1. Chapter 1
Bilbo saw Frodo standing near his bed, tapping his finger to his lower lip. His old leather pack was on the bed, the pockets still open. The older hobbit walked toward Frodo, putting his arm around his shoulder and caressing it fondly. Frodo looked over at him and smiled. "Don't worry so much," said Bilbo. "Everything will be fine. And make sure you don't pack more than you can carry!" Frodo laughed softly, then took Bilbo's jacket and rolled it with his own, tucking it into the pack. Finally, he closed the pockets and hoisted the pack onto his shoulders. "Now, I'm ready," he said with a bright smile. "Good, good, let's go!" Bilbo said, beaming back at him. He darted out of the room with surprising speed, and Frodo followed behind him, laughing under his breath.
The Elven house was quiet. It was early morning, and the Sun had just risen, shining bright golden light in through the windows. The air had a slight chill to it, but the light felt warm on Frodo's skin and the chill was hardly noticable after a few minutes. As they walked downstairs to the lower level of the house, one of the Elves that dwelt there met them. "Good morning, Bilbo and Frodo!" he greeted.
"Good morning, Lindor," Bilbo said, and Frodo tipped his head, smiling upward at the tall Elf. "Frodo and I are going to be away for a few days. It's been a while since we last went exploring together."
Lindor smiled at them. "I see. Is there anything you need before you depart?"
"No, thank you, Lindor," Bilbo replied. "Frodo's taken care of everything." He rubbed Frodo's shoulder again fondly. "Then I hope you enjoy yourselves," the Elf said. "Take care!"
"We will," Frodo said, and both the hobbits walked away, waving to Lindor before they turned their backs and entered the city, the clean streets and windows sparkling in the sunshine.
Frodo had no idea where Bilbo was intending to go, so he was content to let the older hobbit lead the way. Bilbo had merely told him that he wished to "see some things" with him, and he asked Frodo to pack enough food, water, and supplies for about five days. At first, Frodo had been worried about Bilbo getting tired -- it had been over a year since he and Bilbo had ventured any farther together than the seaside, though Frodo did explore the island on his own sometimes. When Frodo had mentioned stopping for a rest when they were outside the borders of the city, Bilbo had spoken sharply to him. "Now, Frodo, I told you before not to worry so much! I am perfectly fine for a bit of a walk." Frodo could not argue; since they had arrived at the island six years before an extraordinary change had come over the older hobbit. He was much more alert and moved faster and more easily, and he always had a bright twinkle in his eye. He was not the same Bilbo Frodo had known in his youth in the Shire, but he was a good deal closer.
They walked along at a good pace, using the ancient paths that the Elves had made through the wilderness. Bilbo sang his old walking-songs softly under his breath, the familiar words flowing together in a half-hummed tune. Frodo joined in at times, but he was more content to listen to the sounds of the birds and the gentle rise and fall of Bilbo's voice. The grass felt cool and soft underneath his feet, and the air was warm and filled with the scent of growing things. Frodo loved how every inch of the island seemed to hum with life -- if he stooped and picked up a handful of soil, he could feel the life inside it, like the soil was waiting to have roots set in it by some plant or tree. The whole island seemed to be filled with life in this fashion: sickness and unnatural decay never touched any living thing, and the flowers and plants were always healthy. There was some sort of power inherent in the land itself that kept everything alive and beautiful.
By the end of the day's march, Frodo was able to guess where Bilbo was headed, but he stayed quiet. After camping for the night, they walked through the morning and into the afternoon without a rest. Bilbo continued his cheerful singing, though at times he quieted and enjoyed the sounds of the wilderness.
In the middle of the afternoon, just after the day had begun to turn warm, they reached a spectacular garden enclosed by a circle of trees. It was well-kept inside with paths for walking, and the scent of the blooming flowers wafted through the air. There were many fountains inside, each one different and beautiful in its own way.
In the center of the garden, at the very heart of the island, stood Celeborn, the White Tree of Eressea. It was tall, but not overwhelmingly so, like the White Tree Frodo had known in Minas Tirith. On its slender white branches grew thousands of dark green leaves with silver underneath, and the very crown of it was in full blossom with countless white flowers. The leaves waved back and forth in the gentle breeze, but none of them had ever fallen off the tree. The soil underneath it was clean and neatly tended.
