A/N Okay so I totally thought this was going to be like 40 pages, 60 pages TOP and that I would get it out really soon after chapter 25. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. It's 120 pages, which is why this bitch took so fucking long to write, stg it's like a fifth of the total story length. Anyway, hope you enjoy!
Great and terrible silence weighed down upon him. It was thick and smothering and Bilbo felt like he might suffocate.
He knew he should want to tear through it with his hands and fingers until they were raw, bloody stumps. He should want to rip, to break, to do something that wasn't just lying there beside Thorin. He should want to do anything but wait; wait for someone else, something else to bring him back to the world of the living.
But he didn't. Bilbo didn't want anything. He laid there and tried to remember what it meant to breath. What it meant to move, to think, to act and yet nothing came to mind. It seemed like the only thing his body could do right then was hurt. His head hurt from where it had been hit in the battle. His ankle throbbed with a sharp sort of burn. But most of all, more than anything, his chest was cold and nausea lingered in his stomach.
Thorin's story wasn't meant to end like this. Fili and Kili's weren't supposed to end like this.
They were heroes. They were good; they were generous and selfless and kind.
Their stories were supposed to end in old age, happiness, and a restful sort of fulfillment.
The unfairness of it all was so unimaginable, so bitterly purposeless that Bilbo almost couldn't believe that… that this was real, that this was happening. The cruelty, the death and the pain; everything was so tragically arbitrary.
What was the point? What was the point of it all if the good perished and the wicked lived?
Where was their justice? Where was their retribution for all those years of hardship; for having to claw their way back home?
Bilbo clutched tightly to Thorin's cold hand.
Why was he left here, alone and afraid?
There were questions, so many questions floating around through his head and nothing but silence answered them… But hanging in that empty air was an answer in itself. Bilbo Baggins finally understood that there were no answers.
There was no justice, there was no – no powerful force out there watching over them. There was no guiding hand that ensured those who deserved more than anything to be happy would get their years of peace in the end.
There was only death. The only thing that was assured; the only thing that would bind them all together in one final act of inevitability. The only thing that was guaranteed from their first gasping breath in this world.
And it wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
But it was real.
How could he deny that Thorin was gone? The fingers in his hand were stiff and cold, so unlike the fire he knew had coursed through the dwarf's veins ever since he had first laid eyes on Thorin.
How could he deny that Thorin and Fili and Kili were no longer here with him? He would never speak to them, he would never hold them, he would never see their smiles or hear their laughs. The last time he was awake, they had been alive and now they were all… they were all dead.
In a single moment everything he loved had been ripped away from him.
There had been a heartbeat deep in Thorin's chest that meant he was alive; that he would take one more breath and he would live. And then there wasn't. In one short second, in one horrible, awesome moment everything changed. How could… How could something so infinitely powerful, something so large and impossible to understand take place in such a short, insignificant period of time?
How could his whole world fall apart in a breath, in a heartbeat?
How many moments, days, and years had he spent sleeping or gardening or reading books in his house? How many of those moments had meant nothing at all? Had simply been a transition to the next experience, how many of those had he never even considered, cast to the back of his mind to memory; to gather dust and decay from lack of use.
How could one of those moments possibly hold enough power and significance to tear him apart?
But… maybe that was all they had in the end.
A moment of happiness, a moment of sorrow, a moment of change. All strung together with feeble hands, pushed close to try and make some semblance of meaning because the alternative, the randomness of it all was enough to break you. There was no order or path to set these moments. No combination that guaranteed that the outcome would mean happiness or fulfillment.
Bilbo felt empty and cold. But not empty and cold enough to not feel that ache. That excruciating, gnawing, biting ache that had become his closest companion, curling itself deep in his chest, digging its claws in deep, so deep Bilbo couldn't tell where it ended and he began.
Or maybe that wasn't right either.
Maybe he was that ache now. Maybe that was all he would ever feel again. Maybe he could just give in, just let it consume him body and soul until he withered away next to Thorin. He wondered how long he would have to wait until darkness took him; how many moments filled with this pain he would have to experience until there was nothing left. Until he was nothing but bones and dust and blissfully blank.
Gone, vacant, free.
Free of this feeling.
The thought clenched at his heart, digging into his mind with sharp, jagged points.
This feeling, this hurt… it was love wasn't it? It was his love for Thorin. For Fili and Kili. It was love turned to pain and loss and agony.
Or maybe it was just… love. Not turned to anything, not transformed, not bitter. Maybe it was pure.
Bilbo had always thought love was good and happy and warm. He had always thought that to be in love was the most glorious, soaring feeling in the world. He had loved his parents but he had never been in love with anyone else. He had never given his heart away to another for safekeeping.
All he knew of that love, he knew from his books. Where they lived happily ever after and held hands and smiled just for each other. There were trials and hardships before the heroes were in love but after it was all bliss. There were no deaths; there was nothing unfair about those tales.
He'd had… perhaps a few days of being with Thorin. And even then he hadn't had the chance to be with Thorin. He hadn't woken up beside his friend, his best friend, and smiled knowing that there would be countless days like this in front of them. He hadn't had a lifetime to make memories; he hadn't had any time at all really.
And that was the cruelty of it. He had read all of these stories and tales and he knew what he thought love should be. He had thought love would conquer all and nothing would really turn out bad in the end because when did that happen in his books? When did pointless tragedy tear everything down in a swift, irrevocable strike?
But his life wasn't a book. It wasn't a story or a fantastical tale about how an exiled dwarf king found love and redemption and led his people home to live the rest of his days in peace. It wasn't about a small hobbit of the shire who took a chance, who left home searching for adventure but found love and friendship instead. Who left his home but found another and lived full of warmth and glowing contentment until 'the end', until there were no more pages to turn and they remained immortal in love until you picked up the book again and started from the beginning.
There were no endings. No beginnings. This wasn't about him or Thorin or anyone. They were specks of dust, suspended on a brief sliver of sunlight and the world moved on when they were swept aside, just as it had before they had even existed at all. Nothing came to a close or was final or had a just conclusion; everything just was until it... until it wasn't. And how could they possibly matter when they hadn't meant anything at all to begin with?
The sun would not cease to rise again because Thorin and Fili and Kili were dead. The moon would not cease to shine in the night sky because they no longer breathed air deep into their lungs. Just because they were still didn't mean that anything would really change. The trees would not mourn their passing, the earth would not weep for their loss, the rivers and lakes would not seep into the ground to lament their deaths.
Men and elves and dwarves would talk of them until their names grew musty on their tongues. Until they were just that, names. Names without faces or feeling. Just… sounds whispered on a breeze.
Bilbo wanted it all to stop. He wanted to sun to explode in a blaze of fury. He wanted the moon to shatter in the sky and fall to the ground in pieces, tearing the dirt and water and trees to shreds. He wanted everyone to know what had been lost. He wanted to birds to sing their dirge; he wanted the sky to weep until the end of all things. He wanted this all to mean something.
How could the world not mourn their passing? How could the sun rise again and day after day go on like nothing had changed? Like the world was not infinitely poorer for loss of three of the most amazing, brilliant, bright friends he'd ever known.
The sheer indifference of it all was horrifyingly overwhelming. They meant nothing. Each and every one of them meant nothing at all.
As he looked at Thorin's still face, frozen in that smile; Bilbo knew they meant everything. What he was feeling was real, what he was thinking was real. Thorin's life had been real. There was nothing so insignificant and yet so frighteningly powerful as life.
If it wasn't… then he wouldn't feel this wrenching, stomach-churning sense of loss, would he?
They meant nothing to the world but they meant everything to each other. He couldn't doubt the enormity and power of a life when the loss of three were making his heart shatter.
He had loved Thorin when it had meant happiness. He had loved Thorin when it meant betrayal and hurt. He would continue to love Thorin now that it meant tragedy. He would love because that's all he could now, all he wanted to do. It would destroy him, Bilbo was sure of that, but there was never any other option.
Thorin had pushed himself into his home, into his mind and thoughts, and into his heart. The dwarf had grumbled and glared and shoved until there was no room for anyone else. Thorin had made him feel; had shown him what it meant to give yourself to another, to leave nothing hidden, to lay bare your hopes and dreams and desires. He had shown Bilbo what it meant to want to share yourself wholly and completely. He had shown Bilbo what it meant to sacrifice.
A lesson he now wished he had never had to learn.
But wishing didn't matter.
Wishing was a crutch, a blindfold for those who still had faith there was something other than chance pulling the strings of this world. But that wasn't right either, he supposed. There were no strings, no gears, no one steering.
There was life and there was choice.
Sometimes they looked the same, sometimes they were even intertwined but Bilbo knew they were separate and one was vastly inferior to the other. Choice was there, choice was important, but it would never be more powerful than life. What were they, if not the sum of their actions, of their decisions? But what made the circumstance for their decisions? What had forced Bilbo between choosing Thorin's life or Thorin's trust?
Life was chaotic and cruel. Horrible and sad; but it was also wonderful. Breathtaking and delightful. It was love and loss. Life forced them into their choices and they made the best of what they were given. There was never a correct answer, never a better choice because there was no outcome that was guaranteed by choosing one path over another. There was too much randomness and chance, too many variables to ever know what might have been done. If he had made a different choice, if he had done anything different that might have led to Thorin living.
And there was something horrible in that. A sort of inevitable ignorance that was great and frightening. But that was life. That was what led them here, to this bed, to this moment where Bilbo took in another breath while Thorin couldn't.
It wasn't comforting, Bilbo realized. There was no assurance in this. There was nothing to hold back his despair or sooth the wounds of his mind and body. It simply was. And he would have to deal with it. He would have to move forward; have to see the sun rise and the sun set while Thorin did not. He was the one who would have to smile and speak and move his tired limbs.
He was the one who had to live.
Somewhere deep in his mind, Bilbo knew he should be grateful for that, but right now it felt nothing more than a burden. It was hard and it was tiring and it hurt more than anything. He didn't…. he didn't want any of this.
He wanted Thorin. He had only wanted Thorin. And now he had nothing but grief.
Bilbo squeezed the hand again and buried his face further into the dwarf's still chest. He knew he should move; should… should go get someone. But all he did was weep. Warm tears poured out between gasping breaths. He wished they would heat Thorin's skin, he wished he could share his breaths with the dwarf's lungs. There was nothing so final, so wretchedly horrible as the stillness beneath him.
Bilbo almost waited for Thorin to suddenly gasp again, to cough and wipe away his mouth. He couldn't smother that lingering, traitorous spark of hope that this was all a dream and everything would be all right when everything around him screamed at the fallacy of his thoughts. He knew Thorin was dead, he knew that but at his core, what made Bilbo, Bilbo was that he couldn't help but wish for the best. He had not been so scarred in life as Thorin, he had not been knocked down so many times that success and happiness seemed like an impossible dream.
He didn't want to live alone. He didn't want to go back to the Shire. To Hobbiton and Bag End and wake every morning knowing that Thorin wasn't there beside him. He didn't want to grieve for the rest of his life; to know that this feeling, this ache would never lessen. Bilbo didn't think he could live like that. He wanted Thorin and Erebor and happiness. But since he couldn't have that, Bilbo wanted the silence to take him too. He wanted to see nothing but dark, to be embraced by the empty nothingness of eternity.
He wanted to hear Thorin's heartbeats again. But if he couldn't have that, he wanted the silence all around them to consume him, to bury him until there was nothing.
He lay there, curled against Thorin for what felt like an age. He wanted someone to come in, someone to remind him that he was not alone; but he equally loathed the thought. He didn't want to have to pretend that he was fine. Bilbo didn't want to do anything but weep in the hopes that maybe the next tear would be the last.
A low, gravelly voice came from the entrance of the tent. It was Gandalf, he knew it was, but he didn't turn his head to look. The wizard's entrance would mean that life was moving forward again. That the next series of choices and moments were upon him and Bilbo didn't think he could bear that. If Gandalf was here that would mean that Thorin's death would not just belong to him anymore, that he could no longer cling to the false hope that if he waited, perhaps in the next moment, Thorin would start to breathe again.
He pushed his face in harder, trying to ignore the noise, but it didn't make anything better. It didn't change anything.
His voice was quiet and raspy, foreign to even his own ears.
Bilbo heard soft footsteps come to rest next to the opposite side of the bed he and Thorin rested on. There was a slight ruffle of fabric and he saw the wizard's hand come into view, resting gently on the sliver of Thorin's heart that wasn't covered by his head.
The hand moved up to Thorin's face, two fingers rested gently on the dwarf's forehead as Gandalf spoke in a tongue that Bilbo didn't recognize. It sounded like a prayer almost, it sounded old and mournful but when the dwarf's eyes didn't flutter open as they had after the eagle's flight, the last shard of hope that had nestled unrecognized even by the hobbit was crushed in his chest.
He let out another wracking sob and closed his eyes.
Thorin was gone.
Gone, gone, gone.
His body remained, lifeless and empty. No magic would revive him. No tears would warm that corpse enough that a soul would slip back in. No amount of love in this world would raise the dead from their sleep.
"I am sorry, Bilbo."
What could he say to that? What could he possibly say?
Years of maintaining a respectable politeness to everyone he met almost made him thank Gandalf for his concern and assure the wizard that he was, in fact, perfectly fine and there was nothing to worry about.
But that wasn't true. There had never been anything less true. He was not fine. He was not going to be all right. He was broken and hurting and so very weary that if the ground swallowed them whole, Bilbo Baggins would have felt nothing except for relief that this grief, this tragedy was finally over.
He ignored Gandalf. He had nothing to say. There were no words for this. There were no thoughts or gestures that would do any of this justice. There was only inarticulate, horrible feeling.
"Thorin was…" Gandalf's voice trailed off, "Thorin was a good man."
Bilbo wanted to laugh, cold and bitter. He had never heard something more understated in his life. Thorin could not be summed up in a phrase, in a few paltry, insignificant words. Thorin had been everything. And now he was dead.
He brought his eyes slowly up to meet Gandalf's dark blue ones. He saw an old grief in the wizard's face and wondered for a brief moment what it would feel like to have all that power and still be so weak, so helpless to the brutality and chaos as the rest of them. To be so weak that he needed a hobbit to carry a ring for him. And for a moment he pitied Gandalf.
It was almost laughable. Strength and weakness, they didn't really mean a thing, did they? Thorin was strong. Fili and Kili were strong. And what help did that do them in the end? Gandalf was a wizard and all he could do was watch as he gave Bilbo the key to Thorin's destruction because the keeping the ring in his safekeeping would have meant something worse for world.
Bilbo knew why Gandalf had given it to him, but in that moment the weight of the world's fate didn't seem nearly so heavy as the weight of Thorin's death. But Gandalf had made his choice, had chosen to trust in the hope that Bilbo would be enough to keep Thorin from succumbing to its will.
Gandalf had been wrong. He had been completely and utterly wrong. But in the end his choice had saved countless more lives than it had cost. And that was how the wizard had to make his decisions, Bilbo thought, Gandalf had to weigh the world over an individual and that was his burden to bear.
So why did Bilbo feel like nothing had been won? Some hypothetical future where the ring corrupted Gandalf had been avoided, but the future where the ring corrupted Thorin had come to pass. That one was real. That future had happened. And the hobbit couldn't help but want to trade all those distant, meaningless lives for Thorin's.
It was a horrible thought, dark and selfish. Bilbo knew he should shove it away and never dwell on it ever again. But he couldn't. All those people meant nothing to him, their happiness; their moments were no more real to him than those he read about in his books. Their safety brought him no comfort in the face of Thorin's death.
He would make a terrible wizard.
The thought almost brought a bubble of manic laughter to his throat. He could picture Thorin rolling his eyes at the thought. He could hear Fili and Kili's laughter as they no doubt assured him that he would be the best wizard that ever was, but only if he used his powers to get them some extra food.
The pain washed over him again, fresh and splitting.
Is this how he would have to live? Would he be haunted by their shadows? Alive only in the back of his mind, tormenting him with their absence?
"They will never be truly gone from you, Bilbo."
Had he spoken that aloud? Bilbo opened his eyes to see Gandalf was looking at him as he must have looked at countless before him. Death was surely no stranger to a man who passed through so many lives.
"They are gone," his voice cracked, "they're gone forever and now I'm –" he sobbed again, "I'm alone."
"They will live on in your heart and your memories."
Bilbo knew Gandalf's words were meant to be reassuring but they cut him deeper than any sword.
"That is cruel," he whispered, "I shouldn't have to live with just… memories. With shadows."
"I know it seems that way now," Gandalf reached across Thorin's body to rest a hand lightly on Bilbo's shoulder, "but in time you will… you will treasure them."
This time he did laugh, but perhaps it sounded more like a sob. The hobbit didn't think they would ever sound all that different again.
"Don't lie to me," Bilbo's hand clenched, "don't – don't offer me cheap consolation, Gandalf."
Time? What could time offer him? More moments? It was moments that cursed him, made him suffer. More time could only bring grief and loneliness. More time was the last thing he wanted. Not if Thorin wasn't here to share it with him.
The wizard looked almost hollow, his mouth set in a thin, crooked line.
"Thorin is… dead," the word tasted like rust on his tongue, "Fili and Kili are dead. I don't want memories. I don't want to treasure memories. I want them alive. I want…"
Bilbo's words curled like dried leaves on his tongue. He didn't even know why he was talking to Gandalf right now. He knew words would do nothing. He couldn't be consoled nor would expressing himself make this any easier. It just hurt.
Gandalf nodded, giving Bilbo's shoulder another squeeze. He clung to the sensation for a heartbeat, the feeling of something that wasn't cold.
"You need to rest, Bilbo," Gandalf pulled his hand away, "'you have your own injuries to be tended."
The hobbit's hand unconsciously gripped Thorin's again. The thought of leaving filled him with fear.
"No…" he choked out, "no, I can't…. not – not yet…"
Gandalf nodded again slowly.
"I will return later."
The wizard turned and exited the tent, leaving Bilbo to his grief.
The hobbit pulled himself up so his head rested beside Thorin's on the stiff pillow. The dwarf's hair rested around his head in an inky black mess. Bilbo pushed his other arm above his head so his hand could thread through the strands. More tears, poured down his cheeks, dripping down so they fell down onto the dwarf's face.
He moved his hand through Thorin's hair in small motions, bringing it up again to rest of the dwarf's forehead before stroking it back down again. If he… if he closed his eyes he could almost pretend Thorin was just sleeping. A lance of pain shot through him again and the hobbit knew he shouldn't dwell in that fantasy. The only thing that would lead to was more pain.
"I'm sorry Thorin…" He whispered, lips a hair's breadth away from the dwarf's cold skin.
He was sorry for so many things. Sorry that he gave Thorin that ring. Sorry he couldn't protect the dwarf from its corruption. Sorry that Thorin had suffered so much in his life and that his end was full of violence and hurt.
He was sorry for the days they would never have and that the last of the ones they had shared had been tainted with betrayal.
He was sorry that in the end, Bilbo had failed his friend. He had failed to protect Thorin and his nephews when they needed him most.
Bilbo placed a gentle kiss on the dwarf's brow and lingered there. This was the last time he would kiss Thorin.
"I love you…" He murmured, Thorin's skin muffling the sound. It hurt so badly he wanted to clutch at his heart and tear it away but instead he stroked the dwarf's hair.
"I love you, I love you…" sobs wracked his chest and each one hurt more than the last, "I love you…"
He knew his words fell on deaf ears, but… that wasn't the point. Thorin couldn't hear him anymore, but he could hear himself.
A wave of grief and agony and nausea flooded through him and he thought for a moment he might pass out again.
"I love you, I love you," he whispered through sobs.
Everything poured from him. Each word like a small release of heartbreak.
"I love you, Thorin. I love you…"
All that pain and hurt and affection. Everything seemed to come rushing out. All his regrets and his hopes. All of his love.
He cried and whispered into Thorin's skin until he felt numb and empty. Until his eyes were red and dry and nothing could come forth anymore. He felt dizzy, like he was balancing on the edge of unconsciousness.
Bilbo placed one last kiss on Thorin's forehead, his hand gripping tightly at his friend's hand and hair.
This was the last time he would ever look at Thorin again. Bilbo felt that deep in his bones. This was the last time he would ever kiss him, talk to him, feel him. This was the end. This final moment that they would be together. In his heart he knew that it had already passed when Thorin drew his last rattling breath, but he allowed himself this one last lie.
Bilbo pressed his lips in hard and clenched his eyes shut.
This was the end.
His choice was whether to make it this moment or the next. It was a feeble choice, a cruel choice, but it was the only one left to Bilbo Baggins.
The rain made his hair wet. Rivulets ran down from his drenched hair, curling down his face, dripping off his chin. The mud was cold around his legs where he knelt on the ground. Bilbo tilted his face up and closed his eyes to the gray sky. The rain was cold on his skin but it was something else, something other than the numbing ache in his chest.
He didn't even feel the wind. He didn't feel much of anything.
Bilbo wasn't sure how he got here, away from the camp and kneeling in a muddy field. He remembered kissing Thorin one last time and then… nothing. He must have wandered out of the tent despite his broken ankle.
The mud and the rain felt good on his skin. Or at least they felt better than the clean sheets of Thorin's bed. His trousers must be getting dirty, he thought absently.
Bilbo couldn't cry anymore. All his tears were spent inside the healing tent. It was nice that the sky was sparing him the effort.
The hobbit felt… empty. As if the grief had torn out everything from him and all that was left was a shell. He was almost surprised that the wind didn't pass right through him instead of around his body.
"Halfling!" he heard a shout from behind him, but it sounded like it was miles away.
"Bilbo! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
The voice was familiar, high and agitated; but his mind remained blank to everything except for the sensation of rain.
"Halfling! You shouldn't just go wandering off like that! What if there were a stray orc—" the voice halted.
Was it closer now? He honestly couldn't tell anymore.
A hand might've reached out and touched him, but he felt so very far away.
His face was pulled sideways and he was jerked back to his body. Back to the ache and the loneliness. Bilbo blinked once and saw Tauriel had knelt down beside him, a thick bandage wrapped around her left arm and one covering her right cheek.
"You're alive…" the words slipped out as he met her green eyes. Shouldn't he be happy? Shouldn't he feel something other than hollow?
Her lips quirked into a small smile, "I am not easily killed, halfling."
Neither was Thorin. But he was still gone.
She frowned at him and Bilbo realized that he must've said that aloud.
"What are you doing out here?"
Bilbo gazed at her with blank eyes and shrugged. What had he been doing? He wasn't sure but it also didn't seem to matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
"I don't know."
Tauriel's gaze turned sorrowful and Bilbo remembered how old she was. Older than him. Older than any of the dwarves or men.
The elf nodded and sat down in the mud next to him, crossing her legs with the elegance that seemed inherent to all her kind. She gently took Bilbo's hand with her pale, long fingers and threaded them between his own. It was a mockery of the hand he wanted there but… He couldn't bring himself to hate it.
She sat with him in the rain and they didn't speak. Nothing but the sound of rain permeated the valley. Her hand was tight around his, her thumb periodically rubbing small circles over the back of his hand.
The last thing Bilbo wanted to do was talk and not once did the elf open her mouth. Not to offer consolation or words of wisdom. No advice on how to move on or how to deal with his grief. She was just there, silent but unwavering.
He thought listening to the sound of her breath would be painful, but he found it… calming, he supposed. If he concentrated on that, then the vacancy inside him couldn't swallow him whole.
Bilbo knew so little about the elf but he supposed if one lived as long as the fair folk, they were bound to know something about loss. Apparently Tauriel knew enough that words were so grossly inefficient, Bilbo would've done nothing but resent her for trying to use them.
His ankle was throbbing, as was his head. Objectively he knew he should be resting in a healing tent, away from all of the mud and remnants of the battle; but there was not a place on this earth he wanted to be less than inside those canvas walls. They were suffocating, pressing in all around him. Here, with the open sky, Bilbo felt like he could at least breathe a little. Even if those breaths were shaken and shallow.
He seemed to have lost all measure of time since he'd woken up after the battle. He just couldn't bring himself to care. If he spent hours or days kneeling in the mud, it wouldn't change a damn thing. He had nowhere to go, no pressing need to go back anywhere.
The gray sky started to grow dark, lightning flashing in the sky above them. He half expected Tauriel to usher them back to camp, to glare and snap about how it was much safer back there but all she did was watch the faraway flashes with even more distant eyes.
"You're both idiots," a new voice growled behind them.
Bilbo saw Tauriel's head turn and nod in greeting, "shifter."
"In case you hadn't noticed, there's a storm coming."
Beorn walked in front of them. Each step was a limp and Bilbo suddenly remembered all the arrows Beorn had taken. The hobbit had thought the shifter was wearing a white shirt, but it was actually just thick layers of bandages, some red seeping through.
"I'm well aware," Tauriel said as she glared up at Beorn, whose yellow eyes just glared right back.
"Don't you think you should be back inside." The shifter's voice made it clear he wasn't asking a question.
Bilbo saw Tauriel glance at him, her brows drawn tight, "we're not ready to go back yet."
Beorn let out a small growl as he bared his teeth slightly, "this is foolish. What's the point of getting your wounds treated if you just go rubbin' mud in them. Or get struck by lightning." He shifted his yellow glare up towards the sky.
Tauriel's mouth snapped shut and her gaze flicked towards the hobbit again.
Beorn looked between them and sighed. Despite his wounded leg, the shifter knelt down in front of Bilbo. "We're going back in."
Bilbo didn't – he didn't want to go back to the others. Back to those tents. At least he thought he didn't, it was hard to tell if anything was more than a shadow of a feeling. It was even harder to care. To turn the numb pain into coherent thought. The hobbit blinked at Beorn but didn't say anything.
"I didn't carry you through half the damn battle to see you die in the dirt," Beorn all but snarled the words though Bilbo couldn't hear any real anger in them.
He stared somewhere past the shifter's shoulder.
"I will pick you up, hobbit. Don't think I won't."
Tauriel let go of his hand and stood, mud dripping off her legs, "I will carry him, shifter. You're injured."
"It's Beorn," he glared at her again, "not 'shifter.' And so are you."
Tauriel crossed her arms in defiance and tried to hide the wince as her injured left moved.
"Less so than you, Beorn."
He rolled his eyes and reached out his arms, giving Bilbo one last look before scooping him up. The shifter ignored Tauriel's spluttered protests and started to limp forward. The hobbit felt… small. He could have fit under one of Beorn's massive arms but he held Bilbo almost cradled in two. The ground shifted beneath him and they were making their way back through the rain, towards the lights and the tents.
Bilbo shut his eyes, his head resting against Beorn's bandaged chest.
They made their way back slowly. Tauriel muttering about foolhardy men and Beorn letting out a small snarl before retorting that he was no mere man. The hobbit drifted in and out of awareness. Sometimes the gaping, aching hole in his chest was impossible to ignore. And sometimes he felt numb.
Bilbo blinked and he was in a tub of warm water, someone was unwrapping the bandages around his head to wash out his hair. The hobbit turned his face and saw Bofur was sitting on a small stool that he had pulled up to the side of the basin.
