When Frodo opens his eyes, he was pleasantly surprised.
With old age, he’d slowly but surely started to go blind and nothing Elrond or Gandalf did could stop it. Right now, his vision was as good as it had been when he was younger.
He could spy, with his newly rejuvenated sight, the thin blue membrane that made the walls around him. He frowned. In the Undying Lands, he and Bilbo had a little cottage made of light white wood off of which the eternal blue light could bounce off. These ‘walls’, whatever they were made of, were so thin Frodo could see the warmth of the sun peeking through with its yellow light.
Slowly, as to not upset his weak shoulder, he got up. When not even a twinge of discomfort made itself known, Frodo frowned all the more. His hand rose to rub over the scar he carried, but before contact could be made, he froze. What had once been wrinkly flesh with spots of age was now smooth with a hint of a tan.
Frodo blinked. His eyes fell to his feet. While Bilbo had lost the hair on top of his head somewhere in his 120’s (though he always insisted he’d only started going bald in his 130’s), the younger hobbit had actually lost his feet’s hair. It was one of the few times he’d been glad his uncle had passed on because he knew Bilbo would have laughed at him.
He wouldn’t have to worry now, because thick, curly black hair had replaced wrinkled skin and the few hairs he’d had left. He bent down (oh, to not feel his back protest at the action!) and ran it’s smoothness through his ten fingers.
The hobbit paused once again. Ten fingers. He wasn’t missing his index.
And now that he thought about it, the heaviness that had lain on his shoulders after the Ring was gone. Of course, the Undying Lands had greatly helped, but while he had healed there, he’d always carried a scar. Here, right now, it was like he’d never lived his adventure at all.
Feeling lighter and a lot more confident, Frodo took two steps forward and ran his newly acquired index over the membrane of the wall. It was soft and delicate, like a flower’s petal.
He’d barely removed his hand, when what turned out to indeed be a petal, folded over and let the warmth of sunshine caress his skin. Oh, how he’d missed the sun!
Back in the Undying Lands, the stars that had given them light had been distant and blue tinged. He’d heard Bilbo mutter more than once about missing the sun. But then again, in his later years, Bilbo had muttered about a lot of things.
The valley that unfolded before him was achingly familiar. The Shire, with its rolling hills, freshly cut grass smell and soft breeze opened itself for his delighted senses.
What gained his attention more than the round smial doors, little markets or tall trees, were the hobbits excitingly waiting for him, toes brushing against the blue petal of his flower. He couldn’t help breaking into a run when he saw three faces he hadn’t seen in way to long.
“Sam! Merry! Pippin!” He was caught in three pairs of excited arms and a flurry of “Mr. Frodo!” and “Frodo!”
They twirled around and laughed like they were kits again. When he looked at them properly, he could see that, just like himself, they seemed younger and a lot less burdened than when he’d sailed so long ago.
The light had reappeared in Pippin’s gaze.
Merry’s mischievous smile was once again stretching wide on his face.
Sam had gained back the weight he’d lost during his adventures and his shoulders no longer dropped as soon as his kits weren’t looking.
“Took ye long ‘nough!” Jabbed Pippin. “I was startin’ t’ think ye’d live as long as yer uncle!”
“I really wanted to see you all old and wrinkled!” Mourned Merry good naturedly.
“Oi! Leave Mr. Frodo alone!” Sam defended, always ready to protect him.
Frodo burst into laughter. “Oh, how I have missed all of you!”
The grins he received were better than not feeling his old stab wound.
It took a little more laughing and hugging, but they finally left each other’s arms.
When his eyes drifted to the other hobbits waiting for him, he froze.
The man was short, even by hobbit standards. He had a small belly and the golden curls most Baggins sported. His eyes were twinkling and his smile was wide, wrinkles of happiness visible even if his face wasn’t neutral. Frodo recognized himself in the nose and the jaw of the hobbit watching him with hope in his eyes.
The woman hobbit stood an inch or so taller than her husband with long, curly black hair and bright blue eyes Frodo had inherited. She was worrying her hands and her gaze had stayed stuck on him since he’d left his flower.