The hobbits stood in front of it for a long while, admiring the way it shone in the sunlight. Both Bilbo and Frodo had seen it before, but were still amazed by its beauty. It was the true heart of Eressea, as beautiful as the entire city of Avallone itself. Looking at it, Frodo could understand why the sapling of this White Tree had been so revered by the Numenorians -- it seemed to embody an essence of the Valar themselves. The sapling in Minas Tirith had it, but that tree had still been growing when Frodo had last seen it. This tree had stood for years uncounted, becoming as blessed as the land itself.
Frodo took off his pack and placed it on the ground, then walked toward the tree, being careful to disturb its soil as little as possible. He reached out as far as he could and placed his hand on the trunk. It felt warm underneath his touch, and, like every other tree and flower on Eressea, seemed to hum with life. He smiled softly at the feeling. Bilbo walked toward it, and stood next to Frodo, staring up at the tree before he too laid his hand upon the trunk. "Do you feel that?" he whispered to Frodo, and Frodo nodded, laughing joyfully.
They walked around the garden for a while longer before finally sitting down to eat. There were other Elves around, strolling through the gardens, but it was quiet for the most part and no one disturbed them. After they were finished, they sat a while in contentment, listening to the sounds of birds and running water around them.
Bilbo eventually broke the long silence. "Frodo, there's something I want to talk to you about."
The statement instantly had Frodo's attention. He sat up straight and looked at his uncle intently. "What is it, Bilbo?" he asked.
Bilbo was quiet for a few moments, staring down at his hands. When he spoke next, his voice sounded weaker. "I was weary when we first came here -- I felt very old and tired. But whatever is in this place made me feel better, and for a while, my weariness went away. I felt better than I had in years. And as you healed from your sorrow, I healed from mine, and I was truly happy for the first time in as long as I can remember. I didn't want for anything, I didn't regret anything...it was as if a new life had been given to me. These past six years have been wonderful beyond anything I'd ever dreamed of.
"But I'm feeling weary again, and this time I know that I can't be healed of it. I think there's something inside of us that protests if we've lived too long, even if those years have been happy. I want to move on, Frodo. I don't want to look behind me anymore; I want to look forward. But the only place for me to go is away from this world, where I can't return."
He paused for a few slow moments. "I wanted to spend some time alone with you, doing the things that we used to do back in the Shire. I thought that it might make things easier for you. I didn't mean to tell you so early, but I don't want to hide anything from you. There should be no secrets between us." He looked at Frodo's face, waiting for a reaction, but Frodo was silent for a long while. Bilbo's announcement had not surprised him, because he knew that eventually Bilbo would grow weary and want to die. But actually hearing the words had affected him more deeply than he had expected. For the first time, he faced being completely and utterly alone, the last reminant of his old life now gone. The Elves were excellent company, but Bilbo was his family, the only family he'd ever known outside of the Fellowship. Finally he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He nodded at Bilbo, reaching out and grasping his hand. He looked deep into Bilbo's warm brown eyes, which twinkled with mirth, wisdom, and love.
Bilbo went on. "I want these last days we have together to be happy ones. I want to see this beautiful place one last time, and have some quiet talk with you, just like we've always had. Then, when we're all finished, I'll be ready to leave." He paused and reached out, stroking Frodo's cheek. Frodo had heard his words, but his heart still felt heavy in his chest. He smiled gently at his uncle and nodded. "Whatever you wish, Bilbo."
They spent three more days exploring the countryside, walking at their leisure, telling old stories and singing. Frodo's best memory was the next night, when they walked far into the night and came upon the western shore of Eressea under the starlight. They walked along the beach together and the sand sparkled in the moonlight under their footsteps. The water was dark and cool as it washed over their feet, and the clean smell and music of the Sea was intoxicating.
They made camp that night slightly above the shore, on a knoll of soft grass. Frodo sat for a while silently, staring ahead into the west where he knew Valinor was, though neither he nor Bilbo had eyes keen enough to see it. Eventually the older hobbit sat down beside him, looking west as well.
"Valinor is there," Frodo said quietly. "I only saw it for a short time, but it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. We could have gone, if you wanted." He paused. "We could still go."
Bilbo laughed softly beside him. "I have always been happy here. I don't need to go any further." He clasped Frodo's hand. "You will go back someday, my lad, I'm sure of it. You have many years ahead of you yet." Frodo smiled softly at him, and they sat a while in silence, listening to the sound of the waves before going to sleep.
