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First Sound, Then Thunder

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Chapter One

Dirt Song.

 

“There is childhood, and childhood’s aftermath.”

- “XIV”, by David Walcott

 

In the bowels of a dead autumn, when the branches of trees were cracked and barren, when the only life that stirred was the shivering of the hobbits that lay in their holes, and when the days looked like nights and the nights were still darker, Bilbo Baggins dreamed. From his place on the floor, covered by a thick woolen blanket, Bilbo tossed and shuddered. In his dreams, Bilbo Baggins saw war.

 

It was not the first night this dream came to him. As far as he knew, it would not be the last. This was, however, the first night he had actively tried to make this dream happen. He had foregone sleeping in his bed, instead laying on his floor with his ear pressed into the dirt, desperately attempting to stay still and listen to the voices of the earth he knew would flock to his ears. His days of fighting his gift, his empathy, were suddenly forgone in the face of the...thing that sat just a few inches away from his face.

 

The plain, golden, almost glowing ring was in front of the dying embers of his meager fire. The leftover heat allowed part of the horrid, horrid language to be seen in all their glowing red glory.

 

...Agh burzim-ishi krimpatul…

 

Restless, Bilbo’s nose scrunched while he turned over again, and with his ear to the ground he allowed his dreaming mind to reach into the earth and listen.

 

-an elf with silver-starlight for hair stood in the carnage with a cold fire in his eyes and half his face a mass of burns and blood and new wounds cut into him by stone. The ring, in all its beauty, lay just a few feet away from him. He has earned it. He, Elven king and the Ruler of Mirkwood. The blood soaked down his neck, and with a great panting breath the elf rose to his full height of at least eight feet and he bared his teeth like a dog, curling that mangled face into the visage of horror. Flint grey eyes watched as another one of his own fell to the ground and lay ever still. Was this the cost? Was this the burden? Was this what he was willing to pay? The elf allowed his blood to drip into the dirt and the earth choked out a sob-

 

The ring glowed soft, like starlight.

 

Yes.

 

On the night of his thirty-third birthday, Bilbo Baggins cried in his sleep.

 

~*~

There are some things only Hobbits know. Hobbits know best when to plant and when to harvest. They know when to speak and when to be silent. They are forever on time, and they know exactly when to leave. They know when to forgive and when to bear grudges. They know when to love, and when to hate. But most importantly, they remember their roots. Where other races allowed their history to fade into the depths of time, Hobbits were meticulous in their record keeping. Their language, their beliefs, and their origins remained ever unchanged.

 

The Children of Yavanna were a humble, but wise race. Grown lovingly from the ground by Yavanna herself, they were brought up in sunshine, life, and earth. This is why, the elders told their children, this is why we may speak to the earth and Understand it, and this is why we Understand each other.

 

Bilbo hadn’t heard the capital letter in “Understand” then. It’s the only thing he hears now.

 

Bilbo remembered his carrier trying to teach him these lessons. As a fauntling, Bilbo had never been terribly interested in staying still and learning what precious history his Ome had to give him. He was far more interested in hunting for elves, or chasing butterflies, or playing tricks on the more uptight elders that sat in the village square. It wasn’t until his carrier sat him down one week before his Becoming, looking more serious than Bilbo had ever seen him, did Bilbo sit and pay attention.

 

“You take after your Sire, Bilbo.” His carrier, Bungo, said. This made Bilbo frown because, from the portrait he had seen, he looked nothing like Belladonna Took and more so like Bungo Baggins. All they really shared were their fiery auburn brown hair and bright green eyes. Everything else was all Baggins. Bungo merely hummed with amusement and chuckled, bright blue eyes twinkling.

 

“You have her spirit Bilbo, her spine and her fortitude. Every time you speak, you remind me of her…” Bungo’s eyes went soft and far away, and Bilbo shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

 

Belladonna Took had died only a few months after Bilbo was born. He never truly knew the specifics of her death, but some speculated that she had been killed by Orcs. Others said she had been devoured by wolves or snatched away by Wargs in the depths of the Fell Winter. Bilbo didn’t think it mattered. She was still dead in the end.   

 

Bilbo had once asked about her, to try and know more about the woman he knew was his sire, his Amo, only to be met with a heart-wrenching blue stare and tears filling his carrier’s robin egg blue eyes. The look spoke of a bone-deep ache that Time could not heal, a hurt so terrible that it had ripped the smile from his face. Hobbit’s bonded in a way far beyond marriage or simple sex. His sire and his carrier had Soul Met, and that was something beyond any simple kind of grief.

 

“She was fearless. And now she is dead.”

 

Bilbo was brought out of his thoughts by his carrier’s next words.

 

“She would be as proud of you as I am, maybe more so.” Bungo smiled then, a wan, thin thing that radiated with such warmth that Bilbo felt a lump form in his throat. His carrier’s smiles were very few and far between, but Bilbo lived for them. Always playing that one extra prank or making himself look like a fool just to see a shred of joy slide across his face.