“Ma? Da?” The last time he had seen them, he’d been too young to correctly remember their faces as time passed, but Bilbo had drawn him pictures upon pictures which he’d glued in a book and given to him when he came of Age. It was one of the few things he’d brought in the Undying Lands with him.
Drogo nodded, his curls bouncing off his forehead and Primula let out a small sob. And then, it was back to hugging and laughing, but with a lot more crying this time around.
He could hear one of his friends (he suspected Sam) sniffling behind him.
“I’ve missed you.” He choked, feeling his throat close up.
“We have too, my baby, we have too.” Primula said, tightening her tiny arms around her son.
Drogo kept ruffling his hair, just like Frodo remembered he’d done. “We’re so proud of ye, son. Ye’ve become quite the hobbit! Brave little fellow that ye are.”
When the trio managed to detangle themselves, Primula had tear tracks and Drogo’s eyes were redder than Bilbo’s prize tomatoes. His father rubbed them with dirty hands and Primula licked her thumb to clean the smudges away.
Frodo couldn’t help the wet little chuckle that escaped him at that. They were just like he remembered them to be. Just like the stories uncle Bilbo would tell him late at night, while they both lay in bed after he’d had a nightmare in his youth.
Thoughts of his uncle made him look around. He hadn’t seen his crazy caretaker in something akin to 45 years now.
Primula grinned knowingly. “He’s in Oak-End.” She told him while waving in the direction of the Shire. “It’s directly next to Bag-End, the green door.”
At his unsure glance, his father reassured him. “It’s exactly the same set-up, with a few minor changes. You won't get lost.”
Frodo nodded. He’d walked to Mordor. He could manage a slightly different Shire.
“I could go with you, Mr. Frodo. My own smial is close by, next to my father’s.”
The hobbit couldn’t help smiling at that. Brave, loyal Sam. “Thank you, I’d appreciate it.”
He’d learned long ago to simply let Sam follow; it was a lot simpler.
And so, with Merry and Pippin chattering all the way about mushrooms and all the people they’d met and how great the mushrooms here tasted, they made their way towards Oak-End.
Primula and Drogo left them before the gentle slope that led to Bag-End.
“This is our stop.” His mom said with a warm smile. “There’s a bedroom in there if you want.”
The hope in her eyes shone brighter than Lady Galadriel’s hair.
Throat closed up, Frodo could do no better than nod enthusiastically.
His parents’ smile got even wider and their son had to ask. “Are you sure you won’t visit Uncle Bilbo with us?”
His mom’s eyes twinkled in a way reminiscent of Pippin.
“What time is it, dear?” She asked her husband innocently.
“Oh, ‘bout time for luncheon!” He answered gruffly, rubbing his belly with one hand.
His words seem to settle his mother. “We wouldn’t want to impose, no. But please do go. We’ll be waiting for you.”
She walked up to him, gave him two kisses on each cheek and walked back into the smial she shared with Drogo. His dad ruffled his hair before following his wife back inside.
The four hobbits walked up the hill to Bag-End, Merry and Pippin barely pausing to draw breath. Frodo hadn’t felt this peaceful in many years.
The first door they saw was so familiar, Frodo almost directly went in. It was Sam’s hand on his shoulder that stopped him.
“This is Bag-End,” His friend confirmed. “Mister Baggins’ parents live there.”
Now that Sam had mentioned it, he could see the door wasn’t green like in his memories, but red.
“Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took…” He murmured under his breath. To imagine Uncle Bilbo’s parents stretched his mind uncomfortably.
“Very nice chaps.” Confirmed the gardener next to him. “My da only ever had the nicest things to say about them. He said they’d given gramps a job when no one did and that Mister Bungo would sit him on his lap and read to him about plants. Missus Baggins was always a wild card, though nice enough.”
Frodo contemplated the door to Belladonna and Bungo’s smial. “Must have been where he’d gotten it from.”
“Uncle Bilbo,” the ex-Ring bearer answered. “His ma must be from where he got the need to adventure from.”
