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Home Behind and Home Ahead

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Home Behind and Home Ahead

For as long as Frodo could remember, his beloved Uncle Bilbo was known around the Shire for his shocking habit of disappearing for long periods of time. Bilbo never told anybody where he was going or when he expected to be back, and didn't seem to care what other people thought of such disrespectable inconstancy.

There goes Mad Baggins again, said many a disapproving Shireling; the chief of these lived along the East Road and were thus the most likely to see him marching past with his sturdy walking-stick. The windows of Bag End might remain dark for anything between a week to several months. Being quite young, all Frodo knew was that he wouldn't see his Uncle for a long while, and then Bilbo would come knocking on their door, ready with a warm smile and a small present for Frodo.

His mother tutted at Bilbo like all the others, but Frodo could tell she didn't really mean it. There would be some small talk, wherein Bilbo would ask Frodo about his days, and Frodo would ask Bilbo about his; but the main event, both uncle and nephew knew, was at least one good story out of Bilbo's adventures. If Frodo noticed that his father tended to return home early whenever he heard Bilbo was visiting, and his mother finished dinner faster than usual so she could linger by the hearth near Bilbo's favourite armchair, a quiet inner sense nudged him not to mention it. Sometimes he would share a smile with Uncle Bilbo, though, whose sharp eyes noticed everything, and it felt like a happy secret between them.

The young Hobbit heard plenty of gossip on the matter, however.

"Hasn't been right in the head since he left the first time," whispered one of Mistress Menegilda's distant Goold cousins, who was visiting Brandy Hall.

Another cousin, possibly her sister, nodded in agreement. "Gone treasure-mad, aye. Why else would he keep such a nice, large hole to himself?"

"I hear he's taken up with a woman in Bree," insisted Val Whitfoot. "And he's too ashamed to bring her here."

"Ah, with all the nerve he's shown, he wouldn't care, if that were the case," said her husband Hew. "I reckon all his adventuring has left him with odd tastes, if you get my meaning. Things no self-respecting Shire Hobbit would stand for. So he's got no choice but to go to foreign happy-houses."

"But to be gone for so long, though?" said Val doubtfully. The most recent disappearance had lasted well over a year, as near as anyone could reckon when Mad Baggins, when he wanted to, seemed able to slip away without being seen.

"Just as I said - it's not natural, a Hobbit going away so much," said Mister Whitfoot.

 

When Frodo's parents died, Bilbo stayed in the Shire long enough to make sure that Frodo was being taken care of, and then disappeared for three years. Frodo greatly missed his Uncle, and sometimes felt as if he'd lost all the adults who were dear to him in one brutal stroke. At the same time, he was glad for the separation - the home of his parents was, in his mind, entwined with memories of sitting on his father's lap, the soft click-click of his mother's knitting an arm's reach away, and Bilbo's soothing voice twining them all together. He did not know how this came to be; his mother was well-liked by many of their neighbours and relatives, a good number of whom visited them far more frequently than Bilbo Baggins had.

Perhaps it was because Bilbo was quiet, and kind, and spoke to Frodo the same way he spoke to Frodo's parents. He never minded Frodo's many questions; indeed, he often encouraged Frodo's curiosity, when other adult Hobbits seemed more concerned about how well Frodo minded his manners.

It was strange, Frodo would realize much, much later - he never once doubted that Bilbo would, eventually, return. Uncle Bilbo left and came back. It was an unshakeable truth of Frodo's life. Frodo's parents were taken from him before any of them thought to prepare Frodo for such a thing. But Uncle Bilbo had faced death before, and had come away in one piece; Uncle Bilbo went where he wanted to and did as he pleased; Uncle Bilbo had a will strong enough to defy kings and dragons and orcs.

"Only little children believe in Mad Baggins' tales!" one particularly unpleasant Boffin relation haughtily informed Frodo.

Frodo only stared at the other Hobbit, in the way that little cousin Merry called 'scary blue eyes of death'. "Then why," asked Frodo, "are you speaking so quietly, and looking around you?" Before the other Hobbit could respond, Frodo added, his tone thoughtful, "It won't do much good. He snuck up on a dragon, and they have a much better sense of smell than us. I'm sure he won't have any trouble sneaking up on you, if he wanted to."

"But the dragon didn't know wha' Hobbits smell like," a small voice piped up after the red-faced lad had scuttled away. "Tha's why Gan-Elf wanna' Hobbit in t' Company."

