Bilbo was sorely tempted to ignore the knocking on his door, if only because he’d just sat down to eat and the last time this had happened, he’d been cavorted off into multiple life-and-death situations. However, it was more likely Lobelia trying to get back in his good graces and get herself a bit of gold than it was any dwarf. Bilbo had already promised Thorin and the others that he’d travel back to visit Erebor soon enough, but the journey home had been long and tiring--twice as much when he’d ended up spending a good month and all of his earnings trying to buy back his belongings.
This would be the third time Lobelia had come by in hopes of ‘keeping him company’ just to try and make it seem like she cared for Bilbo more than his silverware.
Sighing, Bilbo quickly stuffed a bit of roasted potato in his mouth, standing and heading for the door as he chewed quickly. “Lobelia, I’m afraid it’s rather late for visi--” Bilbo paused, because instead of his cousin before him, Bilbo’s porch was completely empty. He poked his head out, frowning and then stepping through the threshold. Before now, none of the children of the Shire had been so bold as to actually come to his door. Usually they kept their distance while calling him things like ‘mad Baggins’, and throwing things into his yard.
“If this is some idea of a joke, I’ll find your mothers and make sure they give the lot of you a thorough wallop!” Bilbo shouted into the emptiness. There was a rustling from the poppy bushes, followed by the sound of hushed whispers. Bilbo whirled, finger out and ready to give the children a proper tongue lashing when two dark figures lunged out from his bushes. He yelped, ducking the first set of arms and then finding himself grabbed by the second.
Shouting loud, Bilbo kicked at the second attacker who was trying to advance with a rather large looking sack. They were shorter than human men; within the range of hobbit height--though Bilbo knew many an orc that were no taller than himself or his dwarves companions--and swathed in dark clothes with masks hiding their faces. Kicking out again, Bilbo caught the approaching figure in the groin, satisfied to see him grunt and drop to his knees with a pained noise. “Release me!” Bilbo cried, wrenching his head back and cracking it against the chin of the one holding him.
“M’h thung!” the one holding him yelped, dropping Bilbo to hold a hand over his mouth and curse. Bilbo dashed into the house, barely making it past the foyer when a pair of arms caught around his legs and brought him crashing to the floor.
Bilbo clawed at the carpet runner, trying to pull himself out of the grasp on his legs. If he could just get free enough to run, he could reach the chest down the hall where Sting was tucked away with Thorin’s armor and a few other trinkets from his travels.
“Hold still!” growled the one who had knocked him down.
“Unlikely!“ Bilbo turned, swinging an arm back and awkwardly clubbing the attacker that was trying to pull him back out the door. Another curse, and Bilbo tried to kick his feet when the one he’d gotten in the groin came stumbling into the house, one hand holding his crotch and the other clutching to the giant sack.
Bilbo lashed out, tussling with the two as best he could. He kicked and punched, thinking he might actually be able to escape when, one minute he had his hands free, and the next there was darkness as he was shoved head first into the bag. He tumbled, cursing as it was pulled and dragged across the ground. He had one foot still sticking out as they cinched it tight around his ankle and lifted him up with a series of grunts and pants.
“He’s heavy!” whined one of them, followed by the sound of flesh hitting flesh and a yelp of pain.
“Just get him on the pony before someone comes by!”
Bilbo shouted, wriggling and writhing, head hurting as he was carried upside-down in the sack to wherever they were headed.
He hoped desperately that they at least had the courtesy to lock his door--Bilbo had only just gotten all his things back.
They hauled him up onto the back of what Bilbo assumed was a pony, letting him hang over like some piece of luggage. Bilbo nearly fell off when they first started moving, and the two kidnappers bickered for another few minutes (their voices sounded off, raspy growls like they wanted to sound deeper and more intimidating) before Bilbo found himself lifted and put in front of one of the riders so they could hold him steady.
“You lot don’t seem to really know what you’re doing,” Bilbo pointed out, his head feeling swollen from being upside-down for so long. The one he was on the pony with gave him a poke in the side.
“We know perfectly well what we’re doing.”
