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.
Out of all of his nephews and nieces, Bilbo was the one that Isengrim Took III never worried about.
In hindsight, that was rather foolish of him.
Belladonna had always been the wild and untamable sister. She had driven their parents out of their minds with her antics when they were younger. Whether it was stirring up food fights among the taverns to running off on spontaneous adventures to Rivendell with their brother Hildigrim, she was always up to some sort of mischief. When she finally married Bungo and settled down, he thought he wouldn't have to worry again about such matters any longer.
He was wrong. So very, very wrong.
"Leave it to Bella's son to outdo her," his brother Isembard muttered at his side as they took in the sight before them.
Their nephew stood before them with an awkward smile on his face. He was… dressed interestingly in slacks and a tunic that was tied with a belt that held a sword. His hair was longer than he had ever seen on a Hobbit, and held back in little braids with gold beads that glinted in the sunlight. But the oddest thing of all, the thing that made the hair on the back of his neck rise, were the legion of Dwarves behind his nephew.
"Uncle Isengrim," Bilbo greeted, his brown eyes wide as he tried to pretend he was calm. "It's good to see you again. Have you been well?"
"Bilbo, what is going on?" he asked, getting straight to the point because he was a Took, damnit, and not a Baggins. "Why are these Dwarves here?"
Bilbo's smile grew even more tense and false. "These are my friends. The ones I went on that adventure with. They… They came here to meet my family and friends. Isn't that nice?"
Isembard snorted without restraint. "Bullshit. Tell us the truth, lad, or I'm breaking out the embarrassing childhood stories."
One of the Dwarves—who had long red hair and an impressive beard—raised his hand in the air and waved it until he got their attention. "Can you share those stories anyways? Maybe over a drink?"
"Shut up, Glóin," Bilbo hissed as the tips of his ears began to turn pink.
Another Dwarf stepped forward until he stood in front of Isengrim. He easily towered over the Hobbits with his wide shoulders and thick arms. His long black hair held glints of sliver and his deep blue eyes looked old and tired under their thick brows. Seeing such a person made him wonder, not for the first time, why his nephew was with such a group.
"Isengrim Took," the Dwarf greeted, his baritone voice echoing through the room. "I am pleased to finally meet you. Bilbo has spoken very highly of you."
"Thank you," he returned slowly, never looking away from the strange Dwarf. "Now who are you?"
The Dwarf gave a short but low bow. "I am Thorin Oakenshield, King of Erebor."
Isembard snorted again.
"That's nice," Isengrim said, not feeling very impressed. Why the hell would he care about a title? "Now why are you here?"
The Dwarf—Thorin—stood up straighter and looked at him with a serious expression as if he was about to announce a death sentence. "I have come here to ask you for permission to marry Bilbo."
Isembard began to choke on what he could only assume was air.
His nephew turned a bright red that he had only ever seen on his tomatoes.
The Dwarf's serious expression never wavered even as he reached for Bilbo's hand.
And Isengrim was certain that somehow, somewhere, Bella was laughing at him.
"Well, that could have gone better," Bilbo muttered as he rubbed his forehead with two fingers.
"It could also have gone a lot worse," Thorin pointed out at his side, unusually optimistic over meeting the future in-laws.
He gave the Dwarf a dirty look. "That's because we only met with two of my uncles. They have seven more brothers and two sisters. And that's just on my mother's side!"
Thorin still didn't look fazed. "They're Hobbits, ghivashel, not Orcs. I can handle them."
He snorted and elbowed his fiancé in the ribs. "No, they're not Orcs; they're much worse!"
They had only been in the Shire for two days and already Bilbo wanted nothing more than to turn around and run back to Erebor. When he first mentioned returning to the Shire, he had assumed that he would go with perhaps Thorin, Bofur, and maybe one of the others. He had not expected the whole Company to volunteer to escort him back; not with Erebor newly reclaimed and in the middle of being repaired.
"Erebor will still be here when we come back," reasoned Balin when he had asked them why they wanted to go. "But the courtship of my king is something that will only happen once. I do not wish to miss such an occasion."
