If ratings matter to you, read this:

I chose to rate this 'T', even though it has:
1. frequent F-bombs
2. graphic, gun-related violence
3. references to dark things (if it goes beyond this story's usual M.O., I will warn you).

I chose 'T' over 'M' for this story even though it would most certainly have an 'R' rating if it were ever a movie. This is because this story will NOT have:
1. graphic sex scenes/sexual violence
2. stronger language than 'fuck'.
I feel that 'M' on this site means lots of sex, detailed accounts of abuse/violence, etc. And that's not what this story is at all. However, the characters swear quite a bit and the plot most certainly has an edge.

Let me know if anything makes you feel like the rating 'T' is inappropriate.

That's all! Enjoy!

It was a dark and stormy night.

Really? Really, Bilbo Baggins, that's the best you can write? The most cliched opener since the Bible was written by...well, whoever wrote the goddamn Bible!

He rubbed his hands dramatically over his face, leaning back in the oak desk chair until he was certain about to fall to his death. Outside, a beautiful Saturday morning taunted him; for the first time in the months, the sun shone, the sky was a clear, cloudless blue and the temperature was actually decent (not a deceiving 55 degrees with wind-chill). He should be going for a walk, breathing in the fresh air; his most recent physical had sent Dr. Hamfast's eyebrows through the roof, mimicking his blood pressure levels, apparently. But here he was, stuffed indoors, bent over a three-year-old PC laptop that had a dent in the screen because he stubbornly refused to get another one, especially not some stupid AppleBook or whatever the hell those over-priced pieces-of-shit were. Not that money was an issue; he'd just rather not spend it on unnecessary things.

He flexed his fingers, brought the cappuccino cup to his lips (oh sweet Jesus, he loved caffeine as much as his arteries hated it), and began again.

The night was cold and the wind howled-

Howled. Wow, wind howling; fucking brilliant description. What book didn't you get that from? Click click delete delete dele-e-e-e-ete.

The night was cold as the man strode down the street with...

With what? Something symbolic, something deep - no fuck that, who do I think I am? Vonnegut? He was a bore anyway. Give the reader something exciting, hook 'em him, you are the fisherman and they are the trout and this is the bait, oh god, shut up shut up stupid stupid stupid.

A brown thrush warbled at his windowpane in the idyllic April air. He mimicked its little mocking tune, but it didn't get the message.Little bastard. Another sip of cappuccino. He frowned at the computer screen and wondered why there wasn't an app that turned the jumble in your brain into the coherent, brilliant stories they were destined to be.

The night was cold as the man strode down the street, a key in his pocket and murder? no dark passion? too Harlequin-y vengeance fine...

The night was cold as the man strode down the street, a key in his pocket and vengeance in his heart.

Fuck it, it'll do. This deserves a break, and outside, morning was calling. Bilbo was out of a few things anyway so he laced up his sneakers, grabbed his wallet and keys and a small notebook (hey, you never knew when inspiration would stroll in like a rude, uninvited houseguest). He walked out the door, shut it, walked back in and picked up the crumpled grocery list he forgot, and left again.

But before closing the door, Bilbo peered into the dark, silent house behind him. It was always quiet, but on occasion it felt just...empty. Something gripped inside his chest; Bilbo shook his head and blamed his goddamned heart. Or perhaps it was his lungs, back when he was young and in college and stupid enough to smoke a pack a day. For a while it was supposedly grief, to fill the space where his mother once held she died, five years after his father's death. But eight years later, he was still smoking and smoking and it had nothing to do with his mother anymore.

That was a long time ago, though. He hadn't touched a cigarette in years, but occasionally he got the urge. Like right now. Like right this goddamned minute.


He pulled in his jacket and sniffed as a breeze suddenly picked up. Fuckin' New England weather. He made a mental note to pick up tissues. And a pack of nicotin patches.

Shit shit shit shit…

Brandybuck Market was in as crappy shape as ever; but never would Bilbo dare tell that to old Gorbadoc, whose wife ran the pharmacy in the back and was his mother's sister. In fact, it wasn't that bad; only half the fruit was unripe and green, (shipped fresh from the freezers of Monsanto, without a goddamn doubt), and the bagels in the bakery section were only two days old, but never could he say that the mart didn't have what he needed, in some form or other.

Milk (organic): check
Frozen berries for jam: not organic, but check
3 cans of tuna: check
Bottle of Fanta: check
More pencils: wasn't on the list originally, but now check
Toilet paper (not the cheap kind this time that chafed his ass into oblivion): check
Nicotine patches: need to ask Mirabella about those-

"Look, it's Dildo Faggins!"

