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Tiger's Eye and Flower Crowns

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When the screams began shortly after nightfall, Belladonna snatched up her four year old daughter and tucked her snugly in the midst of bedrolls and blankets. Though her hands shook, Belladonna swiftly crafted a nest for her faunt, disguised as a heap of bags. Sleepy hazel eyes blinked up at her, and a small hand reached out to catch her mother’s locket. Bungo crooned softly to their daughter from his spot at Belladonna’s back, a small dagger gripped tight in his hands as he scanned the forest around them. The sounds of goblin war-cries echoed through the woods, and the others of the Human and Hobbit caravan scrambled to defend themselves.

“Mama?” Bilba’s voice was soft, sleep-burred and confused. “Papa?”

“Hush, my fauntling,” Belladonna said as she unfastened her locket and tucked it tight in her daughter’s hands. Playing with the locket always calmed her, and if the worst came… Well, at least Bilba would have something to remember them by. If she survived. Belladonna shook her head at the thought: she would not allow any harm to come to her babe, not as long as she drew breath.

“Sweetling, we are going to play Hide and Seek. You must stay very, very quiet. No matter what, you must stay hidden and silent, do you understand?” Bilba nodded, confusion contorting her little features. “You must only come out when Mama or Papa or one of the Big Folk pull you out, Bilba. Only then, my love.” Belladonna bent forward and pressed a firm, desperate kiss to her daughter’s forehead. She breathed in the faint, toddler scent of her daughter, tried to memorize the way her daughter’s lashes framed her wide hazel eyes, how a smattering of freckles brushed her forehead and cheeks, or how her blonde curls always, always stuck up at the back of her head. “I love you, Bilba. Mama loves you. Papa loves you. Mama and Papa both love you so, so much. With all of our hearts. Never forget that, sweetheart.”

“Love Mama, love Papa,” Bilba mumbled, her small fingers twining into her mother’s curls.

Belladonna choked back a sob and pressed a kiss to her daughter’s chubby palm. “We love you, sweetheart. Now hush, my faunt, and stay hidden. Stay silent. Stay safe.” With a final squeeze to her daughter’s hand, Belladonna carefully covered the hiding place, making sure that Bilba would be able to breathe without being seen. Belladonna stood side by side with her husband and kissed him firmly on the lips. “Try to stay alive,” she whispered against his cheek, and Bungo dragged her back for another desperate kiss.

“For you, my love, anything.” Bungo kissed her again. “For our Bilba.”

The screams of the goblins were upon them, and the pair raised their blades, prepared to defend their daughter to the death.

 

By mid-morning, the campsite was a ruin of blood, gore, and bodies. Bandit men picked their way through the camp, nudging at the slaughtered Men and Hobbits, stabbing the bodies of the goblins, to ensure they stayed dead. When they came across the surviving three Men, all bloodied and weak, they used Orc weapons to slit their throats. No need to leave a trail for the Rangers to find. One man came across the heap of blankets and bags where two Hobbits lay still. The female Halfling lay in a pool of dried blood a few feet ahead of the male, a goblin half across her. The male laid limp at the foot of the pile, his head twisted at an unnatural angle. The Man grimaced and began to dig through the heap as he searched for valuables. A shout escaped his throat as he found a sleeping Halfling babe, curled around a tarnished brass locket. The babe opened its hazel eyes at the conundrum, and watched the Man with wide eyes.

Another Man approached, drawn by the yell. “What’s that?”

“A Halfling babe, I think,” the first man said. The babe made no move to flee, only watched the menfolk with curious brown eyes.

The second man grunted. “Could always sell it for a few coins,” he said. “Some noble women love the Halflings for their size.”

With a nod, the first man bent and scooped up the wee one. He held it at an arm’s length, turning it this way and that, as the child regarded him solemnly. “Mama?” the child asked. “Papa?”

“None of that now,” the man said, his voice gruff. The blonde curls of the Hobbit child matched those of the dead male Halfling at his feet; perhaps this was its family. “Your Mama and Papa are dead and gone. You’re coming with us now.”

The child wailed, then, reaching for its parents that laid still on the ground. It howled for them to wake up, fat tears running down its chubby cheeks, but the man did not heed the weeping or squirming. He tied the babe’s feet and hands and placed it on the back of his horse, and prepared to leave for the settlement.

 

Frerin woke early, as always. He had been captured after the battle of Azanulbizar, plucked from the heaps of bodies by scavenger goblins and sold off to the Men. A dozen other dwarrow had been taken along with him, of which four perished during the journey. The others were sold off over the decades, leaving Frerin as the sole dwarf in the small, Mahal-forsaken outpost filled with bandits, scum, and slavers. For forty-five years, he had labored for the Menfolk, crafted tools for them, worked the fields, and built houses. He slowly earned coins, hoarded them away like he did with his family beads after his hair was shorn.

He could hear a commotion below him in the house, the drafty beams rumbling from the shouting and stomping. The staccato stomps of a Man’s boots on the stairs, signaling an approach, and Frerin stood across from the door, his back against the wall, in his usual position. The door was kicked open, and one of the Men stopped just inside the doorframe, a scowl on his face. With a rough gesture, he dropped a plate of food and a bundle of cloth on the floor. “Teach it to behave,” the man snarled before he slammed and locked the door behind him.

For a moment, Frerin wondered if the Man had lost his mind. Teach the plate to behave? The bundle? As that thought passed through his head, said bundle shifted and uncurled, revealing curly blonde hair, large, fuzzy feet, and pointed ears. There were tears leaking from the creature’s hazel eyes. Automatically, Frerin moved slowly forward as he made a soft, crooning noise in the back of his throat. The small creature curled up in a ball, watching Frerin’s every movement through its fringe. It did not shy away when Frerin reached out a hesitant hand, nor did it protest when he drew closer to inspect it.

Judging by the hairy feet and diminutive stature, Frerin guessed that the creature might be a Halfling. The lack of beard or facial hair certainly ruled it out as a dwarf. “Hello,” Frerin said softly in the Common Tongue. “Can you understand me?” The creature nodded, its curls bouncing. “My name is Frerin. I am a dwarf. What is your name, little one?”

A pause, and the creature – surely a child – inspected Frerin’s face. “Bilba Baggins,” it said finally. The voice was small, high-pitched and childish. “Fwewin?” it lisped, reaching forward to pat at Frerin’s hands.

“Fre-rin,” he corrected, a small smile gracing his face. “Are you a Halfling, Bilba?” Another nod. “Are you a little lass, then? Or a wee lad?”

“La-dy,” the child said. “Mama lady. Bilba lady.” It – she – peered up at Frerin before she looked around the room. “Mama? Papa?”

“Not here, I’m afraid,” Frerin said. He reached for the food, plucked a stale roll and began to tear it into small pieces. He offered the bites slowly to the child; she likely had not eaten in a while, and she was so tiny, even more so than when his nephews were babes. The thought of Fili and Kili made his chest tight, as always, and Frerin felt a fresh wave of protectiveness towards this little lass. “When did you last see them?”

“Night,” Bilba said. “Gob’ins come. Bilba hided, Mama said so. Hide ‘n Seek,” she said, accepting a bite of food and chewing the roll rapidly. “Mama said ‘Quiet, Bilba,’ Bilba quiet. Lotsa noise. Lotsa screams and shouts and scary. Then Big Folks came,” here, her pointed ears drooped. “Mama an’ Papa stay sleep. Blood all over. Ouches and no wakey. Big Folk took and we go.” Bilba gestured to the room now, once again accepting a bite from Frerin. The dwarf felt the tightness grow in his chest and creep up into his throat as the child explained. Her parents were dead; that he understood, though he doubted she could yet comprehend it. “Now Fwe-win,” Bilba stated with a pat to the dwarf’s hand.

“How old are you, Bilba?” Frerin asked. The child turned away a bite of the roll, and to his surprise, pushed it up towards Frerin’s mouth. She refused the bite, and stretched up on her knees to press it more urgently against his lips. When he opened his mouth and ate it, she beamed up at him.

“Bilba fo’,” the child said, and held up four chubby little fingers. Frerin’s heart plummeted, and a heat clawed across his chest and up into his face. Four years old, by Mahal! The Halfling would not survive alone. Frerin had to resist the urge to scoop her up and cradle her close. “How many Fwe-win?”

“More than you, sweet child,” he said. “I’m nearly 115.”

Bilba’s eyes went round with curiosity. “Fwe-win old?”

“For a Halfling, I suppose so,” Frerin replied, offering another bite of roll to the child, who obediently ate it. “But for a dwarf, I am still young. So I have lots of time left to care for you, Bilba.” The little one beamed up at him, and Frerin tucked her close to his side. “You listen to ol’ Frerin, you hear? I’ll keep you safe, wee one.” Bilba nodded, and pushed a bite of bread back to him.

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Three months came and went, and Bilba became Frerin’s little shadow. Silent whenever the “Big Folk” came around, Bilba whispered “secrets” about the plants that they tended in the garden. Out of ear-shot of the Menfolk, Bilba told Frerin which plants were “icky,” like the dandelions that always invaded the vegetable patches, or the “naughty” shiny geraniums that choked out competing crops. These Frerin pulled up with diligence, and when Bilba pointed out which plants were “thirsty,” and Frerin would water them while Bilba sang to them. Oddly enough, the plants that she chattered at flourished, even only in the few months that she resided there.

In turn, Frerin taught her to avoid the eye of the Men, how to look away or make herself scarce when a Man was angered, and to always, always find Frerin if someone wished her harm. “Listen to your surroundings,” he would whisper to her at night, when they could hear the crashes and laughter that filtered upwards through the floor from the Master’s drunken shenanigans. “Pick out where it’s coming from. Note if it’s scary or harmless, and plan from there.” When the Menfolk laughed and sang, Frerin would cradle her in his arms and hum a lullaby to help her sleep. But when there were shouts and broken furniture, Frerin would hide her in the corner, away from the door and out of the line of sight, and place himself between her and the rest of the room, just in case the slavers sought new targets for torment.

One crisp morning in mid-September, Bilba woke with a smile and a secret. Frerin watched her carefully throughout the day; his wee one was giggly and sneaky, which smacked of danger and ill-consequences. His nerves were on high-alert, and the strain showed in the lines of his forehead and the frown about his mouth. Twice, Bilba slipped out of view, and twice Frerin thought his heart would fail him until he caught her just around a corner, always hastily shoving something in her pockets. From long years of practice, Frerin maintained a low profile and avoided attention for either of them, but by nightfall, he was exhausted.

Once in their room with their small plate of food – stale bread rolls, raw vegetables, and questionable meat – Frerin fixed her with a gimlet stare. “What were you up to?” he murmured to her, listening for approaching footsteps. “You were acting odd all day, Bilba. I thought you were going to be punished any second.” Though he had sheltered her thus far, Frerin felt that she should at least know of the dangers she flirted with. It was a careful balance, to warn her without terrifying her, and Frerin sometimes made missteps that bombarded him with guilt.

Tonight, luckily, was not one of those nights. Instead, Bilba beamed and whispered, “Close eyes, hands out.”

Frerin made a show of deliberating before he closed his eyes, (one stayed partially slitted open, because Frerin did not trust Menfolk ever) and was surprised when a cold, smooth object was laid in his right palm, and a soft, fragrant thing sat in his left hand. Opening his eyes fully, Frerin found himself holding a clumsily woven band of honeysuckle flowers – weeds that grew near the forge – that were shaped into a crude bracelet, and a smooth, shiny, striped stone (Tiger’s Eye, his mind supplied, a stone thought to signify balance).

“What’s all this?” Frerin asked, his voice soft. He held still as Bilba slipped the bracelet onto his left wrist, his thumb absently rubbing the Tiger’s Eye stone.

“’S my birthday,” Bilba said. “Presents for Fwe-win.” R’s were still difficult for her. Last he saw Kili, his littlest nephew struggled with them as well. He wondered how long it would take her to grow out of it, but it was not as if there were hobbits about to ask. It was times like this that he wished he knew more about his wee one’s folk.

Then Frerin’s brain recognized what she had said. “It’s your birthday?”

Bilba nodded, her curls bouncing. “Now ‘m five!” She held up her hand, still only extending four fingers, and Frerin absently uncurled her thumb to show her five.

“But why did you give me presents?”

“’S what you do,” Bilba’s tone was patient yet obvious, as though she thought Frerin clearly should know this. “Mama an’ Papa help last time. On birthdays, you make presents for family. Fwe-win my family.” She paused, and for the first time that day, she looked utterly apprehensive. “Fwe-win is family?”

“Of course,” he said, and scooped her close to cuddle her. He pressed his face to her curls, and could almost feel her pulse as she wrapped her little arms as far around him as she could manage. “We’re family, Bilba. Thank you.”

The honeysuckles brought a faint, sweet scent of the outdoors, and the stone pressed into his palm, but Frerin was so happy that he felt his face ache from the broad smile that split his cheeks. “You have to wait a few months until my birthday though, sweetling.”

 

True to his word, when spring came and brought Frerin’s birthday with him, Frerin presented Bilba with a family bead. It was made from scraps he had squirreled away from the forges. In Ered Luin, it would have been turned down flat and seen as trash – the metals were blended from copper and steel and even a little iron, while the designs were roughly hewn from poor tools, but it was all Frerin could manage. Still, the lines were even, the depth consistent, and the shape was a smooth circle. And the smile on Bilba’s face made him feel as though he had crafted her a bead of mithril and garnet. Thus began Frerin’s adoption of hobbitish customs into his own culture, a new way of life that he privately dubbed “dwobbit.”

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Four years passed, and while Frerin privately despaired of any rescue, he took each happy moment as it came, and hoarded it well. The Man who had bought them – Frerin refused to call him Master in his head, and only used that title when it was demanded of him – was pleased with Bilba’s skills with plants, and even more pleased with the extra coins that her presence fetched at market. Travelers were taken in by her blonde curls and odd feet and were willing to be talked ‘round to a higher price than Frerin would normally have charged for their slaver’s wares. Womenfolk and traveling dwarrow tended to dote on how small Bilba was, and often lasses commented on the attractive picture that the burly dwarf caring for the Hobbit babe created. Frerin kept Bilba close to him, wary of strangers trying to make off with his wee one.

It was during one of the market days when a ragged, darkly dressed Man approached them. He was weather-worn and bearded, and he regarded the odd duo with wariness. “Master Dwarf,” the man began. “What brings you to this outpost alongside a Halfling babe?”

Frerin remained stoic, though he drew Bilba close to his side. “Not choice, Sir.”

The Man’s eyes widened and his jaw clenched. “You are slaves?” Frerin answered him with a raise of his hand to reveal the shackles at his wrist. Bilba’s were thinner and less cumbersome, thank Mahal, though the weight still cut her forearms if she had to carry large parcels. The man’s face became grim. “Slavery is illegal in Eriador, even in such a place as this. Who keeps you against your will?”

“Big Folk at big house,” Bilba said from her place behind Frerin’s thigh. “Master Garamond lives there, Sir.”

The man then bowed to Bilba, which raised Frerin’s esteem of him. “I am Halbarad, little mistress, and a Ranger of the North. I will see you both free, and aid you to wherever you wish. Please, wait here. I will return shortly.” With a signal of his hands, three other Rangers stepped forth from the crowd. A fourth stayed nearby, young and slim. He smiled kindly at Bilba, dug through his cloak, and produced a bundle of sweetbread.

Bilba giggled and tried to break the sweetbread into three pieces. Her little hands could not quite grip well enough, and when she directed a pout up at Frerin, he easily broke the bread apart for her. Immediately, she pressed a third of the bread against his lips, and giggled when Frerin playfully growled and mouthed at her fingers as if he would eat her hand as well. Still laughing, she presented another piece to the Ranger, who initially shook his head, but changed his mind when Frerin raised a brow and looked between the two with a jerk of his head at Bilba’s frown. With an embarrassed flush, the lad bent down and made a series of soft, pig-like snorts before he nibbled at the food. Bilba’s frown immediately vanished as she squealed at the oinks the lad emitted, and Frerin smiled. He took the last third from her, the largest, per his intent, and held it up for her. Bilba promptly pressed her face against his palm and messily ate the sweetbread through her giggles.

“Thank you,” Frerin said, with a nod to the Ranger. “What do they call you?”

“Estel,” the lad said. “And you, Master Dwarf? Mistress Hobbit?”

“This my Frerin,” Bilba said, crumbs stuck to her cheeks. “Bilba Baggins, at your service,” she announced, and tried to bow like Frerin had taught her.

A commotion began behind them, and Halbarad came storming from the Master’s house, sheathing his sword as he went. The other three Rangers were cleaning off their weapons, and Frerin automatically turned Bilba’s face to his side so she would not see the blood. Halbarad looked grim, but he held out a few bundles to them. Two were Frerin and Bilba’s, from the room they shared, and Frerin was glad to see that his bag of beads and Bilba’s locket were among them. A third bag was filled with supplies, while a bag of coins was pressed into Frerin’s hands. An axe of his own make was also given over, and Halbarad said, “Is there anything else you wish from there, Master Dwarf?”

“Nay,” Frerin said, and bent to pick up Bilba, who obediently settled against his hip. “I presume we will not return?”

“No,” Halbarad said shortly. “Garamond was punished for his ill deeds, as were those that loitered at that… abode. Where will you go to, Master Dwarf?”

“Ered Luin,” Frerin answered. “If that still stands as a Dwarven settlement. I have not heard of my kin for over thirty years, Mister Halbarad.”

“It does,” Halbarad said, and gestured for them to follow him. “We will guide you there, to keep any others from preying on you during your travels.” He led them to where five horses waited, their reins tied to a post. “What of the Hobbit? We could return her to the Shire, where her kin are from.”

Bilba’s arms snaked around Frerin’s neck and tightened. “Nuh-uh. I stay with Frerin.” A scowl twisted her features; a threat of a tantrum brewed in the flush of her cheeks. “Frerin say so.” It was both a statement and a demand, to which Frerin agreed with haste.

“Aye, she stays with me. Her family was killed in an orc raid about four years back. I’ve cared for her since. I’ve claimed her as kin, and I won’t bear to leave her.” He met Halbarad’s eyes, and kept his gaze as he murmured, softer, “I’m all she has, just as she is all I have. I’d lay down my life for her.”

At this, Halbarad nodded and lost a little of the grimness to his features. “I understand. I would not dream of separating the two of you. To Ered Luin, then.”

When Bilba realized they would ride the horses, she burst into frightened tears and clung to Frerin, soaking his neck with her snot and weeping. Horses terrified her; the last time she had ridden a horse, it was when she was taken by the slavers. To compound those fears, two years ago, a slaver had nearly trampled her with his mount, and failed only because Frerin threw himself over Bilba and took a few blows from the horse’s hooves before the slaver lost interest and decided that traumatizing the faunt was punishment enough for her perceived lack of respect. Now, Frerin hushed her gently, and it took the combined efforts of Halbarad, Estel, Frerin, and a particularly patient horse before Bilba calmed and would allow herself to ride with Frerin. Estel rode with Halbarad so that Frerin might stay with the Hobbit, who refused to move more than an arm’s length from the Dwarf. Frerin did not mind, and took reassurance in the weight of his sleepy wee one as they rode hard through the flatlands and mountains. As the scenery changed, Bilba slowly warmed up to Estel and Halbarad, and the two were often bequeathed with flower crowns. Frerin got twice as many, and once, to their collective amusement, he wore five stacked upon his head for a day. His hair grew longer, until he could begin to braid in his family beads. When Bilba’s hair grew even longer, enough to braid, Frerin tried his best to keep her curls and braids manageable. The bead he had gifted to Bilba, to claim her into the line of Durin, was finally tucked neatly behind her ear and he re-did the braid first thing each morning while she was still bleary from sleep.

They arrived at Ered Luin near nightfall in a heavy, humid summer downpour. Bilba was tucked into his side, her curls soaked and her cold little nose pressed against his throat as she snuffled in her sleep. The Rangers were allowed inside after Halbarad explained that he was escorting a newly freed dwarf to the settlement, and their horses were taken to some stables by an awed young dwarf. Frerin adjusted his grip on the still-sleeping Bilba, and Estel peeked over his shoulder to check on her as they walked.

Frerin kept close to the group as he drank in the sounds of Khuzdul and reveled in the sight of beards and familiar clothing. His heart thumped in his chest, and he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He would be safe here, he and Bilba both. As he was lead into a stone room, warmed by a large fire and filled with a large table set with food, he froze to a stop as he recognized the dwarf waiting to greet them.

“Thorin Oakenshield, I present to you,” the dwarf that led them began, but Thorin cut them off.

“Frerin,” he rumbled, and took a half-step forward. “It can’t be…”

“Brother,” Frerin said, his arms going numb, and Estel stepped forward to gently lift Bilba from his arms. She squirmed, but remained asleep, her little mouth forming a half pout even in her dreams. “Thorin, you sweet roll-thieving dwarf, is that you?” His familiar nickname for his brother fell from his lips without thought, and Thorin unleashed a choked, half-laugh, half-sob before he swept across the room and gathered Frerin close to butt their foreheads together. They stayed close, forearms grasped, as Frerin laughed with tears at his eyes. “By Mahal, you are a sight for tired eyes.”

“We thought you dead,” Thorin said. His grip tightened around Frerin’s arms. “You’ve been gone fifty years, nadadith.”

“I was captured,” Frerin replied. “Captured and sold by bandits, kept in some hell-hole by a greedy bastard. Only two months ago, these Rangers stopped through and realized my plight. Mine and Bilba’s,” Frerin said, and he released his brother to turn and reach for his wee one, his heart full and aching fit to burst. “They freed us,” he said as he drew the sleeping child into his arms and settled her cheek back against his shoulder. She hummed a little in her sleep, snuffled, and tightened her grip on Frerin’s tunic. “Halbarad slew the Man who enslaved us, and Estel has helped care for Bilba.”

Thorin approached the child cautiously, his brows furrowed in curiosity. “A Halfling babe?” he asked, and looked to Frerin for confirmation.

“A Hobbit faunt, they would call her,” Halbarad said from where he stood near the fire, warming his hands. He was familiar with the Shirefolk, often patrolling their borders, and knew of their ways. It was Halbarad who told Frerin “Her parents were killed in an orc raid on a caravan, one that travelled from the Shire to Rivendell, from what we’ve pieced together. Her parents hid her, but when bandits picked through the dead, they found her and sold her. Hobbits are a… curiosity.” Halbarad’s mouth twisted in distaste. “Hobbits are peaceful creatures, very vulnerable. I am glad that this little one has such a staunch protector in Frerin.” He nodded to Frerin, who smiled a little in return. “I am glad that you have found your kin here. May I ask that I and my Rangers may rest here for a night, before we leave?”

