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Nothing Gold Can Stay

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There are times Bilbo Baggins sorely wishes he could live in a hole – times like these, when it's raining cats and dogs, the coffeemaker is broken, and his car is dead, which means he will have to take the bus home. That is, after he's done with marking this newest batch of papers. There is a reason why he decided to stay at work a little longer today, but he can't for the life of him remember it. Oh, yes, it probably had to do with the fact that it started pouring the second he announced the end of his last lecture.

Tapping his pen on the table in a rhythm that tries and fails to be quicker than the constant rapping of raindrops, he exhales raggedly, glaring at the leftover coffee in his cup, and struggles with a difficult decision – that is, whether to finish it right now and be coffee-less for the remainder of the afternoon, or let it go cold, forget about it, and complain later. Oh, yes, life would definitely be easier if he lived in a hole.

Nothing shabby, mind you, oh no – he would make it the coziest hole ever, with numerous rooms, and large, soft armchairs, and, yes, definitely a pantry; oh, and a real, proper fireplace, and wooden floors... he stops himself just in time, his pen starting to scribble his architectural plans all over Becky Higgins' essay. Oh, wonderful, yet another one about The Faults In Our Stars. How much has it been – six, so far, this quarter? He never should have included it in the syllabus. Or, better yet, you never should have settled for teaching literature, a tiny nagging voice remarks, but he ignores it, fiercely, and pushes his glasses up instead, leaning back in his chair and delving into yet another account of how John Green changed a life.

It seems that at least some things are going in his favor, though, because he is soon interrupted by the phone ringing – it's the receptionist from the main building, strangely enough.


“Professor Baggins? You have a visitor.”

“Oh? Who is it?”

“He won't tell me,” the young woman – Janine, was it? – says entirely too nervously for Bilbo's tastes, “he says he's a friend. And that it's important.”

“Well, does he look dangerous to you?”

“No, I... well, he's old. Like, really old,” the receptionist whispers almost conspiratorially, “very tall. He's wearing a hat.”

“A hat.”

“Yes! Can you please come over now?”

“I'll be there in a moment,” Bilbo replies, and frowns at the phone when the receptionist hangs up.

He can't for the life of him think of any old friend wearing a hat, but finding out what's going on definitely beats his current occupation. Oh, and there is a coffeemaker in the small kitchen in the main building, isn't there? Well, that's decided.


The corridors are quiet as a vast majority of lectures is over now – it's been over a year now, but Bilbo still marvels at the fact that it's only slightly past four in the afternoon, and all the students have gone home. A regular high school, he reminds himself, you're on a regular public high school now. He's not by any means a snob, but he knows he enjoyed the atmosphere at his previous workplace a great deal more, at least up to a certain point...

“Bilbo Baggins! Well, look at you!”

Utterly lost in his thoughts, Bilbo has reached the main building's foyer almost without noticing, and the man waiting at the reception rises from the leather sofa there and makes his way towards him, hand outstretched.

“Yes, can I help you?” Bilbo offers, shooting a look at the receptionist, who merely shrugs.

“That remains to be seen,” the man smiles, and when he takes off his hat, recognition finally kicks in.

“...Gandalf? Is that really you?”

...And apparently it is – of course it is. He laughs heartily and envelops Bilbo's hand in both of his, and, well, it's been so long Bilbo can barely believe it. The memories of Bree Boarding school flood his head immediately, the fond ones all from the time Gandalf (should he be calling him Professor Grey, out of respect? He dismisses that quickly.) was still Principal.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he wonders, genuinely amazed, and Gandalf simply laughs some more.

“I should ask you the same! Is this hellhole the only school that would have you? Oh, no offense, miss,” he waves at the receptionist, who's gaping at them quite incredulously.

“Actually, yes,” Bilbo mutters, and Gandalf frowns at him, but only manages to hold the laughter in for a fleeting moment, and Bilbo grins.

“Will you tell me what you're doing here if I make you a cup of coffee?” he offers.