"It's Gandalf, Merry," Frodo corrected patiently. He spied a curly-haired head poking out of a pile of empty sacks, and scooped the tiny faunt up before Merry could burrow down again. "How did you get under there? One day, cousin, you're going to get stuck under something too heavy for you to get out of by yourself, and I'd like to be there to say, 'I told you so'."

The day Master Rorimac summoned Frodo to his study, Frodo correctly guessed at the reason, and barely got out a greeting to the Master of Brandy Hall before flinging himself at his much-missed Uncle.

"I knew you would come back," Frodo mumbled into Bilbo's chest. It seemed important, all of a sudden, to reassure Bilbo of this. Bilbo's coat was dirty, and smelled of sweat and grass and wet earth; evidently, Bilbo hadn't bothered to stop at Bag End first.

"He did," said Master Rorimac. He sounded surprised. Likely, he'd not been aware that Bilbo and Frodo had been particularly close. "He always spoke as if there was no doubt of your return."

The Master of Brandy Hall - or Old Rory, as everyone had taken to calling him in recent years - did his best to look after everybody in Brandy Hall. But there were a great many children even in the immediate family, and Frodo could not blame him for not paying much attention.

"I'm sorry for leaving," said Bilbo quietly. A hand carded through Frodo's hair, exactly the way his father used to do; Frodo's breath hitched and he had to close his eyes.

Old Rory urged Bilbo to take one of the chairs across his desk, and brought him a cup of tea. Neither adult forced Frodo to let go of his Uncle, though the young Hobbit was a bit too big to be sitting on laps.

"He suffered nightmares, the first few weeks," said Old Rory. Frodo blinked. Perhaps the Master had been paying more attention than he thought. "He still has them on occasion."

"Loss and pain such as this will heal in its own time," said Bilbo softly. "Believe me, I know."

To the gossip-mill's surprise, Bilbo spent a great deal more time in the Shire thereafter. He did not leave again until a year later, and even then, he was back within a month. Frodo was given a standing invitation to visit Bag End whenever he liked - which was all the time.

Bilbo began teaching Frodo his letters. Frodo had already received some rudimentary instruction in Brandy Hall along with all the other young Hobbits, but his tutors had not been particularly strict about attendance, and Frodo was content to read at his own once he'd managed the basics. He was well aware that he'd not been practicing his writing as often as he was supposed to, and it was with some trepidation that he presented Bilbo a sample of his penmanship.

"Hmmmm." Bilbo did not look disapproving, exactly, but even the thoughtful furrow on the older Hobbit's brow felt as sharp as a harsh word, so highly did Frodo hold his Uncle in esteem. "It's quite legible, and your grasp of spelling and punctuation is to be commended. That comes of all the reading you do, I think. Oh, don't look so scared, lad. You already write well enough for most Hobbits' purposes. I suspect you shan't find much better if you rifle through all the writing-desks of Hobbiton." Bilbo smiled at Frodo warmly, and raised one eyebrow. "Not that it would trouble me if this is the extent of your skills - there are many who never take to the pen, or never figure out their i's and e's, there's no shame in it - but I think you have the feel for word-craft, same as me. I daresay you could do much better, if only you practiced."

Frodo had never before applied himself to one task with such focus and determination. It helped that it was winter, and the most pleasant place to be was indoors, by a warm fire or with a hot mug of tea close at hand. Frodo spent hours in his Uncle's study, writing until his hand ached and then reading a book until he felt ready to write again. Bilbo was there most of the time, as well, similarly alternating between writing and reading. It did not escape Frodo's notice that his Uncle received a great deal of correspondence, some of which looked to have travelled a long way.

The quiet hours spent in that room filled Frodo with a sense of peace that he hadn't felt since the loss of his parents. The loudness and near-chaos of Brandy Hall had helped ground him and kept the grief from overwhelming him - but it was the contentment of life in Bag End, and the solid presence of his beloved Uncle, that began to heal him.

By the end of winter, Frodo's writing had improved so much that Bilbo gifted him with his own notebook: a beautiful leather-bound affair, with intricate patterns embossed on the cover, and sturdy pages so smooth to the touch that Frodo couldn't imagine afflicting them with ink.

"This isn't from the Shire, is it?" said Frodo, after a heartfelt thank-you that had left Bilbo blushing and shifting uncomfortably.

"Ah - sharp as jewelsmith, I've always said," murmured Bilbo. Frodo blinked. "No, as a matter of fact, it isn't. It's a gift from an old friend."

