbits and Rangers alike, have a good time and enjoy themselves. They deserve a break (with puppies and duckies) once in awhile! Thank you so much for reading.

azabeth99: I'm so happy you've enjoyed the story -- it was a true pleasure to write.

Baylor: I now wish I could have written a "kiss and make it better" (or not) Weathertop scene for "By Chance or Purpose" -- that would have been incredibly bittersweet.

bobo baggins: It's such a joy to write a peaceful, lighthearted tale like this. Thank you for all the kind words.

Breon Briarwood: Toddler Pip nestles into your heart and snuggles up with Frodo... Breon is a goner...

Cantora: Yay fluff! Yay hobbits!

Caroly: It's a pleasure to hear from you! Don't ever be afraid to review, if you're moved to do so; it's this interactivity of fanfiction that so many of us love. Since Pippin's your favorite hobbit, if you want to know which of my stories either star or feature him feel free to e-mail me. I just can't seem to stop writing about hobbits!

Christina B: I agree, Frodo and Aragorn have quite a lot in common. It's fun to write conversations where they learn about each other.

Clever Hobbit: Glad to make you giggle! Thanks for enjoying the story.

cpsings4him: I've found "sea glass" (pieces of glass that the ocean has ground or pounded into smooth spheres or ovals), but imagine finding "star glass"! You know, when I began writing "Quarantined", I was afraid that no one would "buy into" the concept of an Aragorn-Frodo pre-quest friendship. I'm so glad I went ahead with it, because this whole series has led to so much joy for both of them... and fun for the rest of us.

EllyBaggins: It's hard to imagine anything I write in the future being any more fluffy than this story, Elly. But... you just never know... :)

Elven Kitten: I love writing happy, more "up" stories, whenever possible. I think our beloved characters deserve all the light and joyous moments they can possibly get.

Elwen: Maybe Pippin was able to contain his giggles in Chapter 7, but they escaped at the end!

GamgeeFest: You "got" the foreshadowing! Yay!

girlofring: I'm certainly happy to hear that fluff is okay with you, since this has been a fluff-o-rama!

Grey Wonderer: I love writing conversations between Frodo and Aragorn; they really have a lot in common, and learn a great deal from one another.

grumpy: Glad you enjoyed the Frodo-Aragorn talk; I wanted it to be special for them.

Hai Took: Wouldn't it be awesome to find "star glass"? What a special experience for anyone. And oh yes, that toddler Pip -- what a rascal already!

Ice Ember: What are we going to do with that Pippin? He's just too cute!

Kellie: Good thing this is the last chapter, Kellie -- we almost lost you! I think we'll all be spending some time in the Fluff Rehab Center after this story.

LaughingBrook: One of the joys of a continuing 'universe', like this one, is that characters can grow and evolve, and their relationships with each other become stronger. I've tried to bring that out in this story between Frodo and Bilbo, and between Frodo and Aragorn.

Lily the Hobbit: I wanted Frodo and Aragorn's walk to be a sweet but important one. I'm so glad you liked it.

lindahoyland: Even in a fluff story, I can't seem to keep from inserting a bit of foreshadowing. Glad you "got" it!

Lindele: This story has been such fun to write; thank you for coming along for the ride.

Lindelea: Yes, Sam's first experience with a 'star glass'! It was fun to think that up. Even in a gentle, fluffy tale, I can't seem to keep from a bit of foreshadowing.

Mariole: Can you imagine how many lonely birthdays Aragorn must have had? He deserves some cake and celebration once in a while.

Mewsette: I didn't know I'd be writing this story (with Pippin), so there's always a chance for a "Quarantined" universe pre-quest story that includes Merry. My mom and I used to sit outside and watch "falling stars", and it's a lovely memory -- I'm glad this took you back to a sweet memory of your own.

Timmy222: It was difficult for me to write something not including Aragorn! I love writing things like "In the Keeping of the King" and "By Chance or Purpose", that focus on Frodo-Aragorn.

my-fool-of-a-took: I would never turn down an awwwwww! Thank you.

Narwen Almiriel: I agree with you; in this 'universe', at least, Aragorn and Frodo really bring out the best in each other. They have more in common than they know.

Maura Labingi: That line about Aragorn having feathers in his hair was a last-minute addition to Chapter 7, Maura. I'm so happy it gave you such delight!

Pearl Took: Did Billy Boyd lose his parents at a young age? Oh my, I didn't know that. :(

Pipwise Brandygin: Thakn you for enjoying this so much! What a pleasure this story has been to write, and to share.

Scifirogue-klutz: I'm very happy to hear that kissing a finger has been proven to heal duckie bites. Oh wow, a Fluff Greatness Award! (humbly accepts) :)

SlightlyTookish: Yes, if anyone feels that 'my' Pippin is too cute, well... they should move on to a different story! This one is a real cuddle-fest.

smalldiver: I do believe that Aragorn would be a wonderful father, and I loved that movie-scene with Eldarion that showed his joy in his child.

smaugs mommy: Thank you for letting me know that you're enjoying the story.

Tathar: I'm so glad you're having a good time with this. I wasn't sure what Frodo and Aragorn would be talking about on their walk, until I sat down to write it. It's amazing how that happens, sometimes.

TinkerBell420: It's a pleasure to offer some fluff to help soften 'real life' a bit. (BTW, I checked out your most recent story and I think you're a wonderful writer; regretfully, I have difficulty following OC stories.)

Vilya0: If you think Pip is cute to read about, imagine writing about it! How I kept from exploding in a burst of fluff, I'll never know.