“I suppose this... beautiful, cozy little institution doesn't have its own cafe?” Gandalf wonders loudly, and Bilbo laughs before he can stop himself.

“No, it really doesn't, I'm afraid,” he says, “come with me.”


With the coffeemaker cheerfully whirring away in the thankfully deserted kitchen near the chemistry labs, Bilbo and Gandalf sit down at a table by the window – the rain doesn't seem quite so horrible now, Bilbo realizes, as he feels the excitement at seeing his former employer and mentor once again, rising.

“You know,” Gandalf remarks, searching for something in his sleek handbag, “just because you were fired for being... what was it, 'too rebellious'?... doesn't mean you should stop.”

Bilbo frowns.

“If you're suggesting I took this job because I wanted to...

“No, no, nothing like that. I know Saruman took it upon himself to ruin your chances for a career quite extensively.”

Gandalf says it matter-of-factly, as is after all his nature, and Bilbo is pleasantly surprised at his own lack of bitterness about the whole thing – the knowledge that he was in the right, doing what he did towards the end of his days at Bree, was always enough. In a way, he knew right after Gandalf resigned and Saruman came, that things would only go downhill from there. He was immensely sorry to leave Bree's students behind, but they were the only enjoyable part of the whole messy business in the end, and really, the personal struggle he'd have to undergo to stay behind just for them would not have been worth it.

He should really write that down sometime, and read it before he goes to bed on dreary days like these.

“Why are you here, Gandalf?” he asks, perhaps a bit more sternly than he'd intended, but it doesn't seem to faze the old man – he merely smiles brightly, and pulls a thick leather binder out of his bag.

“Ah, there we go,” he states, pulling out a paper folder and sliding it on the table towards Bilbo, “tell me, how much do you know about Erebor?”

“The country?” Bilbo mumbles, flipping the folder open, but closing it again the very next second, because he notices the beautiful coat of arms on the front page.

“Yes, the country,” Gandalf replies, and when Bilbo looks at him, he is gazing at him expectantly – later on, Bilbo thinks he should have recognized it then, the entirely too dangerous gleam of excitement in his eyes.

“Oh, erm...” he clears his throat, “it's a, a northern-European monarchy, I believe, somewhere between Switzerland and Italy, I think? Rather tiny.”

“Indeed,” Gandalf nods, “it's about the size of your ordinary American capital, if it weren't for the mountains. A part of the EU, but still retains its historical currency – the crown, I believe it is called. To that effect, its GDP is among the five highest in Europe. Suffered a rather memorable coup d'état twelve years ago, but has been among the most politically stable places to be ever since.”

“Fascinating,” Bilbo utters, getting up to prepare the coffee, “but why are you telling me all this? ...You still take two sugars, no milk, correct?”

“Correct. And I'm telling you all this because there might be a job opening for you there.”

Bilbo laughs, he can't quite help it.

“In Erebor?” he says, “Gandalf, you know I'm all about new experiences, but I'm not sure uprooting my entire life here and going halfway across the world qualifies.”

“Oh, I'm pleased to see you still have a penchant for the dramatic,” Gandalf chuckles, “may I remind you we are in England? It's a five-hour flight at most. And I haven't even told you what the job is.”

Bilbo sighs deeply, sets their cups of coffee on the table and sits down, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Alright then,” he says indulgently, “tell me what the job is.”

“The king is looking for a personal tutor for his nephew, the heir to the throne.”

For a few silent moments, Bilbo merely stares at him.

“Well, that's... not exactly up my alley,” he remarks at last.

“Oh, nonsense. Read the file. The boy is thirteen years old, and I'm given to understand he's quite charming-”


“-and the money is rather excellent, just between you and me. I do think it would be a nice opportunity to-”


The man falls silent, and the small, steady smile on his lips is now somewhat obnoxious, Bilbo realizes.

“Why me?” he asks simply, “why are you offering this to me, of all people?”

“I just thought you could use a little... excitement,” Gandalf replies entirely innocently.

“I get excited plenty, believe me.”


