Lori Bolger eyed her mother in silent contemplation as she set the table; something was on the woman's mind and the young hobbit couldn't figure out, for the life of her, what it was that had her mother in such a state. It could not be her brother's death; he had been avenged. Belba handed her daughter another plate before turning back to the stew, stirring the contents of the pot with steady hands. Lori turned to face her mother's back, gently playing with her pale green summer dress. Her father, Rudigar, was to come home any moment, joined by her older sisters, Ethel and Gytha, their husbands and her young nephew Pod.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Belba exclaimed, eyes widening considerably, "I have also invited your Bilbo to join us this evening." She happily carried on, instructing Lori to put one more plate on the table.
"Cousin Bilbo? Really?" Lori merrily sought the confirmation of her mother's nod and smiled. Bilbo was the son of Bungo Baggins, her uncle, and Belladonna Took. He was a couple of decades her senior yet they got on famously. "He didn't mention anything in his last letter." They also corresponded frequently over the years, which did much to strengthen their friendship.
Belba regarded her daughter with shining eyes, and she could guess there was something her mother wanted to say but dared not. "The two of you have always been fond of one another. It will do you good to see him. I dare say it will."
Regardless of her attempts, Lori knew her mother would tell her no more so she simply shrugged and moved over to look at the stew. "It's done mom," she said after tasting it carefully, mindful of its heat.
The creaking of the door alerted both women of the arrival of their expected quests. Lori flashed her mother a smile before dashing to the hall to greet the party. She came face to face with her aging father, her sisters, their husbands, a small Pod napping in his mother's arms and a grinning Bilbo. Without thought she flung herself into her cousin's arms who was busily commenting on how much she had grown since he had last seen her. Lori released him from the hug a moment later and turned to kiss the cheeks of her sisters and hug her brothers-in-law, and placed a brief brush of lips to the crown of Pod's curly-haired head without waking him.
Dinner was a loud affair with a continuous flow of conversation going on between everyone, at the same time. Lori had placed herself between Bilbo and Percival, Pod's father and Ethel's witty husband. She had barely been able to squeeze in a word or two. Those who knew Lori would describe her as the sweet but shy sister of outgoing Ethel and quarrelsome Gytha. Her older sisters had never suffered from timidity like Lori. As a child both sisters and mother had encouraged her to show a more sociable side of her, although Rudigar had never complained about his daughter's behaviour.
Among her father's relatives, his mother, Lori's grandmother, was Miriam Took; and the Tooks were known for their adventurous nature. It was no secret that her father turned out the way he did, calm and prudent, just to spite his mother and was mighty proud of his smallest daughter's good sense; Bilbo's own mother was a Took, a distant cousin of Miriam's; Belladonna had married Bungo and out of their union came her cousin. But Bilbo seemed content to keep out of trouble much like Lori did, but then again, perhaps it had more to do with the absence of any such dangers. To be fair, she was also pretty sure her father was glad of it as he already had two daughters glad to get in any sort of mischief and a son dead because of his nature.
Later when it was only her and Bilbo, the two sat outside on a low bench. Her cousin smoked his pipe while she recounted with great amusement one of Pod's misadventures. The poor boy had climbed one of Gertrudie Brandybuck's apple trees and the old woman had caught him. Her admonishments had not been enough to get the child out of the tree, so, using a long stick Gertrudie had jabbed Pod hard and he fell. Nothing had happened to him but he was so scared that tears started streaming down his face. Ethel's son ran all the way home in tears and hid behind his mother's dress refusing to leave the house for two days straight. Bilbo had chuckled at her tale and promised he would get Pod as many apples as the little one wanted.
"Now that I know the latest happenings," Bilbo began, "you have to tell me about yourself. All the night you've spoken about everyone else."
With a soft giggle Lori hit her knee. "There is nothing to tell. I have been minding the house and taking care of Pod whenever Ethel found him too exuberant."
Bilbo seemed to consider her answer. "You know? Your mother invited me here."
"I thought so. You did not mention it in the last letter. But you seem a bit unsure. Mother has been a bit stressed too," Lori commented softly, brushing a stray strand behind her ear. "What are you not telling me?"