"Been talkin' to you for a while now," the dwarf gave him a strained smile, "suppose you didn't hear none o' that, did you?"
The hobbit blinked again, "what…"
"Beorn and that elf woman brought you back here all covered in dirt and the like. I was told them I would wash you off, so they could be gettin' back to their business." Bofur tossed the soiled bandage to the side and poured some water of his head. The hobbit felt mud and dirt drip down his face.
"Shouldn't you be with…" Bombur and Bifur. Shouldn't he be with his family? Not here with the hobbit who had betrayed his leader.
Bofur shrugged, "they'll be gettin' on fine. Master Dáin's got lots for all them to discuss, they don't need a simple miner sittin' silent in a corner."
Bilbo curled his legs up to his chest and stared blankly at the muddying water.
"Why are you helping me, Bofur?" He didn't look up at the dwarf.
Bofur's hand paused for a moment before resuming their task, "why wouldn't I be helpin' you, Master Baggins?"
Bilbo was silent for a moment, not sure he'd heard right. Wasn't it obvious?
"Because…" his words trailed off with a shaken breath, "because I betrayed you all. I… I betrayed Thorin and gave up the Arkenstone to the one elf that you hated more than anything…"
"I wasn't ever hatin' the elves, Master Baggins," Bofur's voice was soft, "and you weren't betrayin' nothin'. I know why you did what you did, so does the rest o' the company."
Bofur was silent for a moment.
"Everythin' was… confused before the battle. We all knew Thorin was actin' strange but we thought… I'm not sure what we was thinkin' but it wasn't until Fili… the lad was shoutin' about how Thorin had hurt you."
Bilbo reached up and felt the bruises on his neck.
"When Thorin struck Fili before meetin' with the elves and Bard again, then we knew somethin' was wrong. He would never… he'd never hurt the lads, no matter what."
"But there wasn't time to do nothin'," Bofur poured more water over his head, "we were waitin' for them to come back, debatin' what we were goin' to do about Thorin when they came stormin' back into the mountain."
"The lads were shoutin' about how he almost… about how he tried you kill you, laddie," Bofur's voiced sounded pained, "we couldn't believe it, none of us could. You were… You were his chosen, laddie. Dwarves don't… they just don't do that sort o' thing."
"Thorin turned on the, on all o' us. I thought he was gonna start knifin' everyone. I've never seen that sorta… rage in him before. Then he…" Bilbo felt the dwarf's fingers shake slightly, "he was shoutin' and then suddenly just sort o' gripped his head. It sounded like… like he was shoutin' at himself. All sorts o' mad things, his voice gettin' all twisted."
Bilbo could picture it in his mind. Thorin bent over, Orcrist clattering to the floor and his fingers dug into his skull. Trying to fight the ring with all his might.
"He was yellin' about you, Master Baggins. How he had betrayed you and then how… he was goin' to kill you. All twisted like I was sayin', like there were two Thorin's in his head."
"Then he gripped his hand and was yankin' off a ring," Bofur started to scrub at his shoulders, "threw it to the floor and sort o'… collapsed. Knocked out cold for a few hours, none of us was havin' any idea what was goin' on. All we knew was there was a battle goin' on the morrow and our leader was… either goin' mad or already there."
"When he woke, Thorin… he started sobbin', laddie. I was never seein' him shed so much as a tear in all the years I've been followin' him around. The lads and Master Dwalin went to see him and all he was sayin' was how he betrayed you, how he had abandoned you."
Bilbo felt like his heart might've split open again. So Thorin had taken the ring off before the battle. Thorin had taken the ring off right has he was riding away on that blasted pony. If he had… only turned around, only chose to go after Thorin, then he would have been there to protect them at the beginning of the battle. He might've… might've saved them…
Bilbo let out a dry sob as he clung to his legs tighter.
Bofur stopped scrubbing, instead placing a hand there and rubbing small, gentle circles.
"We… were tryin' to tell him to go find you, laddie. All of us really, we were knowin' that you would want to see him, to talk; but Thorin wasn't listenin' to any o' us. He kept sayin' how he had betrayed you and how… he wasn't deservin' to see you again after everythin' he did."
Bilbo closed his eyes and wished there was some way he could just… stop. Stop everything, stop time, stop his mind from supplying images from a would-be future where he had refused to leave or Thorin had come to find him. The hobbit clutched his pounding head, ignoring the stinging as his fingers dug into the wound that was still fresh on his temple.
"The lads tried their hardest o' course, I think they were knownin' best that you…" Bofur trailed off for a moment, "that you would've wanted to be seein' him. He was your chosen too, wasn't he?"
He'd heard the dwarves use that term before. Bilbo just assumed that it was their way of saying that two people were in love, but now… It felt like something more. Not destined, not meant for each other; it was more powerful than that. To credit it to some kind of fate was cheap. There was no choice in that; there was no free will to act upon. When you chose someone, you decided – you – that they were worth whatever the future held, good or bad.
"He was…" Bilbo shuddered and knew that that was only half true.
There was nothing 'past' about his love for Thorin.
"What does it mean to you?" Bilbo asked quietly, his fingers still digging into his skull, "what does being chosen mean?"
He knew what it meant for him. He knew that for him it would mean Thorin for the rest of his life.
"When a dwarf chooses…" Bofur gently pulled the hobbit's hands away from his head and placed them back in the water, "it's a whole long affair, really… Ma was always sayin' it was more trouble than it was worth, but I was always thinkin' she was just trying to poke fun at my Pa."
"It usually starts out with gifts and the like. Pa gave her a stone, to be showin' intentions. Nothin' is given lightly, laddie, it's a… symbol, I'm supposin'. Shows your intended what you could offer them."
"Like a mithril shirt...?" Bilbo thought back to Thorin's gift and suddenly it seemed infinitely more important. A symbol of protection and of safety. And then Thorin had tried to kill him. The look of hurt, of sheer self-loathing the dwarf had etched deeply into his face in the healing tent made more sense now. Thorin must have thought he went back on his promise.
Bofur paused for a moment and the hobbit could practically see the considering look he was getting. "Aye, laddie. That would be… a kingly gift."
"Once the gift is given and bein' accepted, it… the union isn't official or nothin' quite yet, but the engagements don't really go back after that. I think you folks are callin' it bein' married, we call it bondin'. Dwarves are usually doin' it for life, laddie. That's why these things are takin' so seriously, it's a rather long commitment."
Bilbo let out a choked, bitter laugh, though it might've been a sob. A long commitment? Thorin had given him the mithril shirt less than a fortnight ago. So… Thorin had… had wanted Bilbo for the rest of life.
And the worst part about it was that Thorin had gotten exactly what he wanted.
A few days together. That's all they really had. A few days where they knew what they wanted and then it was all over between a few heartbeats. It was sudden and brief. It was bright and blinding. It was like star exploding in the night sky, painting the dark with streaks of light before it disappeared; swallowed whole by the infinite black maw.
"I'm sorry, laddie," Bofur grabbed a cloth and started to wipe the water away from Bilbo's face, "I know what… I saw what happened to Bifur after he was losing his chosen. And the lads… I –" the dwarf's words halted, "I'm sorry."
There was pain in his voice that Bilbo recognized. The pain of someone who knew what it was like to lose a home, a family. The hobbit didn't feel any better, he wasn't sure he would ever feel better again. But it was something, to know that Bofur did't hate him. That the rest of the company didn't blame him for giving up the Arkenstone.
"Th—" Bilbo wanted to sound grateful but his voice seemed raw and stripped with grief, "thank you, Bofur… I know this hasn't been easy for any of you."
"Don't go worryin' about us, laddie. We'll be gettin' on like we always have." Bofur wrapped a fresh bandage around the wound on Bilbo's head, "ain't no folks on this earth hardier than us dwarves."
The hobbit saw Bofur stand up after tying the bandage, "you should be gettin' some rest, Bilbo. I can stay here if you're not wantin' to be alone."
"No – no… it's fine. I'll be fine."
It was a lie. They both knew Bilbo's words hung false in the air but Bofur seemed to realize that the hobbit wanted to be alone. The dwarf walked over to the flap of the tent and turned back to look at him, Bofur's face looked just as tried as Bilbo felt.
"If you're needin' anythin' just come find me, laddie."
Bilbo nodded as the dwarf pushed his way out the door. Despite the warmth of the water, the hobbit was shaking. His fingers quivered in front of his face and the nausea bubbled up in his stomach again. He got up and found another cloth and fresh clothes. They weren't his muddy trousers or singed jacket; just a plain linen shirt and a pair of tousers that looked as if they had been cut to accommodate his short legs.
Bilbo pulled them on with rattling limbs. As he shifted his head to get it through the hole in the shirt, the hobbit felt a sharp pain in his neck. After shoving his head through, Bilbo brought his fingers and felt dampness there and scabs. The cut, Thorin's cut had reopened.
The hobbit limped backwards until his legs hit the edge of the bed and he just about collapsed on it. Bilbo stared at his fingers, watching the bead of red slip down, down his finger and coiling around his wrist before sinking into the sleeve of his shirt. The tips were smudged in that same crimson that had smeared Fili and Kili's faces; that had blossomed through Thorin's bandages.
Bilbo wept again.
He thought he had shed all the tears he had back in Thorin's healing tent but apparently he was wrong. The wound felt fresh again, stinging and raw.
Where could he go? Where could he go that the memories of the ones he'd lost would not linger around each corner, waiting for him to mourn them again and again.
There was nowhere. Bilbo Baggins bore their marks. He bore them on his body, Thorin's cut was testament enough to that. He bore them on his mind, his memories trapped, unmovable, and permanent. But most of all, he bore them on his heart. And there was no way he could rid himself of that; of the love he'd given to Thorin and Fili and Kili.
The hobbit wiped his eyes and saw there was a fresh roll of bandages on the chair where his clothes had been laid out. His pack and Sting sat next to it but next to the roll was a small, black dagger. The dagger Fili had given him. Bilbo reached over and grabbed the linens and the knife, cutting a strip of clean cloth, wrapping his neck over the cut.
The dagger was clean. There was no orc blood left on it from where he'd stabbed Azog's captain. Suddenly Bilbo could see Fili's bright blue eyes and wide smile. Laughing and giving him the wink he'd seen so many times before. He thought of the young dwarf brothers.
Fili and Kili who had loved their uncle.
Fili and Kili who had loved each other.
Fili and Kili who had died as they had lived, together.
He thought Dís, their mother and Thorin's sister. The one left behind. She didn't even know it yet. In her mind, they were all still breathing. Their hearts were still beating. In her mind they lived. In that moment Bilbo envied her more than anyone but it quickly turned to a bitter sadness.
She had lost her chosen. Her brother and her parents and her grandparents. And now she had lost all the family she had left. Her brother was gone. Her sons were gone. She was alone. The hobbit had never felt more kinship with someone he'd never met.
She was alone just like him. The ones who had escaped death. The ones who lived on, clawing their love back into their hearts; knowing that one more hurt, one more break and they would be shattered forever. Dust on the wind but still horribly alive.
Bilbo reached down into his pack and pulled out the mithril shirt. It was just as light as he remembered and cold. The hobbit leaned back on the bed and curled himself into a ball, Thorin's gift clutched tightly to his chest and he let the grief wash over him again. There was no one here to be strong for, no one he needed to hide from.
There was to be a funeral. Dáin had decreed that his kin were to be buried in the depths of the mountain along with their ancestors. Every dwarf of Durin's line that had resided in Erebor, except for Thrór and Thrain, were laid deep in those stone tombs. There would be a procession to the gates but once they reached it, the company would take the bodies the rest of the way.
At least that's what Dwalin was trying to tell him as Bilbo sat, staring blankly at a wall as the gruff dwarf practically threw himself into a chair.
"I want you there, lad."
Dwalin wasn't… he wasn't much for grief, not the way that Bilbo seemed to be. No one had known Thorin longer than Dwalin but his loss seemed to be manifested in anger rather than sorrow.
Bilbo didn't want to go. Or rather he didn't think he could go. Seeing them die was… too much, how could he face their corpses again? How could he look upon their pale, cold faces and not fall to pieces?
"I…" the hobbit began but Dwalin quickly cut him off.
"No, whatever you're about to say I don't want to hear it unless it's one word and that word is 'yes.'"
Bilbo's eyes drifted over to meet the dwarf's. "I can't – I can't see them like that—"
"And you think this is easy for me, do you? You think this is any better for the rest of us?"
"I saw them die, Dwalin. I saw – saw everything. I can't do that again. I can't."
Dwalin narrowed his eyes as the hobbit shrunk back unconsciously.
"I knew Thorin since he was a squalling babe. I knew Fili and Kili from the moment those two idiots stumbled into this world. They were my family and I will pay them the respect they deserve."
The dwarf's voice grew low and dangerous, more snarl than anything.
Bilbo sat in silence as he stared back at Dwalin.
"Thorin was my brother and the lads were as good as sons to me. Do you think there is anything easy about this?"
"N-no…" the hobbit mumbled.
"What was that?" Dwalin growled.
"No," Bilbo said just loud enough to hear.
The dwarf glared at him again but his face softened a fraction as he took in Bilbo's shrunken state.
"You were his chosen." Dwalin brought up a scarred hand to rub at his face, "I never thought I'd say this, and certainly not to a damn hobbit, but… he loved you, lad. It's your duty to see them off, same as me."
Bilbo looked away, his eyes lowered to the ground.
"It's our duty."
"Duty?" the word poured from Bilbo's mouth like acid, "is that what this is to you?" He knew Dwalin's devotion to Thorin ran deeper than anything. He knew that but it didn't stop him from trying to lash out, to – to get out of this somehow.
Dwalin's face grew cold and for a moment the hobbit thought he might get punched.
"I know you're grieving, lad," the dwarf's voice was deathly calm, "we all are. But if you ever question my motivations again, you will regret it."
There were several heavy seconds where neither of them spoke and Bilbo looked at the floor.
"He would do the same for you," Dwalin added quietly, "Thorin would see your body safely to Mahal and anyone who tried to stop him would get a knife in the gut."
"None of this is…" Bilbo felt a large hand rest on his shoulder, "none of this should've happened. I should have been there to protect them, I should have…"
The hobbit looked up and saw the same look in the dwarf's eyes when he'd told Bilbo of Bragi so many moons ago. Loss, guilt, anger. But more than any of those, there was loneliness.
"I'm sure you did everything you could," Bilbo felt himself echo the words he'd spoken near Beorn's house.
"I did." Dwalin squeezed his shoulder, "and it still wasn't enough. I was sworn to protect Thorin and I failed him. Just because I did what I could doesn't mean I'm any less responsible, lad. It doesn't mean shit in the end."
"Thorin's dead. Fili and Kili are dead, and I'm the one who is going to tell Dís that the rest of her family is gone."
"Will she…" Bilbo want to know, needed to know that she would make it, "will she be alright?"
Dwalin eyed him for a moment and shook his head, "No. She will be the farthest thing from alright but I won't let her give in."
Bilbo saw the resoluteness in his gaze and couldn't help but believe the dwarf.
"You're coming. I won't let you sit here and give in to your grief either, lad. I know you can fight, I know you have strength in you."
Bilbo didn't feel strong. He felt frail and brittle. Like a light breeze would break him in two and he would be thankful for the distraction.
"Why do you care?"
Dwalin rubbed his face again, "you really are an idiot. Thorin was my brother and Thorin chose you."
"I see…" Bilbo didn't know what he was expecting.
"I really don't think you do, lad." Dwalin crossed his arms. "I watched him grow distrustful. I watched Thorin brood every day since Erebor fell. I watched him as revenge and rage consumed him."
"But it wasn't until I saw him with you that I realized what I had been seeing."
Bilbo glanced up to meet the dwarf's dark blue eyes.
"You brought him back, lad. You saved Thorin when I couldn't and for that I will always be indebted to you. Thorin had never… he wouldn't have let anyone close enough to become his friend let alone be bonded to them, and yet he chose you."
"But that's not why I care, lad. I care because you are part of this company and you are my friend." Dwalin gave a small shrug, "I let Thorin down when he needed me most."
"Dwalin –" Bilbo said softly but the dwarf raised a hand to silence him.
"I won't let you down too, lad. You'll regret it for the rest of your life if you don't go and if I can do anything for you; it'll be to at least save you from that."
Silence fell again, but this time it wasn't so suffocating.
"Will you go or am I dragging you?" Dwalin's voice made it clear that he would do whatever he needed to.
It would hurt to see them there. But his heart couldn't ache more than it already did, could it? And at least… at least he would have friends there.
Dwalin shot him a gruff smile, "good."
The sun was shining and air was surprisingly warm given the time of year. The birds were chirping and only a few white puffs of clouds obscured the sky. It was a disgustingly beautiful day and they were burying the dead.
The soldiers that had fallen had been picked up over the last few days. The remnants of their armies, men, elves, and dwarves, had donned their armor once more to bury Thorin Oakenshield and his nephews. They had gathered just beyond the camp on the side closest to Erebor's now open gates. The procession would go all the way up the winding road and into the mountain where the dwarves would carry their king and princes deep into the stone.
Thranduil stood tall next to Gandalf in his shining silver robe, his crown pale, bare wood resting atop his silvery-gold hair. The Elvenking's face betrayed little of what he was thinking but Bilbo was glad he was there. That meant that perhaps the negotiations between the elf and Dáin were going well. Legolas stood beside his father in a soft green tunic, plain but somehow on the elf it looked as elegant as the pale garment Thranduil had donned. Tauriel, he saw, stood slightly behind her king in the traditional garb of her station.
Beside Legolas, Bard was stiff and his hands were clasped behind his back. Bilbo had never seen Bard look anything more than scruffy and in a perpetual state of dishevelment. Today he looked… much like the king he now was. The bowman's cloth was simple but well made. There were no patches or rough-spun wool on him now. He wore no crown, but as the hobbit glanced at him, he didn't think Bard needed one. The bowman had won the allegiance of his men, of his people. He didn't need a piece of metal to show that he was now king of Dale.
Dáin was gazing at the three stone coffins in front of him with a somber sort of calm. Thorin's company was grouped to the new king's right and behind them stood the remaining remnants of their armies.
Bilbo had tried to limp by himself to the edge of camp but was quickly caught by Ori, Nori, and Dori. The youngest gave him a sad smile and stuck out his arm for the hobbit to take. Bilbo had grasped it reluctantly as the four of them walked in silence towards the ceremony but now that he was in front of the coffins, Bilbo was suddenly grateful for Ori's steady presence beside him.
If not for the young dwarf, Bilbo wasn't altogether too confident he would have lasted. His ankle was already throbbing and the sight made his legs feel shaky and weak. He'd almost run away half a dozen times but every time he turned his head to see the way to flee, he'd met Dwalin's eyes.
"Don't worry, Master Baggins," Ori whispered into his ear, "I won't let you fall."
No doubt the dwarf had felt Bilbo's hands start to shake and his grip tighten as soon as Dáin began to speak of the accomplishments of Thorin Oakenshield and his two brave nephews.
No one could sum up a life, let alone three lives, in a speech. No one could describe the way Thorin's smile was like a precious flicker of flame. Brief and fleeting but also bright and warm. No one could do Fili's easy laugh justice; no words could properly convey the way Kili would crinkle his right eye when he grinned. There were so many things that made up these three lives that Bilbo couldn't bring himself to listen to Dáin's speech.
It seemed… like they were doing Thorin and Fili and Kili a disservice, to try and boil down what made them, them. To dilute what made them special and important into a speech.
Bilbo felt his vision start to go gray for a moment and he thought he was going to faint. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right, they shouldn't – they shouldn't be making everything so simple, they shouldn't –
"I've got you, Master Baggins."
Bilbo blinked and focused his vision on Ori's kind face.
"Just take a deep breath," the young dwarf inhaled deeply and held it until he saw Bilbo do the same. "Good, and out again."
The hobbit exhaled.
"Just breathe, we'll – we'll get through this, okay? I'll be right here."
Bilbo nodded and just tried to concentrate on one breath after the other.
In, out. In, out.
Soon the sounds faded away and all that seemed to exist in this world was the motion of his lungs and the three coffins in front of him. They were stone, as was near everything made by the dwarves, and they were carved with the same sharp, intricate patterns that decorated the interior of Erebor.
He hadn't seen Fili and Kili since the battlefield. He wondered if their faces were still smeared with red. If there would ever been enough cloth to stop the bleeding on Fili's back.
He missed them so intensely it felt like a limb had been wrenched away from his body. Bilbo felt distinctly like he wasn't whole anymore and he wouldn't be ever again. They were so… so young. They were his friends, they had kept him warm at night, and they had joked and laughed. They'd saved his life and now they were dead.
How did people go on? How did anyone experience all of these great and terrible things and just… move forward? How did one go back to normalcy, to gardening and cooking, like they hadn't had their heart torn to shreds?
All he did was hurt. The thought trying to move forward, to move on, made Bilbo feel sick.
Bilbo blinked back the tears.
"Bilbo," Ori whispered
The hobbit looked up and saw the Thranduil had moved to stand in front of him. The Elvenking reached into his sleeve and pulled out something small and familiar.
"This belongs to Thorin Oakenshield," Thranduil said softly as he held out the Arkenstone in front of Bilbo.
The stone's lights weaved before his eyes, casting its ethereal brilliance across the elf's hands. The hobbit looked up at the Elvenking, his eyes were wet now and he couldn't bring himself to pretend tears were not beginning to run down his face.
"Why are you giving it to me?"
Thranduil reached down and grasped one of Bilbo's hands, turning it so the palm was up and placed the Arkenstone there.
"I thought you should be the one to place it."
Bilbo's eyes went wide as he realized what the Elvenking wanted him to do. No… No, he'd already… he'd said his goodbye, he couldn't get any closer.
"I—I can't…" the hobbit choked out as Thranduil folded Bilbo's finger's over the stone.
"You can. Be strong, halfling." The elf smiled at him and Bilbo realized he'd never seen Thranduil's face anything but cold or slightly mocking. The Elvenking stepped back and suddenly there was nothing between him and the coffins.
"Do you – do you want help, Master Baggins?" Ori's voice was laced with concern as he turned to look at Bilbo.
Never looking away, Bilbo shook his head. No, he would… he would do this alone. This was his burden and his gift. He would be the one to give back what he'd taken. Bilbo Baggins would return the Arkenstone to Erebor, to Thorin.
The hobbit let go of Ori's arm and started to limp forward. His progress was slow and pain shot through his leg with every step, but it all seemed impossibly distant as he approached Thorin's coffin.
The dwarf was clad in a deep blue, much like the coat he had worn on their journey. His skin was pallid and sunken and the sight made Bilbo let out a choked sob as he approached. There was a stone crown upon Thorin's head, set with a single sapphire in the middle.
The King of Erebor.
Bilbo reached down and gently grasped one of the cold hands that were folded across the dwarf's chest. He squeezed as he had done so many times before and moved it lower down so the left side of Thorin's chest was only covered by the fine blue cloth.
Bilbo's fingers shook as he brought the Arkenstone to rest on top of the dwarf's still chest. If Thorin's own heart could no longer beat then… maybe the heart of the mountain would do it for him.
All it did was glisten in the afternoon sun. Still as stone, still as Thorin.
'You didn't actually think that would work, did you?' he could almost hear Thorin's gruff chuckle, his eyes rolling in exasperation. 'Stone is stone, not flesh Bilbo.'
The hobbit let out a sobbing laugh.
'No, I don't suppose I did,' Bilbo might've replied, 'but you know I always have to try.'
The hobbit leaned down and placed a kiss on Thorin's brow, his hand pressing into the Arkenstone.
'Goodbye, my friend,' he wanted to say, 'goodbye, my love.'
But in the end Bilbo couldn't bring himself to say anything at all.
The rest of the company journeyed up with Dáin and his dwarves to finish the burial inside the mountain. Bilbo was tired, he was worn and weary and his head throbbed. He had decided to stay back near the camp. He wasn't sure his ankle would take much more abuse, let alone walking all the way back up and into Erenor. And he… he could only say goodbye so many times.
Bilbo stared at the now distant backs of the dwarves as they proceeded towards the massive green gates.
"Halfling," Bilbo looked up to see Tauriel walking over to him, Beorn on her heels with Bard and Legolas following after the bulky shifter.
As she approached and her eyes lingered on his. Bilbo knew they were wet and red and blank. Tauriel's mouth set in a thin line and she seemed to be debating something in her head.
"I'm going to…" she furrowed her brows with purpose, "I'm going to hug you, halfling."
She knelt down and gathered him into a firm embrace. Her strong arms making a cage around him. Bilbo's eyes widened in surprise for a moment as his vision filled with her auburn hair. The hobbit was limp in her arms for a confused second until he felt something break inside him. Bilbo wrapped his arms tightly around her neck and for a moment just buried his face in her hair, relishing the warmth and security of her embrace.
The hobbit felt so weak. He clung to her like a drowning man clings to earth, desperate and frightened.
The elf said nothing, just pulled him tighter into her chest. For a few minutes at least, Bilbo didn't have to do anything but cry into her shoulder. He didn't have to think, didn't have to stand, didn't have to hold back the wave of grief that felt so large, so impossibly insurmountable. All he did was let it crash around him, drowning out the world.
Bilbo was getting her shirt wet. He knew he should pull away, but his body felt so far away. Separate almost, tied together only by the aching strings of his heart. Tauriel shifted beneath him, pulling away slightly. She reached up and wiped away some of the wetness from his cheeks with her hand.
Beorn stood slightly behind her, watching with his dark brows drawn. "We should get back to camp."
Tauriel's head snapped around and she hissed something that sounded eerily like a promise of slow and painful evisceration.
"We will leave when he is ready, shifter."
Legolas walked forward and placed a hand lightly on her shoulder before kneeling in front of Bilbo.
"Can you walk, Bilbo?" the elf's face was both kind and mournful as he spoke.
The hobbit just wanted to curl up and never move again. Instead he gave the prince a small nod. Tauriel stood and offered Bilbo he hand. Before the hobbit could take it, Beorn moved himself forward with far too much agility for a man his size and scooped Bilbo up in his arms as he had the day before.
"You shouldn't walk on that ankle, hobbit. It'll heal poorly if you keep straining it."
Bilbo tuned out their voices, closing his eyes as their small group walked back towards the camp in the setting sun. Beorn and Tauriel voices where constantly trying to rise above the other as soft murmurs from Bard and Legolas floated behind him; each of them trying to distract the hobbit and themselves as much as they could.
Soon enough, Bilbo felt himself being shifted and placed down on a cot. He opened his eyes and saw that they had congregated in Bard's tent. Tauriel snapped something at Beorn as the bowman walked towards a chest and pulled out a large bottle of some amber liquid.
Legolas rummaged around in another corner and pulled out five mugs, handing them over to Bard. Beorn rolled his eyes at Tauriel before moving past her and taking the bottle from Bard.
"I don't trust you civilized folk to know how to pour a proper drink."