The tone is far too familiar, and Bilbo catches himself frowning as he leans back and wraps his arms even tighter around his body – he has no patience for Gandalf's judgments, he thinks.

“I will have you know I am perfectly happy here,” he mumbles, gazing out of the window, because he knows already that Gandalf will be everything but convinced, “the school is nice enough, and so is the city. The... the pay isn't exorbitant, but this job hardly produces rich people. And I like it. The job. So... in conclusion, I'm – I'm very glad to see you again, Gandalf, and the offer is very... very generous, but I'm afraid I'm not interested.”

When he does brave looking at Gandalf, he sees that the old man isn't angry, or amused, or anything similarly easy to deal with – no, he merely looks disappointed, and oh, what did Bilbo do to deserve this?

“Well, I see you've changed, Bilbo Baggins, and not entirely for the better,” Gandalf says simply, “I remember a time when you would like nothing better than to, as you say, uproot your whole life and go halfway across the world in search of new experiences.”

Bilbo groans, but apparently, Gandalf is not finished.

“You organized a student uprising at one of the top ten schools in the country, for crying out loud!” he continues with a fervor that makes Bilbo all but nauseous, “you ran an illegal library out of your office, remember? Oh, yes, I know about that, Saruman was very vocal with his complaints.”

“Yes, and Saruman was also the one who fired me over all that, and more.”

“And more!”

“Gandalf, please!

The old man raises an eyebrow, and Bilbo realizes he has somehow uncurled himself and leaned forward, his hands in the air to articulate his point. He retreats quickly, and Gandalf tsk-tsks.

“Well, I'm glad there's at least some spunk left in you,” he offers, and Bilbo blushes, draping his large sweater closer around his shoulders, as Gandalf smiles kindly, almost sadly.

“I would hate to watch it all go to waste.”

He reaches for the mystery file, and Bilbo's gaze shoots to it immediately, on a momentary impulse to grab it and keep it – he sees Gandalf's smile widen, and slumps in the chair, sighing deeply, managing a half-hearted scowl.

“At least let me treat you to a dinner,” Gandalf offers, and, pointing out of the window, “your decision might be influenced by the fact that I have a car. You do so hate the rain.”

Bilbo pfft's.

“Of all the memorable things about me.”

Gandalf chuckles and finishes his coffee, and Bilbo very pointedly doesn't watch the tip of the file's smooth brown paper peeking out of his bag almost tauntingly.

“You know,” the man says, standing up and putting on his coat, “it rains progressively less in Erebor, and the temperatures are indefinitely less fickle than-”

“Stop it.”

And he does, surprisingly enough. They have a lovely dinner in The Green Dragon, one of Bilbo's favorites, and spend the evening revealing as much about the years in which they haven't seen each other as they're comfortable with – Bilbo begins to realize the striking lack of the remarkable in his own life, though, as Gandalf talks of visiting Peru, and buying an apartment in New York, not two weeks before he learned that a new dig was opening in Athens – his former students (and colleagues even, Bilbo among them) used to jokingly call him Indiana Jones Senior, and really, it seems like his life never runs short of its supply of excitement. But Bilbo is not jealous. Certainly not – he is happy. Wishing to go and see the world is more like a... a five-year plan. Ten-year plan. Something he'll devote himself to when he has more time, more money, once he's settled in this position. At Bree, him and the students got to go abroad at least twice a year, but one simply can't have everything, now, can they?

And so he is perfectly happy with just nodding along as Gandalf spins his stories, and bids farewell to him fondly at the doorstep of his home.

“How long will you be staying in town?”

“Not long at all, I'm afraid,” Gandalf says, “I'm flying out on Friday.”

“Oh? Where to?” Bilbo asks politely, scrutinizing the back alley for any of the neighbors' cats attempting to sneak in when he's not looking and find shelter from the rain.

“Erebor,” Gandalf replies, and when Bilbo looks at him, he's smiling quite innocently.

Bilbo hates that.

“...Really?” he utters noncommittally, then, grinning nervously, “will you be taking that job?”

