Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the Hobbit, except my copies of the book and movie of course.
It started with a sudden lack of appetite and his having to cut back to six meals- and then to five- a day instead of the proper seven, but he passed it off as an oncoming cold and thought nothing more of it.
Next was the tiredness, the weakness, and how he had to take frequent breaks when doing his daily chores now when he had never had to take them before.
He realized something was truly wrong when he found tiny drops of blood on his handkerchief after a coughing fit, so he decided to finally visit the healers.
After describing all his symptoms- lack of appetite, weakness, the blood- and letting them perform their multitudes of tests, he had his answer: it was the wasting sickness. He had a year to live, possibly two, but no more.
News spreads fast in the Shire and pitying looks were soon following 'the poor dear' wherever he went, but he held his head high.
He was a Baggins! And he would comport himself as such until the end!
He spoke with the healers time-and-again- There had to be something that could be done!- he even asked if the Elves could help if he were to go to them, but the answer was always the same: their was nothing anyone, not even the wonderous healers of the Elves, could do.
Eventually he accepted his fate, got his affairs in order and gave up. He even stopped dreaming about the miracle cures of the Elves.
A few months passed by and he got his symptoms under control by adding a variety of herbs to his tea and taking frequent breaks.
He still became tired for no reason and he was down to a disgraceful four meals a day- and had to force himself to eat everything he fixed himself at that- but he could do his chores and get up in the mornings without feeling so exhausted.
Plus he now rarely coughed up blood unless he overexerted himself.
He had taken to sitting outside for a quiet smoke in the mornings before his neighbors arose to give him pitying stares, and that was when he was approached with a most unexpected proposal.
"Good morning." He ventured to say to the large figure in grey towering over him.
"What do you mean?" What? Was this man actually questioning the phrase 'good morning'? He couldn't possibly be, could he? Bilbo quietly thought tp himself.
"Do you wish me a good morning, or do you mean that this is a good morning whether I want it or not?" He was! This strange man, who had disrupted his peaceful morning smoke, was questioning a simple greeting! Incredible.
"Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning?" Well he certainly hadn't meant that one. He hadn't felt good since his diagnosis.
"Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on? Hm?" Oh! He was finally done. But how to respond to such a ridiculous string of questions?
"All of them at once, I suppose." He finally answered.
"Hmm." Why was he looking at him that way, Bilbo wondered. It was very rude to stare at someone as if they were on display.
"May I help you?" He knew it wasn't the smartest of questions to ask, but he needed a way to stop that disconcerting stare.
"That remains to seen." Okay, that wasn't very helpful. Oh, he wasn't finished yet.
"I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure." The Hobbit was stunned. Why would anyone want HIM to go on an adventure?
About to tell this mystery man that he wasn't interested he caught sight of Lobelia watching him before she flounced off.
She had made it a point to come by everyday to see if he was dead yet. Not that she would say it that way, but he knew that that was the reason for her frequent visits.
He only wished he could see the look on her face when his will was read and she found out that she was completely cut off. He was sure she would throw a fit to rival all others.
Looking back up to the figure he swallowed the words he had been about to say.
Did he really want to waste away in the Shire? Being pitied and suffering with people breathing down his neck, just waiting for him to die- Lobelia wasn't the only one, she was just the most forward about it.
Or did he want to spend what little time he had left on an adventure that his mother would be proud of him for going on?
Decision made. Bilbo smiled up at the figure.
"An adventure? I'd love to go on an adventure. When do we start?"
His smial had been taken over by Dwarves!
He had to admit that when he had agreed to host the company overnight after agreeing to go on on the proposed adventure- Gandalf, who had finally introduced himself, had seemed surprised when he had accepted so readily- that he hadn't thought he would be travelling with Dwarves.
But, it would definitely be an adventure, he had to admit; traveling with Dwarves was something even his mother had never done. Though he still didn't know what all this was about.
He had cleared out his pantries to make a feast for his traveling companions- since they were all leaving the next day he didn't want the food to rot before someone got around to clearing it all out- and had written letters to explain his disappearance.
He had directed everyone to just assume he was dead and to divvy up his possessions accordingly. If they did it soon after he left he might even be able to hear Lobelia's screech of anger echoing through the valley.
As his smial had filled with the lively group he had had only one off moment when he had come face to ax with the Dwarf Bifur.
The poor man had seemed to be friendly enough, but Bilbo couldn't stop staring at the embedded ax blade. How had he even survived?