"Do you even have cups in that little hut of yours?" Tauriel asked with sweet acidity.
"Big enough to hold your head, elf," Beorn growled as he poured a generous amount into each mug, "though I don't think they could make one big enough to hold that ego."
"Ego?" Tauriel hissed as she snatched up the mug, "Ego? I don't have an ego."
Legolas coughed and Bard started to gently hit the elf on his back.
She glared at her prince before rounding on Beorn again, "It's not ego if it's true. I am the best and I have worked every day of my life to earn that."
"Aye," Beorn nodded with false solemnity, "but can the she-elf hold her drink?"
His face broke out into a wicked grin, "Are you the best at that as well?"
"Would you care to find out, shifter?" Her green eyes were narrowed into angry slits.
"Why yes, milady," he gave her a deep bow, "I do believe I would."
She let out a barking laugh, "You'll regret that soon enough. I don't lose."
"But if you do," his yellow eyes flashed, "you call me by name."
"And if I win. Which I will," she sneered, "you will address me as your highness, the fairest woman and fiercest fighter in all the west."
"Fine," Beorn shrugged as if her threats meant nothing to him.
"Fine," she snapped back.
Bard stepped forward, a solemn sort of grimace on his face. "Before you both drink yourselves sick, we should toast the fallen."
Bilbo stopped staring into the depths of his mug and looked up at the bowman.
"To our slain companions, whose bravery and sacrifice we will never forget," Bard said in a weary tone.
"To our friends who we shall hold close to our hearts, may they find peace in the Halls of Mandos," Legolas added raising his mug.
"To our friends," Beorn and Tauriel echoed.
"To our friends," Bilbo whispered as they all drank from their cups.
The liquid burned down his throat. He knew he shouldn't drink too much at one time but maybe if it was enough… maybe he wouldn't hurt so much. The hobbit tilted the mug all the way back and took several large gulps, ignoring the sensation in his mouth.
His limbs felt suddenly light and after a few more drinks, his mind was too fuzzy to make any coherent thought. It was bliss compared to the torment that had been clawing at the inside of his skull before. Bilbo drained the cup before raising it to Bard, signaling for more.
"It would appear that you both have some unexpected competition," Legolas smiled as he reached around Bard and grabbed Bilbo's cup.
Beorn let out a low chuckle that didn't quite reach his eyes as Tauriel tilted the mug back, draining it and then slamming it down on the small wooden table. The shifter rolled his eyes again and drained his own, the mug looking almost like a teacup in his large hands.
Legolas handed the hobbit his cup back as he moved to sit down next to Bilbo on the low cot.
"If you keep going that fast," Beorn tilted his second cup back with lazy ease, "you're not going to last long, milady."
"Hah," Tauriel sneered as she sat down on one of the stools next to the table, "clearly you've never drank with an elf before."
Beorn snorted as he took the other rickety stool that groaned under his bulk, "is there anything you lot don't think makes you vastly superior to us lowly mortals?"
"I do not think I am superior to all mortals," Tauriel raised a red brow, "just you, shifter."
"Whatever you say, milady," Beorn bared his teeth and filled his third cup, "I think you'll find I'm much better equipped for this than any man that had the misfortune to drink with you before."
The elf snorted into her cup, "Said every man to ever open his mouth."
Beorn gave her a feral sort of grin, "Aye, but unlike them, I can back up every word."
"We'll see," Tauriel shot him a sickly sweet smile.
Bilbo's mind was swimming. He was two full cups in and maybe… maybe if he drank one more then he would sleep without any dreams. The hobbit raised his cup and almost missed his mouth. He would have if Legolas' swift hand had not gently pushed the edge so it tilted into his mouth instead of onto his cheek.
"Have you had enough, Bilbo?" the elf's face was a blurry mess of gold and pale skin in front of him.
"No," he slurred, taking another gulp of the fiery liquid. It would be enough – enough when his mind went blank and his heart stopped aching. The drink, he knew, would only be able to do one of those things, but he'd settle for that over the tumult of horrible thoughts and heartbreaking memories that would surface if he didn't.
The hobbit half expected Legolas to take his cup away from him anyway but he didn't.
"I will not offer you words, Bilbo," the hobbit blinked up at Legolas, trying to focus on the elf's face, "I know… I know they will mean nothing to you now. But if you ever have need of me, you need only ask."
"I know it feels more painful than you can bear, my friend," Legolas touched two his fingers lightly over Bilbo's heart, "but you will heal with time."
"Th—that's what they… what they say, isn't it?" the hobbit's words were clumsy as they tumbled from his mouth. His voiced as a horrible mixture of bitterness and sarcasm, "everything gets – gets better with time."
"I know that's not what you want to hear, Bilbo," Legolas pulled his hand away with a sad, knowing sort of smile, "I am certainly not saying that it is easy, but it is true, my friend, I promise you that."
"You – you have lived a—" he hiccupped, "a long time…"
Maybe Legolas knew something he didn't. Maybe that was the burden of the elves. Long life and wisdom but they were… out of place here. Everything else faded, everything else died a little bit every day. But not the fair folk. No wonder they always seemed so reclusive, Bilbo thought to himself sluggishly, when everyone but them has to die. Men, dwarves, hobbits… Even orcs and goblins were all united in their inevitable demise, but not the elves.
'Lonely…' he gazed with blurry vision at Legolas, 'he must be… so – so lonely…'
"I have," the elf smiled as Bard pulled up a chair to sit next to Legolas, "I'm somewhat of an expert on the issue."
"An expert on what now?" Bard settled down in the chair, his back curving into a gentle slope and he looked almost relaxed now.
"Oh, just life," Legolas smiled at the bowman.
'And death…' Bilbo's mind supplied.
"Ah," Bard rolled his right shoulder in its socket, "and what's your verdict, oh wise prince?"
Legolas took a small sip from his cup.
"That it is wondrous. And beautiful."
Bilbo drained his cup. Swallowing the burning liquid was easier than swallowing the elf's lies.
"But it is also cruel." Bilbo glanced up again. "And it will tear you apart until there is nothing left but a hollow, bleeding shadow of the person you once were."
"Life is everything, my friend. It is complex, like many fine threads woven together in a tapestry bigger than the sky itself. It cannot be simply good or bad."
Legolas met Bilbo's gaze and gave him another old smile, "All darkness must fade, Bilbo. Your loss is a wound and all wounds must be given time to heal. You will find beauty in your days again."
Bilbo wanted to cry. He wanted so badly to believe Legolas. He wanted to trust that impossible hope that maybe, just maybe, his might not be consumed by this horrible ache. So he did cry. It didn't wrack through his body; it didn't feel like his grief was digging its claws into his eyes. He cried because, if only for that moment, he did believe and knew that it was fleeting.
The hobbit felt himself sway lightly then he collapsed on his back, his blurry eyes watching the top of the tent twist and turn above him.
"I'll drink to that," he heard Bard say after a second.
Bilbo closed his eyes. It felt like the ground was rotating beneath him, rocking him gently back and forth. The hobbit tuned out their voices again and slowly slipped between awake and asleep.
Hours passed as he lay there, not quite asleep, not quite awake. He drifted into the black and for a while there was nothing at all.
"Hair more – more crimson than dragon's fire!"
Bilbo blinked awake as he heard Beorn practically shout, his words so slurred together it was hard to tell what they even were. The hobbit sat up slightly and almost collapsed back, the world still spinning around him.
Tauriel was face down on the table, he thought she might have passed out but then he saw her shoulders shaking with laughter.
"Eyes like – eyes like…" Beorn waved a giant, scarred hand in the air, almost tipping off the stool, "like… what color are they again?"
Tauriel propped her chin up on her palm with a drunken grin plastered over her face, "Green you idiot. What kind of—what kind of…" she gestured with an uncoordinated flourish at Beorn but couldn't seem to find the word, "tries to seduce a lady without even knowing the color – the color of her… her-" she pointed at her eye, "these things."
"Eyes like a… a…" Beorn looked like he might have fallen asleep for a second before snapping his fingers, a wide grin spreading across his face, "a healthy moss!"
"Moss…" Tauriel stared at him before breaking into laughter again, "a healthy moss…" she gasped for air, her face almost slamming back into the table, "you are – you are quite possibly the – the worst poet I have ever heard! And I am…" she took another drink, the amber liquid sloshing over the sides, "including myself in that list."
"You should be – be ashamed, shifter," she slurred, "I've gotten better – better lines from orcs…"
Beorn tried to look grievously offended, but the effect was rather ruined by his grin, "and where are your – your manners, milady? A gentleman –" Tauriel snorted but Beorn continued with a wave of his hand, "a gentleman gives his heart to you and you – you mock him?"
"I think it is I –" Tauriel tried valiantly to sit up straight and school her face into a serious expression, "who should be – be insulted by your… your clear lack of effort."
The shifter chuckled before leaning towards her, placing his bearded chin on the back of his hand, "so… they – they aren't working?"
"Not," she hiccupped as her lips formed a crooked smile, "in the slightest."
"You sure?" Beorn winked a yellow eye, "not – not even a tingle?"
Tauriel reached forward and tried to pat his head with mock sympathy but missed by several inches, "don't feel… too bad, shifter, my – my heart belongs to another."
"Oh really?" Beorn took another drink.
"My dear," The elf grabbed one of the twin curved blades, whipping it out and slamming it into the table, "let me… let me introduce you to the bear," Tauriel cooed at the short sword lovingly before turning her grin to Beorn.
The shifter gabbed the hilt and pulled the blade back out again, eyeing it like he might a particularly beautiful woman, "and where – where have you been hiding all night, my lovely?"
"Hey!" Tauriel frowned as she watched Beorn make eyes at her sword, "that's mine!"
"Wonder is why I was – was wasting my time with you," the shifter gave her an unimpressed look, "when your friend here is – is much more beautiful."
The elf made a clumsy grab for her knife but Beorn leaned back too quickly, caressing the dull edge with a finger, "just look – look at those curves…"
Tauriel's fist shot forward and hit Beorn in the mouth. The shifter let out small grunt as he dropped the knife into the elf's waiting hand. Beorn stared at her drunkenly for a moment before letting out a raucous laugh, licking away the blood on his lip, "better not – not start nothin' you don't want to finish."
Tauriel poured herself another cup and drained it instantly, flipping her auburn hair over her shoulder, "you should – should take your own advice, shifter."
Beorn finished his cup and poured another, draining it and never breaking eye contact with Tauriel. He grinned and his mouth was red with his own blood, making him look almost more animal than man, "you're not bad, elf."
Tauriel's torso swayed as she tried to pour again, most of it missing the cup. "I suppose… turning – turning," she blinked once and her back started to slump down towards the table, "into a bear would be –" she yawned as her forehead landed on the wood in with a small 'thunk,' "fairly… useful…" The hand holding her cup went limp and it tumbled to the floor, a loud snore coming from her nose.
Beorn snorted before tipping off his stool and landing on the floor of the tent in a heap.
Bilbo blinked again, trying to clear his vision but it stayed blurry as he lay back down onto the cot.
"We will help you rebuild, Bard, do not worry so much," Legolas' quiet voice swam into his ear.
"I… I know…" Bard grumbled a reply, "but Dale has been in ruins since before I was born. I don't…" the bowman's voice trailed off, "I don't know how to rule, Legolas. I've been a criminal for most of my life. I can't lead anyone."
"Do not doubt yourself, my friend. You've already proven that you are capable leader, we would not have won the battle if you were not."
"We wouldn't have won the battle if Bilbo hadn't been foolish enough to come back."
He thought Legolas might've nodded, "that too."
"If he hadn't slain Azog, the orc would have rallied his troops and flanked us."
"He has sacrificed much," the elf's voice had a sad lilt to it, "Bilbo saved all our lives but lost those most precious to him. I don't think he will be able to see the good in his deeds for quite some time. This journey has… not been kind to him."
"I don't know," Bard replied with a strange tone, "he found love. There's something to be said for that."
"And lost it." Bilbo felt a gentle hand brush hair out of his face.
"When I… when I lost Liana I thought my life was over. I thought my grief and guilt would kill me. And if they didn't, I thought of doing it myself." Bard's chair squeaked as he shifted, "but I… I will never regret loving her. Even if I could go back and spare myself all the agony, if it meant never loving her, I wouldn't do it."
Bilbo felt the cot shift and Legolas moved closer to Bard's chair.
"She made me a better man. She made me a better person. That is… that is something I couldn't regret even if I tried."
"And I think Bilbo will feel the same way, given time. Thorin and the two younger ones… He loved them. It'll hurt. It'll hurt more than anything has in his life. But he won't regret it." Bard's voice sounded assured. "He won't."
"I think you are right, my friend," Legolas replied. "But I had hoped that this would end differently. I cannot help but wish that his pain was not so great."
"So do we all," Bard's voice was quiet again, "but he is strong. Stronger than I ever was and if I… if I could move forward, Bilbo can as well."
The hobbit tilted his head away from them slightly so they wouldn't be able to see the tears on his face. He mind was still muddled with drink but their words. Was he strong? Was he strong enough to bear this? He hadn't thought so before. Bilbo had thought he would be crushed under the weight of all these hurts.
Maybe Bard and Legolas… maybe they weren't completely wrong.
Bilbo felt the darkness close in around him and concentrated on the tilting room once more. If he could just stay like this… floating and numbed. Everything muted and dulled. Unconscious.
If he could just… fall… asleep…
They were saying goodbye.
Bilbo had woken to Gandalf shaking his arm lightly. His back hurt from lying sideways on a cot, the edges digging into his neck and knees. Bard and Legolas had left the tent already, but Tauriel had slipped off her stool and had some how turned her body so her left boot was digging firmly into Beorn's cheek and her arm was draped over his legs.
He and the wizard had left them snoring in on the floor and made their way slowly back to Bilbo's tent. Gandalf had told him he was heading west in the morning and that he didn't have to accompany him, but there would be no safer passage back through the wilds. If Bilbo left with the wizard today, Gandalf had promised to see him to the Shire.
He hadn't wanted to go. But he hadn't wanted to stay here either. Bilbo felt as if he were in some sort of limbo. Bag End no longer felt like the home it used to and Erebor would never be home without Thorin. He… knew he should go back to Hobbiton. Back to where he had spent all his life before a company of dwarves had knocked on his door one fateful evening.
But he also knew that he didn't want to leave his friends. Bilbo had always had acquaintances. Hobbits he knew well enough, but none of them had ever meant so much to him as the dwarves of Thorin's company. Bard and Legolas and Beorn he also considered his good friends now. Even Tauriel, who he had known for a fortnight at most, would be missed if he left.
Maybe it was due to everything he'd lost lately, but he couldn't help the gnawing fear deep in his stomach that he'd never see any of them again.
Now Bilbo stood surrounded by what was left of Thorin's company. Bard and Legolas stood shoulder behind the cluster of dwarves as Tauriel and Bard shared rather green expressions as they tried to shield their eyes from the sun.
He… he didn't know what to say. Bilbo had always been bad at goodbyes, but he thought that was due to the fact that he usually never had to say any. If you had someone over for tea in the Shire, you'd wish them a good afternoon and chances are you'd see them later that day in their garden. There was nothing final about those goodbyes.
This felt final. This felt like an ending.
Ori ran up to him first. The young dwarf hugged him fiercely before reaching into the satchel that he always kept strapped to his body.
"I, uh, have a gift for you, Master Baggins!"
Bilbo couldn't help but smile at Ori. The dwarf always had a way of making him feel like there was something exiting to be learned.
Ori fished around in his bag and pulled out a piece of parchment before handing it to Bilbo. The hobbit took it in his hands and gently turned it over. It was the portrait Ori had drawn of him when they were looking for the secret door…
"Oh, Mister Ori I can't take this…" Bilbo tried to hand it back, "you said you needed them for your records."
Ori pushed his hands back, "nonsense, Master Baggins. I can always make another," the young dwarf tapped the side of his head with a lopsided smile, "I have a very good memory."
"Are you sure?" Bilbo glanced between the drawing and his friend.
"Well, if anything gets fuzzy I suppose I'll just have to come visit you." Ori smiled at him hopefully, his fingers worrying the edges of his sleeves.
"You are always welcome to stay," Bilbo pulled the dwarf into a hug, careful not to bend the parchment.
Ori nodded into his shoulder. "I was hoping that the drawing would… remind you of us, I guess. I, uh, don't want you to forget about us when you go back home."
Bilbo pulled away so he could look at Ori. How could Bilbo ever forget any of them?
"Mister Ori, I don't need a drawing to remind me. I don't think I could forget any of you if I tried," his heart clenched painfully as Thorin's face swam behind his eyes. "Will you write me?"
The dwarf nodded vigorously, looking positively ecstatic at the prospect. "Oh, of course, of course! I'll write you every day, Master Baggins!"
"Every day?" Bilbo gave him a small smile.
"Well, uh, maybe not every day, but I'll write as often as I can!" Ori gave him another hug; "you'll have to send me more records about the Shire so I can put together a book on hobbits! I don't think I've read a single one…"
"Move aside, little brother," Nori gave Ori a playful shove, "I'd like to have a word with Master Baggins."
The younger dwarf smiled at his brother, "oh, okay, of course, I'll be over here."
Nori stared at Bilbo for a moment before reaching into his shirt. The dwarf pulled out a dagger a second later and slung his arm around the hobbit's shoulder.
"I recall saying that I would be introducing my knife to your body if you told Ori or Dori about our little conversation…"
Bilbo glanced wide eyed at the knife then at the dwarf, "what? I didn't – I didn't tell them anything! Dori said he – he already knew!"
Nori flipped the knife in his hand before letting out a low chuckle, "Joking again, Master Baggins. You really do have a shit sense of humor."
Bilbo glared at the dwarf, "I'm not so sure it's me…"
Nori shrugged, "I wanted to thank you again, Master Baggins. I don't know what you said to Dori and I'm sure I don't want to know. But we… talked. Really talked thanks to you."
The dwarf flipped the knife so the blade was in his fingers and the hilt extended out towards Bilbo, "this is for you."
The hobbit stared down at it and realized the handle was encrusted with glistening rubies. "I, uh…" Bilbo began rather lamely.
"They're useful little buggers," Nori eyed the knife appreciatively, "small. No one sees 'em coming but they're just as deadly when they're stuck in your throat."
Bilbo took the knife in his hand.
"You did everything you could for Thorin, we know that." Nori looked more serious than Bilbo had ever seen him, "we owe you our lives and we're grateful."
Dori walked up and shoved a small stone container into his arms. Dori eyed the dagger with a sniff of distaste. "Really, Nori? A dagger? What is Master Baggins supposed to do with that?"
"Hopefully do us all a favor and knife you," Nori mumbled as he unhooked his arm from around Bilbo's shoulders.
Dori placed a firm swat on the back of Nori's head, "I heard that."
"Good," Nori rubbed the back of his skull gently.
"What Master Baggins needs, is a gift that he will actually use." Dori turned his imperious stare to Bilbo, "open it."
The hobbit carefully put the dagger in the pocket of his coat and opened the obsidian container. There were runes carved all over the surface and delicate gold patterns trailing around the edges. When Bilbo lifted the lid, the smell of something exotic wafted out.
"I cannot be certain what kind it is," Dori looked smugly pleased with himself, "but it is from the royal stores so I know it is of the highest quality."
"I have one more thing," the dwarf's face suddenly grew more solemn as he pulled out something from one of the pouches that hung off his belt.
Dori held out his hand and resting in it was a familiar pipe. Kili's pipe.
"He asked me to clean it for him before the battle," Dori looked down at it with a sad smile, "said he could never get it back together when he did it."
Bilbo reached out with shaking fingers and took it in his palm.
He remembered Kili grinning at him through a cloud of smoke, his pipe dangling loosely from between his lips but it never fell. Bilbo grasped it tightly and clenched his eyes shut to keep the tears from forming.
"Th—thank you," Bilbo said in a quavering voice, "both of you."
"We owe you a great debt and you are our friend, Master Baggins," Dori gave him a small bow, "it was the very least that we could do."
The pipe felt heavy in his hand as he tucked it into his pocket along side the dagger. It felt so surreal, like a daze or a dream.
"You will write us, yes?" Dori's expression made it clear he would not take no for an answer.
"Of course I will," the hobbit replied quietly, desperately trying not to think this was most likely their last encounter.
Dori gave him a warm smile and pulled him into a quick embrace, then grabbing his brother by the sleeve and whispering something about Nori's lack of propriety and reprehensible taste in gifts.
Oin and Glóin ambled up to him next. They each had suffered wounds in the battle but neither had suffered anything too serious.
"There he is! Our brave hobbit hero, come back to save us from ruin!" Glóin pulled him into a great hug, squishing Bilbo to his chest with enthusiasm.
"And now you're leaving us already!" Glóin pulled back and his face was pulled into an exaggerated hurt face.
"A great shame, Master Baggins," Oin nodded from slightly behind his brother, "a great shame."
"Aye, he speaks true, Master Baggins!" Gloin bellowed, "I thought you promised to stay and meet my family!" The dwarf glowered at him under his bushy red eyebrows.
"I… uh –" Bilbo shrunk back slightly. He had completely forgotten and a twinge of guilt wriggled at the back of his mind.
"It's no matter, lad!" Gloin's face broke out into a wide smile, "we'll just have to come to you. After I've told my lady wife all about your feats, I'm sure she'll want to visit the Shire and meet the hobbit that saved us all!"
Bilbo was no hero, he knew that. Hearing Glóin speak as if he'd… he'd done something miraculous made him wring his hands in discomfort. The hobbit looked up again to see Oin looking at him with something that looked eerily like understanding and pity.
"Brother," Oin elbowed Gloin in the ribs, giving the red-haired dwarf a significant look, "don't you have something for Master Baggins?"
Glóin didn't seem to notice Bilbo had started to shrink away. "Right you are!" Gloin reached into a small pouch and pulled out something small and silver. He held it out in his palm but before Bilbo could take it the dwarf's face broke out into a grin and he took it in his fingers.
"A locket for you, lad!" Gloin opened it with a flourish, "just like the one you returned to me. Once you get back to that hole of yours, you can fill it with whatever portrait you please."
Bilbo took the locket and saw that it had the same intricate carvings as the one that adorned his companion's. He traced some of the etchings with his finger.
"Aye and I have somethin' for you too, Master Baggins," Bilbo looked up to see Oin smiling at him and holding out a small jar. "A bit of balm for your journey home. Mahal willin' you won't have to use it but we'd all rest easier knowin' that you had some with you."
"Thank you," the hobbit gave them both a small smile, clutching the gifts in his hands. They started to walk away when Bilbo called out to them.
"Uh – Mister Glóin!"
The dwarf turned to smile at him, "yes?"
"I… I would like it if your family came to family came to visit. I would… I would like that very much."
Gloin grinned, "good! We were comin' anyway!" The dwarf clapped his brother on the shoulder as he guffawed and turned away again.
Bofur came striding up to him next, Bombur and Bifur slightly behind him. Bofur gently grabbed the hobbit's shoulders, turning him so the dwarf could assess his state better.
"You're lookin' like utter shite, Master Baggins." Bofur pulled him into a tight hug, wrapping his arms firmly around the hobbit.
Bilbo was limp for a moment before he gripped back just as tight and couldn't help but let out a small watery laugh. He would… he would miss Bofur most of the dwarves left in Thorin's company. Bofur who had taught him how to live on the road, Bofur who had told him stories and made him laugh.
Bofur who had been kind to him. Bofur who had waited by his bedside and washed the dirt away. A few tears escaped Bilbo as he buried his face in the dwarf's chest.
"Hey now, no gettin' my shirt wet, Master Baggins, the things just dried!" Bofur patted his head gently.
Bilbo laughed again and pulled away slightly. "Sorry, sorry," he wiped away at his face with a sleeve.
Bofur leaned back slightly so he could see Bilbo's face and he gave the hobbit a small, sad smile. "No more o' that, alright? You'll put the rains to shame if you're keepin' that up."
The hobbit gave Bofur a small nod, trying to dry his face completely.
The dwarf pulled him into another hug, leaning his head down so he could speak into Bilbo's ear. "They wouldn't want to see you so sad, laddie. Not for moment, you hear?" The hobbit didn't need to ask who 'they' were. "I know it's not bein' that simple a thing to do, but you owe it to yourself to try."
Bilbo nodded again. He knew the dwarf was right. He knew Bard and Legolas were right. He knew they were all right and yet what was 'right' didn't seem to make even a bit of difference anymore. If things were right, then Thorin and Fili and Kili would be alive. He would… he would try, he would have to, but in that moment, not a thing in the world seemed more impossible.
The hobbit felt Bofur step away again and then something was being wrapped around his neck. Bilbo blinked and looked up to see the dwarf was placing his knitted scarf on him. Bofur grinned at him when the hobbit shot him a questioning look.
"It'll be winter soon enough, laddie. This'll be keepin' you warm." Bofur gave the scarf an appraising look, "well, a bit o' you at least. Necks are bein' very important." Bofur nodded sagely, "they keep that chin held high."
"I'm not much for writin', never could make much sense out o' those pen scratches, but I'll be makin' sure Master Ori sends you somethin' from us," Bofur gestured at his kin as he stepped away.
Bifur stared at him for a moment in silence before gathering Bilbo into a quick hug. He muttered something in the gravelly dwarven tongue.
"He says…" Bofur paused for a moment, then looked away from his cousin to Bilbo, "he says that it will hurt –" Bifur touched his fist to his heart, "it'll hurt here."
"But up here…" Bifur raised his hand to tap at his head, "up here it will get easier."
The hobbit stared at Bifur in silence. Of course… Bifur had lost his wife and child. Bifur understood. Understood like Bard did. Never more than in that moment did Bilbo wish he could speak to Bifur, ask the dwarf questions and just… learn about how to deal with the great ache inside him.
Bombur shuffled forward and shoved a basket into Bilbo's hands without saying a word, but giving the hobbit a small smile before waddling back. He looked down at it in confusion.
"It'll be food, laddie," Bofur chuckled as he threw an arm around Bombur's shoulder, "for your journey."
"Thank you," Bilbo gave the three dwarves the largest smile he could muster, "for… for…" he wanted to list every single kindness they had showed him but the hobbit didn't think there could ever be enough time, "for everything."
Dwalin and Balin came up to him next. The two dwarves looked so weary, Bilbo almost asked them if they were alright but he knew their answer would have been the same as his own.
"What will you do?" Bilbo asked them quietly as the rest of the company started to chat amongst themselves.
"That is something to consider," Balin gave him a kindly smile, "I would like to… to go on one last journey before these old bones give out."
Dwalin glared at his brother, "no bones are givin' out anytime soon."
Balin patted his brother's shoulder with a roll of his eyes, "perhaps I'll come visit you in the Shire, laddie. You have fine food and quiet days, what more could an old dwarf ask for?"
"You're more than welcome," Bilbo smiled him, before looking at Dwalin, "both of you. Whenever you'd like."
To his surprise Dwalin didn't scoff at him like he'd expected but rather gave him a small shrug. "I'll be returnin' to the Blue Mountains. I have some… things I need to do there after we get Erebor back on her feet. Maybe then."
