"How comes we're tired and he isn't?"
"'Cause he's a botheration," Pervinca replied, crossing her arms. "Let's see how long it takes him to wind down."
"We'll be here all day!" Merry exclaimed. "I'll miss my supper!" He stomped his foot near his cousin's toes; Vinca moved her feet up to the bench and stuck her tongue out at him.
"Pearl said wear him out," Vinca reminded Merry.
He tugged on her thick amber braid, trying to pull the ribbon loose. She slapped his hand. "Quit."
Merry stuck his tongue out at Vinca in return. "Since when do you do what Pearl says?"
"Since never, because she told you." Vinca poked Merry hard in the ribs, then pulled his right suspender strap off his shoulder.
Merry kicked at her in reprisal, then looked around. "Hey, where'd he go?" He jumped up, looking around and slipping his strap back into position, then smiled and ran to the nearest tree. "I know you're back there!" he called out, dancing in place.
A flurry of giggles was his answer, and he swooped down and picked up the little hobbit hiding behind the trunk. The toddler shrieked joyfully and threw his arms around Merry, sitting on his hip, grinning and clapping his hands.
Merry wagged a scolding finger at him. "You stay where I can see you, Pippin," he chided, then laughed when Pippin mimicked his pointing finger and stern face. "Come on, let's go pester Vinca some more." He spun around a few times on his way back to the garden bench, and Pippin clutched his shoulders and squealed in delight.
"You never spin me," Vinca pouted, throwing leaves at him.
"You're too big," Merry responded. "And you get sick too easy." He plopped back down on the bench next to Vinca, Pippin in his lap.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "Hey, Pippin, say my name."
"No!" Pippin replied happily. "No, no, no, no!" He bounced with each no, shaking his curly head and laughing with Merry.
"Did you tell him to say that?" Vinca punched Merry's shoulder.
Merry shook his head. "But he would've if I'd asked him to, wouldn't you, Pip?" He touched his nose to Pippin's.
Pippin patted his cheeks. "Merry!"
"Oi! Did you hear that?" Merry crowed. "He said my name."
"Mmmph," Vinca scowled, and looked closely at her baby brother. "Say 'Vinca.'"
Merry had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep from laughing too hard. He didn't really want Vinca's feelings to be hurt; she was his best friend, after all. "Lookit," he told Pippin, trying to be serious. "Say 'Vinca.' "Ving-ka.' It's not hard. You can do it."
Pippin screwed up his face. "Binka." He smiled wide, knowing he'd pleased Merry.
"Good boy!" Merry hugged him tight and patted his back, chuckling when he felt his baby cousin's chubby hands pat his shoulders in response.
"Aw, you're all soft on the little pest," Vinca complained. Merry pulled her braid and managed to undo the ribbon this time; he tied it around his wrist with a triumphant "Ha!"
Vinca yanked his blond curls hard and reached for the ribbon; Merry pulled his hand away defiantly. Pippin took the ribbon from Merry's wrist and stuffed it into his mouth, chewing and drooling on it.
"No, don't eat that," Merry said, taking the ribbon and stuffing it into his pocket. "Do you have a tooth coming in?" He looked concernedly at Pippin's teeth.
Vinca rolled her eyes. "Yuck. Give him here and go see if supper's ready." She reached for the baby with a supplicating smile. "I'd go but I'm about to faint from hunger."
Merry snorted. "Oh, all right, you lazy turnip." He set Pippin on Vinca's lap and stood, dodging Vinca's last unsuccessful grab for her ribbon.
"No!" Pippin cried. He smacked Vinca's chest and squirmed, holding his arms out. "Merry!" His green eyes teared over and he pouted, getting ready for a wail. "Merry!"
Merry sighed, then skrinkled up his nose and crossed his eyes. Pippin laughed joyfully, tears forgotten, and struggled hard against Vinca's efforts to keep him in her arms.
"I give up," Vinca pronounced, and handed her brother back to her cousin. "You can change his nasty diaper, then."
Pippin smiled in triumph and clutched Merry's tunic as Vinca skipped off to the kitchen.
Merry contemplated the damp toddler in his arms. "Eeuw," he said. "C'mon, Pip." He set Pippin on his feet and took his hand, engulfing the small palm in his own. "Let's go find you some dry breeches."
Pippin hugged Merry's knees hard. "My Merry," he said happily, and trotted after his cousin into the house.