"Oh," said Frodo. He realized he was clutching the book to his chest, as if afraid it would be taken from him. Such a beautiful item must have cost a great deal. "I thought we're supposed to keep presents? Unless they're mathoms. Won't your friend be angry that you've given it to me?"

"Not at all - I should have clarified, he made it especially for you. Look inside the front cover."

Frodo did, and squeaked when he saw the lettering stitched across the middle. It read: Property of Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo. The thread shone brightly under the firelight - surely it was not actually gold? And there was no corresponding stitching visible on the outer side of the cover, as Frodo had seen on embroidery.

"It must have taken a long time to get here," said Frodo. He felt, all of a sudden, not particularly worthy of such a gift, or of his Uncle's warm regard. The rest of the Shire might scoff, but Bilbo Baggins had done great deeds and seen more of the world than any of them. Out of the corner of one eye, Frodo could see the sword named Sting, lying in its usual place next to Bilbo's writing desk.

"I've had it for quite a while, actually," admitted Bilbo. "Like I've mentioned before, I suspected you'd have the same love for books as I do, and it seemed a good gift to have on hand, for when you're old enough to use it. Well, now you are, and you've worked hard these past few weeks. I hope it serves you well."

At first, Frodo couldn't think of what to write in his new book. His uncle suggested he start with simple observations - on the garden, perhaps, or the various plants and animals around the Hill, or the book he was reading at the time. Frodo followed the suggestion, and also tried his hand at poetry and sketching. As the weather grew warmer, and the Shire blushed greener, uncle and nephew could be seen walking their favourite paths, each with a notebook in hand. Frodo thought of his Uncle's book as The Big Book, and knew that it was an account, of sorts, of his Uncle's first and most important adventure. Bilbo had yet to let him read it, though, claiming it was "not ready yet", and Frodo was willing to be patient, since Bilbo was always happy to tell it in his usual way. Listening to his Uncle still brought an old, precious joy to the young Hobbit.

It was several weeks into Spring when Frodo noticed that there seemed to be more correspondence than usual between Bag End and Buckland. They were invited to several meals with Old Rory and his wife. Which wouldn't be unusual, by itself, except there was a distinct air of formality about them, and Bilbo always seemed particularly nervous, often checking over Frodo's appearance several times beforehand.

Frodo had a suspicion, but refused to allow it to grow until he had further proof. He did his best to look well-groomed and cheerful, and happily waxed lyrical about the comforts of Bag End. Just in case.

"And are there any Hobbits your age nearby?" asked Mistress Menegilda gently.

"The Gamgees on Number Three have five children," answered Frodo. "Lobelia and Otho look down their noses at them, because they're gardeners - but Mrs. Gamgee makes the best mince pies, and Ham can build the best Dwarf-mountain out of hay!" After a moment, Frodo added, "They've just got a new baby. Daisy says they're naming him Samwise. I think he looks like an Elf."

All the adult Hobbits laughed. Mistress Menegilda, for some reason, seemed a little teary-eyed. Old Rory sighed and looked intently at Bilbo. "You are sure about this, Bilbo?"

"I am," answered Bilbo simply.

 

The following day, back in the comfortable privacy of Bag End, Bilbo made them both a cup of tea and gestured for Frodo to sit with him by the fire.

"Frodo, my lad," he began. "I've made an offer, and Rorimac has given his permission, so some might say that the decision's been made - only, such a decision must rightly be yours. You may not be of age by Shire law, but you already know your own mind; the rest of us only desire your happiness. If you have any doubts, any at all, you must speak them. I shan't be offended if you do, or if you say no - in fact, I would be upset if you kept your worries quiet, as it would mean I've not taught my nephew the value of speaking his mind." Bilbo took a deep breath, clearly steeling himself. Frodo had never before worked so hard to keep still; he knew well how his Uncle tended to ramble when he was nervous, and he knew how important it was to let Bilbo finish speaking. And yet, a sense of lightness was already spreading through him, joy like a waiting whizzpopper, hard as he tried to keep from succumbing to potentially false hopes. "What I mean to say is - well, my lad, I would very much like to adopt you, and have you come and live here in Bag End with me properly."

Frodo couldn't remember leaving his chair, only throwing his arms around Bilbo and shouting a muffled "Yes!" into his Uncle's shoulder. There was a distant clatter and the splash of something warm over his foot, but Bilbo didn't seem to care about the spilt tea, embracing Frodo back just as tightly.

