Frodo woke up feeling the warm sun on his face. He caught a whiff of the good smell of bacon and fried bread, and he could hear Bilbo humming to himself. He wondered what kind of day it was going to be, and what time it was. His bed seemed strangely hard, and damp, and his room was a tad drafty. Had he left the window open?

"Frodo!" Bilbo called. "Frodo, come along now, time to get up."

Frodo smiled with his eyes closed. "I had the most wonderful dream..."

"Not at all, my boy," Bilbo chuckled, very close by. "It was very real. As real as this breakfast, and if you want any of it you had better get up. You've slept most of the morning away."

Frodo opened his eyes, sat up and threw the blanket off. Sweat had dampened the hair on the back of his neck. It looked to be another hot day in the making. He looked around curiously, but there was no sign that anyone other two hobbits had camped in the meadow. "So it really happened! Are they all gone? I wish they could have stayed a little longer. I would have liked to have thanked them for their food and drink, and said goodbye to them."

"Ah, but they were in a hurry to go," Bilbo said. "Last night was only a short pause on the way to the Havens, where a gray ship awaited them. All the Elves are leaving Middle Earth, you know. Their time is ending, so they say, and they are taking ship at the Havens and sailing into the West. I believe that some Elves will linger a while, at least through your lifetime, Frodo. At least I hope so. It will be a darker, emptier world when they have all gone away."

Frodo was suddenly very glad to be who he was and where he was, to have deep roots in the Shire and Middle earth. "Will we ever see them again?"

"Oh, we may see Elves again someday, but not Celebrom and his kin. They have gone forever." Bilbo sighed and shook his head. "Though I have heard that it is a wonderful land they are bound for, where it is always springtime, still what a painful thing it must be for them, leaving all that they know to go to some far place most of them have never seen. I've wandered a bit myself, and I can tell you from experience that nothing beats coming home after a long journey to where you were born and bred, to a warm hearth, and a garden and a hole of your own. I don't think I could give that up for any paradise, within Middle earth or without."

"I would never want to live anywhere but the Shire," Frodo said firmly.

Bilbo smiled. "Neither would I."

Bilbo said no more after that, but handed Frodo a napkin and a fork: The dishes were all packed away-still unwashed-and the two untidy bachelor hobbits were forced to eat directly from the pan. They made a good hobbit-sized meal from what the Elves had left and the remainders of their own supply, and then rested for a long spell while they digested. Bilbo leaned back with his pipe and blew smoke rings. Frodo watched a blue cloud of them gather in the still air over Bilbo's head, and he looked very thoughtful.

He's working himself up to say something, Bilbo thought, but decided to let him be rather than fill the silence with idle talk. He'll speak up soon enough, when he's sorted it out.

They walked in a companionable silence during the long trek back to Hobbiton. They halted when they reached a green hill that overlooked the village and threw themselves down in the grass for a rest. Down below a farmer and his pony-cart rattled over the bridge, and the millstream sparkled in the sun. The air was very warm and still, and they heard the clip-clop of his pony's hooves and rattle of his cartwheels long after he had driven out of sight. The quiet whirr and hum and heat of summer was all around them, and they had long since taken off their coats. Frodo's coat was wadded into a careless bundle and crammed into his pack. Bilbo had done the same, but he had taken one of his many handkerchiefs and fashioned it into a cap on his head to keep off the sun. His collar was unbuttoned and one of the brass buttons on his waistcoat was missing. He looked overheated, and grass-stained, and dusty, and there was a smudge of dirt on the end of his nose. No, it was not at all how a respectable gentlehobbit should appear, and Frodo loved him very much, and was glad of it.

"But I wish I could have given you a gift for my birthday," Frodo said, half to himself. Though someday he would come into a fortune, he had left Buckland without even one silver penny. Perhaps if he saved all his pocket money and refrained from buying books or sweets, he would have enough for something by September....

"You have already given it to me," Bilbo said. "Whether you know it or not. I know I don't look it, Frodo, but I'm an old hobbit and I won't be around forever, and it means a great deal to me to know that there is another Baggins under the hill. I know that you will cherish Bag End for all of your days, and someday there will be a pretty lass in the parlor, and a little Baggins running about underfoot..."

Frodo was blushing. "Uncle!"

Bilbo laughed and went on. "Not everyone can be so lucky as to escape the trap of matrimony as I have! And even if you do escape, and get an itchy foot and take to wandering, that's all right, too. It is enough that I have someone to look after, to teach and to care for while I am in the world, someone to remember me with fondness when I am gone. Your mere presence in my life is my gift, Frodo, and if you never give me another, I will still consider myself highly fortunate, and more greatly blessed than any other hobbit alive."

Bilbo had become very serious. He put his hand on Frodo's shoulder, and his honest hobbit face was so filled with sincere warmth and earnest affection that Frodo felt his throat close up. He put his young, slim hand over the plump older hand that lay on his shoulder and held it tight, suddenly overwhelmed with love for this old hobbit that had done so much for him. He couldn't speak.

After a good long while Frodo and Bilbo turned away from each other and stood up and hoisted their packs, which were now considerably lightened. They were both feeling slightly damp around the eyes, and Bilbo pulled out yet another handkerchief from some hidden pocket of his waistcoat and blew his nose loudly.

"Dratted dust," Bilbo said. "We need a good rain to settle it."

"It would cool the air," Frodo agreed, wiping his face on his sleeve.

Bilbo took a breath. "Well. I'm feeling peckish. What do you suppose Bell is serving for dinner?"

Then the two bachelor hobbits linked arms and marched down over the hill, toward hole and home, where the teakettle was singing on the hearth.

*********

The End.