“They escorted us here,” Frerin murmured in Khuzdul. “They wanted to make sure that we reached Ered Luin safely, without any bandits who might seek to recapture us.”

“Stay as long as you need,” Thorin said in Westron, and he bowed to Halbarad. “You brought my kin home to us, you guarded him, and you have done the Line of Durin a great service.” The Rangers looked surprised at that, and their gazes appraised Frerin with fresh eyes. Frerin rolled his eyes at his brother’s dramatics, though his smile betrayed him.

The door opened with a thump, to which Bilba stirred but did not wake, and to Frerin’s shock, Dis came storming through. She stopped dead at the sight of her older brother, her mouth frozen open. Two young dwarfs came following after her, one as blonde as Frerin and looking to be just shy of exiting his teen years, and the other dark haired like his mother, younger, and still a dwarfling. It took a moment for him to realize that these were his nephews, Fili and Kili, the latter of which was little more than a babe when the battle occurred. Only fair-haired Fili seemed to recognize him, if the widened blue eyes were anything to go by. “Frerin?” Dis asked and took a hesitant step forward.

“Aye, namadith,” Frerin said with a smile. “Back from the dead, freed from bondage, and back in our halls, begging for sweet rolls from our old nadad here.”

“It only happened once,” Thorin muttered as Dis strode forward, her hands fluttering in surprise. She touched his hair, which barely grown to reach his jaw, her eyes sad. She looked at the sleeping Halfling in his arms, and her fingers hovered over the bead that he had woven into her hair.

At Dis’ sharp glance, Frerin shifted the child closer and twisted his torso so Dis could have a better look. “She was sold to the same Men as I, when she was only four. They gave her to me with the command to ‘teach her to behave,’ but I have cared for her like she were my own. Those bastards would have let her die or outright killed her without my intervening, and I’ve claimed her as kin.”

“How old is she now?” Dis asked, barely above a whisper. Her sons crept closer, with Kili gazing at the bare, furry feet with absolute bafflement. Fili’s blue eyes were wide and gentle as he stared solemnly at the sleeping girl.

“She’s nine,” Frerin said, and shifted his grip on her. “She’ll be ten in a month.”

“So young,” Thorin murmured, his brows raising. “Orphaned at four, you said?” Frerin nodded. The motion jostled Bilba enough that she mumbled, scrubbed a fist across her nose, and turned her face into Frerin’s neck with a soft huff. Frerin allowed himself to nuzzle her curls, and smiled when Bilba shifted in her sleep, as if she were trying to creep even closer to Frerin. Through her curls, a pointed ear twitched, and Kili let out a soft ‘aww’ at the sight.

Dis drew herself up tall, her chest expanding with rage, and Frerin nearly grinned at the familiarity of his sister’s wrath. “How dare those honorless dogs harm one so young,” she muttered as she peered closer at the faint scars on Bilba’s wrists. “She’s soaked, and you’re all likely hungry. Let’s wash her up in warm water, brother. I have old clothes of Kili’s that might fit her. Come,” she said, and took him by the elbow and began to lead him through their halls. Fili and Kili trotted after them, Kili asking questions as quickly as his breath would allow, while Fili still stared up at the sleeping Hobbit.

“What is she? Amad, is she a kind of dwarf? Why is she so small? Why are her feet all fuzzy? Did her beard fall from her face and land there?”

“Enough,” Dis said gently as she entered a large bedroom. “Kili, fetch your old winter sleep clothes. Fili, fetch some clothes from Thorin. Your uncle Frerin can’t well walk about Ered Luin naked.” The two lads dashed off to follow her orders, with Fili reluctantly taking his leave of the duo. Dis led them into a bathroom, where a hot bath waited for them.

Frerin gently jostled Bilba awake, and crooned when she started upright and scrubbed at her hazel eyes. A yawn split her face as she gripped at his hair with her free hand and she mumbled, “Where are we?”

“Ered Luin,” he said, and he set her down on the stone floor and set about slipping off her dirty tunic. She did not fuss when he undid her braids, and waited patiently, still sleepy, as he swiftly undressed before he carried her into the bath. She squeaked at the temperature, and splashed at the water a little.

When Dis handed him a bar of soap, Bilba realized they were not alone. She clung to his rough hands but only ducked partially behind him; she feared dwarrow less than menfolk. “Frerin, who that?”

“That’s my namadith, Dis,” Frerin said as he soaped up a rag and began to scrub the squirmy fauntling. She whined when he began to soap up her hair, but he did not pause in his task, unphased by her grumpy complaints. “She lives here, and soon you’ll meet her sons, Fili and Kili. They’re my nephews, and I bet they’d be happy to play with you.” He doused her with a bucket of hot water, washing away the bubbles, and she turned to look between him and Dis with hope.

“Play?” she asked, and began to bounce off Frerin’s thighs when he tried to keep scrubbing at her. “Will they be my friends?” Frerin grunted his assent as he strove to scrub her large feet, which was surprisingly difficult as she kept trying to kick away. “I always wanted friends!”

“I’ll be your friend,” Kili announced as he came in with clothes bundled in his little arms. “I’m Kili. I’m fifty-one years old. I like to play with swords and wrestle and climb trees. One time I climbed the cupboards, but Amad said I can’t do that anymore.”

Bilba nearly surged out of the water at that, but Frerin caught the slippery little child and dragged her back so that he could scrub between her toes. “I’m Bilba,” she said happily. “I’m nine. This is my Frerin.”

Kili frowned in slight confusion. “That’s my uncle Frerin.” The two looked at each other, considering the other’s claims. “We could share him,” Kili suggested, and Bilba nodded enthusiastically.

“I’m not a pet,” Frerin grumbled, before he allowed Dis to pull the faunt from the bath and begin to towel her off. Frerin scrubbed furiously and quickly, ducking under the water a few times before he was sure he was clean. Fili arrived just as Frerin finished, and Frerin dressed quickly in his brother’s clothes. The trousers were a little short at the ankles and the tunic was loose in the shoulders, but it was a blessing to be in his people’s own clothing again. Bilba was swaddled in thick trousers, rolled up three times to keep from tripping her, and a tunic that could have been a dress. Frerin yanked on his boots and scooped up his damp faunt, nuzzling her cheek to get a giggle from her, before he followed Dis to the original rooms where food was laid out.

Fili had yet to speak a word, but from his never-wavering gaze on Bilba, Frerin realized that the lad seemed quite struck by her, whether in fascination or bafflement, he was not sure. He had likely never seen such a small or curly-haired creature, and Bilba settled in between Fili and Frerin for food. He had been unable to break her of their ritual of three bites for her and one for him over their journey, and he doubted she would cease tonight. So he ignored Dis’ soft coos as he allowed Bilba to pressure him with bites of a roll, and made sure Bilba ate her fill. Estel made faces across the table as he ate the rolls, earning himself happy giggles from the faunt and outright laughter from Kili. Fili still stared at the hobbit, and gathered the courage to pass her sweets, which earned him a smile. Fili flushed a brilliant ruby red, and Dis seemed rather amused by this.

“Fili, would you like to say hello to Bilba?” Frerin asked, and his blonde nephew started and finally snapped his attention to him.

“’M Fili,” he mumbled.

“Bilba,” she replied, reaching out to pat at his soft, straight blonde hair. He bore her sticky-handed attention stoically. “You have pretty hair,” Bilba said, and Frerin choked a little on his wine. Thorin raised his brows in surprise, and Dis tried to smother a laugh. “Can I marry you someday?”

Frerin choked again, and Thorin had to thump him on the back, though he did so with a snort. Fili flushed hot under the sudden scrutiny of the hobbit lass and his uncle, while Bilba tilted her head to further consider her proposition. “You gave me sweets, too,” she said thoughtfully. “My Frerin says I’m ickle, so I have to wait until I’m growed. Okay?”

Fili squirmed and looked pleadingly at his mother, who showed no sympathy as she tried to hide her laughter in a bread roll. “I, uh, alright. But only when we’re grown up?”

“But girls are icky, Fee!” Kili protested. “You said so!”

“Bilba’s not icky,” Fili said, though he still flushed. “She’s a little Hob-hobbitling. Little ones can’t be gross, they’re cute, Amad said so.” This was said decisively, importantly, as if these were the most impressive truth he could recite. “So I guess I’ll marry her, cuz she’s little and I don’t want to make her sad.”

Thorin choked with laughter, but Frerin did not thump him. Instead, he was too busy gazing in mixed horror and pride at his nephew (by Mahal, since when was Fili old enough to reason like that, or take on the responsibility of making a wee hobbit lass happy?) while Bilba giggled and blushed in his lap. “Not until you’re a hundred,” he blurted.

“Fre-rin,” Bilba said with a whine, and Fili craned his head back to peer up at him in relief.

“Two hundred,” Frerin said. “Maybe even two hundred and twenty.”

 

 

A month passed, and saw Bilba and Frerin settling well into their new home. Dis hovered over Bilba frequently, always insisting that the little hobbit lass eat more or wear warmer clothing, and while Bilba did not know how to handle this, she still smiled whenever her auntie fussed over her. It was nice, she thought, to have another grown up care for her. Even Nuncle Thorin watched after her, his gimlet gaze sharp.

As her birthday approached, Bilba crept from family member to family member with the upmost stealth a nigh-on-ten-year-old hobbit could manage. From Kili, she begged writing lessons, especially how to write their kin’s names. Thorin helped her craft a wooden practice sword (too big for her, but just the right size for her Fili). Frerin, who knew her too well, was happy to help her make a toy bow and even crafted a dozen practice arrows for her. It was easy to plead with Dis to help her bake pumpkin cookies, and even easier to slip into the garden before dinner to pluck nigh on two dozen daisies.

At dinner, Bilba could hardly eat from excitement. Dis worriedly but subtly checked her for a temperature, and eyed her flushed cheeks with caution. Frerin, however, hummed as he cleared away the last of the dishes and smiled when Bilba called the family back into the dining room, where she pulled a small cloth bag out from behind an armchair. With an air of glee, Bilba pressed a sturdy flower crown to the top of Frerin’s head; he wore it with a wide smile, and everyone politely pretended not to notice when he wiped away tears.

The bow and arrows were presented to Kili (who promptly shot an arrow into the couch, and sulked when it was confiscated immediately after), the sword she pressed into Fili’s hands before she blushed and ran away to her bag again, and Thorin actually smiled when she gave him a bundle of pumpkin cookies. But when Bilba pulled out a scroll she had drawn on for Dis, her auntie scooped her into a hug and terrified her by bursting into happy tears.

On a large piece of parchment, Bilba had painstakingly drawn portraits of their family in charcoal. All had smiles and held hands (at least, that’s what Thorin could guess that they were doing), and above their heads, Bilba had written their names. These she had obviously learned from Kili, as he could never spell Frerin’s name right, and though her writing was shaky and her drawing childish, it was the title bearing “My Family,” that had Dis overwhelmed.

Frerin swiftly rescued her from his sister, and cradled her to his chest so that he could press a kiss to her brow. “Happy birthday, my wee Bilba.”

“It’s your birthday?” Fili repeated, and Thorin dropped a pumpkin cookie. Kili snatched it from the ground and immediately stuffed it into his mouth, but Dis was too aghast at the news that she didn’t even scold him.

Bilba nodded, her curls flying up to hit Frerin in the face, but he bore it well and interrupted his soon-to-be-panicking family. “Hobbits give gifts on their birthdays,” he said. “So on my birthday, I give her presents.”

There was a pause as they absorbed this, one which Kili broke with a loud whine. “But my birthday is ages away!” he shouted. “I want to get Bilba an archery set now!”

Dis was not convinced, and Thorin most certainly did not allow him in the forge to attempt to make Bilba a practice set. Dwalin, however, was able to be persuaded, and soon Bilba’s bow was gifted and then confiscated when she managed to shoot Dis’ favorite armchair.

Chapter Text

As the eldest child at fifty-six, Fili knew he has to watch out for the younger ones. He had been chasing after Kili like a hawk the moment his baby brother could toddle off down the halls, and the moment Bilba had been carried into their home (by his uncle, his uncle Frerin, who he thought was dead for years, Amad had cried for him for so long), Fili knew that she was just as precious to care for as his brother. Though he would never, ever admit this to Kili – he actually enjoyed watching after Bilba, more so than guarding Kili. She listened to him like he spun gold from his lips, she followed him like his footsteps brought gems, and she always shared her sweets with him. Unlike Kili, she wasn’t permanently sticky for Mahal-knows-what reasons. And she was so small, so delicate, so bright, that Fili could not help but guard her fiercely.

Today was his first day watching over the two on his own, and today was also the day that Bilba and Kili had begged and pleaded with him to let them visit Oin in his gardens where he grew his herbs for healing. Under the combined pleading eyes of Kili and Bilba, Fili had crumbled and taken them to the gardens, where he found Oin lecturing young Gimli (who was a grumbly dwarfling between Bilba and Kili’s age) on different herbs.

“Master Oin,” Fili began with a respectful bow and tug at Bilba and Kili’s hands to get them to follow his lead. “Kili and Bilba wanted to see your gardens. I hope we are not intruding.”

“Not at all!” shouted Oin, and Bilba ducked behind Fili’s leg with a giggle. “This is the wee hobbit that Frerin brought, eh?”

Fili nudged Bilba forward, and she bobbed a little curtsey before she hid again. “Bilba Baggins, at your service,” she called from her spot behind Fili’s waist.

“Well, little mistress, you are welcome to my garden. Do you know what dandelions look like?” Bilba peeked her head around to nod, and Oin beamed at her. “Good lass. Think you can help Gimli and Kili find them and pull them up? If you fill this bucket, you three can earn some sweets.” Immediately, the three little ones scrambled to grab the pro-offered bucket and to race through the garden, where Bilba’s high, sweet voice directed the two lads over which plant to pluck.

With a groan and a creak of his joints, Oin stood and nodded at Fili. “Would you be a good lad and run a note to Gloin for me? I’ll keep an eye on the wee badgers.” Fili hesitated before he nodded; Gimli was Oin’s nephew: surely Oin knew how to care for little ones. Oin handed Fili a parchment, and Fili raced off to complete the errand.

He found Gloin tucked away at his business, poring over books and correcting numbers in the ledgers as he went. For his troubles, Fili received a headbutt and a coin (which Fili planned to use to buy Kili and Bilba some fruit, since Bilba loved fruits and Kili loved anything sweet), and Fili was off again. He stopped by the market to barter for two plums, carefully wrapped them in his trouser pockets, and took off again to meet with Oin. He had been gone just shy of three quarters of an hour, of this he was sure, and as such, he was struck dumb at the sight that greeted him.

Kili had dug a small pit into the garden, his head barely clearing the edge of his hole, wide enough that it could easily house two dwarflings. Gimli squatted at the edge of the hole, bucket in hand, as he poured in water, while Bilba splashed through the muddy waters and sang happily to herself. There were numerous round piles of mud, carefully made and topped with grass and bits of dandelion leaves, that surrounded the hole, and Bilba was adding another to their numbers. Her tiny hands patted away at the mud as she paused in her song to explain to Gimli that this mud pie ought to have more dandelion leaves.

Oin – curse him – was doubled over with laughter as he watched the proceedings. “What,” Fili began as he approached, eyes wide with horror. “What is going on?”

“Fee!” Kili cheered, and he clambered out of the hole. He was nearly unrecognizable from the mud coating his face and chest to the murky water that dripped from his boots. “Do you like our pond?”

“Fee! Fee!” Bilba squealed as she struggled to climb out of the hole, where her curls barely brushed the top. “Fee, I made mud pies! Can we give ‘em to the elves? Master Oin said that elves eat leaves and weeds and Kili said that they ate mud, so I made pies for them! Gimli helped too!”

Automatically, Fili went to pluck Bilbo from the small hole after she failed to clamber out on her own, the hole which looked less like a pond and more like a mud pit. Bilba was filthy, her curls slicked down flat and stiffened by the slowly drying mud caked on her head, and she was covered in muck from ears to her fuzzy little feet. “Why… why did you make a pond?” he asked, his voice faint.

“Cuz Master Oin said we could help him dig a hole for a plant, but we made it too big, and he said it was more of a pond than a plant-home, so Gimli got some water and we started to fill it up!” Kili babbled to him.

“When are the fish gonna be there, Fili?” Bilba asked him, her little hands staining his trousers with mud as she clutched at his knees. “I don’t know when they’ll sprout and Master Oin said he didn’t know when they’d be ready to catch either.”

“Fish don’t grow like plants,” Fili answered absently, and rubbed a thumb across her forehead in an attempt to clean her up. When he came away with a muddy digit and Bilba’s face remained as dirty as before, Fili quietly resigned himself to the fact that really, Amad and Uncle Frerin were going to murder him. “We should get back.”

“But I wanna stay and play!” Kili protested.

“Yeah! And Nuncle Thorin will make us take a bath!” Bilba added.

Fili thought hard for a moment, his hands falling to his thighs, when he brushed against his pockets and an idea came to him. “I bought plums for you two,” he said, and their little faces perked up immediately. “But we have to go wash our hands first before you can eat them. Amad’s rules,” he reminded them, and the two exchanged thoughtful glances before they nodded in agreement. Dis’ rules were absolute; all the children agreed that she was not to be trifled with. Frerin could be worn down with wide eyes and wobbly lips, while Thorin could be defeated with tears, but nothing had ever changed Dis’ mind. She was the boss, they agreed, and even Dwalin said so. If Dwalin said so, it had to be true. Everyone knew that guards did not tell fibs.

Gingerly, Fili took their hands and bowed a short apology to Oin, who was still chuckling, and lead his squelchy, mud-dripping, filthy little ones home. The two chattered at him about how wonderful their pond was, that maybe they could fish in it later, wouldn’t that be neat, and maybe if they caught a big fish, they could ride it and name it Orville (where they got that name, only Mahal knows), and Fili listened in stunned silence as they approached his doom.

They found Dwalin on the steps to their house, and he froze at the sight of them, before he shook his head and told them to wait outside. His bald head was steadily turning from pink to red as he clambered into the house and shut the door behind him. Shouts could be heard, muffled by the door, which only increased Fili’s fear. Kili attempted to sneak his hands into Fili’s pockets to find the plums, while Bilba hummed and rocked on her sizeable feet.

When the door opened to reveal not only Amad, but both his uncles, Fili resigned himself to a slow death. Uncle Thorin was bright pink and covered his mouth, while Frerin gaped at the sight and Amad sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Do I want to know?” Dis finally asked.

“I dug a pond for Oin!” Kili shouted. “And Bilba made mud pies to give to elves.”

“I put dandelion leaves on them,” Bilba added with a proud smile. “Gimli said they ate weeds, so I added some grass, too.”

“Gimli thought we could grow some fish in the pond, but Oin didn’t know when they’d be ready, and Fee said that fish don’t grow like plants do, so I don’t know how we’ll go fishing there. But Bilba and I are gonna catch a fish!” Bilba nodded in agreement to Kili’s statement, and Fili just stood there, shoulders drooped from defeat.

“Oin asked me to run a parchment to Gloin,” he said as he stared at his boots. “And Gloin gave me a coin for my help, so I stopped by the market to buy them plums, and found them like this.” He paused, before he mumbled, “I wasn’t even gone for an hour.”

“Fee says we have to wash our hands before we can eat the plums,” Bilba said. “Auntie’s rules.”

Thorin and Dwalin ducked further back into the house as wheezing sounds erupted from their tightly pressed lips, presumably to find weapons to skin Fili with, and Frerin stepped forward to scoop up his muddy hobbit babe and equally messy nephew. “You’re both getting a thorough bath, and that’s that.”

He turned to carry the complaining little ones into the house, and Dis approached Fili and cupped his chin so he had to look up at her. There was a smile, half-hidden by her beard, and she pressed a kiss against his forehead. “You did your best, Fili. Go on, go tell Dwalin all about this mess. I’ll have Thorin start the bath. Make sure to ask Dwalin about the time he and Thorin went exploring through the mines.”

“I’m not dead?” Fili blurted.

“No, my sweet, you are not dead,” Dis said and she pressed another kiss to her son’s forehead. “Though Oin might be, if he let them dig a pond in his garden. Honestly, what was he thinking?”

“They said that he asked them to dig a hole for some new plants,” Fili said as he entered their home. “But they made it too big and decided to make a pond of it instead.”

“Oh, Oin’s a dead dwarf walking. Luckily, Gloin will likely murder him if Gimli is just as filthy,” Dis said. “You, however, are simply a dwarf who needs to change his muddy trousers.”

“Yes, Amad,” Fili said.

Later, he found out that Thorin and Dwalin once explored a coal mine without telling their parents, and came back so soot-stained that their skin was gray for weeks, not for a lack of scrubbing from their mother. And Frerin laughed and told Fili about the time he fell in a vat of berry juice and was pink for three days, while Kili whined from all the scrubbing he was getting and Bilba happily played with her bath toys and the bubbles. Once they were clean, Bilba happily ate her plum (aside from the bites she offered Frerin and Fili), and even Kili was content to devour his fruit.

Maybe Fili wasn’t such a terrible minder after all.

 

 

Frerin woke to a racket. The space beside him on the bed, usually where Bilba slept in the crook of his arm, was empty. He heard giggling in the hallway, and he would bet his beads that Bilba and his nephews were involved. His internal time-keeping told him that it was early morning, not long after dawn. Six months in Ered Luin lulled his sense of alarm upon waking; Frerin half-considered going back to sleep. There was a squeak and a series of small thumps that sounded like the boots in the hall being knocked over. Small feet pattered rapidly past his door, and he heard Kili hiss: “Don’t let it get away!”

Well. There was no going back to bed after that.

Frerin heaved himself from bed, not bothering to drag on a tunic. Bare-chested, he pulled open his bedroom door only to have Kili come tumbling in. Something whizzed by his sock-clad feet, and Bilba went scrambling over Kili’s shoulders, ducked between Frerin’s legs, and came romping into his room. Fili sprinted after them, paused at the sight of his half-asleep uncle, and bent to haul Kili up by his armpits. Once on his feet, Kili ran after Bilba, who was burrowing under Frerin’s bed, her fuzzy feet poking out.

“What,” Frerin asked, “Is going on?”

Bilba let out a muffled cry of triumph, her feet waggling, and he heard her muffled call for Kili to pull her out. With a grin, Kili grabbed her at the ankles and threw his weight backwards, and the faunt came sliding out from under his bed, something clasped firmly in her hands. She and Kili beamed at each other, but froze when Frerin squatted beside them.

“Whatcha got there?”