“Ha, certainly not,” the man chuckles, “no, I'm interested in the mountains. They've discovered an entirely new vein of mithril recently, and a number of cave paintings along with it! Obviously I need to take a look.”

“Obviously,” Bilbo mutters, full of suspicion.

Gandalf gazes at him, and Bilbo gazes back. Bilbo narrows his eyes. Gandalf's eyebrows arch up.

“I...” Bilbo starts.

“Well then, I should be off,” Gandalf cuts him off entirely too cheerfully, extending his hand to him, “it was an immense pleasure seeing you again, Bilbo! Take care of yourself. Live a little!”

“I...” Bilbo tries again, frowning further.

But Gandalf's face is filled with nothing but seemingly genuine kindness, and Bilbo exhales, nodding and shaking his hand.

“The pleasure was all mine,” he states, “have... have fun. I do hope we'll get to see each other again soon!”

“Certainly, certainly!”

Bilbo can't help himself, he looks back over his shoulder as he enters his house, but Gandalf is already getting into his car, and Bilbo sighs, raking his hand through his hair. He's being silly, of course – he asked Gandalf to let the whole job-abroad thing go, and he did. People do that. It's only polite. Yes.

He finds the thick, luxurious file with the silver-blue coat of arms on top stuffed in between the binders in his bag about ten minutes later, and realizes it's been very, very long since he's felt an urge to kick something. It doesn't help that it contains an obnoxiously pink stick-it note reading the words 'Live a little' and that Gandalf responds to his 'Did you plant your bloody file in my things??!!' (he feels the two question marks and exclamation marks really are necessary) with a simple 'Indeed I did' with a smiley face attached. Bilbo despises smiley faces.

He reads it nevertheless. It proves impossible not to, even though it's just lying there on the table, doing absolutely nothing, as he watches the late night news. He keeps stealing glances at it until finally, he relents with a groan and reaches for his glasses.

He inspects the coat of arms first – it's rather beautiful, a silver-black eagle on a rich blue background, and it reminds Bilbo of all those obscure European royal families he used to pay so little attention to back in university. What was the name of the royals in Erebor again...? Oh, the Durins, yes, that's right – he is reminded on the very first page he sees, containing a short account of the family's history in beautiful writing. He skims that, wondering what's so incredibly hard to understand about the job offer so that it needs to be described on, how many...?

“This is ridiculous,” he mutters as he flicks through the pages, each neatly numbered and going up to seventy two.

But he realizes what's going on, quickly – it's the contract itself. An actual business contract, and a painstakingly written one at that, on seventy two bloody pages, with... yes, with the room for a signature at the very end. What on earth did Gandalf expect him to do with this?! Actually sign it? Mildly distressed, he all but throws the file away, texts Gandalf a dry 'No way this is happening, sorry.' and goes to sleep feeling rather uneasy for some reason that night.

The next day is horrible, no matter how much he tries to convince himself otherwise. Half his morning class have 'forgotten' that it is time to hand in their essays, and they have the audacity to try and play it off as 'being generally too busy with everything', which results in Bilbo being entirely too harsh with them and walking away feeling like the villain. Then a junior starts vomiting in the middle of his lesson on Shakespeare and he waits for the school nurse with her even though there are twenty kids left unattended in the classroom, and his various colleagues keep walking in and offering their sympathies, and he watches the unceasing rain behind the windows of the infirmary, and at last, lets himself wonder if this is really the thing he went to Oxford for.

He never really believed in destiny, or, or... omens that would show him where his life was supposed to go. Doing what one loves, that he could get behind. Being comfortable in one's skin, finding a job that's not horrible, going to bed at a reasonable hour. 'Be your own hero', his mother used to say, bless her. She didn't believe in boredom – it was something that came from not knowing what one wants, Belladona would tell him. 'Make sure you're always doing what you want to be doing,' she would remind Bilbo over and over again any time he stopped by for tea. She was brilliant at the sort of vague, general advice one would find in a self-help book, and she loved giving it; and Bilbo loved her for it.

