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The Warp

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Oddly enough, Bilbo had been more preoccupied with the idea of being burnt to a crisp by a dragon than anything else… which was probably why the thought that they could be attacked by anything other than a dragon hadn’t really crossed his mind.

Obviously it hadn’t crossed anyone else’s mind, which was also obvious by the surprise on their faces when there was suddenly a sword through Dwalin’s back and out the front of his chest.

Things went downhill pretty quickly after that.

Bilbo, the least talented fighter in their group, had surprisingly managed to last the longest- long enough to see Kili struck down, and then Fili moments after, long enough to see Bofur collapse on the ground, slowly choking on blood.

Long enough to watch Thorin’s head topple off his shoulders, and Azog roar triumphantly.

It wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined the night ending, clawing through the forest, covered in dirt and blood, but he’s pretty sure something in his brain broke because suddenly there are horses everywhere, and someone’s shouting to get a healer.

Heavy feet land on the ground near him, and through the blood in his eyes he can tell they’re of Dwarvish make. He manages to lift his head up slightly more to get a better look at the stranger, though it turns out to be less of a stranger and more of… well; Thorin. Who Bilbo is sure was just relieved of his head not three minutes before.

But he looks… different. Odd.

But maybe that’s the insanity kicking in.

“Oh, dear,” Bilbo manages, before rolling onto his back and passing out.

 


 

He wakes up to soft murmuring, a surprisingly comforting thing. Comforting, of course, usually because he was often woke up by yelling nowadays. His stomach lurches, as if just realising it didn’t feel all that well, and his head begins to throb dully. Or, at least, he realises that his head is throbbing dully.

“…no idea where the wee lad is from,” a familiar voice says. “I’ve never seen feet like that before.”

“Seems a bit odd,” a second voice adds, gruff. “We checked the whole of those forests, scanned ‘em dry, but there’s no sign of a fight.”

Bilbo manages to open his eyes slightly, catching sight of two figures. One, very large and strapping, two familiar axes strapped to his back, and the second a smaller, thinner shape, a blur of grey hair.

“Oh,” Bilbo says, recognising them. His eyes open fully now, with realisation.

Both Dwarves turn to him. “Well, look who’s up, then!” Oin declares. “You were causing us a bit of worry.”

“Not a lad,” Bilbo manages, struggling to sit up.

Dwalin looks confused. “Sorry?” he asks.

“You called me a ‘wee lad’,” he says accusingly. “I’ll have you know I am 50 years old.” Both the Dwarves guffaw, and Bilbo huffs. “That is a perfectly adult age where I come from,” he announces, putting his hands on his hips.

“And where are you from , lad?” Oin asks.

It takes Bilbo a moment to formulate a reply. After all, he’s pretty sure he’s mad. Not long ago these people were dead and now they’re standing there in front of him looking... well, happy. Which is weird. At least for Bilbo.

“Where am I now?” he asks instead of answering, wanting to know what strange place his mind had conjured up. Maybe he was dead, and this was some sort of afterlife. Maybe he was hallucinating. That made sense. He was probably in a coma somewhere in a ditch, still in the cold and dead woods.

“You’re in Erebor, of course,” Dwalin answers, “the Jewel of the Dwarven race.”

Bilbo lets out this weird, choking sort of noise because, really, what? “Erebor?” he repeats, raising an eyebrow. “The Lonely Mountain?”

Oin nods. “Certainly. Now, what happened to you? Were you lost?”

“And why were you covered in blood?”

Bilbo looks from one to the other, utterly baffled. “I’m from The Shire.” The answer receives no reaction. “The Kindly West?” he attempts again. “It’s near the Blue Mountains,” he tries finally, eliciting a synchronized ‘oh’ from the both of them. “I’m a Hobbit.”

“And what are you doing here?”

“Well, I…” he briefly wonders if he should just tell them the truth. And then he thinks the better of it. Obviously they wouldn’t believe him. They’d probably lock him away somewhere and throw away the key. And if this is some kind of dream, or hallucination, then he ought to just ride it out, right? “I don’t know,” he tells them eventually, because it is mostly true. “I don’t know.”

He feels oddly light, like the reality of the situation hasn’t hit him yet. Frankly this is probably the denial stage, and if this is real and he’s somehow slipped into some strange parallel universe, then he’s definitely not believing it just yet. Because frankly that is just a frightening prospect. He doesn’t want to think about it.

“A bit of a mystery, you are,” Oin remarks, with a bit of a grin. “How are you feeling?”

“Sore,” Bilbo tells him honestly. “My head hurts.”

“Well, you had a bit of a nasty blow,” Oin gestures to Bilbo’s head. “But a lot of the blood didn’t seem to be… yours.” He looks at Bilbo carefully now. “Do you remember anything that happened? If you were with anyone…?”

The piercing gazes are back, and in full force. Bilbo squirms under the weight of them, the way they make him uncomfortable. “I had some companions,” he’s not sure how much to divulge, how much he can divulge without appearing insane. “But they didn’t… that is to say that they were…” His stomach churns at the thought of it, and he presses a hand to his sternum. “I can’t…”

“It’s alright, laddie,” Oin puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright. Would you mind getting some water for him?” he addresses Dwalin now. “Best to calm him down before we ask any more.”

Dwalin nods, seemingly happy to oblige, and disappears out the door.

Bilbo closes his eyes and breathes deeply. “I suppose this is the reality sinking in, then,” he murmurs, more to himself than to Oin.

“It’s alright,” Oin repeats, sitting beside him.

“They’re dead,” Bilbo says. “I saw them die, and- I couldn’t help.” After everything that had happened, after all the things they’d survived… Bilbo had fought spiders and goblins and trolls and had walked through Mirkwood, and escaped Thranduil, and hell, he’d even rode barrels down the rapids to Laketown and lived through it (even if he did get a rather nasty cold afterwards). It seemed so… cruel to have it all end so suddenly and violently. And so close to their goal, so close to Erebor.

Murdered at the base of the mountain. How pitiful.

“We were attacked,” Bilbo manages as Dwalin comes back in with some water. “They didn’t… survive.”

“Attacked by who?” Dwalin wants to know.

“Orc.”

“Orc?” Oin repeats, surprised.

“There haven’t been Orc sighted in these parts for a very long while,” Dwalin says, sceptical.

“They were Orc,” Bilbo assures them, solemn. “I wouldn’t make a mistake about that, believe me.”

Dwalin whistles, sitting in the chair beside Bilbo’s bed. “Orc,” he breathes now. “I’d better tell the King. Get some patrols out there, send warnings.”

Oin nods.

“The King?” Bilbo asks, perking up.

“King Thrain,” Dwalin nods.

“Thrain,” Bilbo repeats, brow furrowing. Thorin’s father. “What year is it?”

Oin regards him with amusement, but answers nonetheless. “It’s the year 2941 of the Third Age.”

Time was still the same, at least. But… “The dragon?” he asks, wanting to know.

“The dragon?” The Dwarves both seem dreadfully confused.

“Yes. The dragon. Smaug.”

They share a glance. “Not all that sure what you’re talking about,” Oin says eventually. “Never heard of a dragon Smaug.”

“At all?” Bilbo questions.

Both Oin and Dwalin shake their heads.

Bilbo just sits there, frowning.

Honestly, what the hell is going on?

“I’d better go and tell the King about this,” Dwalin gets to his feet, running a hand through his- well, through what’s left of his hair. “He’ll certainly have more questions,” he points at Bilbo. “You ought to stay close.”

“I don’t… have anywhere else to go,” Bilbo informs them, rather helplessly. Oin regards him with an embarrassing amount of pity. Dwalin just considers it and nods.

“I’m sure we can find somewhere for you to stay for now,” Dwalin assures him before leaving.

Yes, Bilbo is fairly certain he’s gone mad.

 


 

Erebor is a marvel and a splendour in itself, completely magnificent and unperturbed and not at all destroyed and depredated by a dragon in the slightest. Bilbo is more than a little disconcerted at the whole thing. He becomes lost after sneaking from the healing rooms and finds himself just staring up at the great, enormous pillars, the large tapestries hanging hundreds of feet down, elaborate and in such great detail that is looks like the moments had been captured by a witness and simply placed there. He receives more than a few stares, and somewhere manages to get even further lost, climbing some great big stairs and following a series of ever-narrowing corridors. And then all of a sudden no one is around and he’s fairly certain this is a forbidden part of the kingdom, because there are guards nearby that luckily haven’t noticed him yet, and they look rather severe.

So to avoid them he stumbles into the first room he can find, tripping over his feet in the dark.

He was too busy wondering what on Earth he was going to do now that he didn’t hear nor notice the presence behind him

“Well, if I’d known I was getting a visitor I might have cleaned a little.”

Bilbo jumps, obviously shocked by the voice, and he turns to find an amused Dwarrow watching him, candle in hand. A Dwarrow who was still in their nightclothes.

“I am so sorry!” Bilbo immediately stumbles backwards, putting his hands up in a sign of good will. “I got lost, and then there were some soldiers, and I don’t think I’m supposed to be here so I thought I might hide and-”

“You picked a room and got me,” the Dwarf smirks, waving a hand down at himself, “lucky you.”

Bilbo clears his throat, feeling awkward. “I am sorry,” he apologises again. “I’ll just… leave now.”

“No, no,” the Dwarf waves it off, “if you’re not here to kill me, I’m perfectly fine with the company. Although, I’ve never seen a little Elf before. Are you a child? You don’t seem like a child? I don’t think Elves have such enormous feet, either,” the Dwarf’s brow furrows now, “although, then again, I’ve never seen an Elf without shoes on.” He winks. “Although I’d like to.”

Bilbo reddens, although he is slightly confused. He’s never seen a Dwarf talk quite so much. But first and foremost on his mind right now, is the Elf comment.

“I am not an Elf,” he informs the Dwarf. “I’m a Hobbit. From The Shire.”

The Dwarf raises an eyebrow. “And what does a Hobbit do?”

“Well...” Bilbo’s not entirely sure how to reply to that. “Things,” he answered eventually. “I really ought to go,” he steps backwards. “Let you get some clothes on, perhaps.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of it.” The smirk was back again, making Bilbo vaguely uncomfortable. “Usually, though, I’d find out a person’s name before letting them in my room like this.”

Bilbo stutters, but the Dwarf cuts in smoothly. “So what is your name, little Elf who isn’t actually an Elf?”

“Bilbo,” he answers immediately, out of habit. “Bilbo Baggins.”

“Well, Bilbo-Bilbo Baggins. I am Frerin Durin,” The Dwarf gives an elaborate bow, “Prince of Erebor.”

“P-Prince?” Bilbo chokes. And of course he walks in on partially unclothed royalty, it’s just his sort of luck. “Oh, dear. Oh, dear.”

Frerin laughs, even more amused. “It’s quite alright. Most interesting thing to happen to me all week, if I’m honest.”

Bilbo doesn’t know what to do, partly because this is Frerin, Thorin’s dead brother, but mainly because he just walked right into his room and could probably be arrested for something like that.

Thankfully, however, Frerin appears more entertained than angry and upset, and is quite happy to show Bilbo back to the healing rooms where Oin is no doubt turning over beds looking for him. Of course, he has to put on clothes first, which leads to a rather awkward moment where Frerin just starts undressing in front of Bilbo, and Bilbo squeaks and spins around so suddenly he almost falls over.

How embarrassing.

Frerin is incredibly helpful, though, telling Bilbo all about Erebor and where to go and not to go. He waves and smiles as he passes people, and Bilbo receives a few more odd stares, but they’re certainly less disparaging now that he’s with a Prince. He’s also very helpful in the way that he doesn’t seem to shut up, so Bilbo finds out quite a lot about this odd place he’s landed in where history is completely turned upside down. A decade ago King Thror had passed away in his old age and his son Thrain had taken over. There had been no dragon, no gold sickness, no battle for Moria, no Azog. It seemed that wherever Bilbo had ended up had a far better fate than the Middle Earth he’d been in.

Oin was slightly panicked and rather irritated when they returned. “Bilbo!” he cries, hands on hips. “You are not supposed to be out wandering in your condition.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Bilbo insists, sounding (admittedly) rather like a child. “I just needed to stretch my legs.”

“He did get a little lost though,” Frerin, the ever helpful bastard, chimes in. “I thought I’d help him find his way back.”

“How thoughtful of you, Your Highness,” Oin lowers his head slightly in respect, but there’s a bit of a smile there, like he knows about Frerin’s roguish personality and knows there’s a little more to it than a simple generous offer. “The royal family seems to have taken quite an interest in you,” Oin goes on now, turning his attention to Bilbo once again. “Frerin’s brother Thorin was here before, looking for you.”

“Thorin?” Bilbo repeats, choked.

Oin, oblivious, simply nods. “He’s one of the ones who found you,” he informs Bilbo casually. “You’d be forgiven for not remembering, of course. He wishes to ask you about your attack on behalf of his father.”

Bilbo relaxes. “Right. Of course.”

“I could stay if you like,” Frerin suggests now, grinning. “To hold your hand. Support and all that.”

“I thank you for the kind offer, Your Highness, but I can assure you I’m perfectly able to handle questions from your brother.”

Frerin just shrugs, clearly not deterred by the rejection. “Fair enough,” he answers. “Now,” he claps his hands together as he speaks, “I’m afraid I’ve got royal duties to tend to. But it was lovely to meet you, little Elf who is not an Elf,” he bows to Bilbo before grinning cheekily. “Don’t let my brother scare you off; he’s probably the least charming Prince in the whole of Middle Earth.”

Oin snorts as he leaves, and Bilbo just feels even more confused than he was yesterday, which is saying something.

 


 

Bilbo realises what’s different about Thorin the moment he steps foot in the healing room. He looks younger, is the problem.

He very clearly wasn’t younger, because no matter what strange universe he might be in, it was still the same year. Not to mention the streaks of grey coming through his hair. But he looks lighter, happier.

Although he still didn’t smile.

There was perhaps a tight, polite smile, but he held a furrow in his brow of irritation, maybe confusion at Bilbo’s situation. Like he thought perhaps this was an inconvenience and a waste of his time. Like he thought Bilbo was lying about the attack. Which, in all honesty, probably seemed like a sane thing to believe in, after all, if he had come into some different world, then he would have left the Orcs behind, right?

“How many were there?” Thorin asks, watching Bilbo carefully.

Bilbo closes his eyes and tries to think. Along with Azog, there had been maybe six others and a number of Wargs. He tells Thorin as much.

“So many this far South?” Dwalin seemed as perplexed as Thorin did, but slightly more believing of Bilbo’s story. “It’s rather odd.”

“Yes it is,” Thorn agrees, levelling Bilbo with a stare. “Is there anything you’re leaving out, Master Hobbit?” he wonders now. “Something that might perhaps make the story a little more… understandable?” By ‘understandable’ he obviously means ‘more believable’, but Bilbo isn’t delving into the details on that.

He does pause for a moment, though, and thinks of something he could say. “We had run into these Orc before,” he explains. “Before Mirkwood. They followed us.”

Honestly, he wasn’t even sure if Azog existed in this place. It seemed good fortune had befallen all members of Erebor, so perhaps they were also blessed in this. “We were surprised. We thought we’d be safe, so close to the Mountain. But we were wrong.”

“We have found no evidence of your friends,” Thorin huffs, irritated. “No camp, no fire, no blood- nothing. Can you explain that?”

Bilbo shakes his head. “Not at all. As I’m sure you’re aware I came crawling out covered in blood. I mean, obviously it happened.”

“I do not doubt something happened, Master Hobbit,” Thorin tells him. “Only your interpretation of it.”

Dwalin kicks him, not very subtly, but Thorin just frowns at his companion and turns his attention back to Bilbo, looking expectant.

“I’m not lying,” Bilbo insists. “And if I were going to lie, don’t you think I’d be able to come up with something better than that? And why would I lie in the first place?”

“He is right there,” Dwalin agrees. “It would be a rather ridiculous lie to conjure up.”

“We cannot believe something simply because it sounds too ridiculous to be a lie,” Thorin scolds Dwalin. “We have to look into it.”

“I hate to change the subject,” Bilbo interjects before Dwalin can reply, “but would you mind if I asked a question?”

Thorin waves a hand at him. “Go ahead.”

“Do you know a Wizard? Gandalf is his name. But I think you call him… Tharkûn?”

Thorin raises an eyebrow, recognising the name. “He comes and goes sometimes. A nosy sort of Wizard,” he sounds highly unimpressed, and it makes Bilbo smile a little. “Why?”

“Well, it’s only… I need to speak with him, rather urgently. I think he can help me, you see,” he adds. “Perhaps he can answer your questions as to why you can’t find any Orc in these woods, as well.”

Thorin seems to contemplate it for a moment. “Last I heard he was in Minas Tirith. I shall send a raven, if you wish?”

“That would be wonderful,” Bilbo says, breathing a sigh of relief, “thank you.”

Thorin just nods. “We shall leave you to your rest, then.” He stands, and Dwalin follows his lead. “Good day, Master Baggins.”

Bilbo wants to tell him to sod the ‘Master’, but it probably seems strange to say that to someone you hardly know, so he keeps his mouth shut and nods politely at them before they leave.

He doesn’t know what to do with himself for the rest of the afternoon.

 


 

Curiosity got the better of him late that evening, and with the help of Oin he made his way to the food halls, partly to eat but mainly because he wanted to see if he could find out what had become of the other members of The Company. Oin, he found, was quite talkative about his brother, Gloin, and his family. From that he found that Bombur was a cousin of his, and all doing rather well. Bombur was working as a Royal Cook, making food for the King.

He knew of Balin and Dwalin, obviously, both with such close ties to the Durin family.

Dwalin was obviously a Royal Guard, and if Bilbo was correct, then Balin would most likely be advisor to the King. After all, he was before, and as most things were true to Bilbo’s knowledge, it was highly possible that that would be as well.

But he still didn’t know about the others. He hadn’t seen Ori, Dori or Nori anywhere. Although he supposed that wasn’t too much of a surprise. Ori, if he even was in Erebor, would be working in one of the libraries, no doubt, and Nori would more than likely be rushing about, stealing things from unsuspecting shoppers at the market.

Bilbo still hadn’t seen Fili or Kili either, which he found oddly disconcerting, even though he’d barely been here a day. But it was… strange.

He asked Oin about the libraries during their eating, and Oin told him where to find it, offering to take him there once they were done. Of course, Oin was very busy, and had many other patients, so Bilbo kindly declined and insisted he could find his way on his own. After all, Hobbits had a very good sense of direction.

The library is the biggest Bilbo has ever seen. And he’s been to the one in Bree, which is fairly large, thank you very much. He gawks at it for a long while, unable to do much else, until there is a slight snuffle behind him, capturing his attention.

“Can I help you with anything?” asks a very small voice behind a very big handkerchief. Bilbo recognises him instantly.

“Ori!”

Ori frowns at him, but seems pleased by the eagerness to which he is greeted. “Do I know you?” he wonders, smiling slightly.

Bilbo makes a face, only just now realising his gaffe. “Oh. No. I mean, yes. I just…” he searches for a convincing lie. “I heard the other Dwarf say your name before.” It sounds more like a question than a statement, but thankfully Ori buys it.

“Oh, of course,” he waves it off. “How silly of me.”

“I’m Bilbo Baggins,” Bilbo offers a hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you,” Ori replies, smiling still. “Now, can I help you with anything?”

“Oh, I’m just taking it all in,” Bilbo tells him. “It's so wonderful.” He looks back at the stacks of parchment and books now. “So many books.” He wonders, morbidly, what this room looks like in the desolated Lonely Mountain, in the world he’s from. It was probably all burnt to a crisp, which is a pitiful prospect, he has to admit. What a waste of books.

“Yes, it is,” Ori’s voice takes on a dreamy tone. “It really is.”

Bilbo turns to look at Ori, only to find he isn’t exactly looking at the books like Bilbo was. Instead, his gaze is directed to the entryway of the library where the guards were. Bilbo recognises one.

“Mister Dwalin!” He calls, because a friendly face is a wonderful thing in a time like this, and at least Dwalin has some idea of who he is. Ori certainly doesn’t.

Ori makes an undignified squeak when Dwalin notices them and starts coming over, and all of a sudden he’s gone, darting off like a little mouse to hide somewhere. Bilbo feels marginally guilty, but he’s more entertained by the whole thing than anything else.

“Yer friend ran off,” Dwalin says in lieu of a greeting, nodding in the direction Ori went. So they didn’t know each other then. That would certainly have to be remedied. “Did he steal something?” Dwalin has his Guard-face on, the angry one. Perhaps Bilbo should make sure they meet under non-arresting circumstances.

“Oh, no, no,” Bilbo insists, waving a hand. “He’s just shy. You know how Scribes are.”

Dwalin looks confused. “I don’t, actually,” he replies. “But I’ll take yer word for it. Lookin’ at the library, then?” he turns his attention to the books Bilbo had been studying a moment before.

“Yes,” Bilbo smiles, “I do love books. You have such a large collection here. I don’t think even the Elves have as many.”

Dwalin raises an eyebrow. “You’ve been with the Elves?”

Bilbo shrugs, panicking for a moment, but then he remembers that the Elves and Dwarves have a long standing mutual loathing of each other, so the chances of him being called out on this were very slim. “Just briefly. In our travels.”

“And why were you travelling so far from the Kindly West?” Dwalin asks, looking genuinely curious. It’s a look that beguiles him slightly, which in itself is odd and more than a little frightening. This Dwalin has seen little to no war, little death and loss. Bilbo feels an odd pain in his chest, looking at him now.

“It was a fools journey,” Bilbo laments, instead of giving a proper answer. “I made the fourteenth member of our company, which didn’t seem to make a difference. I don’t think it could have turned out any worse if I hadn’t of gone at all and they’d remained with their unlucky thirteen.” He sighs. “It’s a very long story, and I very much doubt you’d believe a word of it, Mister Dwalin, but perhaps after Gandalf comes… he may be able to explain it better.”

Dwalin, thankfully (and a little surprisingly) relents, nodding politely. “Yer business is yer business, Mister Baggins. Have a nice night.” And then he bows and leaves Bilbo frowning after him for some time.

“So polite,” he remarks to himself, sounding disbelieving.

“He’s the nicest, most wonderful Royal Guard in all of Erebor,” a little voice chimes from behind him, and Bilbo turns to find Ori peering around the shelves, watching him.

“Why don’t you tell him that, then?” Bilbo wonders, “I’m sure he’d appreciate the compliment.”

Ori reddens. “He doesn’t even know I exist,” he whines, and Bilbo’s heartstrings give a painful tug. “And even if he did it would be because of my brother.”

“Your brother?” Bilbo frowns, wondering what Dori would have to do with this.

“Nori,” Ori explains, sighing and coming into full view now. “He’s the bane of the Royal Guard, always stealing things. They hate us here.”

Ah, Nori. Of course, that made complete sense. “Well, maybe if you talked to him next time he came in here, rather than hiding?” Bilbo suggests now, trying to help.

Ori makes a face. “He wouldn’t pay attention to me. I’m a Scribe. And my family is poor. And I’m…” he gestures down at his jumper, which is admittedly a little threadbare. “Well, you can tell.”

“I think you’re wonderful,” Bilbo tells him, realising belatedly that that probably sounds odd to someone who had only just met him. But Ori just beams.

“Thank you, Mister Baggins. You are very kind.”

And Bilbo decides right then and there that even if this is some sort of dream or if he’s somehow slipped into another dimension, he might as well try to fix things while he’s here. After all, what else was he supposed to do with his time now? There was no dragon to slay, no Mountain to reclaim, no gold to find.

He couldn’t risk getting bored now, could he?

 

 

Chapter Text

Matchmaking is hard. And Bilbo is exhausted.

Although, to be honest, he wasn’t sure what to expect of his attempts to get Dwalin to notice Ori. Or Ori to actually talk to Dwalin, rather than just looking at him. Nevertheless, Bilbo was still completely resolute in his decision to push them together. After all, during the quest they seemed like they’d become very close. After the barrel ride, the first person Dwalin looked for was Ori. And Bilbo had seen more than a few times Ori cast glances at him across the way when they were setting up camp for the night.

Of course he hadn’t paid it much mind, what with the running from Wargs and Orc and fighting Trolls and falling down mountains and… well, you know the rest.

But now he was waiting for Gandalf. And Gandalf… well, Gandalf wasn’t exactly very good with timing. So Bilbo needed to do something. And this was a challenge he was eager to wrangle with.

At least, it would be if he hadn’t been escorted to a very large, ostentatiously decorated room somewhere in what Bilbo as certain were the Royal Suites he’d ran into Frerin in. Bilbo sits awkwardly on one of the chairs, feet not quite touching the ground, and fiddles with a bit of string coming out from his trouser leg. He’d have to fix that sometime soon.

“So this is the Hobbit, then,” a voice says as the door creaks open. Bilbo jumps, and looks to find a regal looking man step inside. Two guards (at least, Bilbo thinks they’re guards) try to step in after them, but the man waves them off, and shuts the door behind him. “I am King Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain.”

Bilbo scrambles to his feet and gives an awkward sort of bow, making the King laugh.

“Sit, little Hobbit.” Thrain gestures to his chair, “I have things to discuss with you.”

Bilbo does what he’s asked, and looks at the King expectantly.

“I have to say that many don’t believe your story, Hobbit.”

Bilbo’s been expecting this, if he’s being honest. It’s not like he can just tell them the real story, can he?

“Our men have scoured the forests, and they’ve found no sign of anything you say happened there. My eldest son says I should throw you back into the forest,” Bilbo feels a little hurt at Thorin suggesting that, but has to remind himself that this Thorin isn’t his Thorin. His Thorin had his head chopped off. “But my son tends to be a bit dramatic sometimes.” Thrain sighs and smiles fondly, “He takes after his mother.”

Bilbo isn’t sure what to say to that. He just stares, as Thrain goes on.

“So, I am at a bit of an impasse with my advisors. Balin, my oldest friend, suggests that we take you to the forests and you can help us find this place you say you were attacked.”

Bilbo’s not sure if he could find it in a forest that isn’t actually burnt and blackened like charcoal, but honestly he doesn’t think he has a choice. “I can try,” he informs the King, “to find it. I remember things that were nearby…” Rock formations, and the makings of a river desperately trying to worm its way back through the forest and to its previous health.

Thrain nods. “Then we shall do that. I will have men escort you to the stables where we shall find you a pony, I will gather the others and we shall leave within the hour.” He gets to his feet, robes flicking with the movement. “Let us hope that you do find it. Orcs are a serious business. My children aren’t as aware of that as I am, of course, but they will take all suggestions of possible attacks seriously.” Well. Very clearly Thorin didn’t believe him then, and he hadn’t bothered making it a secret.

Bilbo was more than a little miffed at that. After all, the Orcs were Thorin’s fault. And Bilbo wouldn’t even be here annoying Thorin if it was because of Thorin. It was all a bit confusing.

He sighs and gets to his feet himself. “Thank you for letting me stay,” he informs the King as they move to the door. “You have been kinder than you need to have been, and I am grateful for that.”

The King smiles. “You are a very fascinating guest to have, Master Hobbit. We have taken an interest in you and your mysterious journeys.”

Bilbo isn’t certain that’s a good thing, but there’s nothing he can do about that right now. So he just let’s himself be led down the halls and through the mountain to get a pony.

 


 

Bilbo was right. The forests are very different here. They’re all green and lush and pretty and not at all like some burnt cemetery. “It was dark,” he insists when Frerin asks if he’s sure where he’s going. “And I’m not from around here.”

Frerin sighs. “You said it was near a small river?”

Bilbo nods. “Yes.” He doesn’t know, though, if the river is still here in this world, or if it’s perhaps not small at all because Smaug’s attack never happened and the forest never had to try and fix itself. Bilbo groans in irritation, but very quietly.

But then he notices something. A thick tree in the distance. He remembers it, even though it’s no longer blackened by fire, because of the strange shape in the trunk. It looked like a face, Bilbo remembers, and he’d been slightly frightened sleeping near it.

“It’s around here!” He calls, pointing towards it. He has a little trouble dismounting, but is off his horse before anyone else, and running in the direction.

He doesn’t know what he expects to find, but he comes to a stop a few feet away from the tree and glances at the ground, and the trees, and the shrubs, maybe hoping to find some sort of proof that he’d been here. Maybe he’s just looking for some proof that he’s not completely mad, and imagined the whole thing.

But something shines in the sun coming through the trees, catching his eye. A glint of something, and he moves to it, kneeling down and picking it up, dusting dirt from it. “Oh.” The crystal fits neatly into the palm of his hand, and it has strange runes carved into it that Bilbo doesn’t understand. Gandalf had given it to him for safekeeping, before he had left them to go through Mirkwood by themselves. “I must have dropped it,” Bilbo says, frowning to himself. “When they attacked.”

“What is it?” Frerin peers over his shoulder, nosy. Though Bilbo doesn’t mind. “It’s some sort of crystal, father.”

“Yes. It was given to me for safe keeping,” Bilbo turns to the King, holding it out. It must have come through with him for some reason. “We were here. Camping. And the Orcs came from…” he gestures about him. “Well, everywhere.”

“Then where is the blood?” Dwalin asks, frowning. “Where are the weapons? Where are the bedrolls?”

Bilbo looks at the grass and leaves beneath his feet. “I don’t know,” he says, honestly, because for all he knows poachers could have taken them in his world. “But I remember the tree,” he points to it. “With the face. I didn’t want to sleep here because it frightened me. But Th-” he breaks off, choking, because he was about to say: ‘but Thorin insisted we stayed here the night’.  That wouldn’t have made things any better for him.

Thrain holds his hand out, politely asking to look at the crystal.

“It’s Gandalf’s,” Bilbo says before thinking, “He gave it to me before we went through Mirkwood.”

“Mirkwood?” The King asks with a frown.

Bilbo, confused, just looks at him. “King Thranduil’s land,” he explains.

Greenwood,” Thorin tells him, looking at him like he’s stupid… which, admittedly, it probably seems that way. “We have no Mirkwood. Only Greenwood.”

Bilbo remembers Ori telling him one night in the dark that Mirkwood had once been different, and that the name had changed once the dark powers began to rally once more, taking over the forest. Greenwood had been the name before the spiders had come, and the trees had closed in, blocking all the light and the air had become thick and heavy. Bilbo wonders what it looks like now.

“Oh.” So this world did have good fortunes for most. Bilbo tries not to think if maybe his parents are alive. He thinks, instead, of what must have happened to stop all of that from happening as well. “What’s different?” he ponders, frowning.

“What?” Dwalin asks.

Bilbo looks up. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just thinking.”

“You say this is Tharkûn’s?” Thrain begins now, weighing it in his hands. Bilbo just nods. “Then we shall ask Tharkûn. He will know and give us an answer.”

“Did he reply to your raven?” Bilbo asks. “Will he arrive soon?”

“As soon as a Wizard can,” Frerin utters. “You know what they’re like.”

Bilbo smiles a little because he really, really does.  “Good,” he sighs, relieved. “We can sort this out and I can go home.” He does long for home, and his cosy chair beside the fire. “This whole thing has just been one hideous mess after another.”

 


 

“Hello!”

“You must be Mister Boggins!”

“Baggins, Kili,” his brother scolds.

“Baggins?”

“Yes, Baggins.”

“Not Boggins?”

“Not Boggins.”

“Mister Baggins, Fili?”

Fili nods. “Mister Baggins, Kili,” he agrees.

“What.” Bilbo looks from one to the other, trapped in the hallway. They look the same. Mostly. Young and happy. Though towards the end of their journey they had seemed older, tireder. Bilbo could see none of that here and now, just smiles and mischievousness.

“I am Prince Fili.”

“And I am Prince Kili.” Bilbo feels nauseous from the sudden attack of déjà vu. “At your service!” They both crow pleasantly, bowing deeply.

“Yes,” Bilbo says, a little relieved that they’re here in front of him, and not dead. “I know who you are.”

Kili grins, pleased. “We thought we’d come and see whoever’s got Uncle worked up in such a fuss!”

Bilbo reddens. What has Prince Frerin been saying about him now? Bilbo hopes desperately that he’s told no one about their little incident the other day. How embarrassing.

“Oh yes,” Fili agreed, “I’ve never seen Uncle Thorin in quite such a state.”

“Prince Thorin?” Bilbo asks. “Oh.” He thinks Bilbo is lying. Of course he’s worked up. He wants to throw Bilbo back into the forest and leave him for dead. To be honest, Bilbo’s certain if Thorin got the chance, he’d throw Bilbo off the side of the Mountain. “Well, I do have that effect on people sometimes.”

Kili grins. “You must teach me, Mister Bog-Baggins,” he corrects when Fili nudges him with his elbow. “I’ll need to know all of your tricks.”

“Not tricks really,” Bilbo sighs. “Just bad luck.”

The boys laugh.

“It’s okay, Mister Baggins,” Fili informs him. “Uncle Thorin doesn’t like anyone, really.”

Bilbo snorts. It seems some things don’t change, then.

“Why don’t you come and get something to eat with us, Mister Baggins!” Kili slips one arm through his and doesn’t wait for an answer to the contrary, just leads him down the corridor. “Surely you’re hungry after all that riding this morning!”

Bilbo barely opens his mouth to reply before the boys are talking again, going on and on about everything and nothing at all.

He finds it oddly relieving, and oddly comforting, and allows himself to be dragged to the food halls, where both the boys are jostled and cheered at by dining Dwarves. They’re popular, Bilbo notices, and very charming. Bilbo supposes, though, that that’s not much of a surprise. The boys always were very good at being charming, and even Thorin had been good at it (when he tried). They were royals, after all. That didn’t make it any less confusing for Bilbo, of course.

He wonders if things would have been like this, some years after Erebor was reclaimed and rebuilt. If Fili and Kili would have been like this. He supposes he’ll never know now.

But all that aside, he has a rather interesting lunch with the two boys, and he even finds out more about the members of the company.

“Oh, Bombur makes the best pies!” Kili is quick to brag. “He’s the best cook in the whole of Middle Earth!”

“Those must be some nice pies,” Bilbo comments, wondering how long it’s been since he’s even had a pie. He doesn’t actually remember. Not that it really matters at all, but that’s not the point.

He also finds out that Fili and Kili’s parents are both alive, even if they aren’t in Erebor right now. He finds out a whole lot more than he supposes the boys are allowed to tell him, but there’s not a whole lot that he can do about that.

Bilbo isn’t really surprised that Fili and Kili don’t actually shut up. His Fili and Kili had trouble keeping their mouths shut, and they’d been scolded enough times for it. Bilbo muses idly about what trouble they might have gotten into here. The thought makes him smile just a little.

He doesn’t smile for long though, after he leaves the boys and sits in his room. They’re all dead. All of them. Bilbo watched them die. And Fili and Kili, who were smiling and teasing and joking in this world, were cold and dead and mutilated in his world. He’d seen Azog and his Orc slaughter them.

This Fili and Kili weren’t his Fili and Kili. They were just… like his Fili and Kili. And they were living and breathing and happy and that hurt Bilbo, he had to admit. Why couldn’t it have been like that in his world?

He let his head sag backwards, hitting the back of the chair he sat in. How was he to get back, and even if he did, what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t take on a dragon on his own. He couldn’t go to the other Dwarves for help, the ones in the Iron Hills, because they hadn’t wanted part of it in the first place. And Gandalf, as usual, was nowhere to be found.

“Wizards,” Bilbo scoffs now, shaking his head. And as if his lament had called for the perfect timing, the doors flew open and grey robes came cascading through the door, followed by the King.

“Gandalf!” Bilbo breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank the Maker.”

Gandalf’s brow furrows, but he turns to the King nonetheless and says: “We might need some time alone.”

Thrain nods his head politely and instructs the others to leave.

“You don’t recognise me, do you?” Bilbo asks, helplessly, once they’re alone.

“I do not. But this,” he lifts up the crystal Bilbo had found earlier, “I do recognise. So perhaps we ought to talk about it.”

So Bilbo explains the whole dreadful business. The Dragon and the Company and Bilbo being a burglar.

“Baggins, you said?” Gandalf’s asks when the story is through. “As in, Belladonna Baggins?”

Bilbo nods. “You do know my mother, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” Gandalf replies, very grave. “I certainly do.”

Bilbo’s not sure he likes the look Gandalf is giving him. “Is she… is she alive here?” He doesn’t want to ask, but he desperately has to know. “I haven’t been able to get the thought of it out of my mind. I thought that maybe what with Erebor being whole and no dragon being around, that maybe…” But by the look on Gandalf’s face, Bilbo can tell it isn’t true. “She isn’t, then,” he laments finally. “Pity.”

Gandalf clearly hesitates, before adding. “There is more,” in that tone that says he’s been hiding something.

“What is it?” Bilbo prods.

Gandalf lets out a long-winded sigh before explaining. “About fifty eight years ago, Belladonna came into the possession of a certain ring. The One Ring, forged by Sauron himself. To save Middle Earth, she trekked to Mordor herself along with her husband, Bungo. I’m afraid to say that they both perished.”

Bilbo chokes a little, unsure of what to say in reply.

“They saved many lives with their actions, and I believe it must be the reason why this place has such a different timeline to yours.”

“A ring, you said?” Bilbo asks, reaching into his pocket. But the ring he had found in Gollum’s cave wasn’t there. He doesn’t remember what happened to it, but the most logical thing to assume was that it had been left behind when he’d… come here. “Sauron’s Ring.” Bilbo snorts now, finding a strange sort of amusement in it all. “It seems adventuring really is in my blood.” He sobers a little, thinking of his parents. “Everyone always said he’d follow her anywhere- even to the gates of Mordor. I suppose they were right.”

“He loved her very much,” agrees Gandalf.

“Fifty-eight years?” Bilbo frowns. “So I was never…”

“Born, no.”

Bilbo feels something in his stomach tighten at that. “I don’t exist here.”

Gandalf shakes his head slowly. “No, you do not.”

“What even happened, Gandalf?” he demands now, turning to face him fully in his exasperation. “I don’t understand.”

“The crystal is…” Gandalf studies it carefully as he speaks, “a relic I have only seen in books. I do not know how your version of me got his hands on it, but it appears he did. And if I gave it to you before we parted ways then I supposed I must have hoped that you could have an escape, even in the direst of circumstances.”

“What does it do?”

“It only works once,” Gandalf replies now, “you can see it is quite worn now.”

Bilbo peers at the crystal, which looks like it’s been tossed into a fire, all charred and cracked up the sides, and nods.

“It takes the owner to the safest place in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, the safest place the crystal deemed to be was in another place altogether. A parallel universe.”

“Can I get back?”

Gandalf sighs. “I’m not sure,” he answers honestly, “if perhaps we can find the crystal in this universe, we could try to recreate the scenario and send you back- but it could send you anywhere. You might just end up somewhere else. Magic like this is entirely unreliable.” He sets the crystal in Bilbo’s hand. “I am sorry.”

“What do I do?” Bilbo asks, just staring down at it. “What am I supposed to…?” he has nothing here. No family back in The Shire (he doesn’t even exist here), and if he’s completely honest there’s not much in his own world waiting for him but an empty house miles away and the bodies of his companions. And a group of Orc. Let’s not forget that.

“Is there any possibility that anything else could have come through with me?” Bilbo’s beginning to panic, thinking that maybe he’s just dragged his universes problems out into a completely innocent universe who kind of deserves to be left in peace.

“Your mind is on this Azog,” Gandalf muses for a moment, thinking about it. “Anything is possible,” he decides eventually, “but it seems unlikely. After all, Thrain’s men have done patrols of the area and they have found nothing. Not even a hint of a sign that they may be here.”

“And what of me?” Bilbo wants to know. “Do I stay here? Do we try and find the crystal and risk throwing me somewhere even worse than my own universe?”

“I am not sure that there is anything we can do, Bilbo,” Gandalf says, gently, comfortingly.

Bilbo releases a loud whoosh of air, deflating.

“And it is not all good here,” Gandalf goes on, seemingly trying to cheer him up. “There is the war for Moria, in which many good Dwarves have died-”

“War for Moria?” Bilbo repeats, cutting Gandalf off. “That’s still happening?” But Frerin is still alive. As is Thrain.

“Whatever you recall of the War for Moria, Bilbo, you ought to keep in mind that things are different here.” Gandalf levels him with a steady gaze that calms him slightly. “There are far less Orc and Goblin around these parts than what you might recall, and the Dwarves have not lost their homeland. They have far more troops, and support.”

“Azog is part of the battle,” Bilbo tells Gandalf now. “It is where his rivalry with the Durin family begins.” He’s shaking his head now, getting to his feet. “We have to warn them.” He simply cannot have the same thing happen- not when he’s around to stop it.

“Calm yourself, Bilbo,” Gandalf instructs. “And sit.” He goes on as Bilbo obeys. “You cannot go about shouting about Orc, they will think you even madder than they already do.”

Bilbo, miserably, has to agree with that statement. Oin constantly gives him pitiful looks. Dwalin just regards him with an odd sort of curiosity, which is strange coming from someone so frightening. Thorin is perfectly happy to boot him out of the Kingdom and unleash his madness on Dale or Laketown instead of bothering himself with it.

“You’re right,” he replies, defeated. “They’d never believe it. But I have to do something.”

“And we will,” Gandalf assures him. “In time. You must let me think this over. I will do my best to find a resolution to our problem.” Bilbo’s heartily agreeing that some sort of denouement would be wonderful when the doors open once more and two familiar figures topple through.

Bilbo stands, putting his hands on his hips, and scowls down at them.  Fili has the sense to look guilty, but Kili just looks embarrassed about being caught.

“Fili and Kili Durin,” Gandalf scolds, getting to his feet. “What on Earth do you think you’re doing?”

“Sorry, Tharkûn!” Fili chirps, scrambling to get onto his feet.

“We didn’t hear nothing important, honest!” Kili insists.

“And what did you hear?” Gandalf demands to know. “Hmm?”

