Bofur was not born of the Mountain.

His father was from Ireland, and met his mother at a dance in Dublin when she was visiting a friend, and followed her back to Scotland like a wee lost puppy, she always said fondly. They traveled a lot, looking for work that would suit a simple man and his little family, and Bofur became an older brother on the road. He loved it - the traveling, meeting new people, splashing his feet in a different burn every few days. But it was no life for children, his mother insisted. When her sister's husband found steady work at a lead mine in the hills above Loch Lomond, they packed their few possessions and moved to Beinn Chuirn, and never looked back.

It was a nice way to grow up, there, free and easy on the mountain. He had a cousin near enough his own age to play with, and little Bombur to look after - though Mama never did understand why they couldn't call him by his given name. The older children had no quarrel with them, and they roamed free and grew tall and strong in the sun. Bofur started working in the mine as soon as he was able, since his father's back was giving out, and he liked it. It was simple, honest work, and Bofur was a simple honest man. He liked his beer, and his easy conversations with Bifur, and the steady pay and reliable nature of his job.

His parents moved away, back to Ireland, when his father grew too old and sore to work, and Bofur took his place. It was his money that paid Bombur's fees and kept him in decent clothing as he went to Uni, and then supported him as he took unpaid positions in government offices, working his way up the ladder. Bofur was proud of his brother, and he never missed the money. There was nothing more he wanted.

So when Smaug came, and their homes burned, Bofur lost less than most. There were no valuables in the little wooden home that burned, no family members dead or torn away in the smoke - nothing but his name was tarnished, and he'd never had much pride to begin with. He comforted his friends, mourning with them, and had settled into their odd, disjointed life of moving about with hardly a stutter. It was a dance he'd learned long ago, and some wild part of his heart had missed it.

But days stretched into weeks and months and years, and the steps of the dance grew tiring. He watched Bombur rise with such great pride - but knew that every step he took up the ladder was one more step away from the family they once had been. He clung to Bifur in his brother's absence, and kept what memories he could, pressing them into a cheap notebook, as if to prove to himself that they had existed as more than wraiths once.

It was joy to all of them when Dis had a child - golden, brilliant Fili, and Bofur fell in love with the little one at once. He was not his son, or his nephew, but that hardly mattered then. They were becoming something more than friends, those of them who had stayed together. He took odd jobs wherever he could, bringing in money to make ends meet, to be sure that little Fili had the best they could give him. Dis laughed quietly when Bofur sang to the baby, though he never asked whether that was because of the quality of his voice or the content of his songs. He sang what he remembered of his father's songs, lyrics mangled by the years, and Fili had no complaints.

They had to move more often, though, and his already-tenuous connections to his brother dropped one by one. He loved his brother fiercely, and worried about him. Every article he clipped from a paper showed his brother a bit older and heavier, and he pressed them into his book with a heavy heart. He loved his brother, but he could not help.

Fili became an older brother on the road, and they all delighted in their newcomer - because their numbers were dwindling all the time, their group growing smaller and leaner with every year. The youngsters whose names had not been ruined found jobs or went away to school, and they did not return. When Noreen left, it was sudden and unexpected, but she was far from the only one to abandon a spouse, looking for a safer life. Bofur wished her the very best, but his sympathies remained with Dori, who was crushed by the loss.

In that first decade, sentiment outweighed prudence much of the time. They knew that they should not go back to Beinn Chuirn, but it called them back again and again. They learned to jump fences and evade police barriers, desperate to see their home once more, even though they could not touch, could not return, could not claim their lives again. Thorin burned with silent rage, and they smoldered with him, and he led them through the dragon's teeth over and over again, though they had nothing to show for it.

So when they were finally caught, it should have been no surprise - but it was, because Bofur never expected such viciousness from the men who wore the uniforms of civil authority. None of them escaped without injury that day - but none were as injured as Bifur. His head bled and bled, until they thought it would never stop, and Bofur's fingers were stained crimson as he struggled to stop the bleeding. He was not a doctor - but he'd seen a man bleed to death in the mines before, caught in the neck by a careless axe and gone before anyone could save him.