"Aunt Belba wants you to be happy," Bilbo told her most seriously, his eyes conducting a strict scrutiny over his younger cousin's face. "She thinks you don't have the right environment here, she said so to me herself."
Hazel eyes opened wide. Lori knew well enough the message behind Bilbo's words. Her mother had, and very often as of late, alluded to her last daughter's current state. As a young hobbit woman it was Lori's most important duty that she settle down with someone to care for her and build a family of her own. Ethel already had a son and Gytha was also with child; Belba feared her youngest daughter was missing out because of her shyness. That was not the case at all though. Lori simply had not met someone that held her attention in such a way as to build a relationship with them. Bilbo was likely unaware of what her mother had meant with her words. Lori feared she was trying to convince her to do her duty through Bilbo. Even more her mother had yet to get over the death of her first born and was perhaps trying to put some distance between Lori and the incident, so her daughter may move on at least. Lori could not say she was unwilling to try.
"Do you know anything of what she has planned?" she asked lightly. "I knew something bothered her."
"A change of scenery," her cousin replied simply. "What I am saying is that you could come with me to my home. I could use the help and the company and you would benefit from it too."
Smiling at his unawareness Lori nodded along. She would be happy to go with him and, who knew, with a little bit of luck she may even find a companion during her stay there. "Has father agreed to this?" Rudigar was especially sweet on her as his youngest child, born later into his marriage.
"Why yes, I believe he has, as long as I promise to take good care of you," Bilbo informed her with a bright smile of his own.
"Are you sure I am not intruding, cousin? I would not want to be a nuisance," the woman said, having to make sure one last time.
"Of course not, my silly little cousin! I would be happy to share my house with you," he responded, laughing. "Who knows when I'll have such an opportunity again? To have such well cooked meals." She dissolved into peals of laughter.
In two day's time Lori found herself with her bags packed and preparing to return with Bilbo to the charming house she remembered having seen as a small child. Ethel and Gytha had given her some advice that made her go beet red, and then covered her with kisses and tears, each hugging her like they might not ever have another chance to do it. Belba had held her daughter close, whispering a flood into her ears about anything that she found important or thought Lori would need to know. Rudigar gave her money, which Lori had been reluctant to take but her father had insisted, and he also sneaked a small knife into her hands. It was something he had from his own father, and said that should she find herself in trouble not to hesitate in using it. The small knife was the only weapon she had ever been taught to use.
The road proved to be a safe one and a relatively short trip as far as Lori was concerned. Hobbits enjoyed walking so she found herself liking the exercise, all the more with Bilbo chatting up to her along the way. It was an easy friendship she had with her older cousin. He had been one of the few she instantly warmed up to in the early years of her life. They discussed little things one might think unimportant yet of very much comfort. Their race was after all concerned with the comfort that could be found in objects. They were also fond of giving and receiving gifts and spreading joy around them.
By the time they reached their destination, Lori was in a considerably better mood than the one she had when leaving her parents' home. Bilbo showed her in and gave her a tour of the house, pride shining in his eyes. And he had what to be proud of. His small house was comfortable and well situated, with a beautiful garden and little benches. The inside was clean and cosy; a perfect dwelling place. Lori was instantly taken with her new lodgings.
A room had been given to her, after which her cousin had helped her unpack. Two sets of hands working on arranging her possessions around finished so much faster. Lori profusely thanked Bilbo. The rest of the day she spent accommodating to the new place. Fairly quick she learned her way around, in that very evening she even helped Bilbo with dinner.
Many months passed in much the same fashion. Lori would help Bilbo around the house just like she did at home and they would go walking together. In that time the girl learned how to prepare his pipe and what her cousin liked or disliked. Bilbo kept his eyes on her the whole time, making sure no danger befell her. By that virtue he unwittingly foiled Belba's plans to get her daughter married. Every suitor was lacking in his eyes and Lori was not any better. The young hobbit could not tell when somebody expressed interest in her even if she wanted to; back home she was forever in her sisters' shadows and had not attracted as much attention, not even when she had changed from girl to woman in body. It was no surprise that she was still lacking any sort of experience.