She was the first one he came out to, sixteen years old and utterly terrified, and within the first few months, she filled his head with so many generic lines about equality and bravery and inner beauty, that he somehow managed to stop feeling like the odd one out, and started feeling like someone with something to say. She made sure he retained that idea, and fought his way to the top of the field he excelled at, and she did it effortlessly, so that Bilbo really did feel like he was just being his own hero the whole time.

The last Belladona saw of her son's successes was when he landed the job at Bree, not two years after gaining his doctorate... She succumbed to cancer not long after that, and it was probably for the better, Bilbo thinks bitterly – at least she didn't have to watch him go from 'oh yes, such bright future ahead for that lad' to 'all that wasted potential, such a shame'. She would probably be mortified had she learned that they almost didn't hire him, here at Westfarthing High, for being 'overqualified'.

And had she been here now, watching him mope over a fresh stack of poorly worded homework, she'd probably smack him over the top of his head with a dishcloth. He could really use that. He could really, really use that.

He gets home utterly knackered that day, tired of the rain, tired of people, and, most of all, tired of himself. He almost forgets to pick the mailbox, and simply tosses its contents on the sofa, going about fixing himself dinner. The phone rings, and he takes a second to decide whether he wants to answer it at all, what with the eggs frying so nicely, then groans when he reads the name of the caller, and thinks, well, better be done with it.

“Hello, Aunt Lobelia.”

“Bilbo, darling! How are you?”

Her voice is as shrill as ever, tone blatantly uncaring, and Bilbo knows that if he endures more than two minutes of it, he will pay with a headache.

“I'm fine, thank you. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I'm calling because... Surely you remember!”

Bilbo blinks mutely out of the window.

“I'm sure I don't, forgive me,” he utters dryly, “what is this about, then?”

“The birthday party!” Lobelia giggles with an intensity that threatens to burst poor Bilbo's eardrums, “Eglantine is turning forty! Your other Aunt? You wouldn't forget, would you?”

Bilbo angles the phone away from his ear shamelessly as Lobelia graces him with another burst of what she's surely hoping is gleeful giggling, but sounds to Bilbo more the neighbor's tomcat complaining when he refuses to let him in.

“Yes, yes, of course I remember,” Bilbo mutters, carefully operating the pan with one hand only, sliding his eggs onto a plate.

“Excellent!” Lobelia shrieks, “this Sunday! We do so hope you'll be coming! We haven't seen you in years! Years!

“Yes, I am aware of that, Aunt,” he mumbles, sinking onto the sofa and sorting through the pile of mail next to him to kill time before Lobelia is finished.

“Well, would it kill you to sound at least a little excited, darling?” she carries on, “we are family, you know!”

“Yes, yes, I'm sorry, it's just that my day hasn't been particularly stellar, and... surely you'll... understand...”

But he loses track of what he was about to say, because he finds a strange envelope among the usual junk adverts and monthly bank statements. It's long and crisp white, without a single letter signifying it is in fact addressed to Bilbo. Vaguely, he registers that Lobelia has resumed her rant about 'family values' and 'quality time', and he searches the general chaos of the table for a letter opener. Granting Lobelia a second of his attention, he learns that his little cousins would be thrilled to play the piano for him, and he offers a noncommittal 'Yes, yes, lovely' and places the phone on the table gingerly, Lobelia's voice like the distant buzzing of an annoying insect, and goes about opening the envelope carefully.

Out slides out a long stripe of thick, luxurious folded paper, and it takes Bilbo a second, but then...

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!

The phone goes silent, and he hears a demanding '...Bilbo?!'. He fumbles with it, suddenly enraged.

“I'm sorry, Aunt Lobelia, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to call you later. Or, you know what, I won't. I'll see you Sunday. Alright? Alright. Bye bye.”

And he ends the call with a furious groan, and goes about dialing a different number. Apparently Gandalf is 'currently speaking to someone else', and Bilbo comments that with a high-pitched, angry giggle, and types a fervent text message instead.

