In the far west, past the Misty Mountains, at the center of Eriador lay a small village. It was quiet, and peaceful, and its hobbits were a friendly sort. From above, it usually looked like a very green tapestry with splashes of color here and there.
But a long winter had come to Middle Earth, and Hobbiton was green no longer. Its lands had turned gray and black, covered with snow and mud. Its people kept to their homes, huddling around the fireplaces, shivering at the shrieking of the harsh winds as they ravaged the village, and clasping each other's hands at the sound of wolves.
At the north-western edge of Hobbiton, inside a snow-covered hill, Bilbo Baggins reaches for a log off the ever-dwindling pile and places it in the hearth. It is late, and his parents have retired for the night, seeking warmth beneath their blankets. But Bilbo feels restless; something is stirring in the air, brewing, and he has hidden a kitchen knife in one of his books. They've all heard the stories of wolves leaving hobbits torn to shreds on the streets, and orcs so strong they can break down doors. He knows a kitchen knife won't be enough, but it's better than nothing, and it grants him a small measure of comfort.
The wind howls and hail rebounds off of Bag End. Tick, tick, tick it goes, a steady, lulling rhythm. But the cadence changes and Bilbo jerks upright as a flood of hail suddenly bangs against the front door and windows. He grabs the knife, clenching it as he sneaks towards the glass pane. The wind obscures his vision, but he can hear something, something strange and unusual. Orcs, wolves, bandits, his mind supplies, but no, it's something else he feels, something...new.
The wind rushes in when he opens the door, and he barely keeps the wood from slamming into the wall. He tugs on his coat and steps outside, closing the door behind him. Holding his knife in front of him, he creeps slowly along the wall. He can see no footsteps in the mud, which reassures him that it is neither wolves nor orcs. But he had heard something.
He follows the steps down and around the smial. The wind pushes and pulls him more and more as he climbs the stairs that lead to their back garden. Bilbo has just about made up his mind that he has imagined everything and that going back inside is truly the sensible thing to do, when he sees it.
It's just a blurry shape at first, obscured by the wind and snow, but even from a distance he can see that it is enormous. Maybe part of a mountain crashed in our garden, he thinks hysterically, but then it moves and he drops his knife.
He squats, hands scrabbling in the snow and mud, never taking his eyes off the creature in his backyard. He can hear heavy footsteps now, blending with the wind, and his heart lodges in his throat and refuses to budge. He'll be eaten for sure, and his parents won't even know what happened to him because a creature this size probably won't even leave a pile of bones behind, and it's right in front of him now and he doesn't even have his knife anymore to defend himself against this-
Bilbo blinks, because surely he's imagining things, but no, there really is a dwarf standing in front of him, staring down at him. He slowly stands up and the dwarf's eyes follow him, fixed intently on his.
"Er, hello?" Bilbo finally shouts, hoping the dwarf can hear him over the wind. The dwarf doesn't react at first, but then he turns slightly, looking at something behind him, and Bilbo leans to the left and tries to see what could possibly be so fascinating.
Behind the dwarf, the enormous, dark shape that Bilbo had momentarily forgotten about, starts to move.
We're all doomed, he thinks as the dragon finally comes into view, and it's the last thought he has before succumbing to the urge to simply faint.
The first thing Bilbo sees when he wakes up is the fire, merrily crackling in the hearth. The second thing he sees is his knife.
He jerks upright and scrambles for it only to find himself falling to the floor. His feet are tangled in a blanket, but he ignores that predicament in favor of grabbing the knife. He snatches it off the small table with shaky hands, and holds it up defensively as his eyes scan the room.
Seated in an armchair opposite the couch is the dwarf, and he is giving Bilbo an amused look.
Even by the firelight, the dwarf still strikes an imposing figure. The fire reflects off the armor covering his chest and shows the slightest hints of gray in his beard and long, dark hair. His shoulders are covered in fur, as are his huge boots, and Bilbo can see the sword leaning against the side of the chair. He glances at his paltry kitchen knife and, quietly, puts it back on the table.
He quickly untangles himself and gets to his feet, hands automatically folding the blanket. He freezes as he is about to put it away.