Dwalin pulled out something that had been resting between his arm and side. Holding it out to Bilbo, the hobbit saw that he was holding Thorin's fur-trimmed blue coat.
"For you, lad. I think he would've wanted you to have it." Dwalin's face grew tight as his eyes glanced down at the blue cloth.
"Thorin would have wanted you to have all the gold in the mountain if that were somethin' you cared for," Balin's smile had turned somber, "but we knew you'd find more meaning in this."
Bilbo's eyes went wide as he reached out for it. The first touch of his fingers against the material were almost too much, too familiar. A flash of the past, a flash of a doomed future. Bilbo grasped the coat and brought it up to his face. It had been cleaned but somehow it still smelled like Thorin. Like earth and stone. Like rain and fire. It smelled like love.
The hobbit clutched it tightly to his chest and almost felt his heart break again. He was sure it would've had it not already been shattered into so many pieces.
"You did everything you could for him, laddie," Balin gave his shoulder a squeeze, "you may doubt anything else, but never that. You gave Thorin hope. We wouldn't have made it half so far if not for you."
"Stay safe on the road, lad," Dwalin said gruffly and considered him for a moment. Then the dwarf pulled Bilbo into quick hug, "and don't do anythin' stupid."
The hobbit let out a small chuckle as he nodded, "I will. And Mister Dwalin?"
The dwarf raised a scarred brow.
"I know she… she doesn't know me or anything but…uh, say hello to Lady Dís for me and that – that I'm sorry."
'For her loss…' he had wanted to finish, but that seemed false even in his head. He was sorry for so many, many things. For so many failures. The rational part of his brain knew that Dís would not blame the deaths on some hobbit she had never met, but it was quickly shut out by another wave of guilt and grief.
Dwalin's face was blank but after a moment he nodded, "aye, I will, lad."
Bard and Legolas followed by Tauriel and Beorn came up to him next. The bowman knelt so he was of a height with the hobbit and hugged him.
"You saved my life, Bilbo," Bard gave the hobbit that grim smile of his, "in Lake Town. Against the dragon. And in the battle. You helped me stand against the Master when no one else would. I… I wish there were some way of thanking you that would mean to you what your friendship has meant to me."
Bard turned his head and let out a soft whistle that sounded almost like a bird song. "This little fellow saved my life too," to Bilbo's astonishment a very familiar little brown and white bird hopped out of the mess of Bard's hair onto his shoulder, "he will watch over you on the road."
The thrush fluttered over from Bard's shoulder and landed on the hobbit's shoulder. Bilbo turned his head slightly and saw the songbird was looking at him with one beady black eye. The hobbit winced atomically, expecting to be pecked as he had so many times before but the thrush simply edged its way closer and hopped onto Bofur's scarf. The bird rubbed the side of its head against Bilbo's neck briefly before fluffing out its tiny wings and settling into the knitted folds for warmth.
Bilbo smiled at the bird as the other three stepped forward.
"I hope that your travels are safe, my friend," the elf knelt to hug him, "I am sure that we will meet again."
"I…" the hobbit paused for a moment, "thank you, Legolas. For… for everything that you did for us."
"Of course, Bilbo," Legolas smiled at him warmly, "you have a gift for inspiring hope even in the oldest of creatures."
"Thank your father for me, won't you?" Bilbo asked quietly.
"Move over, princeling, he hasn't got all day," Beorn grumbled loudly from the elf's side.
"Watch you tongue, shifter," Tauriel glared at Beorn, but swiftly knelt as well.
"Farewell, halfling," she gave Bilbo a small smile, "I will write to you if… if you'd like."
"I would," the hobbit hugged her tightly, "I would like that very much."
"Stay safe, hobbit," Beorn inclined his head, "I won't have all my hard work keepin' you safe undone."
"I'll… I'll try my best," Bilbo almost grinned but it didn't reach his eyes even though he knew this might be the last memory they all had of him.
"Thank you, all of you," the hobbit added with weary sincerity as he looked up into their faces, "I'll… I'll miss you."
Bilbo Baggins came home.
Or at least what could pass for home now that Thorin was gone. Gandalf had left him at the edge of the Shire as small snowflakes started to swirl around them. The hobbit was tired, his ankle hurt, and the last thing he wanted to find was the sight of his relatives ransacking his house and looking utterly put-out when he pushed open the round green door.
After he had assured them that he was indeed back to stay and refused to answer any of their altogether uncomfortable and probing questions, Bilbo had all but pushed them out the door.
He leaned back against it, head pounding and everything hurting. At least they had the decency to light a fire in the hearth so the chill of winter did not linger for long. The thrush seemed relieved as well. The songbird burst out of Bofur's scarf and perched on the edge of a chair that sat next to the fire and promptly went back to sleep.
Bilbo finally looked around his home. Everything felt… strange. Like the furniture had all been shifted an inch to the right. It was familiar but… wrong. There was dust and a stiff sort of silence. He felt none of the warmth that his memories held of this place.
But as he hobbled through the curved hall, Bilbo thought that maybe it wasn't Bag End that was wrong. Maybe it was him. Maybe he had changed too much. The Bilbo that had lived here before was gone and in his place there was someone else.
Someone whose bitter loneliness tainted the very air itself. Someone who had seen too much, felt too much.
The Baggins' of Bag End were always considered to be very respectable folk in the Shire. Except now he didn't feel respectable. Bilbo felt broken. Like all the pieces that made him who he was had shattered and a blind man had tried to shove them back together. The general shape was there but now holes and sharp edges marred his silhouette.
When he had seen the Sackville-Baggins' taking his things, Bilbo had felt a flash of anger course through him. But now that he was alone, the hobbit felt almost grateful. If everything had been in the exact same place as he'd left it, Bilbo might've set the whole place aflame.
He hadn't realized while journeying back with Gandalf; but what would have been worse than coming home to a significantly barer house, was one that hadn't been touched by anything but time. The last time he'd been here was when the company had stayed. When Thorin and Fili and Kili had stomped through these halls, alive and well.
Plundered and picked away, Bag End reflected almost how he felt inside. Bare, empty, filled with shadows and dust.
Bilbo limped up the stairs and went to his room. Setting down his pack, the hobbit stared at his bed. He hobbled over to it and sat down, a small cloud of dust puffing up as his weight settled on the sheet.
The hobbit felt exhaustion wash over him. The strain of the journey on his already injured body had taken its toll even though the wizard's presence had made the return significantly less life threatening. He lay atop the blanket not bothering to even to settle in.
Bilbo remembered his last night in this bed.
He had told Gandalf no. Had told the wizard he was not made for adventures, not made for danger. He was a Baggins of Bag End and they most certainly did not simply pick up and leave, trailing after a raggedy group of strange dwarves. And then he heard the song.
Bilbo pulled the blanket around himself, trying to stamp out the irritation he felt towards Gandalf. How dare he just – just invite a whole company of dwarves to his house? Without even so much as an hours notice?
But did that bother the wizard? No. No it did not.
Apparently Bilbo Baggins was good for his pantry and empty floor space. Gandalf had been good friends with his mother, but he had not seen the wizard for years. People with manners did not just show up with a dozen other guests and expect to be fed.
Except when they did.
And tonight was just one of those nights. Bilbo could handle a dwarf. He could even handle two dwarves. Perhaps three on a good day. But thirteen? Thirteen?
They were loud and messy and rude. It was one thing to ask politely for some spare cheese and possibly a nice chair to kip on for the night, but they had just barged in there like they'd been invited!
Which… they had, he supposed. Just not by him.
And that was the kicker. Gandalf had not only welcomed these dwarves into his home of all places, but – but tried to get him to go on some foolhardy journey with them as well! As if he – as if Bilbo Baggins had nothing better to do than go gallivanting through the forest in search of a mountain with a dragon inside.
What sane person ever went towards a dragon? They had teeth and fire and all manner of sharp claws ready to disembowel unwary idiots. Idiots that included himself, according to Gandalf.
And if that was not bad enough – the wizard seemed to have not even discussed him with that Thorin fellow!
He may not be the friendliest hobbit to ever live in the Shire. He might not be the most welcoming or whatever; but Bilbo Baggins had never been so remiss as a host to warrant the scorn the dwarf leader had shown him within seconds of his arrival.
The dwarf had just waltzed in and japed at him! The worst part was that Thorin's 'joke' hadn't even been funny.
"Oh congratulations, Mister Dwarf," Bilbo hissed to himself as he punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape, "you have eyes. And would you look at that? They even appear to be working!"
Bilbo shoved his face back down rather aggressively as he continued to mumbled, "Would you like a ribbon? Or perhaps a cookie? Oh wait, your bloody dwarves ate them already!"
If he never saw another dwarf for the rest of his life, Bilbo would consider that a resounding success. Just because he didn't look like some sort of criminal with a sword strapped to every limb didn't mean he was worth any less than Thorin.
Bilbo had nothing against adventures. He had read about them since he was a small hobbit and he'd even been known to journey to the edge of the Shire on nice days. But from what he could tell, these dwarves were going to be dead anyway. There were thirteen of them and countless leagues plus a dragon separating them from their goal.
The odds, he thought to himself with bitter satisfaction, we're most certainly not in Thorin's favor. Not that he cared.
They would all be gone tomorrow and that would be the last of that. Bilbo would go back to his normal, peaceful, and dragon free life and forget about all of this nasty dwarvish business.
Whatever fool notion had driven Gandalf here, Bilbo had surely dispelled it by now. Just because he felt that itch at the base of his spin to just get up and go somewhere didn't mean that he wanted to journey halfway around the earth in search of treasure.
Bilbo rolled over and tried to shut his mind off. The sooner he went to sleep, the sooner they would be gone.
Then he heard low voices floating up the stairs. Were they… were they singing?
Did dwarves just break out into song in the middle of the night?
The hobbit shut his eyes and tried to concentrate on the words. He heard Thorin's voice above all the others. He had not known the dwarf long, and to be honest, he didn't want to know him any more than he already did; but there was no denying that Thorin was skilled.
His voice sounded like the last embers in a fire. It sounded like the forest at night, like smoke and stone. It sounded like old wood and ages long past.
But more than any of that it sounded… sad.
There was so much longing in Thorin's lament; Bilbo felt something deep in his heart stir.
He heard distance in the dwarf's voice. He heard blood and loss and a terrible sort of loneliness. There was determination. There was purpose there. A great fire – dragon's fire – burning deep within the dwarf's soul that scorched everything he touched; charring his flesh and so very blinding. But laced with every word, in every silent note, sadness seeped through.
Bilbo frowned as he felt tears start to prick at his eyes. It was not his home that had been taken. It was not his home that had burned.
When Thorin sang, somehow Bilbo felt as if it were.
The hobbit reached up to his neck and felt the thin scar that lingered there and touched it lightly with shaking fingers.
How cruel that this scar was the thing that reminded him most of Thorin. How cruel that it existed because of a dark ring and the dwarf's decent into madness; that it existed because in that moment, Thorin had wanted to kill him.
Bilbo thought he had felt Thorin's loneliness in that song. He had thought that while he lay there, listening to them sing of home, he had tasted their loss.
Now the hobbit knew that had been a mere flicker, the smallest sliver of sorrow. Bilbo had not known loss until Thorin had died. Bilbo had known nothing of heartbreak, of watching your home burn to the ground as ash filled your mouth and eyes and hands.
He had known nothing of the ache that now filled him.
Bilbo thought he felt the tears start running down his face again. But as he reached up to wipe them away from his face, he realized that his fingers were dry as parchment.
It seemed odd to him that he could cry for a song. He could cry for the passing shadow of a thought that merely hinted at loneliness. But now that he felt the pain that Thorin had, now that he had tasted that bitterness, Bilbo could shed no more tears for himself.
Winter passed. The snows melted and the days grew longer. Bilbo's ankle no longer hurt so much and all he had left on his temple was a scar hidden by his hair. It had grown long, past his shoulders over the cold months.
The hobbit had done little more than sit in his chair in front of the fire, though it seemed more often than not that the fire had gone out. Bilbo sat listlessly, staring at nothing at all. He moved rarely, only to feed himself and the thrush. He had a passing thought to name the bird, but it had chirped angrily at every suggestion so Bilbo gave up.
He was growing thinner, he knew. His clothes hung loosely off his body but Bilbo couldn't much bring himself to care.
Relatives had come knocking at his door. Neighbors and friends did too, all wondering where Bilbo had been for a good portion of the last year but he barely spoke to anyone. They mostly just sat with him in his sitting room, occasionally trying to prod him into telling but he just ignored them. Soon they stopped coming altogether.
Bilbo hated the silence, but whenever it was broken he hated it even more.
It hadn't been long after he'd gotten back that the hobbit had found his ale stores. All he could think of was the night of Thorin's funeral and how that amber liquid Bard had given him had turned his thoughts to mere shapes and blurs at least for a small while.
Some nights he drank. He drank until he couldn't think anymore. Until he couldn't remember. His heart always ached, it always hurt, but sometimes if he drank enough, his wouldn't see Thorin's face every time he closed his eyes.
Some nights turned into most nights. Most nights turned into every night. And soon enough Bilbo was passed out more often than he was awake. He knew in the back of his mind that this was wrong, that he shouldn't, but what choice did he have? It was this or seeing Thorin in the corner of his eye. It was this or seeing Thorin's last smile on his face and hearing the last 'thump' his heart had made before it grew silent.
Days faded into a blur. Months faded.
Any strength he had thought to cling to as he saw the company on the day of their farewell had faded long ago. Without his friends here, with only himself to look at everyday, Bilbo was not strong enough to resist the pull of memories. And with memories came bitter heartbreak, as fresh as the day Thorin had died, and with heartbreak Bilbo turned to drink.
His house felt so horribly empty and Bilbo did nothing to replace the things his relatives had taken. He got some sense of bitter satisfaction from that every time they came to visit and complained loudly that if he was going to let the place fall into disrepair, he should have just let them have it.
Bilbo's thoughts slipped in and out while he was conscious. His dreams were haunted by smiles and laughs. By blood and death. There was no relief. So he drank until their faces turned to smudges. He still hurt, but at least this way it was dulled.
The edges not quite so sharp.
The hobbit groaned and he felt his cheek sticking to the grain of the wood beneath his face.
"Bilbo get up."
He shook his head but immediately regretted it. It throbbed, the blood in his ears pounding and Bilbo felt immediately sick. Nausea boiled in his stomach and Bilbo let out another groan.
"You smell like a pig sty," the voice muttered with a familiar gruff disapproval.
The hobbit blinked as he peeled his face from the table. Narrowing his eyes, Bilbo looked up and tried to focus on the figure in front of him but the sun pouring through the windows made his head split even more.
"You smell like a pig sty," Bilbo grumbled as he let his face fall back onto the wood.
"Bilbo…" the voice sounded concerned and… sad, "Bilbo look at me."
The hobbit sighed and glanced up and saw that Gandalf was standing over him, stooped in his little kitchen.
"Gandalf," his voice was scratchy and hurt from lack of use, "to what do I owe this pleasure?"
The wizard frowned as Bilbo picked up half empty mug beside him and drained it.
"I came to see you, my friend," Gandalf sat down on one of the stools opposite him.
Bilbo let out a cold laugh as he set the mug back down, "Check up on me you mean."
"That as well," the wizard's brow furrowed.
"Well," the hobbit stood up on wobbling legs and half walked, half stumbled over to the large barrel of ale in the corner and filled his mug again, "Don't keep me waiting… how do you find the burglar? Alive and well I hope." Bilbo sneered the words as he leaned against the barrel, staring at the wall.
There was a moment of heavy silence and then Bilbo heard a sigh behind him.
"Bilbo…" Gandlaf said his name with so much weariness the hobbit felt anger flash in him.
He spun on his heel to face the wizard but seemed to just stumbled sideways, "What? Not to your liking?" Bilbo spat as he righted himself, head pounding, "Expecting something else?"
It was laughable, really. He was broken. He was shattered. He was empty. If Gandalf expected anything different then he was a fool.
"Hoping…" the wizard's face seemed to age a thousand years in that moment. "I was hoping for something else."
"Well—" Bilbo sneered again, draining his second mug, "I do so apologize for disappointing you."
"You have nothing to apologize for, Bilbo. I…" Gandalf trailed off.
"You what?" Bilbo snapped, anger filling him again. "You were hoping that I'd what? Greet you with a smile?" His mouth twisted into a mockery of the word, "take your hat and offer you some tea?"
His hands tightened on the mug, the other fisting, the nails biting into the skin of his palm.
"Did you want me to just forget? Go back to gardening and reading like you never brought the company here?" Somewhere deep in the hobbit's mind he knew that he was being unfair, but he had been surrounded by silence for so long that it felt… it felt good to feel something else. Even if that something was anger.
Gandalf stared at him with that sad, tired expression and it just made him more angry.
"Thorin is dead" he snarled, blood running down his palm, "the only man I've ever loved is dead and you thought I would just forget?"
"I didn't expect you to forget, Bilbo." Gandalf said quietly, that infuriating expression still on his face. He didn't want the wizard's pity. He didn't want anything but for his friends to be alive again.
"What do you want then?"
"I want to help you Bilbo."
He felt the sudden urge to lash out. To break something and feel that fleeting sense of control if only for a second. Bilbo bared his teeth at the wizard and flung the mug at Gandalf's head. The throw was clumsy and missed by a good foot but it still made a satisfying noise at it splintered against the opposite wall.
He felt the drink coursing through his veins, making his blood boil and his head foggy but the last thing he wanted was see that look on Gandalf's face. Like seeing Bilbo broken was the most pitiful thing in the world.
The hobbit spun again and felt the ground tilt. He fell to the floor, his elbow crashing against the cold stone. Bilbo's vision started to go black as his face pressed into the ground.
"Get out," he whispered, dust and dirt scraping against his lips. "Get out, get out…"
He just wanted to be alone… He just wanted it all to go away… He just wanted…
Bilbo blinked awake. His head was splitting again and for a moment he felt very odd. The hobbit looked down and saw that he was lying on his bed. When had he…
"How do you feel?"
Bilbo's head snapped up and he saw the wizard sitting in the chair that rested in the corner of his room.
So it hadn't been a dream.
Bilbo brought his hands up to grip his throbbing head. He let out a groan and tried to massage the pain away, "any chance I could get some ale?"
"I'm afraid not, my friend," Gandalf replied with a small sigh, "I think you've had enough to last quite a while."
The hobbit leaned back to rest against the pillow, shutting his eyes. "Did I… did I throw a mug at you?"
"You did." Bilbo let out a groan. "Though your aim was rather poor."
The hobbit glanced back to see Gandalf's face had a small smile on it.
"I… I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…" Bilbo's voice halted. He knew he should apologize but his head hurt and weariness was heavy in his bones.
"No," Gandalf's voice had a dry quality to it, "but you were very drunk."
Bilbo shut his eyes tighter as silence fell over him again.
"You cannot continue like this, Bilbo."
The hobbit felt indignant anger for a split second before it faded into tired grief.
"I know…" he whispered, "but I…"
He didn't know what words could describe what he felt. What words could convey this terrible, gnawing sadness he felt every waking hour.
"Can't…" was all he said. It was a single word, but it was all he had. He simply could not. Couldn't go about his day knowing Thorin was forever parted from him. Couldn't help the bitter sorrow that had sunk bone deep beneath his skin.
"I know," Gandalf stood and walked over to his bed, sitting down on the edge. The wizard took one of his limp, clammy hands in his own, "but you must, my friend."
Bilbo opened his eyes and stared at his friend. Nothing had ever felt so impossible, so… so futile.
"How?" he almost begged. Bilbo knew what, knew he had to find a way to remember Thorin but not… mourn him. But he hadn't even the faintest notion how do it.
Gandalf gave him another sad smile as he squeezed the hobbit's hand.
"I do not know, Bilbo."
The hobbit felt his heart clench.
"Day by day, I suppose." The wizard looked over to the window, his gaze seemed leagues away.
"Time heals all wounds," Bilbo muttered bitterly.
"So say the wise," Gandalf said with a sigh.
"Aren't wizards supposed to be wise?" The Bilbo from before would've said it with a wink and a smile but all he felt now was a hollow and disillusioned sort of desperation that he couldn't even bring himself to hope would be answered.
"I used to think so, my friend," the wizard half smiled, half grimaced, "but now… I think we are just as foolish as the rest of you. Perhaps even more so."
In that moment Bilbo wondered if Gandalf blamed himself for what happened. Gandalf had come to his home, had brought him on the journey. Introduced him to Thorin and given Bilbo the cursed ring. The wizard looked so old and weary that Bilbo couldn't help but think he did.
He wanted to reassure Gandalf that it was not his fault. That Bilbo had made his own choices, choices that he would have made a thousand times over. But all he did was squeeze the wizard's hand back.
They were all fools. No matter what comfort they offered each other, no matter what words were traded between them. Gandalf was a wiser fool than most, but in the end, that's all they were.
A heart burdened by the tremendous weight of responsibility.
A heart shattered by cruel misfortune.
Doomed to hope again and again. Doomed to try to heal and love. Doomed to keep on trying, clawing their way forward even when giving up was infinitely easier.
'Foolish,' Bilbo thought as he leaned back against pillow, 'foolish enough to try.'
Gandalf had stayed with him for a long while. The wizard had forced him into the bath and shoved a brush in his hand, declaring that Bilbo would not step out of the wash room until he stopped smelling like a tavern.
Gandalf had cut his hair for him and poured out every last bit of ale that Bilbo had hidden around the house. Together they started to clean. The hobbit had been on the verge of insisting that Gandalf need not trouble himself with such mundane tasks but just as he had been about to, he saw something in the wizard's face that stopped him.
Gandalf was weary. He could see that the wizard was tired. The old man had not spoken in depth about what happened to him when he had gone to fight the dark power in Dol Goldur, but Bilbo could see that whatever had happened had taken its toll on him as well. Perhaps Gandalf needed to occupy himself as much as Bilbo did.
So they scrubbed and dusted. They went to the spring markets and found new furniture to replace the items that his relatives had sold while he was away. They planted new seeds in the gardens. They worked and kept themselves busy before settling down in the evenings to read over cups of tea.
Bilbo did not feel the pain inside him abate, but each day he felt like he could deal with it a little better. With his hands busy and Gandalf around, he found that when his thoughts started to drift towards Thorin, he would quickly find the wizard and start a conversation. They talked about everything and nothing. They talked until Bilbo's rapid breathing calmed and he his hands stopped shaking.
Together they managed and Bilbo had never been more grateful for Gandalf's friendship.
Months past and soon spring bloomed into summer. The days were hot and sunny. It was… peaceful, he supposed. Peaceful like it had been before the journey.
One warm night at as they say on the small bench atop Bag End, watching the stars and smoking on their pipes, Gandalf said that he would be leaving soon.
Bilbo nodded and took a long draw from his pipe.
He knew the wizard couldn't stay forever. The world needed Gandalf. His friend had a purpose on this earth, a purpose that was a mystery to him, but he knew there was something that separated the wizard from the rest of them.
"Where will you go?" Bilbo asked quietly as he gazed up at the stars.
"Oh here and there, there and here. Where the road takes me." Gandalf chuckled as he blew a large smoke ring into the night air.
Bilbo rolled his eyes, "must you always speak in riddles?"
The wizard winked, "an old man cannot stay in one place too long or else his bones harden and he never wants to move again."
"I think you mean a wizard can never stay in one place too long," Bilbo let out a soft chuckle, but felt sadness creep into his laugh. He would be alone again. He felt… better than he had, but Gandalf's steady presence would be sorely missed.
"Will you come back?" Bilbo asked quietly after several moments.
Gandalf's gaze shifted from the stars to Bilbo's face. "Sooner than you know, my friend. You'll hardly miss me."
The hobbit gave his friend a smile, "good."
They sat in silence for a while longer, puffing on their pipes as they had done so many nights before.
"Thank you, Gandalf."
He meant it. He meant it with all his heart. It had been Gandalf who had stepped through his door and changed his life and Gandalf who had picked his broken body up off the floor when that life had seemed too much.
There may have been a time, moments when the sorrow felt like it would tear him apart, when Bilbo had thought to blame his friend for all of his suffering. But he knew… he knew that would mean that he regretted meeting Thorin and the company. That he regretted loving Thorin.
He had known more grief than he ever thought possible. His heart had shattered into more jagged pieces than he ever thought he could endure. But he did not regret loving Thorin. He couldn't regret loving Thorin.
Not when the dwarf had shown him what it meant to love. What it meant to be whole.
"I never…" the hobbit paused for a moment, "I never blamed you, Gandalf. Thorin was everything to me. He is everything. I never would have… I never would have met him if not for you."
He hoped the wizard already knew that but it seemed too important not to say aloud.
Gandalf stared at him and for a second, Bilbo thought he might've seen the shadow of a tear run down the old man's face.
"You are strong, Bilbo," Gandalf had said the words before, though it seemed like an age ago. "You will find that strength again."
The wizard reached into his robes and pulled out a piece of parchment, handing it over to Bilbo.
"What is it?" he asked, taking it gently in his hands.
Gandalf nodded towards it, "look."
The hobbit delicately opened it and saw that it was the Thorin's map. He stared at it for a long while memories of campfires, of Fili and Kili sleeping beside him, of sitting beside Thorin in amiable silence flooded his mind.
He felt that ache again, the longing to see their faces again. To know they were safe and happy and alive. But now… now he didn't feel as if he wanted to tear out his heart. There was pain, of course there was pain, but for the first time since he had returned to Bag End, Bilbo didn't not feel hopeless.
"Are you sure… are you sure I should have this?" Bilbo glanced up at the wizard, "shouldn't the dwarves –"
"I am sure," Gandalf smiled into his pipe, "I doubt Thorin ever thought of me as his friend, but he was not half so difficult to read as he thought he was. Thorin would want you to have it, my friend."
"But I—" Bilbo started, not convinced.
"You'll find a use for it, I'm sure," Gandalf cut him off as he gave the hobbit a significant look, "perhaps if you ever write a book."
"A book…?" Bilbo glanced back down towards the map.
He could… he could record his story. Add it to the many that lined his walls inside the hobbit hole. He knew Ori would be writing down the details of their quest but he was equally sure the dwarf would be doing it from a historian's perspective. Maybe he could do the same, but write of the details that Ori might omit.
Maybe he could write of how Bofur had been the first to befriend him. How Kili had wanted to grow a beard and be like his uncle in every way. How Fili had loved his brother more than anything and always gave Bilbo the best advice.
Maybe he could write of how Bifur saw things no one else noticed and carved more beautifully than anyone Bilbo had ever seen. How Gloin spoke of his wife and how Nori had sacrificed everything to keep his brothers safe.
Maybe he could write of Thorin's smile. Of Thorin's laugh. Of Thorin's love.
Maybe he could write what made each of the company so alive, what made them all unique and special and the best friends he had ever had.