Bilba smiled, and opened her hands. A fat frog sat on her palms, and Frerin looked at the proud faces of the children. Behind him, Fili hovered awkwardly. “Bilba heard it, and Kee and I helped her go find it. It’s really fast.”

“And it jumps really,” Kili began, and then nearly fell backwards when the frog leapt onto Bilba’s head and disappeared in her curls. Bilba squealed and flailed her little hands in the air. “Really high,” Kili finished. He reached forward to grab at the frog, only to have it jump onto his head. Kili let out a squawk. Bilba crept forward to catch it, her tongue peeking out in concentration, and the frog regarded her for a moment. Just as Bilba came within a hand span of the frog, it shifted, and its tongue shot out and struck her right between the eyes. It stuck there for a moment, some slimy saliva dripping down her nose, and Bilba let out a loud shriek as she threw herself backwards. Kili started to laugh as the frog leapt off his head, bounced off Frerin, and dove once more under the bed. Frerin could hardly contain his laughter as he watched Bilba scrub furiously at her forehead.

“I don’t like that frog,” Bilba said with a pout. A faint ribbit could be heard from the vicinity of the window, and Bilba perked up. “Come on, Kili, let’s go find another one!”

Before Frerin could open his mouth, the two were off, and Fili followed after them, dutiful as ever.

Chapter Text

Bilba was lost. Frerin had told her to wait until after lunch to go to the newly opened markets, but she had been beside herself with curiosity. He had not allowed her to go yesterday, on the first day, because he worried that she might get stepped on, especially her bare feet. Bilba had bristled at the delay, pouting because Fili and Kili had gone together when she was in lessons, and they were just fine. So when Frerin had been distracted by helping Thorin sort through orders for the forge, when Fili and Kili were in lessons with Auntie, Bilba snuck out through one of the windows in the kitchen, squirmed out over the ledge, and fell face first into the hedge. It took her nearly five minutes to crawl her way out of the bushes, and her unexpected weight left the bushes lumpy and bedraggled. That should have been her first clue that this idea was truly terrible.

Bilba ignored that inkling of realization, brushed off her dress, completely missed the leaves in her hair, and trotted off down to the market. She wanted to see the sweets that Kili had whispered to her about at bedtime, and she especially wanted to find the wooden goat carving that Fili told her about over dinner. Frerin had laughed at that, and said something about how Dain would like it. She didn’t know who Dain was, but Frerin seemed to like the idea of the goat, so Bilba wanted to get it for him. In her pocket, she even had a silver coin and three coppers; her saved allowance from whenever Dis and Frerin paid her for a job well done – like getting praise from Balin from her lessons, or helping clean the dishes, or telling Dis the truth about who broke the vase (Bilba had thrown the ball but Kili had kicked it and both had hid under her bed to avoid getting in trouble), or even helping Thorin around the forge (though Dwalin said that she stayed out of the way, which was still a good thing, because little hobbits should not try to touch hot metals, or handle the coins with customers, or consider trades of three sweets and a plum for a pretty practice sword, even if it was for Gimli). Today, Bilba avoided the forge, where she knew Dwalin would be, and followed the sounds of a crowd. Frerin had taught her Khuzdul for years, so she eavesdropped as best as she could.

Initially, Bilba squirmed through the crowd, entirely caught up in the excitement of the marketplace. The first time she was bumped, she thought little of it; she was small, after all, and Dwalin had taught her how to roll after being knocked over. Well, he had started that lesson, until she scraped her knee and started to cry and then Frerin scooped her up, bandaged her knee and refused to let her out of his sight for the rest of the day. Thorin wouldn’t explain what Dwalin meant by calling Frerin mother hen, but Dis said that it was a fair statement, so Bilba accepted it. Auntie was the boss. She brushed off her green dress and tried to duck around two large dwarrow so she could peek at some silks. Immediately, she was knocked flat on her rump. She was slower to pick herself up this time, and had to roll entirely out of the way to avoid her toes and fingers being trodden on. Alarm began to rise through her. She looked for a break in the crowd, a calmer spot, and she caught sight of a small alleyway. Buffeted and knocked about, Bilbo took a few knees to her shoulders; Frerin was right, she was too tiny to be here on her own.

When she collapsed into the small space brought by the alleyway, Bilba looked miserably down at herself. Her green dress – her tenth birthday present from Dis’ birthday, however old Auntie was – was dusty, her toes were red from being stubbed and trodden on, and her knee had a scrape that bled sluggishly. Even her fingers smarted. When she tried to cheer herself up with the thought of waiting for the crowds to abate, for her to take the first chance to run home, she was struck with a hollow realization: she had no idea where she was.

She turned in little circles, trying to catch sight of anything familiar, but nothing looked right. The stones seemed darker, and the dwarrow around her seemed impossibly tall, towering above her like the Big Folk had. The noise was too loud, like it had been in the settlement, and Bilba could not recognize a single face. Tears burned in her eyes, her breath hitched in her throat, and Frerin wasn’t there. Frerin was not there to pick her up, to dust her off, to soothe her scraped knee, to save her from the Big Folk. Bilba did not realize that she was crying until a low, masculine voice sounded behind her.

“What’s all this, then?”

Bilba turned. A red-haired dwarrow with odd, star-shaped hair strode from the shadows and stooped down to eye level. Though his hair was strange, she did not feel frightened of the dwarf, but Frerin had always told her not to speak to strangers, dwarrow or Big Folk or otherwise. She especially was not to talk to elves, since the poncy weed-eaters might make off with her, given how small she was. (He refused to elaborate on what poncy weed-eaters were, and every time she tried to ask Dis or Thorin or even Dwalin, all she got were giggles. Adults. ). She shuffled in place, torn as for what to do. “’M lost,” she finally mumbled.

“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” The dwarf stood and held out a hand to her. “A friend of mine has a toy stall. May I escort you there, little mistress?”

Bilba chewed her lip. “I’m not supposed to go with strangers.” She mulled this over and looked down at her achy toes, and thought that it would be nice to at least know where she was. “I’m Bilba.”

“Nori,” the dwarf offered.

Bilba beamed up at him. “Now we’re not strangers anymore.” She held up her arms, and after a moment’s pause, the dwarf stooped down to pick her up. Bilba wondered if he had children, because he held her on his hip, just like her Frerin did. So she asked him: “How come you know how to carry me? Do you have babies? Or lotsa siblings? Or do you carry lots of little baby dwarfses? Frerin carries me good, and you do too. Not like Thorin.” She leaned close to whisper, “One time, he dropped me, but he gave me a sweet and made me promise not to tell Frerin. It didn’t hurt that much, so I didn’t say anything. You aren’t gonna drop me, are you?”

“Curious little pebble, aren’t you?” The dwarf slipped easily through the crowds, and Bilba marveled at how no one even bumped him, not even a little. When she told him that, he smiled broadly at her.

“Bofur,” the dwarf carrying her called, and she caught sight of a stall decorated with little wooden carvings where a dwarf with a funny looking hat fiddled with his wares. The dwarf in question looked up with a smile, which turned into a look of befuddlement when Bilba was transferred to his arms. Dwarf and hobbit regarded each other for a moment, before Bofur offered her a smile and a wink. “I found myself a lost wee one,” Nori said.

“Well now! That’s a right pickle to be in.” The dwarf said as he bounced Bilba in his arms. “Hello there, lovely little lass. My name is Bofur, at your service.”

“Bilba,” she said. She leaned back to look at his hat. “I like your hat. It looks funny.” Behind him, another dwarf lumbered forward. There was an axe sticking out of his head. Bilba could not look away from the axe as he grumbled something in ancient Khuzdul, something she did not understand. “Why is there an axe in your head? Does it hurt? Are you okay?”

The large dwarf stopped to peer down at her, and signed in Inglishmek that she was sweet, that his head did not hurt.

“Oh, good. When my head hurts, I cry. My Frerin always gets me tea and kisses my ouchies.” She paused, and considered the axe-dwarf. Both he and the hatted dwarf seemed stunned, but she liked them so far, and they were even letting her sit on their laps, so she signed, clumsily, for him to draw closer. The dwarf did, and Bilba beckoned for him to bend down. Once within reach, she planted a kiss on his forehead and gently patted the area. “There we go,” she said with a smile, which the dwarf returned with sincerity. “My Frerin says that’ll fix anything.”

“Your Frerin?” Bofur asked.

“Uh-huh,” Bilba said. “My Frerin. He’s not my Adad, or my Iruk’adad, but sometimes others call him my Iruk’adad, cuz Frerin always takes care of me. But I can’t call him iruk’adad, because then Fili and I can’t get married if we are cousins. But my Frerin says that I can’t get married anyways until I’m two-hundred and twelve, and that’s forever away. So I think I can call him whatever I want, until I get married, because that’s what growed up folk do. Don’t you think?”

Bofur and the axe-dwarf blinked, their gazes trailing from Bilba to the star-haired Nori, who was shaking, for some odd reason, with a strange coughing sound. It sounded like the noise Dwalin made whenever she asked him what ‘tree-shagger’ meant. “I think we ought to find your Frerin, because he’s likely to be worried out of his mind, wee Bilba. Where might we find him?”

“Umm….” Bilba swung her feet as she thought. “Well, normally my Frerin would be at the forge with Nuncle Thorin and Mister Dwalin. But he’s probably really, really mad. And worried. So I don’t know. Maybe he’s looking for me.”

“Frerin, as in brother to Thorin Oakenshield?” Bofur asked.

Bilba nodded. “And Dis. She’s Fili’s Amad. And Kili’s Amad. But sometimes Thorin says that Kili was raised by wolves, so I don’t know how she’s his Amad, then.” Behind her, the axe-dwarf rumbled a laugh. “Oh! I didn’t ask your name! I’m Bilba Baggins, wee one of Frerin, at your service.” She held out her hand for him to shake.

His hand was giant, and her whole, stretched out hand did not even cover his palm. “Bifur,” he said, his voice low and rasping.

Bilba beamed at him as Bofur said to the star-dwarf, “Well, let’s get you to your kin, wee one. Nori, I’m trusting you—don’t make me complain at Dori again—Would you mind watching the stall while Bifur and I go look for ‘her Frerin?’”

Nori nodded and seated himself comfortably in Bofur’s vacated chair. A small dagger found its way into his hand as he began to pick at his nails. “One of you should check near the forge, while the other checks her house. Surely someone in those areas will know her.”

Bofur nodded, and Bilba reached out for Bifur to carry her. His huge hands easily scooped her up and settled her on his shoulders, where she carefully rested her hands against his stripey hair. They made their way through the crowd, with Bifur easily clearing the way with his bulk. Behind her, Bofur chattered away, telling her nonsense stories about his brother Bombur, who was enormously fat and a very good cook, and Bilba wanted to meet anyone who could make pies. She had not eaten a pie since her Mama and Papa died, because Papa had always cooked and then Menfolk did not make pies. Bilba was very sure that the Big Folk were bad cooks, because why else would they give her and her Frerin very little food? At least, that’s what she thought, and it explained why she and Frerin always had to do all the work. When she told Bofur that, he swore up and down that he would find her a pie someday, she could bet his hat on that. Why she would bet his hat, she was not sure, since she usually bet her sweets with Kili. She lost, quite frequently, but Fili always snuck her some of his own, anyways.

Fili was nice like that, and that’s why she wanted to marry him.

Bofur loped off to the forges, with a promise to meet up at the entrance to the marketplace if he did not find anyone who knew Bilba, and Bifur followed Bilba’s cheerfully guessed directions, stories about different places she knew, and pointed fingers. Frerin always told her not to point at people, but he never said anything about pointing which way to go, and if people happened to be standing there, well, it wasn’t completely on purpose.

“Bilba!”

Her name echoed down the street, and Bifur swung around, mindful of the hobbit child on his shoulders. Frerin was running down the street, Thorin hot on his heels, and Bofur puffing along in the distance, red-faced and wheezing. Bifur lifted her up, over his head, and set her on her fuzzy little feet. She darted forward, and Frerin dropped to his knees and clutched her to him in a desperate embrace. Face burrowed into his neck, Bilba breathed in the familiar scent of her Frerin: leather, metals, and pipe smoke. Large hands gently tugged her away, and Frerin looked over her, eyes taking note of the leaves in her curls, the dirt on her skirts, and the redness of her toes and her skinned knee.

“Where have you been?” Frerin asked, his eyes bright and lips drawn into a thin, tense line. Bilba dropped her head, ashamed, but Frerin tipped her chin up again to meet her eyes. “I’ve been worried sick.”

“’M sorry,” Bilba said, and tears welled in her eyes. “I wanted to see what the market looked like, and I wanted to get you the goat thing that Fili told you about, the one that you thought was funny, but I wanted it to be a surprise. So I sneaked out through a window in the kitchen so you wouldn’t know. But then I got lost and I kept getting knocked over. And then someone found me and took me to Mister Bofur and Mister Bifur and they said they’d help me find you.” Her head dropped down again, and Frerin hugged her close.

“Oh, little pebble,” Frerin said, his face pressed into her hair. “My sweet faunt. Next time, do not sneak out like that. Ask Thorin, or Dis, or even Mister Dwalin. They’d be happy to take you if you wanted to surprise me. But don’t go off on your own, never again, do you hear me?” He pulled back to look her firmly in the eyes. “I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you. Understand?”

Bilba nodded, and squirmed forward so she could nestle against Frerin. She wanted to be close to him, to absorb his warmth, his love.

A hand descended and stroked gently through her curls. Bilba peeped out from the folds of Frerin’s shirt, and saw Thorin looking down on her, the normally hard line of his mouth gentling into a half-smile. She squirmed away a little so she could turn and face Bifur. “Thanks for carrying me, Mister Bifur. I liked being tall.”

Frerin chuckled at that, his laughter trembling her little frame. Bifur bowed his head and said something in old Khuzdul, but his hands traced out that he was happy to help, and to thank her for fixing his head.

“Fixing his head?” Thorin asked as he looked down at Bilba for confirmation.

Bilba nodded enthusiastically, her fat blonde curls bouncing. “Uh-huh. He has an ouch on his head, so I gave it a kiss. Frerin says that kisses fix everything, right Frerin? Mister Bifur said it doesn’t hurt, but it kinda looks like it hurts, so I wanted to make sure. He’s nice. And tall.”

Frerin’s arms tightened around her, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead. He held her close, his nose pressed to her curls, and his shoulder briefly shook. Bilba squirmed a little when he squeezed her too tightly. “You are a sweet little pebble,” Frerin said finally. “But you have leaves in your hair. Let’s get you home and cleaned up, hmm?”

Bilba blushed as she tried to swipe her fingers through her hair, only to tangle it worse. Frerin scooped her up, and paused so that he could bow deeply to Bifur, swinging Bilba down and up with him, which caused her to giggle. Thorin bowed as well, and stepped forward to clasp Bifur’s shoulder. “Thank you,” Thorin said. “Thank you for bringing her back to us. We would be honored if you and your kin join us for dinner this evening, so that we might thank you for caring for our faunt.”

Bifur bowed, and growled out something low in old Khuzdul, and Bilba burrowed her face against Frerin’s cheek before she pressed a kiss to the tip of his nose. His answering smile was brilliant as he shifted her so one hand held her and the other hand reached up to pluck a leaf from her hair. “How, in the name of Mahal, did you get leaves in your hair?”

“When I climbed out the big kitchen window.”

“The one above the cupboards?” Frerin stared at her in disbelief, his hand frozen in her curls. Bilba nodded. “How – how did you get up there and out without hurting yourself?”

“I popped out of the window and fell in the bush. It’s kind of squished now.”

Frerin let out a small groan. “No more jumping out of windows, or else I’ll bolt them all shut, you naughty little flint.”

“No,” Bilba whined. “You can’t! How else will I catch my frogs?”

 

Directions given and dinner hot on the table, Bilba bounced in her seat on the couch as she waited for her new friends to arrive. When three knocks to the door sounded, Bilba jumped up from the couch and raced to the door, neck and neck with Kili and Fili. Fili got there first and hauled the door open, Kili skidded to a halt at the sight of Bifur, and Bilba squealed and ran up to him, her little arms wrapped around his shin as she hugged his leg as tightly as she could.

“Fee! Kee! This is Mister Bifur, and that’s Mister Bofur! They’re my new friends!” Bilba said. “What’s that, Mister Bofur?”

Bofur squatted down to her eye level, and presented her with a peek at the covered pie. “Well now, I promised you a pie now, didn’t I? I went to visit me wee brother, Bombur, and he was happy to oblige. Do you like blackberry pie, little lady?”

Bilba started to bounce in excitement. Kili jostled her to the side, trying to get a peek at the pie as well. “I love blackberry pie! Mama made it once, I think, I dunno.”

“I like pie,” Kili said, his eyes wide and fixated on the pie. “Can I have a slice, Bilba? Mister Bofur? Please?”

“Only after dinner,” Dis said from behind them. “Welcome to our home. Please, come in. Boys, out of their way, make room. Kili, if you try to sneak that pie, Mahal help me, I will make sure you do not get a slice ever.”

As Bifur entered, he gestured for Bilba to come close. With a wink, he slyly presented her with a carved wooden goat. It had beautiful, spiraling horns, and Bilba gaped up at Bifur in awe. Then she squealed out a “Thank you,” threw another hug around his legs, and darted out and shouted “Frerin! Frerin, look what Mister Bifur gave me!” Frerin obediently bent down to look, and Bilba shoved it in his hands. “See, see, I wanted to give you a little goat! Look!”

Chapter Text

Bilba skipped down the street, her small wooden frog – courtesy of Bofur – clasped in her hand as her bare feet slapped against the stone alleys that led from the outdoor gardens to inside the mountains. Dirt and soil stained her fingertips and toes from her plant work, but Bilba was satisfied with the tomato plants she had been nurturing on the slopes of the Blue Mountains. There were little green fruits that already began to bear, shiny and the size of her nails, and Bilba thought to herself that within a month or two, they could have tomatoes to add to their meals. Bilba skipped through her favorite shortcut, an alleyway that circumvented the markets and avoided the crowds, just as she did every time she returned from her gardens. Frerin would be so happy, Bilba thought, and maybe she could convince Kili to try one.

Arms circled her shoulders and arms, a rag shoved in her mouth, and a bag descended over her head. Her wooden frog dropped to the street with a clunk, unheard as dwarrow cursed and tied her wrists together. Bilba hardly had a chance to scream through the gag before a sharp blow came to the side of her head, and Bilba knew nothing more.

 

An hour later, Frerin strode through Ered Luin, a frown fixed on his features. Bilba was never late for tea, never mind late for any meal, and when she was a half hour late, he sent out word to his friends to search for her. Bofur and Bifur had offered to search near the mines, Thorin and Dwalin were searching near the library while Frerin and Fili were returning from the gardens and searching ever inward.

As they drew close to the markets, Fili nudged his uncle and jerked his head towards an alleyway. “She normally takes a short cut through here, I think. Let’s check, just in case.”

Frerin nodded and paced, shoulder-to-shoulder, with his nephew through the alleyway. Though not yet an adult, Fili was nearly of age and was beside himself with worry, so Frerin had accepted the lad’s offer to help find Bilba.

Frerin’s boot struck something small, and from the clatter it made, it sounded wooden. Fili bent to see what it was, and froze when he found it. “What is it?” Frerin asked, and wordless, Fili turned wide, frightened eyes to him and held up his hand. Bilba’s little wooden frog sat on his palm. It was a birthday gift from Bofur, a joke concerning her habit of catching and hiding frogs in the boots of guests. Bilba adored the little figurine, and it rarely left her side. She even slept with it held fast in her little hands. For it to be lying here, abandoned in an alley… Frerin’s blood pounded in his ears, the beat of his heart echoing the name of his wee one: Bil-ba, Bil-ba, Bil-ba.

“We need the others,” Frerin said. His voice sounded alien to his own ears, flat and dull. “And I need my axe.”

 

 

Soon enough, the others joined them to search through the alley for any clues. Fili had been sent home, ordered to stay with his brother, and Bombur and Oin had volunteered to stay with the lads. Gloin and Dis had joined their search, and oddly enough, Bofur brought a red-haired dwarf with three bouffant domes to his elaborate braids, with only an explanation that this dwarf had stumbled across Bilba once before, maybe he could find her again.

Dwalin sized up said dwarf with the well-practiced eye of a guardsman, but this dwarf – Nori, he called himself – bore the discerning glares with patience before he slipped off down the streets with a practiced ease of blending into shadows. “He’s not got the cleanest of contacts,” Bofur admitted, arms folded across his chest. “But he don’t deal with those who’d lay harm to a child.” There was a pause, before Bofur admitted, “Though he might have contacts that might deal with scum like that, so I’ll see what he can shake loose. Thought it’d help to have someone who’s, er, in the know to help, y’know?”

And Frerin did know. Because Frerin was willing to take any help he could in order to find his wee one, and then he would slowly rip apart anyone that had caused her discomfort. And if she’d been hurt… Mahal have mercy on those souls, because Frerin would certainly not.

Their inspection of the alleyway turned up signs of a struggle, to judge from the boot prints and brief barefoot marks that scuffled the pebbles on the alley floor. Only Thorin’s steady hand on his shoulder prevented Frerin from ripping the buildings apart, stone by stone, to find Bilba.

Nori appeared at his elbow, quiet as spider, and held up a scrap of dark green cloth. It was torn and dirtied, but Frerin immediately recognized it as being part of Bilba’s tunic. He snatched the fragment from Nori and clutched it tightly in his hand, eyes half-closed and red-rimmed, and the dwarf allowed him a moment to attempt to calm himself.

“Found that a few streets over,” Nori said. “Heard some rumors about some damned Firebeards pissing about the bars, muttering about Halflings flaunting about with imposters of royalty.” Frerin stiffened, and Thorin’s grip on his shoulder tightened. “Most ignored ‘em or kicked them out, but I heard that they were holed up at the edge of town, near the Thieves’ Entrance. That’s our best bet of who took your wee one.”

“Lead us there,” Frerin said, and gripped the scrap of cloth tighter. Dis unsheathed her own battle-axe, and Nori nodded before he began to lead them through the city.

 

 

Kili had worn himself out with his frantic pacing half an hour ago. He had settled into the couch, Oin at his side, and stared blankly into the fireplace. Kili’s dark hair was mussed; his fingers combed through it anxiously every few minutes, hands shaking, from weariness or fear, Fili could not tell.

Fili still thrummed with a painful, tight energy. His chest felt as though there were a steadily tightening spool of wire around his lungs, and his heart beat felt amplified by the metallic threads of worry that wove through his ribs. He sat rarely, muscles twitching in protest, often jumping up to check the windows, the doors, and the neatness of the folded blankets across the couch. He swept the floors (Bilba always hated getting her feet dirty inside the house), Fili dusted the shelves (always his chore, since dust made Bilba sneeze, and even though her sneezes sounded like a kitten’s, even Amad couldn’t bear to force Bilba to complete that chore), and Fili scrubbed the counters until they shone.