"You can't be trusted not to do something stupid with only Thorin on watch," Dwalin had added bluntly, not bothering with the pretty words like his brother.
"And I want to see uncle try to out drink your grandmother," chirped Kíli, grinning with his canines exposed so he looked like some sort of cute and deranged animal.
"Thanks for the support," he had growled back, wondering not for the first time why he ever bothered to stay in Erebor.
And so the Company had departed from the mountain and traveled back to the Shire; leaving behind Dís and Dáin to manage things. Bilbo had been a bit hesitant to leave Lady Gilraen and Estel behind so soon and for so long, but Dís had reassured him that she would keep them both safe until they returned.
"I've kept my brother and sons alive this long. I will keep your ward and his mother alive for just as long," the princess had vowed, grinning her bloodthirsty grin that he had slowly come to find comforting.
"How much longer do we have to wait here?" Kíli whined from where he lounged on the carpet with his brother and some of the others. "I'm getting hungry."
"I have to wait for the rest of my uncles and aunts to arrive, but the rest of you can leave," he replied, looking over the Company as they all made themselves comfortable in the Took home. "Except Thorin. He has to stay too so they can judge him."
"And miss out on all the fun?" retorted Nori from where he sat balanced on the arm of the chair Dwalin was in. The thief gave him an obviously fake pout. "We wanted to be here for your special moment."
"Liar. You just want to be here to collect your wavers," he retorted, picking up one of his aunt's decorative pillows and flinging it at the thief. He, predictably, missed but it was still nice to vent some of his frustration.
"When do we get to the drinking contest? I want to see Thorin go up against your grandmother," Glóin said with obvious glee as he rubbed his hands together. "If she wins, I want her to teach me her tricks."
He rolled his eyes and sunk into the plush sofa. "You will do no such thing, Glóin. You will treat my grandmother with the respect she deserves as the noble and refined Hobbit she is—"
"Noble? Well there's a word I never thought to associate with my mother."
Bilbo felt his heart sink as a tall male Hobbit with graying brown hair walked in. "Uncle Longo. Aunt Camellia. How… nice to see you two again."
Longo Baggins—his father's first younger brother—raised a dark eyebrow as he stared at him. At his side stood a petite female Hobbit with curls so lightly colored they could have passed as silver. She gave him a friendly smile before focusing her green eyes on the Dwarves scattered around the room with obvious curiosity.
"Bilbo. Nice to see you're alive after going missing for over a year," his uncle commented, his voice monotone as always. "For a time there I thought I would be giving Bag End over to little Drogo, who in turn doesn't even remember you."
"He's my cutest cousin on the Baggins side. It seemed only right to leave it to him," he answered quickly, looking away from Longo's knowing blue eyes. Even though he was technically older than his uncle now, he still couldn't help but feel intimidated by the Hobbit. He had a feeling it was because Longo looked the most like his father, and had the exact same way of easily seeing through his bullshit.
"Isengrim said that a Dwarf wants to marry you," his Aunt Camellia chirped, oblivious to the tension as always. She had never been the most observant Hobbit around. "Which one is it?"
Thorin stood up and bowed to the shorter couple before Bilbo could stop him. "That would be me. I am Thorin Oakenshield, King of Erebor. It is a pleasure to meet you both."
Camellia, predictably, squealed and clasped her hands together while Longo simply stared at the Dwarf without blinking.
"A king! Oh how exciting! I bet you have all types of cakes at your palace!" the blonde said, looking up at Thorin with sparkling green eyes.
"Erebor? That's on the other side of the Misty Mountains," Longo replied, his eyes narrowing a fraction. "That's a long way for a king to come looking for a spouse."
"Actually, Bilbo was our burglar before he became a possible courting candidate," Bombur chimed in from a divan with an innocent twinkle in his eyes that didn't fool Bilbo for a moment. The Dwarf was enjoying the brewing storm, the bastard.
Longo's eyebrow slowly arched up. "Burglar?"
"Bilbo helped us trick a dragon that had taken over our home," explained Fíli, leaning his head against his brother's thigh as he picked at his nails with one of his knives. "We hired him to steal a stone but killing the dragon worked too."