Despite all that theirs was a content existence. But change had a certain way of snaking up on people; for Bilbo and Lori it came one sunny morning. While she was tending the garden and Bilbo was smoking his pipe when a tall grey man approached them. He was old but his face had a special shine to it. His smile when his eyes landed on Bilbo made Lori curious. She wiped her hands on the drab brown dress and came closer to hear the exchange between the two.
"Good morning," Bilbo greeted, his confusion transparent as crystal to both Lori's and the stranger's eyes.
"What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it to be or not? Or that you feel good this morning or that it is a morning to be good on?" the man asked, obviously enjoying the game.
"All of them at once, I suppose?" her cousin offered as Lori kept watching on, not sure what to make of the situation. "Can I help you?"
"It remains to be seen," the tall stranger answered with a peculiar look in his eyes. "I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure."
"An adventure?" echoed a flabbergasted Bilbo, lowering his pipe. "No, I don't imagine anyone west of Bree, who'd have much interest in adventures." Lori closed her eyes at the reply and mentally chided Bilbo for his disrespect, yet he continued. "Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner."
Her cousin made a show of reading through the mail and Lori took the time to observe the man closer. He too seemed to disapprove of Bilbo's behaviour.
"Good morning," Bilbo dismissively repeated his greeting and turned to leave.
"To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!" came the man's response and Lori had the satisfaction of seeing her cousin turn around unsure.
"Beg your pardon?" Bilbo inquired, a smidge annoyed by the conversation.
"You've changed, and not entirely for the better, Bilbo Baggins." Lori too was now surprised. It seemed that the man knew her cousin.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Bilbo must have been as astonished as her to have asked.
"Would you know my name, although you don't remember I belong to it? I'm Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!"
That seemed to spark a light for both Lori and Bilbo. Lori had heard about Gandalf, the wizard whose fireworks were so magnificent children, and adults too, could hardly wait to see them. Bilbo himself had told her while visiting her one summer.
"You made the fireworks Old Took used to have on Midsummer's Eve?" Lori found herself saying before she could stop the words. Her hands clasped in a loose hold.
"I had no idea you were still in business," Bilbo rudely commented, earning himself a critical stare from Lori and Gandalf.
"And where else should I be?" the wizard retorted not without a trace of irritation. Bilbo could offer no answer. "Well I'm pleased to find you remember something about me even if it's only my fireworks. And who might you be?" he finally addressed Lori who had busied herself with examining his staff.
"I am Lori Bolger, at your service," she introduced herself using the old age formula her mother had drilled into her.
"So that's decided," Gandalf announced. "It will be very good for you." The male hobbit looked at him in perplexity. "And most amusing for me. I shall inform the others."
"Inform the who? What? No, no. No, wait." Bilbo panicked much to Lori's amusement, until her hand was grabbed and her cousin started pulling her along while saying, "We do not want any adventures here, thank you. Not today, not…I suggest you try over the hill or across the water. Good morning," he ended by pushing Lori inside and following her in, shutting the door.
The lock on the door was swiftly closed and Bilbo dared a look outside thinking perhaps he heard something. The face of the wizard appeared before him so he ran away pulling Lori with him. Together they saw him leave. Lori shrugged and sat on a chair.
"You could have accepted the invitation," she risked saying; after all it had been very tempting. "We could have had some fun."
"That's your Took blood speaking. Ignore it!" Bilbo sagely advised, taking a seat too. "There will be no adventures. And no walk today."
A sigh left Lori's lips. "Than I shall go and finish my sewing," she replied sullenly and went to her room, leaving Bilbo behind with his pipe for company.
In the absence of her well loved walks along the country roads Lori consoled herself with a book. She had abandoned any thoughts of sewing as her hands refused to cooperate with her. Something was going to happen; she felt it in her bones, and was both excited and anxious. This fear came as a second-nature to her, just like the eagerness. Hobbits rarely sought thrilling escapades and that was what made her somewhat hesitant. On the other hand, that part of her she had gotten from grandmother Miriam was encouraging this exploit. For the moment, Lori contented herself with a Grum Twofoot novel she had found hidden behind several others of its kind.
Hours later she was disturbed from her activity by insistent knocking on her door. As a sign that she wanted some privacy she had pulled the door closed when entering her room. Having made peace with the situation, Lori rose to her feet and opened to see her cousin standing there with a grin on his face.
