Disclaimer: I do not own any familiar characters/settings/plot featured in this story. They all belong to (most likely rolling in his grave) J.R.R. Tolkien.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

When he was a child, Bilbo recalled catching an illness that had left him feverish and delirious. He had spent days in bed with his parents constantly at his side; watching and caring for him as his small body struggled to survive. The sickness had left him in a strange state somewhere between the land of the living, and the world of dreams. He could never tell what was real or a figment of his mind and therefore ended up hurting his parents and himself a few times. It was not until the fever broke and he grew stronger that he was finally able to tell the difference again. It was an altogether horrible experience, and ranked pretty high of his list of 'Really Bad Stuff to Avoid in the Future.'

The longer he traveled with the Nazgûl, the more he realized he was slipping into a state very similar to the one he had when ill. It started out slowly at first, of course, as the wraiths did their best to repress their auras, and were constantly stuffing him with kingsfoil. He was often tired and weak and his headache never seemed to stop no matter what he did. But the longer they traveled on together—the longer he sat with that damn creature behind him—the more Bilbo could feel himself drifting. He began to fall asleep no matter how uncomfortable or ill he was. He thought that it would not have been an altogether horrible experience if his dreams were a pleasant escape from reality.

They were not.

Instead, Bilbo found that his mind was in fact a much worse place to be than traveling with five Nazgûl to Mordor. The twisted irony of it all was not lost on him.

Tauriel lays broken and bent on the snowy floor. Her ribcage has been ripped open and her heart torn out. Her hazel eyes stare at the sky with a look of horror and pain that will never be erased from her beautiful face

The Nazgûl behind him pinched his knee. He flinched and jerked away on instinct. When the wraith realized he was awake, it turned its attention back to the horse and trail before them. Bilbo squinted into the distance but could see only the never ending horizon. It seemed their journey was not going to end anytime soon.

they clean Fíli and Kíli of the blood and dirty and seal their wounds completely. Then they dress them in the finest clothes and armor they can find. They are princes of Erebor and they will be buried as such even if they never got the chance to live as ones

When he opened his eyes again, he found that the sun was beginning to rise. The Nazgûl could only travel at night and would spend the daytime resting in deep caves for the most part. He sighed as the wraiths began to make their way to one. He was getting tired of sleeping in the damp holes with only the corpses for company.

Bard's children cry when they see their father's body. The youngest collapses at his side and shakes his arm; begging him to wake up because this joke was not funny. The oldest kneels down next to her sister and pulls her into a gentle hug as she cries into her hair. His son continues to stand; his shoulders shaking as silent tears streak down his face. When he looks up at Bilbo, there is nothing but pain and accusation in his eyes that he got from his father

When Bilbo saw the Black Gates, he felt strangely calm. He knew his fate the moment he realized where the wraiths were taking him, and he had certainly enough time to accept it. Death was never a state he feared after he turned a hundred and actually looked forward to the afterlife a bit. It would certainly be nice to meet his parents again, and discover for sure what came after death. Fear of dying was for the young and restless. Bilbo had certainly lived long enough to overcome that particular trait.

Frodo smiles up at him with bright blue eyes that remind him of a king long gone. His nephew is nothing like Thorin, nothing at all, and yet he can't help but love him just as fiercely. He makes a silent vow then to never allow Frodo to come to harm. He will not fail his nephew as he failed Thorin. It is a promise that he breaks later when he leaves his cursed ring with the only son he will ever know

When Bilbo opened his eyes again, he found himself on the floor with a hooded figure standing over him. It only took one look into a pair of distorted amber eyes for him to make the connection.

"Hello, Bilbo Baggins," Sauron—you destroyed everything I ever loved—greeted in a voice that held echoes of centuries within it. "I have been waiting a long time to meet you."

"I wish I could say the same," he replied because being blunt was another benefit that came with being old.

Sauron tilted his head to the side. It was a startling mortal gesture to make, and looked odd on his form. Not that it was hard to do considering the Dark Lord lacked a solid body and a true face. Instead, he seemed to be made out of shadows; bits of fluid darkness that had been stitched together to create a tall and lean form. As the Hobbit stared, he could see how the darkness flickered and shifted throughout the body. The only thing that seemed even the tiniest bit solid about him were his bloody amber eyes.

"Charming just as I imagined you to be," the Dark Lord replied with what almost sounded like dryness in his tone. If Dark Lord felt emotions or even possessed a sense of humor. Bilbo could not be sure, but he felt like it was right if beings like Sauron lacked humor and wit. It just didn't seem fair that Dark Lords got both power and a sense of humor.

That's it, I've officially lost it. I'm wondering if Sauron likes to tell jokes when I should be worrying about my future death. Clearly the wraiths have destroyed my mind.

"Did you bring me here?" he wondered as he stared up at the tall figure. He could smell something strange; a mix between rot and sulfur and tar. But he couldn't pinpoint if it came from the Dark Lord or the room.