"Stay with me," Bofur crooned, a meaningless song when his words died out. "Fight with me, come home again with me."

Bifur made it through that night, head stitched closed with thread and needle and awkward, fumbling fingers. Bofur prayed to a God his mother once knew, and his words were just as awkward and fumbling and desperate as his pathetic attempts at medical care. He lost the next few weeks in a haze of near-panic at every moment, as Bifur drifted in and out of consciousness, his body racked by seizures and fevers, and when his eyes opened, Bofur's cousin was not there. It was weeks before he could look after himself at all, and Bofur moved them into a quiet little hole in a wall and fought for Bifur's life. Eventually the wound closed, in a hideous knotted scar that would mark their foolish mistake forever, and Bofur did not have to put anything in his book to remember that day.

Things grew harder after that, one loss piling on another until it was hard to stand. Their friendships with those who had found lives outside the little group, outside their quest, stretched thin and faded away, and Bofur hardly knew his brother when he saw him on the television. But he would not drag his little brother into this life - not when Bombur was shining so brightly, standing free and strong like they had on the mountain in their youth.

Dis died, and her children were orphans, and Thorin was left rudderless and full of fury. Bofur packed up the few things they had, and took Bifur with him, and they moved to Thorin's side and stayed from then on. He helped with the children wherever possible, but Bifur needed such care that it was difficult. He stood and walked on his own, now, and fed himself and bathed himself - but his words were lost somewhere on Beinn Chuirn, and he grew so angry when he couldn't make himself understood that Bofur often sported a black eye or a split lip. But he smiled nonetheless, and made a joke of it for the children, who watched him with such old eyes.

When the lads were stolen away from them, Bofur thought it was the end. There was no way past that loss - not for Thorin, not for the rest of them. Getting them back again was a miracle he had not dared ask for, and he needed to offer thanks, somehow.

He hung back from the rest when Thorin snatched Kili up and made off into the night, and he smiled gratefully at the woman who had been caring for him.

"Thank you," he murmured sincerely, taking off his hat and clutching it to his chest. "You have no idea what he means to us."

She shook her head, smiling ruefully. The kindness in her eyes made her lovely. "I can tell - the way you look at him says enough."

He fumbled in his pocket for the small amount of money he had, and thrust it out toward her, conscious of what a little offering it was, and she laughed, pushing his hand away.

"Please," Bofur said quietly. "I need to thank you somehow."

She reached inside her door, grabbing a pen and a bit of paper, and scribbled down her address. "This is me. Let me know how Kili is doing - and his Fili, of course! Send me pictures once in a while. That would be the loveliest thanks you could offer."

Bofur clutched the paper tight in one hand, glancing down at the words. "Gracie. Thank you." He clapped his hat onto his head, bending down to kiss her hand with a flourish, and then ran to follow his friends, even as police lights began to flash blue, the consequences of their actions hot on their trail again.

He kept her address, and began writing to her regularly. Nothing to identify them, of course; he dropped letters in towns far from where they were staying, laying false trails if anyone had cared enough to watch the post. In them, he told the woman he had met for such a short time about the lads and how they were getting on - how Kili was talking in sudden full sentences, and that they wouldn't let go of one another for anything, and that Kili had taken to biting strangers who tried to touch him, and that Fili had learned to read in two weeks flat. Bofur sent pictures when he could, enclosing them carefully in the letters into the void even as he slipped identical copies into his book. It was growing thick with memories.

They weren't all good. He took clippings of police reports and news articles, too, for every car they stole, or window they broke, or fraud they had to perpetrate to keep food on the table. It was shame and pride and achievement, all at once, and he didn't think they deserved to forget any of it.

But Bifur grew healthier, slowly and painfully, and Bofur began to see glimpses of his cousin in the eyes of the man he had become. Fili and Kili, in their youthful enthusiasm and lack of regard for the proper way of doing things, invented a sign language that shaped his lost words into basic ideas, and Bifur could speak again, in a way. He wrote to Gracie of their cleverness, knowing full well he had no right to brag about them. He wasn't even family.