"What has you in such high spirits?" she asked, not being able to keep her curiosity at bay. Searching his eyes she could find nothing so waiting was her only option.
With almost childish glee Bilbo took her by the elbow and started explaining lively, "I know you were a bit put out today, perhaps even frightened by that wizard, but I have just the thing to cheer you up."
They came to a halt in the kitchen to be greeted by a laid-out meal. Apparently Bilbo had cooked fish. Good fish. Fresh and mouth-watering. Lori smiled despite herself; it was a nice gesture on his part, trying to placate her. She turned to hug him and rubbed her cheek to his. Bilbo awkwardly returned the hold, letting her do everything else.
"I hope you will be joining me," he said after letting her go.
"I would never let such thoughtful effort, and good food, go to waste," she answered cheekily and pulled a chair out. "Let's eat. It smells delicious."
Flattered by her compliment and the result of his work Bilbo joined Lori at the table. They were just about to start eating when someone ringed the doorbell. It was a heavy sort of pull to make the sound so strong, not at all how a hobbit would usually call, not to mention that the hour was late and visitors were scarce at this time. Something important must have happened. Lori urged Bilbo to get the door and she followed close behind him.
Once opened, they saw a dwarf. He scrutinized both of them in a way that made Lori want to hide behind her cousin, but she kept a firm hold on her shyness and waited for this stranger to speak.
"Dwalin," he presented himself, bowing, "at your service."
Bilbo gaped at him for a moment before remembering himself and tying his dressing robe. "Bilbo Baggins at yours."
"Lori Bolger, at your service," Lori nervously offered, making way for the dwarf to pass as Bilbo inquired whether they knew one another.
Dwalin's response was negative. His eyes travelled to the other hobbit. "Which way little lass? Is it down here?" He handed Bilbo his overcoat.
"Is what down where?" her cousin returned with a question of his own not giving Lori time to state her bewilderment.
"Supper. He said there'd be food. Lots of it," came the answer. Dwalin went to the table ignoring Bilbo's other questions. He sat down and started wolfing the food. Lori could only watch as Bilbo handed the garment to her and she was left to hang it.
They were soon joined by Balin, an old dwarf that reminded Lori of her grandfather on her mother's side who had died shortly before Pod was born. This dwarf had seemed friendlier than Dwalin but no less unreserved. Both strangers had started exploring the pantry throwing food left and right and helping themselves to Bilbo's wine. Lori stood helplessly in the hallway watching Bilbo walk after them and trying to make something out of this situation. The two seemed not to hear him.
The door bell rand again and Bilbo turned with an exasperated look on his face. Lori, who was closer, pulled it open. Two dwarves as different as day and night stood proudly in front of her. She eyed them with interest as the blond started speaking.
"Fili," he said followed by the dark haired one, "and Kili," the both together bowing, "at your service." Bilbo had come next to her and the second one addressed him directly, "You must be mister Boggins."
Briefly Bilbo tried stopping them from getting in; Lori had taken herself farther inside as she watched the two make their way in to her cousin's great grief. They were the youngest she'd yet seen. Kili did not even have a beard in the true sense of the word. She hid a smile as they shoved Bilbo around and started rearranging the house.
The house was thrown in chaos as yet another wave of visitors passed the door, Gandalf included. Bilbo had lost his temper and Lori was trying to not stay in anybody's way. Her cousin had all but forgotten her as he saw his supplies were being thrown around and divided between the dwarves.
In the general disorder Lori noticed Gandalf in the middle of the hallway and went to his side, watching intently as he recited a list, which was most probably a count of all their guests. "Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori." He looked around, not yet noticing Lori. "We appear to be one dwarf short."
Dwalin offered an explanation Lori could hardly catch over the noise. Bilbo was beside himself, hands to his head in agonized incredulity. Rising one eyebrow, Lori made her way through the crush and entered the kitchen where a few dwarves were chopping food. She helped them bring it to the hall where they had set the table and then patted Bilbo's shoulder in silent understanding.