“Shut up!” snapped the other one from nearby, and Bilbo was distinctly reminded of the time he’d tried to outsmart cave trolls. Bilbo squirmed, wriggling the toes of his foot that was sticking out of the sack and wondering how long it would take for him to pass out from all the blood rushing to his head.
They must have been traveling for a good half hour before Bilbo was trying to squirm his elbow out from under his gut. He wriggled again, gasping when a single movement had him feeling unbearably lightheaded. He managed a tiny noise of distress before being struck with vertigo as things flashed white and then went dark.
Bilbo woke up to the creaking of wheels, a pounding headache, and a foul taste in his mouth. The foul taste he quickly realized was a sock that they’d gagged him with before using rope to keep it in place. Bilbo cringed, trying desperately to spit part of it out but they’d tied the rope so tight he was forced to suffer and breathe through his nose. His hands and ankles were bound together in a hog tie, making it hard to do more than lift his head and peer around the covered wagon that his captors had put him in.
Though it was nice of them to give Bilbo a more accommodating form of imprisonment, the entire feeling was negated by the dirty sock they’d stuffed in his mouth. He squirmed, rolling onto his stomach and then inching forward until he could properly see the backs of the two kidnappers. They were sitting on the small bench at the front of the wagon, both wearing hoods that covered the backs of their heads from view. Bilbo grunted, and then made a louder noise to try and get their attention. If they were nice enough to put him in a wagon, surely they could take the sock out now that he was awake.
The one on the left turned, his face hidden behind a wooden mask, and said, “if you make so much noise, we wouldn’t have to gag you.”
The one on the right--with a mask made of cloth that covered all but his eyes--leaned in close to his friend, and Bilbo had to strain his ears to hear, “he’s going to kill us.”
“we’re doing what we’re told.”
“oh yeah, try telling him that.”
“Shut your gob, you big baby,” snapped the one with the wooden mask, “we’re doing this for the good of our people.”
Bilbo squirmed, inching forward until he was able to headbutt at wooden mask’s back. “Untie me this instant!” he shouted, but with the sock gag it sounded more like, “uhhnn hnn mmh fffn hhnnenn!”
Cloth mask reached out, pushing Bilbo’s head firmly until he was entirely back in the wagon once more. “Sorry,” he said, patting Bilbo’s curls like he was some sort of child, “just sit there and be quiet, yeah?”
Bilbo hoped desperately that his glower was conveying all of the death wishes that were currently going through his head.
He was left in silence for the rest of the day, stomach aching with hunger in a way that was almost familiar to Bilbo if only because he’d had the same pains all during his travels to Erebor. It made him wonder why on earth he’d been taken from his home; had Lobelia bribed some cutthroats to off him? Bilbo had already made revisions to his will, even if that were the case, and all her efforts would be for naught when they found out that Primula and Drogo were to inherit all of Bag End.
On the other hand, Bilbo didn’t plan on letting these captors reach their destination. He’d been tied up enough times to know that, eventually, ropes could be worn apart. It took forever to pick at his bonds, but by the time nightfall came, Bilbo had already worn the ropes down to half their thickness.
They settled off the side of the road, Wooden mask constructing a fire while Cloth wandered off to retrieve firewood. Food was mostly stale bread and broth, and when Cloth went to remove Bilbo’s gag to feed him, Bilbo snapped at his fingers. He caught the man’s index finger, chomping down as hard as he could and earning a loud yelp from Cloth. The finger was wrenched out of his mouth and Cloth held it to his chest protectively.
“I know you’re hungry, but that’s a bit dramatic!” Cloth mask rasped, shaking his hand and holding it up to squint at the damage--where Bilbo’s teeth had nicked through the skin enough to cause some blood to pool up.
Wooden mask was chortling nearby, stirring the remainder of the broth and calling out, “don’t know what you expected, getting that close to him!”
Cloth mask turned, “well I didn’t expect him to bite me!”
Bilbo tried his best to mimic one of Thorin’s menacing scowls, “Next time I’ll take the whole finger off if you don’t let me go this instant!”