"Yes," his captor replied without clarification.

"Why? How? How could you drag my soul and yourself back into the past?"

Sauron chuckled and it sounded like the wind howling during a storm. "Why should I tell you?"

"Indulge an ignorant mortal. How many chances do you really get?" he pointed out. He never planned to go out heroically, but he could at least go out snide.

"A good point," the shadow granted. "Very well. You look at this world and see one land, one plane, and yes?"

Apparently they were going with a monologue. The rumors of Sauron's cruelty were true indeed.

Resigned to his fate, he nodded.

"That is because you are mortal. You are a weak creature who lacks the power to see beyond your own simple existence," the shadow practically sneered. "I do not have such shackles to hold me back. I see this plane, the plane of the Valar, the plane of the dead, and many others that you could not begin to imagine."

Bilbo rolled his eyes. "I'm still waiting for the part where you get to the point."

"I'm getting there," his captor reassured, waving a shadowy hand. "When you were leaving for the Undying Lands, you began to die. Your soul began to slip between the cracks of this world and the Undying Lands and into the plane of the dead. It was at that moment that I struck. I absorbed part of your spirit—your being—and dragged us both into the river of time. From there it was easy enough to go back to a time where I still existed."

The Hobbit felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach. "Y-You… You a-absorbed p-part of m-me?"

Sauron nodded as his amber eyes became narrowed. "Yes. I took a part of your soul and devoured it. And do you know what happened? I grew stronger from your weak energy, yes, but more importantly I got your memories."

"No," he denied, shaking his head slowly. "No, no, no, no—"

"Oh, yes," the shadow hissed with obvious glee. "Every moment, every second of your life, every fleeting thought—I saw it all. Your silly worries over your books; your pathetic heartbreak for that Dwarf; and your never ending guilt for your precious nephew. I saw it all and I used it to devise a plan; one that you followed perfectly."

He was going to faint. Or throw up. Or possibly even scream. "I don't… Why am I still alive? Why did you even bring me here?! To gloat?! To laugh at my face?!"

The Dark Lord scoffed. "Don't be stupid. I could care less about your opinion of me. No, I brought you here to keep you alive. You see, absorbing another soul comes with a high price. That was why I never bothered with it all these years. But trapped in the void with my Master, I had no other choice. I bound the two of us together and now we are stuck with each other for the rest of eternity. In simpler terms, you die, I die."

"I'm a Hobbit. You know we don't live as long as the other races," he reminded with a sneer.

The shadow laughed at him and he shuddered at the sound. "Immortality is not difficult to attain. And I only need you alive and well; your state of mind is irrelevant."

Bilbo bared his teeth in a snarl at the promised threat. "I'll kill myself before I let you live."

"Which is why I brought you here," Sauron revealed, his cruel eyes sparking within the bloody gold. "It was risk leaving you on your own for so long; you could have been killed so very easily. But in order to strengthen my armies and avoid detection, it was a risk that I had to take."

"And the ring? Why didn't you come after it once I found it?"

"Because I knew you would bring it to Mordor. Why waste my time hunting you down when I could have you deliver it to me?"

The bastard had an answer for everything. "I don't have it anymore."

"Yes, I noticed that," the Dark Lord assured. "But finding it will not be so difficult. Not when I know who has it now."

"And me? What are you going to do with me now?"

"You will stay here, with me, where you cannot get yourself killed," the shadow replied as he turned around and began to glide towards the iron door. "Make yourself comfortable, Baggins. You will not be leaving this cell for a long time."

Bilbo watched the Dark Lord until he disappeared behind the heavy door. As soon as it slammed shut, he found himself completely engulfed in darkness. He couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.

"Well. This is certainly not the end I was expecting," he mused out loud just to break the unnerving silence around him. Then, because it only felt right, he laughed.

This is not the end I was expecting at all…

He was dreaming—

of his warm (softhard) bed back in the Shire (RivendellthecoldgroundErebor) and all the food he could eat (starvingsohungry). All of his friends and family were there (liesallliesbecausethey'redeadalldead) and everyone was happy. He laughed (criedscreamedsmiled) with them as they celebrated

"Bilbo? Bilbo, wake up!"

he was running from something (SmaugAzogSauronhimself) and moving as fast as he could. His lungs were beginning to burn and his legs ached but he could not stop. If he stopped then he knew his (memoriesgriefguiltangerfearworry) would get him for good

"Damnit, burglar, wake up!"

those blue eyes haunt his every step (FrodoThorin) until all he can see when he closes his eyes are those eyes. A lifetime of mourning (I'msorrysosorrypleaseforgiveme) can never erase those eyes from his memories

"Bilbo, please… please wake up…"

Far over… the misty mountains cold

"Please… Please don't die. Please…"

to dungeons deep… and caverns old


we must away, ere break of day

"Are you waking up…?"

to claim our long… forgotten gold


and he woke up.