The dishes, however, remained untouched. They sat in the sink, rinsed and scrubbed, damp and waiting to be dried off and put away. Drying dishes was Bilba’s nightly chore, after which Kili would put them away.

But Bilba was not here, and though Fili’s hands itched with the need to do something, he could not find the will to take the towel and dry the dishes.

He must have stood in the doorway to the kitchen, stock-still, for at least ten minutes. A large, meaty hand descended on his shoulder; the touch deceptively gentle and immensely soothing. “She’ll be back,” Bombur murmured. “She’ll be alright.”

Fili found that words had died somewhere in this throat, so he nodded once, twice. Bombur took his shoulders and guided him into the main room. With a gentle push, Fili was seated next to Kili, who immediately curled into him, just like he had done when they were little more than babes and when Kili had dreamt poorly. His arms automatically tightened around his brother, and Bombur settled a blanket around them.

“She’ll be back,” Fili repeated to Kili, who only sniffled and buried his face into his older brother’s shoulder. “You’ll see.”

 

 

Bilba woke, though she was unsure of where or when, from the bag over her head. Her temple ached fiercely, and her wrists and feet were sore from where they’d been bound by rough ropes. She laid still, feigning unconsciousness, as she drank in her surroundings. On waking, lie still, listen, and survive; Frerin’s mantra from their years at the Big folk House rose in her mind. She had not had to use these lessons in years, but she found that she slipped back into them like an old tunic: surprised that it still fit, but uncomfortable at the dirty feeling it left her with.

Khuzdul was spoken around her; the dialect was enough that she was unfamiliar with some phrases, but Bilba understood most of what was being said. The voices were deep, harshly accented, and Bilba heard references to the elf-eared brat and what to do with her. She listened harder; there were six, maybe seven dwarrow in the room that she could hear. From the reverberations and echoes, Bilba guessed that she was in a corner of some sort, and she could hear the steady sound of a whetstone being dragged across a blade nearby.

“... I say we cut her unnatural ears off and leave them for the Longbeards to find,” one dwarf said, and Bilba forcibly restrained a shudder at the malice in his voice.

“Why leave only the ears? Why not shear her head and leave the braids for them to find. She brings an imposter into Ered Luin!”

“Or mangle her, letting it live if the little grub can speak truth,” another suggested, and Bilba could not quite stifle a hitch in her breathing.

The sound of the whetstone stopped, and nearby, boots stomped even closer before a rough hand grabbed her by the feet and dragged her, closer to the voices that increased in volume. Her feet were released, only for her to be lifted by the wrists and tossed onto something flat and wooden. “It’s awake,” a voice rumbled nearby.

A rustle, and the bag was ripped off Bilba’s head. She squinted against the sudden brightness of the lamp, and found herself staring up at ten dwarrow with fiery beards and hatred burning in their eyes. Bilba held very still and looked from dwarf to dwarf, trying to gauge who presented the most danger.

One dwarf – burly, corded with muscle and burdened with a broken nose and terrible scowl – grabbed her hard by the ears and dragged her closer. Bilba tried to swallow the squeak of pain that came from the rough treatment, but she was unsuccessful. Several laughed at her discomfort, and the one who handled her added in a painful twist to her ears, which had her whimpering through the rag in her mouth.

“Unnatural little thing,” the dwarf said, and spat in her face. “I fail to see why Durin’s Folk believed her and that imposter of Frerin.”

“Perhaps it used witchery to illusion them,” one suggested.

Another said, “How they could believe that Prince Frerin could have been held captive for five decades is beyond me. The real Prince Frerin would have never been so weak, let alone return to Ered Luin with a Halfling in tow! Oh yes, we all know how Oakenshield and his kin grieved the loss of their Prince. There are those who seek to take advantage of that.” This dwarf spat also on Bilba, who tried not to flinch at the spittle that landed on her face. “Like this little elf bastard here. I say we get some answers out of her!”

“A little torture should loosen her lips,” one agreed, and the dwarf near her head twisted her ear again, but Bilba bit down her cry of pain. “Oh, trying to be strong, eh?”

A hand cracked across her face, and Bilba felt her lip split from the force. “None are as strong as dwarrow, filth. Shall we test your mettle?”

There was a pause, and every dwarf looked to the one who had been twisting her ears. Even Bilba glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and found him looking down at her, one hand resting on the handle of a blade at his belt. “Aye, we could test the creature’s strength. After all, it claims to be kin to Frerin. Let us show it how unworthy it is, to skulk amongst our kin as an aid to an imposter. Perhaps it’ll even learn a lesson before it dies.”

At his words, Bilba was dragged off the table, her head cracking on the floor as she was unceremoniously dropped off the side and dragged to a chair. Half-stunned, Bilba struggled weakly against the dwarrow as she was tied to the chair, her hands bound behind her, and her feet bound to the chair legs. Her weak protests were met with a second harsh slap, coupled with a punch to the stomach. Tears welled in her eyes as she tried to gasp for breath.

“Before we begin,” the leader said, dagger in hand as he approached her. He grasped her hair, found the braids that marked her as Frerin’s, and pulled tight. Her scalp ached as the blade rasped, and the dwarf flung her family braids away, the beads rattling against the floor. “No one of such unworthy blood should have been allowed to claim kinship,” he snarled, and the collected dwarrow nodded and rumbled their assent. “Now, little liar: Who is the dwarf claiming to be Frerin?”

She shook her head helplessly against the gag: Frerin was her Frerin—why would he be someone else? The dwarf struck her across the face, hard, and her ears rang from the blow.

“Well, where should we start now?” Their leader asked, dagger held up as he circled her. “The ears?” She felt a kiss of metal against her right ear, and Bilba tried to hold perfectly still, to avoid cuts. “Her hair?” Another fistful was grabbed, pulled tight, but Bilba did not make a sound. “Or maybe her feet?”

A whistle of a thrown blade was all the warning Bilba had before the dwarf at her back dropped to the floor, his own dagger clattering to the stones. “How about your head, for laying hands on her?” Nori said as he emerged from the shadows nearby and darted forward to pick Bilba up, chair and all, and carry her from the enraged Firebeards that started after them. “Close your eyes, sweetling, it’s about to get ugly,” Nori hissed at her. Bilba obeyed.

She heard the sounds of a door splintering, and a familiar voice bellowing in rage, cursing profusely as wet cracks echoed through the room. The rope tugged at her ankles and wrists as Nori cut through her bindings. Those noise increased, setting Bilba’s ears at a ring, and she curled into Nori when he tugged her into his arms and stood. “I’ve got you,” he murmured in her ear. “I won’t let them touch you again.” Bilba clung to him, and allowed him to tuck her face against his shoulder as he slipped through the room, presumably to a safer location.

As quickly as it had begun, the noise died down, and all Bilba could hear was gurgles, muttered curses, Nori’s breathing, and her own soft, choked sobs.

Footsteps approached, ones that Bilba had long memorized from her years at the Big Folk’s house, and Bilba was taken into Frerin’s arms. “Mizimel, sweetheart, you’re safe. You’re safe now, I’m here.” Bilba’s tears overwhelmed her, and she clutched at Frerin’s shoulders as she wept. “I’m here, Bilba, wee one. Your Frerin is here.”

“They cut my braid,” Bilba said through her tears, her voice thick and hoarse. “They said that you’re not really Frerin, that I’m a liar and I shouldn’t be with Nuncle Thorin or Auntie Dis, and that I was unnatural and, and…” Frerin shushed her, and pressed a kiss against her forehead. She was jostled as he carried her from the house and into the streets.

“Look at me, mizimith, please look at me.” Bilba opened her eyes and found her Frerin, blood on his cheek and blue eyes wide in their sincerity. “You’re safe. They were wrong, they were awful, and we’ve dealt with them. You’re my wee one, and I’m your Frerin, aye? You’re ours, mizimith.” He pressed their foreheads together. “Now lets get you home, aye?”

 

 

Less than an hour later, Oin finally treated her bruises with salve, cleaned her split lip, and pressed a cold compress to her head for the swelling. “You’ll be all healed in a week or two, little mistress. Take it easy these next few days. Keep an eye on those bumps on her head,” he said to Frerin. “She’s lucky that she only has a slight concussion. Not everyone has the stone heads of you Durins,” he said with a fierce look at Kili, who had had his fair share of hits to the head over the years.

Kili, who was burrowed into her side and sandwiching her between himself and Fili, ignored this jab and instead focused on cuddling their hobbit as much as they could without causing her harm or distress. Frerin sat at her feet, his hand atop her legs as he nodded at Oin’s words. “Thank you, Oin. All of you,” he said, and looked up at the assembled dwarrow who had come with him to save his wee one. “I think we’re ready to sleep now.”

Without needing to be asked, Frerin nudged the lads over and settled himself at the foot of the bed, propping his back against the wall as he tucked a blanket over the three young ones. The others left, but Frerin stayed, his hand on his dagger, and stayed vigil over them all night long.

 

 

Though Nori indeed had shady contacts, Frerin, Thorin, and Dis welcomed him for his part in saving Bilba. He kept an ear out for any rumors of those that might wish the little one harm, and when any came his way, he either passed them on to Dwalin (who took a certain glee in roughing up these dwarrow as he locked them away) or took care of it himself. Along with Thorin and Dis, Nori agreed to try to keep the whispers away from Frerin, for the sake of his own sanity. The sight of Frerin cleaving a dwarf in two with one swing of his axe was enough to ensure that Nori stayed firmly on his good side.

It took a week before Bilba could leave the house, and a month before she felt ready. For nearly a year, she clung to Fili or Frerin or Thorin or even Dwalin when she left, her eyes darting about in fear as she worried about other dwarrow coming to take her away.

On her twelfth birthday, Nori gifted her with a slim blade that she could hide in her pockets. For safety, he said.

And it helped. Whenever the crowds became too much, or whenever the folk seemed too tall, Bilba would brush her hand against the handle of her hidden blade and feel safe.

Chapter Text

Though Kili’s birthday had come a month prior, he had been more than happy to delay his own coming of age party in order to celebrate his jointly with Bilba. Over two decades of living in Ered Luin bore witness to Bilba’s acclimation and acceptance into the Dwarrow settlement, and the joint celebration was anticipated to be one of the largest parties of the decade.

By noon, Bilba was dressed in a traditional, Durin blue dress in a dwarrowdam style. The edges were embroidered with flowers and leaves in silver thread, lovingly designed by the brothers Ri, and a delicate silver necklace, made by Thorin, draped around her throat. Dis and Frerin shared her hair braiding duties: Dis braided the majority of her hair back into a spiral that formed a flower on the back of her head, and Frerin braided four strands, two on each side of her face, and tied them off with four beads. One marked her as a dwarf-friend, another marked her as of the line of Durin, a silver bead marked her as an adult, and the final was the little, mottled bead that Frerin had forged for her all those years ago. Bilba had insisted on its inclusion in her hair, and though Frerin’s eyes were damp, he smiled as he carefully placed it in her hair.

Properly dressed, Bilba joined Kili as they welcomed their guests. There was a table set aside, dubbed the “dwobbit table,” filled with little bags of party-favors and small gifts that Bilba had crafted for their guests. These were stuffed with treats, trinkets, and lovingly created pieces of art. Another table sat empty for the guests’ gifts. The food had been prepared mainly by Bombur, who was pleased that the royal family had asked him to cater the event, and he outdid himself with half a dozen tables that were so laden with food that the legs groaned beneath the weight.

Of course, there was music and dancing. Fili swept her into his arms the moment the music struck up, and Bilba laughed as he twirled her around the dance floor. Whenever a curious dwarrow lad approached her for a dance, Kili would swoop in to steal her for a dance, or Frerin, or even Thorin. She was kept close to her kin, and though she rolled her eyes at their antics, she was pleased.

She only had eyes for Fili, and he for her.

As the party wound down, Fili drew her aside to a quiet hallway and took her small hands in his larger ones. He pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, smiling when she blushed, and reached into his pocket to withdraw a bead. It was beautifully crafted, made of mithril and adorned with emeralds and sapphires, the colors she loved dearest. “Bilba, kin of Frerin, son of Thrain, will you accept my courtship?” Fili murmured.

She threw her arms around his neck and pressed a kiss to his lips. Heat bloomed in his cheeks as she pulled away, only to smile up at him and say, “Of course, Fili.”

A throat cleared behind them, and both turned to see Dis, a smile playing on her face. “Behave yourselves, you two. I won’t be having any grandchildren this early.”

Though Fili spluttered his protests and Bilba blushed, Kili cackled as he peeked around his mother.

“Not even an hour and you’re in trouble!”

 

 

Late that evening, hours after the party had wound down, just before a late dinner, two hard knocks sounded on their front door. Bilba paused in the act of returning to her seat. “Who could that be?” she asked Fili and Kili, both of whom shrugged. Thorin and Frerin exchanged a glance, while Dis did not even pause in eating her meal. All too often, the lads would wolf down most of the food; Dis had learned to take any and all advantages for the sake of food.

Frerin stood from his seat, expression mild as he said, “I’ll get it; sit down, Bilba, I can see who it is.”

“If they want a slice of Bilba’s Blackberry Crumble, tell them to shove off!” Kili shouted after Frerin, and Fili tried to hold in his snickering. Thorin fixed his nephews with a stern glare, but the faint smile curling at the edge of his lips ruined the effect. Loud exclamations wiped the amused expression clean and replaced it with a scowl. He stood with a scrape of his chair, only to stop in shock as Frerin came back into the dining room with a large man, cloaked in gray, following, staff in hand.

“Tharkun,” Thorin said, and bowed his head in greeting. Fili, Kili, and Bilba exchanged excited glances: the Tharkun, the Grey Wizard. Here, in their rocky home in Ered Luin! His brows rose and beetled together in surprise, but his tone was polite. “What brings you to our home?”

Tharkun froze in the doorway when he caught sight of Bilba, and his mouth dropped open in shock. She noted that he had bright blue eyes, which were fixed on her face and moved as they drank in her features. Emotions rose in her chest, unfamiliar and tight, as faint memories stirred in the depths of her mind. Incongruous, the image of fireworks came to her, and the scent of pipe weed and the texture of rough-spun cotton. A name rose to mind, and she frowned a little as she tried to recall it. So absorbed in her thoughts, Bilba did not notice when Fili moved and wrapped an arm around her, while Frerin moved to crouch before her and grasp her hands.

“Gandalf?” Bilba said, her voice soft, hesitant, and for a moment, her Shire accent returned with full force, the syllables rounding and softening.

“By the Valar,” the Wizard said, and his voice sounded hoarse with sorrow. “Bilba Baggins, is that you?”

Bilba nodded, but Fili dragged her close and Frerin stood to shield her with his body. “How do you know my wee one, Tharkun?”

The Wizard turned, surprised by Frerin’s fierce scowl. “I knew her parents. Belladonna was an excellent adventuring companion of mine for many years, and Bungo was always happy to provide tea for old friends who came calling.”

“It was at four,” Bilba blurted out, her eyes wide. Her hands rose to her cheeks, pinching a little to make sure she was still whole. She felt transparent, transient, and almost half-made. “Papa always served tea at four.” She looked up to meet Fili’s astonished gaze. “I had forgotten,” she admitted. Then she turned her head to look at the Wizard – Gandalf, Tharkun, the Grey One. “You came to the Shire when I was a faunt, didn’t you? For a party? I remember… I think I remember fireworks. Certainly pretty lights that danced in the sky.”

“I came to visit on your third birthday,” he said, and his expression gentled. “And indeed, I did bring fireworks to your birthday party. You were so excited, so small. You even stole my boots.” Kili hastily stifled his laugh and covered it with an obviously fake cough. “You had never seen shoes before, and your mother laughed so hard when you tried to sneak away with my boots behind your back. You only returned them in exchange for a sweet, and Bungo was so proud that you would not settle for anything less.” For a moment, the wizard smiled at the memory, before he looked somber again. “I thought you were dead, Bilba Baggins. You, and your parents. Those in the Shire certainly shared that belief.”

The dwarves were quiet as they absorbed this information. Fili’s rough thumb rubbed soothing circles against her shoulder, and slowly, she leaned her head against his chest. “Mama and Papa did die. We went on a caravan to Rivendell, when I was four. Goblins came, but Mama hid me, so I survived.” Tharkun bowed his head, either in sorrow or in thought, she could not tell. Fili’s grip tightened a little, but Bilba continued on. “Some Men came, took me away, and sold me to a slaver in an outpost. That’s how I met Frerin,” she said, and blinked up at Frerin, her Frerin. “He was a slave there, too. He took care of me, raised me, up until some Rangers came and freed us. Then they guided us here, and I’ve lived here ever since.” Bilba squeezed Frerin’s hand when he took hers in his, and smiled a little at Thorin, whose expression was dark with thought. “They’re my family.” She tapped her beads: the mottled one that marked her as Frerin’s kin, the silver one that named her dwarf-friend, and the mithril one that marked her as betrothed to Fili. A matching bead was set in the braid at Fili’s temple. “Most here call me Bilba, wee one to Frerin.”

“Not me,” Kili said, and every eye was drawn to him. “I call her Bilba, Frog-Hunter.”

Fili let out a low groan, and Bilba burst into helpless giggles. “Like you’re any better! You were the one who always dropped them.”

Kili shrugged carelessly. “At least I didn’t have them try to eat me.” Bilba made a face at the memory of a frog licking her face, and Kili cackled. “And now I can call her Bilba, the burglar of boots!”

“Big words for someone who stuck slugs to his face to pretend that he had a beard,” Fili retorted, and batted away the bread roll that Kili threw at his face. Bilba beamed at him; clearly, her clever betrothed knew who to back up in a squabble.

Frerin snorted and rolled his eyes, while Thorin cuffed Kili upside the head and fixed Fili with a gimlet glare, and Fili immediately looked away and hid slightly behind Bilba. “Enough,” Thorin growled. “I beg your pardon, Tharkun. What brings you to our home? May I offer you something to eat?”

 

 

“A Quest?” Bilba asked, and her eyes were round with excitement. “An adventure? For Erebor?”

Frerin and Thorin exchanged a quick look, and the latter stood and gently grasped Bilba about the shoulders as he shooed her out of the room. “This is not for your ears, Bilba.”

“What? Why not? I want to hear about it!” Bilba twisted as she tried to dodge Thorin, but he caught her about the waist and continued to chivvy her along. “Come on, if Kili can hear it, I can too!”

“You’re young,” Thorin said. “Even though you are of age, you are still too young for such a Quest. Frerin would have all of our heads and beards if anything happened to you.” Bilba turned to glare at Frerin, but he met her gaze without flinching. “Please?” she asked, but he shook his head, and Thorin nudged her out the door, out into Dis’ waiting arms, and he shut the door fast after her.

Bilba swore creatively at length, until she heard Frerin call, “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap if you keep that up!”

“Better wash out Kili’s mouth too,” Bilba grumbled, more to herself than to Dis. “He’s the one who taught me half of those.”

 

 

Bilba slammed the door to her room, sat at the foot of her bed, and scowled heavily at her door. It was not fair, not in the slightest! Thorin had said that Fili and Kili could join the Company, and Frerin had already signed his contract. But both Frerin and Thorin had refused to allow her to even entertain the idea of joining the quest, they had squashed all her arguments and counterarguments, and even sent her to her room. She was thirty-five; of age for a hobbit, and comparatively, Kili was of similar age. So why could he go?

How could nearly every dwarrow she cared for -- save Dis – go on the quest? Did they not know that they could never return? That they might leave Dis and Bilba alone, without these clot-headed, stone-brained, stubborn dwarrow to bustle about their home, to steal the last of the biscuits, to brush back Bilba’s hair each morning or press a kiss to her forehead when she performed an excellent archery shot. Bilba could not bear it, could not stand to live in a half-empty stone home, to live with only the echoes and memories of her lads. That was a large reason why she had never returned to the Shire; she did not want to live alone with her ghosts and faint memories.

A sound at her window: two short raps, as if a pair of pebbles had been tossed. Bilba hurried to the window and slid it open, only to step back just in time for Nori to come ambling through, nonchalant as you please, as if he were walking along the street, rather than sneaking into the window of an adopted royal. “Confined to your room while the lads discuss the quest, hm?” He asked. Dead-on, as usual, to what plagued her. Sometimes, Bilba wanted to know where he got his information from. The rest of her really did not want to know.

“They don’t want me to know the route, so I can’t tag along.” Bilba sat down on her bed again as she glanced at the door, careful of her volume.

Nori leaned against her desk, his body language absolutely relaxed. He let out a soft tsk as he shook his head slowly. “What a pity. You heard how Tharkun was looking for a burglar, specifically of a hobbit variety. Mind you, after you were shooed out, your Uncles took that about as well as an orc takes to bathwater.” Bilba snorted in disdain. “But they want to keep you safe, you know.”

“I’d be safer with them, rather than waiting here, driving myself mad.”

Nori nodded slowly. “I’m inclined to agree with you, wee princess. It’s a pity that you weren’t able to see the map.” A roll of parchment slid from his sleeve to rest on her desk. “Oh dearie me, I seem to have misplaced my own copy.” Nori tutted at himself, and Bilba beamed at him as she snatched up the parchment to pour over the map. “What a conundrum to find myself in. I do hope I find it before dawn overmorrow. Ah, well, I’ve spent long enough yammering your ear off, your royal hobbit-ness. I’ll see myself out, shall I?”

Bilba hurried over to wrap him in a small yet firm hug. “You’re my favorite,” she whispered, before she pressed a kiss to his cheek.

To her surprise, Nori flushed a radiant red. “Better not let your princeling hear that, or else I won’t be able to join the Quest on account of being dead.” With a small, only mildly sarcastic bow, Nori slipped back out her window and wandered off into the night.

 

Later that night, two knocks sounded on her bedroom door before Fili slipped in. Bilba was awake, but she resolutely ignored him. “Bilba,” he whispered as he crept to her bed and ran a hand through her hair. “Sweet one, please don’t be angry.”

“How can I not be?” Bilba whispered, unmoved from her curled up position as she faced the wall. “You’re leaving me.”

A gentle kiss was pressed to her forehead. “Aye, I am. But I’ll return.”

“You don’t know that,” Bilba whispered. Tears threatened, and another kiss was pressed to her cheek. “You can’t promise that.”

“Bilba, love, please look at me.” Fili gently rolled her onto her back and cradled her face in his hands. “I have to go. I can’t let our Uncles do this alone; what kind of heir would I be, if I didn’t go? Ered Luin needs you and Amad to stay and run things. I can’t bear to think of you in danger.”