Sam shrugged. “Guessing so.”
“What are ye’ll talkin’ ‘bout?” Pippin questioned eagerly.
"We were just talking about where Bilbo’s love for adventure comes from.” Frodo answered truthfully.
His younger cousin laughed. “Folks say it comes from his mum. If ye ask me, he’s just plan ol’ Mad Baggins!”
The nickname, an insult in some hobbit’s mouth (like Aunt Lobelia) was giddy on Pippin’s tongue.
Merry chortled next to him. “Mad Baggins is one word for it.” He said diplomatically. “My ma said he was prime and proper before Gandalf came along.” He shrugged. “I guess we’ll never know.”
Sam huffed. “Maybe, but meanwhile I’m sure Mister Frodo would like to see him.”
Frodo nodded eagerly.
When they past the next door smial, Sam informed him it was Oak-End.
The green door still had its rune scratched at the bottom which Bilbo always made sure to look at or touch whenever they opened or closed it. The lock, however, was different. What used to be a simple hobbit mechanism was now a sophisticated, yet graceful, looking system.
There was a big oak on the property that Frodo recognized easily though it seemed bigger and stronger than it had ever been in life. He wondered briefly if the tree was the reason behind the name. It would be appropriate, he thought.
“We’ll leave you here, Mister Frodo.” Sam interrupted his avid looks gently.
“We’ll probably be at your parents’.” Merry said.
“Or in farmer Maggot’s crops!” Pippin said with too much enthusiasm.
The latter two left with a giggle, but his best friend stayed long enough to squeeze his shoulder before departing after the troublemakers.
With a deep breath he didn’t know he needed, Frodo walked towards the round door, letting his gaze roam.
The oak was even bigger up close, taller than Legolas and wider than Gimli. Its branches reached for the ski and the light of the sun shone through its healthy green leaves. The bark seemed rough and the young hobbit extended a hand to touch it. The feeling was pleasant on the pad of his fingers. At its foot, there was a little patch of beaten down grass, like someone regularly sat there. It was definitely too big for Bilbo and Frodo amused himself on trying to guess who or what it was.
Opposite to the tree, there stood a little bench. The emplacement was familiar; Bilbo had always had a place for a little bench to smoke outside in the sun. Frodo opened the little gait and closed it behind him.
This one wasn’t made of wood, he realized. It was made of a dark metal he couldn’t recognize. The sturdy legs were firmly planted on the grass. The seat was covered but a plushy green cushion and Frodo knew his uncle had fallen asleep on it at least once. Bilbo had had the strange ability to be able to fall asleep anywhere. When he’d been younger, he’d attributed that to his adventuring time, but having now lived one himself, he could guess it meant he’d sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and his hazardous ability was his body’s need to sleep when it could.
The back of the bench was the most impressive piece. The metal composition started with a hill and a door silhouetted. Forged next to it was a rock, broken in half with the sun peeking through and leading to Rivendell. The smith had made sure to use a more elvish technique on the metal there, but it was just as beautiful as the rest. After that was a fat figure with a crown and almost superposing it, pines on fire. The next composition was a great rock with giant eagles flying over it. The forging continued with what looked like a valley with a bear standing in it. Giant spiders, which chillingly made him think of Shelob, were next. They seemed to crawl out of woods which were also designed with the elvish style in mind. The trees blended into prison bars, which themselves turned into water with barrels in it, out of which grew a little city. The next image was of a mountain, a dragon bursting out of it to blow flames on the town behind it. The dragon disappeared in water, which was molded to become two armies facing each other. If Frodo squinted, he could see the smith had paid great attention to the soldiers and while no features were recognizable, the armors and body types showed men, elves, dwarves, goblins and orcs. The last image was of Bag-End again, but with the door opened.
The whole thing was forged as a silhouette and the play of dark metal and nothingness rendered beautifully. The hobbit wondered how long it had taken to create such a complex piece and where his eccentric uncle had found a smith talented enough to create it.