Aunt Camellia gasped and covered her mouth as her eyes grew wide. "Oh, birdie, that sounds dangerous! Are you all right? Did the dragon burn your lovely curls?"
Dwalin snorted. "Birdie?"
Bofur stared. "Is she being serious?"
"So… let me recap this for a moment," Longo said, interrupting the Dwarves before they could begin another round. "You left home without a word for a year to become a criminal that robs dragons? Is that correct?"
"And who fights Goblins and Orcs. He also did that," added Kíli, grinning so wide it looked like it hurt.
"And Wargs; don't forget the Wargs!" Ori chirped from where he sat on the other arm of Dwalin's chair.
Longo's blue eyes grew hooded until all that could be seen were slits of light blue. Bilbo tried not to whimper and dive behind the sofa for safety at the sight.
"I see. And now you have returned home to introduce us to your suitor," his uncle connected, slowly moving his gaze from Bilbo to Thorin. "This king from beyond the Shire that we have only met now. Is that correct, nephew?"
He nodded and carefully avoided looking the Hobbit in the eyes. "Yes, that's correct."
Longo tilted his head to the side and looked the king up and down. "Very well then. I will be one of your opponents in the drinking competition. If you beat me, then you have my permission to marry my brother's son. Lose and you take your little group and go back over the mountains and don't come back."
Thorin nodded seriously while Bilbo gaped at his uncle in shock.
"Wait, you mean you're not going to yell at me for dishonoring the family name with my crazy adventures?" he said before he could think. "For throwing my life into danger and nearly getting killed?"
"I believe your aunts will handle scolding you well-enough," Longo replied, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly. "As for your actions… Our family name and our reputation are very important to me. But not more important than the life and happiness of my older brother's only child."
"Oh." He blinked and sank back into the sofa. "I… thank you. That's good to hear."
Longo shrugged, looking nonchalant over his words. Few things rarely did ruffle his uncle. "It is the truth so why shouldn't I say it?"
"Oh, Bilbo, you must simply let me help with the wedding," his aunt gushed, looking at him with her doe eyes. "Lobelia didn't allow me to help her for their wedding. I wish she had because the colors she paired together were horrible. Teal with carnation pink. Who ever heard of such a thing?"
"That is a horrible combination," Dori agreed with a wince.
"That reminds me… Lobelia was quite offended by the sign you left warning us away from your property," Longo commented, looking more amused than offended. "Otho found it humorous but I'm afraid my daughter-in-law didn't. Expect a visit from her sometime in the near future."
"She left me no choice. She keeps trying to take my good silver," he defended, trying not to seem like he was whining.
"That's because I won't give her mine," Camellia chirped, beaming. "I've already promised it to my oldest niece before Otho was even born."
Before Bilbo could speak up and tell her what he thought of that, his Uncle Isengrim walked back into the room. He paused at the entrance and looked around the room before settling his gaze on Longo and Camellia.
"Done torturing the lad?" he asked the couple.
Longo nodded back. "For the moment."
"Good. Now get out of here; it's our turn," ordered a female Hobbit as she came to stand at Isengrim's side. She was a robust Hobbit with dark hair and dark eyes that stood out against her pale skin. On the other side of Isengrim, another female took her place at his side. She was older than her counterpart with nut brown hair streaked with white and a small button nose. Standing in a line, it was easy to see that all three Hobbits were closely related.
At the sudden appearance of the two females, Bilbo felt his heart freeze with a terror he had not felt since facing Smaug. "Aunt Donnamira. Aunt Mirabella. W-What are you t-two doing h-here?"
"Bilbo," purred the Hobbit with dark hair—his Aunt Mirabella who was just as fierce as his mother and twice as vicious—as she narrowed her dark eyes. "We have so very much to catch up on, my dear boy."
"Oh, yes, quite a bit," agreed the other Hobbit—his Aunt Donnamira who was the quietest of the three Took sisters and also the scariest—as she smiled at him serenely. "Starting with why you ran off for a year without a word to anyone."
In answer, Bilbo—the Elf-friend, the Ring-bearer, the Burglar, the Barrel Rider, the Consort-to-be Under the Mountain—squeaked and dived for cover behind the sofa.
