Bilbo was an old hobbit by the time Frodo entered his life as more than just a distant cousin; he was already heading for triple digits in age, but it was only his still-springy curls long since turned white that showed it. Physically, he looked much the same as when he had, half a life ago, seemingly returned from the dead.
Mentally, he felt stretched thin, see-through like thin paper, hobbits never being well suited to living for so long, and most certainly not equipped to handle losing all close kin twice in their life.
Then there was Frodo.
Bilbo was old and set in his ways, and hadn’t properly celebrated Yule since his parents passed, but if there was one thing all hobbits agreed on – from the old and crotchety to the young and eternally cheerful – it was that Yule was to be celebrated for the faunt’s sake.
It had taken some ransacking, both of memory and old journals, but Bilbo had soon cobbled together something that might be passable as Yule traditions. Frodo, the dear lad only a few months out from losing his parents, hadn’t offered many opinions either way, but Bilbo felt that Yule, with its warmth and its comfort, could only be an improvement over the daze Frodo moved around in.
On the first day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… a Yule log.
“This is very important, Frodo m’boy, without a Yule log the right feeling simply will not come.”
“None of that now, help me pick one out! We’ll need a decently thick one, it’s only the two of us so no need to get the biggest, hmm…”
Frodo trailed after his uncle, the grief of losing his parents still leaving him in a daily daze, but something had worn through the constant fog. Like the irritant of a dripping faucet, Bilbo’s nattering had been enough to get Frodo out of the smial for the first time since he’d arrived. At Brandy Hall, he hadn’t had so much as a room to call his own, which had led to him being outdoors more often than not. Bag End was very much the opposite, Bilbo letting him have full run of the entire smial, requesting only that his study and his bedroom be off-limits – just until we get properly reacquainted, you understand – and all of a sudden Frodo didn’t need to be outside to flee his thoughts.
That the fog was maybe starting to lift didn’t in any way mean he felt up to celebrating Yule, but when he attempted to tell his uncle that, Bilbo merely scoffed and claimed Yule celebrations never made things worse. I won’t go as far as say it’ll be better, my boy, but it won’t be worse.
On the second day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… two Yule goats.
When Frodo had been pretty much forced into picking out a log (a thick piece of weathered oak, which for some reason made his uncle tear up) and then spicing it, followed by lighting it on fire, he had thought he’d be allowed to spend the day after in his desired solitude. The Yule traditions Bilbo was attempting to set up – Frodo had a feeling his uncle had read several books on the subject “how to raise fauntlings” and forgotten that Frodo was a tween – were nothing like the ones he’d had with his parents, and he was thankful for it. It did take his mind off of them, at least for a short while, and didn’t bring any bittersweet ones up either.
Of course, Frodo still wanted a while to process whatever traditions Bilbo was trying to set up, even if it so far had been one – the Yule log – it was more new information than Frodo had had to parse for months.
Bilbo did not plan on letting Frodo sit idle, even for a day, however.
“Frodo, my boy! Time to get that coat on, we have work to do!” Bilbo called with as much cheer as his voice could manage to carry; it was faux happiness, a lot of it, but cheer was part of the festivities and thus, cheery he would be. Frodo, paler than any hobbit should ever be, did not look like he’d consider being cheery in any capacity – Bilbo decided to count his losses when Frodo at least didn’t put up a fight about going outside for the second day in a row.
The incredulity in his tone when he saw the bale of straw was well worth the effort and money Bilbo had spent in getting hold of one with such short notice.
“Uncle, what – straw?”
“Yes, yes indeed! We’re making straw goats, it’s tradition, we’re making one each and they’ll have pride of place right outside the door.”
“We – we don’t have traditions, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo hesitated for a long moment, unsure if he should continue – unsure if his voice would carry, considering he was speaking more then than he had for weeks on end previously. “I’ve never made one before.”
Bilbo wasn’t certain, after, what made him do it, but for some reason he reached out to smooth Frodo’s unruly curls out of his face. He was taciturn at best, but this young hobbit was clearly having an influence on him.
“Don’t you worry about that now, dear boy, I’ll teach you.”
On the third day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… three types of herring.
“I really don’t like fish, Uncle.”
“I can’t say I’m fond of it either, ever since the dwarrow – that’s the plural of ‘dwarf’, Frodo m’boy, don’t you forget that – escaped the dungeons in barrels.”
“What – barrel – dwarves – Uncle, what are you on about?”
“That we need to pickle this herring today, if we want any in time for Yule, of course!”
“The dwarves in the barrels, Uncle Bilbo.”
“That’s the end of a story I shan’t tell in one day, I think – but I can start it.”