It was clearly his uncle’s adventure; he’d know it anywhere, and the thought of ‘Mad Baggins' huffing over what had happened and how it had happened to some poor smith made him smile.
Breathing in, Frodo walked on the little rocks that made the path to the green door and knocked.
Only silence answered.
Trying again, he lifted his fist and pounded a little louder on the door.
There was a mini bout of silence before a voice answered.
“Alright! Alright! I’m coming, no need to be so impatient!” The voice grumbled unhappily. It made him jump. It was definitely Bilbo, but he sounded so much younger. It was nothing like the fading voice of his 135 years old uncle.
“I swear if this is to take tea again! Things were about to get interesting so unless it is of dire importance I won’t be the only one with something shoved up my a-”
When the door opened, Bilbo stopped his sentence, to Frodo’s eternal gratitude. Yavanna knew there were some things he never wanted to know.
His horror quickly turned to surprise when he saw his uncle. Gone was the fragile hobbit he’d helped out of the boat when they’d arrived in the Undying Lands.
Before him stood a hobbit in his fifties with disheveled honey curls that barely brushed his shoulders. Frodo could spy a tiny braid that ended in a bead made of shiny mithril with runes engraved. Bilbo’s wrinkles, while not completely absent, were barely there and concentrated around his eyes and mouth. A deep red blush was high on his cheeks. His shirt was half in half out of his pants and he was breathing a little heavily for someone who’d only opened a door.
Before Frodo could decide if leaving was still an option (he’d wanted to see his uncle and now, technically he had), Bilbo spoke.
“Frodo Baggins, what are you doing here?”
The breathless, grumpy voice had left place to the authoritative one he always used when his nephew, or any other youngster, had done something they knew they shouldn’t have.
It made Frodo feel like he was a kit all over again.
He couldn’t help his natural response and made himself small and look anywhere but in his uncle’s eyes. “I…I’m…” No response seemed to pass his lips and he only raised his gazed when Bilbo sighed.
“How old were you?” His uncle inquired softly.
“125 years old.” The younger hobbit answered quickly.
Bilbo’s smile grew softly. “More than acceptable. Come here, my boy!”
Frodo curled up in Bilbo’s arms.
It was different than it had been when they’d been alive. When his uncle had been anywhere close to the age he had now, Frodo had been young and small. When he was grown, Bilbo had already started to become frail and white was entering his hair as much as strength was leaving his arms.
Now, he received a strong, yet protective hug and squeezed back harder than he’d been used to.
Bilbo was still shorter than him, but only by an inch or so and it wasn’t because of his curving back.
They released each other, but only barely so.
Bilbo’s eyes were filled with tears, though none fell. “Oh, Frodo.” He said softly, brushing a curl of dark hair away from his nephew’s forehead. “My boy, I’m so sorry.”
Out of all the things Frodo thought his uncle would say, apologizing was not one of them.
“Whatever for?” He questioned.
“Argh. That stupid Ring of mine.” He waved a dismissive hand around. “I should have talked to Gandalf about it. Bring it to Mordor myself and not leave such a burden on your shoulders.” His eyes were a bit dryer, but they still shone a bit.
“I hope you can forgive me.” He intoned gravely.
Frodo’s eyebrows rose. “There’s nothing to forgive uncle. You couldn’t have known.”
Bilbo shook his head. “I knew that thing wasn’t good. I knew it was poison. I never could get rid of it, though.” He sighed. “In a way, I was glad I understood, I imagine.”
“Understood?” Parroted Frodo.
His uncle nodded. “The gold sickness, or close to it at least.” He chuckled unhappily. “I always was too curious for my own good. But it’s no excuse. I talked about what happened with that nice fellow, Boromir. He'll want to apologize too, by the way. But no matter-"
"You talked to Boromir?" Frodo cut off. "How? I thought men where in a completely different part of the Valar..."
"The higher ups like me." The older hobbit dismissed, like he hadn't just confirmed the gods let him change After Lives to talk to strangers about rowdy nephews and evil pieces of jewelry.