"That," declared Nori later after they were safely away from Bilbo's aunts, "was the best dressing down I have ever seen in my life."
Dori nodded, looking as if he had just witnessed the performance of the century. "It was, it really was. I wish I had taken notes during the whole thing."
"I liked when the one in the red dress pulled Bilbo's ear," added Fíli, grinning until everyone could see his dimples on display. "He squeaked like a kitten when you hug them too tightly."
"Aye, she could give my Jewel a run for her money in glares," purred Glóin, smoking his pipe with obvious contentment.
Bilbo glared at them all and silently vowed to replace all their mead with vinegar. "If you all don't shut up within the next five seconds then I'm throwing you out of my house."
"Awww, Bilbo, don't be mad at us. We're only teasing," Kíli said, flopping down sideways so his head landed in Bilbo's lap, and he was able to stare up at the Hobbit with his wide eyes.
Bilbo was not moved and showed it by pinching his pointy nose. "Make those eyes any bigger and they'll fall out."
"You're so mean. What would our little Hôfukel say to such a tone?" Fíli asked, shaking his head with his own mocking pout on his face.
"His name is Estel," Bilbo reminded for what felt like the millionth time. Fíli and Kíli had refused to accept an Elven name for their 'new, itty-bitty cousin' and had given him the name Hôfukel instead, which apparently meant 'the joy of all joys.' Estel didn't seem very impressed with his new name but he didn't complain. Bilbo had a feeling the child was already used to the many names he was going to get saddled with in life.
"Hôfukel," repeated the two brothers along with half the company. No one but Bilbo and Balin really liked the Elven name. Even Thorin had taken to calling him that, the traitor.
"So who is next on your list of relatives to visit?" asked Ori, looking far too eager to meet more of Bilbo's relatives. Obviously Nori had succeeded in corrupting his little brother, Eru preserve them all.
Bilbo thought over his list and shuddered as he came upon the one person he had dreaded seeing most. "My grandmother. Laura Baggins."
For as long as he could remember, Laura Baggins had always been his ideal image of the perfect grandmother. She was a petite Hobbit with thick white curls and darling freckles dusted across her rosy cheeks that dimpled when she smiled. Her hazel eyes twinkled and she always wore a pink shawl that she would quickly wrap around a child's shoulders if she deemed them to be too cold.
She was also the most manipulative, cunning, ruthless, and stubborn old Hobbit he had ever met. Not even Lobelia on her best day could ever hope to compare to Laura Baggins née Grubb.
"Bilbo," she greeted when she saw him, her voice musical and sweet as a birds. "How lovely to see you again, my dear."
"Hello, grandmother," he greeted back, trying to smile as he walked through her blooming garden to where she sat knitting under a shady tree.
Laura paused in her knitting and raised one white brow and lowered her other one in a silent rebuke.
"I mean, Granny Baggins," he quickly corrected, feeling more like he was ten again instead of a hundred and thirty-two.
"Much better," Laura said with a nod, patting the seat next to her. "Come sit down now, my love. Would you like a cup of tea? I can get your aunt to bring some from inside the house, it's really no problem."
He shook his head and flopped down into the padded whicker sofa next to her. "No thank you, granny, I'm not thirsty. I've come here to actually discus something rather important with you. Something that I'm sure you are already quite aware of."
"Mmm." His grandmother picked up her needles and returned to the quilt she was working on. "Perhaps. What do you wish to talk about?"
He took in a deep breath and steeled himself for battle. "I've come back to the Shire to get your permission to be married."
"Oh, that's right, now I remember. Your uncles and aunts were raving about it last night," Laura commented, nodding her heard calmly. "Something about a Dwarf and a king and dragons—I didn't really catch all of it. I was in the middle of baking my pecan pie and you know how much of my attention that takes."
"Yes, most of them… met him yesterday when I went to see uncle Isengrim," he admitted, wincing slightly at the memories.
His grandmother clucked her tongue. "How is Isengrim doing? Still trying to pass off that dead rodent as his real hair?"