“Nothing! Honest!” And then Kili goes and puts his foot in it. “Just some stuff about a dragon and a parallel universe and a great deal about everyone dying,” he babbles. “But other than that: nothing. Please, Tharkûn, don’t-don’t turn us into anything… unnatural.” Kili directs his puppy eyes on Gandalf, whom Bilbo had no idea whether he is immune to them or not.

Gandalf scoffs. “No?” he asks, teasingly, drawing the word out. Both the boys look terrified.

Bilbo just laughs, he can’t help it. “You two are incorrigible,” he tells them. “Why were you eavesdropping?”

“We were just curious, Mister Baggins!” Kili insists, looking far too innocent to be genuine. “We heard Grandpa Thrain ask one of the scribes to look up the crystal, and-”

“Wait,” Bilbo cuts his blabber off. “Thrain asked someone to look up the crystal?”

Kili nods. “Some young thing with a weird jumper,” he says dismissively and Bilbo is immediately certain of who he’s talking about. “He said it was some magical thing and there was a lot of strange myth about it- so we wanted to see what Tharkûn was going to say.”

 Bilbo turns to Gandalf. “Maybe they will believe us,” he says now. Or maybe he’s just getting his hopes up.

 


 

He doesn’t tell them the whole story. Thankfully Gandalf gets the hint as well, and doesn’t delve into the who’s and why’s of the whole thing. Fili and Kili seem confused, but thankfully keep their mouths shut while Gandalf just explains the crystal and Bilbo not being from… well, here.

Because he wasn’t from around here. He’d never even been born here. His parents had died saving Middle Earth.

And that hurt, knowing that things were so much better here, in this place that he’d never existed. And even if it was completely illogical, Bilbo felt much like if he hadn’t been born in his universe, that maybe all that happened wouldn’t have happened.

Maybe he was the catalyst for evil. Maybe his destiny was correlated to death and mayhem.

So far only Thrain and the boys know, but Bilbo’s sure that’ll change. The King promised not to tell many people, but he strained the fact that his closest advisors must know. As a safety precaution. Bilbo just sighs and shrugs and lets him do whatever he wants. It’s not like he can stop him anyway, even if he wanted to.

Needless to say, Dwalin and Thorin look at him differently the next day. He didn’t blame them. After all, he’d gone from ‘odd and slightly suspicious guest’ to ‘weird guy who isn’t from this universe’. And that was a lot to throw at anyone.

Bilbo just decides to say out of the way and spends a lot of the next few days in the library with Ori, trying to hint at him to actually say something to Dwalin. It isn’t going well, admittedly.

When Dwalin is in the room or even brought up, Ori gets all fidgety and has a tendency to disappear around a shelf with rather convenient timing. Bilbo’s patience is severely being tested.

“Mister Dwalin doesn’t need me bothering him,” Ori insists, red in the face and flustered when Bilbo mentions it for the umpteenth time. “He doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Maybe that’s because you always hide when you see him coming and he’s never actually seen you, let alone met you.”

Ori fiddles with the hem of his jumper. “I don’t want to,” he whines, fidgeting. “I can’t.”

Bilbo sighs. “Why not?”

“Oh, I can’t explain.” Ori throws his arms down into his lap in defeat. “Haven’t you ever been so… enamoured with a person that you just…” Ori gestures vaguely at nothing before looking at Bilbo questioningly.

Bilbo just frowns, thinking about it. “Well, uh… I don’t know. I’ve never been-” he mimics Ori’s hand gesture now, “before.”

“Why do you care anyway?” Ori asks, looking irritated, his brows knitted together. “We don’t even know each other that well.”

“Perhaps not,” Bilbo allows, pointedly avoiding the correct reply to that, which was that they did in fact know each other, rather well. “But we’re companions, at the very least. And I enjoy your company, and I hope you enjoy mine-”

“I do,” Ori insists.

“And I want to help you. I’d like to think someone would do the same to me were I in need of it.”

Ori huffs, resigned. “I’m not… good at that sort of thing.”

“There’s a secret to it, you know.” Bilbo tells him.

“There is?”

Bilbo nods. “It’s all about confidence.”

“Oh,” Ori looks disappointed.

“It’s true, really. Look at me.” Bilbo turns to face him fully, putting his hands on Ori’s shoulders. “Look at me,” he insists. “You know what you are?”

“I’m… a scribe.”

“No,” Bilbo shakes his head.

“No?” Ori asks.

“No. You are the best Dwarrow in Erebor.”

Ori, bless him, looks even more confused. The poor thing. “I am?” he wonders, glancing down at himself.

Bilbo nods again. “The only thing that’s stopping you from getting anything you want is you.” And maybe an idiot Dwarf Guard with a thick head. “Be brave. Fear nothing. After all, it’s not like he’s a dragon, is he?”

Ori smiles a little. “No, I guess not.”

“Just take a deep breath, and smile.”

“Smile?”

“Confidence,” Bilbo reiterates. “Fear nothing.”

Ori frowns sweetly, like he’s concentrating hard. “Right,” he says.

“Oh, perfect opportunity.” Bilbo pulls Ori to his feet. “Dwalin’s here now.”

“What?!” Ori squeaks, rushing off again.

“Oh, for-” Bilbo puts a hand to his face.

“What are you doin’?” Dwalin asks.

Bilbo doesn’t bother moving his hand. “Praying for someone to give me strength because my patience is wearing thin.” He looks up at Dwalin. “Did you need anything?”

“Prince Thorin is looking for a certain book.” Dwalin gestures around, “I’m here to find it.”

Bilbo throws a quick glance at the shelves where he knows Ori is hiding and gives the general area his best disappointed face. “So much for no dragons,” he mutters.

“What was t’at?” Dwalin asks.

Bilbo sighs. “Nothing,” he informs him. “Nothing at all.” A thought occurs to him. “You know,” he says now. “I know just the scribe to help you find your book. He’s the best. In fact, King Thrain has used his skills before, as well.” He darts around the shelf, finding Ori desperately shaking his head at him, mouthing ‘No!’ desperately. Bilbo just grabs him by the arm and drags him to where Dwalin is. “Dwalin,” he says now, “meet Ori. Ori is the best scribe in the library.”

“Is he?” Dwalin doesn’t appear to be convinced. Ori looks a little miserable at his reaction.

“Oh, but he is,” Bilbo tells him. “The best of the best.”

“Oh, Bilbo, I’m not really that-” Ori breaks off when Bilbo gives him a subtle but strong kick to the shin. “I’m quite good.” He says instead, giving Dwalin a smile.

Bilbo wanted to slap his back in pride, but that wasn’t quite appropriate just yet.

“Well, I’ll leave you in Ori’s very capable hands.” He nudges Ori in Dwalin’s direction a little before leaving.

He whistled the whole way down the hall, rather proud with himself.

 

 

Chapter Text

It takes Bilbo a while to realise that Bombur is an only child. In this world, that is. He sees him around, delivering food, giving everyone a friendly smile, but when he sees him in the food halls, he’s often on his own. 

“Where are his brothers?” he asks Fili and Kili one night, gesturing with his chin in Bombur’s direction. He still fins it odd that they don’t all sit together, that there’s a weird class distinction here because Fili and Kili are royals and Bombur’s just a cook.

“Brothers?” Fili frowns. “Bombur doesn’t have brothers.”

“I don’t…” Bilbo feels as confused as the boys look. “I thought he had two brothers? Bofur and Bifur.”

Kili just shakes his head. “Nope,” he says before turning his attention back to the venison he’s devouring.

“Oh.” Bilbo just looks at Bombur for some time. “You’re certain?” he doesn’t listen to the answer.

It’s weird thinking about Bombur as a single entity, on his own. When he thinks of Bombur he thinks of Bofur and Bifur as well, like some package deal. That’s how they are: always together. But not here.

Bilbo’s beginning to like this world less and less.

 


 

He’s walking the next morning, trying to find something to do to take his mind off of… well, everything, when a voice carries down the halls, panicked. He’s near the throne room, so it must be coming from there, and as he moves closer, he can hear it better.

“I swear to you,” Bilbo hears a familiar voice yell out, “it’s true! Fourteen of us, tryin’ to fight a dragon!” There’s laughter. “I’m Bombur’s brother, surely you now Bombur.”

The words make something in his chest catch, and he begins to move faster, running towards the throne room. There’s a crowd, and he can barely see over it, but he can hear Thrain ordering for whoever it is to be thrown into the dungeons. He manages to break through, being small enough to weasel between two Dwarves.

“What’s going on-?”  Bilbo comes to a stop when the guards pass him, dragging someone along after them. “Bofur?”

“You know this man?” Thrain asks from behind him, still on his throne.

“Let him go, let him go!” Bilbo waves at the guards, who do as he says (albeit hesitantly).

“Oh, bless me, Bilbo Baggins!” Bofur surges to his feet, shaking off the guards and all but throws himself at Bilbo.

He’s laughing, and Bilbo is too, in that panicked, relived sort of way.

“You’re alive!” Bilbo pulls back, getting a proper look at him. “You’re alive. I saw you-”

“Yeah, the whole-” Bofur makes a gagging noise and does something weird with his hand, “thing. I wasn’t done over too bad, in all honesty. I saw you crawlin’ off and I tried to follow, then all of a sudden I wake up in Dale and I’m bein’ taken care of by medics. They told me I was lucky to be alive. I thought I was-”

“Dead or hallucinating,” Bilbo finishes for him. “Oh, I know just how you feel. You must have come through with me. I was certain I was to be on my own. I’ve talked to Gandalf; I can explain the whole thing-”

“My brothers,” Bofur cuts him off. “Are my brothers-”

“I’ve met Bombur. Seen him, that is. He’s fine.”

Bofur gives him an expectant look. “Bifur?” Bilbo hesitates, and it’s enough to make Bofur’s face fall. “They say Bombur doesn’t have any brothers,” Bofur says now. “Is that true?”

“Leave us,” Thrain orders the congregation around it, waving for his sons to stop when they make move to leave. “You ought to stay.” He waits until everyone’s gone before speaking again. “Would you like to explain to me what’s going on?”

Bilbo turns to face him. “This is Bofur. He was with me… when we were attacked.”

“Part of your group?” Frerin asks, and Bilbo nods. “Well, he’s speaking nonsense.”

“Nonsense?” Bilbo wonders, glancing at Bofur briefly. “What do you mean?”

“He says,” Thorin steps forward now, “that Erebor was destroyed by a dragon. He says you were all on your way to fight it, lead by me.”

“He says,” Frerin chimes in. “That we’re all dead.”

Bilbo doesn’t answer. He just looks at them, rather hopelessly. He’s still not sure they exist. Not really.

Thrain raises an eyebrow. “You lied.”

“I didn’t actually lie. And besides which, would you have even believed me?” Bilbo demanded. “Of course not. You would have thrown me in the nearest cell and left me to rot. And Gandalf thought it was best I didn’t say anything because this isn’t the same place. Things are different in my universe. There is evil rampant.”

Thrain appears to be irritated, but simply sighs and waves a hand at Bilbo. “Explain this dragon.”

“Smaug, his name is,” Bofur answers immediately. “Smaug the terrible. He came on the wind, bringin’ death and destruction with him, and drove the Dwarves from their home. For many years it stayed that way, and I suppose it may stay longer now.” He looks at Bilbo. “No one else came through? No one?”

Bilbo shakes his head. “You saw them die, like I did.”

“I only saw a few,” Bofur replies, “before I was hurt myself.”

“How many died by the dragons hand?” Frerin wants to know.

“Too many,” Bofur tells him.

“Thousands, maybe,” Bilbo elaborates after a moment’s silence. “He destroyed the city of Dale before attacking the Mountain. He tore through your army easily enough.”

Thrain runs a hand down his face. “Do you perhaps have any proof of this? How am I to believe you just on your word- and Gandalf’s. After all, Wizards can be devious.”

They are silent for some time. “I don’t have anythin’.” Bofur tells Bilbo, turning to look at him. “Everythin’ I know is from Ered Luin, and by the looks of it, none of it actually happened in this place.”

A thought strikes Bilbo. “Goblin Feet,” he says suddenly, locking eyes with Thorin.

“Goblin feet?” Bofur asks, lowering his voice so only Bilbo can hear. “Have you gone mad?”

Bilbo’s gaze does not waver. “Your mother used to read it to you, before she died giving birth to your brother. And you read it to your nephews when they were younger.”

Frerin looks at Thorin with raised eyebrows. “She did?” he asks.

Thorin just nods. “Not that I’ve told anybody.”

Bofur exhales loudly. “Mahal, I thought you’d had a knock too many to the head.”

“What you’ve said cannot leave this room,” Thrain declares now with a furrow to his brow. “Not that anyone would believe, it but I can’t have word getting out about that crystal. And that dragon. It’s still alive, you say?”

“From what we know, yes.”

Thrain sighs. “Well, I suppose there’s not much we can do about this. You look tired, Master Bofur. We ought to find you somewhere to rest.”

Bofur looks relieved. “I would appreciate that greatly. You have no idea what kind of a week I’ve had. Actually, the last few months, I should say,” he amended. “It’s certainly been rough.” He looks at Bilbo. “It’s nice to see a familiar face. And one that recognises me, too!”

Bilbo laughs.

“Thorin, Frerin, you can show our friend to a room. Later tonight I hope to hear the full story, hm?” He cocks an eyebrow at the two of them.

“Certainly, Your Highness.” Bofur gives a deep bow.

They leave then, and Bilbo follows, wanting to make sure Bofur gets to where he should comfortably. Although, that’s not entirely true, and he wants to make sure as well that he doesn’t say anything else that he shouldn’t to the others.

“What’s wrong, Bilbo?” Bofur asks, upon noticing Bilbo’s lament. “We’re alright. We’re not being beheaded by the King, either, so I’d say that’s pretty good.”

Bilbo hears Thorin snort from behind them, but ignores it. “I’m worried, Bofur.”

“What about?”

“Everything. Getting home. Being stuck here. Now with you, I wonder if anyone else got through.”

“You said yourself that everyone else was-”

“Dead, yes,” Bilbo finishes. “But I wasn’t talking about the Company. What if Azog got through? What if the crystal brought his Orcs here?”

Bofur was frowning, shaking his head. “Surely we’d know about it by now if it had happened.”

Bilbo lets out a sigh. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I just… I can’t shake the feeling.”

Bofur slaps a friendly hand on his shoulder, and Bilbo winces, trying to ignore the twinge of pain. “Don’t worry about it! After all, you’ve saved us from Azog once- you can certainly do it again.”

“I didn’t save all of you,” Bilbo hisses, trying to ignore the curious glance Dwalin is now giving him. “Just Thorin.”

“Well, Thorin’s our leader, so it’s essentially the same thing. Besides, if you hadn’t of done what you did, he’d be dead, and we might have been too before the Eagles got there.”

“Eagles?” Frerin asks curiously, suddenly butting between them. “You’ve met the eagles?”

“Aye, yes,” Bofur replies with a grin. “Very helpful in a tricky situation. With the wings and claws and… you know.”

“So,” Frerin leans over to Bilbo now, “I’m dead?”

“No, you’re very much alive,” Bilbo gestures at him.

Frerin huffs. “In your world. I’m dead? We never met?”

“No. You were killed in Moria, along with your father. The Company was formed maybe sixty years after.”

Frerin pouts. “What a pity,” he sighs.

Bilbo can’t help but laugh. “Most people aren’t as flippant when it comes to their own death.”

Frerin shrugs. “Well, I’m not dead now, am I? So I figure it isn’t all so bad.”

They show Bofur to his room, who’s still in raptures about the whole place. “This is amazin’,” he says, grinning up at the high stretching columns that keep the roof of the mountain from collapsing. “I can’t believe this is what it looked like.”

“You were never here?” Bilbo frowns.

Bofur shakes his head. “My brothers and I were from the Blue Mountains. Born and bred.” Bombur must have come here to make his mark on the Kingdom, then, when he’d come of age. Bilbo supposes that being an only child gives you a lot less to be chained to when it comes to that sort of thing.

“So who else was in our little group, eh?” Frerin wants to know. “Anyone we know?”

“Uh…” Bilbo shares a look with Bofur before turning his attention back to Frerin. “Balin.”

“Balin?” Dwalin scoffs. “Facin’ down a dragon?”

“If we’d gotten that far he’d probably have just scolded it out of the mountain,” Bilbo muses now, which makes Frerin and Bofur laugh.

“He is pretty scary,” Frerin agrees.  “He caught me stealing pies once and I thought I was going to die.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “Bombur ate too much of the stew one night and Balin gave him a look that could have frightened even the mightiest of Orc.”

Dwalin snorts now. “That sounds like Balin, alright. But Bombur? And no offense,” he gestures at Bofur and Bilbo now, “but you don’t seem the mightiest of warriors. Why only fourteen?  Where are our armies?”

Bilbo looks over his shoulder at him. “We were it. Your kin and their men didn’t want to trouble themselves, and you didn’t have the power to call in allies. You didn’t even have a home. But the rest of us did answer- tinkers and miners and toymakers, because they were loyal to you. And I’m certain if we’d managed to get there, that there would have been a chance (even if it was only a slim one) that we would have prevailed.”

“But only fourteen?” Thorin asks. “Against a dragon?”

“If you can’t outsmart a dragon with one man you certainly aren’t going to be able to do it with an army,” Bilbo replies primly, putting his hands on his hips. “And you’d already tried it with the army- Smaug crushed them. It’s easier for a smaller group to pass unnoticed.”

Dwalin seems to consider Bilbo’s words for a little while. “Fair enough,” he says eventually. “I have to admit- I rather like this reality better than yours.”

Bilbo chuckles a little mirthlessly. “So do I. But it’s missing a few things. Important things,” he smiles at Bofur. “And I’d put up with the worst universe in the world to have them back.”

Bofur, who had previously looked like he was thinking very hard about something, piped up in reply. “But you did save us!”

Bilbo looks at him, confused. He’s completely lost track of the context now. “What?”

“You said you didn’t save us. But think of Mirkwood! Oh, the tricky stuff you got up to, to get us out.”

“Mirkwood?” Frerin looks confused.

“Greenwood,” Bilbo explains. “The evil has poisoned it in our place. We were trapped there for some time-”

“Until Bilbo tricked the Elves and got us out!” Bofur chimes in, making Bilbo flush.

“Tricked the Elves?” Thorin looks rather curious now. Bilbo avoids his gaze, embarrassed.

“You won’t like it,” Bilbo tells him. When there’s a pause of silence, as if they were waiting for an explanation, he sighs and gives them one. “I put you all in empty wine barrels and pushed you over a waterfall.”

Frerin bursts into paroxysms of laughter, having to lean against a wall to hold himself up. 

“Oh, hush you,” Bilbo tells him off, frowning. “It was the only way. And all the Elves were passed out from drinking too much so I just did what I had to do. We were in a rush.”

“Escaping from prison is like that,” Bofur agrees.

Frerin opens his mouth, no doubt to ask another question, but Thorin cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “I’m sure Bofur and Bilbo would like to catch up, and father wishes to hear the story tonight, so any questions you have can wait until then, Frerin.”

Frerin looks disappointed, and startlingly like Kili, but keeps his mouth shut.

Bilbo shows Bofur into his room, and finds a great amusement in the raptures Bofur has in the littlest of things.

“Oh!” Bofur cries, throwing himself on top of the covers. “A bed!” He spreads out, like a child making a snow angel, and inhales deeply. “It’s so comfortable.”

Bilbo laughs. “I was much the same, you know,” he informs his friend. “I almost sobbed when I saw the public baths.”

Bofur looks up at him, eyes widening. “Public baths?” he repeats.

Bilbo nods. “Uh-huh. They even have a sauna.”

“No!” Bofur says now, as if not believing it.

“Oh, yes.”

“Oh, I’ve never been gladder for that crystal of yours.” Bofur jumps to his feet. “Which way is it? I’m going to rip off my clothes and run there. I don’t care who sees.”

Bilbo laughs again.

 


 

The next morning during breakfast Bilbo notices Ori shyly slip into the food hall, dodging other Dwarrows. Bilbo nudges Bofur, who is eating so fast he’s practically inhaling the food, and points over to where Ori is.

“Well, look who it is!”

“He’s a proper scribe now,” Bilbo gushes, his voice full of price. But heck, even if this wasn’t the same Ori it was still Ori. “Works in the Royal Library.”

“Impressive.”

They watch Ori come to a stop behind where Dwalin is, talking to some of the other High Guards.

Ori takes a deep breath. “Be brave,” Bilbo hears him tell himself. “Fear nothing.” Then he clears his throat and reaches up to tap Dwalin on the shoulder. “Mister Dwalin?”

Dwalin turns, looking confused for a split second before realising there was a person in front of him, just that they were just too short to see. He looks down at Ori. “Can I help you?” he asks.

“I’m Ori.”

Dwalin shrugs. “And?”

Bilbo winces, and Bofur makes a face. “Not a good start,” he murmurs to Bilbo.

“I was helping you look for the book.” Ori holds it up a little helplessly. “I found it.”

“Oh,” Dwalin grabs the book. “Thanks.” And then he turns and walks off, leaving Ori looking rather miserable.

Bilbo huffs. “Stupid Dwarves,” he muttered.

Bofur snorts. “What, you mean they’re not-?”

“I’m working on it!” Bilbo cuts him off. “I am. They’re just… really difficult to work with. Ori!” he calls now, catching the small Dwarf’s attention. “Come here.” Ori obeys, looking quite pleased to see someone friendly. “There’s someone I want you to meet. This is Bofur.”

“Hello,” Ori offers his hand, but Bofur doesn’t do that. He just jumps to his feet, grabs Ori by the shoulders and pulls him up into the most bone crushing hug.

“Nice to meet you, Ori!” he booms, chuckling. Ori just sort of stands there; arms limp at his sides, as if he’s unsure what to do now.

Bilbo smothers a laugh in his hand when others turn to look at the interaction. Dwalin’s across the room, holding the book out to Thorin, but both are just looking at Bofur, eyebrows raised.

Bilbo slaps Bofur’s arm and he takes the hint, releasing poor Ori, who looks more than a little flustered.

“Well,” he straightens his clothes as he speaks. “It’s nice to meet you. I have to go back to work now.”

“You do realise the others are going to wonder why you know him with such familiarity now.”

“Well, he was part of The Company. Why shouldn’t they know?”

“Because Ori doesn’t know.”

“Then let’s help him out.” He gestures with his thumb in Dwalin’s direction. “The oaf is clearly incapable of anythin’ but growlin’ and snarlin’.”

“What do you want to do, domesticate him?”

Bofur just throws his arms wide. “Ori did it once, he can do it again.”

“Oh, hush you,” Bilbo elbows him. “Not too loud.”

“But surely if Dwalin knew-

“Not going to happen,” Bilbo tells him with finality. “If this happens it has to happen of their own volition. And Ori’s trying. Dwalin just has to…”

“Get his head out of his arse?” Bofur asks.

“Something like that, yes,” Bilbo answers. “We just have to watch it play out, no matter how painful that may be.”

“It’s cringe-worthy, that is.”

“Maybe so. But it’s like this for a reason. And I think Ori needs to learn to be a bit more…”

“Aggressive?”

“Yeah,” Bilbo says on the end of a laugh. “Just a bit.”

“So,” Bofur claps his hands together, “tell me about the others. Have you found them all?”

“Oin is a medic here. So I can only assume Gloin is around here somewhere as well, although I haven’t seen him as of yet. Dori and Nori, from what I know, are living in the lower part of the kingdom. Dori owns a small shop, selling herbs, and Nori is just trying to keep himself from getting arrested.”

“Fili and Kili?”

“You’ll probably see them today. They’re awfully clingy and just as tricksy as before.”

“Pranks, then?”

“From what I hear. And they certainly aren’t afraid to eavesdrop at a door, I tell you.”

“So they’re not all that different, then, I suppose.”

“And you said Balin still works for the King?”

“Same as always,” Bilbo answers with a shrug. “I don’t think things are too different here.”

“Yes, apart from the whole ‘me not being born’ dilemma.”

Bilbo looks down at his drink. “If it makes you feel any better, I know just what you mean.”

“Wha’, you too?” Bofur lets out a heavy sigh, making his bangs flutter. “Unbelievable.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me. You know,” he says now, straightening and looking at Bofur once more, “I have a theory.”

“A theory?” Bofur asks.

Bilbo nods. “I do. I got sucked through, right? To a universe where I didn’t exist. So maybe that’s why you were sucked in, too. Because you don’t exist either. If we went to a place where we existed in that time as well, we’d probably end up doing some major damage. So maybe that’s what the crystal does. Takes us somewhere we can be safe, but also to a place where we won’t corrupt our own paths.”

Bofur nods, looking impressed. “Very smart of you,” he compliments, grabbing his tankard. “It makes sense. And it would explain why no one else was sucked through, dead or no.”

“Thing is,” Bilbo goes on, “it only cements my theory that something bad must have come through with us. Because no one here has ever heard of an Azog, and if the One Ring, the Evil Ring was destroyed, then it’s not likely that he or any of his soldiers existed here.”

“Agh,” Bofur sighs, “now you’ve ruined breakfast for me, makin’ me think about that white-faced, grizzly, beardless-”

“Yes, yes. If I let you go on you’ll be naming adjectives for the rest of the day. We won’t get anything done.”

Bofur just grouses, turning back to his food, because no matter what he says, a Dwarf is a Dwarf and they never turn a meal down.

Bofur wanted to nose around the kitchens a little, obviously to catch a glimpse of his brother, so Bilbo agreed, and decided he might as well just go right up to Bombur anyway and introduce himself and Bofur because he wanted to try some of this famous pie everyone kept talking about.

“You must be Bombur,” Bilbo says, even though he’s certain of who he is already. “Fili and Kili do not stop talking about your pastries.”

Bombur flushes with pride. “Well… yes. They are rather good. And you are?”

“Oh, I’m Bilbo, and this here,” he nudges Bofur forward, “is Bofur.”

Bofur looks positively heartbroken when Bombur just gives him a friendly nod and turns back to kneading the dough he’s working on.

Bilbo tries to keep the chit-chat going, elbowing Bofur now and again to remind him to keep smiling. Even though he has to admit, it is awkward and a little upsetting being so near to someone you were so close to who doesn’t even recognise you let alone care.

By the end of it Bilbo wants to hit Bombur’s head against the stovetop, but the pie makes it all better. “Oh my.” Bilbo looks at the delicious morsel in front of him. “This is brilliant.”

Bombur flushes. “Why, thank you.”

“Best pie I’ve ever had,” Bofur announces.

“It’s so nice of you to be so hospitable,” Bilbo continues now, “baking for us and everything.”

“Well, anyone who’s a friend of the little Princes is a friend of mine.”

Bofur sighs irritably, but keeps it quiet and continues on eating.

“Besides, I’m more than a little curious. I’ve been hearing things about a short thing with big feet wandering about with Royalty all of a sudden.”

“Ah, well, yes.” Bilbo looks at his feet now, swinging them as he sits on the stool. “I do suppose they’re rather big. But where I come from it is completely normal and you lot have absurdly little feet. And you wear shoes. You’d be oddly regarded creatures in The Shire.”

Bombur just laughs and looks at his stumpy feet.

 


 

Bilbo’s not sure how many days have passed, he’s lost track. Well, honestly, he stopped counting a long time ago. Gandalf still hasn’t come back with an answer as to how he (and now Bofur as well) could get back home. But now, he’s not even sure if he wants to go home. And it makes him feel guilty, and upset, because there’s so much at home he has to be grateful for, even though the rest of The Company is dead and if he returned now, he’d probably either be burnt by a dragon or slaughtered by a gang of Orc. And even if he did somehow manage to make it back to The Shire, how could he just do that? Just stay at home now that he’d seen some of the world, even if it was only a little bit. After everything, would he even be able to cope with going back to his boring little hamlet and just… gardening? And reading books about adventures that he could be having? Eating seven meals a day and pretending he wasn’t home when his nosy neighbours knocked?

He doesn’t think he can do that. That is even if Gandalf can get him and Bofur home. There have been no promises that he can.

Bilbo’s not sure what to think about that, but he feels a little at fault about the relief that rushes through him at the thought of not having to go home.

It’s just that there are so many problems at home, all the evil and danger, and it seems so peaceful here: happy. He wants to stay and… well; he doesn’t quite know what he wants.

But the constant cognitive dissonance is enough to drive him mad. He’s already certain he was fairly mad anyway (you have to be fairly mad to trick three trolls, for instance, or rush about an Elven Kingdom, stealing food and trying to break thirteen Dwarves out of the dungeons), but that isn’t the point.

To be perfectly honest, though, Bilbo doesn’t know what the point is. He’s sort of lost all semblance of a logical, easily-followed thought pattern. It probably happened sometime between being shoved in a sack and almost eaten and rushing down the rapids on top of a barrel.

And he’s surprised to find that he doesn’t actually mind.

Sanity is overrated anyway.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo’s standing on the balcony out of one of the food halls that looks down on the lower levels of the mountain, stretching out and buzzing with activity, watching everyone talk inside when he feels a presence behind him.

“Is it painful,” the voice says suddenly, making him jump a little, “watching them?”

Bilbo looks over his shoulder to find Thorin, watching him watching Bofur talk to Dwalin and Balin. “I’m not sure,” he considers it now, “Maybe. To be honest it’s more relief than anything else. I don’t think I believe it quite yet- because they can’t be dead. Not when they’re right in front of me like this.” He looks at them. “It makes me feel guilty.”

Thorin cocks a brow. “Guilty?” he repeats. “Why?”

“Because I should be mourning. But instead I’m… happy. I want to stay,” he admits. “But I can’t.”

“Why not?” Thorin moves closer now. “If your companions are dead- then surely, there’s nothing for you there.”

Bilbo looks up at him. “You don’t get it. I don’t belong here. Not in this world. If I was supposed to be here, I’d have been born. I don’t think I’m needed. But in my world, well, it’s a little selfish, but I think I’m important.” He sighs. “I don’t know.”

They fall into silence for some moments before Thorin speaks again, frowning at something. “Who is that?”

Bilbo follows his gaze. “Oh, that’s Ori,” he says, looking at Bofur chat animatedly to a confused looking Ori. “He works in the library.”

“And you and Bofur know him?”

Bilbo considers lying. “He was our scribe for the journey.”

Thorin makes a surprised sound. “He seems too young for such a thing.”

“He’s a lot more useful than you’d imagine.” Bilbo cocks his head to the side and smiles. “And good company.”

“Bofur seems to enjoy his company,” Thorin sounds casual, but something about his words makes Bilbo frown.

“They’re friends. Or at least, they were for us. Why?”

“He seemed quite eager when it saw him,” Thorin explains.

“Well, he had seen him die not a few days before hand. It’s all a bit confusing.”

“I can imagine,” Thorin looks amused, before pausing again.  “And are we close?” he wonders, looking like he’s trying to figure something out.

“You and I?” Bilbo asks. Thorin just nods. “I suppose,” he grins. “You didn’t like me all that much to start with, but by the end we were.”

Thorin appears to be slightly confused, but doesn’t ask anything else, so Bilbo doesn’t bother calling him out on it.

“But then again,” Bilbo goes on, as an afterthought, “Trolls and Goblins tend to bring people together like that.”

Thorin chuckles, low and quiet. Bilbo’s a little floored, because Thorin doesn’t often smile or laugh. At least, he means his Thorin, who certainly isn’t doing any smiling at all. Because he’s dead and all.

“You are odd,” Bilbo says now, frowning at him. But it’s said with delight and maybe a little bit of adoration, if he’s being honest with himself.

“Am I?”

“You smile, and laugh and you don’t look off into the distance looking reminiscent.”

“I could do that, if you’d like,” he deadpans in reply. “As a Prince it is my obligation to look reminiscent at least some of the time.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “And you make jokes!” He shakes his head. “It’s so strange.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Thorin says now, “I am slightly like your version of me.”

“Are you?” Bilbo wonders.

“Well,” Thorin explains, “I wasn’t all that fond of you to begin with, either.”

“Rude,” Bilbo pushes him playfully, which is something he’d never have dared done in his own world. He leans against the balcony railings. “It’s nice here,” he muses, looking around. “I can see why you’d want to reclaim it.”

“Well, it didn’t appear to work out very well,” Thorin sighs, copying Bilbo. “But it is nice,” he agrees.

Thorin radiates warmth, and Bilbo’s trying to resist moving closer and breathing him in. He smells the same, like warm rich earth after rain, and Bilbo always felt a little kick in his stomach when it caught in his nostrils.

“You’re dead,” he says, with more than a little disbelief. “Completely dead. Beyond saving.”

“I’m alive now.”

Bilbo just looks at him, and before he can think of something to say in reply, Bofur calls out to him. “Bilbo! Come and get a drink!”

Bilbo sighs and grins. “Coming, coming!” He steps forward, to get off the balcony and go back inside, but Thorin stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait.”

“What is it?” Bilbo asks.

“Tomorrow,” Thorin says, looking earnest in a way Bilbo’s never seen before. “Come and see me tomorrow.”

Bilbo just nods, unable to say much else. The old Thorin was intense, but this Thorin is intense in a completely different way. Bilbo’s fairly certain his Thorin wasn’t exactly… capable of behaving on this level with someone else. Too many opportunities for him to be vulnerable. And he couldn’t allow that, not when he was a ruler without a Kingdom. Things were already precarious enough without throwing a lover into the mix. Not that Bilbo would have been a lover. That in itself is a completely presumptuous thought. But the point was that even if there was a possibility (which Bilbo’s certain there wasn’t) Thorin would have never gone through with it. His Thorin wasn’t like that.

If his Thorin were to even consider something like that, he would have never done anything until he was certain he’d secured Erebor.  But even then Bilbo couldn’t have had much hope. After all, no matter how close they’d become, in the end he was a Hobbit without a title, who had been hired as a burglar of all things. A King could not in any reality marry a Burglar.

Bilbo’s not sure why he’s lamenting over this so much, but it plagues his mind when he’s lying down, halfway to sleep. And their beginning to enter his mind more and more. It frustrates him to no end.

So he tries his best not to think about it.

And obviously that’s going oh so well for him, as you can probably already tell.

 


 

The next morning Bilbo doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Bofur wants to hang around Bombur some more, but Bilbo’s not o sure that that’s a good idea. The more time he spends around his brother, the more likely he’ll be to tell him the truth. And that is certainly not bound to go down all that well. Bilbo says as much, but Bofur just gives him this look. This pained, lost puppy look that makes him feel like he’s the one who’s suggesting something wrong.

In the end he just lets Bofur do what he wants. Because, it’s not like he can stop him anyway.

Besides, who is he to keep one brother from another?

And Bofur’s already lost Bifur. Bombur, too, even if he doesn’t know it. There’s no use telling him to stay away from the other.

He ends up going to find Fili and Kili, in need of a bit of cheering up. He heads to the sparring grounds, because they’re usually there with Dwalin, training. Instead he finds Ori peering around the gates and watching like a sweet little stalker.

Well, Bilbo supposes a little belatedly that that’s probably a bit of an oxymoron, but it’s Ori so it doesn’t matter.

“Hello, Ori,” Bilbo says, right behind him.

Ori squeaks and jumps and spins to look at Bilbo, eyes wide. “Bilbo! I-I, uh… I was just…”

“It’s okay,” Bilbo informs him, leaning against the gate beside him. “I do admit it’s a rather nice view.”

Ori giggles, face reddening. “It is, isn’t it?” he asks shyly, gaze darting back to where Dwalin was. “Pity he doesn’t even know who I am. And I’m just a scribe.” Ori’s giving Bilbo the same look Bofur was before, and it tugs at his heartstrings and makes him want to cuddle Ori and pet his hair, Eru help him. “He’s a member of the High Guard. And he’s related to Royalty.” Bilbo’s about to ask what Ori means, when he remembers Dwalin is Thorin’s cousin. Or second cousin. Or… something, he’s not quite sure. Doesn’t matter. Point to remember is that Dwalin is basically royalty, which is kind of hilarious, but that’s not the point.

“Don’t worry about it!” Bilbo tells him, completely earnest. “He’s got a rock for a head.”

Ori laughs a little, but the sadness doesn’t fully leave his eyes. “I suppose so…”

“Thing about Dwarves like Dwalin is that you have to really slam it into them to drive the point home. He’s better at fighting than he is at feeling things, and he certainly doesn’t know how to be a gentleman. He’s too busy headbutting other Dwarves.”

“But I’m not…” Ori fiddles with his jumper. “I can’t just…”

“I’m sorry to say but out of the two of you, you’re going to have to be the one to do something about it. Guys like Dwalin… they’re just not capable of doing it themselves.”

Ori looks frightened at the very prospect. “What if he says no?” he whines. “What if he says yes?!”

Bilbo laughs, more amused than he should be by this situation. “Let’s just take this one step at a time. Why don’t you just try talking to him first?”

Ori worries at his lip, glancing from Bilbo to Dwalin again. “I suppose I could try,” he murmurs. “But what do I say?”

“Compliment his Warhammer,” Bilbo informs him. “Or his fighting skills. Oh, ask him for lessons!”

“Lessons?!” Ori looks panicked. “I can’t even pick up a sword, let alone use it.”

“Then it’s the perfect excuse to ask him!” Bilbo tells him. “Come on, I’ll even help you.” So he grabs Ori by the shirtsleeves and tugs him into the sparring grounds, towards Dwalin. “Mister Dwalin!” he calls, getting his attention. “Good morning!”

Dwalin nods at him. “Mornin’.”

“You remember Ori, don’t you?” Bilbo pushes him forward a little so he doesn’t have the excuse to hide behind Bilbo when he talks. Dwalin just shrugs, but Bilbo can see he recognised him, so that’s one win. “He was just telling me that he’d love to know how to learn to fight.”

Dwalin looks Ori up and down. “He doesn’t even look like he can hold a sword.” That wasn’t a no. Another win.

Bilbo resists the urge to roll his eyes when Ori gives him the ‘I told you so’ look.

“Well, then you’d better get to teaching him, then.” Bilbo, feeling rathe brave, slaps Dwalin’s arm. “Come on! Surely it’ll be more fun that teaching just Fili and Kili.”

Dwalin seems to consider it. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he sighs. “Okay, fine. I’ll let him practice with us.” That’s 3-nil to Bilbo. Perfect.

Bilbo elbows Ori a little when Dwalin turns to call for the Princes, but Ori just seems even more concerned than he had been before, and yeah, Bilbo’s enjoying this way too much.

So for the next few hours, Bilbo entertains himself by watching Ori, Fili and Kili struggle to keep up with Dwalin. Ori fumbles once or twice, but manages to hold his own for most of the time. Bilbo would be impressed, but he’s seen Ori take out Goblins with Dwalin’s Warhammer, so he’s not all that surprised. Ori does slip, though, at the end, and nearly falls on his face, but Dwalin catches him by the forearm and pulls him back to his feet. But he doesn’t let go immediately, and then there’s some awkward shuffling after.

Bilbo wants to put his hands in the air and shout triumphantly “Thank Eru for that, finally!” but he doesn’t. Because that would be rude, and would probably ruin the whole moment.

So he just smiles quietly to himself and leaves them be. After all, he’s got to go find Thorin now anyway.

 


 

Thorin is waiting for him in the royal halls, and Bilbo asks where they’re going, but Thorin just smiles and shakes his head, leading the way down another labyrinth of corridors and up some very narrow, old-looking stairs. Of course Bilbo’s a little worried, because they look slightly damaged structurally, with bits of stone crumbling off and everything, but his curiosity overrides all of that and he carefully follows Thorin, who’s confidence says he probably comes up this way a lot.

“This is my favourite place to be,” he tells Bilbo as they reached the top of the stairs. Bilbo feels cool wind blow past him and he laughs at what he sees.

“A garden.”

“It was a hobby of my mothers,” Thorin explains, stepping out onto the grass, layered over the balcony ground, peppered with flowers and plants of all varieties. “When she died it got a little… overgrown. Father refused to come up here. So I started coming up. It felt… wrong to leave it in such disrepair. Like an insult to her memory.” Thorin smiles a little. “Gandalf says Hobbits like gardens, so I thought you might perhaps appreciate it more than my other friends.”

“I love it,” Bilbo tells him, completely honest, because wow, this place is amazing. And the view from the railing at the ledge of the balcony is pretty impressive too. It looks down the side of the mountain, and down the fields where Dale is, and then even further than that, stretching past Laketown. He can even see Mirkwood from here. Well- Greenwood.

“How high up are we?” he asks, peering over the railing carefully. He doesn’t want to get too far, for fear of his stomach turning over when he sees how far down the ground is.

Thorin shrugs. “Apart from the Watchtowers this is the highest part of the Mountain,” he says simply. It’s not really an answer, but it is. And it only serves to make Bilbo’s stomach turn even more.

He steps backwards. “I think I might stay back here,” Bilbo tells Thorin when he gives him a curious look. He’s having memories of the Misty Mountains invade his brain. Nearly getting crushed, nearly falling off the ledge. Thorin yelling at him…

This Thorin just smiles again (which Bilbo still finds really weird) and doesn’t say anything more on the subject.

“It’s so peaceful here,” Bilbo says, taking a seat in the garden now. He still doesn’t quite believe it. “Have you ever been at war? Apart from Moria, of course.” Bilbo doesn’t quite know what to think about Moria.

“Not since the Dark Times half a century ago,” Thorin says. “But I was very young then.”

“Tell me about it?” Bilbo relaxes, stretching out his legs, and looks at Thorin expectantly.

“There were many Orc running rampant, attacking villages. It was as if they’d sensed something that drove them into action. Like some sort of desperation.” Thorin frowns. “We lost many Dwarves, defending this place, and Dale, and Laketown, and the Iron Hills. We are in a precarious place, you can imagine, with The Brown Lands and Ered Lithui south and Ered Mithrin North of us. We were attacked on both sides, and had to send Dwarrows in both directions. Many died in the months that passed. But the Dark Lord was defeated, and Middle Earth saved. Things took some time to return to normal, but once they had we lived in peace. And we still do. Although, I admit,” Thorin adds now, “there are a few moments when a few of us contemplated declaring war on the Elves-” Bilbo snickers, “but other than that we have lived peacefully.” He considers Bilbo now. “Luckily,” he adds. “I never realised how lucky until recently.”