His tale would not be a history. But neither would it be a romantic tale of heroism where the characters had names but they were the embodiments of virtues or vices; meant to entertain and teach but could have any name and still have the same message.
His tale would be different. He would write of small things. Small things that made his friends who they were, small things that made them alive, not merely ink on a page. Bilbo would remember them; remember Fili and Kili and Thorin, not as three noble dwarves that died to save their home, but as individuals with faults and hopes. And if anyone ever picked up his words after he was long gone, after they were nothing but faded names, they would know the company of Thorin Oakenshield.
Not as heroes, but as individuals.
That would be his last gift to Thorin. To Fili and Kili. To the rest of the company and friends he'd made on his journey.
Who they were would never be forgotten.
"Yes, I… that's not a bad idea."
Gandalf gave him another smile and patted his shoulder gently.
"Not bad at all…"
Gandalf left the next day.
Bilbo felt his friend's absence acutely. There was no longer someone to turn to distract him when his thoughts grew dark. So he opened up a blank book and started to write down his story.
Some days he only wrote down a single sentence. Some days it was even less than that when his memories grew too painful to dwell on.
But as time passed, as days turned into months and months turned into years, Bilbo started to write down more. He started with whatever came to mind. Sometimes he wrote a whole page on the way Thorin's lip would curve up just slightly more on the left side when he smiled. Sometimes he wrote about conversations he had. They were disorganized, random and chaotic, but when he put them to paper, he almost felt like those memories didn't hurt so much.
Bilbo tended his garden. He sat with the thrush perched on his shoulder, signing its tune as he worked and some days he didn't yell at it once.
Some nights when the moon was full and bright Bilbo would sit on top of Bag End and pull out the small carvings Bifur had given him. He would hold them up to the moon and squint as he had the first time he'd held them, moving the small figures back and forth and, when he was brave enough, he would sometimes let himself pretend that they were real.
Time passed, just as Gandalf had said it would. Day by day.
Some were worse than others. Some days he would stay in bed and curl up in Thorin's coat, clawing at his chest, and he would mourn the loss of his love.
But then some days were better. Some days the ache seemed almost dull in his chest.
The best days were when he received letters from his friends. Ori wrote most frequently, but to his surprise, Tauriel wrote almost as often.
Each morning he would check the mail box, allowing hope to well in his chest. The first time he got a letter from Ori had been a few weeks after Gandalf had departed.
I hope all is well in the Shire! Things have been quite busy here. There is so much to do! You would not believe – well perhaps you would, since you saw how dreadful the wreckage was – how much work has to be done. Dáin is trying to get Erebor repaired as soon as possible so we can start mining and trading again. Almost all of his warriors have stayed to help. He is sending for more from the Iron Hills and Dwalin has gone to the Blue Mountains to inform Lady Dís that Erebor is ours again.
I have taken up residence in the library. There are so many books here, Master Baggins! And they are in much better condition than I could've hoped for! I've almost finished compiling all of my notes from the journey and hope to start my official record soon, but for some reason Dáin has requested me as his Keeper of Records so I have scribe duty to attend to as well.
There is so much to be done, but we are hopeful that Erebor will be habitable by the next autumn and fully repaired within a few years. Normally something of this scale would take much longer but Smaug left us more than enough funds to expedite the process a bit.
Dori sends his regards. He is working as Dáin's Master of Commerce, so once we are fit to trade again; he'll be quite busy and probably even more irritable than he is now. He's telling me that he has never been irritable in his life and I should stop slandering him in my letters, but we all know that slander implies falsity in the claim. He's now telling me that I am not in the least bit amusing but I will have to disagree on that point.
Nori has taken lead of the city guard. He tried to foist the position on some other dwarf, but I insisted that once Erebor is a working city again there will, of course, be criminal activity that must be monitored, and who better to do that than an ex-criminal? He says hello and that he hopes you are taking care of yourself. He is insisting I also tell you to take good care of the dagger he gave you even though I assured him you would.
Bombur has taken charge of the kitchens. Bofur was worried that he wouldn't want to stay in the city, but I think it is doing Bombur a lot of good to be here. I've never heard him talk so much since I've known him. Bofur and Bifur have taken to helping repair the residential portions of Erebor that were destroyed. I think they might want to work in the mines once the city is working again, but – oh, Bofur wants me to tell you that he is doing well and that he would very much like to hear from you soon. He says that he hopes the scarf kept you warm over the winter and that Erebor could always use a hobbit when you come to visit.
Oin and Glóin left for their home a week ago. They stayed long enough for Oin to advise Dáin on repairing the mines but I think they were eager enough to go back. Glóin was… uh, more vocal than usual about the impressive beauty of his wife towards the end, I half thought Nori was going to stick him with a dagger. Nori assures me that he was indeed going to stick him with a dagger. Oh, pardon me, he says several daggers.
As I said, Dwalin left to return to the Blue Mountains. I worry about him quite often, though Balin assures me he will be fine. I know Dwalin took what… what happened very hard, even if he didn't show it, and going to tell Lady Dís will not be easy for him. Though he is the strongest dwarf I know, I pray that Mahal will watch over him.
Balin is assisting Dáin is all matters of the state, especially in his dealings with Thranduil and Bard. I know he is glad to be back home, but I can't help but think Balin is somehow… restless. Though he always talks about how old and tired he is, Balin has also been having me go through our records on the lost kingdom of Moria. Sometimes he talks of trying to retake it one day now that we have Erebor back. I must say, I find the idea fascinating, think of all the books we could find! Perhaps once Erebor is rebuilt, we will have strength enough to take it back from the orcs.
Life is very busy, Master Baggins, but it has been good for us. Things are going as smoothly as we could have hoped.
I wish that you had more time to stay with us after the battle but we all understand why you had to go. I know that this time will be… hard for you, and that these words will offer you little comfort, but know that we all think of you and pray that Mahal watches over the days ahead.
I hope to hear from you soon! I'm still expecting your notes on hobbits so that I can write my book on you Shire folk. I would regret having to send Nori after you, so make sure you don't take to long!
- Ori (and company)
Bilbo had read the letter over and over, so many times that by the end of that week; the edges of the paper were worn and ripped. He had written back almost immediately and each day he hoped for another response. It wasn't long after Ori's first letter arrived that Tauriel's had appeared in his mailbox.
I don't much care for writing letters. To be quite honest, I find it tedious and time consuming but here I am, writing it anyway. So…
Things have been… changing since you left.
The Bowman had moved his people into the ruins of Dale. My king has delegated a number of our people, along with the dwarves, to held rebuild the town in a show of friendship between our people.
Legolas insisted that he stay and personally help the Bowman so I am unfortunately stuck here until he decides that we have better things to do with our time than coddle the humans. All they do is plan and meet with the dwarves and build. I told Legolas that he need not be so… literal when he said he wanted to help, but my Prince insists on directly aiding with the construction. It is so boring. Better than court, I suppose, but there are only so many patrols I can go on before I go insane.
What's even worse is that the shifter insists on staying as well. He says it's because Bard offered him a large sum of gold to help with the heavier lifting, but he seems to be doing less lifting and more lurking. I fear the oaf has fallen madly in love with me, halfling. Not that I blame him, I doubt he has seen a real woman for an age and I am not unattractive, but his presence is so tiresome – he requests that I rewrite that.
I will not, because it is true.
It is an outrageous lie. Don't believe her.
What is more outrageous is that you can write –
You elves are so bloody pompous. Hobbit, don't listen to a word of the filth she writes in this letter. If anything, she won't leave me alone –
Hah! That is very amusing, shifter, but the halfling would have to be an idiot to believe the likes of you –
And he'd have to be blind not to recognize the shite drivel you're writing –
I have taken care of the shifter, halfling. He's currently passed out drooling on the floor of the tent. If I had any talent, I would draw the scene for you. It really is quite stunning, I believe he will have quite an impressive black eye for his impertinence.
Anyway, you had better be taking care of yourself. Legolas and Bard wish me to convey the same sentiment. I… am not gifted with elegant speech, halfling. I'm sure I do not need to remind you of that, but I… I hope that you are well. Or that you will be soon. Do not let your sorrow consume you. I know that the coming years will not be easy for you, but you must give your heart time to heal. Learn not to give your memories too much weight. They can be the things that destroy you, but if you let them, they can become something to cherish. I am old, halfling, perhaps not so by my people, but I have lived many lives of men. If you believe me for no other reason, believe me because of that. Time will pass and you will move forward.
It would please me if you wrote back soon. I am growing terminally bored here and your letter would most welcome.
Bilbo couldn't help the small smile creep on his face as he read the elf's letter and wrote one back to her the next day.
Every year on Durin's Day, Bilbo would clean of Kili's pipe and take out Fili's knife. He could grab Thorin's coat and step out into the cool autumn night and walk up to his bench. The hobbit would find a small twig, wrap himself in the coat, light the pipe, and whittle away until the morning sun rose.
He never carved anything good, but it gave him something to do with his hands. For the first few years, the hobbit had wept bitter tears into the fur of Thorin's coat. He always hurt, but on that night, the wounds seemed raw and bleeding.
Bilbo never wrote the next day, but he always wrote the day after that. Some years he wrote of Fili. He wrote of the golden dwarf's smile. Of the little lion toy he had shown Bilbo. He wrote of what Fili had told him of his mother and how he cared for his uncle. He wrote of bright grins, easy laughter, and an infinite love for his younger brother.
Some years he wrote of Kili. Of the young dwarf who always seemed so self-assured but underneath that there were years of insecurities. He wrote of Kili's fearless bravery, of how the dwarf would stick out his tongue when he thought he'd made a particularly fine joke. He wrote of how in the end, Kili had wanted to take care of his brother just once.
Later he wrote of Thorin. In the beginning he would just describe the dwarf's appearance and how he had appeared to be in the beginning. He wrote of the wrongs dealt to Thorin and the wounds that had been carved deep into his mind. Bilbo wrote of how Thorin had hated him at the start but then how they grew to know each other.
Sometimes his fingers shook and the words turned to messy lines. On those days he would stop writing and go find the thrush that had taken up permanent residence in his house. He found that talking to the bird, no matter how odd it looked, helped him fight the grief that threatened to overtake him.
He had tried to be friendly with his neighbors, to his relatives, but they all seemed so… petty now, ignorant almost. They talked of gardens and gossip. Of who had the biggest sow and what new children were on the way and Bilbo found it all aggravating.
They knew nothing. Nothing of the war fought to the east. Nothing of brutality and loss. They had never seen the person they loved die in front of them. There always seemed to be a barrier between him and the rest of Hobbiton. Something that kept him separate. He gave them his practiced, tired smile but it never reached his eyes.
The only correspondence he enjoyed were the ones he received from the company and his friends to the west. Everything else felt so forced to him, like he had to pretend to be someone else to enjoy their prattle.
Mostly Bilbo kept to himself. He gardened and read and cooked. The hobbit kept himself occupied.
Dreams haunted him every night. Usually they were dreams of Thorin dying. Of Fili and Kili being torn apart by Azog's mace.
But sometimes they were dreams of an impossible future where Thorin and his nephews had lived. Bilbo hated those nights most of all. They were so sweet and perfect and they felt so real until the hobbit woke the next morning to an empty bed and an emptier heart.
I hope all is still well. We very much enjoyed your last letter (I especially appreciate your notes on the structures of hobbit society) and I must say you write with enviable skill! Perhaps you should consider coming to Erebor and working as a Recorder yourself!
I am still finding my duties to be most fulfilling. Dáin has proved to be a most capable leader and very open to council. Erebor feels alive again, Master Baggins. There is still a certain emptiness to it, but I believe in a few more years we will be just as great as we once were.
Dori says that our alliance with Dale and the elves of Mirkwood has proven to be most lucrative. Trade flows freely between the mountain and our neighbors. He and Balin have been discussing an expedition to Moria. If we should be able to reclaim the city, we can once again open trade with the East and travel will much easier. If Balin has his way, he could be leading a party there within the next decade or so. I've asked him if I could come along (oh, to get my hands on those tomes!) and he has said yes!
It is my hope that we are at the beginning of an age of great peace and expansion. If Moria is opened again, East and West will be united through travel and trade. I know you said that you are keeping yourself quite busy, but perhaps when Moria's gates are open again, you will be able to travel here much quicker. I know we would all love to see you!
Sometimes it feels strange to wake up every morning and see this great city being born again, but I can't think of anything more exciting! Oh yes – Bofur has been promoted to Master of Mining. He tried to refuse it, saying he didn't want any more responsibility, but Dáin gave him that Durin glare and he couldn't say no.
Erebor will be the greatest kingdom once again, Master Baggins, I promise you that. It will be a kingdom that Thorin, Fili, and Kili would have been proud of. Sometimes I go out to the forest and find some of those flowers you had on the night before we found the secret door. I don't know how to make those crowns quite so well as you did but I put one on each of their tombs. I know if you were here you would do the same, but since you can't, I will.
They will never be forgotten, Master Baggins.
I suppose you're wondering why I'm still writing you from Dale after all this time. Well, let me assure you it is not done by my own volition.
A few years may seem a long time for your kind to spend away from home. It is. Excruciatingly long.
My king assigned me to Legolas' personal guard after the first year when my prince made it very clear he was not leaving Dale. Sometimes we travel back and forth between the palace and Dale, but Legolas has apparently made it his personal mission to be his father's emissary to Dale and Erebor.
So here I am. Surrounded by men and dwarves. I think I might have lost any shred of sanity I had left due to substandard company. Do the insane know that they are insane? Or do they simply feel normal…
Bard is doing well, I suppose. For an up-jumped criminal that is. Though I am reluctant to admit it, the Bowman is has a certain talent for ruling. Naturally that is mostly due to Legolas and his constant meddling, but it doesn't hurt to give him some credit.
The shifter has, unfortunately, decided to remain in Dale for the time being as well. Perhaps my insanity is contagious because the Bowman decided it was a good idea to make the bear the head of his guard. And of course Legolas thought that was just absolutely delightful and suggested I be in charge of training their bowmen. I told him that perhaps the famed 'Bowman' should teach his own incompetent underlings how to fire an arrow but my wisdom and great wit goes continually underappreciated here.
The shifter thinks this is all quite amusing, but we all know his sense of humor leaves much to be desired.
It is not all bad, halfling, as I did find a dwarven ale that is much to my liking. Of courseby that I mean it gets the job done swiftly, so to speak, but I find the less sober I am, the more tolerable the company I am forced to associate with becomes. It can only be a matter of time before Legolas comes to his senses and decides to return home. Until then, however, my days are filled with dwarves, men, and men that sporadically turn into bears.
Valar save me, halfling, I must be going mad because I actually smiled as I wrote that. Smiled. I will pray that was the ale and not a sign of my mental degradation.
As always, stay strong halfling.
I hope to hear from you soon.
The sun had just set against the hills of Hobbiton and Bilbo Baggins was washing his dishes. His hands worked methodically around the small plates, wiping them gently in the basin before placing them on the rack to dry.
It had almost been three years to the day since Thorin's company had arrived on his doorstep. Bilbo sighed as he looked out the small, round window that looked over the small incline to the path outside his house. He saw one of his neighbors stumble drunkenly with a lantern swaying precariously in front of him. Bilbo briefly hoped that the other hobbit wouldn't pass out and set fire to his garden.
He reached forward and pushed on the handle until the glass opened and the summer breeze wafted through. Bilbo shut his eyes for a moment and enjoyed the feeling on his face. A small pang shot through his heart as he thought of how Thorin might've looked walking around his home for the thousandth time. Sometimes, mostly without meaning to, he would find himself slipping into these fantasies. Bilbo had never seen the dwarf do anything even remotely domestic in all the time they'd known each other, but the slight absurdity of it made the hobbit smile if only for a moment before the sharp sting of loss lanced through him again.
It happened less often now, that the ache overwhelmed him; forced him to stay in bed all day and mourn. The letters were a large part of it, he supposed. Even if he couldn't see his friends, knowing that they still cared, that they still wanted to know how he was… it helped.
Beside his bed on the wooden table, Bilbo piled up each of the letter's he'd received from the east. When he felt that wave of grief swelling up, threatening to overtake him, the hobbit would start with the first letter he'd received and read them all the way trough until the most recent. By now the earliest were well worn with use, the edges torn slightly when he'd gripped the edges too tightly; but there was something almost reassuring about that. The words written there grounded him, reminded him that he was not alone.
Thump, thump, thump.
Bilbo's head shot up as he shook himself out of his reverie. The hobbit glanced towards where the door was and frowned. He hadn't had many visitors since Gandalf left, and even less over the last year. Most of his neighbors had written him off as becoming truly 'odd' and no longer any sort of pleasant company. Maybe… he'd imagined the noise? It was quite late…
Thump, thump, thump.
That was… definitely real. Bilbo edged his way to the door, walking as quietly as possible through the curved hall. He'd almost gotten there when he realized that he was sneaking in his home. His home. If there was one place Bilbo surely didn't have to sneak, it was his place of residence. The hobbit sighed, shaking his head at what a horrible recluse he'd become and tried to walk with more surety towards the door.
Bilbo reached the door and took a deep breath trying to prepare himself for whatever social nicety he was going to have to fake his way through now. He placed a hand on the cool metal ring and pulled until the green door creaked open. Bilbo peeked around the edge and saw…
Bilbo gaped at the familiar bulky silhouette of the dwarf. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn't imagining anything.
'Nope…' Bilbo continued to stare, 'still there…'
Was he asleep? Was he dreaming?
"As much as I am thoroughly enjoying being ogled by you, lad, if you'd open the door a bit more that would be most welcome."
Dwalin crossed his scar-covered arms and rolled his eyes as Bilbo jumped at the sound of the dwarf's voice.
"I'm… I'm not dreaming?" Bilbo asked quietly as if he still couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"If you're spendin' your nights dreamin' about me, lad, I think we should have a talk…"
Bilbo felt happiness swell within him like a gust of warm air. He flung the door aside and all but sprinted forward, wrapping his arms around Dwalin fiercely, hugging the dwarf as tightly as he could.
For the first time since Gandalf had left, Bilbo felt… good. Not like he was just surviving, but like he was truly glad to have woken up that day.
Dwalin patted his back a few times and tried to gently push the hobbit away, "alright, lad, that's… that's good."
"So this is the hobbit you keep prattling on about."
Bilbo stiffened in surprise at the new voice. He quickly stepped back from Dwalin and peered around his friend. In the darkness of the night, Bilbo could only make out the stranger's dark cloak, pulled close around a body.
"I, uh…" Bilbo glanced at Dwalin nervously, but the dwarf simply shrugged with a small smile, "who – who are you?"
"You mean they never talked about me?" the voice was low and there was the hint of a pout in the stranger's tone, "I think I should be insulted."
Bilbo blinked, feeling impossibly more confused than he had before.
The stranger stepped forward into the light coming from his house and a pair of hands came up to remove the cowl. Light hit the stranger's face and Bilbo let out a small gasp.
It was a woman. A dwarf woman.
Who looked impossibly familiar. Who looked impossibly like… like Thorin.
"Lady Dís?" Bilbo whispered, his eyes wide with shock.
She let out a small laugh and nodded, "Lady? I'm not so sure about that part but yes… I'm glad I seem to have come up in at least one conversation."
"I…" Bilbo stumbled forward and stuck out his hand, but then pulled it back suddenly. He should bow, shouldn't he? Wasn't she a dwarf queen or – or…. The hobbit settled on an extremely awkward half bow, half curtsy monstrosity.
"It's a – a pleasure to meet you, Lady Dís."
She smiled at him and for a moment all Bilbo saw in her face was Fili's grin. For a moment he felt his heart clench. It must have shown on his face because the dwarf's expression turned sad.
"None of that lady business, Bilbo Baggins," Dís placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, "may I call you Bilbo?"
Suddenly as Bilbo looked at her, looked at how closely she resembled Thorin, the hobbit let out a manic laugh as that ache split through his chest again, clawing and tearing.
Dís gazed at him curiously but said nothing until his laughter died away.
"I'm—I'm sorry," Bilbo wiped a small tear from his eye and couldn't even tell himself if it was sad or happy, "It's just… it took Thorin a few months to ask me that and even then, I had to – had to ask for him…"
Dís stared for a moment before letting out a similar laugh, happy and sad. Pained and joyful.
"That does sound rather like him. Thorin was always very rigid when it came to customs. He was very…" Her mouth twisted into a sorrowful sort of grin.
"Awkward?" Bilbo matched her expression.
"Yes, he was… very awkward," Dís pulled him into a quick hug, "it is wonderful to meet you, Bilbo."
"Very touching," Dwalin grumbled from beside them, "can we go inside now?"
Bilbo's eyes widened as years of social training kicked in again, "Oh, yes! Of course – sorry, sorry," the hobbit scrambled back into the house and pulled the door open for them to come inside.
The hobbit took their cloaks and bags, placing them near the door before ushering them into the kitchen. He had half a thought to offer them ale – he hadn't known a dwarf opposed to the stuff – but quickly remembered that he hadn't restocked any since Gandalf had thrown everything out.
"I, uh, I only have tea…" Bilbo gestured towards the table for them to sit down, "…sorry."
"Tea is fine," Dís smiled at him again but quickly turned a fearsome glare towards Dwalin who looked ready to protest, "tea is perfect, isn't it Dwalin?"
His mouth snapped shut and Dwalin looked away almost sheepishly, "tea will be… acceptable."
"Good," Dís patted his arm with a dangerously sweet smile.
Bilbo busied himself preparing the tea. It all felt so… surreal. Like some very strange dream he'd never imagined would even occur to him. As he set the kettle to boiling, Bilbo took the chance to sneak furtive glances at Dís.
She was… beautiful. Just like Dwalin had said.
Half of her wild black hair was piled into a sort of bun at the back of her head and the rest spilled around her shoulders, littered with small braids and those metal beads. Her beard was cropped close to her face much like Thorin's had been, except at her chin were two smaller braids, each with a blue stone at the end.
Her mouth, her nose, her cheeks… She shared all of those with Thorin. He saw Fili in the quirk of her lips. He saw Kili in the way she tilted her head just so when someone was talking. But it was her eyes… those deep blue eyes that made him want to look away, if only to spare himself some pain. She looked so much like Thorin that it made him want to shrink away.
The hobbit bustled over and placed cups in front of them, looking only at Dwalin.
"So what, uh, what are you doing here?" Bilbo asked as he sat down opposite them at the table. "Not that I don't want you to be!" the hobbit added quickly, "it's just… well, it is a long way." Bilbo flushed as his gaze fell down to his cup. Normally it took him a few more minutes to offend his guests but tonight would have to be a new record.
"We're going to Erebor, lad." Dwalin replied as he eyed the delicate cup with a very unenthusiastic expression on his face.
"You haven't been back?" Bilbo glanced up surprised. He knew Dwalin had gone to the Blue Mountains, but he'd just sort of assumed the dwarf would want to go back to Erebor as soon as possible. It had been years after all.
"No…" it was Dís who answered, though he couldn't bring himself to look into her eyes. "I needed time…" she trailed off and swirled the tea in her cup absently, "but now I need to go back to… pay my respects."
Dwalin reached over and placed his hand over hers and squeezed, his expression softer than Bilbo had ever seen. "It wasn't just you," he mumbled gruffly, "I… needed time as well."
The hobbit watched them for a moment, thinking back to the conversation he'd had with Dwalin back at Beorn's house. As he watched the dwarf's face, Bilbo felt hope swell within his chest and a small smile creep onto his face. He hoped that they had found comfort in each other.
'Someone should have a happy ending,' Bilbo thought to himself with a sliver of envy before he remembered that Dís had lost both her sons and a brother. It felt like cold water had been poured over him and Bilbo felt immediately guilty.
"I told Dís everything about the journey," Dwalin continued, looking back at Bilbo, "she wanted to meet you, lad, so here we are."
Dís narrowed her eyes at the other dwarf, "don't be rude, Dwalin, you wanted to see Bilbo as well."
Dwalin seemed to flush minutely, red creeping up over his beard before glaring back at her. "He knows that," the dwarf gestured at Bilbo with a scowl, "I don't need to go around sayin' every damn thing I'm feelin'!"
Dís was about to reply when the hobbit let out a small chuckle. She glanced at him and stared so intently Bilbo had to look away again, not sure he could handle the intensity of her gaze, of those hauntingly familiar blue eyes.
They stayed up and talked for a while longer. Well, less talked than Bilbo listened to the two dwarves bicker over certain aspects of their journey so far. It was well into the night when Dwalin excused himself to go to sleep, leaving Bilbo and Dís alone in the kitchen together. The hobbit had hurriedly tried to busy himself with the dishes and not notice the curious sort of silence that had fallen over them.
"Do I really remind you of him that much?"
Bilbo's hands gripped the teacup so tightly that it almost shattered, startled at the sudden noise. The hobbit couldn't turn around to face her. Not after spending so many hours looking everywhere except at her face. Shame welled within him suddenly.
He heard the sound of a chair shifting and soft footsteps until there was someone beside him. Dís stood there for a moment before gently taking the cup out of his stiff fingers and easing it into the basin.
Bilbo sighed feeling weary and couldn't bring himself to lie, "yes. You look just like… just like Thorin." The name felt like dust on his tongue. It had been so long since he'd said it aloud.
"But much more beautiful, yes?" Her tone was joking, but Bilbo caught the same hint of tired sorrow in her voice as he felt weighing deep in his bones. The hobbit tried to smile but he couldn't make anything more than a grimace.
"Do you have bench up there?" Bilbo saw her gesture to the ceiling and nodded.
"Good. Let's go," Dís put her arm through his and lead him out the door up to the bench that sat facing the bright summer moon. Bilbo felt almost a blur as he walked up the hill and sat down, absently aware that Dís was lighting a pipe and asking for his. Bilbo pulled it out and saw her face halted at the sight of Kili's pipe. The hobbit's eyes grew wide and he tried to pull his hand back, but she held his wrist tightly.
"No… it's fine, Bilbo. I just wasn't expecting to see that here." Dís smiled down at the pipe with such sorrow, the hobbit knew that any pain, any horrible loss that he had suffered since Erebor was matched equally in this dwarf.
"He always took such poor care of it," Dís took the pipe in her hand and light it with her own, "but Kili would just smile and laugh, saying it was sturdy enough."
Bilbo watched the moonlight play across her face and he almost started to weep. Bilbo had been there to watch her sons died, her brother die. Bilbo had some… some closure at least; he had been able to say good-bye, no matter how much it hurt. But Dís… she had to find out through someone else, she had worried for months and months about the shattered remnants of her family only to find out that they had all been…
"Do you want it?" Bilbo gestured toward the pipe, "I think you should… you should have it."
Dís shook her head lightly, "It is yours, Bilbo."
The hobbit took the pipe back and stared up at that great moon as they sat in silence for several minutes.
"When you say Mister Dwalin told you everything…" the hobbit trailed off.
Dís eyed him for a moment, "Did he tell me about you and my brother, you mean?"
Bilbo nodded, still unable to meet her eyes until he felt warm fingers touch his face and turn it until the hobbit had no choice but to look at her face.