The two looked at one another, gesturing vaguely before wooden mask stood up and marched around the campfire to approach them, “sorry to say, but you won’t be eating any fingers, Mr. Hobbit,” he said, grabbing Bilbo’s head from behind and forcing his mouth open.
“Pour the broth in,” he said to his companion. Cloth mask looked uneasy, eyes flitting from Bilbo to Wooden mask.
Bilbo struggled, but then realized that he was terribly hungry anyway and there would be better times to fight. So he opened his mouth, making sure to bare his teeth just so they didn’t think he was complying out of fear. Cloth mask took some bread, dipping it in the broth and then dropping it into Bilbo’s mouth with a quick jerk--hand wrenching back as Bilbo started to chew.
“Don’t act like such a child!” Wooden mask chastised. Cloth dipped another bit of bread into the broth, holding it out.
“If you want to get your finger chomped on, be my guest!”
“I’m holdin’ his head, you’ve got to be the one to feed him!”
“You’re only doin’ it so you don’t get your finger bit off!” Cloth argued, and then dropped the bread into Bilbo’s mouth in much the same manner as he had before. Bilbo barely finished chewing before he swallowed and opened his mouth again, stomach aching now that he’d put a bit of food into it.
Once they’d finished feeding him half a loaf and tipped the rest of the broth into his mouth, Bilbo’s captives left him tied to the wagon while they polished off their own meals. He squirmed, trying to wriggle one hand free of the bonds and then giving up when his shoulder started to ache terribly. A thought came to mind, and he perked up, “excuse me,” he called out, catching the attention of both his captors--who had turned their backs to Bilbo while they ate. Cloth mask sat up, pulling his covering up before he turned.
“I need to… well.. I have bodily needs to attend to.”
To hear Wooden choke on his food was not what Bilbo expected. Cloth leaned in close to his companion and they started to hiss back and forth, exchanging a few punches to the shoulder and a good smack upside the head from Wooden to Cloth. Finally, Wooden put his mask on, turning to Bilbo and saying imperiously, “I’m afraid you’ll have to… erm…control your desires.”
“Isn’t it a bit inappropriate to want to get your rocks off when you’ve been kidnapped?” Cloth piped up, yelping when Wooden walloped him hard on the shoulder. Bilbo stared for a moment before the words finally processed.
“Desi--no! I have to use the loo!”
“Oh!” his captors chimed together in unison. Bilbo was seriously wondering if these creatures really were descendants of trolls.
They came over, Wooden reaching behind to untie Bilbo’s arms from the wagon while Cloth bent down to free his legs. Bilbo didn’t even get the chance to try and kick out before Wooden was tugging on the rope attached to his arms and pulling him towards the forest. Bilbo stilled when he caught the glint of a dagger, and all thoughts of escaping quickly drained from his head.
He scurried along beside Wooden mask, standing awkwardly when they came to a pause near some bushes.
“Well?” Wooden asked, “go on then.”
“I’ve still got my trousers on,” Bilbo pointed out. Wooden released a sigh, shoving his dagger into his belt and then making three attempts to reach for Bilbo’s breeches before he finally followed through. They were wrenched down abruptly before Wooden mask stood and turned, allowing Bilbo some privacy. Bilbo hadn’t expected for his captor pull his trousers all the way down, and so now any chance of running off was ruined by the fact that he had his trousers trapped around his ankles. Sighing, Bilbo pressed up against a tree, leaning forward enough so that he could relieve himself (because he really did have to go, anyway) into the bushes.
Once done, Wooden mask was just as hurried to get Bilbo’s trousers back on and laced up. He stomped his way back to their campsite, pulling Bilbo along like some sort of cattle, and then tossed the rope at Cloth mask, “tie him back up and get some rest. I’ll take first watch.”
Bilbo, as much as he’d hoped his captors were somewhat incompetent, proved to be good enough that he had no chance to truly escape. The next morning went much like the night before, and the days started to blend together in a blur of rocky wagon rides and nights under the stars. Bilbo desperately missed his previous traveling companions; the laughter and warmth that came with nights spent in a circles of dwarves. He missed Fili and Kili’s bickering, and Thorin’s disapproving stare that hid the tiniest of grins in the corners of his lips. Each morning he awoke expecting Bofur or Ori to be shaking his shoulder, only to stare up into masks that hid almost all features belonging to his kidnappers.