Before Frodo could as anymore questions a deep, gravelly voice, like the echoes of rocks knocking together in a cavern, spoke.
“Bilbo? Givashel? Who is it?”
His uncle’s face seemed to light up like the sun itself.
“Somebody I’d like you to meet.” He said, though Frodo wasn’t sure if he was addressing him or answering the question asked.
Bilbo dragged him into his smial. It was warm and comfortable, but what drew Frodo’s attention were the boots in the entrance.
Before he could puzzle them out, the answer to the riddle came out of what he assumed was the living room.
The dwarf was taller than Gimli or any of the other dwarves he remembered from Elrond’s council meeting. He had long black hair, streaked with silver, a straight, distinctive nose, icy blue eyes and a scowl that seemed permanent. Where Gimli had been rotund, this dwarrow didn’t sport a belly and had instead replaced it with tree trunks for arms (which he had crossed) and legs. His whole stance commanded authority, not unlike Aragorn, though he seemed a lot less nice than the King of Gondor.
“And who might you be?” He questioned and Frodo was tempted to bow down.
His uncle rolled his eyes good naturedly. “This is my nephew Frodo. And Frodo let me present to you Thorin Oakenshield.”
The name was like Gondor’s bells clinging together harshly. His jaw dropped and he was pretty sure he looked like a complete idiot.
Frodo had been the first one to learn about Bilbo’s complete story. Oh, he’d talked about it here and there, mentioned it a lot. But Frodo was the first one he’s sat down and told the whole tale to.
As a kit, Thorin Oakenshield had been his idol. Bilbo would always describe him as a tree: strong, unmoving yet gentle and generous.
Later on, he’d guessed Bilbo had done it on purpose. Painting the King Under the Mountain as a hero so Frodo would have another figure to look up to other than his uncle, but it hadn’t stopped his awe and his focused attention when his uncle let a tidbit of information on him go. Especially in his last years, where he’d had a hard time knowing what was real and what wasn’t, he’d sometimes speak as if Thorin would answer. It had been equally sad and fascinating.
At the sound of his name, the dwarf had loosened his stance. A small but honest smile took over his face and his eyes seemed less frosty.
“Frodo Baggins, Ring Destroyer. I am at your service.” At that, he bowed down.
It was just as uncomfortable as when Aragorn and everyone in Gondor had done the same.
“Please don’t.” He blurted out.
Thorin straightened, but the smile was still on his face.
“I should be the one doing that, You Majesty.”
Bilbo choked on a laugh which he valiantly tried to turn into a cough. He miserably failed.
“No need to bow down to anyone.” His uncle fussed, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had slowly established itself in the room. Frodo relaxed marginally. “Imagine you’re not the One Ring Bearer or King Under the Mountain an instead my nephew and husband.”
He should have known Uncle Bilbo would never help him out of an uncomfortable spot. He should have guessed it was too good to be true.
“H-Husband?” the young hobbit stuttered.
“Or as much as two dead people can be!” Confirmed his diabolical uncle cheerfully.
Thorin, Eru bless him, took pity on him.
“I’m honored to meet you.” His childhood idol intoned truthfully.
“The honor is mine.” Frodo answered, his propriety saving him in extremis.
Thorin gave him that sincere smile again.
“Would anyone like some tea?” Bilbo asked innocently, like he hadn’t thrown the two of them under the carriage not even a minute ago.
Frodo was half tempted to refuse simply to be contrary, but Thorin’s smile (bigger, brighter) held his tongue. It seemed his terrible uncle made the imposing dwarf happy. And looking at the shine in Bilbo’s eyes, one he had never seen of his life, it was reciprocal.
His uncle deserved all the happiness the Valar could give, he thought.
And then promptly withdrew that thought when, with a wicked grin and a too knowing gleam in his eyes, he walked up to his husband and drew him into a kiss so filthy it made Frodo physically wrinkle his nose.
The sound of his delighted (and evil, so evil) laughter stayed with a red-cheeked Thorin and a disgusted Frodo.
Sometimes he wondered if he shouldn't have been the one to raise Bilbo and not the other way around.