"You should not let your memories own you."
The hobbit blinked away at unwanted tears but kept staring at her forehead and not any lower.
"Look at me," she said softly.
Bilbo stared at her hair instead.
"Look at me, Bilbo."
The hobbit clenched his eyes shut and took a deep breath. It was stupid. It was so stupid that even after years, he was still this weak, this broken. Bilbo wrenched his eyes open and forced himself to look back at her. To see Dís and not Thorin, even though his heart screamed out to him to stop, to look away, to cower.
"You have mourned enough," Dís moved her hand so it cupped his jaw and Bilbo saw that there was something shimmering in her eyes as well, though no tears fell down her cheeks.
"You knew Thorin's love, Bilbo. That is…" she gave him that smile again, "you must treasure it, not weep for it."
"I—" Bilbo let out a choked gasp, "I can't. I can't it's too – it's too hard."
He thought that he was healing. He thought that the gaping hole that had been ripped into his heart might've been growing numb. But as he looked at Dís, as he saw all the hurt and the pain and the loneliness reflected in her blue eyes, Bilbo knew that he hadn't even begun. There was strength in her eyes. There was the same fire he'd seen in Thorin's. There was a will to live there that Bilbo knew had flickered out when he'd seen them all die.
He felt guilty.
"I know," Dís pulled him into a hug, "I know it is."
He felt guilty for crying all over the woman who had lost more than he could ever understand, he felt guilty for showing weakness when she was showing such strength. But most of all, more than anything, Bilbo Baggins felt guilty for being responsible for her pain. He'd given Thorin the ring. He had tainted his friend, corrupted him. Who knows how things could have gone if he hadn't? They might all… they might all be alive and…
Bilbo gripped tight into her shirt, burying his face into her neck, their pipes forgotten on the bench.
Everything rushed back, every single thing that he'd tried to bury since Gandalf had left, every single thing he tried to cover up with letters from his friends. He was responsible. He had torn everything asunder and now one of his victims was trying to comfort him. He was disgusting. He was a monster.
"I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry—" Bilbo knew it wasn't enough. How could it ever be enough? No amount of gold was worth a life. No glowing stone was worth a life. And a few paltry words were worth even less than that.
"It was—it was my fault," he sobbed, knowing it was futile, knowing that he deserved every second of his misery, "it was all my fault, all of it… I killed them, I killed them and –"
"You did not."
"I did, I did—" Bilbo's hands tightened.
"Bilbo, look at me."
"I did, I did, I did—"
She leaned back and took his face in her hands, like he'd done for Thorin in the treasure room. "Look at me."
Bilbo looked up through swimming vision and saw no blame in her face.
"Bilbo Baggins," Dís began quietly as he kept her hands firm on his face, "you did not kill my brother or my sons, Azog did."
"But the ring—" how could she not understand?
"Dwalin told me of the ring, Bilbo. It was not your fault."
Dís sighed as he looked away for a moment, "Did the ring fill those orcs with malice? Did the ring make Azog kill my grandfather and drive my father to madness? Did the ring make Azog want to cut the throat of every dwarf left in the line of Durin?"
"I…" Bilbo blinked away tears, "I don't…"
"It did not," Dís' voice was stern, "Did the ring make Azog lead the orcs on Erebor? Did the ring make them fight a war? Did the ring make Azog kill them?"
"It did not," Dís didn't wait for him to answer, "whatever may have happened between the elves and my brother while that ring was on him, it did not cause the orcs to act as they have since their stain was smeared on this earth."
"Azog has thirsted for our blood since Moria. That beast killed my family," she shook his head lightly, "not you."
He wanted to believe her… he wanted to trust that beautiful, wonderful, impossible promise of forgiveness that lay within her words but…
"I cannot believe that the person my brother chose to love would do anything to hurt him."
Bilbo had to look away. He didn't deserve that faith.
"No, look at me Bilbo."
"If what Dwalin told me has even a speck of truth to it, Thorin loved you as he never loved anyone else," Bilbo felt his heart clench, "he refused to trust anyone for years, Bilbo. He was so… he was so closed to everyone but his family, I never even thought to trust a hope that he would find someone."
"I knew Thorin better than anyone. He would never, never, want you suffer for him. He would want you to live, Bilbo. He would want you to look at the sun and smile at its warmth. He would want you to get up every day and be happy..."
Dís pulled him into another hug.
"My sons and my brother, they… they died because they believed in something. They died for a better future for our people. I know that doesn't comfort you because it will never comfort me. I know your grief, Bilbo, I know we would trade that mountain in a heartbeat for them to be alive again. But we can't."
Her arms held him tighter.
"So we must live. For them." Dís' voice grew quiet, "We cannot taint Thorin's memory with so much sorrow. Not when… not when I know he would give anything to see us happy. And so would my sons."
"But… how—" the hobbit felt dizzy, felt like the world was crashing around him again, "how?"
"I…" Dís pulled back slightly so she could see him, "I blamed myself for… for a long time. I thought to myself, 'what if I had gone with? Would they still be alive? Would I have been able to protect them?'"
"I spent so many days feeling like… like it was all my fault. Frerin died going back into the mountains during Smaug's attack after I told him Thorin had gone in and I just stood there and watched. For years I promised myself I would never let that happen to my family again. I would never just stand by and watch."
"When I found out Thorin was going back, I…" Dís' voice grew weary, "I wanted to go with, I demanded to go with but he told me that I should stay back and rule, that everything was going to be fine, even though I knew in my heart it wouldn't. Then I got that damn note that my sons left saying they were following my brother back to Erebor and that I shouldn't worry because they would… they would keep each other safe."
Bilbo saw a pain in her eyes. A mother's pain. A sister's pain.
"I was so angry with them that I almost packed up and followed just to drag them back. But… Thorin was right, the Blue Mountains needed someone to rule. So I stayed. I dreamt every night about getting a letter telling me Erebor was ours again, telling me that my sons and brother were safe."
"When Dwalin returned alone, I… I knew that they were gone. And I blamed myself. Over and over I dreamt of every different choice I could've made and they all seemed infinitely better than the ones I did when I was awake. I mourned for them but… I lost myself to the grief and blame."
In that moment as Bilbo looked at Dís' face he thought he'd never known someone so intimately and yet not at all. She was the same as him, twin in their suffering, and he felt that he'd known her for a lifetime even though she was almost a stranger.
"Dwalin saved me, Bilbo. He let me mourn but when I… lost myself, he dragged me back. Reminded me that I am not… not responsible for their deaths. What do we have in this world, what are we responsible for if not our own choices? I will not discredit theirs by tarnishing my memories with guilt that things might've been different. I had to… I had to forgive myself to realize that. I'm not… I'm not saying it is easy, Mahal knows I will never not mourn them, but I won't… I cannot let it consume me, Bilbo. And neither can you."
Something broke within Bilbo and all of the hurt, all of the sorrow and the guilt and the blame started to pour from him. He'd spent the last few years trying to heal, trying to move forward but all he had done was clench his eyes shut to everything going on around him. He had stopped, pretending that everything was going to be better when really all he was doing was surviving.
The hobbit hadn't needed consolation. He hadn't needed good memories to look back on. What Bilbo had needed was forgiveness. He had needed absolution, he needed to know that maybe… maybe it was not his fault that Thorin and Fili and Kili were dead. That sometimes life was just cruel and no matter how hard you try, in the end giving everything you had wasn't enough. And that was… that was something that could be forgiven.
He had never thought to look for it in the sister of his dead love. He had never thought to ask the mother of his dead friends. Because why should she? Why should she forgive him? But as he looked into her blue eyes, for a moment he didn't see Thorin, he saw himself. He saw in Dís the possibility of forgiveness, of a future where he could be really and truly happy again.
And he believed her.
Bilbo's chest felt like it was splitting, like his lungs weren't getting enough air and he might never get enough again. But just like that, Dís gave him a small watery smile and he broke again. He was breathing sharp, shallow gasps and his heart hurt but for the first time since Thorin had died, it hurt because he was mourning the past, mourning the lives that were extinguished; not the future he had blamed himself for taking away from them.
The hobbit clutched to Dís like a lifeline, like she was the only thing in the world ground him. But this time, it was not because Bilbo felt like he was drowning in that impossibly large wave of grief and guilt, but because he felt light. Like some burden had just been lifted from him. He still hurt, he still mourned, and he knew he would for the rest of his life, but now… now he was forgiven. He wouldn't let himself be consumed; he would fight for his happiness because that's what Thorin would have done. That's what Fili and Kili would have done.
Bilbo buried his face in her neck and felt the heat of her body. Felt the heat of the life that thrummed through her veins and remembered when he had talked with Bofur that night under the moon. He had told the dwarf that every life was precious, that every life should be treasured. In his guilt and grief, Bilbo had forgotten to include his own. Dís was right, they couldn't just live for their lost ones, they had to live for themselves.
Dís rubbed at his back and whispered softly into his ear, "I regret our first meeting has included so many tears, Bilbo. You must think me a horrible guest."
Bilbo pulled away with a watery, choking laugh, "of course not, Lady Dís. I think I might've ruined your cloak."
The laugh sounded rough and cracked even to his own ears, but for the first time in ages he actually felt the warmth reach into his bones. It felt… good.
"This old thing?" Dís shrugged, "I'll just switch it with Dwalin's, he'll never even notice."
She winked at him and the hobbit felt real laughter start to pour out of him, just as that horrible ache had. Dís eyed him for a moment but started to laugh as well; and soon enough they were holding their stomachs, bent over with a different sort of tears in their eyes.
It wasn't even that funny, really. Bilbo thought it was mostly a mixture of relief and surprise that he even could laugh again. When he finally sat up, the hobbit felt a certain hollowness in his chest, but it didn't cause him to grieve as it did before. This time it felt more like something had left, leaving open space to be filled with something different, something better.
Dís put her arm around his shoulders and together they sat staring at the moon until the first hints of sunrise came above the hills.
"I…" Bilbo paused immediately. He didn't know what to say, he didn't know if he even had words adequate for expressing his gratitude for what Dís had done for him. How did one thank another for something priceless?
"You're welcome," she turned to him with another wink.
Bilbo chuckled and turned back to watch the sunrise with a small smile on his face. She understood, she understood better than anyone. In that moment, as they sat side by side, watching the sunrise, Bilbo realized that there never would be words sufficient enough, but at the same time, he had never needed to use them.
Dís and Dwalin stayed for a few more days in Bag End. Dwalin had come outside in the morning looking for them, only to find Bilbo and Dís leaning against each other, asleep as the morning sun warmed their faces.
Dwalin had grumbled something about being surround by lunatics, but when he saw the pair of them laughing at him, grins on their faces, Dwalin had given him a curious, relieved sort of smile.
Bilbo found that his affection for Dís grew impossibly fast over their stay. He felt like he known her for an age. They were kindred spirits, tied together through the love of their lost ones and that bond, that same need to not just survive, but to really live, made the hobbit feel that there were few people he had ever met in his life that he had known better.
The hobbit had sent them off with plenty of food for their journey east to Erebor, as well as a few letters for the rest of the company and Tauriel. He'd given them both giant hugs though Dwalin had tried to protest until Dís had thwacked him hard across the arm with a glare.
As he waved them down the road, Bilbo hoped with all his heart that they found happiness with each other. They had both lost so much… They deserved to find love once again; they deserved to be happy.
Bilbo felt their absence acutely over the next few days but he also felt… better. Better than he had in years. He no longer felt that he needed to occupy himself just to keep the memories at bay. He found that he could sit in his study with a cup of tea and relax, as he hadn't been able to since he'd returned home.
Summer passed into autumn and autumn passed into winter.
There were nights when Bilbo took out the little wooden statues and watched them as the moon passed over their small faces. And he mourned. He remembered Thorin's touch. The way the dwarf's fingers were rough with calluses but gentler than anything he'd ever known. He remembered the way Thorin would hold his hand sometimes and they would just sit in silence because nothing more needed to be said.
But now there was no guilt in his sorrow. It wasn't… easy, by any means. There were days when he'd still just want to curl up and do anything but face the world for the day, but while there was time enough to grieve, he also found time to learn how to live again.
The dirt felt cooler under his feet. The sun felt warmer on his face. The snow left tiny, freezing trails across his skin as it melted away.
Bilbo held tight to those days and each time he felt he couldn't get up, he would remember that there were things to explore, books to read, people to meet. He would build his home again, here in Bag End, because he knew it couldn't be with Thorin anymore. Thorin was dead and he was alive; and damn it all, Bilbo Baggins would live. Even if it hurt so much he couldn't move some days, he would live.
How are you doing? I'm sorry it's been so long since my last letter but it was for good reason, I promise! I have some very exciting news! It's been quite a long time, but do you remember how I motioned that we had been discussing the possibility or returning to Moria?
Well – Master Balin has said that we will be departing within the year! Master Balin has asked me to accompany him as the official Recorder, which of course I was delighted to accept. Can you just imagine it, Master Baggins? All those books – all that history just waiting to be rediscovered and I'll be the one to do it!
Master Oin will be accompanying us as well. He says there will be many opportunities for making money in the abandoned mines once we get there. I asked him how he could even thing about that when there are thousands upon thousands of books just waiting to be read again but all he did was roll his eyes.
This will probably be the last letter I can write to you for a while since we'll be on the road, but once we've succeeded, I'll be sure to write again! Hopefully once Moria is open to trade, we can have letters and goods passed much more quickly through the Misty Mountains than before.
If my calculations are correct, it could cut travel time between, say, the Shire and Erebor by a month at least! There are so many exciting new possibilities, Master Baggins, I get shivers just thinking about them!
– Nori assures me that that is not normal and I should probably go see a physician.
He is simply jealous that I am going on the expedition and he is stuck here running the city guards.
– He insists that Dori's presence in the city is not helping (don't believe him Master Baggins, we're getting along splendidly).
Were you able to find those books on your family history? If so, don't send them to Erebor. I'll let you know when we're settled enough so you can send them to Moria. I think I've gotten a good portion of the record on hobbits done, but you have a surprisingly fascinating history that I just keep finding more to add!
I hope this reaches you well! The rest of the company sends their regards and best wishes. (Master Bofur would like me to add that he is still waiting for you to visit and will be very cross if you hold out too long!)
I know I complain about this every time I write to you but I feel compelled to do so because we are still in Dale. Still! Years do not mean so much to an elf as they do for men, but even so…
Legolas is still insistent that there should be an elvish presence here to facilitate relations with the men and dwarves, but don't you think years are a bit extreme?
To be fair, he did tell me I was free to return to court any time, but I know that my absence would result in everything we've worked for falling apart. I can see you rolling your eyes at this, but it's true. Without me, these city guards wouldn't know a twig from an arrow. There is very little crime in Dale. Why you ask? Because I can shoot a thief from a half a league away and they all know that.
If I left, halfling, Dale would descend into chaos.
The shifter has decided to remain as well, even though the city has been rebuilt. Don't ask me why, but he insists on staying in the barracks to pick fights with new recruits that don't know of his… affliction yet. I believe he finds it amusing to turn into a bear and watch them piss themselves.
Which, to be fair, it is, but I will never admit it to his face. Can you just imagine how smug it would be? I already want to punch him on a daily basis; I don't think my extraordinary resistance could hold out if he knew I enjoyed it just a little.
Legolas is with Bard most days and the people have taken to calling him their 'Queen of Dale.' I have put several of these idiots in the stocks to teach them a lesson but the title seems to be sticking. When I informed him of this, he just laughed and waved me off but I will remain vigilant, halfling. Someone has to in a city full of moronic ingrates.
Despite the very… human qualities of Dale, I find myself not resenting it as much as I did in the beginning. It never feels quite like home, but I cannot deny that I do have a sense of pride looking at all we have accomplished. Everything that my kin have created always seemed so… old, even to me. Thranduil's palace was around for an age before I was even born. But here, I have been able to help create and build; to watch this new kingdom rise from the ashes and say that I helped put some of the stone in place. It is a… good feeling, halfling.
I do miss the Great Forest. It is the only home I have ever known, but for now, I… oh this is so stupid I think I could be happy here. But only for a little while. And only if no one ever finds out I don't resent them quite as much as it appears.
I hope this letter finds you well, Bilbo. As always, stay strong.
(Legolas, the bowman, and the shifter all send their regards and wish you happiness)
It had been many years since Bilbo Baggins had returned to Bag End when he heard of his second cousin Drogo and his wife drowning in the Brandywine River.
The night had been stormy, wind and rain lashing at his windows and Bilbo had just been about to settle down next to the fire with a nice cup of tea when he heard a knock on his door.
Confusion had prodded at his thoughts as the hobbit went to see who was visiting him at this time of night and in a storm to boot. When he opened it, Bilbo quickly ushered in two hobbits, one old and one very young.
The moment he'd opened his door, Bilbo had been changed forever, though he hadn't known it at the time.
The older hobbit he knew lived in Buckland near Drogo, but he had never known him as more than a passing acquaintance. Mungo was his name, Bilbo thought absently as he tried to see who the small one hiding behind Mungo's leg was.
That's when he'd been told that Drogo and his wife Primula had drowned earlier that day. Mungo had leaned forward to whisper in his ear that they weren't sure if the boat had merely sunk under Drogo's girth or if Primula had pushed her husband in only to be dragged down as well.
Bilbo felt sorry for them, of course he did, but they hadn't been exactly close. It was more for little Frodo's sake that he felt remorse. The few times his second cousin had brought his family to Bag End, the boy had been a refreshing surprise. Unlike his parents and, in Bilbo's opinion, many of the Baggins hobbits, Frodo showed a desire to explore, a desire to find out more about the wide world around them.
The last time he'd seen the lad was on Frodo's eleventh birthday a year before when Bilbo had given him one of his old maps. Frodo had delighted in it though his parents sent Bilbo dirty looks for encouraging what they deemed as 'distasteful behavior.'
That was when Mungo had pulled the small hobbit out in front of him, pulling off boy's hood.
"He doesn't have anyone else right now, Mister Bilbo," Mungo had fidgeted with his sleeve, "We can… try to find other arrangements soon, but the boy needs somewhere to stay for the time being and you're his closest relative."
Bilbo had knelt down immediately and unclasped Frodo's cloak trying to get the sopping thing off him as quickly as he could. The boy's face was red and wet with tears, his hands shaking as Frodo brought them to his big blue eyes, trying to wipe away the wetness there.
"U-uncle Bilbo?" Frodo had said in such a small, broken voice.
Bilbo pulled his nephew into a tight hug and waved Mungo back out the door.
"Yes, yes, it's me," Bilbo had rubbed soothing circles into the boy's back.
"They're… they're gone…" Frodo had started to sob again, tears pouring into his uncle's shirt.
"I know," Bilbo had whispered, "I know, Frodo. But I'm here for you."
The small hobbit sobbed even harder, his limbs felt so fragile in Bilbo's grasp.
"Frodo… will you come out now?"
Bilbo leaned his ear against the door to young hobbit's room, waiting for a reply.
It had been a week since Frodo's parents had drowned in the river and the boy had barely spoken a word to him. It wasn't… abnormal, Bilbo supposed, but there was only so long anyone could go without food.
There was a scuffling sound behind the door until it shifted open a fraction. One large blue eye peered out at him, red and wet.
"I don't want to come out."
Bilbo sighed and gave his nephew a weary smile, "Can I come in, then?"
Frodo seemed to consider him for a moment before shutting the door sharply in the older hobbit's face, "No! I don't – I don't want you to."
Bilbo had never really considered having children. Sure there were days in his youth when he dreamed of a family but after his mother and father died, Bilbo was content living by himself. Then he had gone on his journey and… no matter how many years passed, the hobbit had loved none other than Thorin. The heart he had thought broken forever would always belong to Thorin, but as he looked at this small child, helpless and wet and so lonely, Bilbo felt affection swell in his chest. A… fatherly sort of love, he supposed.
Of course, that didn't mean that he had any idea what he was doing. Frodo wouldn't speak, wouldn't eat, and as far as Bilbo could tell, wouldn't sleep either. He wouldn't talk or listen, just sit in Bilbo's spare room and cry. Children were… complicated. Children who had just lost their parents and been forced to move across the Shire were even more so.
Bilbo sat down against the door with another sigh and leaned back on the polished wood.
"Okay. I'm just going to sit here for a while, alright?" Bilbo settled onto the floor, "You don't need to talk, but I want you to know that I'm right here for you."
He heard a sniff through the door and for a moment there was only silence until there was another sound. A small body sliding down against the other side of the door and coming to rest on the wooden floor inches from where he was.
Bilbo waited, saying nothing, but hoping Frodo might talk. Even if he didn't though, it was… enough, he supposed, that the young hobbit know that he wasn't going to leave.
"Why…" Frodo's small voice came muffled through the door, "Why did they have to go, Uncle Bilbo?"
'Why, indeed?' The older hobbit thought to himself with hint of sorrow. Of course, the one question Frodo wanted the answer was the one he himself had never been able to find. He'd been trying for the last twenty years and come no closer than he had in the beginning.
Should he lie? Should he offer comfort to a child even though… even though there was no comfort except for lies? Was it kinder to give him a reason, or was it kinder to teach him early on that sometimes life was cruel?
"I don't know, Frodo."
It was the truth at least. He wouldn't lie to Frodo. He couldn't lie. There was no purpose in his parents' death, no reason to give the boy that would make him feel any better. All Bilbo could do was make sure that he was there.
He heard Frodo starting to cry again and his heart clenched. He… he wanted to help, wanted to make the tears stop, make the boy's parents come back; but as he had found with so many crucial moments in his life, Bilbo Baggins had no clue what to do.
"What – what am I…" Frodo gave a wet sniff and gulped, "What am I supposed to do?"
Bilbo closed his eyes and leaned his head back to rest against the door. That was the crux of it all, wasn't it? Maybe it wasn't so much why these things happened, but what the people left behind did in the face of such tragedy?
"Be brave, Frodo Baggins," Bilbo found himself saying though he wasn't quite sure where the words were coming from.
Frodo sniffed again, "Brave?"
"Mhm," Bilbo nodded against the door, "Do you want to hear about some very brave friends of mine?"
"O-okay…" he heard the young hobbit move his head to rest against the door.
"I once knew a pair of brothers, dwarf brothers."
"You were friends with dwarves?" Frodo's voice picked up slightly with interest.
"Yes I was, a whole company of them in fact. But these two, they were princes of a very distant kingdom buried deep within a lonely mountain."
"You were friends with princes?"
Bilbo chuckled lightly, "I used to keep very illustrious company, little one. Very respectable and whatnot."
"My parents said that you weren't—weren't very respectable at all…" Frodo trailed off.
The hobbit couldn't help but grin at that, "That's because they hadn't gone on any adventures! Anyway, these two princes had lost their home to a mighty dragon—"
"A dragon?" Frodo gasped.
"A very big, very scary dragon named Smaug. Their home had been burnt, taken away from them. And not long after that, their father died as well. They were very sad because they didn't have a home and they didn't have a father."
"Just like me?"
"In many ways, little one," Bilbo said gently. "They also had an uncle, just like you. An uncle who was brave and strong and kind, an uncle who decided to raise them as his own sons."
"You see their uncle was a great king of dwarves who led his people west. He had many burdens to bear and many responsibilities for he loved his people and wanted them to live in safety. But the thing he cared for most in this world were his two nephews, his two sons. He helped raise them, helped them learn to be strong, but most of all, he taught them that even though many terrible things had happened to them, they could still be brave."
"The two princes grew tall and strong. They faced many trials together, but no matter what, they were brave and they had their uncle to support them. They refused to let all the bad things that happened make them sad."
"And… I can be brave? I can be brave like the princes?" Frodo asked with fragile hope in every word.
"I know you will be, Frodo." A small smile pulled at Bilbo's lips.
"And you'll be my uncle? Just – just like the uncle in the story?"
"Mmhm," Bilbo nodded, "I'll help you be brave, little one, but I can only do that if you let me."
There was a moment of silence and then a small shuffling. Bilbo felt the door open slightly behind him and the older hobbit stood up. Frodo shifted his weight from foot to foot but his eyes looked drier at least.
"I – I think I'm hungry now," Frodo murmured as he stepped out into the hallway.
Bilbo felt relief wash through him and he smiled down at his young nephew, feeling for the first time since the boy arrived that things would be alright. He held out his hand and Frodo quickly took it in his much smaller one.
"Let's see what we can cook up, shall we?"
That night Bilbo made more food than he had in years and saw Frodo smile.
Once Frodo moved in, time seemed to flash by. Days turned into years and the young hobbit seemed to grow almost instantly. The first year had been hard on both of them. Bilbo had spent most of his life living alone and Frodo had needed to adjust to both his loss and his new home.
But it wasn't so long before Frodo's friends came knocking on the door of Bag End. There were three in particular that stopped by most often and whisked Frodo away to come up with who knows what sort of mischief. Samwise was the most calm and the one Bilbo trusted to keep them out of any real trouble, but Merry and Pippen did their best to make Bilbo apologize on their behalf to Farmer Maggot nearly every other day.
Since Frodo had moved into Bag End everything seemed to have changed. Not in ways that were overtly noticeable at first, but over time. Bilbo found that he couldn't dwell within his own mind so much anymore, not with a child to care for.
Apart from the random bouts of mischief his nephew happened to be dragged into, Frodo was well behaved enough that Bilbo didn't need to do much 'parenting' as it were. Which, he thought with some relief, was probably for the best seeing as how he almost constantly felt as if he was floundering around with no proper training.
Frodo was a good lad. After his parents' death, the young hobbit had grown more reserved and even with several years and a group of very persistent friends, it still took more for Frodo to smile that it had before the accident.
Bilbo considered himself somewhat well versed on the topic of loss and grief over his years and he knew that Frodo would either grow past his tragedy or it would linger, all he could do was be there for his nephew.
It had been two years since his cousin Drogo had died when an old friend showed up on a balmy summer evening. Bilbo and Frodo had been sitting at the kitchen while the young hobbit regaled that day's adventures with his friends when a knock came at the door.
Bilbo walked over to the door slower than usual. His ankle was bothering him more than usual today and he wasn't exactly a spritely young hobbit anymore. Even so… Bilbo mused to himself as he absently traced the ring in his pocket, he… didn't look so old as he felt.
The hobbit opened the door with a creak and a tall figure cloaked in gray, leaning against a wooden staff smiled down at him.
"Gandalf!" Bilbo rushed forward and wrapped his arms around the wizard's middle, "I haven't seen you in years!"
The hobbit grinned up at his friend, stepping back slightly, then fixing a mock frown on his face, "I thought you had forgotten where I lived."
"Forgotten?" Gandalf laughed in his gruff voice, "How could I forget, my friend?"
"Well, it certainly took you long enough," Bilbo rolled his eyes and stepped back, letting the wizard into Bag End, "Come in, come in. Just because you are a poor friend doesn't mean I'll be a poor host."
Gandalf stepped inside, stooping low to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. "Is that dinner I smell?"
