Bilbo fussed with his hair. He knew he was doing it, and he knew it was irrational and more than a bit silly, but it didn't stop him. He pulled at a stray curl, trying to tug it into some semblance of neatness, and then gave up. People could think whatever they wanted of him.
He sighed and turned away from the mirror, going to tidy some of the toys that were currently spread out across every inch of the floor. Frodo had only been with them for two weeks, but it seemed that eight-year-old boys had need of a great many more toys these days than Bilbo remembered having in his youth. Fíli and Kíli were spoiling him dreadfully, Bilbo thought sternly as he picked up the six comic books, three stuffed bears, and eleven little cars that he had bought for the lad in the past few days. Of course, when you were an orphan, you were entitled to a bit of spoiling, he decided.
Frodo was home from school before he had half finished the job, and thumped his way quickly up the stairs, dragging his bag behind him so that it bumped on every stair. Bilbo smiled at the sound, already turning to greet the boy.
He was a tiny child, all dark curls and huge blue eyes, and he had an unnerving tendency to look like he was staring straight through you. Bilbo could vaguely remember meeting his little cousin a time or two during family gatherings, but he hadn't been close to Drogo or Primula, and the whole Brandybuck connection had scared him off a bit. It had come as quite a surprise when a well-meaning social worker had rung to ask him whether he had any interest in taking in the son. Of course, she was only trying to be thorough, and clearly didn't expect a middle-aged bachelor who'd recently been the subject of intense media scrutiny to take on a traumatised, frightened eight-year-old - but Bilbo thought about Fíli and Kíli, growing up in the middle of their mad, wonderful family, and hadn't hesitated.
"Of course," he'd told her quickly. "He should be with family."
They'd had to inspect everything, of course, and he'd filled out a mountain of paperwork - but Frodo had moved in a fortnight earlier, and legal proceedings for Bilbo to formally adopt him were in motion.
Which led, of course, to the reason that Bilbo was arranging his hair in front of a mirror and trying not to dissolve into a complete pile of unwound nerves. He smiled and beckoned Frodo over, sitting down on the couch with the boy at his side. For not having known him long, Frodo was a very trusting lad, and he climbed easily up next to Bilbo, smiling up at him cheerfully.
"How was your day, my lad?" Bilbo asked, reaching out to rifle through Frodo's bag in search of any notes meant for him. "Settling in well at school, I hope?"
"Mostly," Frodo said with a shrug. "Sam Gamgee ate lunch with me today, even though he says his granny says he's not to talk to me because you're strange."
Bilbo chuckled at that. "I may just be, at that! Does it bother you?"
Frodo shook his head. "No! It means you have interesting stories to tell about your adventures!" His eyes went even wider as he leaned close to whisper in Bilbo's ear. "And I haven't told about Fíli and Kíli living here, like you said."
"Good lad," Bilbo said, ruffling his hair approvingly. There would be plenty of time for Frodo to learn who ought to know that two members of the ex-criminal association known as the Sons of Durin lived with him - but he'd thought that allowing the poor boy a few weeks of peace from the inevitable questioning at school would be a kindness. He'd worried a bit in the first few days about speaking so openly of his adventures, but Frodo was so eager to hear them that he hadn't had the heart to stop. "Speaking of my adventures, Frodo, what do you think of going on one of your own?"
His eyes were round and frightfully excited. "Yes, please, Uncle Bill! Can we go to the mountain and see where you had your battle?"
"Not tonight, I'm afraid," Bilbo sad regretfully. "I think we need to start a little closer to home, first. I'd like to take you to meet them all - the Sons of Durin."
His mouth dropped open. "Really? Thorin and Dwalin and Balin and everyone! Just like in your stories?"
"Yes!" Bilbo was pleased that he seemed so excited. "We're waiting for Fíli and Kíli to get home, and then I thought we'd go straight out to visit. You don't mind going to a prison, do you?"