To Frodo's surprise, that wasn't quite the end of it. Bilbo waited until Frodo's hold on him relaxed, then urged Frodo back into his chair and left to get them both fresh cups of tea. Frodo could only stare at the fire, his head oddly light and a faint ringing in his ears - he could not seem to stop himself from smiling, and likely looked ridiculous for it.

Bilbo returned, and Frodo gratefully downed half his tea. He was surprised to find that his hands were shaking. Bilbo, at least, was no better off. And from the brief whiff Frodo got while being given his cup, that was not just tea in Bilbo's cup.

"I am pleased, Frodo - more than I can say, truly - and I hope that you will continue to be of the same mind." When he saw that Frodo was about to speak, Bilbo held up his hand, signalling that he was not yet done. "But there are some things you must know, first. I've always meant to tell you; though if your parents were still with us, I might have waited until you came of age. As it is, better for you to know at the start, I think, than be surprised later on. I do not know yet how any of it might affect you. Perhaps naught. Nobody has ever been in such a position before, you see. And, once you know, if you change your mind and would like to remain at Brandy Hall, you must tell me at once, and I will understand. You will always be welcome in Bag End - we will simply continue as we have, and nothing needs to change."

Frodo tamped down a rush of impatience, and tried not to dwell on how such reassurances did not always bear out into truth. Things would change, no matter how hard they pretended; the home-that-could-have-been would forever loom over them both. But it seemed a ridiculous platitude - he could not imagine any manner of knowledge that could put him off a life with his favourite Uncle, in the most comfortable and beloved smial in all of the Shire.

"I feel like I'm in one of your riddles, Uncle," said Frodo. "Can't you just tell me? I'm sure my decision will not change."

Bilbo shook his head. "I'm afraid it's not as simple as that. No one in the Shire knows." Frodo's eyes widened. Bilbo seemed too busy fiddling with his cup to notice. "Frodo, will you go on a trip with me?"

"Like an adventure?" gasped Frodo.

Bilbo chuckled. "Only a small one, I'm afraid. Just to Bree, on the outskirts of the Shire."

It was further than anybody else Frodo knew had ever gone. There was a part of him that worried about venturing out beyond the world he knew; but there was another part that looked at the Shire and felt, always, the void where his parents ought to be. "When can we leave?"

 

The walk to Bree felt a great deal like a walking-holiday that went on longer than usual. They met no trouble on the road, though Frodo was sure he glimpsed one or two tall figures slipping through the trees far from the path.

"Oh, they are probably Rangers," said Bilbo. The older Hobbit looked far more intent on getting a fire going for dinner than keeping an eye out for shadowy figures. "No other Big Folk come so close to the Shire. They are good Men, if a bit grim. Lord Elrond has vouched for them, in any case, and so has Gandalf."

Frodo did his best not to stare at his Uncle. Bilbo had taken his sword out of his pack the moment they were past the Hay, and had since worn it openly. Bilbo moved differently, too, than he had in the Shire; there was a certain fluidity in every motion, and a purposeful efficiency, as if taking care to ensure no effort was wasted. Frodo had never thought that there was such a thing as walking like a Hobbit; he wondered if Bilbo had had to relearn it, when he first returned to the Shire.

But Bilbo's voice and laughter were the same, and his cheer grew brighter with every mile. His enjoyment of the Road infected Frodo, too, after the young Hobbit got over his initial anxiety about being outside the Shire. By the time they reached Bree, Frodo felt quite willing to continue along the East Road, to follow the lines on the map and see where they led.

"The rest of the world can wait for after we get some supper and rest," laughed Bilbo, correctly reading Frodo's expression.

The inn that Bilbo chose was both reminiscent of places such as the Green Dragon back in the Shire, and also a world apart. The Men were taller than Frodo expected - he couldn't imagine meeting a Troll, if they were as big as Bilbo claimed. There were a few Dwarves as well, and at least they were a more sensible height. But everyone was polite, and Bilbo moved around the place in the manner of one who'd been there before. They'd hardly approached the innkeeper when they were bustled into a nice, Hobbit-sized room. Frodo was too busy staring at everything, or he would have noted the way all the Dwarves they passed bowed to Bilbo, and Bilbo murmuring quiet words in response.

They'd just finished a simple supper in their room when there was a heavy knocking on the door. Frodo pushed away his empty plate - he hadn't realized how hungry he was until the food had been set out before him - and remembered, oh, there was a reason they'd come to Bree.

