this unexpected summer of the heart

part i

A/N: I promised giant-pancakes that I'd write fluffy Shire fic. It took longer than it should have.

Disclaimer: Tolkien invented most of it; Peter Jackson and company did the rest.

The front door was bright with fresh paint, and Bilbo noticed a smear of green on his hand when he shooed the children out of doors.

"Look after the baby, Frodo!" he shouted after them, but Frodo was already out the gate and halfway down the road, splashing through puddles, hot in pursuit of Mr. Gamgee's oldest boy with young Pearl Took tumbling along behind him. "And get back here in time for supper!"

No answer. He sighed and wiped his hand on a dishrag, letting the door stand open. Bag End could do with an airing out, and the storm clouds had drifted away hours ago, tugged along by a warm summer breeze. Good riddance to rain and children both, Bilbo thought. The party was in two days, and he had more than enough to keep him busy without Frodo and his friends raiding the pantry and tracking mud all over the floor.

He spent the afternoon baking scones—which would have been simple enough, if he hadn't eaten so many blackcurrants from the mixing bowl that he had to go to market and buy more. Then there was the dusting to be done, and the floors washed, and Frodo's clothes mended, because the silly boy had gotten himself tangled up in a gorse bush on one of his rambles, and torn his best cotton shirt all to ribbons. It was all comfortably familiar, and he hummed while he worked, the tune of an Elvish song that he'd heard in Rivendell so very long ago.

Late afternoon drowsed on to evening. When Frodo slipped into the kitchen at last, he brought the smell of damp earth and jasmine with him.

"Missus Bell gave me some flowers from the garden," he said, standing on tip-toe and peering up at the tray of scones that Bilbo had just taken out of the oven. "Because Hamson pushed me into a ditch. Can I have a scone?"

"If you want," Bilbo said. "But we're having roast pork and apples for supper, with almond pudding for afters."

"Um. I guess I'll save the scones for later."

"Sensible lad. Get a vase and some water for those flowers—yes, just like that. Where do you think we should put them?"

"On the windowsill," Frodo said, after some deliberation. "That way the breeze will make the house smell nice."

"So it will. Now, go and wash up, and then you can help set the table."

It was nice, having a second pair of hands in the kitchen, and Frodo was a patient child: he didn't mind peeling apples, or endlessly stirring a pot of soup. Tonight, Bilbo gave him a battered copy of his grandmother's almond pudding recipe and set him loose on cupboards, trying not to smile as Frodo carefully checked and re-checked every line of the instructions, small brow furrowed with concentration.

The meal was excellent, as meals always were at Bag End, but the pudding was the most excellent of all, and not just because of the way Frodo beamed when Bilbo told him so. They were just drying the last of the dishes when the doorbell rang. Frodo dropped his dishrag and raced for the door, feet sliding across the polished floors. "I'll get it!" he shouted.

Probably young Hamson Gamgee again. His visits were often coincidentally close to mealtimes, but Bilbo pretended not to notice. In fact, he usually sent Hamson home with a loaf of bread or a freshly baked pie to share with his brother and sisters, on the pretense of clearing out his pantry or similar nonsense. The Gamgees had four children to feed, after all, and Bilbo was a bachelor with more money than he would ever have reason to spend.

From his place by the sink, Bilbo heard the sound of the door opening, and then an astonished shout. "Uncle!" Frodo cried. "There's an army of dwarves at the door!"

Bilbo made a small noise of satisfaction as he returned the last of the dishes to its rightful place. Last week it had been a troop of elves, and the week before that Frodo had brought home a pair of talking ladybugs. Doubtless he got his imagination from the Brandybuck side of the family.

"Well, tell them they missed supper," he said. "But they're welcome to stop in for scones, if they want any."

Frodo relayed the message, and Bilbo heard a murmur of voices at the door, too deep to be the Gamgee children. Curiosity piqued, he stepped out into the hallway. "Who is it, then?"

"I told you," Frodo said, his voice soft with wonder. "It's dwarves."

The door had been thrown wide open. On the doorstep stood Thorin Oakenshield. There was a little more gray in his hair than Bilbo remembered, and the lines in his face were deeper, but other than that he'd hardly changed at all.

"At your service, Mr. Baggins," he said.

Bilbo didn't faint. Not this time. He had been dreaming of this moment for more than thirty years, but this was better than he'd ever dared to hope, because Fili and Kili were standing behind their uncle, and Bofur was leaning against the gate, chatting with a wide-eyed Hamson Gamgee and being gawked at by the neighbors. It was all too good to be true.

"Bilbo Baggins, entirely at yours," he said, just in case he wasn't hallucinating, and stepped aside to let them in.