“You’re a hypocrite,” Bilba grumbled, refusing to look into his eyes.

“Aye,” he said, which startled her into looking at him. “When it comes to you, I am. I’ll throw myself into danger if it means I can give you a safe place to live. Erebor might be Uncle Thorin’s destiny, but its riches and safety are the least that you deserve. You are my One; how can I not want the world for you?” He pressed a gentle kiss to the corners of her mouth, felt her trembles as she fought back tears. “My love, can you forgive me?”

Bilba dragged him close and into a crushing embrace. She thought of her pack, ready-made for travels, hidden under her bed, and thought of the map that she had stashed under her pillow. They were perfectly matched, she thought to herself, what a pair of hypocrites they were. “Promise me you’ll stay safe. Promise me that you won’t do anything Kili plots up.”

A chuckle shivered through their entangled bodies. “I promise.”

He pressed dozens more kisses against her forehead, against her cheeks, to her lips, and whispered reassurances late into the night.

 

 

Come midnight the next day, Bilba swung her pack on her back and crept quietly through the house. She wished she could hear the snores of her lads, the sound of Kili mumbling in his sleep, but the lads had been seen off at dawn earlier that day. Now, only Dis slept, and she slept lightly. But Bilba was careful, and her large, hobbit feet were nearly silent as she went. When her hand rested on the door knob, a soft voice sounded behind her.

“I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Bilba whirled about, her braid smacking her in the face, and found Dis watching her. “Auntie Dis,” Bilba began in a whisper, but Dis held up a hand to silence her.

“If I did not have my duties to the dwarrow of Ered Luin, I would have insisted on going. And if Thorin refused me, like he did you, then I would have snuck out as well.” Dis regarded Bilba thoughtfully. “You might want to wait a few days, maybe even a week, before you reveal yourself, otherwise Thorin will just drag you back by your ear. I know you are not foolish like my brothers, so please, do your best to keep the boys in line, won’t you?” Bilba nodded, a lump in her throat, and Dis stepped forward to embrace her hard. “And don’t forget that you and Fili are only betrothed, yet. I want to see Erebor first, then any grandchildren.” Bilba blushed so hotly that she thought she might incinerate on the spot, but Dis smiled at her and patted her cheek. “Be safe, Bilba Baggins, child of Belladonna Took and Bungo Baggins, wee one of Frerin.”

“I will, Auntie. I love you.” Another kiss landed on her forehead, before Bilba slipped away into the night.

Chapter Text

Bilba watched as Kili and Fili wrestled about, their muffled grunts and giggles drifting through the forest. No wonder they had been sent out on pony duty—they were likely driving Thorin mad with their mischief. Farther down, she heard the soft, low, percussion of footsteps, and a brief whicker of a nervous pony. Her pointed ears twitched as Bilba turned in that direction, and crept closer to the sounds. A fire flickered nearby, and from her spot in the underbrush, Bilba spotted three trolls. In a clumsily made pen were two ponies, ones that Bilba recognized as Thorin and Frerin’s mounts. Oh, Frerin would murder Fili and Kili for losing his pony. He hated walking for travel.

She glanced towards the woods where the boys had been, but heard no sound from them (good). Knowing those two, Bilba doubted they would even notice if all the ponies had been stolen; very little caught their attention once they descended into wrestling matches. On one memorable occasion, Bilba had managed to rearrange their bedroom around them and was only noticed when she trapped them between their two beds. This particular rescue mission would require stealth, luck, and attention. Since Nori was no where to be seen, Bilba felt that it fell upon her to save the poor ponies. Circling the campsite and carefully sticking to the shadows, Bilba crept close to the rope and wood pen that held the Company's ponies. When she reached the pen, she found herself face to face with a startled Kili.

“What are you doing here?” he yelped, before Bilba slapped her hand over his mouth. It was too late, and the trolls lumbered upright.

“Run!” she hissed, and pushed him hard in the chest. He stumbled backwards with a crash into a shrub, but before Bilba could bolt, huge hands snatched her up from the ground. Her legs flailed as she was held aloft, upside-down, and brought before a troll’s curious gaze.

“What’s this?” One troll asked.

“Can we eat it? Let’s put it in the stew, Bert.” A second one commented.

The third, that seemed to be the cook, shook his head and wagged his ladle in reprimand at the second one. “That’s too much work for such a small mouthful, Tom!”

“We could eat it raw,” Tom sulked.

“I hate eating things raw,” the one holding her said with a whine.

“Ah, then you’re clever,” Bilba squeaked out, thinking as fast as she could manage.

“It talks!” Tom said in surprise. “What is it? A ferret?”

“N-no! I’m a, a - urgh- a hobbit!” Bilba said, and let out a grunt when the one clutching her squeezed before dropping her into his other palm.

“A burrahobbit?” he repeated.

Bilba nodded so hard that her head felt rattled. “Oh yes, I’m a burrahobbit. We can be quite tasty, in… in a casserole, you know. But never raw! We’re terribly poisonous. Why, even holding us too long can kill you, just like that!” Bilba snapped her fingers, and the troll holding her let out a little yelp before he dropped her. She landed on her back, winded, and barely began to scramble upright when a hand descended on her again.

“I don’t believe the burraflurgahobbit,” Tom said. “I think it’s trying to run away.”

“Drop her!”

The trolls glanced around, and Bilba craned her neck to see Fili standing at the edge of the clearing, swords gripped tight in his hands, fury on his face. “What’s that, William?” Tom asked. The other troll shrugged, and started a bit when Kili joined Fili, bow drawn and a scowl on his face.

“I said, drop her! Now!” Fili took a step forward, only to drop his swords when Tom threw her at him. She slammed into his chest, and the two fell together into a graceless, tangled heap.

There was a roar, and the rest of the dwarrow burst into the clearing, arms drawn. Bilba was shoved behind Fili, who tried to prevent any of the trolls from nearing her, but he was brushed aside with a grunt, and Bilba was in the air once more. One troll grabbed her left arm, and another grabbed her right. “Drop your weapons, or we’ll rip her arms off!” Bilba noted that they were grasping her around her clothes, and avoided touching her flesh.

Bilba froze as she met Frerin’s furious gaze. He did not hesitate as he dropped his axe, and the others soon followed. The dwarves were stuffed in rough burlap sacks, and Bilba was soon deposited in one as well. Pink tinted the sky that she could see through the trees, and she realized that dawn was not far off.

“Let’s add them to the stew,” Tom said. When Bert reached out to grab at Kili and Ori, Bilba wriggled upright.

“Wait!” she cried. “You aren’t planning to cook them all tonight, are you?” Three trolls and fourteen dwarves swung around to gaze at her incredulously. “Don’t you know, they’ll, they’ll spoil by tomorrow afternoon?”

Bert looked thoughtfully at the dwarves. “How do you know so much about cooking dwarves, then?”

“Oh, well burrahobbits have all the best recipes for cooking dwarves,” Bilba said, and she was proud that her voice came across as knowing, rather than frightened. “I’ve been hunting this lot for ages, planned on cooking half of them for myself. I’d be happy to share them with you, of course, and I, ah, I’ve even got just the recipe for it. One from my great-great-great-great aunt, you know. Best in the realm. Won prizes for it, she did, all accounting for her secret ingredient.”

Bert bent down to peer curiously at her. “Well, what’s that then?”

“Let’s just eat them all! I don’t mind dwarves raw.” Tom whined, and Bilba shook her head and looked sympathetically to Bert.

“No appreciation for proper chefs these days,” she said. “Honestly. You work over a hot fire, working hard on a lovely stew, and they want to fill up on raw dwarves!”

“Exactly,” Bert exclaimed. “I spent ages finding that squirrel dung for garnish, and they don’t even appreciate it.”

“Well, some can’t be helped,” Bilba said. “It’s the same with the last lot I cooked up, you know. I spend ages making a lovely casserole, and they fill up on bugs and elves and whatnot before they stop by for supper. Awful manners.”

“Elves?” Tom asked, and turned to peer more carefully at the dwarrow.

“Bugs?” Bert asked with ill-disguised distaste.

“Oh, of course, did you not know? Dwarves eat elves. Why else would elves and dwarves fight so often?” She was particularly proud of her expression; it was a carefully honed look, one that screamed ‘I can’t believe you’ve never heard of this, everyone else knows that, are you mad?’ She used it particularly often on Kili, with great success, especially when he had not been paying attention in lessons and sought answers from her. Fili had never let him live it down that Kili had once absolutely believed her when she fibbed that Hobbits were grown in gardens, like cabbages. “That’s why you have to cook them thoroughly, see? Everyone knows that elves are poisonous raw, just like hobbits. It’s the ears, y’see,” she said in the tones of mock secrecy, and indeed, Bert looked impressed. “It’s why you have to cook the dwarves thoroughly; otherwise you might get some undercooked elf in there, and wham! Poisoned, just like that.”

There was a pause, as William and Tom considered this information. Bert was already nodding in agreement, as if Bilba spouted absolute truths. “Hold on now,” Tom said slowly. “This little ferret is taking us for fools!”

“Fools!” Boomed a large, deep voice, and Gandalf appeared atop a large boulder. “The dawn shall take you all!”

“Who’s that?” Bert asked.

“Can we eat him, too?” Tom asked.

Then the trolls screamed as the boulder split from a blow from Gandalf’s staff, and light fell upon them and turned them to stone. A cheer went up from the dwarves, which was immediately followed by a call to be untied. Bilba set about attempting to wiggle out of her sack, and twisted this way and that, before she managed to free an arm. A shadow fell across her, and the sack tugged tight and then ripped smoothly under Frerin’s knife. She cautiously sat upright, and Frerin cupped her face as he checked her over.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, his voice low and expression fierce.

Bilba wiggled her toes and ears, and mulled over the state of her achy body. “A few bruises, but I think that’s the worst of it.”

“Good,” Frerin said, and gently bumped their foreheads together. “Because I am going to tie you to the back of my pony.”

Fili approached, hesitating as he waited, a frown on his face warring with a mixture of anxiety and relief. “What are you doing here? How are you here?”

“I would like to know that as well.” Thorin approached them, with a deep, fierce scowl. Rarely had that scowl been directed at her, and she swallowed nervously. She could see why Kili always avoided being caught.

“Well… I saw the campfire and snuck closer. When I realized they had two of the ponies, I thought I could try to free them. But I, ah… Ran into Kili, and the trolls caught me.”

“You pushed me out of the way before they could grab us both,” Kili said, and he frowned at her. “You shouldn’t have. I’m sturdier than you.”

“Yes, well, you also yelped like a dwarfling when you saw me, so pardon me for getting you out of the way” Bilba retorted.

“Of course I did! You aren’t supposed to be here, or anywhere near here.” Kili paused. “How did you find us?”

“Oh, you know, I was just in the area,” she said, before Bilba chose that moment to find her toes to be quite fascinating, and Gandalf took the chance to announce that there had to be a troll horde nearby. That caused most of the Company to jump at the chance to explore, but not without Nori trading a meaningful look with Bilba.

Of course, Frerin noticed. He sighed. “Nori helped you, didn’t he?”

“What? No.” Bilba lied.

“He gave you a map, didn’t he?”

“Map? Oh, no no no, no maps here.” Bilba fibbed.

Frerin held up a crumpled map and quirked one brow at her. “This fell out of your pocket when you were in the sack.”

“Oh, that map,” Bilba mumbled, and Fili snorted a little. “I found that.”

“Found it where Nori left it for you, hm?” Bilba avoided his eyes. “You’re both busted.”

 

While the others had the dubious (and fragrant) honor of exploring the troll cave, Bilba was seated on a flat rock and examined by Oin while she had her ears blistered from a long-winded tirade from Frerin that left even Dori impressed with the scale of his wrath. If she viewed it in a detached manner, Bilba could say that this was easily the strongest, most ferocious, and full of righteous guardian anger diatribe that she had ever borne witness to. Which was saying something, because she had heard Dori scold Nori and Kili had earned one memorable dressing down after he accidentally lit the entire forge on fire, but those paled in comparison to Frerin's ravings.

She was almost grateful for the appearance of Wargs that cut him off.

Almost.

(Though seeing Uncle Thorin's face when they wound up in Rivendell was probably one of the funniest expressions she'd seen. He looked like that time when she and Kili had attempted to make an actual mud pie, and Frerin didn't warn him before he took a bite.)

 

If it weren’t for the Tall Folk wandering around and interrupting the view, Bilba would think Rivendell was beautiful. Though they typically wandered in solitude or occasionally in pairs, Bilba cannot find it within herself to relax in the presence of elves. It’s different than being on the road with Gandalf; there, the sensibly sized outnumber the lanky wizard. Here, however, Bilba’s mind is strained from being startled by the sudden appearance of elves looming around corners or coming up behind her. Each time her eyes had to track up, up, up to the elves, Bilba imagined them snatching her from Frerin, or raising a hand to strike her, and she shied closer to her dwarrow.

She sticks close to Frerin, and at night she sleeps wedged between Fili and Kili in the Durin pile, trusting her kin to keep her safe from the Tall Folk. No one comments on her jumpiness.

Well, only Lord Elrond.

“I knew your mother,” he said one night over dinner, and Bilba unconsciously shuffled to sit closer to Frerin. “She was an Elf-friend. She aided my sons, once, many years ago.” Bilba nodded, unsure of what to say. “She delighted all she met.”

“I don’t remember her much,” Bilba said. “I mostly remember her telling me to be quiet, and that she loved me.” No one spoke as Bilba regarded her plate. “I remember her screaming when the goblins came. At least, I think it was her.”

Frerin rubbed a thumb across the back of her hand, an old act of comfort to her, and Elrond bowed his head. “I am sorry for her death. I wish that you had had more time with your mother. In her memory, I would like to name you Elf-friend, so that you might find aid or comfort in those who loved your mother.”

Thorin does not gape, but Bilba can tell that it is a close thing. Kili gapes for him, and Bilba looked up and said softly, “Thank you.” Before her courage ebbs, she adds: “Perhaps… perhaps you could tell me stories of her time here?”

Elrond’s smile is wide and genuine. “I would be honored.”

 

 

Their stay in Rivendell is short. She knows that after the map is read, they will leave quickly. Her evenings are filled with Elrond telling her stories of her mother, and she spends her day with her kin, refilling their bags and tending to their weapons. She dodges the curious elves that flock to her and her hair, avoiding their keen interest in her curly hair and furry feet. Despite the elves’ odd interest in her, Bilba mostly finds them non-threatening.

At least until she walked with her Uncle Thorin and overheard Elrond and Gandalf gossiping over the Durin inclination towards goldsickness. Thorin said nothing, but the clenched jaw and furrow of his brows speaks volumes for his hurt familial pride and confidence.

They leave in the middle of the night like thieves, and that is just fine by Bilba’s standards. Why say goodbye to a gossipy host with an atrocious mind for manners on what is appropriate for airing the dirty laundry of others, in Common, no less.

 

It is not until the next day that Thorin realizes her vengeance. He approaches her as they take a mid-morning break, and holds aloft a pair of Elrond’s boots without a word. He raises one eyebrow as Fili and Kili break down into giggles. Nori clapped the king on the shoulder with a murmur of: “Told you she’d make an excellent burglar.”

Chapter Text

In the disastrous events following their exit from Rivendell, they have no time to recover, let alone record their progress. It is only after, when they climb down from the Carrock, that Bilba informs Ori that she has the perfect summation of the past week:

She would rather eat troll dung than experience that again.

Later, Nori tells her that Ori did write that down, but only after faithfully transcribing the terrors of stone giants, grotesque Goblin Kings, hiding up trees like a cluster of clanking squirrels, and being saved by Eagles. Frerin teases her for being the first hobbit to make dwarrow history, and Kili finds it fitting that Bilba is cited as the hobbit who would actually eat troll dung.

Bilba asks that Ori make a footnote that Kili has troll dung for brains.

Ori does.

 

Bilba rather likes Beorn, and is even willing to forgive him for his unfortunate lack of sensible height. Beorn smiles widely when she informs him of this after dinner (and a few mugs of mead), and Frerin grumbles and badgers her into going to bed early.

Bilba’s secluded bed, made from hay and nestled into a corner, where hastily erected cloth hangings were raised for privacy, offered little quiet. The sounds of the Company snoring was a soft murmur, echoed by the occasional snort or sleepy grunt of one of Beorn’s beasts. She felt rather than heard Fili tiptoe across the wooden floorboards, and the dip of her mattress caused her to roll over and look at her beloved with solemn eyes. His fair hair shone, even in the darkness, as he bent to kiss her forehead.

“How are you feeling?” he asked softly.

Bilba did not answer. She reached her arms up and Fili obeyed her unspoken command as he nestled down beside her, a soft hum escaping him when she pressed kisses to the crown of his head. “Like I’ll never sleep again. I was terrified today, Fili. I thought Uncle was going to die, and I just ran, and…”

“It’s alright now, amrâlimê. You and uncle are safe.” He pressed a kiss to her neck, and a flush ran through her. She was hyper aware of her thin shift, of Fili’s naked chest. She tugged at his hair until he came close enough to kiss, and for a moment, all she could think of was the wet, delicious slide of their mouths and tongues, the rasp of his beard against her skin, and the heat of his hands as they skimmed her hips. He pulled away to whisper her name, and he rested his forehead against hers. “Mahal, you’ll be the death of me, at this rate.”

“No I won’t,” Bilba said impishly, and she squirmed around to nip at his collarbone, eliciting a sharp intake of breath. “Frerin will. Or Thorin.” His groan was cut short when she licked at the red spot on his chest with her small, pink tongue.

“Bilba,” Fili moaned, and she greedily swallowed the sound with a kiss. His kisses came harshly as his hands wandered her sides, and her fingers tangled in his hair. Fili’s body was solid, his steady warmth heating her to her bones, but Bilba felt traces of light-headed fear tingle through her veins, as if Erebor whispered warnings from a distance, her solitary peak glimpsed from atop the Carrock like a waiting widow. Desperate to chase away the frigid worry, Bilba gripped Fili’s hair and tugged gently at his braids as she rolled from her side to her back, drawing him with her so that he braced himself over her, a firm, muscular thigh between hers, his forearms framing her curly head. For a moment, Fili’s tongue plundered her mouth, and his hips briefly pressed firmly against hers, and she noticed a hard line against her hip before he pulled away with a curse hissed between his teeth.

“Bilba,” Fili said, and groaned helplessly as she peppered wet kisses in the crook of his neck. “Bilba, ghivashel…”

“Fili,” Bilba said, and it almost felt like a stranger’s voice; husky, roughened with want. “Fili, I want you. I want this.” She rolled her hips up against his, and she heard his breath hitch. “I… I thought I was going to die. That I might never see you again.” His eyes, the beautiful dark Durin blue, softened as he pressed kisses against her cheeks. “I don’t want to die without knowing you, without loving you fully. Please, Fili. Stay with me tonight?”

For a moment, Fili rested his forehead against hers, and her eyes fluttered shut at the gentle dwarrow kiss. Her heartbeat was loud in her ears; surely, surely Fili could hear it, loud as a drum and twice as insistent. A soft brush of his lips against hers caused a faint startle, but she returned it with equal gentleness. Something fragile brewed between the two as the kiss deepened, before the silence in the makeshift room was broken when Fili pulled back to whisper her name.

“Bilba, my Bilba. Anything for you,” Fili murmured. He kissed her again and again, each time with more intensity, until Bilba squirmed under him, only breaking the kiss to gasp for air.

Fili’s hands traced her body, the heat of his fingers seeping through the thin fabric of her nightgown. When he lingered at the hem of her dress, Bilba encouraged him with a wiggle of her hips and a nip to his bottom lip, before she shifted and nudged him until she could sit up, nearly in his lap. A blush already stained her cheeks, one that reached her ears, as she wiggled out of her sleep clothes to sit before him, stark naked, body illuminated only by the moonlight peeking through the slats in Beorn’s barn. His breath caught in his throat, and Fili’s eyes flickered across her bared skin, as if trying to see all of her before she might vanish. Tentative, his hands cupped her face and drew her close for a heated kiss.

“So beautiful,” Fili whispered as he guided her to lay on her back. His beard bristled and tickled as he kissed her chest and ran his calloused fingers across her breasts. Fili rolled her pebbled nipples between his fingers until she arched her back with a moan, and when he leaned down to capture one in his mouth, Bilba had to bite the pillow to stifle her moans. Everywhere he kissed and kneaded, Bilba felt as though she were burning, branded with his touch. Soft coos spilt from her lips, half-purred attempts at his name as Fili nuzzled and kissed her body.

When his mouth trailed lower and over her hip, Bilba paused, overcome with shyness. “Fili?” She murmured as she craned her head to peep down at him.

The sight of him, cheek pressed against her thigh, melted her to her core. A slow, wet kiss warmed her inner thigh, close to the apex of her thighs. Pupils blown wide, a flush across his face, his signature half-smile on his face, Fili had never looked so delectable. “May I?” he asked, his fingers circled lower and closer to her center. “I, ah, overheard some talk between the others,” he admitted, blush darkening. “I picked up a few tips, when they thought I couldn’t hear them.”

Her ears felt hot as she nodded and averted her eyes from his. When something hot and wet pressed against her opening, she gasped and looked back down to see Fili’s head between her legs. When his tongue laved against her, Bilba let out a small, squeaky sigh. A brief pause, and his tongue began to explore her in earnest, before his fingers began to gently rub and toy with her entrance. Heat rose in her lower belly, and Bilba tried to muffle her sighs and coos with the back of her hand. Her muscles quivered, warm and almost liquid, as Fili lapped at her.

Pleasure spiked through her when he sucked at her clit, and Bilba’s hands shot down to grip at his hair. Soon, he had to hold her thighs open with his large hands, as gently as he could, while she pressed her face against the pillows, barely aware enough to know that they had to be quiet. Her orgasm caught her by surprise; with a high-pitched sigh, barely audible through the cushions, Bilba’s thighs shook and her fingers clutched his hair tight. Time passed in a blur, and Bilba felt as though her head was filled with a sharp light, like the noon sun.