It wasn't until Thorin Oakenshield, the Leader of the Dwarven group, had arrived that the Hobbit had finally gotten a clue as to where they would all be going; though Bilbo had almost reconsidered going after he had been insulted on his own door step- no Baggins worthy of the name would ever stoop so low as to be a grocer!
As he brought a candle over at Gandalf's request he saw a map of what had to be their destination.
"'The Lonely Mountain'" He read. Gloin, who was sitting next to his nearly deaf brother, spoke up.
"Aye, Oin has read the portents, and the portents say it is time." Spurred on by his brother, Oin spoke up to verify this.
"Ravens have been seen flying back to the mountain, as it was foretold. 'When birds of yore return to Erebor the reign of the beast will end.'"
"Uh, what beast?" Bilbo asked, wanting clarification. Bofur seemed all too happy to explain.
"That would be a reference to Smaug the Terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age. Airborne fire-breather. Teeth like razors, claws like meat hooks. Extremely fond of precious metals."
"Yes, I know what a dragon is." The way the Dwarf had been describing Smaug it was as if he was trying to make him faint!
Not that he would, of course. Once you've accepted your own death not much gets to you anymore.
After Ori's outburst and resulting table wide argument, Gandalf handed Thorin a key and made a few comments about invisible Dwarf doors. And that was when Bilbo finally found out what his place would be in this company- they needed a burglar.
A few disparaging remarks made about him from the eldest Ri brother- Dori his name was, thought the Hobbit- and a rather impressive speech lauding his natural skills from Gandalf later, he was handed a contract.
"It's just the usual. Summary of out-of-pocket expenses, time required, remuneration, funeral arrangements, so forth." Balin told him as he passed the contract up the table.
"Funeral arrangements?" He questioned, he was glad of that as he knew he wouldn't be returning to the Shire.
As Thorin and Gandalf spoke in whispers they thought he couldn't hear he began to read off key points of the contract.
"'Terms: Cash on delivery, up to but not exceeding one-fourteenth of total profit, if any.' Hmm. Seems fair." Especially since he would never live to spend any of it.
"'Present company shall not be liable for injuries inflicted by or sustained as a consequence there of, including, but not limited to lacerations, eviscerations, incineration'?" As more and more of the contract unfolded he turned to the table with a questioning look.
Who goes into such detail on a contract like this anyway?
Mistaking his confusion, Bofur once more tries to overwhelm him with visuals.
"Aye. He'll melt the flesh off your bones in the blink of an eye." He must have paled slightly at the bluntness of what he had just been told because Balin asks him a moment later:
"You all right, laddie?"
"Huh? Yeah." Bilbo can feel himself warming to the old Dwarf for the concern he is showing someone he hardly knows, but then Bofur is talking again.
"Think furnace with wings. Flash of light, searing pain, then: Poof. You're nothing more then a pile of ash." The disturbing images stop and Bilbo looks at the behatted Dwarf.
"And that's it? A moment of pain and I'm dead?"
"Well, yeah. Isn't that bad enough?" Bofur asks, confused at the calm question.
Giving a snort Bilbo signs the contract.
"There are far worse things than death, Master Bofur. I only hope you never have to know them." Like pitying looks from all your friends and family or people watching you, counting the days until you die.
Handing the signed contract back to Balin he doesn't miss the way money changes hands. They had been betting if he would faint or not, and it looked like Bifur, Balin and Ori were the only ones to bet that he wouldn't. Even Gandalf had bet that he would.
Well, he knew who he would try to befriend while on the road at least.
"I've made up the guest rooms, though I'm afraid some of you will have to triple up as there are only six of them. As for myself, I'm heading to bed. I've never traveled much and so I want to be well rested for our early start." Giving the company a final nod he retired to his room to finish packing his clothes and medicinal herbs.
Stuffing a few handkerchiefs in his pack as well, he was all set. Now all he had to worry about- besides the dangers of the road and the dragon he would face at the end of it- was keeping his illness a secret.
If they knew that their burglar was dying they may try to find a new one and leave him behind, and now that he had made the decision to leave he really didn't want to stay.
So he would keep quiet about his condition and just hope that they reached the mountain before his body gave out on him.
AN: Don't panic! My story will have a happy ending, I promise! Getting there may take some time, but by the end everything with be fine.
I'm not the kind of author that can write sad stories- hell, I can barely stand to read them without bursting into tears half the time- so you have nothing to fear on that score.
And yes this will, eventually, be a Smaugbo story- it being my favorite pairing in this fandom- with maybe some Bagginshield thrown in along the way.
That said, I hope you've enjoyed this so far. And I hope to see you again when I put out the next chapter- it's going to have trolls!