The years passed, quickly and slowly by turns. Thorin's hair began to show hints of grey, and Balin swore it was the lads' madcap adventures that finally turned every hair on his head and in his beard a pure white. Bofur watched his cousin grow old before his time, aged and slowed down by his injury - but his hands were still as sure and clever as they had ever been. Fili and Kili ran like holy terrors, keeping the rest of them spinning: keeping the rest of them smiling, and moving, and alive.

It was Bofur who went with Thorin to London the day Dori called in a panic, saying the lads had slipped away from Ori in Trafalgar Square while he was distracted by a historical marker. It took them six hours to make the trip, with Thorin in something like a dead panic himself, and Bofur swore silently he would never take a road trip with the man if he had a choice in the matter.

Eight and ten, the lads were, and Thorin roared at them half the way back to Edinburgh that they were old enough to know better; then he fell silent in such a way that Bofur was fairly certain meant he was fighting off tears. When they stopped to fuel the car, not far from York, Bofur took a look at the desolate expressions on their little faces and climbed into the back with them, letting one boy lean against each of his sides while his arms went around them. Fili had slipped his parka onto Kili's skinny shoulders at some point, and he was shaking a little with cold. Bombur pulled his hat off and dropped it on Fili's golden head, pulling the earflaps down securely over the sides of his head, until he could hardly make out that a little boy was under the fur at all.

Thorin huffed a little as he got back into the little mint-green car, shaking his head at the three of them. "Will you give the man no peace? There are those who might not want to be your personal headrests, you know." But there was humour in his tone now, and Bofur felt both of the boys relax against him. Kili gave his uncle a cheeky grin, his eyes bright with irrepressible enthusiasm.

"Bofur does!" he said cheerfully, and Thorin chuckled reluctantly. It was hard not to react that way to Kili.

"And how do you know that?"

"'Cause he's family," Kili said logically. "And family means we lean on each other. Bifur told me so."

Bofur felt his breath catch in his throat, and there was a sudden sensation in his stomach like being kicked by a mule. On his other side, Fili was nodding in sleepy agreement. He caught Thorin's eyes in the rearview mirror, and the understanding and compassion there nearly brought him to tears.

He had never thought of himself as family. Friend, yes, and compatriot, and fellow exile - but family meant Thorin and the children, and Balin and Dwalin in their way, and everyone else was sort of attached in different places, clinging together for survival. He'd never been family. But Kili said he was, and that was that. He blinked hard against the mistiness rising in his eyes, and looked away from Thorin's sharp gaze.

"Aye, lad," Thorin said after a moment. "You're right there."

And that was how Bofur, once a wanderer, once an older brother and a cousin, found himself a part of the family that became known as the Sons of Durin. From that point on, there was no denying that they were family, despite their lack of blood ties.

It's twenty years, or a little more, before they have their mountain again. The family wind themselves into every part of one another's lives, until there is hardly any memory of the times when they were alone or apart, and Bofur does think that at one point in his life, he'd have found it suffocating. Now, it's what keeps him standing on the bad days, and he keeps his family upright in return. He writes to Gracie once a month, every month, for thirteen years, and he keeps his book up to date, until it serves as evidence for and against them in their trials. It doesn't get returned to him when they go to prison, but it doesn't matter so much any more.

When he is in prison, something strange begins to happen. Letters come for him - loads of them, in batches of two and three and ten. The envelopes are small and neat, addressed to "Kili's Bofur," and with a date neatly printed across the seal of each. He doesn't open any for a long while, almost afraid, but he puts them in order and counts them. One hundred and fifty six. Bifur shares his cell, and looks at the letters crookedly, rolling his eyes at Bofur's hesitation, but he doesn't push the issue.

He reads them one day, just after Fili and Kili and Bilbo have been round for their weekly visit. He starts with the first letter, dated back to the month when the lads had been taken away.