"No," Frodo said thoughtfully. "Not so long as I don't have to be locked up. Is it the same prison that you rescued them from? Can we do it again?"
"We could swoop in like eagles and steal them all out from under their noses!" Fíli said, having successfully crept up behind them. He grabbed Frodo from behind, swinging him up onto his shoulders, and Frodo giggled. "We'd be out of town before they even knew we were gone!"
Bilbo pointed at him threateningly. "You'd better be joking, Fíli Oakenshield. Don't think I won't put you to work scrubbing toilets if I catch a hint of that sort of behaviour from you!"
"But we were born to it, Uncle Bill!" Kíli protested, bumping shoulders with his brother and reaching up to tickle Frodo until his feet kicked wildly. "We're incorrigible! Beorn says so every day!"
"Be that as it may," Bilbo said dryly, "if I find so much as a lockpick on either of you, or catch you hacking one official database, you'll both be grounded until you're old enough to know better." He shook his head at the pair of them, stifling a smile as hard as he could. It didn't do to encourage them.
"Fine," Fíli allowed with a sigh, and he lowered Frodo gently to the ground. "Are we going tonight?"
"Yes, just as soon as you can be ready," Bilbo promised. It didn't take long for all three of the boys to clean up and change into suitable clothing, and then they were walking to the train station together, preparing for the trip that was becoming so familiar that Bilbo could make it in his sleep. He'd been to Edinburgh more times in the past three months than in his whole life before that - first, attending the trials, and then slipping into a comfortable routine of weekly visits. It wasn't the same as having all of them together, but at least this way he knew that they were all alive from moment to moment.
They found seats close together on the train, and Fíli and Kíli fell into a quiet discussion that Bilbo was going to choose to believe was entirely law-abiding in nature and content. Frodo sat next to Bilbo, inching a bit closer as a tea trolley went by, and then stayed there, tucked close to his side. It was a strange thing, to have such a little person so dependent on him - but Bilbo didn't find it entirely unpleasant. He let his arm fall around Frodo's shoulders as the view outside blurred into motion.
"Uncle Bill?" Frodo asked, now sounding a little nervous. "Will they like me?"
"Who, the Sons of Durin? Of course they will! What's not to like?" Bilbo squeezed Frodo's shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting fashion, but Frodo stared down at his shoes.
"You said they only like their family."
"I said they only do immensely stupid things for their family," Bilbo corrected. "Besides. You're my family, and I'm part of theirs now, so that makes you family!"
The lads turned around from where they were sitting, just in front of Bilbo, and grinned over the seat at Frodo. "That's right," Fíli said, nodding. "So you'd best call them all Uncle. It'll help them adjust."
"And as soon as they're free again, they'll spoil you something awful!" Kíli added, with a look of experience. "Very keen on seeing that children have a proper childhood, as far as they can."
Frodo nodded seriously, but he still sat close and allowed Bilbo to keep his arm around his shoulders. The trip was monotonous, but Frodo's questions about everything they saw were enough to keep it lively. He'd been raised on Skye until coming to live with Bilbo, and the sight of a city as large and grand as Edinburgh was more than a little overwhelming. Fíli and Kíli caught hold of his hands as they walked, occasionally lifting him up to swing merrily between them as they walked.
Bilbo was glad that he'd called ahead to be sure that young visitors were allowed, because the security staff were extra kind and courteous to their little guest, and he was more than half sure that Thranduil was to be thanked for that kindness. He himself was not exactly trusted in the prison, given his earlier escapades there, and Thranduil had mandated that a guard stay with him at all times. It was still better than no contact with the family, though.
They let Bilbo and the lads into the visiting lounge first, and Bilbo was pleased to see that no other guests were there. If they could have the room to themselves, the visits were always a great deal more fun. Kíli was nearly hopping from foot to foot with excitement, and Fíli watched him, amused.