The longer it went on, the more desperate Bilbo was to get free. They kept him under the wagon most days and so Bilbo hadn’t a clue where they were going. His mind started to wander--trying to remember who he had wronged during his travels and coming up blank. He vaguely knew of some underground slave traders, but he steadfastedly clung to the hope that he hadn’t been taken to be put into servitude.
Days blended into weeks until Bilbo had completely lost track of all time. His only interaction was with his captors--who often gave him vague answers and were often so dodgy that it terrified Bilbo to know what their purpose for him was. They were henchmen, no doubt, but henchmen were usually the worst and without any morals at all.
Bilbo had gotten into the habit of staring out the back of the wagon to watch the scenery, often thinking to himself how he would write his book and dwelling on fond memories. It did little to help with his boredom after the first month, but when Bilbo had suggested getting a book for him to read, the two kidnappers had stared at one another and then informed Bilbo that they didn’t read and thus had no books.
He’d dozed off doing exactly that one night when the sound of his captors talking brought him into wakefulness.
“There’s someone up ahead--are they elves?”
“No, far too roguishly handsome to be elves.”
“They’re headed this way,” and then there was a creaking as Wooden mask turned and grabbed Bilbo’s leg while telling his companion to, “pull off the road.”
The wagon rattled and Bilbo didn’t even have time to struggle before a bag was shoved over his head. It was hard to discern who was talking over the rustle of the bag on his head, and Bilbo strained his ears. The talking suddenly dissolved into shouting before the sound of clanging weapons broke through the air.
“Take that, bandit!” cried a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, followed by more clashing. Grunts and shouts filled the air before there was a despairing cry.
“Oh, these dwarves are far too strong! We have to run or be killed!”
There was a scraping sound, followed by the thunder of feet stamping on the ground that suddenly cut off. Bilbo squirmed as silence fell.
Hushed whispers and the shifting of cloth came from nearby. Clothes swished and weapons clanked and Bilbo called out again, “is anyone there?”
“We’ve come to save you, Bilbo!” came the reply--in that still familiar voice. Bilbo frowned, chest tightening with hope.
At the sound of cursing and more whispering, and Bilbo wriggled his way towards the edge of the wagon, “Kili, I’m in here!” he shouted, figuring that the two of them were trying to locate the source of his voice. There was a grunt and rustle and then someone approaching as the bag was pulled off of his head. Fili was grinning down at him, his hair in a frizzy mess and sweat on his face. He had a cut on his lip but otherwise looked completely unharmed.
“Master Baggins!” he cried, pulling Bilbo out of the wagon and quickly going about undoing the rope. Bilbo looked around, catching sight of Kili hauling a bag up on his shoulder and then approaching.
“What are the two of you doing here?” Bilbo asked, rubbing his wrists after Fili cut away the last of the rope, “where am I?”
Fili clapped a hand to Bilbo’s shoulder, “word came from the Shire that you’d gone missing and we decided to come find you.”
Scowling, Bilbo looked down at his arms and then up at Fili, “the Shire? Who told? How did word get out this fast?”
Fili’s eyes went wide, mouth dropping open for a blank second before he let out a loud laugh and dragged Bilbo into a hug, “word travels fast, I guess. We’ve missed you.”
Bilbo couldn’t help but sag a little into Fili’s arms. He returned the embrace, missing this desperately. The last time he’d been hugged had been the day he’d left Erebor to return to the Shire and all of Thorin’s company had practically piled onto him at once.
Kili came up behind Bilbo, squeezing the hobbit between the two of them. “We’re so glad you’re safe!” Kili cried, “who knows what those clever bandits could have done to you!”
“Clever?” Bilbo laughed, “those two were about as clever as a pair of trolls.”
In his arms, Fili went still and then pulled back to stare at Bilbo with a frown, “they captured you, didn’t they?” he asked.