Just as she came down from her peak, Fili’s thick, calloused finger slipped inside her. Still kissing and suckling at her clit, Fili slowly began to slip his finger inside of and out of her. Soon, Bilba shifted her hips, wanting more, and a second finger slipped inside her. She mewled when he began to pump his two fingers harder, and when a third slipped inside, Bilba had to bite her wrist to silence herself. In an instant, she found herself shuddering hard, whimpering his name against her flesh, and Fili nipped at her clit; sparks flared in her mind, and Bilba came apart again. Her body felt as though it had floated up through the ceiling, and she felt a slight sting as Fili broke her maidenhead with a careful flick of his fingers. The pain slipped away when he shook his head slowly, mouth still sealed against her sex, and his beard tickled and prickled her in the most wonderful and tortuous way. Another peak sharply rose, a third, rousing climax, and at that moment, Bilba thought she would never leave a bed if Fili resided in that one.
She came back to herself when Fili kissed his way up her body, whispering praise and declarations of love against her skin. Despite her muscles, which felt like molten steel, Bilba lifted her arms to wrap around his shoulders and drag him to her for a kiss. When he rested lightly against her, once again she noted his hardened length against her hip. Bilba spread her thighs wider, to wrap her legs about his hips and press him close. A low groan spilled from his throat as she undulated underneath him and whispered that she was ready.

A lingering kiss, and Fili fumbled with one hand to pump himself briefly before he guided himself to her wet opening. Slowly, he pushed inside, and Bilba stretched and gave around him. It ached a little, despite the stretching from his fingers and her prior orgasms, but the sting was limited, and soon she squeezed his shoulders to encourage him to move.

Fili gasped as he slowly rocked his hips forward and out again, his rhythm disjointed and interrupted with her name hissed under his breath. Soon, he was able to rock himself into her fully, and when his stones were flush against her, he froze and panted heavily. Bilba flexed experimentally, earning a strangled moan from Fili and a harder roll of his hips. Their pace increased, and Bilba shifted to lift her hips to meet his, thrust for thrust, and soon she felt the tightness increase in her lower belly. He rolled his hips, and his cock hit something in her, a spot that made her whine. At the sound, Fili ground into her after every thrust, and Bilba felt like her head might burst from the pleasure.

“Fili,” Bilba said, her voice catching on the second syllable. “I’m close, don’t stop.”

A guttural groan was all she got in return, coupled with quicker, harder strokes and his thumb rubbing at her clit, and soon she was clutching at his back, her mouth pressed against his shoulder to muffle her cries as she came undone. With a gasp, Fili stuttered to a halt, and slowly rocked against her twice as he spent himself inside her. Warmth flooded through her, and Bilba held him tightly against her.

He collapsed to the side of her, careful not to crush her, and Fili dragged her close to smother her with kisses. “Was it alright?” he murmured. “Are you hurt?”

“It was wonderful,” Bilba whispered, and rolled on her side to nestle against him. “I love you, Fili.”

He pressed kisses to her hair, before he let out a grumble and dragged on their clothes before he threw the blanket over her. “Don’t want Uncle to kill me first thing in the morning,” Fili mumbled as he curled around her, atop the blanket, and held her tight in his arms until they both fell asleep.

 

Thorin healed quickly, with an excess of grumbling and mumbling and muttering under his breath about all of them acting like a cluster of mother hens. Frerin took to cuffing him upside the head and scolding him for being a pain in the arse, Kili took to trotting after Thorin and reminding him "Careful Uncle!" for every thing he did, and Bilba and Fili took to quiet kisses traded in corners.

When they left for Mirkwood, Bilba felt much, much better.

"This will be a breeze!" Kili said cheerily.

"Famous last words," Nori muttered.

Nori was right.

Bilba hated it when Nori was right.

Chapter Text

Bombur still lay unconscious across the path behind her, and Bilba held Sting firmly in her shaking hands as she slashed at the spiders that rushed towards them. She could barely see in the gloom, but their many eyes gleamed in the darkness, reflecting what little light there was, and Bilba thought she might vomit. One leapt and crashed into Fili’s chest, knocking him flat on his back, and Bilba shouted his name, but she was too far away, and Kili was struggling with a spider bite on his leg, and oh by the Valar she was going to lose Fili –

Arrows shot from the underbrush, one piercing the spider that was about to sting Fili’s chest, instantly killing the awful creature. The other spiders either dropped dead or fled, and the Company found themselves surrounded by armed Wood Elves.

A tall, blonde, male elf stared down at them, his hand on his blade and a sneer on his lips. “Why do you trespass in our woods, dwarves?”

“Please,” Bilba said, interrupting before Uncle Thorin could say something incredibly offensive. “Two of our friends are hurt. We were trying to pass through, to reach the Iron Hills, but he fell in a river and won’t wake. Another was bitten by a spider,” here, she gestured to Kili, who was pale and sweaty as he leaned heavily against Fili. “We meant no offense – we weren’t sure which road to take.” The blonde elf stepped a little closer and raised one brow as he looked over her, undoubtedly taking in her wild hair and torn clothes. She leaned up a little and dropped her voice to a whisper; automatically, the elf bent to hear her better. “Travelling topside is difficult for dwarrow,” she whispered and gave a long, meaningful glance at Thorin, who scowled. “And hobbits are not known for travelling expertise, so you can guess at how lost we are.”

The male regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. “What is your name, little mistress? I am curious to see a Halfling in the company of dwarves.”

“I’m half of nothing,” Bilba snapped, then blushed. “Apologies; I am a hobbit, and we prefer to be called thusly. I am called Bilba, formerly Bilba Baggins of the Shire, daughter of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, elf-friend to Lord Elrond, and adopted kin to Frerin, son of Thrain.”

The elf bowed at the waist and took her hand to press a brief kiss against it. Both chose to ignore the growls that came from Frerin and Fili. “I am Legolas, little mistress, and an elf-friend of Lord Elrond’s is welcome here, along with her kin. Allow me to escort you to our King. We will treat your friend as well.”

They were guided quickly through the woods. One elf carried Bombur, while a tall female with fiery hair carried Kili. His brown eyes were wide and his face pale, but Kili still cracked jokes about the change in vantage point. “No wonder you lot are so good at archery,” he muttered. “From up here, you must be able to see game for miles.”

“Indeed,” the elleth said with a smile. “Much nicer from so high up.”

“I don’t know,” Kili said with a faint smile. “You must hit your head on an awful lot of branches.”

“Flirt,” Fili muttered under his breath, and Bilba squeezed his hand in reassurance.

 

 

When they reached the Elvenking’s halls, they were made to wait while Kili and Bombur were taken away for treatment. Though Thorin was twitching, either with rage or worry, Bilba was not sure, Dwalin and Frerin made sure that he was in no position to speak with King Thranduil.

The Elf King lounged in his throne, his elegant hair flowing down his back and sharp eyes watching their every move. “My son informs me that you claim to travel to the Iron Hills,” he drawled as they clustered together in his court. She caught the resemblance between the blonde who found them and the King, now that she could compare them. “And that you call yourself elf-friend to Lord Elrond.”

Bilba bobbed a curtsey and drew upon all the political lessons that Balin had drilled into her head throughout her childhood. “Bilba Baggins of Bag-End, a warm hearth to you, my Lord.” Thranduil inclined his head to her, and she took her cue to continue. “I originally hail from the Shire. My father was Bungo Baggins, and my mother was Belladonna Took. She was an unusual hobbit, in that she adventured far and frequently, and in her travels, she rescued Lord Elrond’s son from an Orc ambush. She was named elf-friend for her deeds, and after her death, the title passed on to me.” Another nod. “We are traveling to the Iron Hills, to see our kin, and to prepare a wedding.” All true, in a fashion – Bilba and Fili hoped to marry after they retook Erebor.

“Who’s wedding?” Thranduil asked immediately.

“Mine,” Bilba answered, just as promptly. “Mine, and Fili’s.” She gestured to him, and he stepped forward to take her hand in his with a faint smile. There was a ripple of a sigh through the courtiers when Fili pressed a kiss to the back of her hand. “We lost our way from the roads, and had your son not come to our rescue… Well, I do not wish to linger on it. I thank you most heartily for your aid. You are treating our kin, and I am grateful to your kindness.”

Thranduil tilted his head before he nodded at her. “I believe you, Mistress Baggins. Take ease; I shall see to your needs, and we shall meet for a meal. I am deeply curious as to how a hobbit found herself with a troop of dwarves.”

 

They stuck to their story that they were traveling for Fili and Bilba’s upcoming nuptials, and there were lots of sappy sighs as the elves witnessed their affection. When Bilba told her tale, of how her parents had been murdered and she sold to slavery, of how Frerin took her in and protected her, the elves warmed considerably to them. Apparently, saving a child was a sign of utmost honorability in their eyes, especially since Frerin continued to claim her as kin and provide her with a home. After a few glasses of wine, Bofur let slip that Bilba and Fili were childhood sweethearts, and they were soon beset with questions.

“When did you propose?” one elf asked – it was some elegant musician, who paused in his harp playing.

Bilba immediately flushed, and Fili laughed. “She proposed to me the first night we met,” he said. “I gave her some sweets, and she told me that I had pretty hair, and that she wanted to marry me.”

“I was nine,” Bilba said, and she swore she heard Prince Legolas mutter something suspiciously like ‘adorable.’ “I’d never had sweets before. And you do have pretty hair,” she added as an afterthought, earning another kiss to her hand. Frerin cleared his throat, and Bilba flashed him a mischievous smile. “You agreed, as I recall.”

“After Kili said that girls were icky,” Fili added. “Aye, I did. I was afraid it would make you sad if I said no.”

“Kili?” Prince Legolas asked.

“My younger brother,” Fili admitted. “He’s the dark-haired one who was bitten by a spider.”

“He’s right here.” Kili was carried into the hall by the red-haired elven woman, and his smile was entirely too smug. “Telling tales of my greatness already?”

“You seem to enjoy being tall today, Kee,” Bilba said with a grin.

“It’s a nice view,” he said and flashed an entirely too flirtatious smile at the elf woman, and the very tips of her ears reddened.

“You do not have to carry him about,” Thranduil said with a frown. “It is beneath the Captain of the Guard to act as a pack mule.”

She bowed her head slightly. “My apologies. I carried him because he moved so slowly that I thought he would only get cold food.”

Kili squawked in protest and Fili had to disguise his laugh as a cough. “You should have seen him after our coming-of-age party,” Bilba said with a wicked smile. “He thought his hangover was going to kill him. He whined so much, I thought I should put him out of his misery.”

“You said you wouldn’t talk about that,” Kili interrupted hastily.

“I said I wouldn’t tell another dwarrow of it,” Bilba said with a sniff. “You never made me swear not to tell an elf.”

“I hate you,” Kili muttered.

 

Two nights later, Kili was healed, but Bombur was still recuperating, so the Company waited still in Mirkwood. They would likely stay for at least a full week, in order to restock and heal and take advantage of the soft beds provided to them. That night, however, Fili and Kili were restless in their shared room; Fili longed for his Bilba, while Kili wanted nothing more than to explore with the beautiful Tauriel.

A knock at the door sounded just as their window swung open. Bilba froze in the doorway just as Tauriel slipped through the window frame, and they exchanged glances with the wide-eyed sons of Durin.

“Alibi?” Kili asked, his eyes on how Tauriel was illuminated by the moonlight.

“Alibi,” Fili agreed immediately, his gaze fixed on the nightgown that Bilba wore. It was an old practice of theirs; always they were each other’s alibis, and neither ever betrayed the other’s trust.

“I was here all night,” Kili told Fili as he walked towards the window.

“I kept you up with my snoring,” Fili replied as he sat up and reached out to Bilba. “Drove you near mad with it.”

Kili nodded before he slipped through the window. Fili shut it after him but did not lock it, and Bilba slipped into his embrace.

Fili’s mouth was hot on hers, his fingers tangling in her hair, and Bilba nudged him backwards onto the bed. When he fell on his back, Bilba was in his lap in a flash, straddling his thighs as her fingers stripped him of his shirt. “I’ve wanted you so badly,” Bilba said with a faint moan as she ran her hands along his bared flesh. “Talking about how much I love you all day, all those little kisses…”

Fili pushed upright on an elbow so he could press sloppy kisses against her collarbones. “I’ve been hungry for you since Beorn’s.” His voice was a low rasp as he yanked off her nightgown. When she was bared before him, Fili groaned at the sight and tried to sit up fully.

Bilba pushed him back down firmly and briefly sat off him in order to strip him of his trousers. Already he was hard, his cock bouncing lightly off his toned stomach, and Bilba could not resist the urge to bend down and take the head into her mouth. Fili choked at the sensation of her tongue tracing his slit, and soon he was moaning out curses and compliments as she sucked at him.

With a pop, Bilba released his manhood and crawled up his thighs and poised herself above him. “I want to ride you,” she panted as she lined him up against her.

“Gods, yes,” Fili said, and groaned when she slowly impaled herself on him. “You’re so beautiful, Bilba.”

Experimentally, Bilba rose up before she dropped down again, and let out a little coo when his girth stretched her in pleasant ways. She repeated the motion, and soon Fili was gripping her hips and rising his hips to meet each thrust. The room sounded of their skin slapping together, and Bilba tried hard to muffle her cries. When she slid her hips forward and rocked against him while he was fully inside her, pleasure tore through her.

“Oh,” Bilba said, before she repeated the motion to the same delicious effect. She rode him harder, rocking herself onto him and grinding against him; her clit rubbing against his pelvis while his length just hits that one spot, and soon she is moaning, utterly wanton as she chases her orgasm, rutting against him hard.

“So beautiful, so hot, you’re so wet, gods, you’re so tight,” Fili’s words are a hissed litany under his breath as he grips her hips even harder and draws her harshly against him. One hand slips up to pinch her nipples, and she tightens before an orgasm hits her hard, harder than ever, and Fili’s praise is almost unintelligible as he pursues his own pleasure. “I love you so much, so much, wish I could always be with you, in you, oh, by Mahal, I love you, Bilba!”

With a broken cry, Fili’s hips slam up against hers hard, once, twice, thrice; and Fili is spilling hard inside her. She feels his orgasm, feels it swell through her, and oh blessed Valar, she is coming apart again.

When they’ve caught their breath, Fili presses dozens of kisses to her face, half-desperate in his affections. “That was incredible,” he finally manages to say.

Bilba nods fervently as she tucks against his side. “Amazing.”

Their eyes meet, and Fili’s smile is pure temptation. “Want to go again?”

 

It was a stroke of good fortune that King Thranduil graciously allowed them to ferry down the river on their way out of the woods -- Kili refused to stop snickering about how Bilba walked funny.

Chapter Text

The less said about her encounter with Smaug, the better. Same for the gold madness, and Uncle Thorin. Less said about the Arkenstone -- and her plan to steal it -- the better.

Fili worried about Bilba's plan to take the Arkenstone to Bard. He often drew her to side rooms to whisper protests between kisses. Twice now these "discussions" had lead to nudity, and lately, Bilba had been so sensitive and hungry for him. Not that he was complaining, mind, but for now, Bilba enjoyed trading languid kisses on their heap of hastily discarded clothing.

The door swung open with a bang, startling the two badly, and Fili jumped and dragged his cloak to cover Bilba’s nudity. In the doorway, Thorin clapped his hand across his eyes and let loose a steady string of profanity that made Bilba’s ears burn. Some phrases she was not even sure of, but she knew at least three that Dis had washed her mouth out with soap for, and another two that Dis had thrown a frying pan at Nori’s head for using around her sons.

“By the Valar, you two!” Thorin cursed as he wound down. “Fili, I expected better of you! Your mother will have my beard! Get dressed, get dressed now, and meet me in the hall!” Thorin stumbled back out of the room and slammed the door behind him, leaving Bilba and Fili gaping at each other in utter uncertainty.

They scrambled to tug their clothes on as Bilba whispered, “Did Uncle seem… more normal to you?”

Fili nodded as he laced up his trousers. “I did get blamed first, so there is that.” While Kili was typically the troublemaker, when he was not involved in said trouble, the fault often fell on Fili’s shoulders. Mostly because only Fili would feel guilty, because Bilba was typically quite proud of whatever mad scheme she had masterminded. Fili pressed a quick, firm kiss to her lips. “But if he’s really angry…”

“We could run to Bard,” Bilba whispered. “Or Thranduil. We’d just have to tell him something ridiculous, like ‘elves have better wine,’ and he’d probably hide us, just to spite Uncle.”

“No running away to Elves!” Thorin’s voice came through the door. A pause, and then a softer, “Are you two miscreants decent?”

“Yes, Uncle,” they chorused, and Thorin entered the room with a scowl.

“You’re lucky I came this way, and not Frerin,” he stated, and Fili shuddered while Bilba paled. “We have a host of irate elves at our door, a gaggle of greedy men, only one decent one, and a meddling wizard, and you two are off… off canoodling, where anyone can see you.” Thorin paused. “Valar know that I didn’t want to see that.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “My head aches fit to burst like I’ve been beat with a stone.”

“You’ve been, ah, rather unwell lately, Uncle,” Fili said softly. He reached out to grasp Thorin’s shoulder, only to have his Uncle lean away with a snort.

“I know where that hand has been, lad.” Fili and Bilbo turned bright red, and Thorin snorted again. “I think I need a drink.”

 

(Later, when Kili hassled Bilba and Fili off to the side to find out what, exactly, snapped Thorin out of the Gold-Sickness, the youngest Durin Prince alternately giggled and gagged. “I can believe that the sight of your naked arse would be enough to snap him out of it,” he told his brother, and ducked the half-hearted swipe at his head. “What about Uncle Frerin?”

“Not a word,” Bilba hissed. “Unless you want to be an only child?”

Kili vehemently shook his head.

“Especially not to Amad,” Fili said in a low voice. “She’ll castrate me for sure.”)

 

When Bilba and Fili got caught ‘necking in a corner,’ as Frerin put it when he broke up their amorous kissing (Fili’s hands may have been respectfully on her waist and lower back, but Bilba’s hands were assuredly not), he swore it was the last straw. Bard and Thranduil, who had been invited inside for negotiations, found themselves in the center of a family domestic.

“Want to foster my nephew for a while?” Frerin asked as he dragged Fili and Bilba in by their ears, both flushed and mumbling their protests. “A few years, maybe a decade or two, I’m not fussy.” Frerin glared at his nephew and then gave the lad’s ear a sharp twist. Bilba looked down at her feet rather sheepishly when Thorin ran a hand over his face and muttered a prayer for patience. “Only requirement is that these two lovebirds can’t be alone together.”

Thranduil’s hand froze on his goblet of wine, his expression that of someone who took a sip of water only to find vinegar in his cup. The mental images that his traitorous mind had summoned up only served to nauseate him. Bard glanced between the two, his brows rising and then falling before he guessed, “Get caught kissing off a corner?”

“Something like that,” Bilba mumbled.

Bard nodded knowingly. “Happens to all of us. Nearly got murdered by my father-in-law for it a few times, back when I courted my wife.” Bard’s expression was wistful as he reminisced.

Frerin raised a brow at him. “And you wouldn’t do the same if you caught Sigrid and some lad together?” Bard’s hand twitched immediately towards where he bow usually hung on his back, and Frerin nodded. “Thought so.” He turned to the Elf King, who still looked horrorstruck at the mental images that were brewing in the doubtlessly fetid pools of his imagination. “C’mon, you can make my nephew eat only salad and torment him with tales of elven superiority.”

“I am honored by your… consideration,” Thranduil began, his speech slow and careful as he regarded the hellish traps of the family domestic that faced him. He should not have marched on the mountain, he thought to himself as Thorin rolled his eyes. “But I think I would not be best suited to, ah, house your nephew. He is the heir, is he not?”

“There’s another nephew,” Frerin said cheerfully, and Bilba slapped at his shoulder with a scowl.

“Stop overreacting,” she said. “It’s not like you caught us with our trousers down!” Fili, Frerin, and oddly enough, Thorin blushed at that statement. “We were just kissing.” Bilba pouted a little. “Not like you didn’t run off to snog that one dam, whatshername, Frigga, back when you were young.”

“How’d you hear about that… wait, never mind,” Frerin said, with a glare at Thorin and at the shadows of the room, where, presumably, Nori lurked. He often favored westerly corners to lurk in, Mahal knows why. “That’s not the point.”

“I think the point is that you’re being ridiculous,” Bilba complained.

“I think I’m not, considering how you two seem set on working your way into making me a grandfather,” Frerin griped. Thorin paled and hastily took a swig of wine. Frerin froze, and turned to stare intently at his older brother. He released the young couple (both of whom scampered behind Gandalf, who seemed rather amused by this drama unfolding) and stalked towards the King Under the Mountain. “Why the face, brother dear?”

Thorin mumbled something about flashbacks and being unready for any spawn of Fili’s—and he ignored Fili’s squawk of protest—and Thorin tried to change the subject quickly, too quickly, and avoided his brother’s eyes. Frerin hummed, non-committal, and glanced rapidly between Thorin, Thorin’s heir, and his adopted daughter, all of whom would not meet his eyes. “You know, you changed your tune to hear out Laketown and Greenwood rather swiftly, Thorin. Normally I have to punch you in the head a few dozen times to get a turnaround like that.” Thorin grumbled to himself as he took another swig of wine. His hand shook ever so slightly, and Frerin pressed on. “Almost like you got quite a shock.” Thorin ignored him completely, choosing to look at the Elf King’s visage (awful as it was), rather than face down his irate brother. “Now, what shock could that have been? It was odd enough that you offered to help me track down my Bilba and your wayward neph…ew…” Frerin trailed off as the dots connected in his head, and he gaped between the three. Realization struck him like a mace to the head, and the thought rang through him like a rockslide.

“Tell me it’s not what I’m thinking,” Frerin rumbled.

“It’s not what you’re thinking, since you’re obviously not thinking at all,” Thorin snarked, but he still did not meet his brother’s eyes. Internally, Thorin was bemoaning his poor fate. What use was it, to be King Under the Mountain, if one couldn’t even get away from irrational siblings? He ought to make a decree about that.

“Tell me you did not catch them at, at,” Frerin petered off, and when his brother did not speak, Frerin made a sound akin to a cat being doused in ice water, or that of an Orc forced to bathe. When Thorin still did not confess, as he was too busy silently attempting to word his decree against family domestics in the midst of treaty discussions, Frerin whirled to glare at Fili, who had gone white as moonstone, while Bilba flushed and folded her arms with a scowl. “You!” Frerin roared, and Fili cringed behind Gandalf. “You! And my Bilba!”

“Uncle,” Fili whined, and Gandalf edged to the side to be out of Frerin’s range, but Fili doggedly moved with him, shamelessly using the Istari as a living shield. “It’s not what you think.”

“You two got caught, didn’t you?” Frerin’s voice was a roar, highly reminiscent of the recently departed dragon. Bard sat very still, and wished for his bow. Thranduil settled into his seat and took a sip of wine. This domestic was turning out to be quite entertaining. For him, at least. This gossip would trump any stories from Captain Tauriel for centuries, easily beating her long-winded tales about killing spiders that inevitably ended the same way (‘I saw a spider, did some fancy jumps, and shot the disgusting arachnid, hooray!’). How utterly delicious, to have fresh gossip, straight from the source. “By Mahal, deflowering my wee one while hiding off in Erebor! I spent hours looking for you!”

