- - - - -

"What's wrong, Pippin?" Paladin Took sat down on the garden bench next to his son and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief.

"Nothing." Pippin answered quietly, not looking away from the bank of roses planted opposite the bench. He'd chosen it for privacy, but he knew that nothing could stop his father from finding him if the Thain wanted him.

"Are you sure? You barely touched your tea and I didn't see you at lunch at all." The Thain wiped his brow and tucked the handkerchief away. "If you were all right, the strawberry tarts wouldn't have lasted a minute. Not to mention that you haven't drawn on your pipe for a good ten minutes."

Pippin looked down at his extinguished pipe, shrugged and glanced sideways at his father, still not used to having to look down at him. During the quest and the journey home, when he was mostly surrounded by Big Folk or was with Merry, Frodo and Sam, his unusual height really wasn't all that noticeable. But now, safe at home, everyone he met seemed to gawk in astonishment and any chance of a normal conversation vanished. Even the young hobbitesses that he'd been tentatively paying court to before going off with Frodo stared and giggled behind their hands, shaking their heads when he asked them to dance.

Pippin sighed. His father looked like he was content to sit on the bench for the rest of the evening and on through the night. He knew Paladin wasn't going to budge until Pippin had told him what was troubling him. "When we were Outside, except for Bree, everything was too big. I didn't fit it and it didn't fit me. Now I'm home, and I don't fit here either."

"Did you stop to consider that it might be that the Shire's too small for you now?" Paladin asked quietly.

"But--the Shire's my home…"

"I wasn't talking about you being taller than Bullroarer, Pippin. It's not that you stand taller than any hobbit in living memory save your cousin Meriadoc. It's that you've grown inside. You've experienced things that no one here could even imagine. You've got four more years before you're legally of age, but you're not a tween anymore. You grew up out there, that's all."

"That's it? I'm grown-up?" Pippin considered the idea and shook his head. "I don't feel like a grown up."

"I'll tell you a secret," Paladin said with a chuckle. "No one ever feels 'grown-up'. Ever."

"Even you? But, you're the Thain!" Pippin didn't think he'd been this surprised in his life.

"Yes, I'm the Thain, but that has nothing to do with how I feel inside. However, we aren't talking about me." The Thain pulled out his tobacco pouch and pipe and continued speaking as he filled the bowl and used his firestriker to ignite the pipe weed. "What makes you feel that you don't fit in—besides bumping your head on the lintel of the kitchen door, that is."

Pippin thought about the way he'd been treated since he'd come home. People he'd grown up with, who he'd played games and pranks with, whose weddings he'd attended, who he'd shared ales and stories with, now acted as though he were a stranger. The things that those his own age wanted to talk about or do seemed frivolous. Hesitantly, he managed to put his thoughts into words. "And Diam—er—the girls don't want to talk to me or dance with me. They just stare as if I were some sort of freakish curiosity and…giggle!" he added in a tone of frustration.

"Hmmmm." Paladin drew on his pipe, the smoke wreathing about his head. "I can't give you much advice in regard to the way the girls are acting. That's something you'll have to figure out on your own. But as for the other things you mentioned, perhaps it will help if we begin treating you like the grown hobbit you really are and not a flighty tween. I think part of your problem is that you got used to having responsibilities out there. Now that the ruffians are all dealt with and the business of reopening the inns and getting things back to normal are in hand, all you've been doing is the same sort of nonsense that all tweens do. No wonder you're uncomfortable."

Pippin considered his father's words for a while. "I thought I'd enjoy not having to worry about anything. I thought it would be nice to sleep late, talk and spend time with my friends, and spend my evenings down at the inn. But I was wrong. It's not—enough, I guess."

"Well then, perhaps you'll join me in my study tomorrow and help me sort out the plans for the new storage barn. It looks like it's going to be needed given the way things are growing this year. And if you have any ideas for other improvements I'd be glad to hear them."

Pippin suddenly felt something settle inside him; things no longer seemed so small or maybe he was just finally finding the place where he truly fit. "I'd be glad to."