This story is the result of the combined efforts of myself and the ever wonderful Smalls, my sister in all but blood. This story is already published, if in a form a touch rougher than this, on Archive of Our Own and on our page on Tumblr (search for Durin's Day Chronicles), where it's accompanied by pictures and links to the music. I'll be trying to space out the chapters a bit, so that you don't get drowned all at once, but it shouldn't take too long for this site to be caught up to the others. If you like our story, or have questions or comments about it, please let us know - we thrive on the responses!
(And to those of you kind and patient souls who have been waiting for me to work on my other stories... I have no excuse except that I have fallen into a torrid, passionate affair with the Hobbit Fandom and that I will return to my other stories someday, but I must see this through first. Your support, even through neglect, is truly a touching thing. Thank you, truly.)
Theme song - Lead Sails (And A Paper Anchor) by Atreyu
The soft sound of bare feet on the stone path barely registered before the front door crashed open and slammed shut just as quick.
Hidden away in his study, Bilbo Baggins continued to hold his breath until the soft sounds of a child fighting back tears could be heard.
Ah, Frodo. Of course, it was Frodo.Releasing a breath, Bilbo tucked a slender blade – one he didn't recall pulling free – back into its hiding place. He shook his head and chuckled to himself. Really, who else had he expected?
He saved the file he was working on and set his computer to stand-by. If the poor lad was as upset as he sounded, Bilbo wouldn't be making any further progress this evening.
The man stood with a soft sigh, gave his wrinkled vest a bit of a tug, and headed for the entry way.
A boy sat slumped at the foot of the solid wooden door, patched knees pulled up to his chest and wet face hidden behind his hands. Bilbo frowned. The knuckles of both the lad's hands were red and raw, but the left side was a sight more scuffed than the right. He had thought that the boy favored his right hand, but it didn't matter – not right this moment, anyway.
Bilbo allowed his eyes to stray to the door for a moment and smiled to see that it was locked. He nodded. Frodo was a good lad, more often than not.
"Been fighting again." It wasn't a question, but it wasn't an accusation, either.
The boy gave a vicious start, but nodded up at Bilbo after a moment or two of silence. "Sackville-Bagginses," he muttered.
Bilbo nodded in sympathy. There'd been more than a few times when he'd have liked to bruise his hands on the faces of a particular Sackville-Baggins or two, himself. He felt a smile curve his mouth at the memory of the one time he did.
Frodo blinked and then answered with a watery smile of his own.
"Come along, then. We'd best get you patched up."
Bilbo pulled the lad to his feet and the pair of them made their way to the kitchen. A first aid kit was found with some rummaging and soon the man was tending to the boy's hands. The lad was quiet and Bilbo allowed his thoughts to wander to another time, when he was patching up the bruised and broken hands of another youth, one with fairer hair and whose blue eyes had a bit more grey in them than the ones watching him now did. He recalled the light that was ever present in the youth's smile and the joy that was sometimes a tangible thing when he laughed.
Bilbo looked over the smaller hands, now that he had finished bandaging them, and saw, in his mind's eye, another set of hands – ones that knew work, honest and dishonest alike, that knew hope and comfort and cheer. He closed his eyes in a moment of sharp grief. That young man would've done great things, such great –
"Aren't you going to ask if I'm sorry?"
It was Bilbo's turn to startle.
It wasn't but half a moment before he remembered where he sat and who the boy sitting with him was. This solemn boy, with his mop of dark hair and those bright, soulful eyes - eyes that used to sparkle with the possibility of mischief and glisten with false tears when said mischief was discovered.
It wasn't so much that Frodo looked different, Bilbo mused, but that the air around the lad now hung with a bit more weight. The stubbornness, at least, he recognized. The lad's face was set in a mulish expression, as if he expected to be told off at any moment and wanted to make it clear that he wouldn't be regretting any of the events that led him here.
"No." His tone was vicious for one so young and there was a fierce light in his eyes.
Bilbo said nothing, but nodded and hummed a bit. He returned the bandages and ointments to where they were found and returned to sit at the kitchen table once more. The boy was fidgeting, now, and there was an uncertainty in his eyes that showed that his resolve was beginning to fade.
Frodo's face crumpled with the simple question and his tears threatened to begin anew. Bilbo listened, patient and quiet, as the boy spoke of cousins, cruel words, and a fierce determination to protect the reputation of the man who had taken him in. Bilbo smiled a bit as the lad finished and a handful of sniffles were the only evidence of his distress.
"Aren't – aren't you cross with me?" The boy's eyes were wide with a mixture of marvel and apprehension.
Bilbo chuckled. "No. Do you want me to be?" The lad shook his head immediately. "I might wish you had handled things differently, but I will never tell you to not defend what you hold dear." Frodo nodded, his gaze becoming intense. "You get a strong sense of a person's character by watching what they'll defend. And what they won't." Bilbo paused. "Keep in mind, though, there are only so many battles that we can fight at a time, and not all of them will be so obvious. Not all of them will be with others."
The lad wore a bit of a frown now and Bilbo was hit with a sudden, desperate need for him to understand.
"Every battle has a cost," he tried to explain. "Whether you're the one to see it, to pay for it, or not - there is always a cost. You've hit a few of your fellows today, yes? They have a fresh set of bruises and your knuckles will be sore for a good while, and that's part of the cost. My relationship with their parents will be tenser, now, too." Guilt darkened blue eyes and Bilbo spoke quickly to sooth it. "That part is my own decision. Easily remedied with a social visit and apologies all around, but they wouldn't have any meaning behind their words and I wouldn't behind mine and I don't imagine yours would ring true, either. I've found that I don't have the tolerance for empty words and useless social visits, lately." He shared a wry smile with the boy. "But that's part of the cost, too. There are many ways to fight a battle – with fists and pistols, with words and silence." His voice broke on that last word, but at least his hands weren't shaking. Not yet, anyway.
"Have I…" He looked down at his hands and pressed his lips together. There was no reason not to tell him – he was old enough to understand. "Frodo, have I ever told you why I stay in on Durin's Day? Why the curtains are drawn closed and the mourning wreath is set on the door? Why you're allowed to share a pint or two with me and we… we don't take any visitors?"
Frodo shook his head again. He leaned forward in his seat, hands in his lap now, and eyes shining with curiosity.
"Right, then." Bilbo nodded and found himself licking his lips. "Well, it all started about seven years ago – you would've been just turning six, I suppose. The true start of it, the very beginning of it, would've been about eleven years before that, but we'll start with… yes, we'll start with what happened seven years ago, first."