Oh shit. He froze. Behind him stood a pack of sneering teenage boys. Oh shit, not good. Not good at all. His heart pounded, his mind was racing, his palms greased themselves with sweat. But why? Because of three little hooligans mocked his name? It was a common thing for people (read: assholes) to call him, and most of them came up with it on their own; just because it was his nickname in college doesn't mean that they were goin-

"Oy!" barked a gruff, salt-and-pepper haired man. "No loiterin' and no disturbin' me customers! Now git!" Gorbadoc Brandybuck glared at the three youths, who scoffed at him back before strutting out of the stores like a trio of peacocks.

Bilbo still felt sick even after they left. Goddammit, I need a smoke. No no no, stop it stop it.

"Ya all right, Baggins?" Gorbadoc looked to Bilbo now with a gruff look of concern, like a Scottish pitbull looking after his young.

"'M fine," he mumbled. "Need some nicotine gum or patches though. Mirabella's open yet?"

He knew the pharmacy was already open, and Gorbadoc knew he knew, but the old grocer pointed to the back anyway in stoic silence and Bilbo muttered out thanks to him before scurrying away.

Only to run smack into another customer, sending his basket to the floor with a crash.

"Oh fuck me, sorry, I'm so sorry." His embarrassment was now doubled by his crass language so Bilbo scrambled to pick up his things and refused to meet the eye of whomever he so rudely barged into.

"What do you mean, may I ask?" replied an old, gorgeous British voice. "Are you apologizing for not looking where you were going, nearly knocking over an old man, or are you distressed that you yourself have tumbled to the floor? Or are you proclaiming yourself to be in a sorry state?" What the f… Before him stood an elderly man, no doubt in his late 70s and at least six feet tall. He bore a tattered gray fishing jacket and black old-man shoes, as well as an impressive full white beard as thin and long as he was tall.

Bilbo blinked. "Umm…" I nearly bowled over British Santa. "I'm not sure. E, all of the above?"

This made the old man chuckle. Bilbo then realized he was still crouching on the ground like a lunatic. No doubt all the other customers were staring. They were. Shit shit shitty shit shit. "Sorry. Again"

"The first two 'sorrys' were more than enough." He peered kindly down upon Bilbo, but the tone had a bite to it. His body leaning against a curiously carved wooden cane.

Now Bilbo felt more flustered than ever as he stumbled to his feet. All he could think to say was 'sorry', but the old man might have smacked if he did again. Fuck, I ran into sassy British Santa. "'M sorry," he mumbled, rushing away from the man as his cheek flared andoh fuck, I said it again, stupid stupid stupi-

"Bilbo Baggins."

He stopped in his tracks. The chef on South Farthing's Homemade tomato sauce smiled unpityingly at him Bilbo turned around towards the tall, sassy British Santa with the beautiful voice.

"Tha-that's me, yeah," he said without thinking. What on earth… "Do I know you?"

"Ah, have I longed to see the day where I met Belladonna Took's son." The old man broke into a gleeful grin and strode towards him with more liveliness than a man in his 40s. He shook Bilbo's limp hand with equally uncommon vigor.

"You knew my mother then?" asked Bilbo. Who the hell is this guy? What the devil is going on?

The old man nodded with a bright smile. "Very well. A remarkable woman she was. It has been some decades since I last met her for tea," he said wistfully, gazing up as if his mother were in the halogen lamps overhead. Batty sassy British Santa, then. "Ah!" cried the man all of a sudden. Bilbo jumped. "Where are my manners? My name is Gandalf."

"Ah…nice to meet you Gandalf." Never heard of him. And weird name, though I'm not one to talk. Goddamn parents' fault. God forbid they have a son named Martin or Richard or something. "I'm Bilbo."

"I know," reminded the old man.

"Oh yeah, sorry," stuttered Bilbo, his cheeks turning beet-red again. God above, smite me now before I die from my own damn awkwardness.

"Would you have the pleasure of joining me for coffee?" asked Gandalf with a soft, secret smile.

Bilbo's mouth opened and closed like a flimsy nutcracker. "I, erm, well, actually-" I could use a cup of coffee. No, no, stop that, not with batty old men you run into (literally) in the grocery store no matter how beautiful their British accent is.

"You're free? Perfect!" The old man beamed broadly, clapping a firm hand on a boggled Bilbo's shoulder. "I'll be across the street at that little shop, what's it called, the Green-?"