“Well,” Bilbo shrugs, “we can’t have everything, can we?”

“No,” Thorin agrees, “but it would have been nice to not have a Dragon infest our homeland.”

“You know,” Bilbo says now, “if there’s a universe where Smaug never did invade our homeland, then there’s bound to be a universe where he did and we got Erebor back.”

Thorin chuckles, but it’s mirthless. “I suppose that makes me feel a little better.” He turns to face Bilbo fully. “Has Gandalf found anything out about the crystal?”

Bilbo shakes his head. “If he has he hasn’t told me about it. It only works once, so if we can’t find the second crystal, the one in this world, then it looks like I’m not going anywhere.”

“Well,” Thorin clears his throat, looking awkward, “you’re always welcome here.”

Bilbo flushes and grins. “Thank you,” he tells Thorin. “I appreciate that… although if I am stuck and have to rebuild by life again, I’d have no idea where to start.”

“We can help with that,” Thorin replies, “anything you need.” Bilbo doesn’t answer, and Thorin cocks his head to the side. “What is it?” he wonders.

“I just wonder if this is what you’d be like if you’d never lost your home in my world.”

“Well, I’m still me,” Thorin appears to be a little upset at the idea that Bilbo sees this him differently to the other him. “I’m just…”

“Less scarred?” Bilbo tries.

He laughs, the irritation melting away. “Something like that.”

Bilbo swings his feet and looks about him. “This is nice, though,” he says, deciding to steer the subject away from that direction. “It’s been a long while since I could just relax. It’s like a holiday.”

“I’m glad,” Thorin replies, and they fall into a pleasant silence, sitting elbow-to-elbow, listening to the birds and the faint buzzing of people going about their day probably hundreds of feet down below.

 


 

Bilbo wakes up to a pounding on his door. It wouldn’t have been so bad, of course, had he not crawled into bed just before sunrise, spending a lot of the afternoon with Thorin up in the garden, and most of his night gossiping with Ori in the library before Fili and Kili dragged him off to drink in the food hall.

He huffs, throwing the covers off of him and stalks over to the door, pulling it open. “What is it, what is it?!” he demands, pressing a hand to his forehead. He’s dying, he’s certain of it.

“We have a problem.”

“A problem?” Bilbo repeats, lowering his hand. Bofur looks awfully concerned, so that’s enough to wake him up and dispel his foul mood. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s something I hate to say in this context- but you were right. Orc are here.”

Bilbo’s going to be sick.

 


 

Only one Dwarf on patrol survived the attack, but it was enough. They were ambushed by a small group, managing to kill most, but a few had managed to survive long enough to all but annihilate the Dwarrows group.

Bilbo’s wracked with guilt, but everyone insists it’s not his fault. It’s too much of a coincidence to be anything to the contrary, and Bilbo’s the one who brought them through with his stupid crystal. And now people are dead because of him. And Orc are on the loose. And that along with his hangover are enough to sour his usually optimistic mood.

Thorin finds him sulking on the food hall balcony not too long later. To be honest he was kind of hoping someone could show up and tell him it’s not his fault (even if he won’t believe them). Call him a bit egotistical, but he need at least some verification that he doesn’t need to feel so guilty about everything.

“When my mother died,” Thorin says out of the blue, surprising Bilbo, “I was certain it was my fault. That if I’d have done something different (anything) then maybe she wouldn’t have died. For months I was a wreck- inconsolable.”

“But it wasn’t your fault,” Bilbo tells him, his brow furrowing. “She died giving birth to Frerin. You had nothing to do with it.”

“That’s true. But that doesn’t mean I stopped blaming myself, no matter how illogical it seems. I kept thinking that maybe if I hadn’t been born, and Frerin had been born in my place, that it wouldn’t have happened. I felt like I had contributed to it.”

Bilbo sniffs a little. “Is that your way of trying to make me feel better?” he asks.

Thorin shrugs. “Is it working?”

“A little,” Bilbo says on the end of a chuckle. “I just…”

Thorin shakes his head, cutting Bilbo off. “It’s not like you knew what you were doing when you activated the crystal. It’s not that you even knew you were activating the crystal in the first place.” Thorin puts his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders and looks at him solemnly. “This was not your fault,” he tells Bilbo, pronouncing each word carefully. “You understand?”

Bilbo just nods. “Okay,” he breathes. “I understand.”

“Good,” Thorin relaxes now, arms dropping back at his sides. “Good.”

Bilbo feels slightly better, having gotten what he said he needed: verification that this wasn’t something he should feel guilty about, and he exhales slowly, trying to make himself believe it.

“Why did I tell you about Goblin Feet?” Thorin asks now, changing the subject (which is also something Bilbo needed right about now) and looking at Bilbo intently. “About my mother reading that to me?”

Bilbo shrugs. “I told you that my mother used to read stories to me before she died. I suppose you just felt like sharing because I had.” He remembers when Thorin told him about it, at the bottom of the Carrock they’d taken a whole day to climb down. The others were sleeping, and Bilbo (who was being plagued by nightmares at the time, of pictures of what could have happened, had the Eagles not arrived) had no idea how they were accomplishing such a thing. He had tossed and turned for some time before getting up to find Thorin on watch. They’d sat side by side, smoking the last of Bilbo’s pipe weed, and simply talked. It had been nice.

Bilbo guesses that Thorin was probably in a sharing mood at the time, considering the fact that Bilbo had just saved his life and all.

This Thorin’s brow furrows even further, which Bilbo wouldn’t have thought possible, but there you have it. “You said we were close, towards the end. How close is close?”

Bilbo thinks about it. “Well, uh… close. You know. I mean, we aren’t as close as you and Dwalin, for instance. But I like to think we were close enough.”

“No,” Thorin sighs now, looking irritated, but more at the conversation than at Bilbo himself, “that’s not what I meant.”

Bilbo makes a face, confused. “I don’t know what you do mean,” he informs him.

“You and I,” Thorin begins, gesturing vaguely between them. “Are we…?” he pauses, pulling a face, before correcting himself. “Were we…?” he’s got that intense look about him again, the one that makes Bilbo’s insides flip like he’s hanging upside down by his feet, held by one of those Trolls.

“We’re friends,” Bilbo says, because he supposes that was what they were. It doesn’t seem enough, though. Like the word ‘friend’ doesn’t fully describe what was between them (or at least what was felt on Bilbo’s side).

“Friends,” Thorin repeats, looking like he dislikes the word just as much as Bilbo does.

“Sure,” Bilbo gives a shrug, “friends.”

Thorin sighs slowly. “Friends,” it’s like he’s savouring the word- seeing how it tastes on his tongue.

“Thank you for talking to me, by the way,” Bilbo says, glancing at his feet as a sudden case of shyness attacks him. “Making me feel better, that is. I’ve been feeling dreadfully guilty about a lot of things lately.” He runs a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his face. “Bofur was right when he said it’s been a rough couple of months.”

“I can only imagine.”

Bilbo hums in agreement. “I wonder what this place looks like. In my world, I mean,” he elaborates when Thorin looks at him for some explanation. “With Smaug having destroyed it,” he looks about the balcony, wondering if it’s been crushed or if it’s still standing. He wonders if Thorin’s garden is still standing. He supposes he might never really know. “It’s all the ‘what ifs’ that do it, I think,” he declares. “The things you don’t know and will never find out. And they plague your mind, all those niggly little questions. It’s not the big ones that drive you mad- it’s the little ones.”

“Like?” Thorin prods, giving Bilbo that amused smile he seems to fond of.

Like,” Bilbo tells him, “the baths.”

“The baths?”

“Yes. Do they still work in my universe? Is there somehow running water? If we’d gone in, could we have used them? Or the library. Are the books I’ve been reading destroyed? Or maybe only some of pages were damaged. Maybe the library is unscathed, because Smaug would have gone straight into the treasury. And Smaug,” Bilbo adds.

“What about him?”

“How did he manage to even fit into here in the first place? It would be simply enough to get through the main part, of course. But surely he’d never fit through the smaller corridors.  He’d get stuck, I’m certain of it.”

Thorin laughs. “You think about all this?”

Bilbo nods. “I think about whether anyone survived in there. Maybe someone hid, and managed to escape Smaug’s fire. Maybe they’ve been living there the whole time, living off of scraps they find in the rubble. Maybe they befriended the dragon.”

Thorin laughs now, and it booms and echoes. “Befriending a dragon!” he exclaims. “Now I’ve heard everything.”

“And what about the smaller creatures?” Bilbo goes on, now off on a tangent. But it’s making him feel better, so what the heck. He’ll go on. “Like the birds. Does Smaug put up with them? Or does he try to roast them alive for entertainment? Do their little chirping sounds annoy him?”

“It’s a pity,” Thorin says now. “You didn’t reach the place in time to ask him all these questions. You could have interrogated him.”

“I’d probably talk his ear off to the point where he’d just get annoyed and leave.”

That makes Thorin laugh again. “You’d be the saviour of my people, getting rid of that foul beast.”

“It’s odd,” Bilbo muses now, “we had no plan whatsoever. I suppose we were just trying to get to the damn Mountain. That in itself was a feat of courage. I wonder what we would have done.”

“I’m certain you would have thought of something,” Thorin assures him, looking utterly sincere.

Bilbo flushes again, before his mind returns to more harrowing thoughts. “What are we to do about these Orc, then?”

Thorin inhales deeply, thinking, and turns and looks out over the balcony and to the Mountain below. “Kill them, I suppose.”

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “Well, I assumed that much. But how? How do we find them?”

“Oh, I’m certain that won’t be much trouble,” Thorin replies, looking hardly concerned. “Orc are easy to spot. There’s nothing on Middle Earth that looks like them so you can’t ever be mistaken.”

“And you’ll just send men out to kill them?”

“There are only a few left.”

“You have no idea at their tenacity, Thorin.” Bilbo’s shaking his head now. “Orcs like ours don’t give up. They keep going, no matter how many knives you stick in them or however many arrows you shoot into their backs. They don’t stop.”

“Then we’ll just have to cut off their heads, won’t we?”

“You’re so… confident.” It’s in every bit of him, like it bleeds into his bones. The way he stands and holds himself, the way he speaks, in his eyes. Even in his smile. He’s self-assured and cocky and (admittedly) it’s a look that fits him well.

This is Thorin unperturbed by such loss and destruction. This is the way his Thorin should have been.

“You seem awed by it,” Thorin teases.

“I am, a little,” Bilbo admits. “Not that you weren’t confident before. You were just confident in a different way. And you had shadows round your eyes, and you didn’t stand nearly as tall.” He pauses, wondering if he should go on. But it’s just Thorin and him, so he decides it’s safe to keep talking. “I think you blamed yourself there, too. Like you said.”

“For my mother’s death?” he asks.

“For everything,” Bilbo answers. “You were so young and you had all this greatness thrust upon you. You had to become something you weren’t ready to become and you didn’t know how to handle it. Your grandfather became sick with Goldlust, and then your home was destroyed. Then you lost your brother and your father in Moria. You were forced to lead your people through poverty and famine, homeless. A once proud family, roots torn and thrown to the wind. And you become less of a proud man. You had to beg and become what you must have once considered to be lowly. You had to work harder than any of your ancestors probably had in a very long time. You had all those people, their lives and their loss and their expectations on your shoulders. It must have been… horrible.”

Bilbo’s never dwelled on it too much, because he’s been too busy running from Goblin and fighting Orc. But now that he has the time, and he sees the stark contrast between this Thorin and his Thorin. He can see it. And he can’t get it out of his mind. “He should have been like you,” Bilbo says now. “He deserved that much, at least.”

Finally, he looks up at Thorin, who’s just staring at Bilbo in awe like he’s grown another head or something along those lines.

“You deserve to be happy,” Bilbo tells him, feeling infinitely sad. “I wish you were happy when I knew you.”

“I’m certain I was,” Thorin tells him, “with you around.”

Bilbo lets out a bit of a snort, highly amused by Thorin’s reply. “I think I frustrated you more than anything,” he rolls his eyes. “Such a little thing, fretting about my handkerchiefs and getting my clothes dirty. Heaven above, I wore a waistcoat on our journey. That’s hardly trekking gear, is it? I was just in such a rush to make sure I didn’t miss you all leaving. I was so excited to have an adventure of my own- and not something I read in one of those blasted books. I wanted something real.” What he got was certainly real. It wasn’t a happy ending, like he’d hoped. But then again, books hardly ever encompass real life, do they? Happy endings are very rare. Too rare.

Bilbo thinks there should be more happy endings.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo wants to give Dwalin a talk. He knows it’s probably Nori’s or (more likely) Dori’s job to do so, but he’s rather attached to Ori and he feels the need to tell Dwalin (now that he and Ori are getting close) that if he screws things up, Bilbo will do very bad things to Dwalin’s privates with the biggest and sharpest knife he can find.

He doesn’t, however, say anything of the such when he comes across Dwalin that morning. After all, he doesn’t even know what’s going on between Ori and Dwalin, and Dwalin would probably just laugh at Bilbo anyway if he tried to threaten him. Not that that would stop Bilbo from trying in the future. Of course not. He’s not an easily deterred Hobbit.

Thinking of Hobbits, however, makes Bilbo begin to wonder what The Shire is like without a Baggins there. Well, there are Bagginses there, of course, but that’s not what he means. He wonders who owns his Hobbit Hole. He hopes it’s not Lobelia and her husband Otho. In fact, he may indeed need to pray to Eru about that. Please, please, please do not let her have my mother’s silverware.

Not that he could help it, even if she did.

He spends a lot of his time now wandering about the place, watching Dwarves come and go, often in a rush, and wonder if maybe he’s been granted a second chance. An opportunity, offered by Eru, to be happy.

He doesn’t want to get his hopes up, of course, because at times this is an equal punishment as it is a blessing.

And Bilbo just knows something bad is about to happen. It’s like the calm before the storm, all this peace and serenity. It can’t be real. He’s certain of it. Although… he seems to certain of a lot of things these days, and a lot of them have turned out to be false, so he supposes he shouldn’t be too quick to judge on this.

It just all seems too good to be true. Even with his parents being dead, and Bofur and Bifur not existing, and the fact that none of the members of The Company really even know each other like Bilbo thinks they should. But he’s working on that. Slowly.

Bilbo thinks Bofur’s trying to work up to telling Bombur the story, although he’s not sure how that’s going to work out, but never mind.  And Ori will have to be told the story sometime too, along with his older brothers. But he might just leave that one to Dwalin, and when the hard bit’s over, Bilbo can just explain all the niggly details and answer any questions. He likes the sound of that idea.

And then there’s Gloin and Oin. And Balin. Bilbo frowns, trying to count them on his fingers. He comes up two short before he remembers Bifur’s not here, and that his Bofur is actually here, so it all adds up nicely.

But still. He rather likes the idea of someone else telling the rather unbelievable story. Perhaps Gandalf wouldn’t mind gathering them all together and explaining it. People are more likely to believe a Wizard, after all.

But back to his first point- something bad being about to happen. Because the Orcs are near, that must is evident, which means they’ve got to try and attack soon, right? After attacking those Dwarrows on patrol they’re bound to want to taste more Dwarf flesh. And Dale is just right there for the picking. Or, if they’re feeling braver, Erebor is just up the way a bit from the forest. Either way, Bilbo’s sure someone’s going to get hurt if they don’t do something soon.

Unfortunately, soon doesn’t seem soon enough.

 


 

The shouting is what firsts alerts him to something being wrong. Admittedly, there’s usually some sort of shouting going on in the Mountain, Dwarves are, after all, very loud creatures. But this yelling is different, it’s panicked, and it sounds like some sort of warning. Bilbo doesn’t speak Khuzdul (obviously) so this is just an assumption, of course. But it’s not a big leap to make.

He moves to the sound, drawn like a moth to a flame, and finds that something has broken through the guards at the front of the mountain and it rushing through the lower part of the mountain, shouting in some strange language. The Throne Room is one of the easiest places to get to, only up a large flight of stairs once you first enter the Mountain, so it’s no shock that whatever it is has managed to get here already, breaking through the guards like they’re nothing.

It seems to Orcs had gotten tired to waiting, because right now they’re chopping through Dwarves like they’re batting flies away from their faces or something. It seems more of a suicide run than anything else, because even if Orcs are completely stupid, they’re certainly not stupid enough to attack a Mountain filled with able-bodied Dwarves who pretty much all know how to use a weapon. You’d have to be utterly mad to even consider doing such a thing.

There’s screaming, but Bilbo barely hears it. Metal clashes against metal as the High Guard try to slaughter the last of the Orc before they hurt anyone else, and Bilbo rushes into the throne room, skidding to a stop when he finds the mess there.

No one looks dead, thankfully. Yet, anyway. There are some injured, though, scrambling away, clutching at their wounds. But they don’t seem to be the focal point of the Orcs attack.

In the centre of the room, Bilbo catches sight of Bofur, who’s almost having his skull crushed by a set of big, white hands.

 “Azog,” he breathes, quite unable to believe it.

His eyes are mad and feverish, and Bilbo’s certain his previous thought was correct. They have gone mad. Utterly mad. Like the trip here fried their brains and the only thing they want to do before they die is finish with the attack they’d started before Bilbo’s crystal had thrown them into this world.

Azog drops poor Bofur’s back onto the ground, attention now on solely Bilbo. “Shakutarbik Gagna.” He comes after Bilbo now, and Bilbo rushes to get away, almost tripping over himself in the process. Fear doesn’t exactly make him the most elegant of people.

Azog pushes through the guards like it’s nothing, reaching up as if to break ones neck, and that’s when Bilbo knows he has to do something to stop anyone else getting hurt.

He scrambles, looking for something- anything, and ends up grabbing a platter from a nearby table, knocking the food off it. He runs over to where Azog is, smacking the silver soundly in the middle of his face.

Azog releases the guard, who falls and chokes for breath, and stumbles backwards slightly.

An arrow whizzes past Bilbo’s head, slamming into Azog’s chest, but it barely slows him down. He reaches Bilbo, grabbing him by the neck, and lifts him off the ground like he’s nothing but a sack of potatoes. His feet swing, and he clutches at Azog with one hand, the other reaching for the scabbard at Azog’s side, where his knife was sheathed.

Azog snarls, his grip tightening and Bilbo manages to scrape his fingers over the knife, snatching it up and slamming it into his thick wrist. Azog lets go of him, roaring in pain.

He hears someone shout for him to get down, and he hits the ground immediately, just as another arrow lodges itself straight in the centre of Azog’s chest.

Finally, while Azog is trying to pull the arrow out, a guard manages to swing and land a blow to his back, severing his spine.

The Pale Orc gurgles, coughing up blood, before collapsing, unmoving on the ground.

“Well, thank Mahal for that,” Bofur dusts himself off like he wasn’t just about to be killed for the second time. “I was beginning to think we were rightly screwed there.”

Bilbo, he can’t help it, he laughs. Almost hysterically, one hand on his neck where the skin was burning. He staggers, almost falling over, but the guards manage to catch him and steady him while the others take in the damage, calling for healers and sending men to the entrance of the mountain to find any other wounded.

Bofur takes Bilbo by the arm. “You alright?” he asks, helping Bilbo steady himself.

“I, uh…” Bilbo’s world is spinning slightly. “I think the lack of air has made me a little…” he gestures around vaguely, and Bofur seems to understand.

“Why don’t we sit you down somewhere and get you something to drink.” He moves Bilbo away from the centre of the noise, and pulls him to the side of the Throne Room, where he can relax onto the ground without being in the way.

“He’s dead, right?” Bilbo asks, panicking slightly. A delayed reaction, no doubt. “He’s really dead? He’s not going to get up again?”

“No, he’s down,” Bofur assures him gently, “and he’s stayin’ down, trust me on that. If the bastard gets up again I’ll chop his head off m’self.”

Bilbo laughs a little breathlessly, curling into himself slightly and resting his head on his knees. He squeezes his eyes shut. “I think that’s nearly enough courage for me for one day,” he declares. “I might have to have a nice quiet night now, to even things up.”

“Ah, but I’m sure there’ll be celebrations! Drinking and feasting for the slaying of the Pale Orc.” Bofur chuckles now. “Probably the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to a lot of the people here in a very long time.”

“People are hurt,” Bilbo says now.

“They are,” Bofur agrees. “And if you hadn’t have stepped in and slammed his face with that platter a lot more would have been, too. M’self included.”

Bilbo supposes he’s right, but that doesn’t ease the leaden feeling in his stomach in the slightest. He feels sick, and it’s even noisier in here than it had been when the Orcs were attacking.

He watches people rush past in a swirl of chaos.

 


 

“How’s he feeling?” A familiar voice murmurs, and Bilbo feels himself twitch in response.

There’s a sigh in reply, and Bilbo’s almost certain than there’s a shrug involved in there. “Just sleepin’ it off,” comes the answer. “I think the whole situation’s only hittin’ him now, y’know? He’s been handlin’ it so well I thought that he was just… gettin’ on with it. But I don’t think he’s actually felt the gravity of the thing hit him until now.”

“Fair enough,” he hears someone settle down at his side, a warmth and comforting smell radiating towards him.  “It’s a lot to take in, especially after this morning.”

“Aye, well, he always was the kind to jump in and do something without thinking. If it wasn’t for that I’d probably be dead twice over. You as well.”

There’s silence for a short period, before: “What exactly happened? With the Orc?”

“What did Bilbo do, you mean? Well, we were all stuck up these trees, after the Goblins. I’m sure you remember me tellin’ the King about that one,” there’s a chuckle. “There are these Orc and Wargs, and you, in some sort of fools rage, storm down and try to kill Azog. You’re used as a Warg’s chew toy for a little bit (if you’ll mind the terminology there), and they’re about to kill you when Bilbo just jumps in front of you and stars swingin’.  He ends up killin’ one or two Orc as well. It was all very impressive-”

“Stop talking me up,” Bilbo murmurs, his eyes still too heavy to open. He lolls his head to the side a bit, as if that would give Bofur warning.

Bofur just laughs. “How you feelin?” he wants to know.

“Tired,” Bilbo manages in reply, before drifting off again. He doesn’t know how much time passes, but he’s jolted slightly awake again when he hears a chair scrape, and a quiet murmur of goodbye.

“Who was that?” he wonders, slurring slightly.

“Bofur was just leaving,” Thorin tells him gently.

Bilbo makes a noise in reply to tell Thorin he’d heard what he said.

“Bilbo,” he hears Thorin say after maybe a moment or two. Or maybe an hour to two, he doesn’t know. Time’s a little fuzzy to him right now. He feels something warm brush over the back of his hand. “Tell me I’m not reading this wrong.” Bilbo works on opening his eyes a little before blinking slowly at Thorin, who’s looking down at him rather urgently.  “You threw yourself in front of a group of Orcs for me.”

“I thought it’d be an awful pity if you lost your head,” Bilbo tells him, patting his hand.

Thorin laughs, body shaking slightly. “Tell me how you feel.”

“Sore.”

“No-” Thorin breaks off again, lips twitching upwards in amusement. “How you feel about me.”

Bilbo’s eyes drift closed again. “Happy.”

“Happy?” Thorin asks.

“Happy,” Bilbo reiterates. “You make me feel happy.”

“You make me happy, too,” he hears Thorin say. “I’d kiss you,” he goes on, and if Bilbo were more awake he might be surprised by it, but right now he’s too tired to care too much, “but I think I’d like you to be fully conscious for that.”

Bilbo makes an affirmative noise, nodding slightly. “That’s a good idea,” he concurs, words slurring together slightly.

“I thought you might like it,” Thorin tells him. “Now sleep.”

“Was gonna anyway,” Bilbo yawns, “no matter what you said.”

He drifts off to Thorin laughing once more.

 


 

Frerin entertains him the next morning at the feasting hall, juggling knives while eating bacon, and Fili and Kili absolutely insist on taking him to Dale to show him what the place looks like, so he agrees, enjoying the idea of a distraction very much indeed.

And Dale is wonderful: a cornucopia of bright colours and noise and people. There’s something happening on every street, in every shop, every bit of the place is buzzing. Bilbo loves it.

“Is it always this busy?”

“Oh, yes!” Kili tells him happily. “You ought to see it on Market Days. Absolutely packed, it is!”

“Come this way, Bilbo,” Fili urges. “You have to have a look at the sweets stall.”

Bilbo allows himself to be tugged down the road. He looks up at the sky as they lead him around and sees a dragon kite and he laughs at the irony.

Later that day, when it’s getting dark and he’s sitting up in the garden with Thorin again, he thinks about the night at the bottom of the Carrock.

“Tell me Goblin Feet,” Bilbo asks Thorin, resting his head against his shoulder.

Thorin sighs, but begins nonetheless. “I am off down the road, where the fairy lanterns glowed, and the little pretty flitter-mice and flying. A slender band of grey, it runs creepily away, and the hedges and the grass are a-sighing. The air is full of wings, and of blundery, beetle-things, that warn you with their whirring and their humming...”

Bilbo hums himself and relaxes, eyes closing, drifting off to the sound of Thorin’s voice.

 


 

He wants to go to Hobbiton, to Bag End and to his home. He wants to see The Shire again: those rolling green meadows. He wants to inhale and smell the bread baking, the smell wafting on the wind and travelling to his nose all the way from the village centre where the bakers are working early in the mornings just as the sun rises.

But it’s not his place. It’s not his home. And it hurts.

What is he supposed to do now?

Gandalf has conveniently disappeared, which isn’t that much of a surprise given his track record, so Bilbo doesn’t know if he can gethome. What makes it worse is that he doesn’t really want to go back. He misses things, yes, but if Gandalf told him he couldn’t go home, he wouldn’t mind all that much. A world where a large majority of the evil he’d known just… didn’t exist. It was all so simple. And in a strange way, he sort of felt like this didn’t count as the real world, even if it was. But it wasn’t his real world.  So there was this vague sense of illusion, like a haze of disbelief.

It couldn’t be real, simply because it was so unreal. Sometimes he found himself just staring, watching Dwarrows or looking up at the high stretching walls and just blinking in incredulity at the fact that it was here. And real.

He wants to laugh sometimes at the ridiculousness of it all. At the fact that they came all that way to kill a dragon, only to be cut hundreds of metres away from the Mountain by Orc. At the fact that he’s been transported to a world where everything’s normal, and that is what creeps him out the most. At the fact that he’s pretty sure he’s madly in love with this Thorin, and that’s kind of an insult to his Thorin.

It’s best if he laughs, though, even if it makes him seem mad. Because laughing is certainly better than crying.

“You look contemplative,” the voice comes from behind him, making him jump slightly. Thorin’s standing at the door, looking slightly hesitant, but mostly amused. “Did you want me to come back later?”

“No, no,” Bilbo shakes his head. “You can come in, if you want.” He smiles at Thorin when he comes to sit down beside him. “I was just thinking about things.”

“I could tell,” Thorin replies, and then looks at him expectantly, ever-so-patient, like he could wait forever for Bilbo to go on and he wouldn’t be even the least bit angry with it.

“I was never born in this world.” He fiddles with his waistcoat as he speaks. “So I can’t go home. To The Shire,” he goes on, after realising (admittedly a little belatedly) that Thorin didn’t know where home was. “My Hobbit Hole will surely be someone else’s, and no doubt they’ll be making the garden a downright shambles.” Thorin chuckles, making Bilbo feel warm. “And I’ll never be able to walk up the pathway and go into that door ever again because it’s not mine. I’m a homeless Hobbit.”

“And from what I can tell, I was a homeless Dwarf, and that didn’t seem to make me any less of a person.”

“No. But you were displaced, and the distance between you and your homeland tortured you.” Among other things. “I can never go back there.”

“Nonsense,” Thorin says now, frowning in what appears to be irritation. Bilbo’s not sure whether it’s directed at him or his words. “You can certainly go back, and if you want to you will. I’ll even go with you. And if it makes you feel any better I’ll buy the blasted Hobbit Hole, too.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “I’m not sure I could accept such a gift.”

“Well, you’d have to accept it. I’d be offended if you didn’t. And you certainly don’t want to anger a member of the Royal Family, do you?”

Bilbo looks at him very carefully, still entertained, but a little more sombre. “You’d do that for me?”

“Of course I would.”

He shakes his head, dubious. “Why?” he wonders, truly perplexed.

“I believe we’ve already had this conversation,” Thorin tells him. “The night after you woke up. I’m sure you’ll recall there were a lot of awkward declarations made. Unless you’ve forgotten. Then I’ll be obligated to jog your memory.”

Bilbo chuckles, still looking at Thorin with curiosity. “You’re hardly the same person sometimes.”

Thorin’s mood seems to instantly sour, his brow furrowing. “Is that a problem?” he asks. “Are my differences from your version of me so different that you wouldn’t-?”

“I don’t want to be around you because I liked him,” Bilbo cuts in, “if that’s what you mean.” He shakes his head. “It’s not like that.” Thorin just looks at him, waiting for an explanation, so Bilbo sighs and goes on. “To me,” he begins, “you’re two completely different people. You’re someone he should have been- the person he would have been, had things been better. But that wasn’t what he was like for me. And there are bits of him in you- I can see that. But you’re still too different to be the same person. Not really. I like you not for what he was- because you’re different, so very, very different. So I’m not projecting, or settling, or anything of the such that you look like you’re worrying about right now,” he teases, nudging Thorin with his elbow. “I spend my time around you because I want to spend my time around you. Besides,” he scoffs now, but it’s not meant in a mocking way, “my Thorin? I don’t think he could have been anything with me. And not because I didn’t think myself worthy or some hogwash. But simply because he’d lost too much to give any part of himself away, he just couldn’t have done it. He was too closed in, too paranoid. I would have never been more than a friend, regardless of whether either of us wanted to be more. I think in that way, he was damaged beyond repair. There was no fixing that, not even if the throne had been reclaimed once more. Not with all the gold in the world. His heirs were already settled in the form of Fili and Kili, so there was no need to worry about that. I think… I think what he needed most was a friend. He just wasn’t capable of giving himself fully to another party, and I think he knew that and didn’t want to hurt someone else by pretending he could.”

He’s met with silence.

“I’m sorry,” Bilbo apologises now. “I’ve gone into a bit of a monologue there. But I mean it, every word. You’re just so… young and carefree and it just feels odd to see you like that.”

Would you have loved me?” Thorin asks. “Your version of me, I mean.”

Bilbo thinks about it. “Quite possibly,” he answers honestly. “But I very much doubt I would have done anything about it. It wasn’t the right time. Or the right place.”

“This is the right time and place,” Thorin tells him gently.

Bilbo can’t help but smile I bit. “I think I agree with you there.” Even if he does feel guilty. This just feels so… right. “Why did you come in?” he asks now.

“Hm?”

“You came to see me. Before I went off on a tangent. What did you want?”

“Ah,” Thorin squeezes Bilbo’s hand, as if trying to comfort him in his next words, “Gandalf is looking for you. I’ve told him that I’d get you, so he’ll meet you in the library- Bofur asked him to explain the whole situation to everyone else, so we’re gathering the members of your Company up now. You don’t have to do anything,” Thorin assures him when it becomes very clear that Bilbo is panicking slightly. “It’s all sorted out. Just relax.”

Bilbo turns to face him fully. “What if Gandalf’s found a way for us to get back? What if I have to leave?”

Thorin doesn’t appear pleased by the idea. “Then I’ll let you leave,” he declares, seemingly more to himself than to Bilbo. “I’ll have to, regardless of how I feel about it.”

Bilbo, still feeling awkward about touching him, hesitates before pushing the hair out of his face. “It’ll be alright,” he tells Thorin. “I’m sure of it.”

 


 

To be honest, Bilbo’s expecting a riot of sorts. Some sort of upheaval of disbelief and anger and confusion. But what he gets is just… confused frowns. No suggestions of lies or tricks: just confusion.

Seems that he’d been right- hearing it from a Wizard makes you believe it more.

They just look at him. And Bofur, of course. Bilbo thinks Bombur’s giving him the weirdest look out of the lot, which is… painful to watch.

“A dragon?” Ori asks eventually. “Me, fighting a dragon?!”

“Aye,” agrees Bombur, “it would have been a little more convincing if it wasn’t him.”

Ori gives him a dirty look.

“Trust me,” Bilbo says now, “never mess with a Ri brother. I’m sure Dwalin knows this from many encounters with Nori.”

Dwalin just snorts while Nori gives him the side-eye. No doubt he’d probably thought he was being arrested again when he was asked to come up here. Poor Dori probably nearly had a coronary when he was asked to come along with him.

“So that White Orc,” Nori begins now, turning his attention back to Bilbo. “He was from your world?”

Bilbo nods. “Azog,” he says with name with a strong distaste. “His Orcs were the ones attacking us when I… jumped here.”

Ori huffs loudly, throwing his hands up, looking terribly confused. “Why is no one talking about the dragon?!”

“Well he’s not here now, is he?” Gloin says, shrugging. “He doesn’t exist here… right?” he looks to Bilbo for verification, looking all of a sudden concerned, much to Bilbo’s amusement.

“Not that I know of. I mean, he would have attacked by now, surely. Besides, when the One Ring was destroyed, I assume the number evils things around here would have been significantly decreased. He’s probably dead,” he ends with a shrug.

Gandalf hums an agreement. “Bilbo is more than likely right. Once Belladonna destroyed the ring, many of Sauron’s dark creatures died.”

“Funny,” Bofur laughs now, “A Baggins in this world destroys and evil ring, and a Baggins in our world sets off to kill a dragon.”

“Adventure runs in the family, it seems,” Gandalf adds, amused.

Bilbo might have perhaps smiled, but at that very second he had other thoughts on his mind. “So did you find out?” Bilbo asks, finally willing himself to ask the question he’s been wanting an answer to since Thorin told him Gandalf was here. “About the crystal?”

“I did, yes.” Gandalf pauses, for an absurdly annoyingly long length of time, before answering. “As you know, your crystal cannot be reused. I’ve been searching for any word of where our version of that crystal might be, but alas, I haven’t been able to find anything.”

Bilbo doesn’t know what to think about the relief that spreads through his chest, making him feel lighter. He’ll concentrate on that later.

“And even if I had found it,” Gandalf adds, “I would have strongly suggested you not use it, because it would be more likely that you’d be taken to another alternate reality- one that light not be so safe for you. Not to mention you’d have to be in a life-or-death situation, which I would strongly suggest against trying to do. And even if you do manage to get yourself into a situation and jump through and you land in the right world- Bofur may not land in the same one.”

“So you’re saying that, statistically, it’s almost impossible to do?”

Gandalf nods.

“Well,” Bofur says now, “I wasn’t expecting much to the contrary, so it’s no real surprise.”

“Well, why would you want to go back, anyway?” Ori asks. “You said everyone is dead.”

“Because we should want to go back,” Bofur says, “even if we don’t want to. And I think,” he glances at Bilbo as he speaks, “it’s causin’ a bit of havoc, what with guilt and such.” Bilbo nods slowly in agreement as Bofur continues. “The fact that we were saved, but the rest of you… well, not so much.”

“Well, I would want you to stay if it were me,” Ori tells them both, getting to his feet. “It’s not safe there! If I knew you could be safe, I’d want you to be safe.”

“Hush now,” Dori whispers to his brother, grabbing his hand and pulling him back down into his seat.

Fili and Kili, who up until this point had been uncharacteristically quiet (although Biblo’s fairly certain that has something to do with Dwalin and Thorin on either of their sides, probably nudging them when they opened their mouths) spoke up.

“You’re always welcome here!” Kili insists, eyes wide and words sincere.

“Yes!” Fili agrees. “I’m sure you can both get jobs and live a normal life.”

Bofur laughs. “Well, I’m going to have to, aren’t I? I can’t leech off the King forever.”

Thorin raises an eyebrow at his words. “I’m fairly certain he would allow it,” he informs Bofur. “After all, the situation is… odd enough for it to be allowed. You seem to be quite the saviours in your own time; my father would be more than happy to-”

“I think it’s better if we earned our own money,” Bilbo cuts in. “After all, there’s no fun in spending someone else’s money, is there?”

“Well…” Kili begins, but Dwalin smacks him up the back of the head before he can get anywhere with the sentence.

Bombur has looked like he’s grown increasingly uncomfortable as time passes, and he gets to his feet suddenly. “Well, I’m sorry to rush out, but I’ve got a lot of work to get through.” He spares Bofur another one of those confused glances he’s so well at doing now. “I’ll be seeing you all soon enough, no doubt though.”

Bofur looks like a puppy someone’s just kicked.

“He’ll get used to it,” Bilbo assures him after he’s left, the door closing with a thump behind him. “He just needs time.”

Bofur doesn’t seem to like the idea of it needing to take time, and Bilbo’s not sure of what to say to make him feel better.

“So you knew us all together as a group,” Fili says now, looking contemplative. “What sort of things are different?”

Bilbo shares a look with Bofur. “Not much,” he hedges when he returns his glance to Fili. “Not much at all. A lot of you seem to have gravitated towards each other anyway, like Bombur getting a job as a cook here, even though he’s from the Blue Mountains.”

“Or Nori,” Bofur chimes in.

“What about me?” Nori demands, frowning.

“Well,” Bofur answers, “you’re still getting arrested by Dwalin, so…”

Balin laughs at that, the only sound he’s made for the entire conversation.

“Maybe we should take a break,” Bilbo suggests, suddenly feeling rather tired. “And if you think of any questions, you can ask us tomorrow.”

No one argues, presumably because it’s all a lot to digest and they’ve sort of just had it all thrown at them very suddenly.

Well… some of them, anyway.

Fili and Kili, on the other hand… Bilbo’s more than happy to nudge in Bofur’s direction. At least it’ll be a distraction for Bofur from his brother. At least, that’s what Bilbo decides on to make himself feel better about it.

There’s a knock on his door not five minutes after he’s settled down in there, and he’s not surprised in the slightest to find Thorin there.

“Can I come in?”

Bilbo just nods, pulling the door further open. Although, he supposes, if it was anyone else, he may have shut the door in their faces. But he couldn’t do that to Thorin- he’d probably be beheaded for it. He says as much.

“Like I’d behead you,” Thorin scoffs, beginning to pace about the room. Bilbo just sits at the edge of his bed and watches him. “You are far too interesting to have killed off.”

“Oh, well, thank you, Your Majesty.” Bilbo replies. “I’m flattered.”

Thorin laughs a little, stopping all of a sudden and turning to face Bilbo fully. “I want to-” he breaks off, making an irritated noise. “What I mean to say is-” he sighs, closing his eyes from a moment, before stepping forward and thrusting something in Bilbo’s direction. “Here.”

Bilbo opens his palm and lets Thorin drop the little trinket- a bead of sorts. He holds it close to his face, inspecting it. “It’s lovely,” he exclaims, turning it to the little bits of gold and silver inlaid in it in patters curling around the sides flicker in the light.

“My father made it for my mother as a courting gift. I… asked him if I could have it. To-” he waves vaguely, looking more like Bilbo’s Thorin than he ever has before. “To declare my intentions to you officially.”

Bilbo blinks. “You want to court me.”

Thorin’s brows knit together, and he looks at Bilbo as if he’s being needlessly thick. “Of course.”

“And… your father is okay with that?”

Thorin nods. “Of course,” he repeats. “Do you… wish to give it back?” he makes a pained face. “I did not want to rush things. I can-”

“No. No.” Bilbo closes his palm. “I love it. I do. I just… I thought there might be some sort of uproar about it.”

“Why?” Thorin asks, clearly baffled.

“Because I’m not… I don’t have a title. I’m not even the same species as you, Thorin. And don’t you need heirs?”

“Frerin will have children, and Dis has had Fili and Kili. There is no need for me to consider that. And it is not rare for Dwarves to marry outside their race. My great, great, great grandfather married a Human woman.”

“He did?” Bilbo wonders and Thorin nods in answer. “Well,” Bilbo smiles a little now, “better than an Elf, isn’t it?”

Thorin laughs before taking a seat at Bilbo’s side. “Would you like me to put it in your hair?”

Bilbo runs his fingers through his curls briefly. “If you want,” he tells Thorin, twisting so he can put it wherever he wishes.

Thorin runs his hands through Bilbo’s hair, making him shiver. “Tell me about the Trolls again,” he requests, the warmth of his body radiating into Bilbo’s bones.

Bilbo sighs and retells the tale for the umpteenth time. But he smiles the whole time he’s doing it because honestly, he doesn’t mind all that much.

 

 

Chapter Text

Thorin may be helping him play matchmaker. Just a little.

Well, maybe Bilbo roped him into it, with a big sad story about poor, sweet little Ori and his pining and big stupid oblivious Dwalin who had a rock for a head.

Thorin seemed persuaded by it.

And then Frerin got in on it as well, never one to shy away from an opportunity to cause chaos.

It makes Bilbo quite happy to see everyone pull together for a common cause. Usually Thorin is frowning and snapping at Frerin’s little tricks, but now he’s conspiring with him. Bilbo finds it all very amusing, watching them with their heads close together at the table in the food hall, whispering to each other.

Dwalin looks concerned, which Bilbo supposes he should be. Ori is, as usual, oblivious to mostly everything. He’s almost falling asleep in his breakfast, having worked late and long last night, trying to finish transcribing some old and brittle Elvish book.

Bilbo asks him about it, to keep him awake, but Ori keeps yawning, and Bilbo is too busy throwing scowls at Frerin when he winks in Bilbo’s direction, so they don’t really get anywhere with that line of conversation.

Besides, Fili and Kili have an endless litany of questions for Bilbo and Bofur which entertains them enough, unrelenting in their queries (and about the silliest things, as well! What braids did Fili wear, did Kili have a beard?).