They came into the room in a rush - following Thorin, of course, which only seemed right. Dwalin and Balin and Bifur and Bofur and Dori and Nori and Ori and Oin, all at once, in a quiet line that burst into joyous noise as soon as they caught sight of their visitors. Bilbo knew that Gandalf had been forced to go to great lengths to get such group visits approved - but he couldn't imagine it any other way. As soon as the door closed and they were permitted to move around, Fíli and Kíli threw themselves into the group, welcomed with open arms and impatient hands. It was hard for them to be apart from their family, Bilbo knew, and it did him great good to see them all happy together, even in such short fragments of time.
"Bilbo!" A roar came up from the group, and they were gesturing for him to join them, too.
Frodo had vanished suddenly, and Bilbo looked for him - only to find that the little boy had disappeared behind his back, clinging nervously to the back of his parka. He waved his hands in the air, trying to get them to be quiet. It took a long while, and eventually Fíli and Kíli had to help hush them and encourage everyone to sit, although they refused to let Thorin get more than a foot away from them. Bilbo cleared his throat, suddenly nervous.
He hadn't told any of them yet. He could have sent a letter, or let Fíli and Kíli tell the rest when they'd gone to visit the previous week, but he hadn't. It wasn't that he was ashamed of Frodo, or of the family, of course - but taking Frodo to live with him permanently was a huge step, and he hadn't been ready to share just yet. Now, they were looking at him curiously.
"It's good to see you all," he said warmly, offering them a genuine smile - and it was, despite the circumstances. "Look, I've got something to share with all of you. My cousin Drogo and his wife passed away a few weeks ago, and they've left me something of an inheritance."
"Oh, and the reward for helping to bring down Smaug wasn't enough for you?" Bofur teased, smiling gently. "Seems we've awoken your taste for treasure, lad!"
"Not that kind of treasure!" Bilbo objected. He turned around, taking Frodo's hand, and smiled at him encouragingly before stepping to the side enough to let them all get a glimpse at the boy. "This is my cousin, Frodo Baggins. He's come to live with me."
Thorin's mouth dropped open a bit, and the rest looked stunned - and a little amused, which grew quickly as Frodo pressed himself to Bilbo's leg, staring at them all with wide eyes.
"He's bloody brilliant," Kíli told them all, beaming as proudly as if he'd been Frodo's older brother. "We're adopting him."
"Technically, Uncle Bill is adopting him," Fíli corrected, stretching out lethargically, and letting his head drop against Thorin's shoulder. "But it's all the same to us, of course."
They were all looking to Thorin for their cue, of course, and Bilbo swallowed hard, hoping that he wouldn't have some unexpected problem with the boy. Frodo was growing braver, putting his head out to stare at all of them, and Thorin stood up slowly, moving forward to meet them. He got down on one knee when he got close, and Bilbo felt a rush of gratitude.
"Are you Thorin?" Frodo asked shyly - perhaps spurred by Fíli and Kíli, who were giving him enthusiastic waves of encouragement and mouthing 'this is Thorin!' at him.
Thorin nodded gravely, eyes soft and amused. "I am. It's an honour to meet you, Frodo." He put out a hand to shake Frodo's, which was dwarfed in his. Frodo looked down at their joined hands, confidence growing, and looked back up to Thorin.
"Uncle Bill told me about you," he said confidentially. "He didn't say, but I think you must be a superhero. Are you really?"
"Would a superhero give away his secret so easily?" Thorin murmured, giving a little wink. Frodo's eyes went wider, and he looked up at Bilbo in wild excitement. With that, the ice was broken, and the gathering swung into life.
Bofur glued himself to Frodo's side, and within ten minutes Frodo was riding on his shoulders, imperiously directing his steed where to take him as he made his way around the room, meeting everyone. The older members of the group grilled Fíli and Kíli on how they were doing, and about their progress in their respective jobs. Bilbo had to let them all grab his shoulders and tell him what a fantastic job he was doing with all the boys, even though he would much rather simply disappear into the ground. Being isolated made the Sons of Durin much more ready to express themselves honestly when they were together, Bilbo though somewhat wearily.