"The Green Dragon?" mumbled Bilbo automatically. No, no, shut up, you're encouraging him-

"Precisely!" The old man bobbed his head with a wink. "I will see you there." And with that, he walked out the mart, leaving an absolutely baffled Bilbo frozen in shock.

What…what the hell was that?

"Well, now." Gandalf took a sip from his flowered teacup, crossing his legs and leaning back comfortably against the faded velvet chair. "I'm sure you have a few questions."

Yeah, let's start with what the hell am I doing here? Why am I not at home? Why the hell am I sitting in this dark, musty fortune-teller's-parlor of a place drinking stale coffee with a goddamned batty old man who knows my name and claims to know my mother?

"Well, to begin," replied the old man to Bilbo's non-existent question. "I knew your mother, oh nearly thirty years ago. You have her eyes, you know, and her nose. Your father's hair though, and his chary demeanor." He knew my father too? And who the hell says things like 'chary demeanor'? "I first met her when she strutted into my office one morning and all but demanded I build her a house."

"You're an architect, then?" Then it hit him. "You designed Bag End?"

"Willingly or not," Gandalf chuckled into his tea. "I was in the middle of retiring my firm, but one does not easily say no to Belladonna Took."

Bilbo couldn't help but smile at that. No indeed. His mother was filled from top to toe with enough spunk and stubbornness to take over small nations if she ever fancied to.

"Which brings me to my final, and intended, order of business." Gandalf became quite serious, leaning forward over the wooden table towards Bilbo. "I came to Hobbiton with the purpose of meeting you."

Bilbo choked on his coffee and nearly spat all over the old man's face. "Me?" he replied with a hushed squeak. "Why on earth me?"

"Because if you have even a tenth of your mother's gumption, you are exactly the man I need on a certain…enterprise." His blue eyes flashed. "The substance of it is most secret, the purpose most noble, and the nature most dangerous. Please." The old man waved his hand insistently as Bilbo was about to interrupt to ask what the hell he was smoking. "Let me speak until I am through. I am more than sure you are qualified for such an endeavor, but sadly I cannot divulge the details of it unless you agree."

"What- I-" Bilbo spluttered, alternating between anger and utter bewilderment. "What the actual fuck makes you think I'd join your-"

"Bilbo Baggins. 38, resident of 221 King's Foil Lane (or 'Bag End'), Hobbiton, MA." The old man suddenly had an open leather folder in his hands and a pair of tortoise-shell glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Self-employed writer, freelance. B.A. in English literature. Mother, deceased, ovarian cancer. Father, deceased, liver cancer. No siblings. No living relatives. No pets. No criminal record. Good credit, no outstanding debt. Hasn't left the country in fifteen years. Quit smoking at the age of 28, good for you." Gandalf gave an approving nod. "And…last week you purchased a pound of espresso beans and Downton Abbey, season 2, from Amazon."

The folder snapped shut. Gandalf settled back on the velvet armchair and finished his tea, ignoring the agog stare of the pale, trembling man sitting across from him. They sat in silence for a long time; Gandalf humming quietly, Bilbo gaping shamelessly at him as his brain slowly remembered how to do that thing with the tongue and the words called language.

"Wha-what do you want? A-Are you CIA? FBI? MI6?"

Gandalf chuckled, sending shudders through Bilbo's already rattled spine. "I'm naught but an old man, my dear Bilbo. An old man with an offer that I hope won't be refused." He hoisted himself to his feet with a sigh, grasping his cane in one. "My card." He set down a small, embossed white paper on the table and threw Bilbo that unnerving secret smile. "I will be in touch."

And the old man was out the door and gone, leaving Bilbo with a business card, the bill, and a million and ten questions.

What. The. Fuck.

The cup of Earl Grey (no caffeine after 5 o'clock) shook in Bilbo's trembling hands, and this time not from heart palpitations.

What. The fuck.

He peered about the hallway from the kitchen table. Yes, the front door was still bolted shut with every bolt it held. He wondered if that bookcase in the family room would be too heavy to slide in front of the door. No no no, stop it, christ, he wasn't in Iraq for god's sake.

But still.

On the table sprawled a printed copy of a poem by Billy Collins. He glanced at the first lines:

I ask you What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand? It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside-
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake...

Had it really been so long since he'd left Hobbiton? Not since what's-her-name Brandybuck wedding three years ago and that had been half an hour away in Hardbottle. What a night; he must've been the only one who remembered it, and that included Gorbadoc's great aunt who was hoopin' and hollerin' about some...interesting flashbacks she had to the hippy age. God, what times...