When the afternoon rolls around he’s tired and a little annoyed at all the inquiries, so he escapes to Thorin’s study, where he distracts himself with listening to Thorin drag on and on about his letter writing. It’s a bit boring (Thorin had even warned him about the tediousness), but a nice change of pace. He’s had enough questions about facial hair and practical jokes to last him a lifetime. He could do with a little bit of boring right now.

“What do you write to Dis?” Bilbo asks, watching Thorin slowly and carefully write a note to be sent to Frerin, of all people. “And why are you writing to Frerin anyway?” His brow furrows at the thought of it.

“Frerin is in a meeting- he gets bored, and he likes to look important, so he has me write him little note sometimes.”

Bilbo laughs, stomping a foot, as Thorin gets up and leaves the room briefly to give the note to one of the guards standing just outside of the door.

“And your sister?” Bilbo wonders when Thorin returns.

“Lots of things,” Thorin responds. “What father is doing, what trouble Fili and Kili have gotten into.” He glances at Bilbo now. “You.”

Bilbo sits up straight. “Me?” he repeats. “You wrote to her about me?”

“Of course I did. She’s my sister.”

Bilbo is unnecessarily angry with it- although he knows it’s more because he’s never met Dis before than the actual thought that Thorin was telling her about him. “I didn’t realise our private lives were to be shared with everyone. Next thing you know you’ll be telling me you asked Frerin for permission to court me.”

Thorin rolls his eyes. “Don’t be silly,” he says now. “I asked Bofur.”

Bilbo does a double take. Under other circumstances it might have been comical to him, indeed it must be comical, because Thorin’s lips are quirking up as he demands: “What? Why?”

“Well,” he replied calmly, seemingly unperturbed by Bilbo’s reaction, “he is the closest thing you have to family here- he knows you well and you two are close. It is perhaps a little unconventional, but this isn’t exactly a normal relationship, is it? What with you being from another universe and everything…”

Bilbo laughs, relaxing a bit, before running a hand over his face. “Yes. I suppose you are right there.” He pauses briefly before looking at Thorin once more. “What did you tell her?”

“I think that’s my business, don’t you?” Thorin teases.

“What did you say about me?”

“Many, many things,” Thorin hedges, still smiling.

Bilbo narrows his eyes. “I will find out.”

Thorin doesn’t appear to be moved. “Good luck with that,” is all he says.

Bilbo just rolls his eyes. “Fine,” he declares. “I’m off to go and find Ori. I want to see how things are going.”

“Probably horribly,” Thorin calls after him. “Dwalin doesn’t know when to get a hint.”

Bilbo certainly finds that he agrees with that.

When he reaches the library, he’s met with a rather odd sight. Of course, it’s not incredibly odd. Just someone sitting down and reading a book. But it’s more the person than the activity.

Bilbo comes to a stop at the desk he’s sitting at. “Dwalin?” he asks.

Dwalin jumps about five feet in the air- although no one would ever believe Bilbo if he told them (great big Dwarrows like Dwalin don’t jump in fright). “Ah, yes?”

“What are you reading?” To be honest, Dwalin doesn’t look like the book type. Obviously.

“Ah…” Dwalin looks at it, like he’s only just noticed the title now. He squints at it. “Something about…”

Bilbo manages to repress a grin. “That’s alright. It’s not that important. Have you seen Ori?”

Dwalin hesitates again, even though he clearly knows. “I think I saw him over there,” he points to some shelves. “But I can’t be sure.”

Bilbo thanks him, and does his best not to laugh as he walks over. Ori is indeed there, frowning at some books he’s ordering. When he notices Bilbo he smiles. “Hello!”

“Ori,” Bilbo begins, “do you know you have an admirer?”

“An admirer?” Ori looks positively frightened by the prospect. “Who?”

Bilbo makes a small gap in the shelves and points to where Dwalin is. “Look.”

“Mister Dwalin! What’s he doing here?”

“Not so subtly pretending to read a book while watching you.”

Ori’s face goes an alarming shade of red. “That can’t be it. Maybe he just… needs a bit of help.”

“Oh, come on. He never comes in here unless he has to! We have to do something about this.”

“What?” Ori looks even more panicked than he had been a moment ago. “Shouldn’t we just leave him alone?”

Bilbo pretends to consider it, “No. Like I said,” he reminds Ori, “it’s not like he’s a dragon.”

No. But those axes of his are pretty fierce and I don’t fancy having my head chopped off.” Ori huffs, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Oh, come on, Ori. Just go talk to him. He’s very friendly, once you get past the grunting thing.”

A hint of a smile appears on Ori’s face, but it’s quickly tampered down. “No,” the word is almost a whine. “I just can’t.”

“You certainly can. You just have to take a deep breath, and jump in.”

Ori sets the books down and looks at Bilbo desperately. “I don’t like jumping in,” he says. “Jumping in frightens me.” He looks so helpless Bilbo wants to cuddle him. He wonders if Dwalin will have the same urge is presented with him like this.

“Just go say hello,” Bilbo suggests, “ask him if he needs any help. You don’t have to declare your undying love for each other.” Ori looks to be considering it, so Bilbo goes on. “I mean, that is part of your job, isn’t it? Helping me?”

“I… suppose so.”

“Just go see if he needs any help.” Bilbo gives him a nudge and Ori inhales deeply.

“Confidence,” he says, looking at Bilbo for verification.

“Fear nothing,” Bilbo tells him.

“Fear nothing,” Ori repeats, before looking at Bilbo urgently. “I fear a lot of things,” he tell him. “Almost everything, if I’m honest.”

Bilbo watches him shuffle off, towards Dwalin, who’s very pointedly looking at his book now with a little too much enthusiasm.

When Dwalin jumps five feet high again at another voice, Bilbo can’t help it. He laughs so much he has to lean against the shelves for support, and he’s fairly sure he’s almost asked to leave.

 


 

“He won’t talk to me!” Bofur sighs, frustrated, and throws his arms up in the air. He even takes his hat off and throws it on the chair beside Bilbo.

“I’ve never seen you without a hat on before,” Bilbo remarks, almost surprised, as Bofur paces. “It’s… odd.”

“You are listenin’, aren’t you?” Bofur huffs, giving Bilbo a dejected look.

“Of course I am,” Bilbo insists. “I’m just a little… surprised, is all. And I really do think you should give him time.”

“Time?” Bofur scoffs.

“He’s just found out that in another world he had two brothers he’s never known and one of them is dead now. And the other one is staying permanently. We have sort of just crashed into his life. It’s a lot for one person to take in.”

Bofur huffs, still wearing out the carpet with his pacing. “I’m not that hard to like,” he declares now, jerking a thumb to his chest. “I am loveable.”

Bilbo laughs. “You certainly are, Bofur. But you just have to be patient. We all have to be patient. These people… they aren’t the same people we knew. And we… we watched them die. That does a lot to a person.”

“You think I’m overreacting because my Bombur died?”

Bilbo shrugs. “Maybe. Maybe you’re just feeling edgy about it. I mean… what we’ve had happen to us is certainly not normal.” He tries not to think about it too much, all the blood and the shouting. His chest twinges as he speaks. “I don’t think you’re overreacting, Bofur,” he assures him, feeling something little inside him crack. “I really don’t.”

He must be crying, or at least look like he’s crying, because immediately Bofur is on his knees beside the chair and rubbing his back. “It’s alright. It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not,” Bilbo sniffles, feeling tears spill over. “It’s not at all alright.” And everything he’s held in for the past… however long, just comes spilling out, like a dam holding too much water in. “They’re dead! They’re all dead. Right here at the foot of this Mountain and we got away. It’s not fair, Bofur. I couldn’t help them, I just ran. I don’t understand why after everything, I get to be here. It’s like some sort of present, a gift. Like a reward. But I haven’t done anything. I don’t deserve it. And I shouldn’t be happy about it. It’s not right.”

He doesn’t know how long he’s like that for, doubled over and crying, with Bofur at his side, but eventually he manages to snuffle and stop for a moment to grab his handkerchief and blow his nose.

“Did you want me to…?” Bofur gestures towards the door.

“I think I need to be on my own for a little while,” Bilbo agrees.

“Alright. If you need anythin’ you just call for me, okay?”

Bilbo closes his eyes and inhales deeply, before nodding again. “Okay,” he tells Bofur. “I will.”

“Good,” Bofur pats his back in that horridly hard and painful way Dwarves like to do, before getting to his feet and making move to leave. “And it isn’t your fault,” he says when he reaches the door, “I know you know that, no matter how guilty you feel.”

Bilbo’s not sure if he does know that, but he’s glad someone disagrees with the guilty voice in his head.

 


 

He doesn’t think he’s ever cried so much, perhaps apart from when his parents died.

His tears have dried now, but the overwhelming want to cry hasn’t gone away. He’s face-down on his bed now, chest still heaving with sobs. His body is heavy and sore, and his neck hurts from the way he’s been lying, but he doesn’t want to move.

There’s a light knock on the door, but he doesn’t call out to answer it. There’s a pause, before another small knock, and then the door creaks open. “Bilbo?”

“Go away,” Bilbo doesn’t want Thorin to see him like this.

The bed dips under a new weight, and Bilbo feels fingers in his hair. “Bofur said you were upset,” Thorin says. “I wanted to check on you.”

“I’m fine,” Bilbo assures him, though the facade is broken by the crack in his voice. “You can go now.”

“It’s okay to not be fine sometimes, you know,” Thorin says after what seems like an infinitely long silence. He’s rubbing soothing circles on Bilbo’s back now. “Everyone was worried about you- Frerin wanted to come in himself. But I didn’t think that would be such a good idea.”

Bilbo finds himself laughing into the pillow a little. “I would have cried even more,” he comments, making Thorin chuckle with him.

“Did you want me to get someone to bring up something for you to eat? You’ve been in here for an awful long time.”

Bilbo just shakes his head, not in the mood for food.

He doesn’t ask Thorin to stay, but he stays anyway, just sitting there comforting him, until Bilbo rolls over onto his back. “I bet I look fantastic right now, don’t I?” he asks, wiping his eyes which are no doubt red and inflamed.

Thorin chuckles, pushing Bilbo’s tangled hair out of his face. “You look beautiful.”

“Ugh,” Bilbo rolls his eyes, “now I know you’re lying.” He reaches out and tangles his fingers through Thorin’s. “Stay with me tonight?”

Thorin just nods, relaxing a little. “If you want.”

Bilbo doesn’t say that he does want, perhaps a little too much. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to go blurting things like that right now when he’s in this state. The look Thorin’s giving him isn’t helping either, full of concern and intensity. Bilbo just wants to grab him by the lapels and kiss him.

Instead he just relaxes and closes his eyes, listening to Thorin settle by his side, and drifts off to sleep.

And for the first time in a very long while, he sleeps soundly and deeply.

 


 

Apparently the Elves are coming.  And also, apparently, this calls for all the Dwarves to act like the world is ending. Honestly, Bilbo thinks they’re acting like a bloody dragon is coming and not an ally.

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Bilbo says over breakfast one morning, watching everyone run around like the Mountain was on fire. “It’s just Elves.” Half the table goes silent at that, and just stares at him. “What?” he asks Balin. “It’s true. It’s not like the sky’s falling or anything.”

“You just wait ‘til you meet ‘em,” Dwalin grumbles, which Bilbo thinks is silly because he has met them. And he’s fairly certain a diplomatic visit is far better than being visited while a prisoner in the Elvenking’s cells.

He doesn’t say anything about it, though. Instead, he says: “I think I’ll go to the Markets today.”

Right at the entrance of the Mountain, kiosks and stalls line both sides of the walls and people shout and try to haggle numerous items. Bilbo’s only seen it from afar, and once from close up, early in the morning just as the stalls were all being set up, when he went to Dale with Fili and Kili. Dwalin insists on coming with him, which makes Bilbo more than a little suspicious.

“Did Thorin tell you to follow me around?” he asks after breakfast as they walk.

“Of course not!” Dwalin looks indignant, but Bilbo knows he’s lying.

“Right. Perhaps, then, you’re here to ask me about Ori?”

Dwalin instantly perks up. “What about him?”

“Well, I was thinking maybe you wanted to know what he liked. So you can, you know, impress him.”

Dwalin looks at Bilbo now, like he’s trying to gauge whether he’s teasing him or not. “I don’t know anything about books,” he says eventually, looking fairly unhappy with it all. “I know how to read, and all. But I just…”

“Don’t do it often?” Bilbo tries. Dwalin just shrugs, looking embarrassed. “Ori’s not the type of Dwarf to be bothered by that sort of thing.”

Dwalin grumbles something Bilbo can’t make out, but it sounds like it’s in Khuzdul.

“Besides,” Bilbo goes on, “I’m certain that if you were to just give him an offering: a gift for courting, then he’d accept it.”

Dwalin takes a moment to reply. “You think so?” He sounds like he’s slightly hopeful.

It makes Bilbo grin widely. “Certainly! Maybe you could find something today.”

“Yes, well…” Dwalin clears his throat before turning gruff again. “We’ll see.”

Bilbo just rolls his eyes, and they continue on.

He hears the whispers while they’re looking through the stalls. “Did you hear about the Iron Hills?”

“Certainly hope the mutinous feeling doesn’t spread. I wouldn’t cope with a civil war.”

Civil war? Bilbo is certain there was no such thing in his world. At least, not in the Iron Hills. He wants to hear more, but someone near him is shouting at a vendor for charging too much and both the Dwarrowdams are moving again so he misses whatever else they say.

He asks Dwalin about it on the way back.

“Where’d you hear that?” Dwalin asks, gruff, his arms full of knick knacks. Bilbo’s certain he can see a quill ad parchment in there, but he doesn’t’ say anything.

“Gossip,” he replies simply. “I wondered if there was any truth to it.”

“Well, things haven’t been great there at the moment,” Dwalin explains as they climb the massive stairs. “Some fighting. But certainly not a civil war.”

“But it could escalate?”

Dwalin shrugs. “Not a clue. But we’re keeping a close eye on it, just in case. That’s where Dis and her husband are now. Diplomatic duties, y’know.”

Bilbo nods. “Isn’t that a little dangerous for them?”

Dwalin snorts. “If you’d ever seen Dis you’d know not to worry about that sort of thing.”

Bilbo’s never seen Dis, obviously, so he can only assume she’s a fierce looking woman. Although, he’s not surprised, looking at the rest of the family. Besides, you’d have to be pretty fierce, having to look after Fili and Kili full-time.

Thorin’s waiting for him at his door.

“Thorin,” he says, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see you,” Thorin answers simply. “And I have something to show you.”

“I thought you were busy?” Bilbo asks, frowning.

“I have a small break between meetings,” Thorin explains, before holding out his arm. “Walk with me?”

Bilbo nods, unable to deny him anything. “Of course. Where are we going?”

“Somewhere special to me.”

“Not the garden?”

“Not the garden.”

“My, you have many special places,” Bilbo teases.

Thorin smiles. “This is a little different.” When Bilbo gives him a curious look, he goes on. “You’ll see when we get there.”

On the way to… well, wherever they’re going, they talk about how boring Thorin’s meetings were, about the preparation for the Elves arrival, and Bilbo asks him about the civil war.

“Yes,” Thorin tells him with a small frown, “news of that is spreading.”

“So it’s true? Dwalin says he don’t think there’ll be a civil war.”

“Well, he is right there. We’ll intervene before anything escalates that far. Dain is a good ruler, and he’s very popular. But there are factions who want more gold and land, even though they haven’t earned it. Their greed is fuelling their altercations.”

“Gold lust?” Bilbo wonders.

“Perhaps,” Thorin agrees, but he hardly seems concerned, “Dwarves are more susceptible to it than most, mainly because of our connection with the earth and stone. But I think it is more greediness than anything else.” He comes to a stop in front of a stone archway, two guards standing watch. He nods to them, and they pass through.

“Where are we?”

“My family’s tombs.”

“Oh.”

It’s not dark down here (there are torches everywhere), nor is it cold, but their footsteps echo on the stone and there’s a flicker of a shadow and Bilbo feels a little uncomfortable being so close to the dead.

“We return to the stone we were carved from,” Thorin murmurs, more to himself than to Bilbo.

“My people return to the Earth they sprang from,” Bilbo tells him, quietly, because he feels if he talks too loud he might wake the dead. “And we feed the ground and give life to the plants.”

Thorin smiles a little and squeezes his hand. “I wanted to show you…” He gestures to one tomb in particular. There are Khuzdul markings on it, but Bilbo can’t read them. “My mother’s tomb,” he explains, fingers lightly running over the runes. He doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t need to.

Bilbo leans against his shoulder. “Do you visit her often?”

Thorin shrugs, jostling Bilbo a little. “Sometimes. Not as often as I’d like.”

“You’re busy, Thorin,” Bilbo tells him gently. “I’m sure she’d understand.”

Thorin sighs slowly, body relaxing from its usual tense posture. “I wouldn’t have told you about Goblin Feet,” he says now. “Not like that.”

Bilbo frowns. “Hm?”

“You said I told you about Goblin Feet.”

“And you think… you didn’t?” Bilbo asks, confused.

“Not like that.”

Yeah, Bilbo’s still confused. “What do you mean?”

“I wouldn’t have just told anybody about that,” Thorin explains. “It’s not something I’d just share with a companion.” He turns so he can face Bilbo fully. “I’m certain you were more than that to me.”

Bilbo resists the urge to say that they’ll never know now, and instead just smiles a little. “Maybe,” he allows. “Anything is possible.”

 


 

Bofur wants to go to the baths.  Bilbo is, of course, partial to a nice long soak so he agrees. And when they see Ori, dragging his feet and looking so dreadfully tired and sore from a long day at work, they decide it’d be best for him is he came along as well.

Ori looks quite pleased with the idea, and readily agrees. So they spend their afternoon in the baths, relaxing in the hot water.

Bofur announces that he thinks he’s found some work, and Bilbo feels even more of a cad, because he doesn’t have a clue what he could possibly do to get money around here.

Ori suggests he could work in the library, and he’d be happy to get Bilbo a job. Nepotism at its best.

Bofur looks rather amusing, sitting in the bath wearing nothing but his hat.

“Do you ever take that off?” Ori had wondered when they’d first gotten into the bath.

“No,” Bofur had replied simply.

“I have a stalker,” Bofur says now, casually, like it’s nothing.

“Oh?” Bilbo wonders.

“Oh,” Bofur replies dryly.

“Do you know who it is?” Ori wonders.

“You’re not going to like it,” Bofur tells him.

Ori looks sweetly confused. “I’m not?”

“It’s Nori,” Bofur tells him.

“Oh, dear,” Ori looks positively embarrassed for his older brother while Bilbo guffaws.

“He keeps followin’ me around. When I caught him the third time, he kept insistin’ it was because it ‘wasn’t safe’ for me to walk ‘round on my own.”

Bilbo laughs. “Looks like you’ve got an admirer.”

“I can tell him to stop, if you’d like, Bofur,” Ori assures him. “Sometimes he’s not very good at getting hints-”

“It’s alright, lad,” Bofur waves it off. “I’ll handle it. But for now it’s not hurtin’ anybody, I’ll let it slide. But speaking of admirers,” he goes on now, “how’s Dwalin?”

Ori blushes. “He’s fine, thank you.”

“Still coming into the library a lot?” Bilbo wants to know.

Ori shrugs. “A little,” he answers. “He asks for help a lot now.”

“Ah,” Bofur coos, “of course.”

Bilbo changes the subject, because poor Ori looks dreadfully uncomfortable. “I heard something interesting today,” he tells Bofur.

“You did?”

Bilbo nods. “There’s fighting over in the Iron Hills.”

Bofur looks surprised. “Is there?”

“Dwalin says there won’t be a civil war, though, and Thorin told me if it comes to that Erebor will intervene.”

“What’s goin’ on over there?” Bofur wonders.

“Apparently there’s a group who’s getting a little too greedy, and Dain’s not going for that- so there’ve been some altercations.”

“That never happened in our world.”

“I know,” Bilbo agrees. “Something about Erebor never falling must effect this somehow.”

“Maybe because it’s all so different now. Y’know, Erebor bein’ standing and all means there’s a lot more money comin’ through this way, maybe they never got the opportunity in our word because it just wasn’t there.”

“Thing is,” Bilbo says now, “I don’t see how Erebor can intervene. The Iron Hills are at least three times the size of Erebor and if a civil war broke out, they’d need a bigger army to squelch it.”

“He’d probably call on his banner men from the Grey and Blue Mountains,” Ori explains simply, shrugging. “And the Elves would help. They’d make a big fuss about it, but they’d help.”

That did make sense. But it still seemed a far too bloody battle. “Surely there’s a better way to stop it, though. Before it gets that far.”

“I assume that’s why Lady Dis and her husband were there,” Ori answers. “Looking for ways to fix it.”

“Or findin’ allegiances within,” Bofur adds. “No one wants a war, but sometimes it just happens. You’ve got to be prepared.”

He’s certainly right there.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Thorin, these are weeds.”

Thorin frowns. “Are they?”

“Yes. They’re completely decimating the other plants here. Does your gardener know nothing?”

“Apparently not,” Thorin says with some amusement.

“Oh, you must let me fix this,” Bilbo tells him now. “I can’t stand to see it like this.”

“If you wish to, you can,” Thorin waves a hand at the garden. “It is not the splendour it was when my mother was looking after it, but there are not many Dwarrows who are interested in gardening. Plants and their medicinal properties, yes. But not gardening as an activity.”

“Then they are missing out,” Bilbo stated, wondering where he could get gloves and gardening tools from. Surely the other gardener had some somewhere.

He would have asked Thorin, but a messenger interrupted, bowing deeply and telling Thorin that his sister and her husband had arrived.

Bilbo walks over to the railings, peering down and down and down as if he could see them from all the way up here. He doesn’t, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from looking.

Thorin chuckles. “Did you want to join me? She’s excited about meeting you.”

Bilbo shakes his head. “Not just yet,” he tells him. “I was planning on seeing Bombur before anything else.”

Thorin doesn’t argue or insist; he just takes his leave and goes to greet his sister. Bilbo waits a little while, still looking down at the bottom half of the Mountain, before leaving himself.

Bombur’s where he always is, in the kitchens. “Bilbo!” he greets pleasantly, hands covered in flour and dough. “What can I do you for?”

“I was hoping I could talk to you, actually, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“No, no, of course not. Just… do me a favour and grab some more flour, would you? My hands are a bit preoccupied.” He nods down to the dough he’s kneading.

Bilbo does as he’s asked.

“So what did you want to talk to me about?” Bombur wonders while Bilbo sprinkles flour over the surface so the dough doesn’t stick.

“Bofur,” he answers, and Bombur stiffens a little.

“Right,” is all he says in response.

“I know it’s weird for you,” Bilbo goes on, “and Bofur knows that. But you were his brother, and it’s a bit hard for him to wrap his mind around the fact that you’re not his brother here.” Bombur doesn’t reply. “I’m not saying you have to pretend he’s a long lost family member of anything,” Bilbo assures him. “I’m just asking if maybe you could be a little friendlier. Just a little bit. Because it’s kind of breaking his heart.”

Bombur’s stoic expression falters a bit.

“Just say hello once in a while- ask him how he is, that sort of thing. He’s just trying to reacclimatise himself. It’s not easy waking up in a different universe.”

Bombur lets out a bit of a barking laugh. “You are right there,” he agrees. “Not that I’d know. It’s just… I’ve never had brothers before, and then all of a sudden there’s one hanging around.”

“I think everyone is feeling the same right about now. It’s not exactly a normal situation, is it?”

Bombur shakes his head. “Not really, no.” He sighs. “I’ll be nicer,” he tells Bilbo now. “I will. It’s just that he’s not the only one who needs to reacclimatise themselves to the situation.”

Bilbo nods. “I understand. I just thought I’d talk to you about it. He thinks you hate him.”

“I don’t hate him. I just don’t know him.”

“You should talk to him about it,” Bilbo suggests. “Because I don’t think he believes me when I say it.”

He stays with Bombur for an absurdly long time, even helping him cook, but he won’t admit that it’s because he’s hiding from Thorin who wants to introduce him to Dis. Not at all.

At lunch he goes to the food hall and eats with Bofur, and then Ori finds him to talk to the Head librarian about working there. Unfortunately, Dwalin is there.

“Thorin’s been looking for you,” he tells Bilbo once he’s done talking to the Head Librarian. “Thought you might have gone down to the Markets again.”

“I’ve been quite busy,” Bilbo hedges, because he can’t admit that he’s been avoiding him, can he? “What did he want?”

Dwalin shrugs, attention drawn elsewhere. “Somet’in about supper.”

Bilbo follows his gaze to Ori, who’s talking to one of the other Librarians. “Given him a gift, yet?” he asks teasingly.

Dwalin’s gaze snaps back to him and his brow furrows. “No,” he answers tersely. “No’ that it’s any of yer business.”

Bilbo puts his hands up in a gesture of peace. “Alright, alright. I’ll leave you to it.”

He’s walking back to his room, wondering if he can hide in there for the rest of the night (though he’s not sure he can last all night without sneaking out to get something to eat) when he runs into a passing Dwarrow, spilling their letters all over the ground.

“Oh, damn,” Bilbo gets down on his knees and starts picking them up. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ah, it’s alright,” the Dwarrow runs a hand through his hand and kneels down to help. “These corners can be treacherous. I once ran into someone bringing fruit up to the King, and knocked it all in the air- it ended up being a bit like a juggling act.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “Here,” he offers the papers. “I’m still sorry, though.”

The Dwarrow seems to have been distracted though. “What’s with your feet?” he blurts suddenly, frowning down at them.

Bilbo looks as well, wriggling his toes. “Well, I’m a Hobbit. We have big feet.”

“A Hobbit, huh?” The Dwarrow is still looking at his feet. “You must be big on walking, with feet like that.”

“I suppose I am,” Bilbo replies, “no more than the next person, though.”

“Oh, aye,” the Dwarrow agrees, “but a lot of us here do a fair bit more waddling than walking, if you get my drift,” he winks, before gesturing to one of the Dwarves passing by who was very round, perhaps even more so than Bombur.

Bilbo stifles a laugh.

“I’m Vini Arrowhead,” the Dwarf introduces himself, piling the letters up in one hand so he can offer the other. Bilbo shakes his hand.

“I’m Bilbo Baggins.”

Vini looks impressed. “I’ve heard about you!”

Bilbo’s a little mystified. “You have?”

“Oh, yes. My wife’s been keen to meet you.”

Bilbo feels something in his stomach drop. “She has?”

Vini just nods.

“Arrowhead,” Bilbo repeats now. “You’re an archer.”

“Aye. Best archer in all of Erebor! Well,” he grins, looking the spitting image of Kili, “there aren’t many archers in Erebor- but you get my point.”

“Impressive,” Bilbo manages. “No wonder Kili likes archery.”

“Ah, he takes after me like that,” Vini looks proud. “Fili favours the swords. Not that I blame him. The ladies love the swords,” he winks again, and even with the unsettling feeling in his stomach, Bilbo’s feeling very, very comfortable. Vini’s just so… charismatic and friendly. There’s a warmth about him and a mischievousness to his demeanour. At least now Bilbo knows where Fili and Kili got it from.

“Well, I wouldn’t know,” Bilbo says, “I only have one sword, and I’ve not been very good at using it so far.”

“Well, we’ll have to change that! Listen, are you busy? Only, I could use an extra hand here, sending all these letters out.”

“I thought the servants did this sort of thing,” Bilbo sates, taking half the letters.

“Oh, sometimes. But I like to do these things by myself. Don’t want to get a big head or anything. Besides,” he shrugs, “I’m from the Blue Mountains. Used to be a Smith, so I did all this on my own before I married.”

“You’re not from a well-off family?”

“Oh, no. No money, no name. Hard to think I’m married to a Princess, isn’t it?” Vini snorts. “But she’s a stubborn lady, and she made the King promise she could choose whoever she wanted to marry herself. And she chose me.”

“What did you do to impress her?” Bilbo asks, grinning along with him.

“I shot an apple out of her hand from a hundred feet away because one of my friends said I couldn’t. Although, mind you, I didn’t realise she was a Princess at the time, and I almost got arrested.”

“Well, no wonder she married you. An archer that good.”

Vini looks chuffed. “She wanted to learn. So she said in exchange for me not being arrested, I’d have to teach her.”

“Did she get very good?”

“Aye, very good. But Fili takes after her. She favours the swords more, too. Nearly took my head off a couple of times, I’ll tell you.”

“So they weren’t… mad that she married someone who was… well…”

“Essentially a peasant?” Vini supplies. “No, not really. I suppose because they’re in such a good position here they don’t have to worry about all that. They’re the Head of the Dwarven Kingdom; they sort of make the rules here. The Durin clan is the most famous and noble.”

Vini’s enthusiasm is contagious. Everyone they pass by and talk to while sending off the letters seem to grin more and laugh more when Vini does the same. Bilbo’s slightly envious- he wishes he were that charismatic. It’s no surprise Dis wanted to marry him.

Vini babbles on much like his sons do, and he never seems to stop moving. He waves his hands madly when he talks, and laughs loudly, booming across small spaces. Bilbo finds himself utterly entranced.

“So are you coming to supper tonight?” he asks Bilbo as they make their way back to the royal halls.

“Supper?”

“Aye, everyone’s been talking about you- Dis and I were quite eager to see if you lived up to the gossip.”

“And have I?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t know you nearly well enough to make that assumption just yet,” Vini tells him. “So you are coming, right?”

“Well… yes, I suppose.”

Vini positively beams. “Great!” he slaps Bilbo on the back. “I’ll see you later, Baggins!”

“You too,” Bilbo manages, trying to rub his shoulder as Vini walks off, whistling.

 


 

Fili and Kili escort Bilbo to the food hall, where everyone’s already eating, and lead him to the Royal table at the front of the hall, which is almost full, save three seats.

He waves to Ori and Bofur, who are in their usual spot, before being shoved into a seat between Dwalin and Thorin. He’s fairly certain he’s not supposed to be there, though, but no one says anything. He can see Vini across the table, who greets him with a wave.

“You met Vini, then?” Thorin asks as Bilbo starts to eat.

“I ran into him on the way back from the library. He’s very… vivacious.”

Thorin laughs. “Yes. He is, rather, isn’t he? I’ve never met a person who doesn’t like him.”

“I can certainly see how he charmed your sister into marrying him,” Bilbo agrees.

“Surprising considering she’s never done what anyone’s told her to do before,” Frerin chimes in from beside Thorin, peering around his side to grin at Bilbo.

Thorin hits him on the arm.

It was too loud to have a proper conversation, and for the first time Bilbo was thankful for the noise.  It saved a lot of awkward conversations from going on. Although that didn’t stop Vini yelling things at him from across the table. Bilbo, not being much of a yeller, would just reply and Frerin would reiterate it in his own booming voice.

He ate a little too much, however, and by the end of the evening felt like he might just burst. It didn’t help that he spent a good five minutes splitting his side with repressed laughter while watching Nori slowly steal peoples seats continually to get closer to Bofur.

Vini comes over when supper was finished, asking if Bilbo wanted to join them for a walk, and he was going to say now, that it, until Frerin grabbed him by the arm and adamantly insisted that they’d join them.

Thorin, the bastard, politely declined with a smile, saying he had things to do.

Bilbo had things to do. One of them primarily being falling into a food coma but apparently he wasn’t going to be doing that.

It was a lot colder out of the food hall, though, because there were considerably less people around, so at least he had that.

Vini had questions for him, about The Shire, and Gandalf, and the crystal and everything, and Frerin chimed in when Bilbo didn’t know an answer so it wasn’t too bad, but Dis’ curious looks made him incredibly uncomfortable.

He wasn’t good at this sort of thing. Although that was probably glaringly obvious. For the most part he just looked at his feet.

Soon, though, the conversation turned to less awkward things.

“How are the Iron Hills coping?” Frerin wants to know.

Dis sighs. “For the most part it is safe, but you never know when something is going to happen. The rebels are led by Fimpin, who used to be Dain’s second hand man. He wants to overthrow Dain and take the Iron Hills for himself. Then they’d lead their armies in our direction.”

“Regardless of the size of their armies, they will not get far without money,” Vini was shaking his head.

“We have far more riches here in Erebor,” Dis adds. “Our spies have given us word that he is planning on stealing our precious stones to fund his rebellion.”

“Good luck to him,” Frerin laughs.

Bilbo doesn’t like to tempt fate, so he keeps his mouth shut on the subject.

“You’re quieter than I’d imagined,” Dis says, falling slightly behind with Bilbo as Frerin and Vini throw bits of crumbled stone at each other ahead.

“Well…” Bilbo doesn’t really know what to say.

“Yours is a very curious story. I have to say if it were not for Gandalf than I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Bilbo nods. “It is a fairly unbelievable story,” he agrees. “In fact, I still sometimes don’t believe it myself. About this Fimpin,” he says now, “is he that much of a danger?”

Dis nods, grave. “My husband and brother seem to take it all light-heartedly. But it is a serious matter. It is unlikely he would win, of course, were he to start a war, but it is very possible he will try. And no matter how quickly we win, there will be losses. We should wish to avoid that at all costs.”

“But how?”

“We need to finish this rebellion before it starts,” Dis responds, a paradigm of calm. “Find him and his men and stop them before they hurt anyone else.”

“People have already been hurt?”

“There have been a number of attacks and robberies. Three have died. But Dain fears it will escalate.”

“Does the King know?”

“Oh, yes,” Dis answers, “it is the first thing we did upon arriving back. He is sending more men into the Iron Hills to act as guards and peacekeepers. This will need to be handled delicately.”

Bilbo nods. “I do hope things don’t escalate. It seems to have been very calm and peaceful here these past fifty years; it would be a shame for that to change.”

“Sadly or our race fighting is much a part of our culture as mining. I fear we do not cope well when we do not have a battle to rally against. Our people grow restless and bored, and then something happens like what is happening now in the Iron Hills. It is complacency that is our greatest enemy.” Bilbo can see similarities between Dis and Thorin, they both seem to have absorbed more royal behaviours than Frerin and Fili and Kili. “Although we have Moria… it is not as close, so it does not touch us as much. A war in the Iron Hills, however… that is a different story.”

“Perhaps,” he agrees. “I’m afraid I have to leave you now, Your Highness, I am very tired and in much need of rest.”

Dis smiles. “Please, call me Dis. And you are quite welcome to leave. I have enjoyed your company.”

“And I have enjoyed yours,” Bilbo returns, before bowing a little and leaving. As he turns into another hall, he hears Vini say in confusion: “Where’d the Hobbit go?”

 


 

Fili and Kili are going riding. They invite Bilbo, but Bilbo just laughs at them. “I have had enough riding to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.”

Fili just shrugs. “Suit yourself, Mister Baggins.”

“We’ll bring you back some deer!” Kili calls down the hall as they run off.

“I’d rather you didn’t!” Bilbo yells back, making one of the guards down the hall chuckle.

He starts his work in the library, making copies of the books that are slowly falling apart, and within an hour his hand is cramping. But he pushes forward, because this is far easier than facing down trolls and killing Wargs or facing off Gollum. Gollum is far scarier than The Collected Works of Uzbûn Goblinslayer.

Dwalin comes in just after lunch time, looking for Ori.

“He’s gone to deliver a book,” Bilbo tells him before he can ask. “You’ll probably catch him if you hurry. Down near the apothecary.”

Dwalin just nods, not even pretending he came in for another reason, and turns immediately, leaving, and when Ori comes back he’s flushed and stuttering about being late.

Bilbo chuckles to his books for the rest of the afternoon.

He’s about to leave the Library and go get something to eat when a guard comes calling for him, saying that King Thrain wishes to see him. He’s afraid he’s done something wrong all of a sudden, like he’s made some major mistake unintentionally, but Thrain’s demeanour is warm when he’s ushered into the room, so Bilbo tampers down a bit of his irrational fear.

“I hear you’re very serious about my Uëna’s garden,” he begins. “Thorin has taken good care of it since her death.”

“Well… yes, certainly,” Bilbo concurs.

“But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, our gardener is not fully invested in keeping it to its original standard. Thorin tries… but he does not have the green thumb his mother did. We decided a long while ago we needed to find someone who knew about gardening to care for them. I am told you’re quite knowledgeable about gardening?”

“Yes,” Bilbo answers, “all Hobbit’s are. It’s one of our hobbies.”

“Well, I was planning on offering you a job, perhaps, as a Garden tender for the Kingdom. I was thinking of putting another in on one of the lower levels. Part of the Mountain crumbled a few months ago, and the area has been inhabited ever since. It seems a decent place for a garden, what with the sun coming through and everything.”

“You wish for me to… help?”

“I would like you to plan it, and help put it together and when it is done, tend to it just as you wish to tend to the first garden.”

“You’re offering me… a job?”

“I am, yes,” Thrain responds with a seemingly infinite amount of patience.

“I already have a job,” Bilbo states, rather stupidly. “At the library.”

“Only for a few days at a time, though. Or so I’m told,” Thrain replies.

Well… Bilbo always likes to keep busy. “I would need help, of course,” he says now. “With the planning and construction.”

Thrain waves it off like it’s nothing. “I can provide you with that. My men will start removing the fallen stone immediately and reinforcing the bits of the Mountain that are still standing. I will have them inform you when that is done, and by then I expect you’ll have something planned out.”

Bilbo already had ideas spinning through his head. “Oh, yes,” he tells Thrain. “Thank you very much, Your Highness.”

Thrain shrugs. “Thorin told me how interested you were in gardening. You ought to thank him.”

“I will,” Bilbo says. “Thank you.”

Thrain nods. “I’m sure you will want to get a start on it as soon as possible, so I will let you leave now.”

Bilbo thanks him again, probably seeming very silly, and bows before darting out. He needed to go somewhere where he could use parchment and paper. He doesn’t have any in his room. He doesn’t know how big the area will be, but he can plan other things while he waits for measurements. And then there’s Thorin’s garden. He ought to find out what kind of plants his mother had, before she died and the garden was rearranged.

He was so busy thinking that he walked straight past Frerin. “Bilbo!” He slapped him on the back. “You disappeared on us last night!”

“Well, I was very tired,” Bilbo tells him. “I thought you were joining Fili and Kili for a hunt?”

“Oh, I didn’t really fancy that today, the weather’s a bit peaky. I think it might rain later.”

Bilbo hasn’t been outside today, so he doesn’t know whether it does look like it’s going to rain or not. He just nods, and starts to move again. “Your father has tasked me with the restoration of your mother’s garden,” he says casually, “and with the construction of a new one.”

“Has he?” Frerin raises an eyebrow. “How impressive.”

“I’m more than a little eager,” Bilbo admits, feeling like a child in a sweets store. “I simply cannot wait.”

“Well, I’d help you, but I’m afraid that’s just not something I can do.”

“Why not?” Bilbo asks.

“I’m off to Moria.”

The words stop Bilbo in his tracks. “Moria?” he repeats. “Where the war is going on?”

Frerin nods. “That’s the place. We’ve got a new stronghold, and we’re sending in reinforcements so the men who have been fighting there can return home for a few months before the next rotation.”

“So you’re on this rotation?”

“I am,” Frerin replies. “I’ll be there for three months before we switch over again.”

“I didn’t even know you served in the Royal Army.”

“Oh, yes,” he’s grinning, like he doesn’t remember what Bilbo had told him about his doom in Moria, “as soon as I was of age, I was begging Father to let me train. He wanted me to marry some Princess and have seventeen children,” he rolls his eyes, “not quite my gig, I have to admit. Besides, we all do at one time or another. When we’re needed.”

“But you can’t go,” Bilbo tells him now. “Don’t go. Don’t you remember what I told you?”

“Of course I do. But that was in your world. And I won’t let a possibility stop me from doing my duty. Honestly, I’m in just as much danger of dying here asI am there.”

Bilbo wants to yell at him, smack him upside the head, to tell him he’s being stupid- but he’s right. Bilbo doesn’t know for sure if things will play out the same way, and a slight probability wasn’t going to stop him. “Be safe,” he says instead. “Just… try not to die.”

Frerin laughs. “Well, I’ll do my best, believe me.”

“When do you leave?”

“The day after tomorrow- with the next rotation of men,” Frerin rubs his hands together. “Exciting to have an adventure, don’t you think?” Bilbo doesn’t answer, just looks at him. Frerin snorts. “Oh, come on, Bilbo! The next time you see me, I’ll bring you a nice Goblin head and the keys to Moria, how does that sound?”

“I’d rather you just return with you,” Bilbo tells him, utterly serious.

Frerin gives him a pat on the back. “I’ll do my best,” he assures him, sombre. “Now, I’m off. Got things to do before I go, so I need to go now.”

Bilbo watches him leave, feeling something heavy settle into his chest.

This won’t be good, he’s certain of that. But what can he do?

He finds Thorin in his study, writing correspondence again.

“Did you hear about Frerin?” he asks in lieu of a greeting.

Thorin looks up from his parchment. “I did, yes,” he says, dropping the quill. “You spoke to him?”

Bilbo nods. “He made it very clear there’d be no changing his mind.” He takes a seat on a chair nearby, fiddling with the arm, picking at it. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let him go,” Thorin replies simply. “His choice is his choice, and if you can’t give him certainty about what may happen, then he’s certainly not going to listen to you.”

“Stubbornness is a Durin trait, I suppose,” Bilbo muses now, closing his eyes. “I just hope he’s alright.”

“It’s Frerin,” Thorin tells him now. “He’ll be fine.”

Bilbo laughs a little. “Yes, you’re probably right. How bad is it in Moria at the moment?”

Thorin shrugs. “We’ve managed to kill off most of the Goblins, but they’re rooted deep inside Moria and the mines go deep. It will take some time to ferret them all out.”

Bilbo nods, feeling a little more placated now than he had been before.

But that still didn’t make him worry any less.

 


 

He scoffs down supper before going off to his room to sleep for the night, and when he wakes, it seems like all hell has broken loose.

He finds Dwalin, who takes him to one of the meeting halls, where Frerin, Thorin, Dis, Vini and King Thrain are gathered.