It wouldn't have been a proper gathering without everyone, of course, and a further cheer of excitement went up when Bombur and Gloin came in, apologising for being late. And it wouldn't have been much of a meeting of the Sons of Durin if there hadn't been a sudden outbreak of song, and another of threatened violence - though Bilbo was amused when it turned out that the almost-fight had been over who would get to buy Frodo a leather jacket when they got out, so that he would fit in with the rest of them.
They only had an hour, and it passed far too quickly for Bilbo's liking. There were so many of them there that he only was able to snatch a few moment with each, and he could barely exchange a word with Thorin when both of his nephews insisted on sticking with him so closely. He doted on them, though, and it was so good to see it expressed openly that Bilbo watched from a slight distance, a wistful smile on his face. He only hoped that he could be half the parent to Frodo that Thorin had been to Fíli and Kíli.
They left in a roar of farewells, promising to be back in a week, and Fíli slung an arm around Kíli's shoulders as they walked away. It was always hard leaving them behind, and Kíli took it worse than the rest. Bilbo knew he would sulk for the next day or two, and then Fíli would coax him back to his normal, cheerful self. Frodo's little hand slipped into his, and Bilbo squeezed it gently.
The city was brightly lit as they made their way back to the train station in the dark, and Bilbo let out a slow breath as he looked around. It was a beautiful sight at night - and one that Bilbo had never really experienced before his association with the Sons of Durin. It was just one more gift they'd given him, all unawares.
"So what do you think?" he asked Frodo gently, smiling down at the little boy. "I told you they were mad!"
"Mad, and lovely!" Frodo answered, swinging their clasped hands back and forth. "There are so many of them!"
"I know it!" Bilbo had to shake his head a bit, since that was so close to his reaction to them in the beginning. "I'm sorry to spring them on you all at once. I know they can be a bit much."
"No!" Frodo looked up at him, face glowing in astounded wonder. "It's amazing, Uncle Bill!" He tugged on Bilbo's hand, and Bilbo sank down on a bench, pulling Frodo into his lap gently. "Before I came to live with you, I thought I was going to be alone." He gave an unconscious little shiver, and Bilbo rubbed a hand up and down his back. "But Fíli and Kíli said I was family. So now I have such a big family!"
"Yes, you do," Bilbo agreed, smiling down at him, amazing by how much of Frodo's emotional revelation was familiar territory to him. "You may spend the rest of your life trying to keep them all out of trouble, but they'll be there for you, too."
"I won't," Frodo started, and gave a nervous little cough. "I won't have to be alone? Even if something happens to you?"
The subject of loss was one that he hadn't touched on too much with Frodo, nervous to take the first step into a dangerously raw subject for the lad – but it was clear that it was preying on his mind. Bilbo didn't know what the future would hold for them, or where the Sons of Durin would go once they were free - but it almost didn't matter. He knew what family meant to them, and how hard they would fight for Frodo. His heart felt too full, and he smiled a little tremulously, knowing that every bit of that truth applied to himself as well. He nodded, cupping Frodo's soft cheek gently with one hand.
"Never. I promise you that."
Fíli and Kíli wandered back, having finally noticed that they'd lost their followers, and Frodo slid off Bilbo's lap, offering him a quick backwards grin. They took his hands, swinging him high, and Frodo let out a real, clear laugh. Bilbo knew he was still processing his parents' deaths in his own way, and that he had a long way still to go - but tonight, he was part of the most notorious family in Scotland, and he was laughing, and he knew he was not alone. Bilbo didn't think either of them could ask for much more.
Hi you guys! Sorry, I know I haven't given you enough time to begin to miss me, but I'm back. I've got too many ideas beating at my brain to leave off writing.
Since it's been so good for me, I'm going to try to keep up with the daily posting thing! I've got about thirty prompts I'm looking at right now for this, but further ideas are always welcome! Thank you all so much for reading!