“Not likely that they were at it the whole time,” Thranduil muttered, thinking of virgins and his own youthful ventures (admittedly Ages ago, but details), and Thorin’s face turned an interesting shade of puce. Thranduil contemplated commissioning a mural depicting this scene.

“It’s not like that,” Fili protested, but Frerin cut him off.

“My poor innocent Bilba!” Frerin moaned.

“Not that innocent,” the lass in question grumbled under her breath, and froze when she realized she had, in fact, said that out loud. Out loud, and within hearing range of her incredibly overprotective and occasionally irrational not-quite-an-uncle-or-a-father-but-something-like-that.

Utter silence reigned, and no one dared to move. Bilba fluctuated between a ruddy flush and a pale nervousness, while Fili lost color until he was nearly ghostly. Bard held his breath. Thranduil decided that yes, he would indeed commission a mural, and mused whether he wanted Thorin to be depicted with his current lovely shade of red-violet or that ghastly shade of grey. Maybe two murals could be made. Or even a series spanning the halls that led from his throne room to his private chambers. He could always use something to cheer him up after a long day of ruling the Greenwood realm.

Frerin exploded into an outburst of shouts, profanity, and wild hand gestures.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NOT THAT INNOCENT?!”

“It’s not that bad. We’re grown up and have been courting for years.” Bilba tried for logic, though her blush increased.

An inarticulate sound of rage, and Thorin raised a brow at Fili. “Laketown?” he guessed. The young couple flushed, though Bilba seemed to hesitate (which, to Thranduil, indicated earlier indiscretions, not that he would be foolish enough to announce aloud), Bard paled at the connection between his home and said debauchery, and Frerin swelled up with anger.

“I KNEW I SHOULD HAVE SENT YOU HOME THE MOMENT YOU CAUGHT UP WITH US!”

“I would have come right back! You couldn’t stop me, I’m of age!”

“I SHOULD HAVE TIED YOU TO MY PONY! AND I SHOULD HAVE TIED YOU TO A CHAIR BACK IN ERED LUIN, YOU, YOU IMP OF A LAD!”

“Brother, calm down—“

“I WILL NOT CALM DOWN! MY BABY GIRL, DEFLOWERED BEFORE HER WEDDING, EVEN!”

“Amad is going to kill me,” Fili whimpered. Thorin and Bard both nodded, the latter with mild sympathy, the former with utter surety of past experience. Dis would use her favorite axe, for sure. She was a soft touch, his sister, always showing signs of favoring her sons, even when disciplining them. Or executing them, in this case. “She’s going to skin me alive.”

“Hardly,” Bilba said as she threaded her arm through Fili’s (which elicited an even higher pitched squawking sound from her beloved) and stared down her adoptive father, who was now pacing the room like a caged Warg. “Admittedly, she did tell me not to make her a grandmother before she got to see Erebor, but I think we can handle that.”

A pause, and Thorin half rose from his seat. “Wait, she knew that you left?”

Bilba floundered and stuttered as she explained, attention on her once more. “Well… she caught me as I was sneaking out the night after you all left. Surprisingly, really, since she never caught… never mind,” Bilba interrupted herself with a bite to her lower lip. “Anyways. Dis told me to be careful.” Frerin made an inarticulate sound. “And she may have told me to make sure you lot did not see me until we were at least a week out of Ered Luin, so you couldn’t send me back,” Bilba said in a rush.

“Is that so?” Thorin said as Fili turned to view her in surprise. “I knew she was upset that she couldn’t come. ‘Its fine, Thorin, I’ll handle things in Ered Luin, Thorin; you can go off and fight the dragon like a suicidal nitwit, Thorin; I’ll wait here, Thorin.’” Thorin mimicked his sister’s deep voice with a sneer and a pinch to the bridge of his nose. “Can’t just say what she means, can she? Has to make me question her every word, doesn’t she? And then she gets angry that I don’t trust her.” He complained, and Bard gave him a commiserating look, all too familiar with enraged siblings, given his daughters.

Frerin tugged at his hair. “First Fili, then Dis… Nori too, for giving you that map,” he muttered. The lack of response from the thief verified that he was not in the room. That, or he knew not to upset Frerin where there were objects laying around. Even a scroll could be a deadly projectile in the hands of an enraged Durin. "We’ll need to reopen the crypts at this rate.”

“Isn’t there a horde of orcs coming?” Bard asked, desperate to change the topic to something more friendly. Dwarves liked killing, right? Maybe a good battle would cheer them up. If Sororicidal fantasies and plotting nepoticide calmed Frerin, then perhaps a rousing Orcish genocide would calm him down.

Frerin waved his hand in dismissal. “That’s not important right now.”

“I could just run naked in front of them,” Bilba mused. “Then you’d get really angry and slaughter them.” Bard glanced at her, then caught himself and jerked his head around as quickly as he could; no use being murdered himself when there were others ahead of him. Namely Fili. Bard felt for the lad, he truly did, but Bard had three children to care for and Fili had only just begun to play beneath the skirts of the Hobbit lass. “It worked just before we came across Beorn, remember? Not that that time was on purpose,” she hastened to add. “I really was bathing when those orcs came. I was lucky that Bifur was guarding the river nearby.”

Frerin turned to glare at her. “Don’t get any ideas, you mad Hobbit. You’re in so much trouble! I ought to lock you up,” he grumbled. “Keep you in the dungeons until your Auntie comes, then she can help me deal with all this.” A glare was redirected at Fili, who surprisingly did not flinch.

“How long would that take?” Bard asked. “Surely she cannot be here before the orcs arrive to make war.”

“Six months or so, given any difficulties or what routes she takes,” Thorin answered him, and Bard nodded thoughtfully. Thranduil finished his goblet of wine and calmly poured himself another as the tension gradually wound back down. The Hobbit lass fidgeted, slowly edging her way to the door. Thranduil did not blame her, given the glares she was trading with Frerin (her adoptive father? Her minder? Her something, that was evident enough). He thought that the dwarf would be more considerate of her, if the healing gem on his sleeve that glowed when she passed by was any indication. Unless… Well, Thranduil tucked that knowledge away for a later date. No need to play such a delightful bargaining chip too early.

“I could take one of them,” Thranduil stated. Every eye turned to him, and he took his time taking a sip of the (admittedly high-quality) wine. “For a price, of course.”

“The gems of Lasgalen?” Thorin guessed.

Not an idiot after all, Thranduil mused to himself. He inclined his regal head. “A fair trade. I would guarantee their safety during the upcoming battle. It would be hardly fitting for an Elven King to abandon a young one to war.”

Frerin held still as he thought hard; instinct told him to keep Bilba safe and to keep her close, but the two were not mutually exclusive. Ensconced within Elven ranks would be safer than in the company of dwarves, especially as the Elves had a place to retreat to, while Erebor could still fall to the orcs. Judging by the scowl on his Nathith’s face, she did not care for the idea of being separated from any of her dwarrow, but Frerin knew that he had to do what was best for her, whether or not she liked it.

“Take Bilba,” Frerin said. The reaction was immediate, with Bilba squawking with outrage, to Fili immediately drawing her into his arms, and Thorin sighing as he rubbed at his temples. Frerin ignored the lot of them and instead stared down Thranduil. “Keep her safe, no matter what, you understand? Treaty or not, if anything happens to her, I’ll personally hunt you down and skin you myself.” Thranduil raised an eyebrow, and Frerin furrowed his into his fiercest scowl. “Death will not stop me from any vengeance. Swear that you will protect her with your life.”

Thranduil set down his goblet and inclined his head. “I will guard her myself, along with my son. She will be safe.”

“No!” Bilba shouted, and struggled forward, only to be held tighter in Fili’s arms. “I won’t go, I want to fight!”

“Nathith,” Frerin said, and he stepped forward to cup her face in his hands. Tears welled in her hazel eyes, frustration bled from her trembling frame, but it was the desperate fear that her gaze held that made his chest tight but his heart heavy with the knowledge that this truly was for the best. He could not live in a world where he had failed her. “Nathith, mizimith, I need you safe. I could not bear to lose you.” A quick glance at his nephew’s face illuminated a similar sentiment. Though Fili’s arms were tight around her, his jaw was set and his eyes shone with unshed tears. “Fili needs you safe. We all do.”

Bilba craned her head back to search Fili’s face. The answer she read there hurt like a blow to the chest. “What about what I want?” Bilba asked. “How am I supposed to survive if I lose you all?” Her fists clenched and she glared at the both of them. “Why else do you think I came after you lot? I couldn’t stand it, sitting at home, not knowing if you had all gotten yourselves killed, if you left me alone.” Her voice shook on the last word, and Frerin drew her into a fierce embrace.

“We’ll come back to you,” Frerin said.

“You can’t promise that,” Bilba whispered, though she gripped at his tunic until her knuckles turned white.

Fili pressed a kiss to her brow. “We swear it,” Fili said. “We’ll survive this battle, you’ll see. But promise me you’ll be safe, please. I’d fight worse if I constantly searched for you.”

Bilba snorted and pressed her forehead against Frerin’s shoulder. “Then how are you going to fight with Kili at your side?”

There was a pause, before Fili pulled back slightly and regarded Thranduil solemnly. “Will you take my younger brother as well? He could stay with Bilba, to help keep her safe. He’s an excellent archer,” Fili added. “The best in Ered Luin, by far.”

Thranduil thought to ask for more, but he caught sight of how Fili’s hands shook as he held Bilba close, how the lad seemed close to tears, and for once, the Elven King took pity on a stubborn son of Durin. With a long-suffering sigh and a swig of wine, Thranduil drawled, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt.”

 

Later, Kili punched Fili in the chest for sending him away. When Thorin took Fili’s side, he bore Kili’s blow to the jaw stoically, before he wrapped his youngest nephew in a tight hug. Kili’s shoulders shook as he wept, both in fear and anger, before he returned his uncle’s embrace. When Kili pulled away and scrubbed at his eyes with his fist, he dragged Fili into a similar hug. “Don’t get yourself killed,” he grumbled. “I won’t be able to shoot every Orc down that comes too close, like I usually do.”

Fili butted their heads together and gripped Kili’s shoulders. “Stay safe,” he murmured. “Stick with Bilba. I love you, nadad.”

Thorin embraced Bilba as Kili embraced Frerin, and when it was Fili’s turn, he drew her into a gentle hug. “Forgive me,” Fili whispered. “I am selfish; I cannot bear to think of you in battle, ghivashel. I love you so much.”

Bilba buried her face in the crook of his neck and tried to memorize his scent: leather, the oils he used to care for his swords, and pine. The smell of home, of her heart. “I’ll forgive you when you come back safe to me, amrâlimê,” she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “I love you too, you majestic, stone-headed sap.” Fili chuckled, and she kissed him fiercely, before she pulled away to press a second, gentle kiss to his lips. “Mahal guide and guard you, love.”

Fili pulled away to take something from Thorin’s hands before he pressed a bundle of silvery metal in her hands. Bilba’s eyes widened; a chainmail coat, made of mithril. “To keep you from harm,” he murmured.

Frerin gently jostled him out of the way, a helm in his hands and an apologetic smile on his face. Bilba set aside the armor and drew him into a fierce hug, and pressed her face hard against his collarbone as she tried to swallow down her tears. Frerin rested his chin atop her head and rocked them side to side, like he had done since she was small. “Don’t die, Adad,” she whispered, and Frerin’s breath shuddered in his chest. Despite their closeness, Bilba had never called him Adad; she had never felt it appropriate to claim this dwarf as her father, not when she had had and lost a father before, not when Frerin gave up so much to care for her, not when so many opposed her living with the royal family. “Adad, you can’t leave me alone.” Her voice cracked, and Bilba buried her face into his tunic.

“Nathith, I’ll always be here for you,” Frerin crooned before he kissed the crown of her head. “Oh, Bilba, you’ve grown so big. I’m so proud,” he murmured to her. “So proud of you. Let me keep you safe, one more time, before you go off with Fili to keep each other from harm.” Gently, he grasped her shoulders and drew her back so he could press their foreheads together. “Sweetheart, my wee one, let’s make a deal.” She laughed wetly at that; the memories of how Frerin would barter with her to take two more bites, or to drink the rest of the water, rose to mind. “I’ll survive this battle and come back to you, if you keep safe and come back to me, hale and healthy, yes?”

“Deal,” Bilba said, and hugged Frerin tight. “I love you, Adad.”

When Bilba and Kili were led away towards Mirkwood, where Thranduil’s forces lie, Bilba did not allow herself to look back, even though her tears blurred her sight; she knew the last of her resolve would crumble, to watch Fili as she walked away. At her side, Kili’s hand was a vice around hers, and that pain kept her moving despite her heart screaming for her to stay.

Chapter Text

The battle was chaos. Even Bilba, a novice to war, could see that. Perched as she was in the trees, Kili behind her on a thick branch, Bilba watched the fighting, the handle of her blade – her courting gift from Fili – gripped tight in her fist.

A flash of light atop Ravenhill, above where her loved ones fought, caught Bilba’s attention. She squinted at the hillside, hard. “Kili, do you see that? On Ravenhill?”

Kili’s head swiveled as he stopped watching after Tauriel to where Bilba pointed. A pause, and then Kili swore under his breath. “Someone’s up there.”

Bilba nodded, though Kili was not looking at her. “Those aren’t our banners,” she said. “Dain’s?”

Kili grumbled a negative. “No, his aren’t black. Those are Orc colors.”

Bilba felt as though a rope had tightened around her neck. “Kili, I don’t think the others have seen them.” He groaned, and Bilba’s hand shot backwards to grip his wrist tightly. “Kili, they’ll be killed!”

For a moment, Kili wavered before profanity spilled from his mouth and he clambered down from the tree. “Get your helm,” he barked. “Tauriel!” he shouted as Bilba dragged her hair away and donned the helmet. “Tauriel, there are Orcs atop Ravenhill.”

The elleth turned her eyes towards the hilltop, and grimaced when she realized the situation. “A trap,” she surmised. Then she eyed the two of her charges with resignation. “You plan to warn them.”

“Yes,” Bilba and Kili said together.

A pause, and Tauriel let out a long breath. “There’s nothing I can do to persuade you otherwise, is there?”

“Not a thing,” Kili said with a bright smile, and an answering grin worked its way across the Captain’s face.

Tauriel turned and whistled sharply. Three elves dropped from the trees around them; two that Bilba did not know, and one of them, surprisingly, was Legolas. A quick stream of Sindarin brought them up to speed, though Legolas eyed Bilba with concern. “You would fight?”

“Why not?” Bilba snapped, and Kili smothered a giggle at her fierce expression.

Legolas tilted his head as his brows drew together, and for a moment, Bilba thought that he looked like an absurd bird. “You are both very small,” he said. “And I do not think you are as strong as a dwarf.”

For a moment, the edges of her vision blurred red, and she rapidly blinked, willing the rage away. She turned her face towards Ravenhill, towards where her Adad, her love, and her Uncle all fought. Terror gripped her heart, and for a moment, Bilba despaired.

“Hey, I’m a grown dwarf!” Kili protested. His expression was wounded, and Bilba bit down a hysterical laugh that bubbled up inside her.

“He meant her,” Tauriel said patiently, though a smirk flickered briefly across her face.

Kili’s hair whipped across her cheeks as he turned to stare at her, an amused expression on his face. “Who do you think keeps us in line?” he asked Legolas with a laugh.

“Just get me to them and stay out of my way,” Bilba snapped, and Legolas took a half step back. “No one is allowed to touch my dwarves.”

As she stomped forward, Legolas trailing her, Bilba ignored Kili’s moan: “Oh, Mahal, we’re all doomed. Amad killed a troop of Orcs when Adad was threatened.”

 

The Mirkwood Elves made up her impromptu guard, and once they realized she was implacable in her path, they fought with a ferocity that astonished Kili and likely would have impressed Bilba, were she not solely focused on reaching her kin. As unusual as hobbits were, for elves, they understood that to stand in Bilba’s way was to, frankly, court death and kicked shins, so they cleared a path for her.

When their group crested Ravenhill, ahead of the Orc ambush, Bilba stabbed an Orc attacking Fili through the neck. Fili gaped at her for a moment, his eyes automatically checking her for wounds while Bilba silently noted the blood spattering his armor, and the nicks and cuts on his face.

“What are you doing here?” Fili shouted. Frerin and Thorin both glanced towards him, only to double take at the sight of Bilba and Kili being escorted and guarded by Elves. “You lot were supposed to keep her safe!”

“Apologies,” Legolas said as he smoothly cut the head off an attacking Orc. “We thought it best to clear her a path and stay out of her way, as she ordered.”

“There’s an ambush headed your way,” Bilba interrupted what was sure to be a long tirade from Frerin. “An entire company of Orcs is coming from Ravenhill.”

Thorin cursed, and Fili wavered, torn between scolding her and drawing her close. “Get her out of here,” Frerin told Legolas. “Kili too.”

Bilba shrugged off Legolas’ hand at her shoulder and dragged Fili into a hug. “You better come back to me,” she said, “Because I want you flat on your back as soon as possible.” She pinched his arse, and for a moment, Fili stared at her, bewildered, before he started to laugh at the absurdity of his One.

“Let’s get out of here,” Frerin said, in an admirable attempt at ignoring their flirting. “You lot first.”

Before Bilba could protest, the Orcs swarmed downwards towards them, and they were off, running for their lives. Bilba slashed and sliced at the knees and waists of Orcs as they passed, darting away before they could snatch at her, and left them for the others to easily finish off with a single blow. But as they scrambled down the slopes, something struck the back of her head hard. For a moment, the world blurred and slowed around her, and Bilba attempted to stumble forward. Doggedly, she knew she had to keep running, to keep moving, but she did not know why. Then Bilba dropped forward, unconscious. Before she hit the ground, Legolas caught her up into his arms. With only a backwards glance and a nod exchanged with a grim-faced Frerin, the elvish prince sprinted through the battlefield, leaping from rocks and bounding off Orc heads, to carry her to safety.

 

Hours later, Bilba woke in the healing tents. Battle over and won, the wounded were being tended to. At her side, Fili said in a chair, his left arm in a sling, a bandage across his brow, and more bandages wrapping his sides.

“Fee?” Bilba mumbled as she blinked her heavy eyelids.

“Bilba,” Fili answered immediately, his right hand gripping hers tightly. “You’re safe; the Battle is over.”

Bilba tried to ask after their kin, only for a croak to escape her lips. Fili turned slowly and fumbled, one-handed, to hold a cup of water to her lips. Grateful, Bilba sipped at the cool liquid until she drained the mug, and shook her head when Fili offered her more. “You’re alright? Where’s Kee? Uncle Thorin? Frerin? The Company, are they alive?”

“Easy,” Fili said as his thumb traced circles on the back of her hand. “Everyone survived. Kili’s asleep beside you.” Bilba turned her head, but the motion made her feel dizzy. In the cot to her right, Kili rested beneath blankets, one leg heavily swathed while bandages covered the left side of his face. “He broke a leg and got a nasty cut to the face, but Tauriel says he’ll keep his eye. Frerin broke a few ribs, like me, and got a nasty concussion. Uncle Thorin,” Fili’s voice broke briefly, but he cleared his throat and clenched his jaw. “Uncle Thorin took some serious wounds to his chest from Orc blades, but Thranduil and Oin worked for hours on him. Tauriel’s checking on him now, for me, but last she saw, she said that it looked promising. Dwalin has some new scars, Bofur broke a few toes, but aside from the odd scrapes and cuts, most of the Company made it out fine.” He paused, and held her hand in his as Bilba let out a sigh of relief, her free hand falling lax to her lap, before he spoke again. “Tauriel helped you earlier, too. Scared me half to death when she called for Thranduil’s help. But he said… he said you’re fine. You’re both fine.”

“Both?” Bilba asked, nonplussed. “You mean me and Kili?”

Fili dragged her hand up to press a kiss to her palm. “You took a shield to the head, and Tauriel said you’ll have a concussion for a while. I thought she meant you wouldn’t wake, and that’s why she called for Thranduil. But he examined you, and said that… that the baby is fine.” Fili pressed more kisses against her skin, and his eyes softened. “I ought to be furious that you ran into battle, but Legolas said that you didn’t know. You saved us.” Bilba stroked his cheek with her thumb, marveling that she could cup his face and touch his beard again, after all the bloodshed. “He also said that you bullied your way into battle,” he added with a chuckle.

“How could I not,” Bilba asked. Then his words sank in, and she began to think over the illness that had been plaguing her since their trek from Mirkwood to Laketown. How the scent of mint turned her stomach, and how her back always ached, no matter how much Fili rubbed it for her. “Fili, are you saying that I’m pregnant?”

Fili’s eyes burned into hers as he nodded, and his lips trailed down her palm to mouth a kiss against her wrist, lingering near her pulse point. “You’re about two months along, ghivashel.”

Two months… “Mirkwood?” she asked with a gasp, and Fili nodded.

“Ew,” Kili moaned from his cot. “What a terrible thing to wake up to; realizing you provided the alibi for conception of your brother’s child.” Fili laughed, and Bilba turned to inspect him. Pale as he was, Kili flashed them a mischievous grin. “Here I was, hoping to wake up to a beautiful elf maid, and instead I get my brother’s ugly mug as he woos his Hobbit.”

“Elf maid?” Fili asked.

“Tauriel? You’re in love with Tauriel?” Bilba blurted her question, and undoubtedly, she was gaping rudely at Kili, who flushed at their expressions.

“You have no room to judge me,” he said with a defensive scowl. “You slept with my idiot of a brother and from what I heard, you’re pregnant.” Fili accepted this with a nod, and Kili squirmed a little. “She saved my life. She’s the Captain of the Guard, and she’s an amazing archer, and she’s beautiful and wise and –“

“She’s very flattered.” Tauriel ducked through the flaps of the tent and went immediately to Kili’s side to press a kiss to his cheek.

For a moment, Fili regarded the two, while Bilba beamed at the elf maid who had fought well beside her. “Tell Uncles together?” Fili finally asked.

“Can’t kill both of us,” Kili agreed with a nod. “Especially since Thorin can’t wield his sword with that busted arm.”

“We’ll need at least one other dwarf to help us,” Fili mused, and Bilba rolled her eyes at Tauriel with a smile. “I vote Nori.”

“How will you convince him?” Kili asked with a frown. “He’s too smart to piss off either of our Uncles directly.”

“We could let him run the bets,” Fili suggested, his free hand absently trailing up and down Bilba’s hand and wrist. “I know there’s a pot going on whether or not I’d get caught in a, ah, compromising position.”