Fili is there as well, panicked and in a state of disarray.

“What’s going on?” Bilbo asks.

“It’s my fault,” Fili said, distressed. “We were fine, and I thought we’d be fine, so I went ahead, and then they grabbed him- and it was my fault because I wasn’t looking out for him like I was supposed to-”

Dis shushes him, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. “This is not your fault,” she tells him. “None of this is.”

“What’s happened?”

“Kili’s been kidnapped.”

 

 

Chapter Text

It is a simple request I make- your precious Arkenstone in exchange for your heir.” Thrain growls, crumpling the paper in his hands. “It’s signed from Fimpin.”

“We’ll find him,” Vini says, jumping to his feet. “And we’ll crush him. And anyone else who thought they could do this and get away with it-”

“A slow death is not enough,” Dis utters darkly. “I will find them myself and make them rue the day they ever crossed us-”

“That is enough,” Thrain interjects. “We need to remain calm and clear-headed about this. And we need to act fast.”

“Let me help,” Bilbo says now, stepping forward.

Thrain looks at him. “How?” he asks.

“I can pass by people unseen; Hobbits are light on their feet. We can leave bait and I can follow them to where Kili is, and help him escape. I can take someone with me.”

Thrain considers it. “Are you certain?” he asks.

Bilbo doesn’t think that needs asking, but he answers anyway. “Of course I am. Trust me when I say that I am made to do something like this. You don’t need an army to save him. Just me.” He would have perhaps been a little more humble, but now wasn’t the time for that sort of thing. He knew he could do this so he would. And he had to move now, no time could be wasted.

But Thorin was shaking his head. “I don’t think it’s-”

“Let me do this,” Bilbo tells him, cutting him off. “I can do this. I’ve done worse.” He’d certainly rather face down a group of rebels than a horde of Goblins, or three trolls, or even a dragon. And if he can attack Azog and kill Wargs and Orc, then he’s more than capable of doing this.

“I’ll go with you,” Vini announces, but Bilbo shakes his head.

“You’re his father, if you had the opportunity you’d kill them all, but that wouldn’t help us. I need someone who can pass by unseen, like me, who won’t go rushing into situations that might make things worse.”

Vini doesn’t look happy, but doesn’t object.

“I can do it,” Fili says. “I’m quick and quiet- not as quiet as Kili, but…” He stands now. “And I won’t go jumping into anything bad. I just want to get him back.”

“We all do, Fili,” Frerin tells his nephew.

Bilbo nods. “Alright. You can come. But I’m going to need a few things. Is Oin awake yet? I need to speak with him.”

“I will take you to him,” Thorin announces.

“Good. When and where does Fimpin want the Arkenstone?”

“Tomorrow night,” Thrain says. “He says he will take the stone and send us word to where he releases Kili later.”

“If he releases him at all,” Frerin grouses.

“Then have it ready,” Bilbo replies. “They will take it, and we will follow them and bring it back along with Kili.” He turns to Thorin now. “Oin?”

Thorin nods. “This way.”

“I’ll come with you!” Frerin states, jogging after them as they begin to walk. “I should stay,” he says once he’s caught up to them. “I shouldn’t leave. Not like this.”

“You’re needed in Moria,” Thorin tells him, “we have this under control, and we can keep you updated. Fimpin’s aim in doing this is to make us confused. It’s to create chaos. We must not allow it.”

Frerin doesn’t look happy about it. “There must be something I can do before I leave.”

“You can get me a sword,” Bilbo tells him. “Something small. Maybe a dagger instead. And I need something else, but you’ll find it odd.”

“Whatever you need I will get, no matter how strange,” Frerin promises.

“A bow, but the arrows I need are odd. They need to have screws on the end so I can attach things in place of a pointed head.”

Frerin looks confused, and just nods. “If that is what you need, I’ll have it to you by tomorrow morning.”

“Good,” Bilbo says. “Thank you.”

They part ways as they pass by the forge, and Frerin goes inside to get the things Bilbo requested.

“What do you need headless arrows for?” Thorin wonders.

“It’s hard to explain,” Bilbo tells him, and doesn’t elaborate. They stop at Oin’s healing rooms, where Bilbo had first woken up all that time ago. He tries not to be too reminiscent as he knocks on the door.

“Bilbo!” Oin smiles. “What can I do for you?”

“I need a few things, Oin. I was hoping as someone interested in herbs and their properties, you could help me.”

Oin nods. “Whatever you need.”

Bilbo goes over the list of things he needs, in bottles with screw carvings into the necks, and Oin raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment. Bilbo helps him crush the ingredients up with the mortar and reduce them.

When they’re finished he has four of five bottles of colourful liquids.

Thorin still seems confused, even though Bilbo thinks it’s should be glaringly obvious by now.

He spends the rest of his morning sorting and packing and gathering a few extra things he needs. Bombur makes far too much bread, but then goes on about how thin Bilbo is anyway and how he needs to keep up a heavy diet to make sure he doesn’t lose any more of his already lacking weight.

Bilbo just rolls his eyes because even though he’s lost a fair bit of weight over the length of his adventures, he’s by no means thin, and then in the afternoon he asks Vini for an archery session, just in case Fili can’t do it himself.

“I don’t like this,” Vini says, sombre for the first time Bilbo’s ever seen. “I should be going. With fifty men to pummel the bastards-”

“Which is exactly why you can’t go. Getting yourself killed isn’t going to help Kili. And if you rush in there with men, they’ll just kill him before you can get to him.”

Vini closes his eyes. “He’s my son. I should be helping.”

“You are helping. By helping me you’re helping him. And by not getting yourself killed by rebels you’re also helping.”

“Keep your drawing arm straight,” he says, pushing Bilbo’s arm up, before adding: “I still don’t like it.”

Bilbo releases the arrow, and it flutters across the sky before smacking into the target, right on the edge. He sighs, reaching for a new arrow. “This is going to be a long day,” he murmurs, aiming again.

 


 

“I should go with you,” Thorin says that night, sitting on the edge of Bilbo’s bed, watching him dart about the room for last-minute items.

“You have duties here to tend to,” Bilbo tells him.

“You have your job. Two now,” he adds, amused, “if I’m not mistaken.”

“And both can wait for just a little while.”

“Then my duties can as well,” Thorin returns, crossing his arms over his chest.

Bilbo sighs. “You need to let me do this. Purely because I can. I am entirely capable of going in, getting Kili and getting out. Or have you forgotten my little story about the barrels and the river?” he says the words almost teasingly. “You said that maybe I was here for a reason- to help. If that’s true, then this is it. Let me do what I need to do.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes I do,” Bilbo replies, laughing at the absurdity of his comment. “And regardless of what you say, I’m going to do it anyway.”

Thorin sighs. “I know. I was just hoping to convince you. There are other ways.”

“There really aren’t,” Bilbo tells him. “This needs to be done now.” He sits down beside Thorin. “Do you think he’s okay?” he asks.

“He’d better be,” Thorin growls, “or else I may kill someone.”

“I think Dis and Vini would beat you to it,” Bilbo muses, “if Fili doesn’t get them first.”

“They’re going to have a lot of Durin’s to contend with when this is over.”

“And a Baggins as well. And also, no doubt the Ri brothers, and Bombur and Bofur, and Oin and Gloin, and Balin and Dwalin. We’ll have a small army of our own to take them down.”

“Can I stay here tonight?” Thorin asks, instead of replying to his previous statement.

Bilbo nods. “If you want.”

Thorin relaxes, falling backwards until his head fell against the pillows, and sighs loudly. “It feels wrong letting you wander off with just Fili. You should have more protection than that.”

“I am perfectly capable of looking after myself,” Bilbo returns, primly.

“I never said you weren’t. I just don’t want you to have to,” Thorin sits up, propping himself up on his elbows. “I want to look after you,” he says, so sincere and utterly serious that Bilbo had to resist the urge to just jump on him.

“And I want to look after you,” he replies, keeping himself as serious and sincere as Thorin was. “All of you. So let me look after you now.” He crawls over the bed and pushes Thorin’s hair from his face.

Thorin hums, closing his eyes.

“You’re still so tense,” Bilbo comments, running his fingers through the hair gently, massaging at his scalp.

“I have a headache,” Thorin tells him. When Bilbo makes move to stop, Thorin opens his eyes again. “Don’t stop,” he says, “it’s nice.”

“Can I braid your hair?” Bilbo wonders, running his fingers through the tresses to smooth them out.

“If you want to.”

Bilbo uncaps the bead and sets it gently on the bedside table before undoing the braids he has in his hair right now. They’re a bit tangled and frayed though, so Bilbo supposes some new ones would be good.

Thorin closes his eyes again. “I should ask you to do this more often.”

“You seem very relaxed,” Bilbo comments. “More than I’ve ever seen you.”  There’s something so personal about the moment, something so vulnerable, and Bilbo wonders if he’d ever have seen it with his own Thorin, if he’d have ever let his guard down enough to have a moment like this.

“You’ve got that reflective look on your face again,” Thorin murmurs, blinking sleepily up at him.

“I was just thinking about you.”

“Me?”

“Well… not you-you. Theyou from my world.”

Thorin seems displeased. “Even if he is me, I have to admit I feel rather angry when you talk about him.”

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “He’s you.”

“Not really.”

“Well, you are. And sometimes I draw comparisons, is all. It’s not anything bad,” he rushes on when Thorin’s brow furrows. He puts his fingers on his forehead to smooth out the wrinkles there. “I just wonder if that Thorin would have been like you if things had gone better. It’s all those ‘what ifs’ that do it, if you’ll recall. They’ll do my head in, I’m sure of it. I’ll never be able to know and that’s what’s going to wreck my mind.”

Thorin smiles a little. “If it’s any consolation, if you went back we’d all be very upset.”

“Upset?” Bilbo asks.

Heartbroken,” Thorin tells him.

Bilbo laughs at him.

 


 

Frerin gives him the modified arrows in the morning. “I have no idea what you’re going to do with them, but here you go.”

Bilbo tests them before they go, screwing the bottles on each arrow and making sure they don’t fall off. Once he’s certain they’re secure and work properly, he packs it all away.

He has a few extra things, thin vial-like bottles that he wraps up carefully in a handkerchief and puts at the top of his pack where they won’t be crushed.

Fili is ready and rearing to go by breakfast, and obviously very unhappy about having to wait. Bilbo’s in much the same boat, and he’s fairly certain the rest are feeling just as impatient.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Ori asks while they eat breakfast in the food hall.

Bilbo just looks at him. “Of course I will,” he says. “I don’t quite know why you’re all so worried about this.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“Yes, but I don’t see anyone panicking about Fili going.”

“But Fili does this sort of thing all the time. He and Kili were in Moria last year for their coming-of-age, fighting with Prince Frerin-”

Bilbo rolls his eyes and cuts Ori off. “And for the past year I’ve been travelling across Middle Earth fighting Orc and saving you lot.”

Ori still doesn’t look convinced, but Bilbo doesn’t try any further. He’s not changing his mind just because a few people are doubtful. If he was like that, he’d have never gone on the adventure with Thorin and The Company in the first place.

He supposes their worry is fair enough, even if it does smart a little. After all, they’d doubted him at the start, too, when he was back in his Middle Earth. They’d thought him meek and useless. But he’d proved himself then, and he could do it again now.

But he’d be damned if he didn’t do anything at all. He’d already lost Kili once before, and he’d never forgive himself if he just sat and twiddled his thumbs and let it happen a second time.

Bofur seemed to understand. He gave Bilbo no harsh words, or questions, or confusion. He just nodded. It was nice having someone behind him. Well, apart from Fili. Fili didn’t seem to mind, so long as something was being done he didn’t care who did it. Of course, he might have been a lot less happy, had he not been allowed to go with Bilbo.

By the time it’s getting dark, they’re ready and setting off to the designated place, deep in the forest. Thorin and Vini come with them, Thorin carefully carrying the Arkenstone in a carved box in his furs.

Bilbo finds it amusing in an odd and agonizing way that the Arkenstone seems to cause just as much pain here as it has in his own world. Seems that some things don’t change, no matter what world.

They come to the designated meeting place and dismount, Thorin handing over the box to Bilbo. Vini is nearby, telling Fili something adamantly. Probably about ripping the bastards heads off.

“It’s not too late to stop this,” Thorin says. “You don’t have to go.”

Bilbo just looks at him, because he very clearly doesn’t understand. “Yes, I do,” he replies simply. “Now come on, off you go. You can’t be here when they show up, you know that.”

Thorin doesn’t argue, he just sighs, turning to look at Vini and Fili. Upon noticing their attention on each other and not on Bilbo and himself, he leans down, grasping at Bilbo tightly, desperately (almost to the point of it being painful) and kisses him.

Bilbo squeaks, because he hadn’t actually been expecting that, his hands immediately going to Thorin’s chest automatically to push him away.

Thorin hesitates a little at the movement, pulling back slightly, but Bilbo grabs the lapels of his coat and pulls him closer, leaning up on the tips of his toes to encourage him to deepen the kiss.

Someone clears their throat loudly from behind Thorin. “Hate to rush you, but we’ve got to get going now.”

Bilbo jumps at the sudden influx of reality hitting him, and pulls away, face reddening. Thorin just looks quite pleased with himself. Vini’s just watching, looking a little bit more amused than he had initially been during the ride over.

“Right,” Bilbo says, stepping back. “We’d better find the best place to hide the ponies and ourselves.”

Vini slaps a heavy hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “Good luck,” he says.

They wait until their ponies have disappeared before getting to work. Bilbo sets the box down where Fimpin requested it be set. On the fallen tree near the river that had been created during Ruzûkh back when Thror’s grandfather, Nain II, was still alive and a young Dwarrow and his great grandfather, Thorin I, was the King under the Mountain after his father Thrain I.

Fili tells him stories about it, about how the ancestors and the men in Dale that had been alive then had lost may crops in the farms when the floods came, and how any starved. But Thorin I made pacts with the Elves for food in exchange for jewels, beginning the start of a very long partnership between the two of them.

They sit quietly, Fili murmuring stories to him for some time, before the snapping of a stick somewhere in the distance and the neighing of horses hit their ears.

Fili looks like he’s ready to jump and start swinging, so Bilbo puts a hand on his forearm to stop him from moving. “Hush,” he says, peering out of their hiding spot through the leaves.

They watch six or seven Dwarrows come through on ponies, looking around them, as if they were expecting at least some resistance.

The Dwarf up the front dismounts, landing soundly on the ground, and slowly walks up to the box. A second Dwarf follows him. They both come to a stop, and the first glances at the second, nodding at the box. He grabs it and opens it.

“Is that it?” the first Dwarf asks.

The other Dwarf nods, and he laughs. “Morons,” he comments, and the others laugh too.

Fili lets out a quiet growl.

“What do we do now, Fimpin?” the second Dwarf asks. So this was Fimpin, then.

He was a weasel-y looking fellow, with a long, pointed nose and small, dark eyes. His eyebrows were bushy and took up far too much of his face and his beard was long but straggly.

Fimpin turns to all of them. “Keep an eye out. The Durin’s don’t give their jewels away so easily. When we’re at a safe distance I’ll send a Raven to the King and tell him that his grandson has been let loose along the Forest River, closer to the Grey Mountains than to Erebor.”

“And what will we really do with him?” the second Dwarf asks as they mount their horses once more.

“Kill him, of course. He’ll be an example to all who follow the Durin’s. They’ve had a long enough rule, and I’ll end their monopoly on our lands.”

Fili straightens slightly; about to jump from the trees and attack them, but Bilbo holds him back.

“We need to follow them,” Bilbo tells him urgently as they watch them leave. “They’ll lead us to Kili.”

They wait until the horses are a reasonable distance away before Bilbo gets their ponies while Fili determines which way the tracks are going.

They stay at a distance, not close enough to hear the horses or the voices, but Bilbo’s sure there isn’t that much space between them. They mainly follow the river Fimpin had mentioned, the Forest River, and once the Forest ended, they continued going South East, towards the Brown Lands. Bilbo panics for a moment, but they come to a stop just south of the Long Lake.

Bilbo sees the firelight and they dismount, keeping the ponies close to the trees so they’re hidden.

“I need you to keep yourself calm,” Bilbo tells them as they sneak, quietly, toward the fire.

Fili nods. “Just tell me what you need me to do.”

They stop at the side of a small hill, peering over the peak, and Bilbo takes out the bow and arrows Frerin had made for him.

“You shoot these at them to distract them. Aim this one,” Bilbo hands him the first arrow, “at the men near the fire. It’s a Flashbomb. Aim this second one,” he sets the arrow in front of him, “at the guards near where Kili is tied, it’s Sleeping Fog. You need to shoot it before I get to them, alright?” Fili nods, and Bilbo goes on. “When the Flahsbomb fades and the men can see again, fire this one. But you need to make sure Kili and I are out of the way. You understand? If you aim for the fire when you shoot this one it’ll explode. If there are any problems, I have more Flashbombs for myself. I need you to keep the men around the fire away from where Kili is. Once we have him we’ll worry about the Arkenstone.”

Fili nods, grabbing the bow. “I’m ready when you are.”

Bilbo inhales deeply. “Alright,” he says, bracing himself. “Shoot the first one, and I’ll start running.”

The flash is bright, and Bilbo barely has time to turn his head and close his eyes so he’s not affected by it. He’s up on his feet and running before the yelling starts, and by the time he passes the Dwarves at the fire, groping about blindly, the second arrows smashes into the ground at the guards feet and smoke drifts through the air. He clamps a hand over his mouth and nose and pushes past them, kneeling and grabbing Kili by the arms.

Kili jolts from his sleep, looking worse than Bilbo’s ever seen him with blood around his nose and mouth, black bruises on his face and arms. Bilbo puts his handkerchief over his mouth (Dwarves be damned for saying that they’re not useful) and helps him to his feet, not bothering to try and untie his hands just yet.

He pushes Kili in the direction of Fili, pointing toward the hill, before turning and darting towards the men in the fire once more, searching for the box.

While rifling through a rucksack, trying to dart between Dwarves legs when he catches sight of it across the fire. He scrambled, accidentally knocking someone’s leg, tripping them up. He grabs the box and crawls away, and seconds later something hits the fire, making it explode.

He’s blown sideways from the force of it, something smacking sharply into his side. His vision goes black for a moment and he rolls onto his back, cold air hitting him from one side, hot and thick smoke on the other. Somebody grabs him and drags him away, and he can hear them speaking, words muffled like he has a pillow over his head.

He feels something cool touch his face before he passes out.

 


 

He wakes up to warmth against his back and the sun on his face. He groans, eyes opening slightly.

“How you doing, Baggins?” a friendly voice asks.

Bilbo frowns, still not entirely awake. “Kili?” It hurts to move, it hurts to not move as well, but not nearly as much, so Bilbo figures it’s the lesser of two evils.

“That’s right. Don’t worry; we’re nearly in Dale now.”

“We are?” he tries to move, but a hand stops him. “Are you sharing a pony with me?”

“Well, it seems rude to just throw you over the back of one while me and Fili share. What if you fell off? So I thought I ought to sit on it with you to look after you.”

He straightens himself, head spinning a little. “How long have I been-?”

“Most of the night,” Kili answers automatically. “You’ve been burnt along your side, and you’ve got a nasty head wound from hitting a rock when you fell.”

As if it was waiting for the perfect time, the pain in his side flared up, and he cried out, almost falling off the pony.

“Don’t you worry, Bilbo,” Fili says from somewhere beside him. “We’re almost there.”

“Are you hurt?” he wants to know.

“Not at all, Mister Baggins!” Kili insists, but Fili cuts in.

“One of his hands is broken and we think some of his ribs are as well.”

Bilbo can almost hear Kili rolling his eyes. “I’m fine,” he insists. “You were awful brave, coming to save me, you know.”

“Yes, well, it was either me, or your father marching a small army down here to start a civil war,” Bilbo replies, ignoring Fili’s indignant huff and muttered ‘I was brave too, you know’.

“I think we did enough damage on our own,” Fili announces, sounding pleased with himself. “Those flashbombs worked a treat. And the explosion, as well.”

“Yes, it was larger than I expected,” Bilbo says, rubbing his head. “We must have put too much of something in the mix.”

“I think it worked perfectly,” Fili replies. “And we got Kili back, and the Arkenstone. So it’s been a rather good night.”

“Not entirely,” Kili sounds like he’s accidentally kicked a puppy.

“What is it?” Bilbo wonders. “What’s wrong?”

“They just kept asking me all these questions,” Kili whines. “And I got so confused, and I was hungry and they didn’t let me have anything to eat or drink. So I just told them.”

“Told them what?”

“About you. And the crystal. They didn’t believe me, thought I was mad.” Kili sounds morose. “I’m sorry, Bilbo.”

“It’s alright, Kili,” Bilbo tells him. “Like you said- they thought you were mad. They didn’t believe you. Besides, what would they do, even if they believed it? It’s not like the information’s of any use to them. They couldn’t do a thing with it.”

He can feel Kili relax a little behind him. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“Of course I am,” Bilbo rolls his eyes even though Kili can’t see it, “I always am. Now,” he goes on, ignoring the snorts of laughter he receives in reply. “What time is it?”

He feels Kili shrug. “Sometime in the early morning. I hope we get there soon, I’m starving!” He then goes on to list all the foods he’ll eat once he’s back home. Venison and boar and potatoes and sausages and no vegetables whatsoever. It makes Bilbo’s stomach rumble unhappily.

“Shut up, Kili,” Fili tells him. “Or I might just break your other hand.”

“There’s bread leftover in my bag,” Bilbo tells him. “It’s not much, but Bombur made extra because he told me I was too thin.”

“But you are, Bilbo!” Fili agrees as Kili tries to fish the bread from Bilbo’s pack with his good hand while still keeping hold of the reins.

“I am not!” Bilbo squawks, indignant. “And you certainly aren’t big, either.”

“Yes, but I have muscles. There’s a difference,” Fili turns his nose up in the air, but he’s grinning, so the seriousness of the action is lost.

Kili just snorts inelegantly from behind him, a mouth full of food.

“He’s always been like that,” he tells Bilbo. “‘I’m bigger so I make the rules’,” he imitates, pulling a face.

“I do not sound like that,” Fili tells his brother. “You’re just being silly.”

Kili just sticks his tongue out at Fili before mimicking him again. “You’re just being silly,” he whines.

Fili’s eyes roll so far that Bilbo thinks they might fall out of his head. “At least Khagun and ‘Adad will be pleased.”

“She’ll probably slap me in the back of the head for causing her all that worry,” Kili grumbles. “Did you want some bread, Mister Baggins?”

Bilbo lifts his good arm up to take some of what Kili offered. His stomach was getting louder and louder by the minute. “Out of the two of them, your father seemed more panicked than she. We almost had to hold him back to stop him from going vigilante and looking for you himself.”

Kili laughs, but breaks off suddenly, making a pained noise. “My ribs,” he explains, when Bilbo looks over his shoulder at him questioningly. “It just twinges when I laugh… or move… or breathe.” He winces again.

“Don’t worry,” Fili brings his pony closer, leaning over a touching his brother’s shoulder. “We’ll b there soon.”

“I’ll be fine. Just have to grit my teeth and bear it. Besides, we have other things to think about. We have to figure out how to stop Fimpin once and for all,” Kili frowns as he speaks, with a mouth full of food. He wants to scold him for his lack of manners, because really, he’s a Prince and he ought to know how to eat properly, but he’s just been kidnapped and held captive, and he’s pretty bruised and broken, so he doesn’t say anything at all. He probably hasn’t even eaten in the past few days, Bilbo assumes, so he can’t blame him. Bilbo would be eating the same way if it were him in that situation.

“He’d be mad if he tries to attack us again,” Fili declares. He seems proud, and it makes Bilbo a smile a little.

“I think he’s mad anyway, Fili,” Bilbo tells him, keeping his voice stern. “You have to be pretty mad to stage a rebellion.”

They’re mostly quiet for the rest of the ride, and when they arrive they’re greeted by a cacophony of noise. It takes Bilbo all that time to realise that he can’t actually walk. He and Kili are both quickly rushed off to the healing rooms to be looked at, but Fili refuses to leave his brothers side, even though he’s now safe.

Bilbo’s given some sleeping draught immediately so Oin can tend to his wounds without fear of causing him too much pain, and he falls asleep to the comforting hum of Fili and Kili talking in the background.

 

 

Chapter Text

He’s lucky one side of his face wasn’t burnt off. His whole left side is: down his neck and chest, down his torso and across his ribs, further down his leg, towards his knee… it’s all scarred now, with extensive tissue damage.

Oin can’t do much to help it. He’s giving Bilbo that pitying look he gave him when he first arrived. That one that says ‘you poor thing’ even though Bilbo wasn’t a poor thing in the slightest.

He tries standing even though he’s instructed not to, because a Baggins may be many things but patient is not one of them, and he falls down almost immediately, the pain excruciating.

It makes him angry. Not at the fact that this has happened to him, but at the inconvenience of it all. He has things to do: a garden to plan. And then there’s the work at the library. He just wants to get on with it. But this is just another bump, slowing things down and making him wait, and Bilbo’s never been good at patience.

Nevertheless, he’ll carry on. And by ‘carry on’ he means get someone to bring some parchment and quills down to him so he can start planning while still ‘resting’, like Oin insists.

Thorin visits him every day, sitting by his bed and making suggestions about the gardens, or just watching him. He’d brought Vini with him a few times, who couldn’t stop thanking him for saving Kili (Dis was perhaps a little less frantic about it and a little more composed, being a Princess and all, but was just as appreciative as her husband).

Both the boys came to see him as well, Fili rolling his eyes at Kili’s antics and Kili, of course, never shutting up. Bilbo doesn’t mind.

He also has the others come to check on him from time to time, Bofur guilty admitting he doesn’t come in as much as he could, mainly because Bombur’s been attempting to make amends, even just a little. Ori tells him all about Nori’s pining, and how Dwalin had written him a love letter.

“He just walked up to me and shoved it at me,” he says, rolling his eyes. “And I haven’t seen him since and it’s been a week. He’s hiding from me, I just know it.”

Bilbo can’t help but laugh at the childish way that Dwalin is acting. He’s a Dwarf who has fought battles and slaughtered Orc and Goblin without any trouble and yet he hides like a child when presented with the idea of courting. It’s an almost absurd combination.

But they have bigger things to worry about right now. Like Fimpin, and what was left of his rebellion. They certainly weren’t going to just disappear, or run away because of one minor loss. Bilbo didn’t even know if Fimpin had died or been injured in the explosion when he’d been injured. Fili and Kili didn’t know either, so they’d just have to sit and wait for intelligence from Thrain’s spies to come in. Which meant patience, one again.

After a week and a half he managed to convince Oin that he’d be more comfortable in his own room, and even managed to walk to it (albeit with a little help from Thorin and Vini). By the time he settled in his bed, he was more than thankful for comfortable pillows and sleeping draught.

His side was constantly pulling and burning and even when he breathed it pinched at him and burned.

He falls asleep partway through saying something vaguely important to Vini.

 


 

“Frerin’s been injured,” Thorin tells him sometime a few weeks later.

Bilbo lets out a slow, long-winded sigh, pained but not surprised. “I could have stopped it.” Is the first thing he says.

“Don’t start that,” Thorin scolds gently, his brow furrowed. “It’s nothing life threatening. Well… it’s an arrow in the eye, but-”

“What?!” How was that not life threatening?

“He’s fine!” Thorin insists, eyes wide and sounding like a child caught in an indiscretion.

“With an arrow in his eye?!” Bilbo demands.

“It…” Thorin makes a face. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Well, please do,” Bilbo tells him, waving a hand. “And quickly, or else you might give me a heart attack.”

“He did it to himself.” The words come out in a rush, and Bilbo has to concentrate to catch them.

Bilbo just stares at him, letting the words sink in. “What.”

“He was fighting a Goblin, and he was unarmed save for his arrows, so he stabbed it in the head, and he didn’t want to waste arrows, so he tried to pull it out, but…”

“But?” Bilbo prods.

Thorin shrugs, looking resigned and a little embarrassed for his younger brother. “It got stuck. And he was pulling so hard he didn’t notice the Goblin behind him. And he yanked it out, and smacked the Goblin over the side of one of the ledges in the mines and accidentally… impaled his eye. Just a little. Not enough to damage the brain or anything.”

“If you don’t ascend the throne, he will.”

Thorin nods. “Yes.”

“There is a likelihood that he could be King at some point in his life.”

Thorin makes a face before nodding again. “That is correct.”

“A man who stabs himself in the eye would be King?” Bilbo just looks at Thorin, searching for an answer, but Thorin offers him none. “How has he even survived this long?!” Bilbo demands, trying not to laugh. “A mighty warrior, indeed.”

Thorin snorts a little, putting a hand over his face. “He was always getting into trouble when we were boys: running under the ladies’ dresses and knocking over tables of food.”

“I can’t believe he stabbed himself in the eye,” Bilbo says, just frowning at nothing in particular. He’s probably far more amused at the story than he should be but he can’t help that. “How does that even happen?”

“Fairly easily when it comes to Frerin,” Thorin informs him.

“How is it, over in Moria?” Bilbo asks now. “If you’ve heard news of Frerin, surely they’ve told you news of the battles.”

“We are nearing our goal,” Thorin declares, “but it is difficult with such deep mines. Goblins are perhaps much like cockroaches. You can never quite seem to get rid of them once they’ve infested a place.”

Bilbo wrinkles his nose, although he does think the analogy fits rather well. “Let us hope the rest of your soldiers are better fighters than Frerin and don’t accidentally stab themselves as well.”

Thorin laughs at him.

 


 

From what they’ve been told, Fimpin is still alive and working with a newfound vigour towards destroying the Durin line. In the three weeks since Kili was saved, there were three massive fires in towns and villages under the protection of Erebor and the Iron Hills, Fimpin’s men declaring responsibility for the attacks.

Outposts were ambushed and ransacked, most of the guards on patrol narrowly escaping death, although not all were so lucky.

Thrain quickly called on the aide of Men and Elves, whose own people had been attacked as well. Thranduil, who had arrived not five days ago, was already in intense discussions with him about how to best deal with the problem.

Thranduil seemed no less sassy than when Bilbo had seen him in his own world, but he did seem far less hostile. Perhaps having a Kingdom not inhabited by evil creatures calmed a person.

They had only crossed paths once in the time that he had been here in Erebor, nothing more than a mere passing in a hall, but Thranduil had certainly noticed him. Perhaps it was because he was shorter than most dwarves, and his feet were so big, and his ears pointy. Whatever it was it had caught his attention.

He cocked his head slightly, regarding Bilbo with curious eyes and had said something to Thrain, who was walking with him at the time. Bilbo had just bowed and moved on quickly, the whole being imprisoned in Mirkwood thing still fresh in his mind.

But it doesn’t take long for Thranduil to make a second crossing of paths, his curiosity obviously getting the better of him.

They’re feasting in the halls, one of the slightly larger ones saved for special occasions, as there are so many Elves now. Bilbo, having eaten far too much (as was his wont) needed to stand and stretch his legs, and was in the only place he could find a little peace and space to stand out of the way, which was up against the wall on the opposite side of the room to the Royal Table.

Thranduil is by his side almost immediately, like a fluid movement of air or water. “So strange for such a one as yourself to be so far from home,” he says now. “Odder still, you have an aura of magic about you.”

Bilbo looks up at him before inclining his head politely in the same manner he remembers Thranduil giving the King when he arrived. “Your Highness.”

Thranduil’s lips twitch, but it certainly wasn’t a smile. “Perhaps you could tell me how you came to be in this Kingdom,” he goes on, “I would be highly interested.” From the corner of his eye he can see Dis pointing them out to Vini and Thorin, perhaps asking them to come and save him, he doesn’t know for sure.

“I am certain my boring story would not be worthy of your ears, Elvenking.”

Thranduil raises an eyebrow. “And how can you tell such a thing, Dwarf friend?”

“I would know,” Bilbo goes on, “for my ears are much like yours.”

Thranduil looks entertained. “Very amusing,” he comments. “Have we met before, perhaps?”

“Why would you ask that?”

Thranduil shrugs, shoulders moving elegantly up and down. “You seem more comfortable than most in my presence. And you greet like an Elf, which is amusing in a place full of Dwarves.”

“I have spent time around Elves,” Bilbo explains, “it perhaps makes me a little less… bedazzled than others. Besides, headbutting isn’t really my cup of tea.”

Thranduil looks surprised, so surprised that he can’t quite contain his smile at Bilbo’s words. “Amusing,” he says again as Thorin comes over to them.

“King Thranduil,” he bows politely.

“Prince Thorin,” Thranduil greets. “I was just talking to your friend about his social graces. I was musing that it was odd considering the location.”

Thorin’s jaw tenses a little, and Bilbo reaches out and puts a comforting hand on his forearm. “We were speaking of my arrival here in Erebor,” he says calmly, before glancing back at Thranduil. “I was with a small party, travelling here, when we were attacked by Orc. Myself and my friend Bofur were the only ones to survive.”

“Orc?” Thranduil asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Odd, yes,” Thorin agrees, “but true. We killed the last one a few weeks ago.”

“Stragglers, perhaps, then,” Thranduil muses. “Small groups still do manage to survive, but often they stay in the Grey Mountains or in the ruins near Mordor. The Wastes are often very popular with factions of them as well.”

“They seemed crazed,” Bilbo informs him, “more crazed than Orc usually are, that is,” he adds as an afterthought. “Like some sort of madness had taken them.”

“It would explain why they came so close,” Thranduil concurs. “Prolonged exposure to the elements in The Wastes is enough to drive anyone mad. Those Orc we do see usually display similar tendencies.”

“What about the Goblins?” Bilbo wants to know.

“What about them?” Thorin asks, confused.

“Well, there are still so many of them left in Moria. How did they survive?”

“They were far enough away to not feel the full force of the destruction of the One Ring,” Thranduil explains. “They were weakened, but not killed, as was the same fate of many other vile creatures who bent to Sauron’s will.”

“Are there Elves fighting in Moria?”

Thranduil… well, he didn’t snort, because Elves don’t snort, but he did something quite like a snort. “Moria is not our business, little Hobbit. We do not bother ourselves with such trifling matters.”

Thorin looks furious. “It is a homeland of many of our people- you would do best not to mock our attempts to regain it.”

Thranduil simply recants with a tilt of his head and turns and leaves them.

Elves,” Thorin utters in distaste.

“They’re not all bad,” Bilbo assures him. “You just have to pick the right ones.”

Thorin doesn’t appear to believe him.

 


 

Frerin arrives with a lot of fanfare and complaining, accidentally running into a few walls and tripping over things as he goes (obviously not quite used to only being able to see from one eye just yet).

Fili and Kili ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ around him, talking about how fierce and fearsome he looks with an eye-patch. In fact, they’re so impressed that Bilbo is suspicious Fili might ask Kili to poke one of his eyes out. Or vice-versa… in fact, it could possibly be more likely that Kili would ask Fili, because he wouldn’t be able to do it himself with a broken hand.

Bilbo doesn’t quite know how those two have managed to go for so long so unscathed. It’s one of life’s great mysteries.

“How are you feeling?” he asks Frerin later that day, when there’s no one else around.

Frerin frowns. “It’s all a bit strange. I keep thinking I’ll wake up and it won’t be black, but it is. And I have to move so much more now to see things,” he sighs. “It also looks odd when I roll my eyes.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’ve overheard some of the Dwarrowdams gossiping about how much of a rogue you look.”

Frerin looks pleased. “Nice. So,” he waves his hand down himself, “I came back alive.”

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “You may have, but you did come back without an eye.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean you were right.”

“No,” Bilbo allows, “but it does mean that you stabbed yourself in the eye of your own volition.”

“It was an accident!” Frerin insists.

“How does that even happen?” Bilbo demands.

“There was a series of very conveniently timed incidents that led towards it,” he replies, sniffing. “It was in no way my fault.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bilbo waves it off, but sobers after a moment. “Can you still fight?” It’s such a big part of Frerin’s life, and Bilbo doesn’t know what Frerin would do if it were taken away from him permanently.

Frerin nods, looking determined. “I don’t care what some healer says. I’m still fighting. I’ve just got to…” he moves his hand about vaguely. “Keep at it.”

Bilbo nods. “You’ll be alright,” he says now, because he’s sure of it.

Frerin grins.

“Come on,” he nudges at Bilbo, “let’s go do something.”

Frerin probably needs a good distraction. So does Bilbo.

Bilbo ends up showing him the cleared space where the new garden will sit, and neither of them talk about Moria or Fimpin, and it’s nice… for a time, anyway.

Soon enough, they’re both dragged back to reality and Frerin has to go and talk to his father about the state of Moria and Bilbo’s sitting in the food hall listening to Dwalin and Balin muse about what Fimpin might try next and where he could be hiding.

He gets tired about hearing about it and decides to head off to bed early, although almost everyone has to stop him or pat him on the back or raise their tankards at him on the way. They’ve been a lot friendlier to him after he saved Kili. He supposes Thorin officially courting him has something to do with it, as well, although Thorin insists that has nothing to do with it at all. Bilbo’s not entirely convinced, but he doesn’t really mind when it comes down to it.

He’s almost to his room, relishing in the thought of sleeping the rest of the night away, when someone calls out. He turns to find Thorin down the end of the hall, coming towards him.

“Thorin,” he says, surprised. “What is it?”

“Can I talk to you?” he asks, coming to a stop in front of Bilbo.

“Sure,” Bilbo tells him. “Come on,” he leads him to his room, shutting the door behind him. “What did you want to talk about?”

Thorin looks as tired as Bilbo feels. “Fimpin,” he sighs.

Bilbo huffs. “Of course,” he mutters, going to sit by the fire. “What about him?”

“We think he might be in Moria,” Thorin explains.

Moria?” Bilbo raises his eyebrows, looking at Thorin over his shoulder. “Why?”

“Because there are Dwarves there from all corners of Middle Earth, and if he takes them out then he’ll be destroying large majority of soldiers and causing us to lose Moria in one fell stroke.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“We’re packing a few of our people to go and ferret him out. I’ll be joining them.”

Bilbo doesn’t like it, but he won’t say anything. He’s fairly certain Thorin already knows he’s not impressed by the idea. “How long will you be gone for?”

“I’m not sure. And I would ask you to come with me, but after your last encounter with Fimpin…” he trails off vaguely, but Bilbo understands. “And to be honest I don’t think Frerin would be happy with both of us going. There is something you can do for me, though.”

“What is it?” Bilbo asks, a little suspicious.

“I only ask because I know how you hate sitting about doing nothing,” Thorin begins, “my sister is going back to the Iron Hills to gauge how dangerous it’s gotten. We are certain there are many of Fimpin’s men, high in the ranks of Dain’s guards and we cannot tell who they are.”

“You want me to join her?”

Thorin nods. “It is more my father than me, I suppose,” he admits. “He says you are bored and could do with a bit more adventure.”

“He is quite right,” Bilbo informs him. “Although I am enjoying the food.”

Thorin laughs. “Well, I am certainly glad about that, thank you for taking that one off my mind.”

Bilbo shrugs. “So when do we leave?”

 


 

“It is so unfair,” Frerin huffs. “I’m sitting here like some sort of Cyclops and you’re off saving people.”

“Enough of that,” Thorin replies, not looking up from the letter he’s writing. “You’re hurt and you need to rest.”

He’s hurt,” Frerin points to Bilbo childishly, “and he gets to go.”

“I rested already,” Bilbo informs him. “You haven’t at all.”

Frerin pokes his tongue out at him.

“How very mature of you,” Bilbo comments, rolling his eyes.

“Well, I’m just a mature sort of Dwarrow, aren’t I?” returns Frerin.

Thorin frowns in irritation, but doesn’t look up from his parchment.

“Yes, well, regardless of how you feel it’s happening anyway,” Bilbo informs him. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Thorin smiles a little, but hides it by ducking his head further, and Frerin leaves, muttering, leaving them alone. Bilbo peers through the books Thorin has on his desk.

“Are you reading all of these?” he asks, flipping through one. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you even looking at them.”

“I’ve finished most of them. I read before I go to bed,” he sets his quill down. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Bilbo tells him. “Ready to go. And you?”

Thorin sighs again. “As fine as a can be.” He runs a hand over his face. “Tired, and annoyed. When we’ve dealt with Fimpin I’ll certainly be pleased.”

“You won’t be the only one,” Bilbo assures him, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I think there will be quite a bit of celebrating when he’s deafened. And we will defeat him.”

He smiles. “Very confident, aren’t you?”

“Well, one of us has to be,” Bilbo leans down and presses a quick kiss to his forehead. “I’d better finish packing. I’ll see you later when I leave.”

Thorin catches his arm as he turns to leave. “Stay for a little longer,” he requests tugging Bilbo back towards him. “You don’t need to leave just yet.”

“I do still have packing to do,” Bilbo argues, but it’s half-hearted.

“No you don’t. You finished packing three days ago, you’re just completely mad about organisation.”

“That’s not a bad thing, you know.”

“No, of course not,” Thorin says, mockingly. “You are ever diligent in your preparation.”

“And it is useful,” Bilbo tells him.

So useful,” Thorin agrees, sincere but a little teasing, looking up at him with a smile.

Bilbo smacks his shoulder. “I’ll see you again before we leave,” he pulls away a little as he speaks, and Thorin sighs, releasing him.

“Yes, yes,” he says.

“I’d best not distract you from your ever so important letter writing,” Bilbo sing-songs as he leaves.

He hears Thorin sigh heavily as he shuts the door.

 


 

Fili and Kili insist on going with Bilbo to the Iron Hills for ‘protection’. Bilbo is certain Thorin’s behind this somehow.

“You saved me,” Kili is insisting, “so let us look after you in return. If anyone were to hurt you and I could have stopped it, I’d never forgive myself. And neither would Fili, right Fili?” Kili nudges his brother, who nods insistently. It’s like the two rehearsed it before. Bilbo is highly suspicious.