Kili made a noise of agreement, “can’t have been that dumb if they managed to get you this far without you escaping.”
Incredulous, Bilbo stared at the both of them and then shook his head, “well, I suppose you’re right--but it was mostly the fact that they were good at tying knots than anything else.”
“Knot tying is a very difficult skill to master,” Kili said with a thoughtful noise. The two dwarves stared at one another and then they each looked to Bilbo.
“You should come to Erebor--” Kili began.
“--just to be safe,” Fili finished.
“We can protect you in case they come after you again. Besides, you said you’d come visit!”
Bilbo sighed, running his hands through his hair, “well, yes, but it’s a very long journey and I had wanted a little time to rest--”
“You can rest in Erebor!” Kili protested, gesturing vaguely, “Bombur will cook you feasts and uncle will give you whatever you need to be happy!”
“Uncle is very fond of you,” Fili crossed his arms, grinning wide at Bilbo.
Kili wrapped his arm around Bilbo’s shoulder, “it’s settled then--we’ll take you to Erebor,” he said, steering Bilbo towards the front of the wagon and then hesitating, “oh… it looks like our ponies ran off.”
“Shame,” Fili huffed, “they were good ponies…but we can take the ones these bandits were using.”
Bilbo shrugged, “might as well use the wagon, too, I suppose,” he suggested. It was a little odd that their ponies had spooked off so easily, but it wouldn’t be the first time this had happened. Fili and Kili grinned.
“Great idea, Bilbo!” Kili proclaimed, reaching out and then hauling Bilbo up like he was a child and depositing the halfling on the small wagon bench. Both brothers settled in on either side of him, with Fili grabbing the reigns while Kili dropped his bag into the back of the wagon with the rest of the bandits’ supplies.
“All set?” Fili asked, looking to Bilbo and then Kili before getting the ponies moving.
Kili stretched his arms, sucking in a long breath and squinting up at the sun, “I love it when the air is fresh and clean. You know, we’re only a day’s time from the Misty Mountains,” he nudged Bilbo in the side, eyes crinkling with the brightness of his smile.
Bilbo couldn’t help the tiny flutter in his chest, realizing they were only a months’ travel from Erebor. That same excitement was met with anxiety and dread, because there was a very distinct reason Bilbo had been avoiding visiting the Lonely Mountain. It meant more months of ignoring the way he felt about Thorin. It was so much easier to forget when he was hundreds of miles away in the Shire, but with Thorin in close proximity, Bilbo knew he would start pining all over again like he had during those last few months of their time together.
Not that he’d ever really stopped, but at least it wasn’t so bad when he wasn’t surrounded with a constant reminder.
Traveling with Fili and Kili was much more bearable than being dragged about by two masked bandits. Bilbo still hadn’t the slightest idea why they’d taken him in the first place, but it was a relief to be safe with his friends and heading to a familiar place after spending so much time as a captive.
Granted, without their uncle or friends to keep them in check, the brothers bickered a lot and sang off-key twice as much. It was a wonder that they hadn’t entirely ruined the Company’s singing that first night in Bag End years ago. Bilbo found himself the subject of focus for days on end, bombarded with asinine questions about hobbit culture and things like if Bilbo preferred fish over chicken or vice versa. He felt utterly drained by the second week, when they finally hit a town big enough to possess an Inn that accommodated smaller folk like dwarves and hobbits.
While Bilbo enjoyed himself with a warm bath and soft robe before curling up in bed, Fili and Kili spent the evening at the bar. It was well into the night before the two came stumbling up into the room and tussling their way to the other bed on the opposite end of the room. There was giggling and hushed whispers, followed by the thud and crash of a lamp being knocked over.
Their laughter died down soon enough, and for the first night in many months, Bilbo slept comfortably.
They started out again the next morning after breakfast and a quick restock of supplies (how on earth they had thought to bring enough coin in the first place, Bilbo was amazed). Each day that passed made Bilbo more and more restless with excitement and anxiety until they finally came upon the pass that lead into Erebor. Bilbo was suddenly overcome with the desire to leap off the wagon and run all the way back to Bag End when there came shouting from up on one of the castle balconies. Bilbo looked up, surprised to see the faint outline of what might have been Bofur, and couldn’t help but wave back at the mad arm flailing they were being given.
