The view from his window never changed, except with the turning of the seasons.
A lovingly tended garden, in season. A picket fence whose paint was always sparkling. Beyond the fence, a winding country road that somehow managed to avoid being dusty. Rolling meadows, and the barely-glimpsed round doors and windows of three other hobbit dwellings as charming as his own.
The view was idyllic. Maybe too idyllic.
To look at the Shire, you wouldn't know anything bad had ever happened in the world. Or could happen.
Except that he knew. And couldn't forget.
What Frodo Baggins didn't know was why he spent so much time gazing out the window. Time hadn't dragged while he was compulsively writing the chronicle of his and his companions' mission to destroy the Ring. But now...now it seemed he had nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to do things or go places with.
Oh, friends were available. But in the end, he'd always find himself only half-listening to their chatter, feeling more alone than ever.
He sighed - a bit too deeply - and experienced the familiar twinge in his chest and left shoulder. An old wound that had never fully healed, despite the absence of a visible scar.
As if I needed reminders...
About to turn away, he spotted a flash of white far down the road.
He leaned out the window, straining for a better look. There it was again - visible for a moment, then obscured by trees, now back and coming into clearer view.
And suddenly, Frodo let out a whoop such as he hadn't given in years.
That white horse was Shadowfax. And its white-robed rider could only be...Gandalf!
An hour later, Frodo and his guest were relaxing over the remains of a hastily-prepared dinner. "I didn't understand what kept drawing me to that window," Frodo said cheerfully as he refilled the old wizard's brandy glass. "Now I know. I was watching for you!"
Gandalf chuckled. He took a long pull on his pipe, then observed, "All seems well here in the Shire."
"Yes." Feeling obliged to expand on that, Frodo said, "The Shire never changes."
He sensed that Gandalf was giving him a keen look as he busied himself with refilling his own glass. When he had to look up, those piercing eyes were still studying him.
"Actually," Gandalf said quietly, "I came to bring you some news. Important news."
Frodo felt a chill. The last time Gandalf had come with "news," it had been very bad. "Wh-what is it?" His voice rose. "Is something wrong? Has something happened to Bilbo?" Bilbo Baggins was well into his second century of life, but Frodo still wasn't prepared to deal with his death.
"No, no, nothing like that! Bilbo isn't ill or dead."
Gandalf settled back in his chair, sipped the brandy and took another puff on his pipe. Then he said, "The Elves' last ship will be sailing into the West next month."
Frodo sensed that there was more to the "news," but also, that Gandalf expected a comment on that much. After a moment's hesitation he said honestly, "I've never really understood why they're leaving. I thought it was because of Sauron - that if that threat was gone they'd stop emigrating, and some might come back. But it didn't happen, and now you say the last of them are leaving -"
Gandalf nodded. "One reason is that men are reproducing in such numbers. Elves live for millennia, and nature has given them a low birth rate so they won't overpopulate their lands. They realize Middle-Earth isn't theirs, and as a matter of policy, the Elves here stopped reproducing altogether. Elrond's daughter Arwen was their last-born, and she had a human mother.
"They know men will soon need the lands they've been occupying. But beyond that" - he took another puff, and paused to organize his thoughts - "as I said, Middle-Earth isn't theirs. They came here out of the West, uninvited. They've been friends and helpers to men, done no harm. But they saw the ravages caused by other intruders, from Mordor. And they learned a lesson: that every land belongs to its indigenous people, and their right to it should be respected, whether they 'need' all of it or not."
Frodo pondered that, sipping his brandy. At last he murmured, "This 'sailing into the West' seems like dying."
"Not necessarily. It has symbolic associations with decline and death because the Sun sinks in the West. But the Sun doesn't die, does it? It just goes...elsewhere.
"I don't know what the Elves' land of Valinor is like." Gandalf seemed to be gazing into the distance now, speaking almost dreamily. "Some of them have tried to describe it, but no two descriptions are alike...
"In any case" - he came back abruptly to focus on Frodo - "what I came to tell you is that they've invited Bilbo to go with them. Bilbo...and me."
Frodo dropped the half-empty glass he was holding. And ignored it.
His first reaction was a horrified I'll never see either of them again?
He pulled himself together and asked the obvious question. "Are you going?"
Steadily: "Yes. Both of us."
"But...but...if you leave, all the magic will be withdrawn from Middle-Earth!"
Gandalf smiled. "Surely not all. But perhaps the age of magic is rightly coming to an end."
Frodo needed a minute to absorb that. Then he asked, "What does going with the Elves really mean? Will Bilbo's youth be restored - will he become like them?"
The wizard shook his head. "No. There won't be any magical transformation or life extension for either of us. But I expect Bilbo will be 'rejuvenated' in a sense, enjoy a few more years of life, because he'll be excited and enthusiastic at having a new land to explore."
"Yes," Frodo whispered. "That's Bilbo." After a beat he asked, "And you?"
"Bilbo needs a companion, at his age. But I have reasons of my own as well. I'm the last wizard in Middle-Earth - except for Saruman, locked away to rot and probably insane by now. I have more in common with the Elves than with most men, and it will probably be better for everyone if I leave."