“A plane ticket?!” he exclaims the words he's typing out loud, “really?!

He simply sits glaring at it for what might be minutes or hours, remembering the eggs at one point and all but swallowing them in one outraged bite, until finally, the phone rings again.

“Gandalf!” he all but cries.

“Hello, Bilbo, dear fellow!”

“Oh, don't you 'dear fellow' me! You left a bloody plane ticket in my mailbox!”

“Did I?” Gandalf chuckles.

“Yes, yes, you did! I'm looking at it right now! One-way to Erebor, Friday, 10am! Friday, Gandalf! It's Tuesday now! Honestly, what were you expecting?!”

“Are you coming?” the man asks simply, and Bilbo hears it in his voice, the sly smile.

“Am I... Do you really think I'd pack up and leave in two days to fly god knows where for a shady job you offered me out of the blue?”

“Well, I'd hardly call it shady, you would be working for royalty, you know-”

“But I won't! I won't be working for royalty, Gandalf!” Bilbo cries almost desperately, “all of this... it's ridiculous! I don't understand why you came to me in the first place, of all people! I don't know what's gotten into you, but I'm really... I'm not the man to just recklessly abandon everything on a whim and go live halfway across the world-”

“It's just a five hour flight, I told you-”

“Gandalf, stop. I'm begging you! This has gone too far! You should have looked elsewhere, and I'm sorry, really, I am, but... good day!”

And with that, he ends the call resolutely and all but tosses the phone away, flinging his head back and groaning. It takes him a good long while, fuming in a rage he hasn't felt in years, before he finally settles down, pinching the bridge of his nose and deciding he's to riled up to go to sleep any time soon, and so he might as well try to remedy this whole mess with a nice cup of tea.

It's infuriating, he thinks as the kettle boils and he paces in his small living room, it's unfair. Gandalf appearing out of nowhere, interrupting his peace like that! Who does he think he is, honestly? He stands in front of the window, hands clasped behind his back, and watches the unceasing rain cascading off the low roof of the backyard garage, and the lids of the garbage cans; watches the two stray cats huddled together in the one dry corner by the staircase leading to the cellar, and manages to wrap himself up in quite the solemn pathos before the kettle whistles.

Obviously he doesn't need this, he tells himself, turning on the TV and wrapping himself in an additional blanket to fend off the cold, clutching the steaming cup close to his chest. Obviously. He's happy, he's settled, he's not going anywhere. There's the family thing on Sunday, too, yes, of course...

“Oh, you're joking,” he groans.

The late night news are broadcasting a report about Erebor right before his very eyes, about stock market values or whatever, and he scoffs and fumbles for the remote, promptly switching the channel and settling on a cooking show. It lasts about ten seconds, before his eyes trail to the plane ticket on the table, and the file below it, and he decides there's no harm in... well, watching TV, and switches back to the report.

-and the crown is expected to rise in value steadily during the next quarter. With me is Eric Meyers, President of the London branch of the Royal Bank of Erebor – Mister Meyers, this past year has seen an increase in stock value that is nothing short of incredible. Some say that Erebor will not retain its currency for long, but so far, it seems like the logical thing to do...

Bilbo is hardly interested in the financial talk, but fortunately, it is accompanied by footage of what must be some sort of an official statement by the King, the sharply dressed man speaking to a large poll of politicians and journalists.

The King, Thorin II, spoke yesterday about the country's need to protect its historical values, the currency dating all the way back to the 15th century being one of them-”

He is very... well, kingly, Bilbo decides, sipping on his tea carefully – a handsome, stern face with a full beard that only serves to further sharpen his cheekbones, his eyes a piercing, striking blue even on the recording, and... Bilbo has to laugh at himself – obviously a very handsome King is not enough of a reason to just up and leave for Erebor. He stretches his arms and yawns. Yes. He will go to sleep now, and all will have been forgotten in the morning. Oh, right, the plane ticket and the contract... Realizing he doesn't have to be at work until eleven, he firmly decides to deal with all that in the morning, and if he dreams of another country somewhere far away to the east, with mountains, and palaces, and, and... modern royalty that night, no one can really blame him.