Bilbo let out a small chuckle, "You always did have a good nose. Frodo and I were just sitting down to eat, would you like some?"
"Frodo?" Gandalf shot him a quizzical look, "A friend?"
"A nephew," Bilbo smiled as he led the old man into the kitchen, "Frodo, I have someone I'd like you to meet."
The young hobbit twisted around in his chair to look and his eyes traveled up to the wizards face with a suspicious look on his face.
"Gandalf this is my nephew Frodo," Bilbo gestured at the table with a wave, "Frodo, this is Gandalf."
"Gandalf?" Frodo's eyes went wide with awe, "The wizard?"
"One in the same," Bilbo laughed as he began to set up another plate at the table.
"But…" Frodo glanced between the old man and his uncle, "I thought you made him up!"
Bilbo clutched at his chest with mock indignation, "Why Frodo, I am shocked!"
"But you said he was a wizard!" The young hobbit whispered as he leaned towards his uncle.
"Gandalf, I fear my honor as a story teller has been impugned by this non-believer." Bilbo gave the old man a look, "If you'd be so kind…"
Gandalf gave him a crinkly smile before stepping closer to Frodo, holding out his hand for the young hobbit to inspect.
Frodo peered into the empty palm with his brows furrowed before looking up at the old man with a frown, "There's nothing there, Mister Gandalf…"
The wizard gave Frodo a wink, "Look again."
Frodo glanced down and almost shot out of his chair in surprise. A small flicker of flame curled in the wizard's palm.
"H-how…?" Frodo's jaw hung open in shock, "So you really do exist…"
"See, your Uncle Bilbo always tells the truth," Bilbo grinned at his friend as the wizard sat down at the table.
"So – so," Frodo's eyes were rapidly flicking between Bilbo and Gandalf, "you did go on an adventure with the dwarves? You really talked to a dragon?"
"He did indeed," Gandalf said as he tucked into his plate with fervor.
"Oh wow…" Frodo's face was full of wonder, his food completely forgotten, "I can't wait to tell Sam I met a real wizard! Could you – could you show him that thing with your hand Mister Gandalf? Cause he'll never believe me otherwise…"
"Gandalf is not here to do ticks at your whim, Frodo," Bilbo gave his nephew an exasperated smile.
"Oh, it's quite alright," the wizard waved his hand in dismissal. "I wouldn't want the Shire to think you a liar, old friend."
"Can you tell me more about Fili and Kili, Mister Gandalf?" Frodo said eagerly as he watched the wizard eat with rapt attention.
Gandalf's hand paused mid-air as he glanced over to Bilbo.
"They're his favorites," Bilbo said with a mild shrug and an almost sad smile on his face.
"Uncle Bilbo says they were princes, were they?"
"They were," Gandalf settled back in his chair and began the tale of the dwarves of Erebor and the journey back to their lost kingdom.
The wizard talked for hours, twisting the flames on the candles to make small shadows that looked almost like little figures. Frodo watched with rapt attention until his yawns grew louder and louder and he eventually fell asleep with his face pressed against the wood.
Gandalf had only gotten to Beorn's house and for that Bilbo was thankful. The end of that story was not happy no matter who told it and it always made Frodo teary even though he begged his uncle to tell it at least once a week.
Bilbo carried his nephew up to his room and tucked him in before returning to the kitchen table.
"How long as he been living with you?" Gandalf asked as Bilbo began to clean up the dishes.
"A few years now," Bilbo replied as he sunk the plates deep into the basin and started to wash. "His parents drowned in the river."
"I see," Gandalf nodded slowly. "He's… he's good for you Bilbo. I think you'll be good for him as well."
The hobbit let out a small sigh as he turned his gaze out the small window, "I hope so, Gandalf. Half the time I feel like a bumbling idiot, but… I suppose I'm better than nothing."
"You don't give yourself enough credit, my friend." The wizard brought his pipe to his lips and lit it with a finger, "How have you been?"
Bilbo's hands went still and they sunk deep into the basin as he stared at the night sky. What an impossibly large questions to ask. It had been nearly two decades since he'd last seen the wizard. He spent the first few years surviving, thinking that he was getting better but it hadn't been until Dís' visit that he'd finally been able to forgive himself.
He still hurt and mourned. But he'd learned to live, not just for the sake of living, but for himself. And now for Frodo.
And he had.
He heard Gandalf take a long pull from his pipe, "I'm glad to hear it, my friend."
Bilbo caught the relief in his friend's voice as he wiped his hands clean from the soap. "How about you? Luring any unsuspecting folk into you schemes?"
"Not since you," Gandalf gave him a small smile and Bilbo thought he might have seen a hint of regret there, "I've been… travelling, investigating."
Bilbo glanced up quickly, "Anything in particular?" There was something in the wizard's voice that made him uneasy.
"Nothing you need trouble yourself with, my friend," Gandalf waved his hand again. "But it is… wearisome work. I found myself in need of some peace and good company."
"And so you came to the Shire?" Bilbo gave him a smile, "We are a very quiet sort of folk."
"I came to you," Gandalf looked suddenly very old and tired.
"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," the hobbit added sincerely. "If I can do anything to help, just say the word."
"You have my thanks, Bilbo." The wizard looked like a burden had been lifted off his shoulders, "I find myself much more at ease when I am here."
"Well, I'm glad you're back Gandalf. I'm sure Frodo will enjoy seeing your famous fireworks," Bilbo gave him a small grin. "You did bring your fireworks, didn't you?"
Gandalf laughed, "I know better than to show up at the door of Bag End without them. I believe you taught me that lesson long ago. There were tears involved if I'm recalling that correctly."
"I have no idea as to what you're referring," Bilbo sniffed indignantly, "I never cry."
"I'm sure you don't," Gandalf chuckled as he sat back in his chair.
We've finally arrived at Moria and have begun to set up our colony here. I don't know how long this letter will take to get to you, the roads to and from Moria are quite dangerous still; but I've been assured that it will arrive!
It's been a long journey getting here, but Master Balin is confident that when the colony has been established for a few years then others will come.
We haven't been able to clear a path to the library yet and the anticipation is killing me, Master Baggins! It's like all those books are right there and yet I've never been father away. Oh well, I'm sure if I give it some time, we'll get there eventually. It'll be worth all the effort if I can just get my hands on a few of them.
There are so many things to do here, Master Baggins, I had no idea what it took to not just set up a camp but also keep it running!
I do have some good news, though! I finished the record of our journey before I left. I know you mentioned writing your own account in some of your letters and I'm very eager to read it. Dwarf records tend to be quite dry sometimes, all facts and no emotion. If you don't mind, once your done I'd love to make a copy of yours and put it in the records as well.
I'm very hopeful, Master Baggins. Every day is hard but the word we're doing is so important and I don't doubt for a second that we'll succeed! With Master Balin leading us, how could we? I feel like there's this bright future for my people in Moria and I'm here at the beginning of it, molding history with my hands. It is a very good feeling, Master Baggins!
How is everything in the Shire? If you write that everything is 'fine' and the 'grass is green again' I will personally come to your house and shake you. I thrive on details, Master Baggins! None of this glossing over business. I know where you live.
I hope you are well and I'll write as soon as I can. Don't be worried if you don't hear from me for a while, everything is perfectly fine!
Gandalf stayed for weeks. And then those weeks turned into months and then years. The wizard left sporadically for a few months at a time but he always returned.
Gandalf took a great liking to Frodo. There was something about the child's inquisitive nature that the wizard enjoyed. Bilbo often found the old man trying to teach his nephew about the various plants and wildlife around the shire or any random topic that they both deemed interesting enough to discuss.
Bilbo Baggins was quietly relieved that the wizard had decided that Bag End should be his refuge on the travels that the wizard chose not to speak of at length. The hobbit didn't mind, Gandalf surely had important wizardly affairs that didn't concern him, so he would just greet his friend at the door with a cup of tea and a smile. The old man tempered Frodo's friends' influence and, much to Bilbo's secret pleasure, was intimidating enough that while he was around, Merry and Pippin were almost, almost, well behaved.
It felt good to have his friend around and he thought Gandalf needed somewhere to come back to every so often, even if the residents of said place had seen fit to label the wizard a 'Disturber of the Peace.' He and Gandalf had a good laugh over that and decided that they had made Bag End quite possibly the least respectable residence in all of Hobbiton.
After a few years, Frodo started to grow rapidly and Bilbo started to feel old. Though even as he looked in the mirror, the hobbit saw little age in his features. It was… perplexing, though Bilbo never devoted much time to how he looked.
Soon enough, Frodo was a young man and spent more and more time outside and out with his friends, so Bilbo devoted more of his days to writing his book. 'There and Back Again' he decided to call it. But there was still much work to be done. He wanted to record his journey with as much accuracy as possible and so he enlisted Gandalf's help when he could.
They would spend many hours, late into the night, discussing events, writing down thoughts, and trying to compile as much information as they could. It was a hard business trying to compress all his thoughts and feelings into mere words but it was important. Important that Frodo would know his story in its entirety. Important that there was a record of all of the things that had happened to him.
The years passed and Bilbo started to feel restless. It was like there was an itch at the base of his spine. An itch that urged 'go' every time things got a little too quiet around his home. He found himself gazing at Thorin's map, his eyes always drawn to the Lonely Mountain inked onto the page.
He felt old. But not so old that he couldn't go on one last adventure. Bilbo traced the ring in his pocket, a now familiar habit, and felt a sort of calm determination wash over him. He wanted to get up and stretch his legs and feel the dirt of the forest beneath his feet. He wanted to see the sunrise above the trees, he wanted to see waterfalls, and taste the fresh air on his tongue.
He felt restless and yet also tired. He just wanted to move again, wanted to find somewhere else to finish his book.
"Gandalf," Bilbo said quietly on the night before the wizard was going away again.
"Mm?" The wizard replied absently, taking a puff of smoke from his pipe.
"I… I want to leave."
"Leave?" The wizard turned his blue eyes onto the hobbit, "Where do you want to go, my friend?"
"I don't know, I just…" Bilbo sighed, "I can't stay here the rest of my life, I can't just sit in Bag End and not go anywhere again. I want to – I want to see mountains again, Gandalf. Mountains…"
"I see…" the wizard gave him a nod that Bilbo knew meant his friend understood what he was trying to say. "And what about Frodo?"
"Frodo is an adult," Bilbo felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of leaving his nephew. "He'll have Bag End… I'll leave everything to him. But I can't… I can't stay here."
"I'm… I'm old, Gandalf," the hobbit sighed as he twiddled Kili's pipe in his fingers, "I know I don't look it, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread…"
"I know, my friend," Gandalf puffed out another ring, "I'll see what I can do."
I… I have never been gifted with eloquence, but even if I was I'm uncertain there is a good way to say this so I will be direct.
Bard passed away last night. I know this will not be a shock to you; the bowman was not a young man by any means. It was as peaceful as one could hope for a mortal's passing.
I find myself… sorrowful, halfling. I've spent many years in Dale now and it has become something of a second home to me, no matter how much I tried to resist it. And Bard was… he was a dear friend to me. I don't think I ever said so to his face, but I know he understood.
I never had a mortal friend before I met you all. I am no stranger to death, certainly, but for my people it is not an inevitability. I have never been around a mortal long enough, known a mortal long enough to watch them… fade. I do not enjoy it, though as I look back I treasure his friendship even more.
Beorn assures me that Bard did not suffer, but surly to age is to suffer? I… have questions, halfling. Questions I've never even bothered to consider before.
I always pitied mortals, pitied their brief lives and wondered how they could experience any of the wonder of this world with such limited time. They are like a candle's flame, bright for one moment and gone the next. I used to look at men and dwarves as if they were… children, I suppose. Children that knew nothing.
But now that I have lived among them, I don't know anymore. Part of me thinks that maybe… maybe it is we who are unlucky. We spend ages living amongst each other, hidden in the trees looking down on the other peoples of this earth as ignorant and insignificant, but I am beginning to think it is we who are ignorant.
Bard was one of the bravest men I've ever met. His life was but a mere fraction of my own but he slew a dragon, he built a kingdom from ashes, he gave his people a future. What have I done, halfling? I have had centuries more time on this earth, but have my actions made even a fraction of the difference that his did?
When I spoke with Legolas about my thoughts he just smiled at me like I finally understand something very essential and Beorn was, of course, nothing but vague. They are, as usual, not helpful in the slightest and I am even more confused than I was before.
We are going home. Our true home, but… is it strange that I feel as if that I'm leaving one as well? I never thought I wouldn't resent having to stay here, but I will… I will miss it, halfling. Of course I could come back to visit but I fear without Bard it would not be the same. Give it a decade or so and most of the men who fought with us against the orcs will be dead as well.
Court never changes. The same elves that were there when we left will still be there. But Dale will always be different. I have never felt so… powerless as I do now. The friends I made here will all die and there is nothing I can do, and yet when they laugh and tell me it is all part of 'life' when I try to discuss it with them. It's like death is the most significant and yet the most insignificant part of their lives. They all share this final act, some of them dread it, some of them are indifferent, but they all… they all deal with it every day. They mourn their dead and then they move on because they have such limited time as well. It drives them, terrifies them, inspires them…
I hope I am not being insensitive, halfing. I know hobbits share this with men and dwarves but I know you would understand or at least try and help me understand.
I keep waiting for Legolas to… I don't know, do something, but… Even though he was closer to Bard than any of us, he seems to have some level of understanding about the bowman's death that escapes me.
Beorn assures me this is all very normal, but I am still fairly certain he was raised by bears and your company were the first civilized folk he'd ever seen, so I am reluctant to accept the truth of his words.
How do you fare in the Shire?
I would very much like to meet your nephew should the opportunity arise, he sounds very intelligent for one so young and not at all a bore to be around (a quality I value highly in an individual). Perhaps I can convince Thranduil to send Legolas and I west.
As always, stay strong Bilbo.
Bilbo was on the road to Rivendell as per Gandalf's arrangements. He breathed in the fresh night air and relished the fact that he no longer had to play host to the party going on below. His party.
He had said goodbye to Frodo earlier that day in his own way. Bilbo knew Frodo would have tried to make him stay so he'd decided to slip away without a formal farewell. He felt a twinge of guilt, but he knew Frodo was a grown hobbit now. He was brave and smart and kind. Without Bilbo lingering in the halls of Bag End, perhaps the lad could start his own family.
Bilbo had taken precious few things with him on the road. He took the book with his notes and maps. He took Kili's pipe and Fili's dagger. He took the mithril shirt and Elrond's book. He took Thorin's great blue coat to keep him warm on the road, Bofur's scarf, and the little figures Bifur had given him. He took Sting and Thorin's mithril shirt. He took all his treasures but he'd left his magic ring to Frodo.
When he'd tried to get rid of it Bilbo had felt the strangest sensation overcome him. A burning wash of jealousy and rage filled him and for a moment, Bilbo wanted to reach out, to strike at Gandalf; but as soon as the ring left his hand, the sensation passed. Once the golden band was away from him, Bilbo felt odd. It was like he was lighter than before but infinitely older.
His bones seemed to creak as he walked and the hobbit leaned more heavily on his walking stick than he had before. Maybe all his years were finally catching up to him.
Bilbo felt the dirt beneath his feet and before long he was at the border of the Shire, the moon hanging full and bright above him.
He felt free.
It was a dangerous business; going out your front door he'd always told Frodo. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.
But it was also wonderful. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to be swept off. Than to be guided on to his next adventure. And his last.
He would miss Frodo. He would miss his nephew more than anything else left behind in the Shire. Frodo was strong, but in his heart, he knew his nephew, his son, would understand why Bilbo had to go.
Bilbo had been in Rivendell for a few weeks when he finally realized that he was aging rapidly. The hobbit felt his skin start to sag, his fingers ached when he wrote for too long and his bones creaked when he moved.
His old ankle injury acted up so often, Bilbo had taken to walking with a cane through the halls of Imladris.
When he'd first arrived, Bilbo had almost tried to avoid the alcove where he'd stayed with the company so many years ago. He knew he was being foolish, after so much time had passed and so on the third night Bilbo hobbled down to the place where Thorin had first told him of his past and the hobbit wrapped himself in that old blue coat.
Even after all these years, Bilbo never felt safer than when he was deep in the folds of the soft wool.
Even after all these years, Bilbo felt his heart ache with the loss of Thorin.
He'd never really thought that he would love again, but now that the hobbit was near the end of his life, he knew it to be true. He'd given Thorin his heart, every last bit of it. Bilbo had never felt more pain than when he he'd lost his love, but neither had ever known such joy and completion than when he and Thorin had been together.
And so it became his ritual. During the days, Bilbo would hole himself up in the library and write his book. But in the evenings, he would grab Kili's pipe and wander over to the alcove and watch the moon drift slowly across the night sky and think about what part of the journey he would write the next day.
Elrond had been most courteous to him during his stay and his sons seemed delighted to have him back in their halls.
Elladan and Elrohir would join him in the library when they could. They wouldn't talk sometimes, just sit and read or write. Sometimes their sister would join as well. Bilbo found Arwen to be pleasant company and sometimes in the afternoon she would stop by his room with a cup of tea and they would discuss anything and everything that came to mind.
Bilbo had debated whether he should return the tale of Aulë to Elrond's library but decided against it. As far as he was concerned, it was basically returned. He was sure once he was gone, they would find it in his room and put it back where it belonged. For now... he counted it amongst his treasured possessions.
Nearly a month had passed when Arwen had disappeared from the halls of Rivendell. A week later she galloped into the courtyard with Frodo almost dead in her arms and Bilbo felt grief tear through him.
Elrond had healed him but the wound on Frodo's shoulder but the sight of his nephew pale and broken on the bed had made Bilbo collapse with sorrow.
Frodo couldn't die before him. He'd seen… he'd seen so much death. Watched his friends and his love die before him, he couldn't bear to watch that happen to Frodo as well.
Bilbo felt weary relief flood through him when Gandalf had arrived and Frodo had awakened the next day. He had wanted to stay at his nephew's bedside, but all his worrying had caused his health had taken a turn. Cold felt like it had permanently seeped into his old bones and his ankle hurt too much to walk on. A cough had edged its way into his lungs and Gandalf had all but dragged him into his bed.
Bilbo had stayed in bed with a fever for nearly two weeks and awoke to a most wonderful sight.
"Legolas?" Bilbo croaked out as he tried to sit up, "Tauriel?"
"No need to move, my friend," Legolas smiled down at him, "Gandalf would be very cross with me if I were the reason you were not resting."
Tauriel glided to his bed and gathered him into a fierce hug. For a moment Bilbo just let himself be held and closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of woods and the brightness that seemed to cling to her hair.
"It is very good to see you again, Bilbo," Her mouth spread into a wide grin and Tauriel's green eyes were so wonderfully familiar that the hobbit's cough almost turned into a sob.
"What are you – what're you both doing here?" Bilbo coughed into his arm but gave the elves a wide smile, warmth spreading though him at the sight of his friends.
"You must have been deep in your dreams if you missed all the shouting earlier." The elf let out a small chuckle.
"Shouting?" Bilbo asked with no small amount of confusion in his voice.
"A council was held today. To decide what to do with the ring," Tauriel's mouth fell into a frown.
"The… ring?" Bilbo felt as if he were missing a very crucial part of the conversation and Legolas gave him a small, sad smile as if the answer was going to hurt the hobbit.
"You can't go, Frodo!" Bilbo sat back in his chair with weary anxiety.
"I have to, uncle." The young hobbit glanced at Bilbo with determination written on his face, "if I don't, Lord Elrond said it could mean the end of the world!"
"Frodo…" Bilbo sighed and brought a withered hand up to his face, "You might not make it back…"
"I know that, uncle," Frodo reached out and took Bilbo's hand in his own, "but I have to try, you understand that don't you?"
"I…" Bilbo looked at his nephew and knew there was no talking him out of it. "I do."
Bilbo slowly rose from his chair and walked over to the chest at the end of his bed. "If you insist on going, then you'll be needing supplies."
"I'm sure Lord Elrond will give us some," Frodo glanced at him curiously.
"Not those kind of supplies," Bilbo grabbed at some of the contents before him, "these."
Bilbo held out Sting for Frodo to take, "It's elvish steel, glows blue when orcs are around."
"Does it really?" Frodo took the blade in his hand and examined the scabbard.
"It comes in handy," Bilbo chuckled as he sat beside his nephew and held out the mithril shirt.
Frodo's eyes were immediately drawn to the shimmering metal, "What… what is it?"
"A gift," Bilbo felt his gaze linger on the shirt, "from a very dear friend. It's made of mithril; stronger than steel but lighter than cloth. It will…"
Bilbo's smile turned sorrowful as he stared down at it.
"It will keep you safe, Frodo."
Thorin had always kept Bilbo safe, and now his gift would guard Frodo's life as he went on some impossible journey to save the world from dark forces. It would have… it would have made Thorin happy, Bilbo knew, to see the armor guarding his nephew.
"Frodo, I…" Bilbo felt so weary and old, "I hope you already know this, but I…I always thought of you as my son."
"Uncle…" Frodo squeezed Bilbo's hand tightly.
"I know I can't make you promise to stay safe."
Bilbo knew enough of danger and journeys that no one could make that promise and not be lying.
"But I want you to promise me that'll you'll try. To be safe, and to come back to me."
"I promise, uncle," Frodo smiled at him and Bilbo wished with all his heart he was not about to lose another person that he loved.
The deck of the sleek, white ship bobbed in the ocean as Bilbo gazed out over the waters.
Frodo had come back safe from his journey two years ago and when he had approached his uncle with Gandalf and Lord Elrond in tow, speaking about taking a boat to the Undying Lands, Bilbo had thought he'd been in a dream.
For the last year he'd been bed-ridden almost constantly, drifting in and out of consciousness. In and out of dreams. His body had withered more and more each day. His limbs had grown stiff and weak, so much so that he barely ever moved.
They had been sailing for over a week now and instead of making his old body even worse; Bilbo had started to feel younger almost. Like the years were fading away from him.
When he mentioned this to Gandalf the wizard had laughed, "Of course you do, Bilbo. We are approaching the Land of the Undying."
"It is not a common thing to witness," Elrond said as he joined them on the deck. "Few mortals ever make the journey but of those that do, it is said that they look as they do when they were most content."
"So I'll… look the same as when I was happiest?" Bilbo gave Frodo a look to see if his nephew understood any better than he did. It all sounded very odd to him, but then again he was going to a land where the elves came from and the Valar resided so who was he to question the oddities of immortals.
"That is a… large simplification, my friend," Gandalf chuckled as he looked at the sun setting across the waters. "But, yes… more or less."
"Oh good," Bilbo stretched his aching back, relishing in the returning strength. "That sounds like a very good thing to me. But Gandalf," the hobbit paused for a moment, "why don't you look any younger? Were you always…."
"Old?" The wizard chuckled as Frodo whispered something to his uncle about not being rude.
"Well…" Bilbo shrugged at his friend with a grin, "I wasn't going to use that exact word, but yes."
"Should you really be talking, uncle?" Frodo grumbled from his other side.
"You heard the man," Bilbo gave his nephew an elbow to the side, "I'll look as young as you in few days."
"Many ages and more than a few names ago, I suppose I must've looked different." Gandalf shrugged, examining his hand with a curious look on his face, "But I have many more years to unwind than you, my friend. We shall see."
Bilbo leaned over the side of the ship and tried to catch his reflection in the smooth waters. His hair did seem less snowy than it had before and the old lines on his face seemed to be disappearing. The hobbit glanced over at Gandalf once more and… yes, there did seem to be something different about the wizard, but it was rather hard to place.
The hobbit was… relieved in a way. He certainly did not want to spend the rest of whatever years awaited him on these faraway shores as a crippled old man. He thought back on his life, on all the moments and experiences he'd had. But when had he been happiest?
And then he laughed because it was the most obvious thing in the world. He'd been happiest with Thorin. Of course he'd been happy once Frodo had arrived at his home that dark, stormy evening so many years ago, but for all the joy his nephew brought him; Bilbo had never been… whole since Thorin had died.
"What… what do you think it'll be like?" He heard Frodo ask quietly enough so that the others couldn't hear.
Bilbo glanced at his nephew and saw the same weariness he'd felt in his heart. The boy had done so much, experienced so much and it showed in the lad's eyes. His heart twinged slightly, knowing that no matter how hard he had tried to be a good parent to his nephew, no matter how many trinkets or rooms he had left; he hadn't been able to prepare Frodo for his journey.
"I think it will be…" Bilbo took a deep breath of the fresh sea air, "I think it'll be peaceful, Frodo."
"I always thought of death as peaceful…" Frodo trailed off, leaning his weight against the rail of the ship. "I hope we made the right decision."
Bilbo reached out and grabbed Frodo's hand in his own and squeezed it in comfort, "I suppose we'll find out when we get there."
Frodo gave him a small smile and 'hmm'd' in agreement though there was still a hint of weariness in his eyes.
"Frodo…" Bilbo squeezed his nephew's hand again, distinctly aware of the half stump there.
"Yes, uncle?" Frodo's large blue eyes shifted to meet his again and in that moment Bilbo wanted nothing more than to see his nephew happy and peaceful again.
"No matter what, we'll do it together."
"Okay," Frodo smiled.
Bilbo awoke to someone shaking him gently, the sound of the sea floating in his ears.
"Time to get up, my friend, we'll be there soon."
The hobbit blinked and tried to shield his eyes from the sun.
"How long have I…?" Bilbo muttered as he tried to focus on the old wizard.
Except… he didn't look old.
"What… Gandalf?" Bilbo's eyes went wide with astonishment. His robes were the same, the hat was the same, but his face…. He looked more like an elf than an old man, "You look…"
The wizard raised a pale brow as his sharp blue eyes crinkled with amusement, "Younger?"
"Well…" Bilbo thought that might have been a slight understatement, "Uh… yes."
"So do you, my friend," Gandalf helped him up of the plank he'd been resting on. As soon as the hobbit's feet hit the wood he realized that no pain shot up his ankle. His legs felt strong for the first time in years, his back was no longer slightly hunched. Bilbo stretched his arms above his head and reveled in the feeling.
"I think I could get used to this…" Bilbo turned to grin at his friend but his head swiveled, he caught sight of the shore and his mouth hung open in awe.
It was… beautiful. More than beautiful, more than any word he could think of. There was a long white dock jutting out of even whiter sand. Beyond he could see the distant shapes of mountains and forests and what looked to be a valley.
The trees were tall, elegant spires splitting the sky with their branches. Their leaves were a blur of many greens, and they looked almost alive as they swayed in the breeze. The ground was dotted with splashes of color. 'Flowers,' he thought almost absently, 'so many flowers…'
"Stunning, isn't it?" Gandalf placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"That's putting it rather mildly," Bilbo rubbed his eyes just to make sure they weren't deceiving him.
The hobbit stepped over to the rail and leaned over as far as he could to get a better look at the shore. There were figures there, small, dark smudges. Bilbo squinted, trying to focus his eyes, but he couldn't make out anything more than their general shape.
