Thank you to everyone for your wonderful reviews! And here is the final chapter - I hope you all enjoy it!
Upon discovering that Arabella had fainted, Bilbo picked her up and took her back to her room, hoping very much that none of the dwarves were still awake to witness it.
She moaned slightly as he laid her on the bed, and he was unable to resist staring down at her in adoration for a good five minutes.
It was well past midnight when exhausted, he walked back to his room and finally lay down to sleep on top of his own bed. He was beyond tired, and very quickly dropped off into a dream.
Arabella on the other hand, awoke to find Bilbo gone and that she had somehow made it back to her own bed. She could only assume that Bilbo had brought her there and was full of love for the hobbit. She touched her lips gently, remembering his kiss, and stirred fitfully, wishing he was still with her.
The pair dreamt of each other that night, walking through moonlit gardens and repeating their love's confession over and over, until all that remained was the numb comfort of a feeling so beautiful.
Later that morning Bilbo awoke, humming and busying himself with tidying his room. He wondered vaguely how many times it was possible to move the ornaments around, because he'd certainly done it more than several times on his visit. He spent longer than usual perfecting his appearance in the mirror, and when Gandalf appeared, trying to inform him of their departure later that day, he almost walked into him.
'My dear Bilbo, are you quite alright?'
'Yes, yes, I'm fine. Why?'
'Well, you don't seem at all concerned that we are leaving later today...' The wily old wizard looked at him significantly.
'That's nice,' Bilbo muttered, distractedly.
Gandalf shook his head and went to join the dwarves, whilst Bilbo paused and sighed. His heart was aching.
Arabella was in a worse state of distraction. Like Bilbo, she seemed to be perpetually vague and had taken to combing her hair constantly. It seemed that not even Elrond could get any sense out of her.
'Arabella,' said the old elf as he passed her room, 'you know that Thorin's company are leaving today do you not?'
She paused and looked into space. 'Yes. I knew this was coming.'
'Arabella...' Elrond began, wondering if she was alright.
His question was answered when he saw her shoulders shaking.
With a small sob she said, 'I love him my Lord,'
Elrond's face turned to understanding, and he came into the room and held out his arms. She stood up and buried her face in his robes, tears running down her cheeks.
'Then it seems my dear little one, that you have two choices open to you. Which one will you take?'
She stepped back and looked up at him, wiping her eyes.
'So...' said Bofur, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
Several of the other dwarves leant in, wearing similar expressions.
Bilbo looked up and caught everyone staring at him; he looked away in discomfort.
'Nothing, nothing.' Bofur continued to smile mysteriously. 'Except that a little bird told me what happened last night...'
Bilbo looked up sharply.
Kili leant in. 'It was quite a big one actually. Shaped like Bombur and probably carrying a midnight tray of cakes...'
Bilbo squeaked in embarrassment.
'So it's true then!' Fili laughed with gusto. 'You really did kiss her!'
Bilbo looked mortified. 'I don't understand what business it is of yours...'
'Don't worry my friend. ' Fili put his arm around the hobbit. 'We won't tell anyone except the fourteen people in this company...'
Bilbo squeaked again in dismay.
'Although,' began Kili, 'I'm not sure as Lord Elrond wasn't listening at breakfast. And there was a mysterious white lady hanging around when you were re-enacting the moment with Bofur, Fili.'
Everyone laughed as Bilbo was unable to do anything but stare in shock with his mouth open.
They clapped him on the back in good humour as Thorin appeared.
'We're leaving at midday,' he said, instantly causing the laughter to die, 'everyone best be ready for then.'
The dwarf focused significantly on Bilbo, who immediately looked back up at the house with longing.
Though he tried over the next few hours, Bilbo couldn't find Arabella. He was absolutely heartbroken that he might not get chance to say goodbye, and the tears trickled freely down his face as he marched down the stairs into the gardens, his backpack on his back, his sword in his belt and his stick in hand, to meet the dwarves.
It seemed however that the pair were like magnets - destined to attract one another, and just as the group had gathered at the foot of the stairs, Elrond appeared, a small figure stepping out from behind his robes.
Bilbo quickly wiped his face with a handkerchief (he had managed to attain one during his stay in Rivendell after all) and broke into a smile.
Elrond smiled knowingly.
'Now then Master Baggins, I must ask one last favour of you...'
Bilbo looked up questioningly at the elf.
'Of course,' he said.
'I must ask you to take care of Arabella. It seems she cannot be parted from you and would join you on your quest.'
Thorin rolled his eyes in the background as if to say 'just what I need, another hobbit.'
Bilbo's face lit up like Gandalf's fireworks; he couldn't believe his ears. Turning to Arabella, he answered Elrond in a soft voice, 'I will protect her with my life.'