The closer they drew to Avallone, the heavier Frodo's heart grew, though he tried to keep a cheerful facade for Bilbo's sake. Bilbo seemed to sense Frodo's heart, however: he would often give Frodo a gentle smile or a pat on the shoulder when he sensed that his mood was down.
As the afternoon was drawing late, they walked home through the city. Bilbo looked around with a small smile on his face, as if he was taking every detail he could in with his eyes so that he would always remember it. Frodo walked next to him, his eyes lowered and his brow furrowed. His eyes burned with unshed tears, but he did his best to be strong.
Bilbo hadn't wanted any fuss over him from the Elves, so he asked Frodo to act as normally as he could. Frodo washed and dressed and the two hobbits had an early dinner together, alone in the dining hall. Frodo barely touched his food, eating just enough to satisfy the small appetite he'd earned from the day's walk. Bilbo seemed to notice, and he would often reach out for Frodo's hand and grip it tightly.
After dinner, they went together into Bilbo's room. It was rather large and spacious due to the hobbit-sized furniture, a gift from the Elves. Frodo set a fire, while Bilbo sat on his bed and watched him intently. When Frodo was finished, Bilbo extended one arm towards him, using the other to pat the bed next to him. "Come sit with me, my lad. Let's have a bit of talk together, shall we?"
Frodo climbed on the bed and Bilbo put his arm around him, letting Frodo rest his head near his shoulder. He looked for a long while into Frodo's face, studying it as he had studied the city, as if he were trying to memorize every inch of it. Then he spoke. "I love you so much, Frodo. I love you as if you are my own; I always have. I knew that there was something remarkable about you from the moment I first saw you, and knowing you has only made that belief stronger. I have been so lucky to know you."
Frodo looked up at Bilbo, giving him a small smile. "It was I who was most lucky, because I had three parents who cared for me. Two left me before their time, but one was always there whenever I needed him." Finally the tears that Frodo had held in for so long spilled over, and he wept. "I'm so sorry, I should be happy for you..."
Bilbo shushed him, kissing his forehead. "Loss is hardest for those left behind. You've known so much sorrow...too much, more than you ever deserved to know." His voice was quiet, and he held Frodo close to him, letting him cry for a few long minutes. Then he leaned down and wiped away the tears that fell down Frodo's cheeks. "No more tears for me," he whispered, stroking Frodo's cheek with his warm hand. "No more sadness, and no more regret. We agreed on that, remember?"
Frodo nodded. "I remember, Bilbo," he said softly. His tears still fell, and Bilbo continued to stroke his face, running his fingers over the fine lines that had formed by his nephew's eyes. Then he reached for Frodo's right hand, running his age-spotted fingers over his nephew's long and nimble ones, smoothing his thumb over the scar of Frodo's missing finger. "I've had a wonderful life. I've seen so many extraordinary things, things most hobbits could scarcely dream of. I've seen a white tree in bloom, and the glint of sunshine on the Sea as I sailed with Elves. I've seen mountains stretched far as the eye can see. And I've watched you grow up and become greater than anyone ever imagined.
"But I am so tired now, my lad." He ran his fingers one last time through Frodo's dark curls, smiling softly as he noticed the grey. "Much more tired than I've ever felt before. I will go in peace, because I've had a good life, and there is nothing I regret anymore." He paused. "Please, Frodo, don't mourn for me too much. You deserve your happiness, as I've had mine in abundance. You have so much life ahead of you yet, and I want those years to be happy. Don't spend them missing me." He finally fell silent, stroking Frodo's hair.
"I love you, Bilbo," Frodo whispered. "Thank you for everything you've given me."
Bilbo smiled at him, a small chuckle escaping his lips. "It was my pleasure, my boy." Then he sighed and lowered himself on the pillows, and Frodo lay down beside him, clasping his hand. Bilbo closed his eyes and breathed slowly, falling into what seemed like a deep sleep. He fell deeper and deeper, and then his breath stilled and a look of peace came over his face. Frodo lay next to him, stroking his hand as it grew cold under his fingers. After a while his tears stopped, but he stayed by Bilbo until the Sun set and the stars appeared like jewels in the black sky. He fell asleep, and dreamed of rain under grey skies in the Shire.