Bilbo laughed, feeling part of his guard ease up at the knowing tone. "Yes, and failing obviously as always. I wish he would make peace and accept that he's losing his hair."
"He can't; not when he had such lovely strawberry blond curls when he was younger," his grandmother replied dryly. "So the Tooks have met your beau then? Why did you take him there first instead of to me? Afraid I might steal him away with my charms?"
No, I'm afraid you might scare him away with your charms, he thought, trying not to visibly wince. "Ah, we were passing by Isengrim's home so I thought why not just get it over with?"
Laura hummed and nodded her head. "Of course, dear, of course. So tell me about this Dwarf of yours. What is his name?"
"Thorin Oakenshield," he replied without hesitation. If he showed any weakness then he knew the old Hobbit would catch it.
"Oakenshield?" his grandmother repeated, pausing to look up at him with her lips curled. "I hope you're not planning to take that as your last name. If you do then I may have to disown you."
Bilbo sighed and tried not to roll his eyes. "Granny, your maiden name is Grubb."
Laura cackled. "Fair enough. So this Thorin is a Dwarven king, hmm? And how long have you known him?"
"Long enough to trust him with my life," he replied, deliberately leaving out how long. "Long enough to grow to love him. He is the only soul I have ever loved this way, granny."
"Mmm." Laura stared at him with an unreadable expression on her face. "Those stories you like to read all the time—they always speak of love being enough to get by. According to the bards, you'd think it is the only thing that you need to overcome the struggles in life. That is all nonsense. Marriage—a real marriage and none of this fairy tale rubbish—is made up of more than just love. It is made up of compromising, sharing, learning, and many, many arguments. It is not means to a happy ending or some blissful state where nothing will go wrong. It is a relationship and it takes time and effort to make it work. Do you understand that?"
He nodded gravely. "Yes, granny, I know."
"Then you must also know that, as a king, he can never love you completely. His heart will always belong to his people above all else," his grandmother said with a shrewd glint in her eyes. "Normal marriages are hard enough but one with a king is even harder. Can you handle such a relationship?"
"For a time, I wasn't sure if I could do that," admitted Bilbo, playing with his shirt sleeve. "I didn't know if I could love his people enough to share him with them. But now I realize that I can because it was his love and devotion for his people that made me fall in love with him to begin with. Understanding that then helped me understand that I am lucky to hold a place in his heart that has, until now, belonged only to his people. Having his love is a blessing and I will never take that for granted."
Laura nodded slowly as she studied him with her knowing hazel eyes. "You've thought about this for a long time. Good. That shows me that this isn't some whim for you."
"Really, granny, you know me better than that," he scolded lightly, rolling his eyes. "I would never marry someone spontaneously."
"True. You are your father's son in that regard," the Hobbit mused, her face softening slightly at the mention of her deceased son. "When Bungo decided to marry your mother, nothing anyone said could change his mind. He knew he loved her and that was that. My serious and sensible little lad…"
Bilbo looked away to stare at his grandmother's pink and white roses. Like his mother, his grief for his father had eased into a distant ache that was largely ignorable. He still loved him and missed him dearly, but not to the extent that his grandmother obviously still did. He wondered, uncomfortably, if his father would be hurt to know how little his only child grieved for him still.
"But enough sad memories," Laura declared, shaking her head slightly and turning her attention back to her knitting. "Go and get this Dwarf of yours. I'd like to meet him… properly."
Laura slowly looked Thorin over starting from his feet and moving up to his head. Thorin, for his part, stood completely at ease with his hands crossed behind his back. If it wasn't for the tightness to his jaw, Bilbo would say that the Dwarven king was completely fine with being examined like a piece of meat.
"Well now aren't you a handsome one," his grandmother finally cooed, raising one hand to her cheek. "You can't be much older than my Bilbo."
Thorin's lips twitched slightly. "Actually, I'm a hundred and ninety-five, my lady."
Laura gasped and covered her mouth as her eyes went wide. "No! You look far too young to be so old!"
"Thank you but I'm a Dwarf, my lady. We do not age the same as Hobbits do," Thorin said gently, his shoulders and stance beginning to relax.
"Oh, what manners you have!" his granny tittered. "How nice to meet such a polite king from the west."