Bilbo rose and beckoned for Frodo to follow him. They went to the door. Bilbo opened it carefully, emanating nervousness. On the other side stood a tall figure wearing a heavy coat. Frodo heard his Uncle letting out a long breath, and then he was urging the figure to step inside their room.

"Frodo." His Uncle's hand was a steadying weight on his shoulder. "I would like you to meet Thorin Oakenshield."

The tall figure pushed back his hood. Sombre blue eyes regarded Frodo intently. Frodo had seen sketches of Dwarves, but he'd usually envisioned them as taller Hobbits with beards. Thorin could never be mistaken for a Hobbit. His build was all hardness and edges, and his gaze spoke of strength and endurance. Like stone hewed to life, Frodo realized, where Hobbits were rich earth for growing.

"Thorin, this is my nephew and heir, Frodo Baggins."

The Dwarf bowed. "Thorin, son of Thrain, at your service."

"Frodo, son of Drogo, at yours," responded Frodo. He was amazed at how steady his voice sounded.

Thorin and Frodo stared at each other for a long moment, and then Bilbo was taking Thorin's coat and urging Frodo to sit down. Frodo took the smaller armchair by the fire, rightly guessing that Bilbo had arranged the other two chairs to be facing him. Bilbo and Thorin exchanged a quiet word before seating themselves.

All eyes turned to Bilbo, who sighed.

"You see, Frodo-"

Bilbo hesitated. His hands were twisting a corner of his waistcoat, to the distress of the buttons. Thorin reached over and calmed the twitching fingers by covering them with one large hand. The small, telling gesture was enough to prepare Frodo for what came next.

"Thorin and I are bonded," Bilbo blurted, expelling the words as fast as he could.

Frodo could only stare blankly at his Uncle.

"We've been wed for, oh, it must be over forty years now," continued Bilbo. He'd turned his hand to clutch at Thorin's, and appeared to be gripping as hard as he could. The Dwarf did not look the least bit discomfited. "Under Dwarvish law, of course. It won't be recognized in the Shire. Which never mattered, before. But it's important for you to know, of course, if I'm to adopt you."

They were right, Frodo thought faintly. All of them, the gossipmongers of the Shire - they'd been right, in their own way. "This is why you kept going away. All this time, you've been travelling back and forth."

Bilbo nodded. "Not on my own, of course. A few from the old Company would meet up with me in Bree, or further on the road, and we'd travel together. It's a good way for me to spend time with old friends. Thorin tends to hog all my time once I get to Erebor." He smiled fondly up at the Dwarf. Thorin frowned, and muttered something that only had Bilbo huffing in laughter, leaning lightly against Thorin's arm.

The easy familiarity between the two made Frodo realize just how reserved Bilbo's interactions with other Hobbits usually were. He'd sensed Bilbo's loneliness, in the quiet of Bag End, but he'd always assumed that Bilbo was simply not comfortable with being too close to others. Now he could see how relaxed Bilbo could be, from the ease of his laughter to the absence of tension in his body.

No one in the Shire knew, Frodo remembered. He was the first Hobbit Bilbo ever told.

"Congratulations," he said, and flushed when two pairs of eyes looked at him. "I mean, it happened long before I was born, and you probably heard plenty of well-wishes, with Thorin being King Under The Mountain and everything - but my ma always said it when a couple got married, and you ought to hear it from at least one person from your side, Uncle Bilbo. So - congratulations to you both."

"Oh," said Bilbo, blinking rapidly. "Thank you, my boy. That's - thank you."

Thorin ducked his head. "I see what you mean. He has a good heart, and clear sight, for one so young." He met Frodo's eyes, smiling, and for a moment, all the intimidating grimness melted away.

"He does," said Bilbo softly. The older Hobbit sniffed, and cleared his throat. "I'm very glad you're taking it so well, Frodo. There is just one more matter. As I said, the marriage would not be recognized in the Shire, so it doesn't affect my adoption of you there. But, you see, Dwarves take the matter of heirs and inheritance very seriously. Because of our marriage, you will become, in effect, Thorin's close kin. You ought to remember, from my stories, that Thorin has two nephews of his own."

"Fíli and Kíli," said Frodo promptly.

Bilbo beamed. "That's right. This would make you cousins, at the very least. Not that you don't have plenty of those already - but I want you to know everything, Frodo, before you make your final decision."

"I had to instruct Balin not to let even the possibility of a new relative reach my nephews' ears," said Thorin, "or they would have dogged my steps all the way here."

"Still managing to keep him from marching off to Moria, I see," said Bilbo dryly.