Frodo wanted to say, Not for me, but he kept that selfish thought to himself.
Gandalf spent the night, of course, and they didn't resume discussing serious subjects until they were lingering over breakfast.
Then Gandalf looked intently at his host and asked, "How are you doing, Frodo? Are you well? Happy?"
Frodo's immediate, instinctive response was, "I'm fine."
But it struck even him that he'd fired the words off too quickly.
"You finished that chronicle you were writing?"
"Yes." He sighed. "I passed it on to Sam, so he can add more if he wants to. And he has children who can preserve it for posterity - they'll be my heirs in any case. I just hope someone will read it.
"Am I foolish, Gandalf, to think the story needs to be told and remembered? I know Sauron is gone. But I have this nagging fear that lust for power and conquest could someday return, in another form."
"You're not foolish," Gandalf said quietly. "Far from it."
"No one in the Shire wants to talk or think about such things..."
After a morose silence, Gandalf cleared his throat and said, "What's this about Sam's children being your heirs? I thought I might find you married by now."
Frodo shook his head. "No, you didn't. You know perfectly well that I'm older than Sam and Merry and Pippin. Among hobbits, I was unusually old to be a bachelor even before the Ring came to me.
"I'm just...different," he reflected. "I was always a loner. Not enough so that people would think I was unfriendly, but a loner all the same. I think I've always known, deep down, that I'd never have a wife and children."
"Bilbo is a bachelor," Gandalf observed.
"Yes, but I'm not like him. Bilbo had the wanderlust - a craving to see new places, a thirst for adventure. Me, I was content with my nose buried in a book."
Gandalf snorted. "Reading. Not the most popular pursuit in the Shire, is it?"
"No," Frodo acknowledged with a rueful smile.
"Nor anywhere in Middle-Earth these days." The wizard shook his head, then asked, "How are our other young friends? You mentioned Sam's having a family. What about Merry and Pippin?"
Frodo's smile widened. "Merry and Pippin are well and happy. Our adventure changed them, but not for the worse. They've become - I suppose you'd call them a couple.
"There was no hint of that before. They were just a pair of mischievous, overgrown youngsters. But when they were in life-and-death situations together, a closeness developed. And they both realized they could never be that close to anyone else." Frodo heard a note of wistfulness in his voice, and tried to suppress it. "I assume the relationship is sexual, but I'm not sure. Doesn't matter, really, to anyone but them."
"True." Gandalf hesitated, then asked gently, "Frodo - do you wish Sam had felt that kind of closeness to you?"
He wanted to say, "No, of course not!"
Instead, he looked into his old friend's eyes and said miserably, "I'm not sure."
After a long silence, he took a deep breath and continued. "What I am sure of is that it was never possible. Sam was in love with Rosie Cotton before our journey began. He just hadn't reached the point of admitting, even to himself, that he was ready to settle down." He smiled affectionately. "When we got home, one look at Rosie was all it took to send him haring off after her. I'm truly glad she was still available.
"And there are two other things I'm sure of." He had to blink back tears, but he kept his voice steady. "Sam loves me, as much as it's possible for him to love another male. And I love him."
The two friends were silent for several minutes. Then Gandalf said solemnly, "I respect that, Frodo. I respect you.
"But if you don't mind my saying so, I think you're out of place in the Shire. You've always been more thoughtful and serious-minded than other hobbits.
"In some parts of Middle-Earth, men are better educated than women - and while they mate with women happily enough, they can only find true kindred spirits among men. But that's not the problem here. Hobbits as a whole are perpetually light-hearted. A visitor finds it refreshing, but living among them is something else again.
"And yet no alienated hobbit can be comfortable elsewhere in Middle-Earth. Most men refuse to take them seriously because of their small size."
"Gandalf." Suddenly, Frodo found himself smiling. Tears were welling in his eyes at the same time, but he didn't care. "I think I know where this is going. Hurry up and get there, will you?"
"All right." Gandalf was smiling too. "I didn't come solely to tell you that Bilbo and I are sailing into the West with the Elves. I came to invite you as well. I wanted you to have a little time to think about Bilbo's and my going, to accustom yourself to the idea, before I extended the invitation. On behalf of the Elves, of course! It's their ship, and Valinor is their land."
"You...you really don't know what's out there? What it's like?"
"No. But I'm eager to find out."
Frodo gave an involuntary shudder. But then he squared his shoulders and said bravely, "So am I."
Author's Afterword: This fic was based solely on the films (as seen in theaters), with no attempt to ascertain and honor canon established in the books. I'd read them. But that was thirty years or more before the films were released, and I had no desire to read them again.
Anyone who's read my Highlander fics knows that I don't see "slash" everywhere. In Highlander, I don't see it anywhere! Like it or not, I do see latent homosexuality among these hobbits (excluding Sam). But I'm not labeling the fic m/m, because it isn't about anyone's sexuality; the possibility is merely mentioned in passing.