“Please Uncle, you – you’re the best at telling stories, better than Gandalf even.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that, and get to rinsing that herring if you want to hear a story. Mind you, this was half a lifetime ago, by now, so things might be a bit – muddled. Anyway – in a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”
It was an easy camaraderie, one like nothing Frodo had ever felt before, and Bilbo hadn’t experienced the like since before Erebor was reclaimed. That still shook Bilbo to his core sometimes, that an event he had had something of a part in was a major enough event that there were the times before and the times after.
On the fourth day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… four boxwood wreaths.
Frodo looked in dismay at his boxwood wreath, and then looked at his uncle’s three. Whereas Bilbo’s three wreaths were nigh-on identical, the only noticeable difference being the slight variations in colour between the various boxwood twigs he was using, Frodo’s was not a circular wreath. He couldn’t call it an oval or lopsided wreath, either, simply because it wasn’t a wreath. Something had gone terribly wrong in his tying, and the almost-complete wreath had just unfolded into a long, shoddily boxwood-wrapped wire.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for wreaths, Uncle…”
On the fifth day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… five fir trees.
“Now, there are five here, but we can only have one in the drawing-room.” Bilbo walked around the five neatly placed firs, the look and air of seriousness clinging to him in a way that implied it was something far more important than just Yule tree picking they were doing.
“The second from the right has one, two, three – I think it has 6 different top branches, Uncle. Where would we place the sunflower?”
“Hm, you’re right, you’re right. Didn’t pick up on that.” Bilbo hemmed and hawed a while longer before turning back to Frodo. “That one, furthest to the left, what do you think of it?”
Frodo had to admit, he hadn’t been looking that closely on the other firs, the six equal top branches of the first discarded fir having had him spellbound. Fir trees shouldn’t grow like that. When he got a good look at the tree Bilbo was pointing at, however, he couldn’t but be grateful.
If Frodo had already seen the fir, he didn’t think he’d be able to convey his absolute incredulity at his uncle’s pick. At this point, Frodo’s uncontrollable laughter quite helped drive the point home.
“It’s very ugly, Uncle, and all branches except five are placed on the bottom quarter of the tree. The five remaining branches, they’re very evenly spaced – only on the left side of the trunk, however.”
“I know, it looks just like Bombur. It’s perfect! We’ll have this one.”
On the sixth day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… six glass ornaments.
“Traditionally, we’re supposed to wait until tomorrow to open gifts, but I think you should open this first,” Bilbo said, handing Frodo a beautifully wrapped present.
“We haven’t even started decorating the tree yet,” Frodo grumbled good-naturedly, not putting up much more than a token protest. Seeing how antsy Bilbo was, almost lunging forward to attempt to catch the then-unwrapped box when Frodo almost dropped it, he decided he’d open it placed on the table.
Once he got the lid off of the box, he was glad for it.
The six baubles in the box was of amazing quality, of that Frodo had no doubt. It wasn’t what made his breath catch, however. No, inside the baubles were small, just as exquisite paintings, depicting his parents, both alone and together.
“I know it’s not much, compared to what you’ve lost, m’boy, but this way – this way they can join our celebration, at least a little.”
Frodo very carefully placed the baubles down on the table again before throwing himself at his uncle, arms wrapping around his neck and burying his face in Bilbo’s shoulder. They stood there for a long while, Bilbo just holding and reassuring Frodo. The tween hadn’t had a proper breakdown in a long while, maybe not since his parents died, and that, if nothing else, was something everyone left behind needs sometimes.
If, later that night, Frodo sat by a newly trimmed Yule tree, talking to the ornaments bearing his parent’s likenesses, well – that’s neither here nor there.
On the seventh day of Yule, my uncle gave to me… a family.
“Now, I know this might be coming as a very big surprise, but I don’t want to - worry you, in any way, so I thought it better be sooner rather than later.” Frodo hadn’t been worried about the contents in the small, hastily wrapped package until his uncle said he shouldn’t be, but all of a sudden he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking as he untied the ribbon.
His internal, eternal pessimist insisted that it was Bilbo returning his custody to the Brandybucks, leaving Frodo orphaned twice over. At some point during the ridiculous week leading up to Yule, Frodo had suddenly found himself considering Bilbo family.
Hands still shaking, he had managed to get the package open and unfurled the papers within. His head was swimming with relief and confusion, a bone-deep weariness suddenly coming over him and making it difficult to process what the papers said.
“Uncle – what? Custody papers, I thought you had custody of me?”
“It’s not custody papers, Frodo m’boy,” Bilbo replied, coming over to kneel next to the armchair Frodo had at some point claimed as his. Bilbo reached out, wanting to comfort him, but wasn’t certain if he’d be welcome. “It’s adoption papers. You’re the closest thing I’ll ever have to a son, and while I’m never replacing Drogo or Primula, let me at least be your family.”
If Bilbo hadn’t been as close to Frodo as he was, the crackling of the fireplace would have drowned out his reply.