She blushed furiously at his words. And the way he was looking at her!
Elrond smiled as though he expected no less of the kindly halfling. Several of the dwarves looked proudly at their hobbit, especially Bofur who had come to have a great respect for Bilbo. Thorin however, was pretending not to be interested, and looked as though he might make a break for it into the trees at any given moment.
'I have no doubt, though I hope it will not come to that,' said the grand elf.
Elrond passed Arabella's hand to Bilbo's much as he had done before, and the pair stood shyly, their hands entwined, as Elrond said his final goodbyes to the rest of the group.
Arabella looked at her hobbit. She could tell he was a little embarrassed and avoiding her eye now that they were holding hands.
'I have rather been missing your company this morning,' she admitted, 'but I had to pack all my things and Elrond wanted to speak to me.'
'Oh! And I you...' He blushed, realising how desperate he sounded.
She laughed a little.
'Thank you for taking me to my room last night.' She blushed also. 'It was very decent of you.'
'What did you expect me to do? Leave you out in the cold?' he smiled.
'No, but thank you,' she said softly.
'It was my pleasure. I would do anything for you,' he said, a little shyly, glancing down.
She answered him with a happy 'hm!'
He glanced at the listening dwarves and asked her, 'Arabella? Do you think I could have a word?'
'Of course,' she responded, allowing him to direct her towards the woods, which was the route of their departure anyway.
'I presume you are aware that this is a very dangerous quest and I do not know whether it will go ill... I may not survive, but I will do my utmost to ensure your survival... perhaps you will want to wait until we are definitely out of the woods before you answer me but I wonder...' he stopped.
Arabella was puzzled. What was he asking her?
'What is your question Bilbo?'
'My question?' He frowned, as though he had not expected her to ask. 'Ah, my question...'
He cleared his throat.
'Well it's certainly a question I never thought I would be asking I must say but... you've had rather an effect on me it seems, and...'
She looked endearingly at the fumbling hobbit; he seemed to be steeling himself for something. He suddenly took both her hands in his and looked meaningfully at her.
'I love you... w-with all my heart... a-and I don't imagine I could live without you...'
Arabella's heart leapt into her throat. Was this what she thought it to be?
'If I hope to one day win your hand then it seems I must protect and shelter you. I will do everything in my power,' he continued.
'Oh Bilbo...' she whispered, 'are you asking me...?'
He waved his hand as if to dismiss the fact that he was basically asking for her hand in marriage.
'I do not ask you now, but I hope that one day you will consider...'
She squeaked, and threw her arms around him.
'Bilbo, you have already proven yourself to me. I would marry you now on this very spot...' she whispered.
Stunned, and more than a little affected by her whispers in his ear, he stood with his eyes closed and his mouth open.
It was this state in which she found him as she pulled back from her hug.
'Heavens above,' he croaked and swallowed, 'I suppose that answers my question then...'
Unable to resist him, she kissed him on the lips.
Emboldened by her move, he moaned and put his arms around her, bringing her closer.
Unlike last night's innocent first kiss, this was more passionate. They both moaned as they explored each other, running their hands through hair. Bilbo allowed her to back him up against a tree, the pair panting with excitement.
When finally she broke away, they were both rosy cheeked and more than a little tousled.
'Oh Arabella, I can't tell you how much I want you for my wife,' he said breathlessly, leaning against the tree for support.
At this she squeaked and began kissing him again, his eyes flying open with a small 'umph!'
And so it was that Thorin's company finally set off from Rivendell, hulking their heavy baggage about them once more. It was Gandalf who muttered to himself 'where is our hobbit?' when he noticed that both Bilbo and Arabella were missing.
Looking sneakily around as they passed the trees, he finally found them. They were more than a little preoccupied with one another, and he looked quickly back into the company, glancing about him and pretending not to have seen.
He magicked a note, which he then blew out of his hand. It fluttered over the heads of the dwarves and into the trees, where it hit a silver-birch.
It read simply, 'When you are both ready Bilbo Baggins, the Lonely Mountain is to the left.'
Well there you are everyone! I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it - I certainly loved reading your wonderful reviews :D If I had the time, I'd continue to write how Arabella would cope on the rest of the quest and perhaps even settle down with Bilbo afterwards. Sadly, as of the moment I have another commitment planned, and that is to focus on working towards professional writing. It is an additional skill that I hope to gain so that I can begin to move into a literary career, instead of the one that I chose many moons ago as a teenager. Wish me luck, I'm going to need it! In the meantime, I shall take my place in the cinema to watch The Desolation of Smaug later this year, and think of all you other big fans who enjoy this fandom (and its hobbits!) as much as I! Best wishes, MoonliteShdow