It appears he’s not the only one.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Dis says now, hands on her hips. “Mahal only knows what the two of you will get up to over there.”

“But we’ll be with you the whole time, mum! How much trouble can we get into with you and dad around?”

Dis puts her hands on either side of Kili’s face, looking at him carefully. “You look far too innocent for your own good,” she tells him.

Somehow, Kili manages to look even more innocent.

Dis sighs. “Fine,” she says. “But you will behave.”

Kili looks like he might start jumping up and down in excitement. “Yes! Yes! We will, I promise. I swear. I do.”

Vini rolls his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that,” he tells Dis when she directs a frown at him, “he didn’t get it from me.”

Bilbo’s not sure where he got it from, but it’s certainly… interesting.

 


 

Frerin complains about him leaving, right up until he’s on his pony and moving. “Completely unfair,” he’s saying from beside Thorin, who’s looking up at Bilbo carefully.

“Are you sure you’re alright to go?” he asks as Bilbo settles in, wondering how long it will be to the Iron Hills. He’s got his hand on the saddle, right near Bilbo’s leg, and it’s awfully distracting.

“You’re really asking this now?” he demands, looking down at Thorin. “Besides, you asked me to go.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to.”

“Believe me. I’m very eager to be doing something with my time,” he assures him.

Thorin still doesn’t remove his hand. “Be careful over there,” he insists. “You may have faced down Orc and Trolls, but the biggest dangers are those that seem to be benign.” He hesitates, before Bilbo urges his pony forward, forcing him to take his hand from the saddle, save it being pulled off.

“I’ll be fine,” Bilbo assures him over his shoulder as they begin to move. He glances back periodically as they move, until Thorin is too far away to see.

“Well,” he claps his hands together as they leave the Mountain, “I think it’s about time I had another adventure.”

 

 

Chapter Text

He’s a bit lament to leave Ori behind in Erebor, what with Dwalin leaving as well with Thorin, but Bofur’s still there so it’s not like Ori won’t have any company. Bilbo thinks it’s more that he won’t be nearby if there’s any gossip more than anything else.

It doesn’t occupy his mind too much, however, what with Fili and Kili entertaining him, and Vini shooting arrows from his horse to impress Dis, even though she just crosses her arms over her chest and ignores him when he does it.

Bilbo can’t help but laugh. “He does that often, I suppose?” he asks Dis when Vini runs ahead to see what he’s shot.

“You have no idea,” she says, before pausing. “The worst part is that I still enjoy it, albeit secretly, because he’s so smug about it.”

That makes him laugh even more.

 


 

It doesn’t take long to get to the Iron Hills, and Bilbo is awed by the sheer size of it. The mountains stretch up, all wicked crags and sharp angles, jutting upwards to the sky.

There are pathways everywhere; all tangled together and twisting, shooting off in different directions, towards different parts of the Mountains. And there are Dwarves everywhere, kiosks lined up, people shouting.

It’s much like Erebor, if not a bit less refined. It’s more heavy swords and damaged armour being sold, no fine silks or furs. If ever a Kingdom was built on blood and steel, then this was it.

Bilbo wonders what the Iron Hills would have looked like in his world. If they’d be the same: better off or worse off because of the loss of the Lonely Mountain.

Dain greets them at the entrance to the main Mountain, the biggest one. Bilbo’s not sure what he’s expecting, of course, when meeting the King of the Iron Hills, but what he sees is a surprise.

He’s younger than Bilbo had imagined, with only small dashes of grey lining the sides of his hair. He’s tall (for a Dwarf, of course) but not as tall as Thorin, and he has a warm and friendly smile, odd for one who looks battle worn and fearsome.

Bilbo finds he’s getting a lot of stares as he dismounts, which makes him nervous and uncomfortable and a little embarrassed.

Dain is greeting Dis and Vini happily when Bilbo trips, although thankfully is caught by one of the guards, who don’t laugh at him or anything, for which he’s grateful.

“You must be Bilbo,” Dain says, smiling friendly and extending a large, warm hand that engulfs Bilbo’s rather small one. “It’s good to meet you finally- we’ve certainly been hearing a lot about the mystery guest in Erebor’s Royal Halls.” This only serves to make Bilbo more embarrassed, and he reddens, glancing at his feet.

“Well,” he manages, “I hope you’ve only heard good things.”

Dain laughs, loud and booming, and it’s like all the tensions he was feeling just dissipates like mist. He relaxes, smiling back.

“Come on,” Dain gestures for them all to follow him, “I’ll show you around.”

Dain is a lot like Frerin, cheeky and crass and oddly charming, despite the former two things. He laughs for a good ten minutes when Dis informs him that Frerin stabbed himself in the eye with an arrow.

“Typical Frerin,” he comments, shaking his head. “Still, he’ll set a new trend without realising it. All the young Dwarrows will be trying to poke an eye out now that the Prince has done it. He always had the most annoying habit of making people love him,” Dain speaks with a mixture of reverence and envy.

“A useful attribute for a Prince, don’t you think?” Bilbo asks, and Dain regards him with amusement.

“Yes,” he agrees. “It certainly is.”

The Iron Hills are fascinating. Bilbo was right when he first arrived, thinking this was more a Kingdom of steel than it was of silks and furs. Not that it was barbaric or anything of the such- it was just… different.

Erebor was a Kingdom of Miners, rich and prosperous. And the Iron Hills were a Kingdom of Warriors and Smiths, who got their riches from forging and conquering.

The strangest thing is that the Iron Hills are so isolated, but they’re thriving. Erebor may be slightly isolated, but it had Dale, and Laketown, and Mirkwood (well, Greenwood) close by.

The Iron Hills are surrounded by vast stretches of almost nothing. The Browns Lands, The Wastes, the large expanses of nothingness up to the North where the Grey Mountains are, and to the South, past the Brown Lands, the abandoned wreck of what had once been Mordor, where nothing but death lay.

But there’s just so much here, and so many people.Bilbo finds it fascinating, and he says as much to Dain.

“Well,” Dain replies, “I suppose you’re not used to such big things, being in such a tiny little Mountain for so long.”

There’s something strange to the words, and Bilbo notices Fili and Kili throwing Dain a sharp look that he completely ignores.

“Well,” Bilbo says, unsure what to reply with, “I suppose in comparison, your Kingdom is bigger, but you certainly don’t think that when you’re in Erebor.”

Dain shrugs. “I suppose not,” he agrees, somewhat begrudgingly. “But you can’t say it’s not splendid,” he gestures around himself.

“Oh, of course not. It’s wonderful.”

Dain looks pleased, which doesn’t appear to please Fili and Kili. Dis doesn’t look very entertained either, but Bilbo can’t think of any reasons as to why.

They’re shown to their rooms for the night, personally by Dain, for which Bilbo is certainly impressed.

“If there is anything you need,” he informs Bilbo after seeing him to his room, “you just come and find me and I’ll have it seen to.”

“Well, I’m sure I won’t need anything,” Bilbo tells him, “but thank you very much for the offer, and for your kindness. It’s nice to be so welcome.”

“Well, it’s certainly not often that we have a Hobbit visiting,” Dain remarks, “and one who’s being courted by Prince Thorin, no less. You’re a very odd commodity.”

Bilbo flushes. “Yes, ah, well…”

“And I have to say,” he goes on, “I can certainly see why Thorin is so… enraptured.”

Bilbo feels a little uncomfortable with all the flattery, and doesn’t really know what to say to him in reply.  “Well,” he manages, “I think you’ve flattered me to my limit today.”

“And if I keep flattering you?” Dain wonders, stepping forward and raising an eyebrow.

“Then I’m afraid I will be spluttering in embarrassment for the rest of the night. I would ask you to think about my poor ego, it would be awfully discouraging to it if it had to withstand such a long period of mortification.”

Dain is grinning now. “Then I will take that into account, Master Baggins.” He bows.

“Bilbo, please,” Bilbo tells him as he leaves. “I do not like this ‘Master’ nonsense.” Perhaps he’d be more lenient in his own universe, but he’s not a ‘Master’ of anything in this world. For all he knows Bag End is in the greedy hands on the Sackville-Bagginses, heaven preserve him. The thought is almost enough to drive him mad.

“Bilbo, then,” Dain tells him politely. “The guards will show you the way to the food halls when you are done refreshing yourself.”

“Thank you, King Dain.”

“Now, if you refuse to be called Master, then I insist you simply call me Dain. After all, you are practically family.” It takes Bilbo a moment to remember that Dain is Thorin’s cousin, or… something similar.

“Of course,” he says, “Dain.”

Dain smiles, seemingly pleased, and leaves Bilbo alone to gawk at the room.

The fire in the corner of the room is at least two times the size of the one in his room at Erebor. Not that it’s better. Or worse. Just… bigger.

For some reason noticing it was bigger makes Bilbo feel guilty, and he wonders if it really makes all that much of a difference to the room.

He pushes the thought from his mind and gets ready.  He’d better not be too long. Keeping royalty waiting seemed like a very foolish idea, indeed.

Fili and Kili wedge Bilbo between them at supper, very pointedly looking at Dain as they did so. Now Bilbo’s not blind or stupid, so he rolls his eyes and sighs. “You need not be so dramatic,” he tells them both. “Dain is just being kind.”

“Yeah,” snorts Fili, “if that’s what you want to call it.”

Kili looks like he agrees and Bilbo finds himself sighing again. Dramatic.

But the food is excellent, and the mead keeps flowing, and it cheers Bilbo up to no end. Admittedly, he has more than he probably should have, on forethought, but he’s too busy enjoying himself to care.

“It’s nice not having to worry about things,” he declares, before pausing when Fili regards him with a raised eyebrow. “Well, there are some things I need to worry about,” he relents, “but in the scheme of things…” he shrugs, “I don’t know, I feel relaxed.”

“That’s good, Bilbo,” Kili is smiling like he’s a child that’s just been told he can have as much candy as he wants. “But do me a favour?”

Bilbo blinks at him. “What’s the favour?” he asks, lifting his drink to his lips.

“Don’t spend time with Dain unless someone’s with you.”

Bilbo snorts into his tankard. “What are you, defending my maidenly virtue or something?” Kili colours, and it makes Bilbo splutter. “You are, aren’t you?! Kili, I am not some quivering child in need to protecting.”

“Uncle Thorin would kill us if we left you alone with him,” Kili declares, hardly looking apologetic. “Just promise, Bilbo, please.”

Kili’s very good at giving people puppy eyes, and Bilbo imagines he’s had lots of practice (and success) with it for it to be so effective. He huffs a sigh. “Fine,” he tells both of the boys, much to their delight. “I will not be alone with him, if it makes you feel better.”

“Good,” Kili says, turning back to his drinking with a smile.

Bilbo thinks the boys are feeling far too smug about the whole thing, but doesn’t mention it.

He figures he’ll let them get some enjoyment out of this, if nothing else. He can’t imagine how stressful it must be being royalty, always having to be careful what to do, what people think of you, what your duty is. Bilbo’s never really had a ‘duty’ to abide by, maybe he had a bit more towards the end, his obligation to help Thorin and the others, but up until then he’d never had to worry about that sort of thing.

“Not that he’s that bad, mind you,” he says instead, if only to goad them. “Rather charming, and really very attractive.”

Fili chokes on some bread.

“Must be something about Durin’s folk,” Bilbo muses. “Something in the blood.”

Fili still looks vaguely uncomfortable, but Kili’s nodding, like he agrees with Bilbo, although he doesn’t say anything.

The rest of supper is surprisingly quiet and Fili obediently and resolutely escorts him to his room (albeit a little faster than usual when Dain catches sight of them and makes move to call out) and makes sure Bilbo’s inside and has locked the door before leaving.

Bilbo laughs to himself as he gets ready for bed.

 


 

Surprisingly, their trip doesn’t last long. Dain has invited them to his study, a warm, cosy area with more tankards of mead than parchments, to discuss the rebels when a messenger comes in, breathless. “Word from Noin, sir!” he says, not apologising for bursting in.

“Noin?” Dis wonders, an eyebrow raised.

“I’ve had him searching for word of Fimpin and his whereabouts these past few weeks,” Dain explains, before waving a hand at the messenger. “Speak,” he orders, “what did he say?”

“Noin send a Raven. He found Fimpin- well,” he corrects, “we already knew where he’s going. He’s been sighted near Moria, but that’s not what I’m here to tell you. Noin overheard some of Fimpin’s men talking about dark magic that Fimpin was going to use on our soldiers in Moria, Uzbad,” the Dwarrow replies. “They mentioned a crystal-”

“A crystal?” Bilbo demands, cutting the Dwarf off: politeness be damned.

The Dwarf nods. “Yes, sir. He’d read about it in an old book in one of the towns he ransacked, apparently. The rebels were saying how it would completely change the course of Moria’s future.”

“It’s the crystal,” There wasn’t any concrete proof, but Bilbo just knew it. “The crystal Gandalf couldn’t find. He couldn’t find it because Fimpin had his hands on it.” He turns to Dis and Vini now. “He’s going to use it on the army- send them Mahal knows where, and they’ll never come back.”

Can he use it to make an entire army disappear?” Vini asks, a brow furrowing his brow.

“What about this crystal?” Dain interjects before Bilbo can reply. “This is the first I’m hearing about it.”

“It’s a long and confusing story, my friend,” Vini informs him. “To give you the gist of it- the crystal Fimpin’s managed to acquire is very dangerous and if he uses it properly it can wipe out our armies.”

Dain replies without inflection or pause. “Then we need to find him and stop him. I’ll send word to Moria, a warning.”

“We need to leave immediately,” Bilbo informs him, “not an army- that would only make things worse. A smaller group, who can locate him and stop him.”

“He’s right,” Dis agrees, “a large group would be easier to spot. Let my men deal with this, Dain. You have enough going on here to worry about.”

Dain looks like he’s going to argue, but slumps a little in resignation. “You’re right. But take Uda, Captain of my High Guard, with you. I’d want him to be there, even if I couldn’t.”

Dis nods. “Of course. We shall make preparations to leave immediately.”

“I suppose I’m going to have to tell Fili and Kili,” sighs Vini. “There’s no way they’ll just go home and let us do this ourselves, is there?”

“There’s the logical and realistic Dwarrow I fell in love with,” Dis replies with a smile.

Bilbo can tell from the expression on Vini’s face that Fili and Kili are going to argue until their lips are blue until they get what they want, and the resignation Vini shows makes Bilbo imagine it’s something they’re known for doing.

He’s not entirely surprised.

They’re ready to leave a few hours later, ponies saddled and packs filled. Kili is practically vibrating in excitement at the idea of seeing Moria. Fili’s only just managing to repress his excitement. Bilbo has to admit: he’s pretty excited, too. Not at the level the boys are- rapturously eager. But he is excited.

He’s never seen Moria before, only heard about it. It’s not something the Dwarves had been eager to share- a painful story. But here it’s entirely different. Lives had been lost fighting, yes. And many had been badly injured. But there was a sort of idolisation about it. Here it wasn’t a symbol of pain and loss and another homeland that had slipped through the hands of Dwarves. It was a symbol of hope, and endurance, and it seemed to make people rally together. Perhaps it’s different because Erebor was never lost, and perhaps in his world Moria was lost with a sense of resignation, because the people were already tired after losing their first home. But here, here they had their home, and it seemed to be some sort of pillar for them- a strength that made them steadfast and hardheaded about Moria, and winning it back from the Goblins.

Although, Bilbo supposes that the One Ring being destroyed would have something to do with it as well- weakening the Goblins and making it easier to push into Moria. And perhaps it gave everyone in Middle Earth a sense of… accomplishment, and strength, perhaps that was their pillar. That if Sauron could be defeated and his armies wiped out, then Moria could be reclaimed for the Dwarves.

And Bilbo has to say, the thought of that makes him feel pretty light, like maybe anything can be accomplished. And he can’t afford to be weak, because if his parents can walk into Mordor and throw the One Ring into the fire, then he can do this. He can stop Fimpin. He can do anything he wants.

Surprisingly he feels so… light, for someone who’s been through what he’s been through. He feels much younger than he had upon the Carrock all that time ago. He’d felt light then, too, but his travels had made him weary, and there’d been a tightness in his chest- his heart. But now, even with everything, it was like he was a completely different person. He was marching into a war zone with nothing other than a slight worry on his mind.

Strange how the lack of a dragon can make ones outlook on life seem so much better.

Because Fimpin, no matter how powerful, would never be a dragon. And that made him so much less intimidating. Fimpin was no Azog, either. And because of this Bilbo wasn’t even the least bit scared of him. He was worried that he might use the crystal, and the army might be sent somewhere worse than here (which was very statistically likely), but he wasn’t scared. Fimpin was… small, and relatively weak. And though Bilbo was small and weak, too, he had a lot more experience at dealing with bad things than Fimpin was.

He could do this. He just needed… help. Speaking of help.

“Did you send word to Gandalf about the crystal?” Bilbo asks Dis as they ride. “I didn’t think of it before, but he ought to know.”

Dis nods. “Vini suggested it when we were sending word to Thorin. We sent a message to both Minas Tirith and Rivendell- we were not sure of his direction of travel, you see, but he spends a fair amount of time in both of those places.”

Bilbo nods. “Good,” he sighs, feeling a bit more comfortable at the idea of Gandalf being informed. “It’s very useful,” he muses now, “having a Wizard on your side.”

“Oh, yes,” Vini agrees from behind him. “Very useful, indeed. And I have to say, I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.”

Bilbo certainly agrees with him there.

 


 

It takes a long while to get to Moria. Not that Bilbo’s expecting much else, mind you, he knows how far the Misty Mountains are from Erebor, and even further from the Iron Hills, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the distance.

Travelling, although fun, always did wear him out. Although he thinks it’s not just him. Fili and Kili, usually boisterous, spend a lot of the early mornings after they’ve packed up and set off again yawning, much as Bilbo did. Vini had even once or twice fallen asleep while riding his horse, and almost fell off (if it wasn’t for Dis’ stern kick to his shin at both times, saving him from embarrassment and potential injury).

 Needless to say, Bilbo’s fairly certain that travel does that to everybody. After all, there are only so many early mornings a person can take before they start to go mad. Bilbo can remember being kicked out of his bedroll before sunlight most mornings, having to pack the ponies and get a move on. That Thorin had always been overly paranoid about Goblins and Orc and Warg (rightly so, of course) and they were always on the move. He was also constantly on the lookout, even when the others were on the lookout and he was supposed to be getting ret.

Bilbo had had the sneaking suspicion at the time, that Thorin didn’t really sleep all that much to begin with: nightmares, perhaps, leading to some sort of constant vigilance on his part. Hyper-vigilance, he thinks is the word. Constantly on guard: paranoid. It must have been driving him mad. But Bilbo can’t blame him. After everything that Thorin had been, and been through, it was no wonder he was paranoid, at odds with himself.

It was no wonder Thorin had seemed so confused when Bilbo had said he’d come back because they didn’t have a home- because he wanted to help them get it back. Thorin and his company probably hadn’t had much kindness from others at that point.

People are often likely to kick a wolf when they’re down, and Bilbo knows a fair bit about people abandoning you when you need them the most. When his parents had died everyone he’d ever been close to had just conveniently disappeared, or had made a habit of whispering in his ear, trying to get things out of him because he was young and they thought him pliable and naive. But Bilbo was a Baggins, and a Baggins was none of those things. A Baggins was strong, and smart, and capable, and a Baggins could cope with anything. And Bilbo had taken that, the words his father had drilled into him constantly, and he had held it with a resolute stubborn and unwavering faith. That he was a Baggins and he would not be those things.

He supposes it’s one of the only reasons he’s gotten so far. Why he survived where others did not, and came out… well, not victorious, but at least in one piece. Resolution and diligence were very important things in a world like this.

And Thorin. Thorin had had that, too. That resolute belief, un-shaking and unwavering confidence  and conviction that he had to be strong, not just for himself but for his people. He had to keep going, to find that strength for his family name, for the people he had to protect, for everyone. Because if he didn’t, who would his people look to? Where would they find their strength? And how could he expect them to follow him and trust him if he couldn’t even trust himself.

So Bilbo understood. He did. And he thought about it a lot. Both now, and when he was back in the other world. Because it worried him, the strength Thorin had to make himself carry, the weakness he didn’t allow to be showed. It was perhaps necessary, but incredibly unhealthy, and Bilbo was certain that if they’d survived everything, if they’d gotten the Mountain back, it might have just killed him. Or simply destroyed him and left him as some sort of burnt out husk.

And it was a painful thought, that someone like Thorin, who had to be so much for other people, couldn’t even allow himself to show a scrap of what he was truly feeling inside.

Bilbo supposes it’s one of the things that makes this Thorin so… enthralling, and interesting. He’s said it before: that Thorin here is what his Thorin would have been, had he not been forced to carry the lives of so many people on his shoulders for so long.

This, here in this Erebor, in a world blissfully without the existence of so much evil, is a carefree Thorin, a happy Thorin whom Bilbo had hoped his Thorin would have become, if they’d managed to reclaim Erebor. His Thorin, the Thorin who had died, needed rest more than anything else. No more wars, or terrors. No more battles. Just rest. And maybe a little bit of happiness. If everything had gone to plan, Fili and Kili would have settled down, and Dis would have come, and Thorin would have had his family back, and the opportunity to try to be that Thorin, the Thorin Bilbo knew now.

So maybe Bilbo’s a little in love. With both of them. But that’s nothing new, and he certainly doesn’t think it’s unhealthy- or a projection, or anything like that.

Because he loves them for different things, as if they are different people. Because they really are. There are things they share, of course: a dislike for vegetables, a fondness for their nephews, that scowl, and a slight negativity and resignation when it comes to certain things. The tenseness, and the constant stress that makes their shoulders rigid and their muscles knotted.

But the differences are starling.

For instant, this Thorin laughs. Loudly and happily, often carrying across a room or down halls. He makes jokes, and he touches more. The other Thorin would never touch people so haphazardly.

And the other Thorin, his Thorin (the Thorin he tries not to spend too much time thinking of, because he died so cruelly and brutally, slain with his sister-sons) he was far more serious, and he was much more isolated. He stood away from crowds, close to points of exit. He was always on alert, and Bilbo had caught, more than once, that Thorin always kept his hand rested on the hilt of his sword, as if poised to draw it, even when nothing was around.

Perhaps he ought to start thinking of them as Thorin I and Thorin II rather than this Thorin and his Thorin. Because it seemed… wrong, somehow. Possessive in a way Bilbo had no right to be.

He wonders (not often, mind you) if being here, sharing this life with these people, is wrong a well. If it’s somehow putting shame to that Thorin and what was his family in Bilbo’s world. But then Kili throws a piece of stale bread at Fili’s hair, and Vini’s slipping a flask of wine out of his bag secretly and offering some to Bilbo, and Dis is offering to fix the braid in his hair that Thorin made (because it’s coming out now) and he doesn’t see why. He feels like such a… part of this. Like he belongs, and he’s always wanted to belong somewhere, to something; to someone.

And he thinks this is it for him. He’s so ridiculously lucky to have this, even with all the bad going on around him.

He sighs as they ride, accepting the flask from Vini and taking a large gulp. If his mother were here she’d be laughing at him, telling him he thinks too much and he just needs to enjoy things.

And he knows he does. He does think too much. He always thinks too much. He’s an over thinker. Blame his father for it. It was a trait they’d always shared, and it was one of the main reasons why Bilbo had never gone running off on an adventure, even though he’d wanted to, once they’d both died.

Obligation and logic and over thinking had come into play, and Bilbo had managed to talk himself into staying and becoming hopelessly boring, like he’d always insisted he’d never be when he was younger. It had been depressing.

But then Gandalf had stepped into his life like a fog blowing through, and he’d had the opportunity to do what he’d always wanted to do. And he didn’t regret it, not in the slightest. There were, perhaps, one or two things he’d do differently. But that was more for the sake of his ego than anything else.

Mirkwood- well, Greenwood (he really had to remember that) was far more welcoming to him than it had been last time he was there. But that probably had something to do with his previous meetings with Thranduil when he’d been visiting Erebor.

They were only staying the night, because of their desperate need to reach Moria in time, but Thranduil still threw the most magnificent feast Bilbo had ever seen (including the one they’d caught sight of, hungry and starving, while they wandered through Mirkwood so long ago in the dark). There were all kinds of meat (and vegetables- much to Fili and Kili’s dismay) and all sorts of wines (no mead, of course. Elves were too refined for that sort of thing). There was singing (but not the rowdy chants Dwarves liked to sing), and lots of conversation (but, once again, the loudest conversations were coming from his own party, where the Dwarves had gotten rather drunk now- although no one could match the skill of drinking that the Elves had).

Bilbo stayed away from the wine, memories of his hangover after drinking too much in the Iron Hills fresh in his mind. He figured he’d go easy on it tonight.

Not that any others were paying heed. They’d pay for it in the morning.

 

 

Chapter Text

Thranduil was, perhaps, more disconcerting in this world than he had been in Bilbo’s. Or maybe they were the same level of creepy- maybe Bilbo just didn’t notice it because he hadn’t spent so much time with the Elvenking before. But regardless: creepy.

Bilbo was more than glad when they set off the next morning. The quicker he got out of Greenwood, the better.  But there were upsides.

Greenwood was beautiful. Breathtakingly so. The trees were no longer choked and shrouded in blackness, the air no longer heavy and thick and hard to breathe. Bilbo spent a large majority of the ride in awe.

“It’s so different,” he told Vini later, much later, when they were out of the forests and the Elves that were escorting them were long gone. “It was so choked by evil when I was last there. And it seemed to affect the Elves. They seemed… choked, too, by it all.”

“Yes, well, the only thing they’re choking on now is their egos.” Uda, Dain’s Captain of the High Guard, muttered under his breath, like the Elves could still hear him.

Dis choked back laughter.

They followed down Anduin, the Great River, for some time, and made good time, reaching the Gadden Fields by the day’s end. 

“How many more days do you imagine it will take before we reach Moria?” Bilbo asks Dis as they set up camp for the night, eager to arrive.

“Two, I imagine. Perhaps three, if we run into trouble on the Mountain.”

Bilbo looks into the distance now, where the Misty Mountains have gained size and now loom up in the near distance. They look like sharp, crooked teeth, all lined against one another, stretching into what seems like infinity.

“Isn’t Lorien around here somewhere?” Bilbo wonders later when they’re eating, half staring at the map Uda has on his lap beside him, crumpled and almost indecipherable.

Uda looks at him over his shoulder. “We are, but we will not be going through the Enchanted Wood. We’ll be cutting through,” he gestures to a spot on the map, “passing right by the forest, but not going in.”

“We’re cutting through the river?” Bilbo asks.

Uda nods. “There’s a bridge, where both the rivers meet and become one, just at the edge of the forest.” Bilbo looks where he’s pointing, but can’t really read the names of the rivers. He thinks one says Nimrodel, but he can’t be sure. The map is old, and looks like it’s been torn and stained in several places. A well-loved and used map, however, was the best kind of map in Bilbo’s opinion.

“How will we get to the gate of Moria?” he asks. “We are at the back of the Mountains now. But the battles are being fought over the mountains.”

Uda looks pleased that Bilbo noticed that. “There is a pass, high up in the mountains. A secret one, that not many know of.”

“And if the Goblins know about it?”

“Then we’ll slaughter any who get in our way,” Vini says easily from the other side of the fire. “Although you two will stay firmly at my side and will not go gallivanting off, banners blazing.”

Kili looks like he’s going to whine, and Fili looks like he’s going to argue, but a sharp look from their mother stops them.

Bilbo represses a small smile and turns back to his meal.

They cut through the Drimrill Dale the next morning, and Bilbo watches as the ground changes slightly, less of a grassy knoll, and more of a rocky base for the Mountains. He can see Lorien to his left, all beautiful trees and whispering words, and he feels like he’s being watched. He is certain that (once or twice) he could see shadows through the trees, curious Elves, watching as they passed by.

But Bilbo did not see any Elves, just shadows.

Kili seems a little disappointed as well. “I was hoping to see what these Elves looked like,” he informs Bilbo as they’re passing over the bridge, rushing water making background noise. Bilbo can see a stag somewhere up the river, drinking. “I’ve never seen Lorien Elves, before. They’re very private.”

“Never come out unless they have to,” agrees Fili. “Suspicious ones, they are,” he casts a glance back at the forest, now getting smaller and smaller as the base of the Mountain got bigger and bigger.

They make camp at the bottom of the Mountain, even though it’s rather dangerous (but Uda points out that it’s more dangerous to be climbing said mountain when there’s no sun, so it’s not too bad). There are more guards set on watch duty than there usually were, and there was less cheerful conversation and song. The only real sounds they had all night were the quiet murmured conversation and the crackle of the fire. Later, when most were asleep, Bilbo was jolted by the sound of distant yelling. If he listened closely he was certain he could hear sword clashing. He sat up.

“Is there are battle going on right now?” he asks the guard closest to him.

The Dwarf nods. “Seems to be,” he tells Bilbo. “Inconvenient things, battles. Always happen at the worst times for them. They’ve probably set something on fire. If you look close,” he points up to the mountain, where the slopes are nearing the top. “You can see some of the blaze.”

Bilbo follows his gaze and sees a hint of orange and red, although they were too far away to really see anything. “The battles here must be harrowing,” he muses.

“Aye, well, every battle is harrowing.” The Dwarf is nodding, however, and goes on. “But mountains are a hard place to fight in. Too many places for someone to hide,” his eyes dart around now, as if sweeping the ground once more, before he turns his gaze back to Bilbo. “Don’t you worry,” he assures Bilbo, before calling him some title in Khuzdul that he couldn’t understand, “we’ll make sure you’re fine. Go back to sleep. You’ll need the rest.”

Bilbo, begrudgingly, lays back down on his bedroll, and closes his eyes. But he can still hear the echoes of shouting in the air. So he buries his face into the ground and squeezes his eyes shut, reading Goblin Feet out loud in his head.

He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he doesn’t dream about blood and death either.

It’s grey when he wakes. Or, at least, is woken by Vini with promises of something good to eat. His stomach certainly ready for another meal, he pulls himself out of his bedroll and goes and sits by the fire where the cook is finishing the sausages.

The sun hasn’t really risen all that much. It’s still just on the horizon, barely up and lighting the sky.

“It’s best we get moving as early as possible without it being dangerous,” Uda explains when Bilbo wonders about it out loud. “We need the sun, but we can’t stay sitting here for too long.”

Bilbo nods. It’s understandable, even if he did get rather used to sleeping in these past few weeks. It’s probably for the best that he doesn’t get too used to that. He’s imagines he’s spoilt enough as it is without being lazy on top of all of that.

Not that this situation that they’re in now is spoiling. It’s harrowing, and Bilbo (despite being sure of their ability to stop Fimpin) has that worrying feeling in the pit of his stomach, and can’t help thinking of worst case scenarios.

But he has to admit, it’s better than staring Smaug in the face. He has absolutely no idea what he would have done were he faced with that in his world. It’s rather a relief that he doesn’t have to deal with it, even if there are all those niggling questions in his head. Hobbits are curious creatures by nature, so it’s only natural that he would want to know what Smaug looked like, or if he was still in the Mountain at all. But if sating that curiosity meant he would have been burnt to a crisp, then Bilbo is rather happy that he doesn’t know.

And now he’s staring a completely different fate down the face. The possibility of being attacked by Goblins (again) and having to run for his life (again). And then, if they do get through the mountain in one piece, there’s Fimpin and his crystal to worry about. How do they find him, how do they stop him? As confident as Bilbo is, they still need a plan of sorts.

He thinks there are probably better thoughts he could be thinking right now to help him get up the mountain. They’re trudging, and tripping on rocks, and clutching to the wall of rock beside them. Bilbo needs positive reinforcement. He needs something to make him eager to get to the Gates of Moria, rather than the possibility of getting murdered and ripped apart by Goblins.

“Come on!” Vini says from somewhere in front of him. “We’ve got a long way to go, you can’t stop now.”

“But I’m so tired,” Kili whines.

“Uncle Thorin’s waiting for us,” Fili pushes at his brother, “come on. You don’t want to stop here, you’ll freeze to death.”

Bilbo supposes that’s a pretty good example of positive reinforcement. He’d rather not freeze to death up here. Best to keep moving forward. It’s slow and perilous, but they keep moving forward, trudging in a straight line for what seemed like forever.

He doesn’t know how long they’re climbing for, but it’s getting dark when Uda announces they’re halfway there. And then there’s a weird keening noise, and everything stops.

“What was that?” demands Fili, looking quickly from side to side, at the jagged cliffs and crags around then.

“I don’t know,” replies Vini, “but I think we need to move quickly.”

Uda is nodding, obviously agreeing.

“Keep your swords brandished, but be careful where you step,” Dis announces before they start moving. “You as well, Bilbo.”

“I’ll do what you ask but I’ll warn you all in advance that I may end up accidentally impaling one of you rather than any enemies.”

There’s a tense chuckle, before things return to silence, and they all move along carefully, listening for the sound of any possible attackers.

So, really, they should have seen the ambush coming before it happened. Although, in their defence, they were pretty riled up anyway, and there were too many jagged rocks to hide behind on the pathway, so it’s not really their fault.

An arrow, short and dark and thin, whizzes past Bilbo’s head and smacked Uda right in the middle of his back, and that’s about as much warning as they get before the Goblins are upon them. The guards instantly rush to Dis, Fili and Kili, ushering them forward, trying to get them to the end of the mountain path safely, because they’re so close and it would be such a pity for them to die right now.

Uda’s on the ground, but he’s groaning so he’s alive at least, and Bilbo manages to help him to his feet, throwing one of his massive arms over his own tiny shoulders, dragging him forward, because if they don’t move soon the rest of the guards fighting at the back might go past them and Bilbo can’t be having that.

“Leave me,” Uda rasps, “I’ll only slow you down.”

“Oh, shut it, you great lump,” Bilbo grouses in reply. “Do you really think I’m going to leave you half alive on the ground for the Goblins to eat?”

Uda looks a little concerned at the description. “Goblin don’t eat Dwarves.”

“How do you know?” Bilbo asks, and Uda doesn’t have a reply for that clearly, but he starts moving a little faster so Bilbo counts it as a win.

He doesn’t know how long they struggle along for, but soon enough he can see the path widening and clearing, and voices calling out to him.

His feet are sore and bleeding, he thinks, even though they are tougher than leather, and his clothes have snagged on various rocks in their rush, ripping and tearing. There’s a rush of Dwarves, some grabbing Uda off of him to go to the healers, and someone grabs Bilbo and pulls him in the opposite direction.

“But-” he’s crushed all of a sudden, encompassed in warmth.

Thank Mahal.”

“Thorin?” His voice is muffled through thick layers of fur and armour.

There’s a hand carding through his hair, and warm breath against his cheek. “We heard you were attacked. When the others came through and you weren’t there…”

Bilbo huffs out a laugh. “Thorin, I am fine.” But he still doesn’t move from his embrace. “You should be worrying about Uda more than me.”

“Uda will be fine.” Thorin says, dismissively.

Uda has an arrow sticking out of his back,” Bilbo counters. “I’ve just torn my trousers a little, is all.” He wriggles his toes, making an assessment of his body. “And maybe I have a few blisters on my hands and feet, but that’s no matter.”

“Let me see,” Thorin finally pulls away, gently grabbing Bilbo’s hands and lifting them up so he could inspect them. “I will have Oin look at them soon.”

“It’s nothing,” Bilbo insists, pulling his hands away, and instead settling them against Thorin’s chest. “We needed to arrive with haste. Any scrapes I have from our journey are nothing if we have reached you in time.”

Thorin smiles down at him.

 


 

“So Fimpin has the crystal,” Dwalin is hardly impressed at the idea, and he crosses his big arms over his chest and scowls at nothing in particular on the other side of the tent. “And how do we stop him?”

“Have your scouts look for any strange sights,” Dis tells him simply. “Signs of camps, smoke in the distance, anything. But you do not send men towards them. You will come back and tell us and we will find them,” she points a finger at her brother, her words deathly serious. “If we are too obvious in our attentions, if he finds out we know… then he will use that crystal without a moment’s hesitation. The less of us there are involved, the easier it will be to catch him by surprise.”

Thorin does not appear to like it, but does not argue. “You are right,” he relent eventually, looking ill at ease to admit it, “I will ensure what you ask of the scouts is done.”

Dis nods.

“Until then,” Thorin goes on. “You all look in need of food and rest. Try to relax as best you can. But I would not expect much. This is, of course, a battle field.” He says it with a wry quirk of his lips.

“I could do with some food,” Kili announces, getting to his feet with a groan, “and a good night’s rest without fear of attack.”

“You ask too much, dear brother,” Fili informs him, following Kili as he starts to leave the tent. “The beds here are no better for you back than the hard, cold ground.”

Dis sighs and moves after them, waving a hand at Vini to stay inside and rest. “I will bring you some bread and broth, but you need rest more than you need food.”

Vini made a face, but didn’t complain, probably being more preoccupied with his leg than anything else.

“What did happen to you?” Bilbo asks as the others slowly file out, in need of sustenance.

“Just fell and landed on a rock,” Vini shifts. “Rather embarrassing, but I can’t do anything about it now.”

“Will it take you long to heal?”

Vini shrugs. “It is not too badly done over. If I need to I can walk, but Oin tells me it is best if I stay off my feet for a little while. To help the healing.”

Bilbo finds himself nodding. “I did not even see you fall over.”

“Well Dis did,” Vini huffs. “And she’ll spend the next ten years laughing at me for it.”

Bilbo grins. “Better that than you losing your leg, I suppose.”

Vini makes an affirmative noise, still looking displeased. “Yes, between my leg and my ego, I’d much rather lose my ego.”

Bilbo can’t help but laugh. “I will leave you to yourself then,” he informs him. “To lick your metaphorical wounds.”

Vini throws a pillow at him as he leaves the tent.

“How is Uda?” he asks when he finds Thorin outside, waiting for him.

“He will live. He spent a long while regaling the tale to the healers, however, about you picking him up and carrying him here.”

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “I did not carry him. I put his arm over my shoulders and let him lean his weight on mine. I helped him walk. I did not carry him.”

“Regardless he was very impressed. As were the healers. You’re gaining quite a reputation for yourself among my people.”

“I certainly hope it’s a good one,” Bilbo tells him.

“I promise you it is,” Thorin assures, putting a hand on his forearm and guiding him in the right direction. “I assume you wish to eat?”

Bilbo is starving, but he feels like they’ve stagnated all of a sudden- like they’ve hit a rock wall. Shouldn’t they be sending men out? Looking for Fimpin? He sighs. “Yes, I suppose I am.” He glances up at Thorin. “How long will your men take, looking for Fimpin?”

“They will be as fast as they can be,” Thorin answers. “There is nothing you can do but wait, I am afraid. You will have to try your best to be patient.”

“I am not very good at that,” Bilbo admits. When Thorin laughs, he sighs and goes on. “I suppose that much was obvious.”

“I have never met anyone who is good at being patient.”

Bilbo thinks of Ori. “I have,” he says. “It seems an admirable quality.”

Thorin shrugs. “Perhaps,” he agrees. “If you like that sort of thing.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “It’s certainly a good thing that I don’t.”

Thorin preens, but manages to hide it well. “Let’s get you some food,” he declares.

The food is just what Bilbo needs: something warm and filling to make him feel contented and more at ease with himself and the situation. He feels warm and satisfied and perfectly happy to curl up and fall asleep, preferably with Thorin at his side. But Thorin looks tense and slightly irritated and he probably has a million things to do so he won’t get any sleep tonight, Bilbo is sure of it. So he sighs and stretches and turns to him. “I think I’d better get some sleep now,” he tells Thorin. “Would you mind showing me…?”

Thorin breaks out of whatever reverie he was in and blinks at Bilbo. “Certainly,” he stands, stepping away from the table. “I’ll show you.”

“You look tired,” he says casually as they walk. “How much have you been sleeping?”

“As much as I can between battles. The Goblins are hard to prey out of a place once they have their hold. It’s like they’ve settled into the bones of the very foundations of Moria,” Thorin looks at the towering entrance in the distance. “There aren’t a many of them as before, but they seem desperate. As if this is some last ditch attempt.”

“Like they’ve gone mad. Like Azog had. Like they know they’re going to die anyway, so they’re just making suicidal attack after suicidal attack.”

Thorin nods, brow furrowing. “The lack of Sauron’s hold… it affects any evil thing here.”

“Drives them mad.”

Thorin comes to a stop in front of a tent, waving the guards away before stepping inside. “You can stay here.”

“This is your tent?”

Thorin just nods.

“You don’t mind me staying?” Bilbo asks.

He looks confused. “Of course I don’t. I wouldn’t let you sleep somewhere else.”

“Because we’re in Moria and it’s dangerous?” he asks.

“Because I don’t want you to sleep anywhere else,” Thorin answers. “I may not be in bed until late, though. I have-”

“Other things to do,” Bilbo finishes, grinning. “I know.”

Thorin relaxes. “I can stay for a little while, though,” he relents, tugging Bilbo to the bed. “Long enough for you to tell me about your journey here.”

“I saw Thranduil again,” Bilbo begins once they settle down next to each other. “He was... not as friendly as before. Maybe because Fili and Kili would not leave my side and every time he made move to come toward me they would drag me off to the other side of the room.” He quirks a smile. “It was all very amusing. I hope you didn’t put them up to it.”

“Oh no,” Thorin shook his head lightly, “that is their own doing. They are simply very protective nephews.”

Bilbo makes an unimpressed noise. “Well, they were far too protective, if you ask me. Overprotective one might say. Thranduil, perhaps I can understand, but Dain-”

“What about Dain?” Thorin wonders, shifting so he can look at Bilbo fully.

Bilbo shrugs. “He was friendly and the boys took it the wrong way.”

“I-”

“He didn’t do anything,” Bilbo insists, putting one hand firmly over Thorin’s mouth to cut him off. “He gave me a compliment, that is all.”

