This is a pre-Quest cousinfic, written for Dreamflower for the Livejournal Spring 2006 Frodo Fic Exchange. This story takes place in Tuckborough. Frodo is 28, Merry is 14, and Pippin is 6.

DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

xxxx

A MAGICAL DAY

Pippin, sitting on Merry's stomach and gleefully relating a story about a creature that was a five-headed goat by day and a hobbit-snacking goblin by night, was talking so animatedly, he had no idea anyone was sneaking up behind him. From his position on his back, Merry contemplated his options. He could tell Pip that Frodo had arrived, he supposed. On the other hand, it was such fun to watch Frodo when he...

Pippin shrieked in excitement as he was suddenly lifted high into the air.

"Got you!" came a loud, growly voice. "What a delicious supper I'll be having tonight!"

He'd been captured by a troll! Pippin squirmed around, trying to see the evil creature who held him.

"Merry, save me!" he demanded. "Why are you just lying there?"

Merry laughed and got to his feet, brushing the dirt off his breeches.

"Thank goodness you've come, Mr. Troll," Merry said. He eyed Pippin, smacking his lips. "I doubt I could have devoured him all by myself."

"Yes, he's a bit much for one of us, I agree!" Frodo put his wriggling cousin down and knelt just in time for Pippin to whirl around and throw himself into a hug.

"Oof!" Frodo said, pretending to be knocked off balance. "You're getting so big, Pip."

"His mum says that our visit is all he's been talking about," Merry said. "Oh, and Uncle Paladin wants to see exactly where we'll be camping tonight."

"I know the perfect place," Frodo said. He reached out and gathered Merry to him. "How have you been, you rascal?"

"Fine." Merry looked into Frodo's sparkling, happy face. "You really do like living with Cousin Bilbo, don't you?"

"Very much," Frodo said softly.

"Good," Merry said, smiling bravely. "I miss you awfully, though," he whispered in Frodo's ear.

"I miss you awfully, too," Frodo whispered back.

Pippin wriggled his way between Merry and Frodo. "I'm six now!" he said importantly. "That's a lot!"

"It certainly is," Frodo agreed. Seeing a smiling figure emerge from the entrance to the Great Smials, he released his armful of cousins to rush over and shake hands with Pippin's father.

"You're looking well, Frodo," Paladin said. "I hope you've had a restful walk from Hobbiton; these boys won't give you a moment's peace. Do you still plan to take them camping?"

"'Course he does!" Pippin insisted. He ran up to Frodo and took his hand. "We've been waiting and waiting. Why did it take spring so long to get here?"

"It did seem to take a long time this year, didn't it?" Frodo grinned down at Pippin, who was bouncing with excitement. "Bilbo says that autumn is the best time for adventures, but I think we can manage to find one now and then in the spring, don't you?"

Paladin motioned toward a cart loaded with camping supplies, and boxes waiting to be filled with provisions. "Everything's nearly ready. After luncheon, we'll hitch up the pony and get you to your campsite." He gave Frodo a meaningful glance.

"Don't worry, sir," Frodo assured him. "The spot I have picked out isn't too far away."

Paladin nodded approvingly, and put his arm around Frodo's shoulders. He was very impressed with the lad's growing maturity and perceptions.

"Will we really have an adventure, Frodo?" Pippin asked hopefully. "Will there be scary things that don't eat us, and lots of magic?"

"Pip," Frodo said, "I guarantee it."

"What does that mean?" Pippin frowned.

"It means that it's a promise."

"But this is Tuckborough," Pippin pouted. "Nothing magic ever happens here."

"We just have to look around us; Bilbo says that there's magic everywhere."

Paladin chuckled to himself. Frodo quoted Bilbo so often, he probably no longer realized he was doing it.

xxxx

"This is a lovely place, Frodo," Paladin said. "I haven't been out this way in years."

Frodo had directed them to a beautiful glade a few miles southeast of the Great Smials. A small stream bubbled through a thick grove of ancient trees, and a warm spring breeze made the leaves rustle.

"Bilbo and I discovered it on one of our walks," Frodo said, lifting the last box out of the cart. "There's a fire circle, and lots of downed wood under the trees." He pointed out a circle of stones with a few large stumps near it. "We think this might be a Ranger camp."

Paladin unhooked the pony from the cart, then gave Merry a hug before taking his son in his arms.

Pippin clung to his father, suddenly feeling a little nervous. Now that they were really on an adventure, he wondered if being so far from home was such a good idea after all. What if there really were hobbit-snacking goblins?

"Be good, Pip," Paladin said. "Mind everything Frodo says, and I'll be back to get you day after tomorrow." He exchanged a few quiet words with Frodo, then mounted the pony and rode slowly back home along the trail they had taken.

Frodo saw Pippin gazing longingly after his father, and realized that he needed to keep the lad as busy and distracted as possible. While Merry dragged the tent and stakes out of one of the boxes, Frodo took Pippin by the hand and led him to the edge of the trees.