Frodo was still not over the shock of his Uncle having a- husband? Spouse?- that nobody knew about. No, he corrected, that nobody in the Shire knew about. All the Dwarves in Erebor must know, and likely people in many other places besides. Frodo thought of Bilbo enduring the whispers of 'Mad Baggins', the cold shoulders and snide remarks, the unkind speculations about his persistent bachelorhood, from the place that ought to have been his home, while in the wider world he was known for his brave deeds, and beloved by a King! And instead of choosing one or the other, Bilbo had done his best to keep both.

One day, Frodo hoped, he would learn to be that brave, and that strong.

He could take a small step now.

"I'm still sure, Uncle," said Frodo quietly.

"Ah, ah," said Bilbo, "I am very happy to hear that, Frodo! I guess the biggest shock is done - but I haven't got to the last point-"

"What your Uncle is having a hard time telling you," said Thorin, clearly impatient, "is that, by my people's laws, his adoption of you means that I, too, will be adopting you. Just as, when we wed, he adopted Fíli and Kíli."

"It's partly why I wanted you both to meet," said Bilbo, though he directed this part at Thorin. "As grateful as I am that you were willing to sign the papers sight unseen, my love, it would not sit right by me to put such a situation in place without full knowledge and consent on both your parts." He blinked. "Oh my, I'm starting to sound like Balin."

"And I'm sympathizing with Dwalin, now that Balin has officially taken Ori under his wing." Thorin grimaced. "He won't stop complaining about how his intended sounds more and more like his brother every day."

Bilbo made a complicated face, then cleared his throat, turning back to Frodo. "The crux of the matter is, lad, that you would be, technically, in line to inherit the throne of Erebor."

All thought in Frodo's head screeched to a halt.

"You would be third, after Kíli, unless either brother has children or adopts his own heirs first," continued Bilbo. "To be honest, I doubt it'll ever become an issue, as I don't see any of the Dwarves supporting such a claim-"

"Do not underestimate how much my people have come to value all that you have done for our home," said Thorin quietly, "and for me."

"Even so," said Bilbo, though he rubbed a soothing hand over Thorin's arm. "You probably won't ever have to worry about it, Frodo. But the possibility is there, and it's a rather important thing for you to know."

Frodo slumped down and placed his face in his hands. Only minutes before, he'd thought he'd gotten the biggest shock he could get. But Bilbo's married state was still entirely Bilbo's affair, and it was easy for Frodo to slot it into his mind as just another aspect of Bilbo's great adventure, in which Frodo played only the most marginal of parts, due to Bilbo's care for his nephew's comfort. But this- this idea of a throne, of a kingdom and a mountain, however remote and ridiculous, affected Frodo directly.

He breathed deeply, keeping each pull and push of air steady, slow. It was Bilbo who had taught him this, to stave off panic attacks and fainting spells; it had been a lifeline when everybody else simply advised him to keep his mind on pleasant things and avoid shocks to his system.

At the end of the day, he thought, did it really change anything?

Frodo looked up at Thorin. "May I call you Uncle, as well?"

 

So it was that in the year 1389, by the Shire Reckoning, Bilbo Baggins officially adopted his cousin Frodo to be his heir, and Frodo came to live with him in their beloved Bag End. Mad Baggins took up his odd, unpredictable journeying again, to the surprise of some who'd wondered if the adoption was a sign of the old bachelor settling down. Instead, this time his steady steps along the East Road were echoed by another set, and Frodo Baggins became the secret envy of many a young Shireling. Uncle and nephew began to receive more visitors from abroad; the odd Dwarf or two a year turning into a steady trickle of them, such that everyone on Bagshot Row got quite used to the sight of Dwarves traipsing all over the Hill. The Gamgee children even had a Dwarf each whom they counted as their favorite.

Yet, for the most part, it was still only the two of them. Frodo continued reading (his collection of books branching out into other languages), writing (in addition to his personal work, he now had his own correspondence list, and dividing the mail turned into a competitive sport), and going on long walks to visit relatives (his walking-stick had been a gift, solid oak carved with the pattern of an ancient house).

It was a happiness that Frodo had once thought he'd never have again.

His favourite time, though, was when they were on the Road, bags heavy on their backs and the world yawning open before them. Some miles they covered in silence, peaceful, and other miles they sang away; songs of the Shire, songs they made up, songs no other Hobbit could understand.

"Home behind and home ahead," Bilbo would say, chuckling to himself, "and the world in-between. Come on, Frodo, my lad - keep up!"

~ end ~