"Actually, I'm from Erebor, which is to the east of here."
"Really? With that accent I thought you were from the Blue Mountains."
"I am. I started a colony there after we lost Erebor years ago. It is only recently, with Bilbo's help, that we were able to get it back," the Dwarf explained, his eyes briefly darting to Bilbo, who stood off to the sidelines where it was safe.
"That's my Bilbo, always helping people. Did you know he used to help me pick apples and berries for my pies?" the Hobbit chattered, rising to her feet with some help from her cane. "He always loved my apple pies so I hope you don't mind if we have some."
"Not at all. I enjoy apple pies as well," Thorin reassured, looking concerned over the frail Hobbit. "My lady, do you require assistance? I would be happy to help you—"
"Oh, nonsense, I'm fine! You stay here and keep my grandson company while I get the pies and tea," Laura said airily, waving her free hand as she made her way back into her home. "Belba! Get out the fine china please! We have company!"
Thorin watched in amusement as the old Hobbit continued to chatter into the hole before turning his gaze to Bilbo. "She doesn't seem so bad. I think you really are exaggerating all of this fear and worry," he commented.
Bilbo sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Thorin, in five minutes she got you to reveal your age, origins, history, and that you like to eat apple pie. Give her another five minutes and she'll know your parents names, favorite stew, and the name of your childhood toy."
Thorin's eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open as he registered what he had just revealed to the devious old Hobbit. "I… But I didn't even…!"
Bilbo could only pat his fiancé on the hand in sympathy. "I warned you: worse than Orcs."
Tea with his grandmother and Thorin was… interesting. After realizing how cunning his granny truly was, the king attempted to keep his personal life to himself. But Laura Baggins didn't become the matriarch of their family simply because her husband died, and easily spun verbal webs that Thorin, sadly, kept finding himself trapped in.
"So you lived in a palace then?" gasped Laura, holding a hand to her chest. "Oh, I cannot imagine how your mother kept track of you in such a big place. I had enough trouble watching my five in this little house!"
"Well, she used to have the guards track down my brother and sister and I when we skipped our lessons," Thorin admitted, finishing off one whole apple pie by himself. He was in mid-bite before his words caught up to him and he stiffened as he realized that he had, yet again, fallen into her trap.
Off on the sidelines, Bilbo sipped his tea idly with his aunt Belba, his father's younger sister. "I feel like I should step in and save him from this torture."
"If you do, your grandmother will turn her charms on you next," his aunt warned, smiling at him pleasantly over the rim of her blue and white cup. Belba looked the most like his grandmother with her freckled cheeks and marigold curls, but her eyes and personality was all Baggins.
He shuddered and set his teacup down gently. "On second thought, he needs the practice if he wants to survive in this family."
"Just be thankful that Old Took isn't around for this. When Bungo first asked him for permission to marry Bella, he spiked Bungo's tea so he passed out. Then he dragged him out into the fields and left him tied up naked to a scarecrow," Belba commented, her blue twinkling at him. "That Hobbit was very protective of his daughters, but Bella in particular because she was his favorite. It took Bungo eighteen times before he finally got his permission to marry her."
Bilbo thought about her words for a moment and then shuddered once more. He loved his grandfather dearly and had been fairly close to him growing up, but at that moment he was quite glad the old Hobbit wasn't around to meet Thorin. He would have either driven the Dwarf away or gotten him killed from the 'Took Family Ale.'
"My brother tells me that he has volunteered to be the Baggins challenger in the match," his aunt continued, watching her mother verbally wrangle Thorin. "Do you know who will be the Took challenger?"
"No, Isengrim hasn't told me yet," he answered. "I think he's still in shock over meeting Thorin."
Belba sniffed with obvious contempt. "Foolish of him to forget whose son you are. He should've known that your Took blood would show up eventually. Personally, I'm glad it's just in this and not something worse, like wearing shoes. Ugh, so indecent!"
"Don't worry; I would sooner shave my feet than wear any sort of footwear," he reassured, wrinkling his nose at the thought. "It's bad enough that the Dwarves won't let me cut my hair. I draw the line at wearing boots."
