A/N: I was reading LotR again, in a vain attempt to gain inspiration for some of my other fics, but to no avail; I came up with this instead. Disclaimer: None of the canon is mine, although I do own a mini-balrog named Aregeonr.

The End of the Road By Thalia Weaver

My father sits by the fire in his study, staring into it with a fixed gaze. His eyes never waver, and he blinks only seldom. His hand is fiddling with the collar of his shirt, as though there is something there that is itching him, or perhaps something missing that once hung about his neck. The other children suppose it must simply be the stress of his duty as mayor of Hobbiton, but something tells me that it does not end there. What truly ails him is, however, beyond my fathoming.

My father has been very distant lately, and it is rare that I spend much time with him- he is so busy, and there are so many of us. Hamfast keeps asking me whether some spirit or other has seized hold of father, and I snap at him in reply. I cannot help it, though I know he is younger and more foolish than I.

I am aggrieved to disturb his thoughts, for it appears that, being lost in ponderings, he has found a measure of peace. His weight loss and near- constant gaze towards the West have not gone unnoticed by all who watch him. However, dear Ruby is ill, and she has called upon Father to tell her a story. I do not deny that it is my wish to hear him tell a tale too; it has been overlong since Father gathered us by the hearth and told us a story from one of his adventures with Mr. Frodo, that hazy figure who carries a bit of magic with his name, now that he has gone to the West, or even a tale of the near-mythical Mr. Bilbo. It has been long years since a Baggins lived at Bag End; the hobbits of Hobbiton have begun to call it Gardner's End, but not to my father's face, for he will not tolerate it being called anything but Bag End.

"Father?" I ask hesitantly, placing a hand on his shoulder reluctantly. His eyes meet mine, and there is an odd expression within them- I cannot place it, and for a moment I am reminded of something he once said, about the Elves.

"They left Middle-Earth long ago, Goldilocks. Before you were born. It was like starlight fadin', if you follow me. The sun and moon still light the way, but somehow the world's a bit dimmer for the loss." My father's eyes are filled with fading starlight.

"Aye, Goldilocks?" He asks gently, and I shake myself. It was I who was sent to fetch him back to Bag End, not the other way round!

"Oh! It's Ruby, father. She wants you to tell her a story."

He smiles. "It's been too long since I told you a story, Goldilocks. Thank you for coming to fetch me." I nod, and he takes my hand, plodding silently through the tunnels to Ruby's room. Ruby is sitting up in bed, her brown curls a mess and her sheets damp with sweat. Despite the fever that has gripped her these past days, she seems healthier, and I have a feeling that she will not be sick much longer. Her eyes light when she sees father and I coming through the door, and I do not blame her: father has not spoken much to us, these past few months. It is a rare treat indeed for him to tell us a story. Hamfast, Robin, Bilbo, Tom, Primrose and Daisy are there too, clustered by the side of the bed; I am sure they were drawn by the hope of hearing one of father's tales.

"Now, Ruby, do you promise to fall asleep before my story is finished?" He asks, taking her hand. She smiles at the old question he used to ask before every story, and nods.

"Very well then," he answers, and launches into a tale of the old days. Sure enough, before the tale's end, Ruby is fast asleep, and Bilbo, Robin, Tom, Primrose and Daisy are close to it. Hamfast and I remain awake, waiting for our father. The other five stumble off to their respective beds, barely awake enough to remember which foot is properly placed before the other. Father smiles at us, and Hamfast gives him a hug. I kiss him atop the head and he pads off to bed, looking as tired as any of the other five. I glance over at my father, and my heart sinks; he has stood up and I catch sight of his back as he leaves the room. I walk next to him, offering my hand. He takes it, and I remember the walks we used to take when I was smaller, my father and I. I am not so young anymore; Faramir Took, son of the Thain, has proposed marriage to me, and I am now sure that I will accept. It occurs to me that my father's hair has turned white. He is old, I realize, and I had not the wit to see it. But it seems to me that there is something ageless about him, as though he will never quite die. I cannot imagine my father dying, nor do I wish to. He hums as he walks, and seems to quite forget that I am there, despite the presence of my hand in his. He is half-singing, and I recognize the tune, if not the words.

"The road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the road has gone,

Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,

But I at last with weary feet

Will turn towards the lighted inn,

My evening rest and sleep to meet."

"Father?" I ask, curious.

"Aye, Goldilocks?" By now, we have reached his study again, and his chair by the fire, which has burned down to embers.

"Was that Mr. Bilbo's old walking-song? I do not recognize the words."

He shrugs, a faint sad smile playing at his lips.

"It came to me as if I were making it up, but I do not think I was."

I reach over and kiss him on the cheek, encircling him tightly for a moment in a hug. He is frail, and much thinner than he should be. I force a smile and turn towards the door; I would be alone for awhile, for there is much that I have to ponder. At the door, I turn for another glance at him. He is gazing again at the embers of the fire, and I watch his hand steal towards his shirt collar. Somehow that gesture fills me with an inexplicable sadness, and I fill my eyes with him as though he will soon be gone, far beyond the Sea, as though he were an Elf, or perhaps a Baggins.

Nonsense, I think to myself. But somehow I am not sure that it *is* nonsense; the hobbit sitting there has the eyes of someone far, far away from Bag End.