Looking back, he will never be able to tell what exactly it was that made him decide at last. Perhaps he was lost the moment he decided not to throw the plane ticket and the thick file into the dustbin and be done with it. Perhaps, more likely, it was the rain, never stopping, and the numerous puddles he managed to step into on his way to work that day. Or maybe it was all the Principal's fault, calling him into her office and explaining at length why it would be wiser for him to work half-time starting the next quarter, since he 'only teaches Literature, after all'.

The last straw might have been the article he read over Wednesday dinner, about three of Bree's students writing award-winning essays and getting to travel to France with their Professor (Bilbo used to be that Professor) – he genuinely does not know.

What he does know is that the strange mixture of fright, excitement and stubborn anger he feels as he marches towards the Principal's office on Thursday, not twenty four hours before the flight for Erebor leaves, his notice in his, entirely too steady, hands, is something he hasn't experienced since he handed that very same notice to a different Principal a couple of years ago.

It's the terrifying feeling of doing something right, and of knowing there is absolutely no turning back. It's silly, and reckless, and horrible. It's liberating. He knows for a fact he will never step foot into Westfarthing High again, and he knows he will not make the birthday party on Sunday, and he knows he will not be there to pick up his car from the repair shop next week, but he doesn't care.

Oh, he's being terribly, terribly selfish, but he fights off every panic attack that threatens to overwhelm him that afternoon by blaring oldies from his small kitchen radio and packing everything into the only two suitcases he owns. He might not have a good suit for whatever will be expected of him. Pretty much all his ties are polka-dotted, as are a lot of his socks. He hasn't had a haircut in weeks, and he only has that one oversized pair of glasses, and there is no way all of his books will fit... Should he take his favorite blend of tea with him? And his mother's doilies? Oh, he certainly must take those...

It's well past midnight when he finally allows himself to collapse on the sofa, only to jump right back up again and go search for his phone to order a taxi for the morning. ...There. It's done. His fate is quite literally sealed, and he feels a slight tremor starting in his hands – he crawls into bed feeling somewhat faint, but sleep eludes him for hours. He lies on his back with the blanket pushed up to his chin, listens to the rain that hasn't stopped for days now, and realizes he will probably be very, very sorry at some point in the not-so-distant future, but right now, against his better judgment, he is nothing but sinfully exhilarated.

The lack of sleep proves a hindrance as he hauls his suitcases to the taxi that's been blaring its horn for the past ten minutes, and he slumps inside, shivering from the cold and dead certain he's forgotten at least a dozen absolutely essential things.

“Hm?” he mumbles, his eyes glued to his small green door.

“I said, where to?” the taxi chauffeur repeats impatiently.

“Oh, right,” Bilbo mutters, clutching his bag with the plane ticket stored safely inside, “the airport, please.”

Of course Gandalf finds him right after he checks in, looking dapper with his long coat, a hat and a matching ascot, and the sleek walking cane in his hands – that, and entirely too chipper for Bilbo's tastes.

“I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life, Bilbo Baggins,” he says cheerfully, leading them to their gate, and Bilbo very nearly groans.

“Save it. I slept for about twenty minutes, and honestly, I'm still not entirely sure what I'm doing here! You manipulated me into this!”

“I did no such thing,” Gandalf smiles, “and come now, it'll be an adventure!”

“Oh, yes, brilliant,” Bilbo sighs, his only concern at the moment being the time he will have to wait before burying himself in the comfortable seat on the airplane and making at least an attempt at sleeping.

However, the panic and self-loathing over making horrible last-minute decisions has not kicked in quite yet, and so he simply rubs his eyes and hurries to match Gandalf's long stride, managing a crooked smile when the man grins at him.

“You'll do just fine, you'll see,” Gandalf states, “you'll have the time of your life!”

Bilbo sighs, deeply and profoundly.

“Right, well,” he says, “just promise me it won't be raining in Erebor.”