"We need sticks for kindling so we can cook supper tonight," Frodo said. He showed Pippin the different lengths and thicknesses of sticks lying on the ground. "We use kindling to start the fire, and big logs to keep it going. I'll take care of the logs, but you're responsible for the kindling. Stack next to the stone circle as much as you can find. Keep the littlest pieces together in a pile, and the biggest pieces together; that way, if we need a certain size, we know exactly where to find it. There's lots of kindling right here. Don't break any off the trees; just pick up the ones on the ground. Think you can do it?"

Pippin nodded vigorously, and began to scoop up armfuls of sticks.

"When we have enough wood for tonight's fire," Frodo said, "we'll go for a walk. There's a wonderful meadow just over---"

"Frodo!" Merry yelled. The breeze was picking up a bit, and Merry was laying flat out on the tent fabric, trying to keep it from blowing away. Frodo dashed back to help.

xxxx

The cousins spent the afternoon hiking, kite flying, and rock collecting, then they raced back to camp to prepare supper. Frodo kindled a fire in the stone circle and grilled the steaks Pippin's mother had packed for their first night, then they made quick work of salad, fresh bread, and pie.

"That was wonderful," Merry sighed contentedly, patting his stomach. "Don't you dare sit on me now, Pip, or I might burst."

"Me too," Pippin agreed.

"Did Snips have enough to eat?" Frodo asked. Pippin had brought his favorite stuffed animal with him, a pony made of tiny quilted squares.

"He wants more pie," Pippin decided. He pretended to feed Snips the last bite of cherry pie, then quickly ate it himself.

"Can we go fishing tomorrow?" Merry asked.

"I don't see why not," Frodo said.

The boys settled in front of the fire to sing and tell stories. Frodo leaned back against the biggest and most comfortable stump with Merry and Pippin snuggled against him, one on either side. The day had been so much fun, Pippin had forgotten all about being homesick.

"And now," Frodo said, "it's time for a story about a few of the magical things that happened today."

"But there weren't any," Pippin protested.

Merry smiled knowingly at Frodo. He had been camping before with his beloved cousin, and knew what Frodo had in mind.

"Once upon a time," Frodo began, "three very brave lads went on an adventure, all by themselves. Their names were Frodo, Merry, and..." He stopped to think.

"Pippin!" Pippin cried.

"That's it," Frodo agreed. "They had such fun together; but did they know a dragon was flying overhead, watching them?"

"It was?" Pippin squeaked.

"Oh yes," Frodo said. "Why, Merry could hardly hold onto the tent, the dragon's wings were flapping so hard. Whoosh, the lad was nearly lifted into the sky! But luckily, the dragon flew away just before Merry was carried off."

Pippin clutched Snips excitedly to his chest. Dragons!

"And what about Pippin?"

Pippin gasped. "Me?"

Frodo nodded slowly. "His cousin Frodo saw it all. Pippin was gathering sticks in the enchanted wood. The trees knew he was there, oh yes. Oh, how closely they watched him! Why, if Pippin had snapped even one living twig off one of the trees, they would have..."

"What?" Merry asked, caught up in the tale.

"I daren't say," Frodo said solemnly. "But Pippin was a very good boy, and gathered only the dry sticks already on the ground. The trees relaxed, and went back to sleep."

"Oh," Pippin breathed. "I really did only pick up the dead sticks, Frodo. Just like you told me to."

"I know," Frodo said, hugging his young cousin.

"Were the trees really watching me?"

"Maybe they were," Frodo replied. "Are things magical, or aren't they? I think we have to figure it out for ourselves."

"I like that," Pippin said happily. "I hope more magic happens tomorrow."

Merry yawned sleepily, and Pippin found himself doing the same.

"I saw that," Frodo grinned.

"One more story?" Pippin begged.

"Time for bed," Frodo said firmly. "Wash your hands and faces, both of you, then into the tent. Merry, would you get Pip settled? I'll be there in a minute."

Merry and Pippin scampered off to the stream, but Frodo sat for a moment longer. He breathed in the enticing fragrances of wood-smoke and fresh spring foliage.

He loved this place; he loved every place Bilbo had shown him. It had taken a long time for him to realize that as much as he enjoyed traveling with Bilbo, it was just as joyous for Bilbo to have found someone who wanted to learn what he had to teach, and could appreciate all of the special places he had discovered in – and out – of the Shire.

Frodo wanted to show Merry and Pippin those things, and help them sense the wonder and magic all around them. He had never felt so confident, so... happy. Like Merry, he felt that he, too, might just burst – with joy. Bilbo had opened his eyes to a larger world than he ever imagined. And now he could share it.

Frodo smiled and got to his feet, then wandered into the grove of trees. On impulse, he ran his hand along the rough bark of the nearest tree. Could it have been watching Pippin? Who knows? "Goodnight," he whispered.

The trees remained silent, sensing no threat from such gentle and respectful visitors. These small ones would be welcomed back anytime they chose to come.

Frodo went to the tent and peeked inside. All he saw were two giggling, blanket-covered mounds. Perhaps everyone could stay awake for one more story, after all.

END