Thorin’s brow furrows and he says something into Bilbo’s hand, words muffled.

“If I move my hand do you promise you won’t go on about it?”

Thorin huffs out of his nose and nods, rolling his eyes.

“Good,” Bilbo slowly removes his hand. “Now, you can tell me all about Moria. You didn’t accidentally stab yourself in the eye did you?”

Thorin snorts and flops back onto the bed, looking up at the roof of the tent. “No,” he answer on a sigh. “I did have an arrow hit me in the foot, though.”

Bilbo winces. “And you’re alright?”

“No,” Thorin tells him, deadpan. “I had to have it amputated.”

Bilbo shoves him a little. “Don’t be silly.”

Thorin shifts, and winces.

“Did you want me to braid your hair?” Bilbo asks, reaching over and pushing it from Thorin’s face. He looks tense (understandably so).

Thorin just hums against Bilbo’s hands, so he supposes that’s permission. He’s partway through undoing the braid at the side of Thorin’s hair when a guard rushes in. “Goblin’s attacking our men on guard near the Gates.”

Thorin pulls himself up immediately. “I’m sorry, I-”

“No, no,” Bilbo waves him off. “Go, kill some Goblins.”

Thorin grins, the first real smile he’s giving Bilbo all night, and rushes to grab his sword.

Bilbo keeps the bead he’s taken from Thorin’s braid in his hand, and looks down at it as he leaves, wondering if it’s a good omen or a bad omen that Thorin’s let him keep it with him while he goes.

 


 

He’s asleep when Thorin comes back in. Well, half asleep, because he’s still awake enough to notice that someone’s come in (even though he’s too far gone to actually pay too much attention to them). He hears the clanking of armour hitting the ground, and the splash of water where he’s probably washing blood and dirt from his face and arms. A few moments pass before the other side of the blanket lifts up, spreading cold over his legs and back. He makes a vague noise, only half aware of it, but then there’s warmth right up against him and he moves back into it automatically, sinking into it.

There’s a sigh from behind him. “You awake?”

Bilbo makes another vague noise, an annoyed one now, and buries his face further into the pillow.

Thorin huffs a laugh, face pressed into the nape of Bilbo’s neck, blowing warmth over his skin. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then,” he says, lightly. “You didn’t get to finish my braid,” he goes on, even though he’s just said himself that Bilbo probably isn’t awake (not really, anyway). Bilbo can only partly understand what he’s saying. It’s like his words are muffled, his head underwater. He twitches when Thorin runs a hand up his side. “I’ll have to re-braid yours. Dis told me that she did it while you were travelling, but she doesn’t do it right.” There’s a soft hand running through the braid at the side of his head. “Besides, if anyone should be braiding your hair, it’s me. I’ll do it more often when we get back to Erebor. I’d give you more than one… and put gold and mithril through each one, and the beads would be lined with jewels. But something tells me you might not like that.” He pauses for a moment, before saying: “Hobbit are strange creatures,” and Bilbo can hear the smile in the words. “We’ll be back home before you know it.” Something inside Bilbo warms at Thorin referring to it as ‘their’ home and not just ‘his home’.  “And we can argue about this to your heart’s content.”

“No arguing,” Bilbo mumbles, “Only one braid.”

Thorin laughs again. “You sure I can’t convince you otherwise?”

Bilbo resolutely shakes his head, even though he’s still partly out to the world. He makes a weird muffled noise, which can only be described as “Mmmrphhgh,” to declare the finality on the subject.

“Pity,” Thorin murmurs, quieter than before, probably slipping off into sleep like Bilbo was once more. “Emeralds would have suited your eyes.”

“Smooth talker,” Bilbo nudges his foot a little, kicking Thorin in the shin.

 

 

Chapter Text

There’s another attack that morning, and Bilbo’s jolted awake, blinking sleepily as Thorin disappears through the flap of the tent to go and fight.

Bilbo rolls out of the bed, mainly because he can’t sleep but also because he feels useless just sleeping when there are Goblins about.

He finds Vini where the food is (no surprise there), talking with Uda, who looks tired and in a great deal of pain.

“Shouldn’t you two be resting?” Bilbo asks, cocking an eyebrow.

Uda shrugs, and then winces, the movement obviously pulling at his wound.

“We’re fine,” Vini insists, spooning up some stew. “We are.”

“Is that why you’re using another stool to rest your leg?” Bilbo asks. “And you,” he looks at Uda, “just had an arrow pulled from your back.  I very much doubt the healers would have allowed you out and about so quickly.”

Uda just gives him an innocent look that looks entirely too much like Kili for his liking. He wonders if he’s been giving them lessons.

“We’ll see how confident you are when the healers storm in and yell at you for disobeying their orders.” Uda looks a little disheartened at Bilbo’s words, but neither he nor Vini apparently have anything to say about it, so Bilbo sighs. “What kind of stew is that?” he asks.

“Rabbit,” Vini answers, clearly enjoying it.

Bilbo’s stomach rumbles loudly. He is definitely getting some of that.

 


 

They hear word from the scouts just before lunch. The fighting still hasn’t stopped, and Thorin and the other soldiers haven’t returned yet, so it’s only Dis and himself in Thorin’s study to receive word. She calls for the others immediately.

“South from the gate?” Dis is asking when Vini shuffles in, helped by Fili and Kili. Uda follows soon after, and two other men from the Iron Hills come in after him. “At the river Glanduin, you said?”

“That’s right, my lady. There are signs of life there.”

“How far south is Glanduin?” Bilbo asks now, unfamiliar with this part of the Misty Mountains.

“Not far,” Dis informs him. “Perhaps a day’s walk, if we travel on foot.”

Bilbo nods. “We’d better,” he replies. “I think horses might be a little too obvious, no matter how stealthy they are.”

Vini growls, shaking away from the grip of his sons. “I can’t go on foot,” he declares.

“You can’t go at all, ‘Adad,” Fili tells him, utterly serious. “Not like this.”

“Neither can you, Uda,” one of the guards adds, looking at the Dwarf now. “You need rest, so you can heal. We can handle this.”

“Did you see how many men?” Bilbo asks the scout. “How many are hiding there?”

The scout shrugs. “By the looks, not many.”

“He doesn’t need many soldiers for what he’s planning,” Uda says, ignoring his friend’s suggestions that he wasn’t fit enough to come along. “He’s not going to attack us, not with steel. This is no ordinary situation we find ourselves in.”

“Thank you, Gada,” Dis tells the scout. “You may leave us.”

Gada nods and bows, leaving them to discuss what to do in privacy.

“You will need my skill,” Vini says after a moment’s, vehement. “No one can shoot an arrow like I can. And it would be far stealthier if I just shot the bastard and called it a day.”

“I can shoot just as well as you,” Kili replies, looking slightly offended at the idea that he wasn’t a good enough archer for this. “I could kill him if I wanted to.”

“Problem is, we don’t just need to kill him, do we?” Uda points out. “Because he’s probably not the only one who knows how to use the crystal. He would have taught his second-in-command (maybe even all of his men) as a contingency plan.”

“We’ll need to grab the crystal as well,” Bilbo agrees. “But archers are useful.” He turns his attention to the other two Dwarrows, who had come from the Iron Hills with them. “Do either of you have skill with a bow and arrow?”

Both shake their heads.

“I do not need to be in the middle of a battle,” Vini informs them. “So long as I have a clear shot I can shoot from long distances.”

“So can I,” Kili adds. “We can take the horses somewhere where we can see them from a distance. Up on the crags of the Mountain. We’d be able to look down on the camp from there, and get close enough without being seen.” Bilbo thinks they look like an amusing pair: one with a broken arm and the other with a wounded leg. He can’t think of how they’ll manage, but they’re Durin’s, and Durin’s always find a way.

“Someone should be with you,” Dis says, brow furrowing. “Both of you,” she is looking sternly at Vini as she says it. “Just in case something goes wrong. You cannot just rely on Kili to carry you out if there’s trouble.”

“I’ll go with t’em,” comes the voice from the door, where Dwalin is standing.

“You look like you’ve just walked through a row of knives,” Uda remarks.

Dwalin shrugs. “Goblins are vicious biters.”

Dis snorts. “You are allowed to join us? And where is Thorin?”

“He was hit by an arrow. Not in the eye,” he goes on when Dis stiffens. “Just in the arm. But he needed treatment, so they took him to the healing tents. He’ll be fine.” Bilbo’s not entirely convinced, and it’s probably obvious, because Dwalin cocks a brow. “Would I be standing here talkin’ to you if he were in mortal danger?”

“No, I suppose not,” Bilbo allows, relaxing slightly. “You would go with Vini and Kili? You wouldn’t mind not being in the middle of a battle?”

“Hopefully if this goes alright there’ll be no battle,” Vini points out. “We can take out Fimpin and some of his men and you can go in, grab the crystal, and kill a few rebels while you’re at it.”

“I don’t mind stayin’ in the background,” Dwalin assures him. “But Thorin’ll want to come, and he’ll want to be in the thick of it with you lot.”

“I doubt we could convince him otherwise,” Vini remarks dryly.

“Then we need to work out some sort of a plan. Dwalin, I need you to go to the scribes, get them to find me a map of the lower half of Moria, where the river Glanduin is. It is best we see what we are walking into.”

Dwalin nods and is gone.

“Do you have any more of those flashbombs, Bilbo?” Fili asks. “The ones Oin made with you?”

Bilbo shakes his head. “I left them all in Erebor. Admittedly, I didn’t think they’d be needed.”

“Oin won’t be able to help us,” Uda informs them, “there are too many wounded at the moment from the sudden spike in attacks.”

“I know how to make a smoke bomb,” one of the other Dwarves pipes up. “We used them during an attack just after Mordor fell on a group of Orc that had come through the Brown Lands too close to our lands.”

“We can use those,” Dis tells him. “You should get started on that. Kili, you go and help your father make sure there are enough arrows stocked and ready for us.”

Kili nods and determinedly helps his father up, ignoring his constant complaining about how his leg twinges. Fili looks to be smothering laughter at the situation.

Bilbo looks at Uda when Kili and Vini manage to get out of the tent. “I guess you’re not going to stay back either, are you?”

“Certainly not,” Uda tells him resolutely, crossing his arms over his chest.

Bilbo sighs. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t try. If you get yourself shot again, though, I am telling you now that I will not be carrying you all the way back here.”

Uda puts his hands up. “Noted,” he tells Bilbo.

“You should go and check on Thorin,” Dis says now, pushing her hair from her face. “Make sure he’s fit enough to go, although I very much doubt he’ll stay, even if he is hurt.” She gives Uda a pointed look. “I’m sure I’ll see you tonight at supper.”

Bilbo nods. “Alright.” There wasn’t much he could do anyway. It was simply just another matter that meant waiting patiently for time to pass.

So he leaves them, and goes to find Thorin. It’s not hard, he’s not that badly injured so he’s in his own tent, sitting on the bed and wincing while Oin silently wraps a bandage around his shoulder. There’s a small wooden bowl beside him, murky and red from cleaning out the wound.

“So I hear you got yourself shot,” he says from the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, tone highly unimpressed.

Both Oin and Thorin look over at him, and Oin grins. “Well, Bilbo! How nice to see you,” he crosses he tent and gives Bilbo a hard but friendly pat on the back. “And looking so healthy, too.”

Bilbo smiles at him. “I’m told they’re keeping you busy here, Oin. It is good to see your talents are not being wasted with lack of use.”

Oin nods, lips quirking once more. “Oh, yes. Speaking of,” he picks something up from the table behind him, “I’d better go and check on my other patients,” he glances at Thorin. “You need to rest.” The words hold a tone of finality. “At least for tonight.”

Thorin sighs, relenting easily. “I will do as you say,” he informs Oin. “Now go. Tend to your other patients. I am in no need of any more coddling.”

Oin sighs. “Keep an eye on this one,” he tells Bilbo. “Stubbornness is a Durin trait. Although I’m certain you already know that much.” Bilbo does know that much, he had enough experience with Durin’s to know that when it comes to certain things they can be complete Divas.

Bilbo smiles at Oin as he leaves. “So,” he says to Thorin once they’re alone, “shot with an arrow, huh?”

Thorin shrugs, lifting his (good) are to run his hand down his face. “At least it didn’t hit me in the eye,” he says eventually.

“You’re a little slow on that one,” Bilbo comments, coming over to the bed. He settles down beside Thorin with ease, feeling like he’s been on his feet all day, even though he hasn’t. He supposes it’s simply his travels wearing down on him still. “Dwalin already made that joke.”

“Damn,” Thorin sighs. “What a pity.”

Bilbo laughs. “What is it with you lot?” He asks himself more than Thorin. “Vini falls and injures his leg. Uda gets shot in the back. I’m not even going to go into the kind of nonsense Frerin got himself into when he was here. And now you get yourself shot in the arm.”

Thorin looks entertained by the fact. “Perhaps we Dwarves are clumsier than we admit.”

“Perhaps,” Bilbo agrees dryly. “I am sure the Elves would be quick to suggest you learn from them their graceful ways. But it would only be teasing, I imagine. I very much doubt they’d ever actually go through with such an absurd thing.”

Thorin ignores the comments about the Elves. “You do not seem worried,” he remarks with a great deal of amusement. “It would be perhaps normal for a betrothed couple to have one worry when the other is wounded in battle.”

“Well, we are not a normal betrothed couple, are we?” Bilbo asks him, although the question is rhetorical. It is fairly obvious that they are not a normal betrothed couple.

Thorin shrugs, but he doesn’t look offended or troubled by the remark. “I suppose not.” He runs his hands through his hair, before quirking a smile. “You never did get around to finishing my braid, you know.”

Bilbo hums in agreement, trying to be as serious and solemn as possible, but his lips twitch up in amusement anyway. “You’ve been walking around without your braid for a good day and a half now.”

Thorin grins. “A travesty,” he teases, leaning over and kissing Bilbo.

Bilbo pulls away quickly, lest he get distracted. “The scouts came back,” he informs Thorin before he forgets. “They said they found some signs of people camping a bit south of here. Dis wants to leave tomorrow to check it out. Which is enough time for you to rest, because I know you’ll insist on coming to help and there’s no use trying to talk you out of it.”

Thorin seems pleased. “Good. I’ll speak to her in the morning about it.”

“Is that because you’re too tired to do it now, or because you don’t want to risk the wrath of Oin if he catches you not resting like he told you to?”

“The wrath of Oin is mighty indeed,” Thorin replies, utterly serious. “I’d hate to evoke it in him.”

“What a very smart Dwarf you are,” Bilbo tells him. “No one wants to evoke the wrath of Oin.”

“He is almost as bad as Balin.”

“Perhaps they trade notes with each other,” Bilbo reaches over and allows himself to be distracted now, separating part of Thorin’s hair so he can braid it. “To compare how each of them use their skills. I would not be surprised if they had some form of deal between the two of them, to instil the most fear that they possibly can in the rest of us.”

“A terrifying thought.”

Bilbo hums in reply, frowning in concentration as he works. “I believe I’m getting rather good at this,” he remarks lightly. “I’ll be the most skilled braider in all of Erebor soon enough.”

“And the most modest as well,” Thorin replies, deadpan, but he cracks a smile at the end, so the heat of the words are lost.

Bilbo doesn’t speak for a long while. Not until he’s finished braiding, and has put Thorin’s bead back in and tied it all off. “Do you ever wonder what it’s like?” he asks eventually. “The world I came from?”

Thorin blinks at him. “All the time,” he answers, as if it’s obvious. “Do you?”

“Not as much as I think I should,” Bilbo admits. “There are reminders sometimes. Just little things. And then I think: I’m not from here. This is not my world. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like the real world to me. I wake up sometimes and get confused.”

“This crystal…” Thorin seems unhappy to bring it up, and his posture straightens immediately. He shifts, pulling his legs up onto the bed so he can twist and face Bilbo fully, face-to-face. “If we can get it off of Fimpin…” He trails off, eyebrows knitting together and a pensive expression crossing his face at the very idea of it.

Bilbo knows what he is asking. “You want to know if I would use it,” he says simply. It has occurred to him, once or twice, and he has spent more than a night thinking of it while they were on the road to Moria.

Thorin doesn’t reply, just gives a wordless nod.

Bilbo shakes his head in reply. “It is too dangerous. Gandalf said it himself. There are too many possibilities. We could end up anywhere, and Bofur and I could be separated. I would not risk it, when it was such a monumental stroke of luck that things worked out the way they did the first time and we were both sent here, to a world free of the perils we were facing. And… it is selfish, but… I don’t want to go,” he tells Thorin. “I don’t want to return to such a black place after being here, with all of you.”

“And I do not want you to leave,” Thorin replies, words fervent and eyes earnest. “I am not sure I could take having you in my life to such an extent only to leave again. You have sunk into my being, my very bones, and I cannot shake you- I do not want to.”

“I am not going anywhere,” Bilbo promises. “I assure you; even if I could I would not.”

Thorin relaxes at the words. “Good,” he sighs. “Good.”

Bilbo smiles. “You need to rest. At least until supper, and then immediately after. You need to be well rested for our travels tomorrow.”

Thorin allows Bilbo to settle him against the pillows and arrange the blankets so that he is properly covered.

Bilbo closes the tent flap properly, closing out as much light and sound as possible. He is putting out the candle Oin had been using at the bedside table when he speaks again, softer this time. “Did you lose many soldiers?”

Thorin shakes his head. “But any loss is still a great loss. I begin to wonder if Moria is worth such a high toll. There are those who will give their heads and their hearts for it, but… I think of your world,” he turns his head to the side as he speaks, looking at Bilbo. “And the home we had lost. And I know we are lucky to have what we have now. But there is always another exploit, isn’t there? Another kingdom to claim, another mine to dig, until we have gone too deep and cannot come back out.”

Bilbo thinks he is right, partly. Dwarves can be greedy creatures with stony hearts and a disposition to dislike all other races. He has seen Thorin himself be like this himself, at one point or another. But he has also seen what a lack of a home does to a person. How it destroys them. “Moria is home to many,” he tells Thorin, settling into the chair next to the bed.  “It was their homeland. Erebor may have taken them in after it was lost, but it is not the same. Moria will always be the jewel that was taken from them. And though there are times when you ought to know when to step away from something, I do not believe that this is one of them. It is an important quest to many.” Thorin is nodding slowly now, so Bilbo guesses he must have said something right. “Now sleep,” he instructs Thorin. “Or I shall call Oin back in.”

Thorin gives a dramatic roll of his eyes before closing them, and Bilbo watches him drift off, thinking about the depths of Moria, where the mines run deep into the heart of the Mountains.

 


 

Thorin declares in the morning that he is well enough to leave with them (not that he would have stayed if he wasn’t well enough anyway) and they’re packed and ready to go when the sun sets.

Once again, it’s decided that the veil of night would work better for their travels, even with the added possibility of a Goblin attack, because it’s easier to move about unseen at night. They’ll reach the camp the scout had found by sunrise, and would attack the group then, when Kili and Vini would be set up and have a clear view of the encampment.

They travel in silence, every creak and crackle and blow of the wind making them tense. There were a few false alarms, where they were all forced to stop, weapons drawn, and Dwalin and Uda went off to peer through the trees for a moment or two, but other than that they came to their destination without incident.

A few hundred feet away, Dwalin and Vini and Kili went off to go and find a good vantage point up in the cliffs, while the rest of them stayed hidden, watching the crackle of fire in the distance.

Slowly, morning edged closer, and the moment of truth came.

“There are maybe twelve of them,” Fili says after coming back to scout the area once more in the fading darkness. “Three patrol the outer woods, more than likely for Goblin rather than any Dwarves. But they’re not far enough to be taken out without notice of the rest of the group. I saw Fimpin,” he went on, but waves it off, “only briefly; he disappeared into the only tent they have set up. I don’t know if he’s gone in to sleep, or if he’ll come back out soon.”

“And the other rebels?” Thorin asks him, bringing him back to point.

“There are four who stay constantly in the camp grounds. Two near the fire, two at the tent, keeping guard.”

“What of the other four?”

“They alternate throughout the grounds and the woods at any given time. There’s no timing to it at all. They don’t seem to be guarding anything.”

“Extra muscle,” Uda grunts, and Fili nods in agreement.

“So how do we do it, then?” Bilbo wants to know.

“Two groups,” Dis answers, pulling the map out of her cloak. “Three of us go to the side and come around from the east; the other four go straight ahead and attack them from the north.”

“Well, who goes with whom, then?” Fili wants to know.

“You two can come with me,” Uda says, jerking his thumb to the two Dwarves he brought with him. They nod, obviously not going to argue with the Captain of the Royal Guard. “I’m assuming you’d like to keep an eye on your lad,” he tells Dis, nodding in Fili’s direction. Fili opens his mouth, probably to argue, but Thorin just raises an eyebrow at him and he huffs and closes his mouth with a click. He is the youngest one with them, after all (and yes Bilbo is counting himself as older even though he’s a few decades younger, because Fili is only just an adult by Dwarven standards).

“That’s the plan, then,” Bilbo says. “Circle them and hope for the best?”

Dis nods. “That’s about it, yes. But we do have keen eyes above,” she reminds him, pointing up to the cliffs.

“I suppose that counts for something,” Bilbo remarks, looking even though he can’t pinpoint Dwalin and Kili and Vini. “Let’s hope they’re not as bad of an aim as your brother.”

Thorin snorts.

And with that, they part ways, and they watch the Dwarves form the Iron Hills head east to sneak past the guards.

“This had better work,” Bilbo mutters.

“Come now, Bilbo,” Fili says now. “You are The Troll Tricker: The Riddle Maker, The Barrel Rider, and The Great Orc Slayer. If anyone can do this, it would be you!”

Bilbo rolls his eyes, and doesn’t bother responding. Because, really, what is there to say in reply to that? He is quite chuffed at the titles, however. He’s never been called ‘Great’ before, it’s doing marvellous things for his ego.

“Let us get a move on,” Dis declares to break the silence, “If we don’t catch up soon the others will be too far ahead.”

So they begin to move, slowly creeping through the forests, keeping to the trees and the quickly fading shadows. The sun would rise soon, and that would be their signal to begin. Bilbo feels jittery, nervous. His stomach is in knots and he finds himself twitching when they stop in the darkness briefly. A warm hand settles itself on his shoulder, and though it is not light enough to tell, he knows it is Thorin.

“Do you always move around so?” he asks, so quiet Bilbo has to strain to catch the words.

“I can’t help it,” Bilbo whispers back, “I’m nervous.” He thinks he’d be fine if the crystal wasn’t involved, but because he’s experienced the full force of it, he doesn’t want to be near the thing at all.

“Come now,” Thorin teases, and Bilbo finds it oddly comforting, “Barrel Rider.”

Bilbo elbows him in the solar plexus.

“Just watch yourself,” he warns Thorin. “Unless you want to be sucked to another universe and stuck there. Not all places are as nice as this one.”
Thorin doesn’t give him a reply. But there isn’t time, even if he did have something to say, because the sun is rising and now they just have to wait for Kili and Vini.

It doesn’t take long. There’s a thick sound through the air, a fwwwp, and then a clunk when the arrow hits the rebel patrolling near them right in the chest. He hits the ground with a thump and before any of the other guards on patrol can react there’s another, and then anther, and another, all directly on target.

Dis gives a half-grin half-grimace in the direction of the crags. “Show-off,” she mutters before pushing off of the tree and running towards the encampment. But before she can raise her sword against the rebel nearest to her, an arrow smacks into the Dwarf’s head, and he hits the ground.

Bilbo can hear her cursing about it being unfair in some way, but he’s too busy darting between rebels, in the direction of the tent. They’re supposed to be taking the rebels out quietly, so those who are in the tent don’t realise what’s going on and use the crystal before they can be stopped. But this isn’t exactly what Bilbo would call a stealth attack, what with Uda coming into the clearing and headbutting one of the two guards at the entrance of the tent. The second unsheathes his sword, ready to strike Uda down, but Bilbo jumps at him, bringing him to the ground. The dwarf pushes Bilbo off of him with ease, but by now Uda’s full attention is on him and he takes him out with ease.

He turns to find the rest of the rebels have been taken care of, and an odd, eerie silence fills the camp. The tent is dead silent.

Bilbo shares a look with Uda before stepping forward, but Uda puts a hand out, stilling him. When Bilbo pauses, Uda flicks his hand at him, telling him to step back. So he does. Uda listens for a moment, before reaching out and taking hold of the tent flap. He opens it and steps forward, into the darkness inside, but there’s the glint of steel, making Bilbo call out. But before he can reach him there’s a horrid swiping noise and Uda is falling backwards, clutching at his face, slithers of red pouring out from the gaps between his fingers.

Fimpin comes out with all the force of a lunatic, swinging and slashing. He cuts up Bilbo’s arm, and then down the side of one of Uda’s men, and Bilbo certainly has his priorities straight, because all he can think of now, when he watches the Dwarf fall to the ground and Fimpin snarl like some sort of Warg is that he never bothered to learn either of their names.

Fimpin has the crystal clutched in one hand, and as he spins, rounding on Bilbo once more, Bilbo can see it begin to glow and unearthly colour. He unsheathes Sting, managing to block Fimpin’s first swing, metal clashing and grating against metal loudly.

It shrieks, making his ears burn and ring with the sound. He can’t stay this close to Fimpin, because he’s certain he'll be dragged wherever Fimpin is dragged if the crystal continues to work its magic.

Uda, still struggling in the background, grabs something from his side and flings it in Fimpin’s direction. Whatever it is (arrow or knife, Bilbo does not know, he cannot tell when all is concentration is wholly on trying not to be shred into ribbons by Fimpin and his sword) it strikes Fimpin in the back, making him cry out, and he staggers forward, briefly abated.

It may slow him down, but it does not stop him, and Bilbo is certain he has seen that look before. On Azog, in the faces of his Orcs: it’s the glint of the eyes, like a madness taking over. But perhaps Fimpin was mad all along. You’d have to be to come up with a plan like his. He lunges at Bilbo, but another arrow is whizzing past his face and it strikes Fimpin right through the neck. Fimpin coughs, a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth and running down his chin, but he still comes towards Bilbo. The crystal is glowing brighter now, and he can feel tingling in his body, like a fire getting hotter and stronger: like the heat of a furnace, warming the air around him. And then it’s like the very air about him is tearing, ripping apart and opening to something else. Something heavy lands on top of him and he hits the ground, sword thumping on the earthy floor as it slips through his hands. There’s a sharp pain in his head when he come into contact with the ground and then darkness.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo panics when he wakes. He thinks for a moment, unable to see in the silent darkness, that he’s fallen somewhere foul, taken along with Fimpin wherever the crystal had dragged him.

It’s dark, too dark to see, ad he gropes blindly, frightened. But something warm encompasses his hand and there’s soothing words in his ear and he begins to relax.

His head huts, too much to think clearly, so he just falls back against something soft and lets his eyes close again. His head spins and he feels like he’s slipping from his own body, falling. He can barely breathe, barely move: he feels like he’s underwater, struggling to get to the surface.

There are voices, hushed, and something warm passes through his lips and down his throat. It soothes him slightly, and slowly he feels a warm heaviness weigh upon him, easing him back to sleep.

When he wakes again, it is to a much calmer atmosphere. He can see light, beginning to stream through the tent, and though his head still aches he can think clearly. He is certainly sure now that the crystal did not take him anywhere, because Thorin is at his side, sleeping uncomfortably in a chair. He looks tired, like he has not slept himself for some days now.

Bilbo does not want to disturb him, so he stays as still as possible, breathing deeply and trying to concentrate. The last thing he remembers is falling, and judging by the ache in his head he must have hit it rather badly on something. He also remembers Fimpin being struck down, and by the way the lack of commotion in the camp, he can assume the world hasn’t ended in any sort of way. He can hear chatter outside, guards talking gruffly in Khuzdul. He blinks slowly, letting himself sink back into his body and mind. He thinks about the crystal, and what they’ve done with it. What they will do with it. Bilbo doubts he’ll have any say in the matter, but if it were up to him he’d have the thing destroyed. Strong magic like that only seems to cause more trouble than it is worth.

Bilbo watches him for a while, looking far more relaxed than Bilbo had seen him in a while. At least in sleep he had a brief lapse of time where he could be unperturbed by things.

It’s all silent for a long while, until the flap opens up and sunlight streams into the tent. Bilbo blinks, shading his eyes from the light as someone comes in.

“Good to see you’re awake finally,” Oin declares, carrying a tray of something steaming towards the bed. “Running me off my feet, you lot.”

Bilbo laughs, struggling to sit up. “I’d apologise, but if we weren’t all getting into such trouble you’d be out of a job.”

Oin looks amused by the prospect. “I suppose you are right,” he relents, setting the tray down on the bedside table. “Although it might be nice to have a small break.”

“Once your rotation in Moria is finished you’ll be able to return home and rest,” Bilbo says. “Surely that’s motivation enough.”

“Returning home to a stream of patients?” Oin shrugs. “It never really ends, does it? Now,” he picks up a bowl and offers it to Bilbo, “this is for you, and the second bowl is for Thorin.” Oin leans in, as if about to divulge a secret. “He hasn’t been eating at all these past few days,” he informs Bilbo quietly, and they both look at him as Oin continues. “Surprised he’s even managed to get some sleep,” he remarks. “Although I suppose when you’re awake for as long as he’s been you sort of just drop off by accident.”

“Don’t worry,” Bilbo tells him. “I’ll make sure he gets enough rest and eats.”

“Aye, I know you will,” Oin replies with an easy smile. “I’ve got some sleeping draught here for you as well, and I’ve put something for the pain in there as well,” he points to the cup. “But you’ll be right as rain in no time, I’m sure of it.”

“Hobbits do have a tendency to bounce back from things quickly,” Bilbo tells Oin. “We have the uncanny ability to be irritatingly resilient.”

Oin laughs before leaving Bilbo to silently spoon his stew into his mouth and drink the foul tea Oin had left for him. But it eases the pain in his head so he doesn’t mind so much.

He finds himself drifting off again, sleeping easing into him with the constant sound of footsteps outside, and the hum of conversations nearby, when Thorin wakes up. He had been slipping down the chair slowly and amusingly, but managed to jolt himself awake before he fell out of it completely, feet slamming flat on the ground, hand clutching at the frame of Bilbo’s bed to steady himself.

Bilbo can’t help the laugh that bubbles past his lips. “You look dreadful,” he comments.

“Bilbo,” Thorin straightens immediately, face clearing of its previous confusion. “You’re awake.”

“I am yes.”

Thorin shifts, running a hand over his face. He looks oddly vulnerable without his furs and his armour on, his hair pulled out of his eyes and tied at the back of his head.

“How much sleep have you had?” Bilbo asks him, reaching across to the bedside table. “And when was the last time you ate?”

Thorin shrugs, big shoulders rolling. “I’m sure I had something last night.”

“Oin left this for you,” Bilbo grabs the bowl of stew, still warm, and hands it over. “There’s some bread here, too.”

Thorin takes it, ravenously digging in. “How long have you been awake for?”

“Not long,” Bilbo assures him. “I didn’t want to wake you. You looked like you needed some rest.”

Thorin doesn’t argue, and that’s how Bilbo knows he’d been desperately in need of some rest. “What happened?” he wonders as he watches Thorin eat.

“Fimpin got shot. Kili’s work, as he’s been boasting since we got back,” Thorin rolls his eyes. “He did well, though, even with his arm being the way it is. But don't tell him I said that or else we'll never hear the end of it. The crystal started to glow, and I knocked you out of the way. You hit your head on a rock.”

“The crystal?”

“We have it,” Thorin tells him. “Fimpin died fairly quickly, and the magic seemed to just… fizzle out.”

Bilbo nods. “Because the danger had already killed him. The crystal was perfectly able to transport him when he was in danger, but once he’d actually died it had no purpose anymore, so it stopped.”

“That is what Dis suspected had happened. And Gandalf arrived soon after we’d returned. He’s taken the crystal into his custody.”

“That is probably the safest place for it,” agrees Bilbo.

Thorin gives him a considering look before speaking. “So your mind has not been changed, then?” he asks.

Bilbo grins. “Not in the slightest,” he assures Thorin. “Not one bit. Why would I leave now? You’d all be lost without me.”

Thorin snorts, but doesn’t deny it. “How are you feeling?” he wants to know instead.

Bilbo shrugs. “Better than I was when I woke up,” he blinks slowly. “My head doesn’t hurt as much, but,” he yawns now. “I think Oin’s tea is setting in.”

Thorin smiles at him a he settles further into the pillows. “You get some rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Bilbo doesn’t doubt the promise in the slightest, and slips off to sleep with a smile on his face.

 


 

He returns to Erebor without Thorin, because regardless of what had happened, he still had to see out his time in Moria, along with Dwalin. There were still rebels running around, and Goblin attacks in increasing intensity to deal with.

And the moment he steps into the mountain, he has this odd feeling come over him. Like a relief washing through his body, like he’s come home and that makes him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He’s smiling up at the stretching stone columns when Bofur calls out to him.

“Heard you’ve been on a bit of an adventure,” he says with a grin as Bilbo dismounts. “Thought I’d come and get you- make you tell me the whole story.”

“It’s a very long story, Bofur,” Bilbo tells him. “And I am rather tired.”

“That’s why I had Ori make some tea for your arrival.” He slips an arm through Bilbo’s and tugs him away so Bilbo can’t wave off the helpers who are grabbing his rucksack and bedroll to carry to his room.” You can sit down, rest, and tell us all about it.”

Bilbo sighs. “Some tea does sound good…” he relents, allowing himself to be tugged away from the ponies. It would be no use to argue with Bofur anyway, once he made his mind up about something then that was that. They shared a commonality in that, Bilbo and Bofur: a relentlessness and a hard-headedness that may seem foolish to others.

Ori looks absolutely delighted that Bilbo’s back. “You have no idea how boring it’s been,’ he tells Bilbo after crushing him in a surprisingly strong embrace. “I mean, Bofur’s been working and I kept looking around for you, but then I’d remember that you were gone. There was no one here to talk to about my letters!”

“Letters?” Bilbo queries.

“Dwalin’s been sending me letters,” Ori says with a small grin, cheeks flushing. “But I’ll tell you about that later. Come on, I made scones.”

Well, how can Bilbo say no to scones? He can’t. It’s a weakness of his, so sue him.

The tea is lovely too, and he feels so much more comfortable being in an actual home and no longer in a tent or sleeping on the hard ground, or riding a pony all day. “This is nice,” he says after explaining the whole Fimpin situation. “It’s nice to be somewhere where there are no daily battles.”

“Well, not with swords, no,” Bofur snorts. “What’s Gandalf going to do with the crystal?”

Bilbo sighs and gives him a shrug. “I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “It seems a dangerous thing to have lying around. Perhaps he’ll destroy it. Or keep it with him to ensure its safety.”

Bofur considers Bilbo’s words for a moment. “Good,” he says eventually. “I feel much better now that I know it’s not floatin’ around somewhere- for anyone to find and use.”

Bilbo agrees wholeheartedly, and he also wholeheartedly reaches for his fourth scone when Ori pipes up. “So you’re not going to use it, then?” he asks. “The crystal?”

Bofur shakes his head. “Gandalf said it wouldn’t work, right? It seems a dangerous thing to tamper with. I wouldn’t want to use it and be thrown into a place where Smaug is about to eat me.” Ori laughs at him as he goes on. “I’d rather stick with the safest option in all honesty.”

“We already made up our mind about all that,” Bilbo informs Ori. “There are no promises that we can get back to our universe, and even if we do it might not be together. Besides,” he grins, “I like it here.”

“So do I,” Bofur agrees.

Ori looks pleased. “Another scone?” he offers the plate to the both of them.

Bilbo groans, but accepts one anyway. “You’re going to make me burst from eating too much. I won’t be able to walk.”

“Perhaps that is my plan,” Ori comments, taking a scone for himself. He takes a small and careful bite, before setting the rest back down on his plate and chewing thoughtfully. “I was a little worried,” he said after a moment, “about you going back. But I thought about it and after a while I didn’t feel so worried. Because you both belong here,” Ori looks sure of himself and his words, “and I know you belong here, and I was sure you knew it, too.”

Bofur shrugs, looking chuffed at Ori’s words.

Bilbo just smiles. “Now,” he says. “Why don’t you tell me about these letters of yours?”

Ori’s cheeks flush in embarrassment, but his grin widens, and Bilbo can’t help but laugh at him. He’s so sweet about the whole thing and it’s very entertaining.

They talk for a long while more, until Bilbo is so tired he just has to leave, because he was already exhausted from the travelling, and he and Bofur leave, saying goodbyes to Ori and Dori (who had come back from working not so long before Bilbo decided he was getting too tired to stay for much longer).

“So what’s going to happen with the rest of the rebels?” Bofur wonders as they walk. The movement is good for keeping Bilbo awake.

“I don’t know,” Bilbo replies, thinking about it, “I suppose it’ll be a bit like the Goblins in Moria. They’re what’s left of a bad time- a fading time. A dangerous time. Slowly they’ll fade away and eventually they’ll be gone forever.”

Bofur nods. “I like the sound of that,” he claps his hands together. “Well, I’ve gotta go this way. I’ll see you in the morning.” He gives Bilbo’s back a friendly thump. “Good to have you back.”

“Good to be back,” Bilbo tells him honestly.

 


 

By the time Thorin returns, both the gardens have been designed and finished (although his mother’s garden had more to do with weeding than designing, but that wasn’t the point).

The first Thorin saw when he arrived. They rode past it on their ponies, and he’d given his compliments Bilbo after, when he was unpacking his things. So Bilbo had let him finish putting his things away before grabbing him by the arm and dragging him to Thorin’s secret place. He insists, when they get to the stairs that lead to the garden, that he uses his handkerchief to blindfold Thorin, because it needs to be at least a little bit of a surprise.

Thorin gives a bemused quirk of his lips and does not argue, bending his knees slightly so Bilbo can easily tie the cloth. He then takes Thorin by the hand and leads him up the long and narrow steps, very slowly, until they reach the top.

Then, eagerly, he moves Thorin to the middle of the garden balcony where he has the best view of the whole place, before reaching up to tug off the blindfold.

Thorin just blinks and he doesn’t move, nor does he have any other real reaction at all, and it worries Bilbo slightly. He picks at his waistcoat. “I kept it much the same as I could- the layout, I mean, seeing as your mother designed it. But I did make a few little changes her and there…”

For some time Thorin doesn’t answer, just stares at it all.

“Do you like it?” Bilbo asks him, suddenly nervous. “I had Thrain give the plans a look-over to make sure I wasn’t doing anything-”

“I love it,” Thorin tells him, fervently and honestly, catching Bilbo’s hands to stop him from pulling one of his loose buttons off, for which he is thankful.

Bilbo relaxes. “Good,” he breathes. “I was hoping you’d like it.”

“How long did it take you to do?” Thorin wants to know, stepping away from the balcony now and moving across the way, inspecting plants and shuffling his feet on the grass, as if he could feel it between his toes even though he was wearing thick boots.

“You can take them off, you know,” Bilbo tells him, coming closer. He wriggles his own feet. “It’s just you and me up here. I’m sure you’ll survive without shoes for just a few minutes.”

Thorin seems to hesitate, before grinning like a child and sitting down on the bench, slipping off his boots.

Then he slides from the bench to sit on the grass, offering a hand to Bilbo, which is eagerly takes.

“You never answered my question,” Thorin muses now.

“Which was?” Bilbo prods, having forgotten entirely.

“Did it take you long?” Thorin wonders, gesturing about them. “To do all this?”

Bilbo shrugs. “A little while,” he admits. “The weeding was the worst part, I tell you.”

Thorin snorts. “And the one on the lower level?”

“Oh, that took longer,” Bilbo replies, “but it was expected. We had to start from scratch with that one. This one was already done, just waiting for a little… preening.”

“Well,” Thorin sighs, laying down and stretching out, “I am glad. I have lacking memories of my mother, and of this place. I think I was worried initially, at the idea of losing the last part of her that I had… so much so that I let the place go a bit.” He smiles wryly at Bilbo form where he’s lying. “It is nice to see some life brought back into it.”

“I am pleased, then, that you are pleased with it.” He presses his fingers gently against Thorin’s coat, tangling them in the fur. “It is good to have you back, as well.”

“It is nice to be back,” Thorin returns, somewhat sleepily, eyes rifting closed.

Bilbo is surprised, sometimes, at this Thorin’s ability to just relax and allow himself to be so vulnerable in another’s company. The other Thorin would never have done such a thing. Even when he was resting he wasn’t really sleeping. He was always on guard.

He touches Thorin’s face, runs his fingers over tiny scars that he can see. One above his lip, another above his eyebrow. There would have been one along his jaw, a barely discernible one underneath his beard, that would have been there had Smaug attacked his homeland. This Thorin (his Thorin) has a new scar now. Well, it’s not a scar yet, but it will be soon. It’s another small nick, just below his eye, and Bilbo teased him endlessly when he saw it back in Moria, about how perhaps he and his brother are more alike than he likes to think and it’s only luck that saved Thorin from getting his own eye taken out like Frerin had his own taken.

Thorin just rolls his eyes when Bilbo mentions it and doesn’t reply to the goading.

He also has other scars, scars that the other Thorin doesn’t have: on his hands and one down his forearm. Bilbo has seen the hint of a long scar down his clavicle once, when his tunic shifted slightly, but he hasn’t seen more than a glimpse of that so he doesn’t know how far down it goes.

Bilbo has new scars too. Lots of them. From the explosion of fire and fighting and falling and smacking his head against the rock. They make him feel self conscious, and although he wants to see Thorin’s scars, all of them, he doesn’t think he wants Thorin to see all of his scars. It seems petty when he thinks about it, but he just feels so… nervous about the whole thing. Like now that he’s different Thorin might look at him differently, and not in a good way.

At the moment, however, Thorin is blissfully ignorant of Bilbo’s feelings and Bilbo can just push them aside in this moment and ignore them until he can’t anymore. He lies down beside Thorin and stares at the slanting roof, enjoying the cool wind on his body.