Food and dishes flew in the air as Bilbo tried to regain control of his own home. These dwarves were a merry bunch to be sure, if a bit bouncy. They made a fine joke out of Bilbo's precious objects which Lori found herself liking against her better judgement. Her cousin's home was alive, animated as she had never seen it before. As she'd never thought she'd see it. Not in her wildest dreams. Gandalf observed everything with a smile on his face. Lori watched them neatly pile the dish-bowls and plates, having also cleaned them along with the forks and knifes. Everybody laughed good-naturedly; all but Bilbo who looked about ready to lay waste to all of them, Lori not included.
Silence fell over them when a strong string of knocks sounded from the hall. Every dwarf lowered his cup and they all looked towards the source of the sound. Gandalf put his pipe down and regarded each and every soul in the room. With utmost calm, his voice delivered the following, "He's here." As if that made any sense for Bilbo, who had gone completely white, or for Lori, whose face scrunched in perplexity.
Gandalf made his way to the door, Bilbo walking in his wake and kept Lori behind him in case of any danger. The wizard opened the door to reveal someone who mystified Lori completely. He was a dwarf, for sure, but his height was uncommonly tall and his dark eyes sparked of danger like none Lori had ever seen when they settled on Gandalf. Lori craned her neck to a better position and took in the details presented to her. Besides his unusual stature and those orbs that fascinated her, the newcomer had a hair darker than the night sky and the specific long dwarvish beard.
His first word, "Gandalf," was a greeting spoken in a thick voice that travelled along Lori's spine making her shiver. The reaction was strange to her, yet even her heart had started beating wildly against her chest at the sight of him, at the sound of his voice.
He entered, keeping his eyes to Gandalf as he continued, "I thought you said this place would be easy to find. I lost my way, twice. I wouldn't have found it at all, had it not been for that mark on the door."
While Bilbo concerned himself with the door, Thorin gazed at the party waiting for him in this unknown place. The owner was nothing impressive and he almost wondered if Gandalf had not been mistaken. Turning his stare he finally saw an abandoned Lori who blinked rapidly as if trying to understand something. She was a hobbit by looks, short and lean, all concave shapes and a dainty figure. Eyes of hazel conducted a solemn inspection on him and he returned the favour with the steel in his eyes. She was a soft creature, this woman with walnut tresses that fell on her shoulder in a cascade. Mesmerizing in her femininity and charming in her apparent naivety.
Her hands were clasped together onto the material of her dress. It was supposed to be a modest outfit, a shade of brown that did not attract attention just as the seemingly unremarkable woman who wore it. But beneath, there was a soul that shined brighter than the sun. Those unable to see it could have just as well been blind their whole lives. She drew attention through her simplicity and the sweetness that lurked underneath the surface.
"Bilbo Baggins, Lori, allow me to introduce the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshieldm" Gandalf said to Lori's surprise.
Thorin, as his name was give, regarded her cousin. "So this is the hobbit. Tell me mister Baggins have you done much fighting?"
Lori felt Bilbo's unease as if it were her own. This dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield, was more than intimidating. There was a definite purpose to all his moves, he had motivation etched in his steps and suffused in his voice. His eyes locked on her again and she couldn't help the colour that rose to her face. Something in his stare called to her; his whole being called to her on such an intimate basis she had thought that she had been perhaps imagining it. In her mind, Bilbo's answer to the questions he was being asked barely registered. Lori knew only the storm within her.
She was gone, lost to the fire that surged through her veins. She had been gone ever since their eyes made contact. For one split-second she remembered her sisters' scandalous advice and ducked her head to hide her face.
A/N: This is my first fan-fiction in the 'Hobbit' verse, although I have written for the LoTR section before. Obviously I am using the film as reference, although later on I may make use of the book as well. I wanted to write something; it's been on the tip of my tongue for far too long and I just couldn't help it. I hope to get some feedback. Any similarity to other stories is not intentional and I will ask you to excuse me for it.
On to more important things, some of the characters used are not mine, so I this is my disclaimer. Any recognizable characters are not my own, nor do I own the dialogue used in the movie's script. And I am, most definitely, not making money out of this. The purpose of this story has value only for entertainment.
However, Lori Bolger is mine, so are her brother and sisters and her small nephew Pod. If you requite more information about Bilbo's family tree I recommend Wikipedia as it does a wonderful job at explaining it.