A smile tugs on the corners of your lips when you feel Bilbo’s tiny fingers tangle in your beard while he cranes and twists his neck this way and that, taking in the festivities with wide-eyed wonder, hardly knowing where to look in the vast hall; the little hobbit clutches his teddy bear to his chest with his free hand.
“Oooo!” Bilbo gasps, jerking in surprise when the strings of white lights far above suddenly start twinkling. “They’re like stars, uncle!” he whispers.
You nod, shifting the fauntling in your arms, your focus more on Bilbo than on the lights. His first proper Yule, you muse for the thousandth time as you move forward in the line. It does not escape your notice when his green eyes linger on young dwarves whom excitedly show off their gifts to their parents, are thrown into the air by their fathers, little hands held securely in their mothers’ grasp. Bilbo sighs deeply, and you silently sigh with him.
His first time making gingerbread cookies, decorating the tree, singing carols, building a snowdwarf, making a wish list, shopping for Yule. And now, meeting Sir Gandalf, you think as the two of you reach the front of the line, and watch Ori hop off the grey wizard’s lap, hugging his brand-new knitting needles and ball of yarn close and happily depart with his brother Nori.
If only Dwalin were here to share it all with Bilbo, you wish. A merry chuckle interrupts your melancholy thoughts and you discover Sir Gandalf’s eyes sparkling at you from under his tall grey hat. Instinctively you find yourself smiling before you set Bilbo down.
“Good evening, little master!” the wizard greets the child with a deep bow.
Bilbo glances at you searchingly, you nod. Releasing your hand and leaving his teddy in your care, he goes to the wizard and climbs onto his lap. “Hello,” he says shyly, gaze on his clasped hands.
Sir Gandalf cocks his head. “Are you an elf?” he asks. “I don’t think I’ve meet a dwarf with bare feet like you before.”
You cover your mouth with your hand, shoulders shaking with amusement. Bilbo giggles loudly and beams up at the wizard.
“Nooo! I’m a hobbit.”
“Ah! And what is your name, master hobbit?”
“Well met, Bilbo. Have you been a good boy this year?”
He nods. “Yes.”
Sir Gandalf smiles. “What it is you wish for Yule?”
You swallow around the lump forming in your throat, and blink your eyes rapidly as the light in the fauntling’s face slowly fades.
“I want my Papa,” Bilbo answers in a soft voice.
“And where is your papa?” the wizard asks in an equally quiet tone, slowly rubbing circles on the hobbit’s back.
“Away fighting for the king,” he explains. He rubs his eyes. “He’s been gone a long time.”
“It’s been eight months,” you say when Gandalf glances at you.
“That is a long time,” the wizard agrees.
Bilbo whispers, “I miss him,” before turning his face into Gandalf’s long beard.
For a second you squeeze your eyes shut as the dwarves around you murmur aww-ings or quietly sniffle.
“There, there,” the wizard soothes, hugging the child comfortingly. “Let us take a look in my bag for your papa, shall we?”
Only then do you notice the large open brown sack at Sir Gandalf’s feet. One arm wrapped around Bilbo, the wizard uses his other hand to draw the sack closer and attempt to search through it.
“Will you give me a hand my boy…? That’s better,” he proclaims when Bilbo helps hold the bag open with both hands, allowing him to dig through its contents.
You open your mouth to protest then firmly close it. You’ll keep your thoughts to yourself for the moment you decide, watching the mumbling wizard lean down to peer closer into bag, and shortly after Bilbo is leaning down, too, almost falling into the sack, both of them rummaging in it.
“Hmm, maybe…no…almost...ah, yes!” Gandalf proclaims with satisfaction, straightening up and settling back in his chair, mindful of Bilbo on his lap. He lifts his right hand, curled in a tight fist, in front of the hobbit’s face for a moment. Both you and Bilbo look at it, puzzled.
“Who is that?” the wizard asks, a long bony finger shooting out to point to the side.
You gasp in astonishment as a towering, bald, tattooed dwarf steps forth from the crowd. Your heart is in danger of bursting.
“Papa,” Bilbo’s voice is quiet. He is rigid, expression impossible to read.
“Papa? That’s your Papa?” Gandalf says. “Do you want to go see your Papa?”
Bilbo remains frozen. Not until Dwalin begins to walk closer does his eyes widen and he scrambles off the wizard’s lap. “Papa!” he cries, running to your brother whose now kneeling, and flies into his arms. “Papa, hello, Papa!” he says, pressing kisses against the warrior’s cheek. “I missed you,” he adds, hugging Dwalin as the dwarf stands. “I love you!”
You don’t hear Dwalin’s words to Bilbo over the laughter, cries, and clapping of the watching dwarves. Yet you do not have to, seeing how close your brother holds the fauntling, gently rocks him, his expression content, wariness and tension slipping away. Thank you, Mahal, you pray, tears of relief and joy streaming down your face.
The wizard catches your eye, his gaze solemn, and you look at him wonderingly. Did he…?
Suddenly Dwalin is standing next to you, Bilbo snuggled in his side, the child smiling through his tears.
“Evening, brother,” your voice cracks. How long it feels since you’ve greeted him with those words. Warmth washes over you as Dwalin takes a moment to study you with a familiar intensity flashing in his dark eyes. Always the protective younger brother making sure you are well.
“Hello, brother,” he replies gruffly, clears his throat. Then he taps his forehead against yours.
You inhale shakily. “Welcome home,” you whisper.
“Papa home,” Bilbo says happily.
Laughing, you wrap your arms around both the hobbit and your brother in a group hug.
You repeat, “Papa home.”
Your family is complete once again.