"Why won't they let you cut your hair?" his aunt wondered, her eyebrow arching in the same way his father's used to whenever Bilbo did or said something that was so stupid that he just couldn't comprehend it.
"Hair is very important in their culture. They value it like we value our feet," he explained, lifting a leg up slightly to wiggle his toes at her. "When I first told them I wanted to cut my hair, they nearly cried from the horror. I decided just to give in and go along with it."
Belba's eyebrow inched up into her hairline. "Bilbo, darling, what in Eru's name are you doing with such an unreasonable bunch?"
He shrugged and took another sip of his tea. "They're my family now."
Three days after returning to the Shire, Bilbo found himself dragged off for the drinking challenge.
Like most things involving Hobbits, the resulting challenge over his right to marry had been turned into a giant party that seemed to involve most of the Shire. Though he didn't doubt that a good portion of the guests were there to support him, he also knew that most were simply there to eat and drink and dance the night away. Hobbits would use any excuse to drink and eat all night.
He had been leery about introducing his Dwarves to his relatives because he knew how they felt about outsiders—xenophobia was, sadly, another common trait among Hobbits—but he was pleasantly surprised to find them being hesitantly welcomed by his family. They still seemed uncertain about his choice of spouse, but they also seemed willing to give Thorin and the others a chance to prove themselves. His Tooks relative were the friendliest by far, and had dragged some of his Dwarves into dancing with them. The others had been invited into drinking and playing dice with them. Even his Baggins relatives had, shyly, introduced themselves and were speaking to the quieter members of the Company.
Then there was Thorin, who had begun the drinking competition against his relatives with his nephews cheering him on.
As according to tradition, he needed one relative from each side of his family to compete. His cousin Flambard Took had been chosen for the Took side and was Thorin's first opponent. Flambard—his loud and cheerful but horribly dense cousin—had been easy enough for the king to beat. No one was very surprised as Flambard was much younger and had never been very good at holding his drink. He had passed out after an hour and was now dozing in his wife's lap.
The next opponent had his uncle, Longo Baggins, who Thorin was able to beat against out of sheer stubbornness. It lasted two hours before his uncle finally admitted defeat. In the end he gave Thorin a single nod, which from Longo was pretty much a giant hug and kiss on the forehead in acceptance.
Now he was trying to out drink his grandmother and so far… it wasn't going very well.
"He looks like he's going to hurl," commented his cousin Adalgrim Took as he gnawed on his corncob.
"No, I think he's going to pass out," disagreed his cousin Rosa Baggins as she sipped at her ale daintily. "It's clear he's not going to win. Mistress Baggins is not even swaying in her seat like he is."
That was certainly true. His grandmother was still quite sober and was watching Thorin with obvious amusement as he tried not to fall off his seat.
"You really should go save him, Bilbo, before he falls off the bench smashes his head open," suggested Rosa, giving him a smirk. "It would be a real shame if he ruined his pretty face."
"You know, it is comments like those that have driven me to move to other side of the world," he retorted as he pushed past his cackling cousins and began to fight through the crowds of Hobbits. As he grew closer, he heard a great cry and laughter rise up and sighed as he realized what had happened.
"Bilbo," greeted his grandmother when he finally elbowed his way through the throng of relatives to the table where Thorin and Laura sat. "Looks like your king has been defeated."
Bilbo nodded as he looked down at the unconscious Dwarf being held up between Fíli and Kíli. "So it seems."
"He did rather well, considering what Longo put him through," added Laura as she sipped at her own spirits. "He even broke out the infamous 'Baggin's Family Folly.' Even I can barely get through more than three cups of that."
That was a bold faced lie and they both knew. Bilbo had seen her drown a whole drum on her own about twenty years ago. He was beginning to seriously wonder if his grandmother had actual wine for blood because this was just not natural.
"Mother is going to love hearing about this," Fíli cackled as he held his uncle upright by his shoulder. "She's never going to let him live this down."
"Dáin is going to share this story for years to come," added Kíli, grinning with all his teeth exposed. "Maybe he'll even forget about that stupid sand story now and leave us alone."