"Are they elves?" Bilbo looked up at Gandalf with a questioning glance.
"Perhaps," the wizard gave him a curious look, "Elves are not the only inhabitants of the Valinor."
Bilbo felt his face fall into a small frown but shrugged it off.
The ship slid smoothly over the waters and seemed to halt of its own accord at the edge of the long dock. The three elves of their party disembarked first, gracefully stepping onto the white wood. Gandalf followed them and helped Bilbo and Frodo out.
Elrond began to lead them down the dock and Bilbo couldn't help but think that this must be like coming home to them. He and Frodo stayed at the back of the group after exchanging a look. Bilbo knew no better than his nephew what would be waiting for them on the shore.
He felt almost as if he were in a dream, like nothing around him was truly real. Bilbo had grown so used to his old, withering body over the last few years, that standing upright and moving with the ease of youth made him feel almost a stranger in his own skin.
"What do you think we'll do once we get there?" Frodo whispered to him as they walked closely behind Gandalf.
"I, uh… I don't know," Bilbo could see little of the shore with the rest of their party in front of him, "I suppose we'll have to find somewhere to stay."
"I didn't see any houses…" Frodo looked slightly uneasy as he peeked around Gandalf's white robes.
"Don't worry, Frodo," Bilbo clapped a hand on his nephew's shoulder, "Gandalf wouldn't let us wander around the forest. Would you, Gandalf?"
The wizard looked back at them over his shoulder with a smile on his face, "Of course not, my friend. But something tells me you don't need to worry about that."
Bilbo stared at Gandalf feeling even more confused than he had before as they walked down dock, "Must you always speak in riddles?"
Frodo chuckled, rolling his eyes at Bilbo's petulant pout, "It's like you've never even met sometimes."
"Oh hush you," Bilbo gave his nephew his best glare, "just because I look younger doesn't mean you get to treat me with anything less than a healthy measure of respect. I did raise you myself."
"That does explain quite a bit," Frodo grinned at his uncle and dodged away from Bilbo's firm 'thwack' to the back of his head.
Bilbo was about to retort when he felt his face connect with Gandalf's back. The party had come to a sudden stop at the end of the dock just as the wood met the sand.
"Ow." The hobbit held his smarting nose, "What's all this about? Why are we stopping Gandalf?"
There was no reply as Bilbo gingerly prodded at his nose, "You could've at least warned me you know –"
"Uncle," Frodo cut in suddenly.
"What?" He turned to glare at his nephew, still holding his nose.
"I think they're here to, uh, see you." The young hobbit glanced between Bilbo and something that the rest of the party was blocking from his view.
"What are you talking about—" Bilbo turned to stare at his nephew like he'd just grown an extra head.
Gandalf put his hands on the hobbit's shoulders as he let out an exasperated sigh and pushed him to the front of their party. The hobbit twisted his head to glare at the wizard, about to mention just how much he did not enjoy being manhandled when…
The hobbit froze.
His feet stopped working and time seemed to slow down until everything was sluggish, like wading through sand.
That voice. He knew that voice, better than he knew any other.
But… no… no, it couldn't be. It—
Bilbo clenched his eyes shut as his face turned towards the speaker almost unconsciously.
If he was wrong, he couldn't… he couldn't bear to be wrong, so he shut out everything but the pounding of his heart. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was he dreaming?
The hobbit felt Gandalf's hands leave his shoulders and the sound of boots in the sand approaching.
"You certainly took your time."
Bilbo's eyes sprang open and standing before him was a sight far more beautiful than anything he'd ever seen.
Thorin was here.
"B—but how?" Bilbo let out a choked gasp as he raised a shaking hand to touch the dwarf's face as the world started to go dark.
Was this some sort of trick? Some sort of twisted dream that his mind was conjuring up to torture him with after all these years? Bilbo felt confusion and sorrow and a tiny spark of impossible hope.
He half expected his fingers to slide through the skin as the quivering tips just barely touched Thorin's face. His skin felt warm, so very warm. Warm like the embers of a fire. Warm like the summer sun. Warm like life.
Thorin raised his own hand to the one Bilbo held on his cheek and his face broke into the widest, brightest smile the hobbit had ever seen. His deep, blue eyes held none of the burden, none of the sorrow that they had before.
"Am I…" Bilbo felt his mind starting to swim as the world fell away, "I'm not dreaming, am I?"
"Not this time," Thorin squeezed his hand and Bilbo felt the dwarf's calloused skin slid across his.
"I, uh…" Bilbo felt his vision start to bleed gray and he stumbled forward as the ground seemed to shift beneath him, "I think I'm going to faint."
The last thing Bilbo remembered as the world went black were Thorin's eyes going wide in surprise as the dwarf lunged forward to catch him.
Bilbo groaned as he clutched his head and blinked up at the bright sun above him. "What…" He felt a pair of hands shift beneath him, "What happened?"
"You passed out, Bilbo." He heard someone laugh above him.
"That is so typical," the hobbit shook his head slowly and opened his eyes.
Thorin's face swam into view with an expression of indulgent exasperation.
"Thorin!" Bilbo shot up, forgetting where he was, and their foreheads slammed together.
The hobbit fell back into the sand holding his head as Thorin recoiled, mimicking Bilbo's motion.
"You know, this really shouldn't surprise me," Another voice added from behind Bilbo, "but I can't say I wasn't expecting something a little more… romantic."
"And they say I'm the dumb one," a second voice sighed.
The hobbit let out a groan, whining at the pain, and twisted his neck so he could see…
"Fili!" He all but shouted, twisting himself violently in the sand, "Kili!"
The two brothers grinned at him and pulled him out of the sand, enveloping him in a tight hug. Bilbo felt happy tears start to pour from his eyes as he planted two wet kisses on each of their cheeks despite the dizziness that fogged his mind.
They had died. He had seen them all die. This couldn't be real. This couldn't be real. And yet… Unless his eyes, his hands, his ears were all deceiving him, then…
"Oh come now, Master Boggins," Kili tried to shove him away with a grin, wiping at his face with a sleeve. "No need to get so sentimental."
"I knew I should have left you two behind," Thorin grumbled as he pulled himself out of the sand.
"Don't get jealous, uncle," Fili gave Thorin a wicked grin. "The sight of your face caused Master Baggins here to faint, I think you've bested us."
Bilbo let go of the brothers and turned to face Thorin, a flush spreading across his face. "I, uh… sorry about the…" The hobbit made a lame motion towards the growing red spot on the dwarf's forehead.
Bilbo wiped away at the tears and felt himself start laughing at the absurdity of it all. A long forgotten happiness welled up inside him. It filled him until the hobbit thought he might burst. He was seeing Thorin after all these years. After everything and he had… he had fainted and head butted the dwarf within five minutes.
Thorin stepped closer and started to raise his hands as if to wrap them around the hobbit in a hug.
"Are you serious?" Bilbo felt giddy, like tingling warmth had spread through him all the way to his fingertips. His mind seemed to be in the process of shutting down, unable to process what was happening in front of him.
"What?" Thorin looked perplexed that he was doing something wrong.
"A hug? After, what, seventy years?" Bilbo put his hands on his hips and tried not to laugh at the red tinge that flooded across Thorin's face.
"Oh come here, you dolt," Bilbo grabbed Thorin's braids in his hands and pulled the dwarf forward, pushing his lips up to meet Thorin's.
The dwarf immediately brought his arms up to pull Bilbo flush against him and together they moved. Thorin's mouth tasted wonderful, infinitely more wonderful than he remembered in his memories. The hobbit bit at Thorin's lip and pressed his tongue in further.
Bilbo never thought he would see Thorin again, taste him again, feel him again. Bilbo felt the steady beat of the dwarf's heart against his chest and thought there was nothing more perfect in this world.
All those years, all those countless years of pain and hopelessness seemed to melt away as he dug his hand into Thorin's hair and pulled the dwarf closer and closer. For the first time since he left Erebor, Bilbo felt full. Like that bleeding, torn hole in his chest forgot what it meant to know loss because the feeling of relief and happiness and love washed over him.
That great, all-consuming wave of grief he had thought himself drowned in over and over after Thorin had died seemed no more than a fading ripple now.
Thorin was here with him. He had no idea how, but nothing could have made him care to find out in that moment. It was impossible and yet… and yet, what could have been more real than Thorin's lips moving over his own? What could have been more real than the life pounding through the dwarf's veins?
He wanted to cry, he wanted to weep because the joy welling up inside him was too much, far too much to contain.
Someone coughed behind him and Bilbo felt Thorin pull away, panting as he rested his head against Bilbo's.
The hobbit turned just slightly to glare at whoever had the gall to—
And then he remembered there was a wizard and three of the most powerful elf rulers ever to have existed standing only a few yards away.
Not to mention Thorin's nephews with their stupid faces twisted into leers.
As well as his nephew whose face had gone quite red.
Bilbo felt his face flush as he notice two other dwarves he didn't recognize standing behind Fili and Kili. One of them looked completely unfamiliar but the other… Bilbo's eyes went wide in shock.
This dwarf look so much like Thorin. They shared the same dark hair and blue eyes and… was it?
"So this is the hobbit you've been talking about…" The dwarf gave him a kind smile before aiming a glare at Thorin, "Aren't you going to introduce us, brother?"
"Frerin?" Bilbo's mouth hung open as he stared at the approaching dwarf.
"I see my reputation precedes me," Frerin grinned at him. "This is Brehen," the dwarf tipped his chin to gesture at the other dwarf just slightly behind him, "and we are honored to make your acquaintance Bilbo Baggins."
"It's a, uh, pleasure to meet you both," Bilbo shook their hands feeling that this day could not get any more surreal.
"I'm sure we'll get to know each other quite well," Brehen added softly with a gentle smile, "though I feel as if we know you already."
Bilbo's face must have reflected his confusion because Frerin let out a bright laugh, "What he means is that Thorin had not shut up about you for more than five minutes."
Bilbo caught Frodo's eye and realized that he had completely forgotten his nephew knew these dwarves by story alone.
"Oh, yes, uh, this is Frodo," Bilbo waved the young hobbit over to his side. "My nephew. And savior of the world, so you two," Bilbo shot the dwarf brothers a look, "behave."
"Uncle!" Frodo's face flushed again in embarrassment.
"Why, Master Baggins!" Fili covered his heart with mock indignation, "How dare you insinuate that we be anything less than courteous towards your nephew!"
"We are the very pictures of gallantry, Master Boggins!"
Fili and Kili sidled forward until they were on either side of Frodo, slinging their arms around the young hobbit's neck. Frodo looked as if he wanted nothing more than to sink into the ground.
"In fact, we will show just how gracious we can be," Fili nodded sagely, "Kili and I will personally guide your nephew to the house."
Bilbo watched the three of them walk towards the forest and almost had to wipe at his eyes to make sure he really wasn't imagining this.
"Wait," Bilbo turned to look at Thorin, "there's a house?"
The dwarf smiled at him with a small shrug, "We had to fill the time somehow."
"Come on," Thorin held out his hand for Bilbo to take, "I'll show you."
Gandalf and the elves had left them on the beach, saying that they had matters to attend to but the wizard promised to visit as soon as he was able.
They had walked through the small valley and into the forest until they came out the other side of the trees.
Bilbo had let out a gasp at the sight. There were rolling hills covered in flowers, clusters of every type of tree imaginable shooting up from the earth. In the largest dip of the valley there was a small lake and on the opposite side there was what looked to be something crossed between Bag End and Beorn's cabin.
"Do you like it?" Thorin squeezed his hand gently.
"It's…" but Bilbo didn't have a word that could describe how perfect it was. "It's wonderful, Thorin."
The dwarf's face broke out into smile and they walked slowly around the lake until they reached a stone pathway that led up to the house.
"There's good earth here," Thorin motioned to the tilled ground on either side of the pathway, "I thought you might like to start a garden."
"All in good time." Bilbo grinned up at his friend, "So… does, uh, everyone live here?"
Thorin nodded, "Fili and Kili have taken over a few of the rooms on the west side, I'm sure they'll try and drag your nephew over there. Frerin and Brehen are up in the cabin. This part," the dwarf motioned at the eastern portion of the hill, "is ours. If you… if you want it…"
Thorin glanced at him from the side of his eye with a hopeful smile.
"Don't be stupid, Thorin, of course I do." Bilbo shook his head with an exasperated sigh, though a happy smile crept onto his face, "So are you going to show me inside?"
It felt so easy to slip back into their conversation as if all that time hadn't passed. Maybe even too easy, given that Bilbo had spent so very long mourning the dwarf and now he was here. It still felt like a ludicrous dream. But if this was a dream, it felt real and Bilbo never, ever wanted to wake from it.
Thorin chuckled as he pushed open the large door and as soon as the wood shut behind the hobbit, Bilbo saw Thorin turn and his back hit solid wood into the solid wood.
"Thorin," Bilbo said, his voice thick.
The dwarf pressed a kiss to the base of Bilbo's neck where his shoulder began.
"Weren't you—" The hobbit let out a small groan, "giving me a tour?"
"I've waited a hundred lifetimes for you," Thorin lip's moved against his skin and Bilbo thought he caught the barest hint of teeth, "and I would have waited a thousand more."
"But you're here," Thorin's mouth moved up the hobbit's neck to the shell of his ear, "and I mean to have you."
Bilbo shuddered as he brought his hands up behind the dwarf's neck and pulled Thorin's face closer to his burning skin.
"Do you remember what you last said to me?" Thorin's tongue moved against his earlobe towards the base of his jaw.
"I said—" Bilbo panted as he tried to keep his mind clear, "I said that you are worth loving, Thorin."
"Do you still mean it?" Thorin pulled back a fraction so he could see the hobbit's eyes and in that moment Bilbo knew what was really being said.
It was almost laughable that the dwarf could still even harbor the shadow of a notion that Bilbo had ever, ever blamed Thorin, ever stopped loving him. But he knew Thorin well, he knew that his friend would need to hear it, need to know that whatever happened in those last few days before the battle had never once changed how Bilbo felt.
The hobbit brought his hands forward and cupped Thorin's chin, looking deep into the dwarf's eyes so his friend would never doubt what he was about to say.
Thorin surged forward and the hobbit felt himself slam against the door. The dwarf's lips crashed against his own and for a moment all there was to feel was heat. Glorious, blazing, burning heat.
Thorin's arms reached down and Bilbo felt the ground leave him. He wrapped his legs around the dwarf's waist and buried his hands deep in Thorin's inky black hair.
"Thorin." The word came out of his mouth as a breathy moan. He wanted it to mean so much more than he could ever say, "Thorin."
The dwarf pulled back, his eyes dark and his breaths coming in short bursts.
"I've dreamed of this a thousand times," Thorin pushed himself closer, so their bodies touched in brilliant symmetry, "I've dreamed of you."
Bilbo grinned as he heard the dwarf's hungry, broken voice and thought it was the best sound he'd ever heard. It sent a shiver down his spine and a delicious sort of heat pooled in his stomach.
"Thorin," the hobbit rolled his hips.
The dwarf let out a low growl and he kissed Bilbo with such intensity that the hobbit knew if his legs had been on the ground, they would have gone limp in a second. Thorin's lips were warm and wet as he kissed the hobbit, claiming and hard enough to bruise.
It was different from their kiss on the beach or any they had shared before. This time, Thorin wasn't holding anything back. There was no burden shadowing the dwarf's every thought, nothing pulling Thorin away from him.
Now… now, Thorin was his, all of him.
Bilbo shivered as he felt the dwarf's hands grip him as if he were a lifeline. Thorin's fingers tightened and it was like a shock jolted him into action, every other thought turned to ash in his mind.
All he knew was Thorin. All he ever wanted to know again was Thorin.
"We should –" Bilbo's voice was a rasp, "somewhere else."
The dwarf stumbled back, never breaking contact, and somehow they made it down the hallway, every so often slamming into another section of wall so Thorin could claim Bilbo's mouth once again.
Thorin kicked open a door and walked backward until the dwarf's legs hit the edge of a bed. They fell on the soft blanket in a tangle of limbs, Bilbo settled on top of Thorin's waist. He placed his hands on either side of Thorin's head and hovered a centimeter away, relishing the moment, knowing that no dream could ever be as real as this.
Bilbo pressed his lips down and Thorin opened his mouth against his. Bilbo was devoured.
Thorin slid his hands down Bilbo's sides, over his waist and down his backside, pulling the hobbit as close as he could possibly get. Bilbo poured all of his love, all of his longing, all of the bitter years he'd spent mourning Thorin's death into the kiss.
His hands slipped under Thorin's blue linen shirt and he felt every curve, every dip of muscle and skin. Every scar, every bone. He memorized the feel of Thorin, mapping him, claiming him.
There had never had much time before. There had always been something else, something on the horizon shadowing them like some colossal giant. But now, now Bilbo wasn't about to let even an inch of Thorin's skin go untouched.
Thorin hands moved back up and fingers clenched at Bilbo's shirt. They pulled away only long enough to throw it aside. Thorin paused for a moment, his eyes roaming over the hobbit's skin, growing dark with years upon years of longing.
"I've wanted you for so long," Thorin's voice was a rasp as he ran his hands up Bilbo's chest. "Every night you came to me, but it was nothing, nothing like this."
"Is it really so bad?" Bilbo leaned forward with a laugh and ground his hips in retaliation.
"You shouldn't, ah—" the dwarf gripped Bilbo's hips, holding him hard enough to bruise and pushing him down. "You shouldn't tease, Bilbo."
"And what," Bilbo pressed his mouth forward again, "are you," he slipped his tongue in, making a slow circuit, "going to do about it?"
Thorin shuddered with a groan but in a split second, he had flipped them, Thorin leaned up to toss of his shirt before coming to rest between Bilbo's legs, his arms bracketing either side of the hobbit's head as the dwarf pressed a searing kiss to his mouth, frustration and love and longing filled Bilbo's mind.
A low moan escaped Bilbo's mouth as he pulled Thorin flush against him, his hands wrapped low around Thorin's hips as he brought his cock against Thorin's and ground against him.
"Thorin…" He rasped as they broke apart for a moment, his hands moving up then his nails raking down the dwarf's back. Bilbo's touch was hasty and warm and clumsy but all he knew was that Thorin, the man he loved with all his heart, the man he'd lost for countless years filled with loneliness and pain, was here, touching him.
Thorin seemed to go still for a second, his face falling beside Bilbo's, buried in the blanket, his body trembling. Bilbo's hands reached down under the line of Thorin's trousers and his nails scraped at the skin there.
The dwarf shuddered, his hips bucking forward, breaths coming in heavy gasps.
Bilbo watched Thorin avidly, hunger singing in his veins.
Thorin's blue eyes opened and their gazes met for a second.
Bilbo reached down between them to cup Thorin, hot and heavy even though the dwarf's breeches, and squeezed lightly. The groan that tore from Thorin's throat as the dwarf almost collapsed on him was absolutely lovely.
They were both panting, Thorin's hands moved to wrap around either side of Bilbo's face as he pressed their foreheads together, keeping Bilbo close while the dwarf kicked his way out of his breeches.
"Bilbo," Thorin said, and the hobbit reveled in how undone the dwarf's voice sounded, how it sounded like a prayer and a plea, "Bilbo…"
Bilbo was shaking and sweating, his muscles taunt and hard. One of the hobbit's hands trailed up to Thorin's back and he could feel scars there, the scars that Azog had left that night on the mountain, curved and split into different bursts from where the mace's spikes had torn into the flesh.
He felt the sudden urge to run his hands and tongue across the marred flesh. He wanted to reclaim it, cleanse it, make it a mark of affection, of beginning and not a memory of pain and hatred.
But there would be time enough for that later.
From the way Thorin's body was twitching and shivering, moving and undulating above him; Bilbo felt too much urgency to claim and be claimed. To love and be loved.
He had never loved anyone the way he loved Thorin, never had given himself over so completely to another person than he had with his friend. And he knew Thorin felt the same. No one had loved Bilbo the way Thorin had and no one had loved Thorin, touched Thorin the way he did now. And that was all that had ever mattered.
Bilbo had wanted Thorin, mourned Thorin for years, and now… now he was going to show Thorin that he was worth that love until the very foundations of this earth crumbled beneath them.
The hobbit woke with a groan and rolled closer to the very warm body next to him, burying his face into an arm.
Bilbo's eyes shot open and for a moment he felt utterly disoriented until it all came back.
The hobbit smiled at the dwarf laying on his stomach, Thorin's hair spilling all around him in a dark mess.
Bilbo brushed the strands off Thorin's back and looked at the scars there. He brought up his hand to trace the mottled flesh. It seemed so long ago that he had faced Azog… That was the beginning of their friendship, he supposed.
And then he'd done his best to heal the marks even though Thorin had be so stubborn about it while they were imprisoned in the cells of Mirkwood. That night, Thorin had told him of his brother, of his loss and his pain.
Bilbo's fingers moved like a brush across a canvas, mapping the edge of the scars where the marks met healthy flesh.
"What are you doing?" Thorin mumbled with a sleepy smile, turning his face to look at Bilbo though his mass of hair.
"Just remembering…" Bilbo flattened his palm and ran it down to the base of Thorin's spine.
"Why do you have the scars?" The hobbit asked feeling suddenly curious, "Gandalf said we… take the appearance of when we were happiest or… something…"
Thorin rolled so he was on his back and gave Bilbo a long look. "I would've thought it was obvious."
"Is it?" Bilbo raised a brow, not sure if he was teasing him or not.
"That night in the cells," Thorin began softly, "when you were healing my back and I told you about Frerin and Erebor."
"What about it?" Bilbo leaned over to rest his head on Thorin's chest.
"That was the night I…" Thorin's words halted for a moment, "That was the night I first knew that I could love you."
Bilbo tilted his head back to look at Thorin's face.
"I told you everything. Things I hadn't told anyone since the fall and you… you said that I shouldn't feel guilty, that Frerin would've wanted me to live… You knew what I needed even though I was lost in despair and... you saved me that night, Bilbo."
"I had never truly known love and I'd given up on such notions for many years. And I never thought… I never thought to find it in a hobbit." Thorin flushed slightly, "Not that…"
"I know what you mean, Thorin," Bilbo chuckled lightly.
"But then I found myself consumed with thoughts of you. Thoughts of… of forgiveness, the possibility of happiness, and that maybe… maybe that someday you might feel the same."
"At first I hated these thoughts," Thorin let out a small sigh, "I'd… lost enough in my life that anything good felt as if it were there just to taunt me."
"But you… you kept showing me kindness. You were loyal and selfless even when I did not deserve it…" Thorin's eyes shifted away for a moment, "especially when I did not deserve it."
"I had never met anyone like you, Bilbo," Thorin pulled him closer, "I had thought I was too broken, but you… you had faith in me. You taught me strength, you allowed me to hope that there was something more than all my hate."
Bilbo felt his heart swell with affection and he leaned up to place a gentle kiss on the dwarf's lips.
"I love you, Thorin. And I always will."
Thorin smiled at him and Bilbo thought he might drown in it. This was happiness. He'd almost forgot what it felt like. Warm and safe and whole. This was love.
"And I you, Bilbo."
Just at that moment the door slammed open and Fili and Kili stumbled through.
"Good morning, uncle!" Fili grinned as Bilbo yelped in surprise, pulling the blanket over his face.
"Or should we say 'uncles'." Kili grin was far too toothy and pleased with himself to warrant anything other than a good punch.
Thorin groaned and rolled over, putting the pillow over his head, "Why, Mahal? Why?"
"I swear," Bilbo hissed, peeking over the cover, "I will skin you two alive if you do not get out right now."
"Is that the way to treat the two dwarves who just made you breakfast?" Fili gave him a look as if he were speaking to a toddler.
"A very large breakfast, might I add," Kili winked at him.
"Out. Now!" Bilbo threw a spare pillow over at them and, most unfortunately, missed both.
The brothers cackled as they sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind them.
"How did those idiots ever make it out of whatever hell they were in?" Bilbo grumbled, falling back onto the bed.
"Actually…" Bilbo rolled over to face Thorin, "How did you all get here? Where ever here is…"
"When dwarves die, it is said we return to the stone from which Mahal carved us," Thorin turned to face him.
"So you were… stone?" That sounded absurd even to the hobbit that had de-aged some half a century while sailing over some seawater.
"Not… not literally, no. On the western part of the Valinor there lies the Halls of Mandos that house the dead. Mahal has prepared a place for us within these halls where the dwarves are to await the end of all things and help him rebuild the world…"
Bilbo stared at Thorin blankly.
The dwarf let out a small chuckle, "I know it sounds strange. For a long while, we all… drifted, I suppose is the best word. But after a time, I started to remember, and I… became me again."
"And you…" Bilbo still felt utterly confused, "you just left?"
"I…" Thorin looked as if he almost couldn't believe his own words. "I Spoke to the keeper of the Hall. I explained to him that I… that I needed to find you."
"For a long time he said nothing, I thought maybe I was just a spirit, but one day I just knew where I had to go to wait for you to arrive." Thorin gazed at the ceiling absently, "I found Frerin and my nephews and… broke out."
"You escaped?" Bilbo glanced up at Thorin in surprise.
"You cannot escape from those halls. I think…" The dwarf paused for a moment, "I think the keeper chose to look the other way as we left."
A sudden thought struck Bilbo, "Do you think the rest of the company is there?"
"If they have passed on," Thorin shrugged, "I do not know where else they would be."
"So let's say a foolhardy hobbit and a few dwarves were to break back in..." Bilbo schooled his face into a blank expression, "Do you think we could get them out?"
"Are you serious?" Thorin looked at him incredulously for a moment.
"You are serious, aren't you…" Thorin laughed and it was bright and free and wonderful. "What am I going to do with you, Bilbo Baggins?"
Thorin pulled him forward and pressed a tender kiss to the hobbit's lips.
"You know what I think," Bilbo grinned as he nipped back lightly.
"What do you think?" Thorin let out an exasperated sigh that was equal parts loving and very weary about whatever mess he was about to be drawn into.
Bilbo grinned up at the dwarf he would always love with all his heart.
"I think that I'm quite ready for another adventure."
So... that's it! It's been like, what, seven months since I started this? Fuuuuck man it's pretty unreal for me to even think about, I've never done anything like this before. Anyway, I really hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! Seriously, thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who stuck with this bitch and took the time to write me a very kind, very long reviews (you are the cat's pajamas ilu). It's been an awesome first writing experience and you all were a big part of that! :*
I might add some more one shots to this universe in the future, but if I end up being exactly the type of lazy bitch I usually am, hopefully I can at least do some gd Bagginshield fluff :O Also! If anyone ever re-reads this and wants to like reverse beta this behemoth, that would be fantastico! I literally tried about 50 times but I keep missing my stupid shitty spelling errors and coming disturbingly close to punching my computer screen. If that's something you're interested in, PM me and I'll give you so much credit it'll be insane (read: I'll try and write you something hobbity as a ty or draw you a shitty picture if that's your jam).
But for real, thank you all so much, you've been top, and I really do hope you enjoyed it :)