Kili snickered. “I forgot; Bofur owes me coin for that!”

“Who else, though?” Fili asked. “Nori won’t do it alone; he’d think it’s too risky. Dwalin would just kill me himself.”

“Balin would lecture us to death,” Kili added. “And Gloin would too, even though he’s an Adad. He’d likely lecture you all about parenting.”

Bilba snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it!” Both princes looked at her, identical expressions of curiosity plastered across their faces. “We can’t ask for anyone who’s an Adad; they’ll all want to help Frerin and Thorin kill you both. What we need is a mother hen.”

“Dori,” Fili and Kili chorused.

Fili struggled to his feet, swooped down to press a kiss against her forehead, before he stumbled out of the tent, shouting for Nori.

 

That evening, Kili hobbled with Tauriel to visit their Uncle’s tent, while Nori helped Fili and Dori hovered alongside Bilba, his hands occupied, mercifully, with a tray of tea. Bilba settled into a chair next to Fili after she pressed a kiss to his forehead and to squeeze Thorin’s hands.

“How are you feeling, Uncle?” Kili asked.

“Well enough,” Frerin said with smile, while Thorin grunted.

“Alive,” Thorin said, and his mouth twisted in a wry smile. “As I understand it, thanks to yourself, Mistress Elf, and Thranduil.” Though he grimaced as he said the Elvenking’s name, Thorin inclined his head to Tauriel, who flushed a little, and Kili beamed at her. “I doubt I can ever repay you for what you have done for me and my kin.”

Tauriel bowed her head, and hesitated while Kili took advantage of the moment. “There is something you could do for her, Uncle.” At Thorin’s raised brow, Kili chirped, “You could give us your blessing.”

“My… blessing?” Thorin repeated, his mouth slack as he stared at his youngest nephew. In the cot next to him, Frerin let out a quiet cackle at his gob smacked expression. “You… you wish to court my nephew?”

“Yes,” Tauriel said, her back straight and her shoulders thrown back. With her long auburn hair and determined expression, Bilba could see why Kili was so drawn to her. “With your blessing, I would like to court Kili, and later, with blessing from his mother.”

“Good luck with that,” Frerin said with a friendly smile. “Dis is quite fierce about her baby Kee,” he said, and laughed when Kili scowled at him.

“You want to court her,” Thorin began again. “You, my sister-son, want to court the Captain of Thranduil’s Guard.” He was breathing heavily, a scowl starting on his face. “You want to court an elf who literally serves one who has been my nemesis and general pain in my arse for centuries.”

“It could be worse,” Frerin said with a snort. “He could be courting Thranduil’s son.”

“I fail to see how that would be better,” Thorin said with a glare. “She has spent years of service protecting one that I still despise.”

Kili was squirming in desperation now, and Bilba began to worry at her lip. Dori was there in an instant, draping a blanket around Bilba and scowling at her Uncles. “Don’t make her fret,” he said. “You’ll put too much stress on the poor dear.”

“The elf will be fine—“

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Dori interrupted – actually interrupted – Thorin without batting an eye. “I was talking about your niece.”

“She’s concussed, not made of glass,” Thorin grumped, though he did eye Dori with wariness. Behind them, Nori let out a snort.

“I will not hesitate to knock you out,” Dori said with a scowl. “You either,” he added, and pointed at Frerin. “No one is to upset the little dear. I mean it.”

“Why would I upset her?” Frerin asked. “I’d never do anything to hurt my Nathith.”

Dori nodded in approval. “Good. Undue stress is too much for her right now, and I won’t have one whit of it.”

“We heard,” Thorin said with a roll of his eyes. “It is just a concussion. Last I heard, stress won’t make it any worse.”

“Again, I wasn’t talking about that,” Dori snapped back, hands on his hips.

“Then what—“

“I’m pregnant,” Bilba blurted out.

Frerin went absolutely still, and Thorin looked between her and Fili before he let out a long sigh. “Dis is going to murder us,” he said. “One son courting Thranduil’s Captain, another getting a lass pregnant, oh Mahal, what have I done to deserve this?”

Several things came to mind, but wisely, no one voiced them.

“Not to mention that she’s going to be one son short,” Frerin said, his tone utterly calm. “Because I’m going to strangle your idiot heir.”

Dori was between them immediately. “What did I say about upsetting her?”

 

The ensuing argument involved shouting, three broken tea trays, a thrown tea kettle that narrowly avoided Frerin’s thick skull, and a lot of Nori’s maniacal laughter as he took in the chaos. It took Dwalin and Bifur to restrain Frerin from attempting to murder Fili, and Dori and Balin to prevent Thorin from doing so to Kili. By the end of it, Thorin agreed to deal with Fili if Frerin dealt with Kili.

Frerin hobbled out with Kili and Tauriel, while Fili and Bilba sat at Thorin’s bedside.

 

“I hope you like elves,” Frerin said as he settled into a chair in Kili’s tent. “And I truly hope you thoroughly enjoy their company. Relish it, even. Because you are going to be our Greenwood ambassador.” Kili blinked in utter bafflement; was this supposed to be a punishment? “In fact, you will carry messages between the two Kings and deliver them. Personally. You’ll spend a lot of time at King Thranduil’s side. You know, the King whose Guard Captain you are attempting to run off with? Then again, he might not mind, given that he didn’t approve of how Legolas mooned over Tauriel. He might even thank you. Thranduil, I mean; Legolas will probably want to shoot you. But at least Thranduil might even come to be like another Uncle to you by the end of it.” Kili started to pale as he realized that he would be the messenger raven for two feuding, irate kings. “I’ve heard elves love to eat greens. Better prepare for months and months of eating leaves, nephew mine, and in having to kiss Thranduil’s—“
Kili let out a low, pained moan, and Frerin looked quite pleased with himself.

 

Thorin stared at the two chastised lovers that sat at his bedside. With his good hand, Thorin scratched idly at his beard. “You know, Dis will not be able to scold you without being a hypocrite.” Fili’s head shot up in shock, and Thorin smiled at him with evil humor. “Oh, aye, did you really think that your mother married Vili so quickly because they were Ones?” Fili nodded, unsure, and Thorin chuckled. “Your parents married in the late fall and had you early the following summer. Six months after the wedding, actually.”

Fili realized the math immediately: dwarrow carried for twelve months. His mother had been halfway through her pregnancy when she married his father. Pregnant with him.

“Oh, Mahal,” Fili said with a low moan as he covered his face with his hands. “Are you telling me that I’m a shovel-talk wedding baby?” Shovel-talk weddings were unions formed when a dwarrowdam fell pregnant, her father would go to the father-to-be with a shovel and have a long talk; the result of which was a hasty wedding to uphold family honors.

Thorin nodded. “To be honest, I’m surprised you came that late. You’re a lot like your Adad, in more than just looks. The number of times I caught those going at it in the halls, I thought I would go blind. Your mother was always dragging Vili off to have her way with him. Couldn’t keep her hands to herself.”

A faint, nauseated groan slipped from Fili’s mouth.

“You’re definitely like your parents,” Thorin said. “And while you’ve followed in your Adad’s footsteps, I’m leaving it to you to tell your Amad that you got Bilba pregnant. Maybe this can be payment for the time I caught her and Vili with that goat—”

 

Later, Fili stumbled back to the tent that he shared with Kili. Both brothers looked moments from being ill. Tauriel tended to Kili with a damp cloth and a serious attempt to hide her giggles, while Bilba nudged Fili into his bed with a snort.

“I’m the ambassador to Thranduil,” Kili said, his face pale. “I get to carry messages between him and Uncle. I have to listen to all their bickering and sit at the Elvenking’s side and smile and nod. I have to be involved with treaties and meetings.” Kili hated meetings, despised the long, dull talks of treaties; he was by no means dim-witted, but he preferred action to words.

“Did you know that I was born six months after Amad and Adad married?” Fili asked dully. “And that Uncle Thorin caught them ‘going at it’ dozens of times?”

Kili gagged, and Tauriel patted his shoulder in consolation.

“He described it in great detail.” Kili gagged again. “Apparently, Adad and I have similar arses.” This time, Kili started to dry heave. “He even said there was a time with a goat.” Kili heaved spectacularly into a bucket, and Tauriel patted his head soothingly.

“Our Uncles are sadists,” Kili finally said, and Bilba and Tauriel nodded in fervent agreement.

Chapter Text

It was a sunny day when the last caravan from Ered Luin arrived. Fili was already in the throne room when the news came, and he eagerly accompanied Thorin to the gates to meet the caravan that brought Dis to them.

Once the gates were opened, Fili and Kili ran forward to embrace their mother. Her final caravan was the last, coming three weeks after the others and guiding the last of the returning dwarrow to Erebor.

Dis ran her hands through her sons’ hair, and butted Thorin’s forehead with hers. “Where’s Frerin and Bilba?” she asked.

“I think they’ll be in the royal quarters, getting a meal ready for you, Amad,” Kili said.

As Thorin led Dis to the quarters that housed the Company – complete with a shared kitchen and dining space – Kili and Fili had a frantically signed conversation.

“Tell her together?” Fili asked.

“Can’t kill us both,” was Kili’s reply.

 

The door to their dining room swung open and spilled forth cheery lighting and the smell of something delicious—a roast and dumplings—to welcome them. Frerin paused in laying out plates on the table and welcomed his sister with a wide grin. “Namad!”

“Is that Dis?” came a shout from the kitchen. Footsteps followed it, and a visibly pregnant Bilba came out. “Auntie!” she cried with an expression of joy on her face.

It was only the stiffening of Dis’ shoulders that spoke of her surprise, though Dis embraced her niece happily. She drew back, her hands still on Bilba’s sides as she said with a sigh, “Did I not ask you to wait until I returned to make me a grandmother?”

“Technically,” Bilba said with a broad smile. “The baby has not come yet, so you are not yet a grandmother, and here you are! Only a grandmother-to-be.”

Dis shook her head and gave Fili a sharp look. “How far along?” she asked. “We still have to have that wedding!”

“She’s about eight months gone,” Kili said as he stepped in for his brother. “We’re not too sure when the baby will make an appearance, though Tauriel guesses we have another month or two left.”

“Tauriel?” Dis repeated. “And who, exactly, is Tauriel? Is this Tauriel why you two were sneaking a conversation on how I cannot kill you both?” Kili paled, and Fili swallowed audibly before he nodded. “You are not gone a year, and yet you have forgotten that I know all, my sons.”

Frerin cackled and Thorin shook his head. From the kitchens, soft footsteps announced Tauriel before she sheepishly entered the room with a shy smile and a deep bow. “I am Tauriel, my Lady.”

Dis stared at her hard for a moment. Then she turned to look at Kili, then at Tauriel again. “Are my sons not to wed anyone with a beard?” she asked, her tone exasperated. Kili went a bright pink, and Fili coughed before he looked away.

“Tauriel saved Thorin’s life,” Fili said after he glanced at his younger brother. “She is an excellent archer, and her healing skills have proved invaluable with Bilba.” The two women traded a smile, and Dis’ expression softened a little. “She also was the Captain of Thranduil’s Guard,” Fili confessed in a rush.

There was silence as Dis stared hard at the elleth, who admirably did not flinch under the dwarrowdam’s heavy gaze. Finally, she said to Thorin, “Oh, that must drive you mad, Nadad.”

“Immensely,” Frerin said with great relish. “And your dearest Kili has the honor of being our ambassador to Thranduil.”

“And?”

“Well, Prince Legolas has not killed him… yet. Though Thranduil greatly enjoys their talks on the intricacies of Elven wine.”

Dis’ laughter shook the room, and Fili and Kili had hope yet that their Amad would not kill them. Yet.

 

 

The delivery of their babe is frantic and rather unpleasant, to say the least. Fili thought Bilba might break his hand, though Dis and Tauriel kept her calm. Frerin was banned from the delivery room (as he kept getting underfoot) and Thorin had been sent out in the waiting room with him (mostly to keep Frerin from charging back in).

When Fili’s son is handed to him, squirming in his warm blankets and squalling, Fili feels as though his heart will burst with joy. He cradles his son as he sits close with Bilba, and as tired and drawn as she is, she seems all the more beautiful to him as she carefully brushes her fingers against their son’s downy cheeks. Their babe is a wonder, with pale hair atop his head showing a hint of a curl and the lightest peach fuzz on his cheeks. His feet are larger than a dwarrow babe’s with a smattering of curls atop them, and Fili wants to weep.

Dis must have opened the door, because Frerin is immediately at their sides, his hands reaching hesitantly. Fili transfers the babe to his arms, and Frerin looks utterly smitten with the babe.

“What’s his name?” Frerin asks, his voice soft and his hands gentle as he rocks the babe lightly.

“Meet your grandson, Adris,” Bilba says with a smile, and Frerin’s eyes grow round and shine with unshed tears.

It is of no surprise that Frerin refuses to relinquish the babe until he cries for food, and even then he hovers close.

Chapter Text

The sound of bare feet padding on the stone floors announced a newcomer, though the sound was unfamiliar. When the doors opened, Legolas entered the room where negotiations were held. Thranduil looked up with a slight frown on his lips before he asked, “Legolas, where are your boots?”

Legolas smiled and cheerfully said, “There was a better use for them, Adar. I could not argue with such logic.”

Thranduil exchanged a slightly bewildered look with Fili, Frerin, and Thorin. “What cause is that?”

The door creaked open behind Legolas, and in wandered Adris, both of Legolas’ boots clutched to his chest. At seven, Adris only grew closer to his father’s bearing, with similar features and soft blue eyes, though he had inherited his mother’s curls.

And, apparently, her inclination for boot thievery.

“Addy, why do you have Prince Legolas’ boots?” Fili asked as he scooted back a little to catch his son’s eye.

Adris beamed as he made his way to stand between his father and his ‘Grandda’ Frerin. “To hold these,” he announced. He stretched up to set the boots on their sides atop the table, narrowly avoiding the map that Frerin snatched out of the way. From the depths of the boots spilled a half a dozen frogs that came hopping out atop the table.

For a moment, the only sound in the room was that of frogs’ ribbiting and the wet plop as they jumped about the table. Frerin was the first to crack as broke down into snorts and giggles at the sight of six frogs swarming the table. Adris beamed up at the adults around the room, his dimples flashing as he gestured proudly to the tabletop. “I caught them!” He paused, then turned to crane his neck and peer up at Legolas. “Prince Legolas helped.” He leaned in closer to loudly whisper to his father: “I think he’s faster since his legs are bigger.”

“That might be part of it, my little gem,” Fili said, before he scooped up his son to sit on his knee. “You ought to help Prince Legolas clean out his boots, though. Frogs can be rather dirty.”

“I will be fine,” Legolas said with a broad smile. “Though I think it wise to find another manner to carry the frogs before I leave.”

“I can ask Mama,” Adris said, and as if summoned, the door opened to reveal Bilba with their two youngest.

At three, little hazel-eyed Bera was precocious and curious, her friendliness providing a sharp relief to Adris’ often too-serious demeanor. She had straight blonde hair but with no hair yet upon her face, though her feet were large and hairy. Like her elder brother, she was proud, but Bera was more often than not caught attempting to tour the mountain on her own.

Bera let out a little squeal of “Adad!” before she ran to her father to be scooped up. She planted a messy kiss on his cheek before she reached for Frerin. “Grandda,” she said, and beamed when Frerin scooped her up to cuddle her close.

Bilba approached more slowly, her arms full as she held their youngest, Rubis, more often called Ruby. At six months old, Ruby was perhaps the calmest babe Frerin had ever beheld. She rarely fussed, and Ruby simply enjoyed watching those around her or being carried by her family.

Thranduil looked at their youngest with a slight smile on his face. He eyed her wild curls and met her wide blue eyes before he raised his hand to wiggle his fingers in greeting. Ruby merely blinked and watched him calmly. When a frog croaked, Ruby’s head turned slowly to find the source of the sound.

“Addy? How frogs?” Bera asked from Frerin’s arms.

“I caught them,” he said with pride as he gestured to the boots on the table. “Prince Legolas helped me. He’s fast.”

Bera swiveled to beam up at Legolas, and Thranduil’s smile turned a little smug. “Up?” she asked, and held her little arms up.

Carefully, Legolas lifted her from Frerin’s arms and placed her on his shoulders. Bera let out a pleased sound as she looked down around the room. “Adad, I tall!” She petted Legolas' fine blonde hair with a smile, enraptured by its length.

“Yes you are,” Fili said with a smile.

“I apologize for interrupting your meeting,” Bilba said. “Bera wanted to see everyone after Ruby woke from her nap.”

“It is no bother,” Thorin said, before he glanced at Thranduil with a questioning tilt to his head.

“I am happy to see the young ones,” Thranduil said. “It is refreshing.” A frog hopped next to his hand, and Thranduil paused as he regarded the fat little amphibian that brazenly attempted to climb his goblet of wine. “Though I did not expect frogs, I must admit.”

Frerin leaned forward with a grin. “Let me regale you of the tales of a young Bilba Frog-Hunter, King Thranduil. Our young Adris here takes after his mother’s keen hunting skills, you know.”

There was a small groan as Bilba hid a smile in Ruby’s hair, and Fili shared a fond look with his Uncles before he held his son closer and laughed when Frerin began to describe how Bilba had nearly been ‘eaten’ by a frog.

Chapter Text

The Goat incident

Dis, daughter of Thrain, son of Thror, now knew with all certainty that her One, Vili, was mad. She had entered his rooms in the late hours of the evening, sneaking out when she was sure Thorin would not notice. Ever since Dis and Vili had begun courting, Thorin had taken to following them around like their own stormcloud, a scowl fixed on his face as he waited for Vili to slip up and do something that Thorin could thrash him for. (Thorin had told her that it was not that he disliked Vili, per say, but that it was his duty as the eldest brother to put the fear of Mahal into any suitor that so much as looked at Dis. Dis was certain she could put the fear of Mahal into the elves, and was terribly offended that Thorin thought he needed to frighten away her suitors.) Pleased that she had succeeded at evading her worrywart older brother, Dis was ready to spend a relaxing evening with her love.

Now, however, Dis was certain that he would drive her to an early grave.

Standing in the center of the room, hair a disheveled mess and shirt rumpled, Vili attempted to wrestle his trousers from being eaten by a goat. Said goat was winning and Dis took a moment to despair for her lost evening before she admired Vili’s bare legs as he cursed at the goat.

“Do I want to know?” she asked, and Vili jumped in alarm. The goat took the opportunity to snatch away his trousers with a triumphant bleat.

“Er,” he said as he smoothed back his hair with a nervous smile. “I rescued this goat, you see. From some horrid Men that were throwing stones at it.”

Dis raised one brow; Vili was not foolish enough to miss that indication of danger. “This rescue included bringing it here?”

“Well, when I say rescue, I mean I liberated it.”

“You stole a goat, you mean.” Dis rubbed her brow as she watched the goat chew on Vili’s trousers.

Vili shrugged and smiled at her. “Aye, that’s fair. I snuck into their yard and stole the goat, but I realized once I got here that I had no where to put the goat. So, uh, I stashed it in my room.”

“Dare I ask about your trousers?”

Vili simply gestured to the goat with an indignant expression. “Blasted thing thought they were food.”

With a sigh and a kiss to his cheek, Dis stepped forward to grab the trousers. With a shriek not unlike an offended noblewoman, the goat leapt away from her and jumped atop Vili’s wooden chest. Vili lunged forward to catch the goat, only to have the goat scramble atop him, use his back as a springboard, and to land noisily on his desk. Papers went flying as the goat scrabbled for purchase on the smooth wooden surface, it’s odd eyes flicking between Dis, who steadily crept towards it, and Vili, who lay winded and sore on the floor.

Dis sidled closer, and with a feint to the left, she drove the goat to leap off the table and scramble for the bed. The desk fell over with a crash but Dis paid it no mind. She caught the leg of the trouser and clung on grimly with a grunt and a shout of “Grab it!”

Rolling upright from his prone position on the floor, Vili grabbed the goat around the middle and dragged it against his chest. He winced when the goat managed to kick him in the stomach but Dis got a firm grip on the trousers and let out a low growl of warning at the goat. It bleated in return, the sound garbled through the fabric in it’s mouth. Dis hauled backwards, but the goat stubbornly held on. A tug-of-war began, with Vili grabbing the goat around the middle and Dis hauling on the trousers. With an almighty bleat of protest, the trousers were rescued and Dis held them aloft triumphantly while Vili struggled to hold onto the goat. Vili’s smile slipped off his face and Dis turned to see Thorin standing in the doorway. His brows nearly reached his hairline as he stared between Dis, her hair a mess and spittle soaked trousers clutched in her hands, Vili, who dumbly on the floor sans trousers, and in his lap, the goat, which now turned its head to chew upon Vili’s hair.

“I don’t want to know,” Thorin said before he turned and left the room.

 

Shovel Talk

Fili sat perfectly straight in his chair. He kept his hands folded neatly in his lap, careful to avoid wrinkling his clothes. His hair was immaculately braided, his beard neatly combed, and he had been sure that he and his attire were spotless. Around the room, the sound of boots treading against the stones could be heard as his interrogator paced.

“Why do you wish to court her?”

Fili answered promptly, without hesitation, and he kept his eyes fixed on the wall before him. “She is a joy and a light in my life. I wish to provide a safe home for her, where she can relax and be happy. I want to behold her smiles every day, and I want to bring her happiness.”

The pacing continued, and Fili mentally thanked Kili for helping him practice his answers. Uncle Thorin hadn’t been much help—he had little to no experience in love. Kili, however, was willing to sneak out to Gloin to beg for courting advice.

“How would you care for her?”

“I would provide a home for her. I would work anywhere, be it in a mine or beside Thorin, so that we would have anything she desired. I would lay down my life for her if there was any threat to her.” Again, Fili thanked Kili’s willingness to help his brother.

The pacing stopped, and Frerin stood before him, arms folded across his chest and a fierce scowl upon his face. “If you make her weep, I will kill you.”

Fili nodded in agreement.

“If you hurt her, I will kill you slowly and painfully.”

Fili nodded again.

For a moment, he and Frerin simply stared at one another, before Frerin sighed and ran his hand through his beard. “That said, I prefer you over any other lout that might come sniffing around my wee one.” Frerin eyed him critically, before he smiled at him. “You have my blessing lad. But know that if you mistreat her in any way,” here he trailed off, and rested his hand on the hilt of his axe with a meaningful tilt of his head.

“I understand,” Fili said, and Frerin grinned.

 

Meanwhile, Dis shared tea with Bilba in the sitting room. “Do try to keep him in line, Bilba. I know you’ve loved him since you clapped eyes on him, but don’t let him get away with anything.”

“Of course, auntie.”