And he hadn't been out of the country in... Fifteen years, according to that old Gandalf gaffer.

Thinking of which: What. The fucking. Fuck.

Would that be so crazy to push a bookcase in front of the door? After the English string bean cousin of Jolly Old St. Nick took him out for coffee (and didn't pay, mind you), dropped a line about some 'secret mission' and shit, and then pulled out 'The Life Story of Bilbo Baggins' in a bound leather folder like it was a fucking resume?

It was nice leather too, looked expensive- Dumb fuck! That's not the point!

Who the hell was that guy, really? What the hell was this 'secret mission' and why did he need him? Who the hell needed Bilbo Baggins, single writer living off his parents' money in his parents' house in Middle-Of-Who-Cares, USA? Bilbo Baggins whose writing earned the same critique as his lovemaking; "it'll do." Bilbo Baggins whose neighbors gave him polite nods while their children sniggered "Dildo Faggins" behind his back, whose friends had long ago stopped calling except for his birthday. Bilbo Baggins who was born the same way he would likely die; without a peep, on schedule, under a cloudy New England sky while newspapers reported that nothing unexpected or extraordinary had occurred.

Bilbo Baggins who woke up in the morning and didn't know why he bothered.

Crack. "FUCK ME!" Bilbo leapt out his chair, clutching his bloody, burning hand. He didn't think he was gripping the cup that hard, but apparently the pink shards and puddle of hot tea soaking the Billy Collins poem on his kitchen table thought otherwise.

He sighed. That was his favorite cup, too. On the dripping paper, he still could still make out some of the stanzas:

...But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles-
each a different height-
are singing in perfect harmony...

It didn't really matter, he thought after bandaging his hand and sweeping up the broken bits. He could boil more tea, buy another cup, print out another copy of the poem. In the end, it didn't matter.

He considered banging his head on the kitchen table just to see if it felt like anything.

He decided to order Chinese food instead.

Outside his house, beyond Bilbo's earshot, a maroon Cadillac beater idled at a low hum. Inside, four figures in shadows dropped cigarettes out the window, gazing at the house with idle interest.

"This is the place?"

"There's the mark, like Gandalf said." Indeed there was a swipe of blue paint on the mailbox marked '221'.

"Looks like a nice place."

"Nori, you so much as touch a fucking thing-"

"Whoa whoa whoa, all I said is it was nice, calm your tits-"

"If you two are finished," grumbled a weary female voice. "He'll be calling at any moment."

Scritch. Right on cue, a deep rumble over the radio: "Come in, Group 1, is it the place?" Bu-beep.

The driver reached out a thick, heavily inked hand and grabbed the walky-talky. "Yep, marked by G and everything. Block's all clear, too. Over." Bu-beep.

The rumble spoke again. "Alright. What's your position, Group 2?"

A squeaky, girly voice: "Almost there, ETA: 'bout 6 and a half minutes- stop that, Fi-!" Bu-beep. "Sorry, Over." Bu-beep.

You could almost feel the exasperation of the deep rumble voice as it spoke again. "Copy that. Group 3?"

A thinner, higher voice broke over the radio. "On our way. Bom- I mean, double-B couldn't hold his wee. ETA: 'bout 15 minutes. How's G gonna get here? Over." Bu-beep just as another voice began to protest in the background.

The rumble spoke again. "Roger that. And he'll come when he comes. Over."

A moment of charged silence. Then: "Group 1, D, you know what to do. Over. " Bu-beep.

The driver's lips cracked as he grinned. "Copy that. Over." Bu-beep. He put down the walky-talky, turned the key in the ignition and the engine shuddered into a creaky silence. Turning to the other woman and two men, he smirked. "Time for dinner."

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt-
frog at the edge of a pond-
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.

1. "like a rude, uninvited houseguest" hehe, the joke's about to turn on Bilbo.
2. Like you never heard someone say "Dildo Faggins" before.
3. Bilbo suddenly has a very deep history here that ranges from very obvious – like that he was bullied in college – to very subtle – like how his father died of liver cancer and Bilbo gets a bottle of Fanta instead of any alcohol.
4. I am a fangirl over Ian McKellen's voice
5. The poem is called "I Ask You" by Billy Collins.
6. All references ("Martin or Richard," "221", "Iraq," the little thrush, etc.) are likely intentional.

Hokay, so this was a little piece of shit I wrote on a six hour plane ride and as much as I would love to balance two stories at the time, I don't know if I can. So we'll see where this goes, sorry. Hope you likey anyway!