“It will be winter soon,” Thorin comments, obviously enjoying the breeze as well. “It can get deathly cold up here. I do hope you have chosen tough plants to survive the snow.”

“I spoke to many people about it,” Bilbo informs him, rolling onto his side. He winces, out of memory that his right side is injured rather than from the pain. He hasn’t felt real pain there for some time now. “And Oin was kind enough to show me about the side of the Mountain so I can see what kind of plants grow naturally.”

Thorin hums.

“How long until the weather changes, do you think?” It’s already changing now, but Bilbo supposes the warmth will still be there for a while.

“A few months before it starts. Then it will get too cold to come up here,” Thorin opens his eyes now, “at least not without many layers on. Your poor hobbit clothes will not be of much use here.”

Bilbo looks down at said clothing now. He guesses Thorin is right, and that may be so, but there is no way Bilbo’s going to be wearing any shoes come winter. He says as much.

“You might be regretting those words when your poor little feet hit the snow,” Thorin informs him, amused.

Poor little feet?” Bilbo repeats. “My feet are much bigger than yours, thank you very much.” He shifts so their feet are pressed side-by-side now, as if Thorin needed proof. “Hobbits feet are thick and tough, like leather, and the hair keeps them warm enough so that I don’t need shoes. Besides which,” he goes on, “could you imagine the poor person who would have to make shoes for me?” The idea makes him laugh. “What a task that would be.”

Thorin seems to find as much entertainment in the suggestion as Bilbo does. “Admittedly,” he allows, “you would look odd with something covering your feet.”

“Thank you.”

But,” he adds, “I think we ought to have something made for you- just in case. We can’t have it coming ‘round to winter and our little Hobbit realising that the stone is really rather cold without shoes on, only to find that he has nothing to put on his feet.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Bilbo tells him fondly.

You’re ridiculous,” Thorin returns in much the same tone, and they end up pushing each-other, so much so that Bilbo ends up in the shrubbery nearby and has to pick thorns form his trousers while Thorin laughs at him.

So Bilbo trips him into the pond nearby when they walk past on their way out.

“You look like a drowned cat,” Bilbo has to clutch his sides, fearing that if he’d let go they might just fall off from all the laughing. Thorin just glowers before lunging at Bilbo, tackling him to the ground and shaking his long hair all over Bilbo’s face, making him squeal and kick at Thorin’s shins.

They’re both utterly soaked by the time the guards come up the stairs to see what all the noise is about, and Bilbo guesses that they weren’t expecting to find Thorin and Bilbo soaked to the bone, rolling about on the grass. One of the guards raises his eyebrows, the other one reddens, and they quickly leave them alone once more.

“A rather undignified position for a Prince to be caught in,” Thorin remarks dryly from below Bilbo when the guards are gone, water dripping down his face. His arms are still around Bilbo’s waist, though, so Bilbo assumes he’s not really bothered by it.

He presses a quick kiss to Thorin’s lips before squirming out of his grip and getting to his feet. “And you didn’t even have shoes on!” Bilbo fakes shock. “You bring shame upon your family with your actions!”

Thorin chuckles, getting to his feet.

“Come now,” Bilbo holds out a hand for him to take. “We’d better go and get cleaned up.”

Thorin shrugs, grabbing his boots and slipping them on before taking Bilbo’s offered hand and going back down the stairs.

Bilbo thinks the guards must be paid rather well, because they barely bat an eyelash at the state they’re both in, although Bilbo can feel eyes on his back more than once.

He asks Thorin about it. “Is it because you’re Prince?” he wonders.

“No,” Thorin returns after thinking about it, “at least I don’t think so. Kili ran naked through the royal hall once when he was younger on a dare, and Frerin once managed to get five pigs into Dis’ room when we were children as a prank.”

Bilbo laughs at that. “Well, I suppose your slightly dishevelled appearance is perhaps the tamest thing that’s ever happened here, then.”

“Something like that.”

 They part ways at Bilbo’s room, because they both have to change, and Bilbo closes his door firmly behind him before rifling through his drawers for something a little warmer. Thorin’s statement was correct, of course. Hobbit garments weren’t exactly made for the icy weather that came to the mountains. The materials were soft and smooth, not made of furs and thick cottons like Dwarven clothes were. Bilbo’s idly wondering what furs might even look like on a Hobbit like himself when there’s a soft knock on the door.

“One moment!” He’s still dripping, not having changed yet, so he throws his clean clothes on the bed and pads back over to the door.

Thorin’s standing there, dishevelled as ever. “May I come in?”

“You haven’t changed.”

“No.”

Bilbo frowns in confusion, but opens the door nonetheless. “What are you-? Oh!”

Thorin’s suddenly crowding into his space, arms around his waist, pushing him back so he can move inside himself and kick the door closed. He’s still wet, but feverishly warm like all Dwarves seem to be, so Bilbo doesn’t mind their bodies being so closely pressed together.

“Not that I don’t—ah,” he jumps a little when Thorin bites gently at his neck, teeth scraping down the soft skin there, “appreciate the attention, but… what are you doing? You’ll catch a cold standing there like that, dripping wet.”

Thorin hums. “I brought clothes to change into.”

Bilbo laughs breathlessly. “A little sure of yourself in that, aren’t you?”

He feels Thorin shrug. “Just optimistic,” he informs Bilbo, before pulling away. “And you’re not changed either, yet.”

“I was just about to be,” he gestures to the clothes on the bed.

Thorin pulls away, putting his hands up innocently. “Then don’t let me stop you, by all means.”

Bilbo raises an eyebrow, incredulous. “Did you come here to watch me change?” he asks.

Thorin shrugs, grinning. “I wanted to mention something as well. Thought it was bet to do it now when I’m sure we’re alone and won’t be interrupted.”

“Oh?” Bilbo asks, moving over to the bed.

Thorin nods and moves to stand by the fire, unlacing his soggy tunic. “Frerin’s birthday is coming up, soon.”

“It is?” Bilbo perks up. “Oh, how wonderful.”

Thorin doesn’t seem to think that.

“Is it not?” Bilbo wonders.

“It’s also the anniversary of our mother’s death, you understand,” he explains, tugging the tunic up over his head and Bilbo has to look away because oh. He can see the scar now, the one that goes down Thorin’s collarbone, and it curves along the front of his chest, coming to a stop near the place where his heart rests.  Bilbo busies himself with unbuttoning his own waistcoat, frowning down at his shaking fingers. He’s colder than he thought he was. “It’s… a difficult time for us,” Thorin continues. “Frerin blames himself, and father becomes moody and isolated…” he sighs. “I just thought I ought to warn you. Things can get tense this time of year.”

Bilbo nods, setting his waistcoat down, before hesitating, fingers over his tunic.

“Is something wrong?” Thorin asks.

Bilbo glances back up at him. He’s clothed again, having moved quicker than Bilbo had. Bilbo looks down at himself. “It’s just…” Thorin waits patiently for an answer, and Bilbo sighs. “The explosion, when we got Kili back from Fimpin. It left me…” he gestures vaguely to the right side of his body. “It’s not pretty.”

“I have scars as well,” Thorin says simply.

“Yes, but…” Bilbo is going to say ‘that’s different’, though he’s not sure how it is. “I suppose I’m just a bit self-conscious about it all.”

Thorin’s brow furrows, as if he’s subconsciously saying ‘well, I don’t like that’ and he steps forward, coming to stop in front of Bilbo. He reaches out before pausing, looking at Bilbo to make sure his actions are okay.

Bilbo just nods wordlessly, and Thorin takes hold of the shirt before pulling it up and over Bilbo’s head. Bilbo tenses, waiting for… something, but Thorin just looks for a long while, inspecting every scar, ever mark, every spot and curve on the upper half of his body. Then, slowly, he touches the scarring along Bilbo’s arm, over his shoulder, down part of his chest, following the random patterns of damaged skin that twisted and turned and curved around Bilbo’s body. His fingers graze down Bilbo’s side, over his hip, and then come to a stop at the edge of his trousers.

“You needn’t be so worried,” Thorin tells him gently after a while.

Bilbo is looking down where Thorin’s fingers are resting, against the skin of Bilbo’s hips. “You don’t think I look… wrong?”

“Wrong?” Thorin repeats.

“The burns…” he touches them as he speaks. “The scars…”

“They’re part of you,” Thorin tells him. “They make you what you are. Just like mine make me who I am. They’re like… stories on your skin. Like a memory that’s been imprinted there.” Bilbo quite likes the sound of that. “It’s like you’ve become the story.”

“You are odd,” Bilbo comments, reaching up to cup his face. But he says the words without malice or cruelty or anger. They’re warm and ardent, and said with a smile. “So odd.” He leans up on the tips of his toes to kiss him.

“Well, if that’s the kind of reaction I get from being odd, then I’ll do it more often,” Thorin tells him happily.

 

 

Chapter Text

A lot of things happened in the month of Frerin’s birthday.

It gets colder (although that was expected).

Ori and Dwalin officially announced their courtship, which made Dori look like he was going to have an aneurism. It also ended with Nori being given a black eye and Dwalin sitting at the tables during supper cradling a sore jaw and being doted upon by Ori.  Bilbo thinks it ridiculously cute.

Dain arrives for the celebrations, because regardless of his mother’s death it was still Frerin’s birthday and there was no way they were just letting the date pass by without any form of merriment. Not a day after his arrival, however, Thorin was steadfastly agreeing with what Fili and Kili had told him when he’d visited the Iron Hills. “Stay with me when he’s around,” Thorin requests, and it’s not an order in the slightest, because Thorin knows he couldn’t order Bilbo to do anything, because Bilbo didn’t do that sort of thing- bowing haplessly and doing whatever he was told to do. He was not that kind of a Hobbit. “Dain can be a bit… overfriendly.”

Bilbo just sighs. “You Dwarves are ridiculous,” he mutters, but stays away from Dain if they’re alone like Thorin requests. It seems to make him happy anyway.

The day of Frerin’s birth is one filled with drinking and eating and shouting and singing and raucous laughter. Frerin knocks a row of tankards over in his drunken stupor (at least, that’s what he says but everyone knows it’s because of the eye-patch) and then proceeds to run into the doorway (although that one is because of his drunken stupor).

Kili stacks his own tankards up high, one on top of the other, until there’s a small leaning tower on their table, and when Fili throws a bone stripped of its meat at it, high in the air, and manages to get it in the tankard at the very top, cheers erupt around the room.

Bilbo has to admit, he’s pretty impressed by the act. He’s never seen anyone do that before.

Although Bombur landing in that barrel after fighting those Orcs while they were rushing down the rapids in Mirkwood was pretty impressive in itself… and kind of a similar situation, if only on a bigger scale.

Bilbo doesn’t know what time it is when the party starts winding down. Or, at least, when he decides the party is winding down enough to make it polite for him to turn in. He’s had far too much to drink and doesn’t think he can stay on his feet for much longer.

He’s helped to his room by Thorin, who bats away Dain’s hands when he offers to lead Bilbo himself, and Bilbo laughs about that the entire way there. Thorin helps him get into his bedclothes, rather gentlemanly, which is a surprise, and he sets Bilbo into the bed and lets him ramble on about nothing in particular as he pulls the blankets up about him.

Bilbo is toasty warm and still muttering to himself as he drifts off into sleep when Thorin tells him goodnight and shuts the door quietly behind him.

His head is hammering like a forge when he wakes up, and he groans and rolls onto his stomach, burying his face into the pillow. It doesn’t help much, but the added pressure against his eyes eases some of his pain.

He doesn’t leave his bed for some time that morning, but eventually he braves his aches and pains to get out of his bed and clothe himself appropriately enough so he can leave for the food halls to get some breakfast.

He braves himself for the onslaught of noise, the slamming of cups and the shouting across the halls, but that doesn’t really prepare him for the way it makes his head throb incessantly. He presses a hand to his face as he piles his plate high with food, finding somewhere relatively quiet to sit. And by relatively quiet, of course, that means somewhere where the yelling doesn’t echo so much.

Bofur comes and finds him soon enough. “You look rough,” he comments, far more cheerful than he ought to be this time in the morning. He doesn’t look like he’s had any sleep, and his clothes are ruffled.

“And you look like you had a good night,” Bilbo returns as Bofur sits down beside him.

Bofur grins. “Any party is a good party.”

“Yes, I forgot you Dwarves were like that,” he comments dryly. “You make far too much of a mess for my liking.” He recalls the state of his Hobbit Hole when he left all that time ago, like Smaug had come through and ransacked the place.

Bofur just shrugs, digging into his bacon with fervour.

Bilbo can’t help but smile, despite the pain in his head. In the Goblin Cave, when he was so lost and alone, wandering in the dark, he’d felt that a pleasant, comfortable, happy life was so far away and would never be in his reach again. Those thoughts had been doubled when he’d been whisked out of his world and shoved into another.

But he’s happy now- even with all the nonsense that’s happened. He’s happy, because even the darkest of times don’t last forever and there is good hidden in each thing: in everything. Even if it they are hard to find.

He feels like he’s part of something here, something important, and he feels so full. Even if sometimes he feels a slight tug, like he’s missing something, something that lurks in the back of his mind, and he run his fingers over the pocket of his waistcoat, thinking of the magic ring he’d found in Gollum’s cave and then lost again when he used the crystal and came to this world. He wonders what has become of it, who might have picked it up. He misses it, in a way, and its usefulness. He could have done over Fimpin much easier had he been invisible. And he could avoid people he didn’t particularly like. If he’d gone back to The Shire with his ring, he would have used it to hide from the Sackville-Bagginses. He gives an amused chuckle, just thinking about all the tricks he could have played.

But he didn’t have the ring anymore, so he couldn’t play such tricks. It seemed a pity, in a way, but he looks at Bofur practically inhaling food, and sees Fili and Kili running in to the food hall, laughing at something, and he thinks about Thorin, repressing sighs in a morning meeting, and all thoughts of the ring flits from his mind and he smiles. It doesn’t matter. He has other things on his mind, other things to do.

One in particular being stopping Fili and Kili doing whatever they’re planning on doing right now. Because they’re acting far too innocent for Bilbo’s liking. And when they do that, that’s when people need to be worried.

“What are they up to, do you think?” he asks Bofur, who’s still shovelling food into his mouth like he may never eat again.

“No idea,” Bofur replies through a mouthful, “Probably something horrible.”

Bilbo hums in agreement. They’d better watch those two carefully for a while.

 


 

“I was thinking,” Thorin tells him that night.

“Were you?” Bilbo asks, clicking his tongue. “How dangerous.”

Thorin chuckles and pushes him half-heartedly. “I mean,” he begins again, “I had an idea.”

“And what was that?” Bilbo asks, watching him expectantly.

“After the winter, a representative is due to visit Ered Luin for diplomatic meetings, so I volunteered myself to father. I thought that perhaps you could come with me.”

“To the Blue Mountains?” Bilbo asks.

“I thought you might like to see The Shire once more.” Thorin goes on quickly when Bilbo doesn’t answer. “You don’t have to, of course- I would understand if you didn’t want to: if it is too painful for you to be there again. Only, I thought you might want to-”

“I do,” Bilbo assures him, only because Thorin looks so desperately confused now he has to say something. “Of course I do.  I just…” he sighs. “I don’t know if I can stand seeing Bag End again. If the Sackville-Bagginses own it, I’m not sure how I’ll cope.”

“I could always order them out,” Thorin suggests, making Bilbo laugh. “They can’t deny a Prince, after all.”

“I am not sure we should be abusing your power in such a way,” Bilbo returns lightly, but he is pleased by the idea nonetheless. “I will go with you,” he announces after a moment’s thought. “I do believe I need to start facing the reality of this world: that some things are different, even if I do not want them to be. But I do warn you,” he goes on, “I am not a very good diplomat.”

“Then you will need to be taught,” Thorin decides. “After all, when we are married it will be a skill you need.”

“‘When’?” Bilbo asks. “How sure of yourself you are.”

“Oh, yes,” Thorin says, nodding. “Very, very sure of myself.”

Bilbo can’t help but smile at him. “I suppose in this circumstance you are allowed to be.”

“And you, as well,” Thorin informs him.

“And me as well,” Bilbo agrees.

He doesn’t know what he’s going to find in The Shire or in Ered Luin, but he feels warmed and excited by the prospect. Because even though one adventure has ended, even though his journey to find Smaug is gone now, even though Azog is spent and Fimpin dealt with- there will always be another adventure, another task that needs accomplishing.

Things go on, and on, it is after all the circle of life. And though he may miss his old life, he has a new one ahead of him, right here in front of him. He can’t be stuck in the past forever, he has to move on with things.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he tells Thorin, a grin spreading over his face.

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s cold.

Bilbo knows that, okay? He’s not an idiot.

His poor little (well, big, according to the Dwarves) toes are frozen but he refuses to admit it. He’s still got some Baggins pride left in his body, and he’ll be damned if he lets the Dwarves put those stupid constraining things on his feet.

Besides, he can still wriggle his toes, so it’s not like he needs to cover them. They still work. But the stone corridors are so chilly in the winter, even with the heating on, and he wonders if he can sneak fuzzy socks in his room in the mornings and at night before he goes to bed.

Thorin’s been too busy to spend too much time with him anyway, with meetings about food rations taking up all his time, so it would be less likely that he’d be caught. Bilbo doesn’t think his ego could stand being caught with socks on.

 Thing is, Bilbo had been warned. He had. Everyone had told him the winters in Erebor were far bitterer than the winters further to the West. And Bilbo had believed them, of course. But there was no way he’d wear those damn boots. Not even if the whole of Middle Earth froze over.

So he may be little stubborn, but Bilbo’s never claimed to be anything else.

“You look like you’re thinking very hard about something,” Thorin remarks amusedly, while Bilbo frowns into the fire. “Anything you’d like to share?”

“No,” Bilbo replies sullenly, tucking his feet up under his legs in his chair. “Just thinking about how silly all you Dwarrows look in your stupid boots.”

Thorin chuckles. “Of course you are,” he replies dryly.

“I am, indeed,” Bilbo insists. “If you were in The Shire, we’d all be laughing at you. Behind your back, of course: because Hobbits may be gossips, but we’re certainly not outwardly rude.”

Thorin looks even more amused at the whole thing. “Is that right?”

“It is,” Bilbo informs him. “You’d be the scorn of the whole place. You’d damage my reputation. You only get one chance to impress a Hobbit, you know,” he goes on, “and I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth seeing as I’m getting another attempt at being held in high esteem once we travel through there after the winter. So you, Mister, ought to be on your best behaviour.” The words are teasing, and by the end of it Thorin has obviously had enough, reaching over and grabbing Bilbo by the shirtsleeve and tugging him up for a kiss. But Bilbo’s still halfway through speaking, so his last few words come out muffled as he says them into Thorin’s mouth.

“Are you quite done yet?” Thorin asks with a quirked eyebrow after he pulls away.

“Maybe,” Bilbo hedges, “are you going to try and make me wear the shoes?”

Thorin pretends to consider it. “Not right now, no,” he tells Bilbo eventually.

“Then I’m done,” Bilbo replies pleasantly, leaning up and catching his lips again.

“Perhaps we should move somewhere more comfortable, then,” Thorin manages between kisses, and Bilbo allows himself to be led towards the bed. He’s on the verge of giggling like a child when he’s pushed onto the bed, but there’s a quick knock on the door and Thorin is forced to pull away from him as a voice speaks through the wood, muffled.

“What is it?” he asks irritably, pulling the door open a crack.

“I’m sorry, Uzbad,” the voice says, “but your father requests your presence. He says it’s of the-”

“-utmost importance,” Thorin finishes. “Yes, yes, I’ll be there in a moment.” And then he promptly closes the door in the messengers face. “I’m going to have to go,” he tells Bilbo, resigned. “I think I may be a while.”

“Such a pity,” Bilbo sighs theatrically. “I suppose I’ll definitely be asleep when you return, then.”

Thorin groans. “Don’t remind me.” He presses a quick kiss to Bilbo’s forehead before grabbing his furs and slipping them on.

“Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll wait up and pull it all off of you,” Bilbo informs him, running his hand briefly over the furs as Thorin passes.

“You’ll be the death of me,” Thorin growls, before pulling away.

Bilbo doesn’t say that he kind of already was the death of him, and opts to remain silent while Thorin leaves. He’s trying to tell himself that it isn’t his fault, because that’s what Bofur’s always telling him- and it’s true (he knows it’s true) but that doesn’t stop him from feeling the guilt: from thinking that somehow it’s his fault that the other Thorin died. In some weird way it feels like Thorin didn’t die at all- because he’s right here, in front of Bilbo, breathing and moving and living. So it’s weird, and conflicting.

He yawns, and wriggles his toes once more, before glancing at the boots Thorin had brought back a few days ago with the insistence that Bilbo ought to start wearing them.

Yeah, he’s still not putting on the shoes.

 


 

Bombur’s been kind enough to introduce him to this thing called Cider. They had mulled wine in the shire, and plenty of ale, but Cider is new to him. So maybe, in his excitement, Bilbo’s had a few (a few too many, that is). He’s quite sure if he gets to his feet that he’ll fall over. So instead he stays at the table and entertains himself with Gloin and Oin’s drinking songs. They’re sung in Khuzdul, and now that Bilbo can understand (at least some of) the words he can hear just how rude they really are. But he’s not surprised.

He’s almost nodding off at the table when Balin laughs and tells Dwalin to go and get Thorin. It doesn’t take him long to show up.

“Bilbo,” he sighs, slipping an arm around Bilbo’s waist and pulling him to his feet.

Hellooo,” Bilbo sings the word into Thorin’s neck.

“Are you quite alright?” Thorin asks.

“Of course!” Bilbo pulls himself back to look up at Thorin so quickly that he almost falls over. Thorin catches him though, Thorin always catches him. “I’m terrific.” The words are slurred, and he staggers a little even though he’s standing still.

“You’ve had too much to drink, I think.”

“Maybe,” Bilbo allows. “I’ve never had Cider before; it’s very, very good.”

“It certainly is,” he agrees. “But I think you need to rest now.”

“Rest sounds very, very good too,” Bilbo declares, tripping over himself trying to walk.

“How about I help you,” Thorin cuts in smoothly, letting Bilbo lean all his weight into his side. He navigates them both out the door and down the hall. “Silly Hobbit,” he mutters fondly.

“Silly Dwarf,” Bilbo says in reply, but it’s a lot louder. One of the guards they’re passing snickers, but keeps his face straight. Bilbo nuzzles at Thorin’s neck. “Are we going to bed?” he wants to know.

“Yes, we’re going to bed.”

Bilbo (always logical) figures it’s okay because they’re in the royal wing now and alone and bites Thorin on the neck. It’s a playful nip, and it has Thorin’s arm tightening around his waist.

“Not yet, Bilbo.” It comes out gruff and pleading.

Bilbo just makes an affirmative noise and doesn’t bite him again. He’s feel pleasantly warm and buzzing, even if his vision is swimming a little. “I think I like Cider very much,” he declares as Thorin opens the door to Bilbo’s room. “I think I’ll have it more often.”

I think you ought to stop thinking about Cider,” Thorin informs him, shutting the door.

“Oh no,” Bilbo says, mournfully, falling onto the bed. “My head’s going to hurt in the morning, isn’t it?”

He must be looking at Thorin with wide, worried eyes, because Thorin bursts into laughter. “Yes, I do think it will,” he tells him.

“Then I refuse to go to sleep,” Bilbo slaps his feet on the ground, as if protesting. “I can’t get a headache if I stay awake.”

“Always so logical,” he grins, leaning in and kissing him. “But I get the feeling you’ll regret that decision when you’ve sobered up.”

“I can’t win, can I?” he groans.

“No,” Thorin replies, laughingly, “you can’t.”

 


 

Dwalin doesn’t have the best control. He’s a bit of a hedonist, if he’s being honest. So it’s really, really hard to not jump at Ori in the library, even if it’s in the quieter section of the stacks. He tried that once and they almost got caught when one of the other librarians came looking for Ori, realising they hadn’t seen him in a little while. Dwalin’s not quite prepared to risk that again. At least not so soon after their first brush with potential embarrassment.

That having been said- Dwalin’s never been very good at doing what he’s supposed to do.

Dwalin,” Ori hisses, hands flat against his chest, pushing him back. His clothes have been partway slipped off, and Dwalin’s just itching to finish the job. “Not again. If I don’t get this work done I’ll be here all night. Besides,” he gives Dwalin a firm push as he speaks, “Balin’s in here- and would you like to be caught out by him?”

Dwalin makes a face. Ori definitely has a point. Damn it. “Fine, fine,” he puts his hands up. “I’d rather not ‘ave that ‘appen, you’re right.”

Ori grins at him, straightening his clothes. “Later,” he promises, reaching up and pressing a quick kiss to Dwalin’s lips before grabbing his books again and darting off.

Dwalin can definitely handle later.

 


 

“So are you cold yet?” Fili teases, nudging Bilbo’s arm as they walk along the forest.

“You sure you don’t want to borrow some of my boots? I’ve got thinner ones in my pack- they’re not as heavy as the ones I have now, but they’d do you better than nothing at all.”

“Oh, hush you,” Bilbo tells them both. “My feet are perfectly fine.”

“They don’t look fine,” Bombur comments from behind him. “A little pink.”

Bilbo wriggles his toes. “They’re fine. Hobbits spend all of winter with their feet bare.” Although the terrain is slightly different here in the forest at the base of Erebor, Bilbo can handle it just fine. After all, his toes can handle a little cold- his real troubles are going to be trying to stop his feet getting burnt off by the dragon inhabiting the Lonely Mountain nearby.

“You are not in the Kindly West anymore, Master Hobbit,” Thorin tells him. “The winter’s come colder and harsher this side of the world.”

“My feet can handle your winter’s just fine, thank you very much,” Bilbo answers primly, his hands on his hips.

“This is hilarious,” Kili whispers as Bilbo twitches for the umpteenth time.

“I wonder how long he’ll hold out,” Fili replies.

“Both of you shut it,” Dwalin growls. “Pick up your weapons again and spar.”

Bilbo’s feet are half-buried in icy snow besides Ori, who’s rugged up so much that Bilbo can barely see him underneath all the wool. “Dori gets a little ridiculous in this weather,” he’d explained when Bilbo had first seen him.

“Are you sure you’re feet are okay?” Ori asks him now, looking like a bundle of yarn with a concerned face attached. “I can knit you some socks for them- proper ones, so they fit you.”

“I don’t need to cover my feet!” Bilbo insists.

“Maybe just for bedtime, then?” Ori suggests, looking a little sly, “the rooms get awful cold when the fires go out because they’re not tended to.”

Bilbo shoots him a suspicious look. “Did Thorin put you up to this?”

“Uh…”

Bilbo heaves a sigh. “Of course he did. Thank you but no thank you, Ori. I’ll be perfectly fine.”

Ori looks unconvinced. “If you insist…” he leans in a little. “Why are we out here anyway? Just because they’re suffering,” he jerks a thumb at Fili and Kili, “doesn’t mean we have to. Why don’t we sneak back inside and have a hot chocolate?”

That idea sounds very good to Bilbo. So they do just that: leave Fili and Kili to their icy torture to get something warm to drink in one of the food halls.

Bilbo’s quite used to getting a few strange looks now and again (he is a Hobbit in a Kingdom of Dwarves, after all, he’s bound to get one or two glances) but he gotten a lot more during these winter months. Well, honestly, they’re not aimed at him- just his feet. He gets that it’s weird. He gets that Dwarves have sensitive, boring feet with little to no hair and delicate, fragile skin. But he’s a Hobbit: a Hobbit. His feet aren’t like Dwarrow feet, that much should be obvious.

But it doesn’t matter- not really, anyway. He can handle a few raised eyebrows. It’s not like it’s anything new. Even in The Shire he’d gotten raised eyebrows; he’d been the centre of gossip. Besides which, he’s courting the Prince- that in itself has a way of catching attention.

The chocolate is just what he needs to warm himself (and, admittedly, his feet), and he feels far more at comfort here than he had been outside. But he’s pretty sure anyone would have felt that way. Today is particularly icy and bitter and the wind had lashed at his cheeks and bit his skin, turning it the colour of ripe apples, and by the end he hadn’t been able to move his fingers all that much. He was grateful, of course, for Ori’s handmade mittens, which saved his fingers from falling off at that particular moment in time.

“Where’s Bofur been lately?” Ori asks to strike up conversation. “I haven’t seen him for a few days now.”

“He’s working a lot,” Bilbo replies with a shrug. “It’s a busy time of year.”

“I suppose everyone wants toys because they can’t play outside in this weather,” Ori muses.

Bilbo hums in agreement. He recalls a time where he was constantly stuck inside his Hobbit Hole, sitting by the fire and playing with his toys to pass the time. They were always going on some adventure, his toys, meeting Elves and riding ponies and climbing Mountains. And he used to imagine it was him there, having those adventures.

Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

 


 

Bilbo’s been taking lessons from Balin: a lot of lessons. Languages and etiquette and classes on how to be a proper consort for when Thorin takes the throne. It’s a lot, and it tires Bilbo out- but he does like the languages. He’s always been very good at picking them up with an impressive speed; he’d learned Sindarin easily enough, and Khuzdul is difficult, but not too hard to get a grasp on. He has it down pat- apart from the enunciation. He’s not used to growling so much, so his throat often hurts after his sessions. Thorin doesn’t help by giving Bilbo beard burns all down his neck when he shows him all the word’s he’s learnt so far.

Not that Bilbo minds. Or complains. In fact, he rather likes it. But still… it’s kind of weird when the guards pointedly avoid looking at it the next day.

Although as things go it’s not a terrible problem for a person to have. His life is pretty good if he’s spending his time worrying about beard burn.

He has to say, as well, that his life is pretty lucky, all things considered. To be so peaceful and happy after everything that had happened.

He leaves Ori afterwards to read a little somewhere warm and quiet- although Ori’s not too devastated, because Dwalin’s finished torturing Fili and Kili in the snow and is dragging him off Mahal knows where. Bilbo’s quite sure that he doesn’t want to know.

“You bought a book on our journey?” Nori asks, disbelieving. He’s got an eyebrow raised, and an amused smirk building on his lips.

“Ori brought a book with him,” Bilbo returns calmly. More than one, in fact.

“Ori is a scribe, lad,” Bombur interjects from across the fire. “It’s his job to carry books.”

Bilbo finds himself rolling his eyes. “Don’t think I don’t see you carrying three more pots than you need,” he tells Bombur. “And Nori has far too many knives in his pack.”

“You can never have enough knives,” Nori defends now.

“I think twelve might be a bit too much,” Kili teases.

“You joke now,” Nori points at him, “but just wait until you need one, then you’ll be begging at my feet.”

Kili just rolls his eyes and chucks a bit of stale bread at him, hitting him right in the middle of the forehead. Kili raises his arms in victory. “That’s why I’m the best archer in all of Middle Earth!” he declares happily.

“It’s also why you’re about to be a dead man,” Nori spits, lunging over the fire. A scuffle breaks out and food is beginning to be thrown and there’s an awful lot of shouting so Bilbo can’t read any more of his book. He sighs, snapping it shut.

“Now that’s just a waste of food,” Bombur states mournfully.

“Am I interruptin’?” a head pokes around the corner, and Bilbo glances at Bofur from where he’d been staring blankly at the wall.

“Not really, no,” Bilbo smiles. “I was in a bit of a lull, admittedly. Lost in my own head. I thought you were busy running the stall today?” The business has been booming for Bofur, and he’s been run off his feet just trying to keep up. Bilbo supposes that an endorsement from the royal family certainly helps, but he’s n no way discounting Bofur’s skill. He certainly would have been able to do it himself, perhaps not as fast without the help of Thorin and his nephews, but he still would have gotten there.

Bofur shrugs. “Its lunch,” he says like it should explain everything. And it kind of does. “Thought I’d come over and check on you.”

“And not eat?” Bilbo lets his mouth drop open in mock shock. “I can’t believe it!”

Bofur just laughs. “Perhaps we’ve slipped into another universe, eh?” he teases.

“Please no,” Bilbo laughs now, “I’ve had more than enough of that for my lifetime.” He pauses. “Where’s Nori?” he wonders. “Surely he ought to be following you around like a warg pup.”

Bofur grins. “He’s off stalkin’ Dwalin, actually, making sure he’s treatin’ Ori right and all. Apparently Thorin is going to spar with him this afternoon to work off some stress. He says it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen; those two fighting.”

Bilbo’s never actually seen it- when he catches Dwalin sparring it’s usually with Fili and Kili. Thorin’s often off doing other duties.

Bilbo doesn’t think he’s ever seen him fight at all- unless you count that one time with Fimpin (although Bilbo had been a little too preoccupied to actually watch him fight) but he doesn’t think that really counts because he never actually saw anything. He’s seen Thorin fight in the other world- the world he came from, but he doesn’t think that counts either.

He’s intrigued, but it’s cold and if he goes outside again he just knows he’ll crumble and put something over his feet, and he refuses to do such a thing, so instead he spends his afternoon indoors, relishing in keeping his feet by the fire. Bofur keeps him company as long as possible, before rushing back off to take over the market stall again.

Sometime that night Thorin drags himself into Bilbo’s room, looking cold and ragged.

“Did Dwalin beat you, then?” Bilbo wonders.

Thorin looks at Bilbo like he’s just mortally wounded him. “Of course not!”

“Well, you looked so dejected, how I was to know?”

Thorin sighs. “My body aches,” he admits. “I fear I am getting older faster than I had planned.”

“That’s the trouble with age,” Bilbo teases. “It likes to sneak up on you.”

Thorin rolls his shoulders and groans. “It’s the cold,” he decides now. “It can’t be me.”

“Of course not,” Bilbo says gently, coming over to the end of the bed where Thorin has sat down. He runs his hands through Thorin’s hair before rubbing at his shoulders. “It must be the cold.”

Thorin leans into the touch, very clearly enjoying the pressure on his tense muscles.

“Lay down,” Bilbo instructs, “I’ll make you feel better.”

Thorin has no trouble complying, pressing his face into the pillows and stretching out languidly. Bilbo climbs over the bed and presses his warm palms into the small of Thorin’s back, pressing down. Thorin reacts immediately, groaning deeply and twitching.

“Does it hurt the most here?” Bilbo wants to know. Thorin mutters something into the pillows that Bilbo barely catches. “Here?” he asks, pressing his fingers gently into the skin a little higher. Thorin’s fingers twitch. “I think Dwalin did you more damage than you’d like to admit,” Bilbo goes on, kneading the skin. “He’s such a big strong dwarf,” the words are teasing, but Thorin grouses into the bed anyway. “No wonder Ori’s so smitten.” Thorin huffs something, and it sounds vaguely like “he’s not that good”.

Bilbo laughs, and moves further up to Thorin’s shoulder blades. “You’re still very tense,” he remarks. “You need to relax. That’s what this whole thing is about.” He looks at Thorin’s scars as he massages him, all the lines and marks along his back. There’s a fairly bad one edging around his hip, down his lower back. There’s something that looks painfully like the lash of a whip down one part of his back, and several marks that look like possible stab wounds. Bilbo wonders what Dwarfs are made of, to last through such things.

Bilbo bends down and presses a quick kiss to the lash mark on Thorin’s back, and then, as an afterthought, runs his tongue over it. Thorin arches in surprise, but he doesn’t seem bothered, so Bilbo makes it his duty to seek out the rest of his scars and kiss them as well. When he’s done with his back, and gently nudges Thorin over and presses his hand flat against the scar that runs down his neck and chest.

“What happened?” Bilbo asks, wondering if perhaps he ought to have been polite about it. He and Thorin are the only ones staying close to the edge of the river, the rest of the Company diving further down into the water, splashing at each other and laughing loudly.

Thorin follows Bilbo’s gaze to the long scar down his left arm. “Moria,” he replies, seemingly not bothered by Bilbo’s question. He’s been better since the Carrock, but the closer they get to Erebor, the quieter he gets. It’s odd, because Thorin’s not very vocal anyway, but there’s still a noticeable change.

Bilbo looks down at his own body now, wondering what he’d look like with scars. He’s a bit scratched up from their adventures, but he has no such marks just yet.

“You’re lucky,” Thorin says suddenly, catching Bilbo’s attention once more. “To not have experienced the pain of a scar.”

Bilbo smiles a little. “I’ll be lucky if it stays that way by the end of this, I suppose,” he remarks. It’s light hearted, but Thorin looks guilty. “I’m sure I can cope with one or two marks, Thorin,” he assures the Dwarf, “us Hobbits are very resilient. I mean, just look at me- I haven’t had bacon in almost three months now and I’m coping just fine.”

Thorin lets out a small snort, and Bilbo likes to think it’s because he’s amused. “Of course,” Thorin agrees now. “You Hobbits are strong indeed.”

“Did it hurt very much?” Bilbo asks, rather stupidly. They’re standing very close now, although Bilbo doesn’t remember moving.

“Of course,” Thorin replies. “But not for long. The adrenaline took over and I had to keep on fighting, so I hardly noticed until it was over.”

Bilbo touches it without thinking. It’s healed over, obviously, and now is just an indent in the skin. It seems so much a part of Thorin, all his scars, that Bilbo can hardly imagine him without them. They map his skin, telling stories of pain and victory. It makes him a proper warrior. He wonders if he only thinks that way because he’s spent so much time with Dwarves. He knows Hobbits certainly wouldn’t think that way about Thorin’s damaged skin.

“Did it very much?” Bilbo asks Thorin now, even though he knows it would have.

“Not for long,” Thorin promises, and Bilbo gives a little wry smile at the similarity in words between the old Thorin and this Thorin. “I was, uh, rendered unconscious because of the shock of it.”

“You mean you fainted because of the pain?” Bilbo grins. “How sweet.”

Thorin rolls his eyes. “I did not faint. I passed out.”

“Right, yes, of course,” Bilbo pulls his best serious face. “I apologise. You’re a mighty warrior- and mighty warriors do not faint.”

Thorin reaches up to press his hand against Bilbo’s cheek. “Of course not,” he agrees gently, his eyes soft and warm, and a replying warmth spreads just under Bilbo’s ribcage.

“Are you still sore?” he wonders.

“A little,” Thorin admits. “But I feel much better now.”

“You should stretch more,” he suggests.

Thorin’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

“Your body wouldn’t jar so much if you stretched. Surely you know that.”

“Is this a Hobbit thing?” Thorin asks, raising an eyebrow.

Bilbo shrugs. “I don’t know,” he replies. “But it certainly helps, I can tell you that much. Come on,” he grabs Thorin by the arm and ushers him into a sitting position, “I’ll show you.”

Thorin looks intrigued and amused, and allows himself to be tugged off the bed and to a part of the floor that’s free of clutter.

“Can you touch your toes?” is the first thing that Bilbo asks, and it seems to throw Thorin.

“Why would I need to touch my toes?” Thorin wonders, looking at his feet, free from his confining boots.

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “This is going to be interesting, I’m sure of it.”

He shows Thorin some basic stretches, things to help him with his back, and a few other things that would help him with his posture (not that he needed help with that, of course, but Bilbo figured it might make things a bit easier on his shoulders) and some stretches he could do to ease aches and pains. Thorin, however thankful he may be for Bilbo’s help, wasn’t exactly a helpful subject to work with (being far too busy watching Bilbo than trying the stretches himself) and it took them a long while to go through them all because of it.

Thorin does admit, however, that he felt better when they’d finished.

Bilbo shrugs, a little smug. “I told you,” he said simply.

“You did indeed. I think I shall have to do that again tomorrow.”

“You’ll certainly notice the difference,” Bilbo promised him. “I don’t see why you Dwarves don’t do it anyway. You all must be terribly jarred from all your fighting.”

Thorin hums, falling back onto the bed. “I feel terribly relaxed,” he says, looking up at the canopy of the bed. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“You don’t always need to be on alert, you know,” Bilbo teases. “Guards are paid for that.”

“I am a Prince and a warrior,” Thorin announces, propping himself up on his elbows. “I need to be on alert.”

Bilbo just sighs, crawling into the bed after him.

“How are your feet?” Thorin asks conversationally while Bilbo settles against the pillows at his sides. It sounds so casually, but Bilbo knows it’s anything but.

“They’re fine.”

“Not cold?” Thorin’s face is devoid of any emotion, but there’s a smug sparkle in his eye.

“Not cold at all, thank you very much. Us Hobbits and our feet are made of sterner stuff than you Dwarves.”

“Uh-huh,” he doesn’t seem convinced. “So your feet are fine?”

“Perfectly fine.”

“Not cold?”

“Not cold at all.”

“Not hurting?”

“No.”

“So I assume you wouldn’t be in need of a foot rub, then.”

“Well, I never said that,” Bilbo argues, without pause or inflection.

Thorin grins. “But you said your feet were fine.”

“Do my feet need to be raw and bleeding for me to deserve a foot rub? Perhaps I don’t need one, but I certainly want one.”

“Ah,” Thorin says, “of course.”

Bilbo’s feet are sore. Of course they are, he’s spent most of his day standing on cold stone and walking around in snow. So the pressure from Thorin’s fingers, gently digging into the soft skin just under his toes, is absolutely lovely.

Oh,” he practically mewls at the feeling, “that is nice.” He sinks further into the pillows. “I should ask you to do this more often.”

“Only if you do those stretches more often,” Thorin counters, and Bilbo would have rolled his eyes but it just feels so good and he can’t bring himself to do anything but relax and enjoy it. And he does. So much so that he falls asleep.

Although he doesn’t realise he’s fallen asleep until he wakes up the next morning, alone in bed, but toasty and warm… which is odd because the fire’s gone out, and usually at this time in the morning, Bilbo’s rushing out of bed and complaining to himself while he re-lights it.

But he’s not. Because he’s warm, and it’s only until he wriggles his toes that he realises why.

“Socks!” he shouts, probably waking the whole hall, and jumps out of bed. “Oh, how dare he!”

Thorin’s going to pay for that.