Bilbo had a feeling that was unlikely to happen, but didn't feel like crushing the youth's good cheer. Instead, he focused on the matriarch of his family and cocked his head to the side. "Well? Did he pass?"
"Obviously," Laura replied, smiling at him over the rim of her cup in such a familiar way that he realized he finally knew where his father and uncles and aunts got it from. "If he had not, your uncles would be dragging him off for the nearest pig pen by now."
Fíli and Kíli turned as one and stared at the beaming old Hobbit.
"Wow. Guess we know now where Bilbo got his craziness from," muttered Kíli.
"Don't be silly, dear. He got an equal amount from both sides," said Laura, still beaming.
"Boys, why don't you help me move Thorin to a quieter place to rest," he suggested, knowing from experience that if he left his newest nephews with his grandmother for much longer than they would potentially be either terrified or in awe of her evil ways. "That tree over there looks good, yes?"
The princes nodded and together they dragged the unconscious king to a deserted tree that sat slightly away from the main body of the party. After helping their uncle, the two returned to the party; leaving Bilbo alone to deal with the dozing Dwarf.
Shaking his head fondly, he sat down under the tree next to Thorin and leaned back against the cool bark behind him. He felt tired and annoyed and anxious but also, strangely, very content. Bilbo couldn't even remember the last time he felt so happy as he did at that moment, which was rather ironic considering he knew he had no reason to be so giddy.
The ring was still missing and Sauron was still amassing his army and regaining his strength. He had two cities that needed to be rebuilt, a war to prepare for, and a child to raise into a king. There was also a wedding he was rather dreading, new laws and customs to learn, and politics and alliances to make, and yet…
He was happy.
He was so happy that he felt like the joy was coursing through his blood and would burst out of him at any moment. He couldn't stop smiling and laughing, and he wanted to simply hug everyone he saw in order to share the warm feeling bubbling in him. Bilbo could not recall a time where he felt quite as happy as he did at that moment with his family and friends around him. For once in a long time, he wasn't alone or lost or heartbroken over events he thought he could never change. He wasn't scared or uncertain or worried that he was going to fail and get the ones he loved killed. For once in nearly a hundred years, Bilbo Baggins finally felt like he had found where he belonged.
At his side, Thorin groaned and stirred. "Wha… Bilbo?"
He hummed and ran his fingers through the king's hair. "Yes, love, it's me."
Thorin squinted up at him with red rimmed eyes. "What happened?"
"You passed out trying to out drink my grandmother," he replied bluntly, smirking down at his fiancé.
Thorin groaned again and covered his face. "Oh, Mahâl, I lost didn't I?"
"Yup. But don't feel too bad. Granny Baggins was quite impressed with your performance," the Hobbit chirped, patting the Dwarf's head. "She has given us her blessings along with the rest of my family. Congratulations, we can get married now without my family disowning me."
"That's wonderful. Now why are there four of you?"
"Don't worry about it, Thorin. Just close your eyes and rest."
The king snorted and lifted himself up in order rest his head on the Hobbit's lap. "Mmm. Good idea. Now tell me a story."
Bilbo laughed and tugged on the thick hair still in his hands. "A story? Which one?"
"Don't care," Thorin muttered, wrapping an arm around Bilbo's waist and cuddling closer to his stomach. "I just want to hear your voice. It makes me feel better."
Bilbo felt his heart—a weak and old thing but somehow lighter than before—clench tightly before relaxing as that happy warmth spread through him again. "Very well. Once upon a time, in a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…"
And so we have reached the conclusion of this story. It ends with a loose end but I couldn't help it. Destroying the ring has always been Frodo's story and changing that just didn't feel right. So I decided to leave the story with the impression of hope for the future, and a chance to change the upcoming war for the better. Plus if I ever get the itch to write a sequel, then I can focus it on that.
I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read/commented/lurked with this story for so long. It has been a fun ride and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. If anyone is interested in my next Hobbit story, it will be out sometime in October/November and is A LOT longer than this one. It will also feature more romance than this story and also a good dose of friendship/adventure/humor/angst. Oh, and of course sassy Hobbits and oblivious Dwarves. :)
Thank you again!