"D-dragon," he stutters. The blanket falls from his hands and he frantically scans the windows for a sign of the beast. Something lands heavily on his arm and his eyes are drawn to the dwarf's hand and then up to his face.
"It's alright," the dwarf says, "no harm will come to you." His hand awkwardly pats Bilbo's arm a few times.
Bilbo stares at him with wide eyes. "There's a dragon in my garden!"
The dwarf nods, a small smile playing about his lips. "Yes, I know."
"Shouldn't you, you know," Bilbo gestures frantically at the sword, "kill it? It'll eat us all!"
The smile grows wider, and the stranger's grip on his arm gentles. He calmly steers Bilbo back towards the couch and gives him a gentle nudge to get him seated. He scoops up the blanket and, ever so carefully, settles it around Bilbo's shoulders. Bilbo stares at him as the dwarf settles next to him, utterly bewildered.
"I promise you, the dragon will do you no harm." He sounds entirely sure of that, and something in Bilbo's mind finally clicks.
"You came with the dragon?" he squeaks out. The dwarf nods.
"We didn't mean to startle you," he says, and oh yes, they did a marvelous job of that, Bilbo thinks crossly. "The storm came upon us suddenly and we were forced to land."
"Be that as it may," Bilbo says stiffly, "you and your- dragon, are trespassing on private property, so would you please be so kin-"
His large fingers are gentle as they touch Bilbo's curls, and Bilbo scoots back with a small yelp. "What are you doing?" he asks, indignation warring with fear, and the stranger withdraws his hand and looks contrite.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs, "I know this must be quite startling." The dwarf lifts his head and regards Bilbo with eyes that burn with an emotion he can't quite define. "I think fate led me to you."
Bilbo can't help it; he laughs, awkwardly. "I think a storm led you here, Master Dwarf, and I think you should be on your way as soon as the wind settles."
The dwarf lowers his gaze. "Thorin."
Bilbo raises an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"My name," he clarifies, "is Thorin."
"Oh. Right." Bilbo blinks. "I'm Bilbo Baggins."
Thorin smiles warmly at him and inclines his head slightly. Not to be outdone (his mother has raised a proper hobbit, after all) Bilbo responds in kind.
"Bilbo," Thorin repeats, and the way he says it- Bilbo clears his throat and tugs the blanket snugly around himself.
Next thing he knows, a warm hand is touching his face. "You're still cold," Thorin murmurs, and before Bilbo can say anything the dwarf's heavy fur coat is wrapped around him. He stares at Thorin's back as the latter adds more logs to the fire, for once completely at a loss.
"You should get some rest." Thorin's voice startles Bilbo and he realizes he's been staring at Thorin for- he doesn't even know how long it's been. The warmth of the coat and the fire are lulling him into a sense of security, and he feels powerless to fight it. After all, he thinks, suppressing a giggle, if Thorin had wanted to do anything to him, he could have done it already.
"I can't invite your dragon in," he finds himself saying, "but feel free to stay here." He yawns. "Until the storm clears. Of course."
Thorin chuckles softly, and Bilbo burrows further into his little cocoon. It occurs to him that he probably should warn his parents, but it is a fleeting thought, easily forgotten.
A touch to his hair, whispers, "Umkhûhazu", he hears, and he doesn't understand it, doesn't understand any of this, but sleep is suddenly the most important thing and he lets himself slip away.
Thorin is gone when he wakes up.
His mother is already awake and bustling about in the kitchen. She berates him for sleeping on the couch all night, but doesn't mention any unexpected guests. The warm coat, too, was gone when he woke up. Bilbo refuses to admit he is a little disappointed.
Instead, he helps his mother set the table, sneakily snatches a piece of toast when her back is turned, and just as sneakily puts the kitchen knife back in the drawer before she starts to wonder where it went. He notices that their supply of wood needs restocking, and since his father hasn't come down yet, Bilbo puts on his coat and braves the chilly weather outside.
The first thing he hears is a dull thudding. Someone else is chopping wood. Tentative and a little curious, he makes his way to the back garden, and comes to a sudden stop.
The dragon is still there.
And so is Thorin.