The closer they got, the better Bilbo could see that Thorin was waiting for them just outside the gates. Bilbo dragged in a sharp breath, letting it out as his right foot began to bounce nervously up and down. He could do this, it wasn’t like he hadn’t promised to come visit anyway. There was absolutely no reason for Bilbo to be anxious over a silly reunion, not even when they pulled up to the front gates and Thorin’s mouth quirked into the tiniest of smiles when he locked eyes with Bilbo.
“Thorin!” Kili cried, “look, we found Bilbo!”
Thorin’s focus shifted to his youngest nephew, eyebrow quirking as the dwarf standing beside Thorin made their way over. It must have been Fili and Kili’s mother, Dis, because she looked like an exact replica of Thorin (with softer facial hair and more jewels) and yet somehow more menacing.
“…found,” Thorin echoed stiffly, just as his sister reached up to snag one of Fili’s mustache braids, wrenching so hard he toppled out of the wagon with a yelp.
“Good on you, running off without a word to your poor mother about where you’d gone or if you had even taken your little brother with you!”
“Mum!” Fili cringed, almost bent in half to try and stop her from ripping the braid out of his face entirely, “we were just goin’ to get the halfling!”
“Yes!” Kili cried, jumping out of the wagon and flailing his arms about, “we had to save him! From bandits!”
Thorin’s focus snapped from watching his sister torture her son with amusement, to look at Kili and then Bilbo, “bandits?” he rasped, “what bandits?”
“the ones that kidnapped him!” Fili exclaimed, “you know… we got word from the Shire--and had to go searching for him? Ooow--mama, that hurts!”
“As it well should!” Dis snarled.
Bilbo climbed down from the wagon, “it was rather convenient of them. I don’t know where I’d be by now if they hadn’t come across the path my captors were taking.”
Thorin‘s eyes narrowed, darting from one nephew to the other in a way that made Bilbo think that perhaps he’d expected the two of them to find Bilbo faster or something. “Yes, very fortunate.”
Dis finally released Fili’s beard, giving him a shove so hard that he went tumbling into Kili, knocking the both of them to the ground. She marched on over to Bilbo, reaching out to brush at his dirty hair, “you must be exhausted from traveling with these two hellions--” she shot her sons a pointed look, “why don’t we get you settled in your room?”
“My room?” Bilbo echoed, feeling a little dizzy from everything that was happening at once. Thorin pushed his sister out of the way, placing his palm against Bilbo’s back just low enough on his spine that Bilbo’s skin broke out into gooseflesh.
“You told us you’d visit; and so we had a room set aside for the day you’d come,” Thorin murmured, guiding Bilbo away from his family and then leaning in close, “if I’m to be honest, I’m not entirely upset that …bandits…caused you to end up here.”
Bilbo sighed, wanting desperately to lean into the warmth of Thorin’s body. He hadn’t even realized how badly he’d missed Thorin until just then, walking through Erebor in stride with the King like he’d never left. “Well, I still haven’t the slightest notion of what they’d taken me for, but it was lucky for me that Fili and Kili were even able to spot us on the road. It was rather dark, and I was inside the cover of the wagon.”
“Must have been Kili’s keen eye that spotted you,” Thorin mused dryly, just as they reached the royal corridor. Thorin opened up the third door on the right, gesturing for Bilbo to head inside.
“Wash up--there should be some clothes in there that you can change into. Once you’re ready to come out, I’m sure the rest of the company will be happy to see you.”
Looking up from where he’d been marveling at the intricacy of the four poster bed’s design, Bilbo grinned, “of course. I shan’t take too long.”
Thorin nodded, hesitating for a moment before, “it’s good to see you again.”
“You, as well,” Bilbo echoed, feeling a bit of elation swell up in his chest. Thorin cleared his throat, nodding and shutting the door to leave Bilbo to bathe and dress.