Gracie had answered all of his letters. All of them, every month, just as though they were talking back and forth. She commented on his stories about the family, and cooed over the pictures of the lads, and asked questions of her own, all the time laughing at herself.

"Of course, you're not likely to ever read these, but I'd rather pretend we were talking than that I am writing to myself."

She had told him stories over those thirteen years - stories of the children who had come and gone from her life, of her own family and their joys and sorrows, and of her hopes for Bofur and his family in their struggles. By the time he reaches the end of the stack, Bofur's eyes are wet, and he clutches the stack of paper with clumsy fingers. All along, there had been someone else watching them, and hoping he would be alright. He keeps every letter, treasuring them up and rereading them, and thinking they are more than a fair substitute for his lost book, and Bifur signs that he is a soppy idiot who will come to a soppy end, and Bofur threatens to knock Fili and Kili's heads together for even inventing the sign language in the first place.

It's strange, but prison is one of the more social times of Bofur's life. Bombur comes round every week, making time in his busy schedule to sit down with his brother, and they talk properly for the first time in years - in decades, perhaps. It isn't perfect. There are too many years of absence and silence on both sides, but there is hope, and healing to come. He watches Fili and Kili blossom under Bilbo's careful eye, becoming more adept at everyday things and starting to integrate themselves into the world, and his heart aches with joy.

It takes him more than a month to get his courage up - and it is the first month he has missed in thirteen years, and Bofur actually feels very badly about it. He doesn't know what to say, for the first time in all that long while. His letter, when he writes it, is a disastrous mess, but he sends it anyway. At least it is honest.

The next week, he is writing again when a guard comes by to tell him there is a visitor for him, and Bofur is confused, because Bombur has already been by that week, and Bilbo and the lads aren't due until Thursday. He goes along anyway, sitting comfortably in the chair that's become so familiar to him in the visitor's centre. The door opens, and he almost falls out of his seat.

He had met her once before, for five minutes in the middle of a chaotic night, and thirteen long years have passed since then, and he knows her face nonetheless. It's lined with care now, and her hair is more grey than brown, and he thinks she is as lovely as her words and as her heart, and he's more than half certain he's been in love with her for his whole life, only he hasn't known it. There are words that people use - about soulmates and destiny and whatnot, and Bofur doesn't care for any of them. She's the one, and that is that.

And she is in a prison in Edinburgh, looking torn between nervousness and joy to see him.

He's a mess, and he knows it - dressed in prison garb, his beard and hair cut strangely short to meet regulations - but he smiles his widest, and she grins back at him easily, like ink flowing from a pen, and sits down across from him.

"So, how's Kili's job?" Gracie asks eagerly, laying her hands on the table in front of her. "Tell me this Beorn is going to be able to keep him in line!"

"You - I-" Bofur stumbles over the words, his heart beating erratically. "You want to start there? We haven't even said hello!"

She laughs, bright and sweet, and he feels something break free in his heart that he had not known was bound up before. "Bofur, we've said hello more than a hundred and fifty times, and they tell me I can only visit for an hour today. I'm not wasting time."

Gracie will come back - not every week, of course, but often enough to make Bofur slightly dizzy - and they will talk like old friends, and more, and he will ask her to come to the mountain when they are free.

And one day, when the sun is bright on Beinn Chuirn, shining on their heads and sweeping away the last memories of the dark times, Gracie will come to his mountain and meet his family again, and Bofur will meet her there in the sun, and follow her like a lost puppy as she wanders the mountain. The last wild part of his heart will settle in with a sigh of contentment, and Bofur will truly be home.

I've been sitting on this one for a while, trying to get it right, and I'm finally happy with it. I hope you've enjoyed it, too! Bofur is very dear to my heart, and I just want him to be happy and whole and loved - as I do all of them, of course!

In other news, I'm going to be starting a new project very soon, one that will be an ongoing affair, so I may end up doing every-other-day updates, alternating between this and that. I still have quite a few stories I want to tell in this 'verse, though, so I'm not abandoning it!

As ever, my humble and sincere thanks for all of your incredible support, my darlings!