 

Bungo reached out and ruffled Bilbo’s curls. “Though no doubt you would have given her as much trouble as you’ve given me.”

 

That made Bilbo chuckle. Curled up on the floor next to his Ome’s chair, Bilbo watched the dark brown curls of Bungo’s hair catch the light and turn to a rich chocolate color. His carrier really was a beautiful Omega.

 

A comfortable silence settled over the pair, as it often did when talking with his carrier, and Bilbo slipped into his thoughts.

 

His carrier was indeed a beautiful Omega, and even though he had been mated before and had no intention of mating again, every Alpha in the village let him know it. Every time Bungo opened the door to his home there were always dozens upon dozens of flowers with meanings like ‘eternal love’ and undying beauty’ sprawled across his doorstep. When walking through the marketplace, Bilbo often stood between his Ome and the occasional crowd of persistent, jeering Alphas. They would either try to touch him and grab his clothes off, or they would throw things like stones and small jewelry pieces. The latter were especially cruel, as jewelry picked up any emotion and amplified it by ten. To be touched by such a thing could gravely harm Bungo Baggins.

 

Alphas in rut would bang on their doors and windows. The Elders of their kind would come by almost every Sunday for ‘tea’, which was just a thinly veiled excuse to try and convince Bungo to mate again, to give up Bilbo as a sireless, bastard child and start over. Bungo dealt with these things the way he dealt with everything else, with his head held high and soft, charming words on his lips.

 

Bilbo hated it. He was snapped back into awareness when his Ome spoke again.

 

“Your ability to Understand will blossom, as will your status as an Alpha, Beta, or Omega.” Bilbo nodded. He may not pay attention in his classes, but every Hobbit knew this, this most important part of themselves. To Understand was to be a Hobbit, and to be a Hobbit was to Understand. The empathic ability granted to them by Yavanna was only able to be used after a Hobbit’s twentieth name day. It would allow them to commune with the earth and feel each other on a level that could not be said in mere words. Bilbo was looking forward to it only out of curiosity. He felt no desire to know what the Alphas and bystanders of the Shire were really feeling in their black hearts. What concerned him most was the second part.

 

Bilbo thought of the jeers and the bruises and before he could stop himself, he blurted out “I don’t want to be an Omega.”

 

He wasn’t aware he was going to say the words until after he said them, and even then, he knew he was being honest. He could not live like that, the harassment, the feeling of being helpless, the lustful looks. He could not handle it, much less in the way that his carrier did, with his head held high and his mouth firmly shut. He has never been as strong as his carrier was. Everyone knew that Belladonna Took had a righteous temper and a spitfire personality, but they never knew or suspected that Bungo Baggins would be just as fierce. His sire ran hot, and his carrier burned cold, and right then those blue eyes thawed as they looked at Bilbo.

 

He had never felt this pathetic before, almost pitied. He wanted to stand up, to look his carrier dead in the eyes and say “Everyone here treats us -you- like shit because you won’t remate and throw me away. I’ll take us both away from here, we will leave and never come back, and I will protect you like you have protected me. I’m not strong like you. I’ll die if I lose you. You lost Amo and were able to continue but if I lose you, I will fade away into nothing. Without you I am nothing. I love you. I love you more than I love myself and the earth and the sky and everything in it. I love you. To the moon and back, I love you.”

 

But Bilbo didn’t say that. He just dropped his carrier’s gaze in shame, turning to stare at the ground and remaining silent after his outburst. The silence grew heavy. Bungo sighed and ruffled his curls again.

 

“I doubt that it’s your choice, but I understand, wee one,” he said, before excusing himself to go make dinner and shooing Bilbo out into the garden.

 

Standing in the middle of the tomatoes, Bilbo bowed his head and allowed a tear of anger, sorrow, and frustration to fall down his cheek and hit the dirt.

 

~*~

 

There are some things only Bilbo knew. Bilbo knew that there was a great place to hide from angry elders just across from Farmer Gamgee’s pony stable, he knew the best places to go berry picking and the best places to find honey. He was the only Hobbit who could swim and the only one who could climb the highest tree in the Shire without feeling dizzy. He knew that sometimes his carrier cried when he thought no one was looking. He knew that sometimes; his carrier would come home with a new bruise on his neck or face and he would still act as if everything was fine.

 

He knew where his carrier was on nights when he didn’t come home.

 

He tried not to think about it. He didn’t want to think about what exactly his Ome would do to support them, what the Men in Bree would pay for a night with a Hobbit, what the Alphas would whisper behind Bungo’s back. But sometimes he does think about it. He thinks about the days his carrier walks with a limp in his step, or a hollow look in his eyes. He thinks about the way the only thing that can get him to smile on those days is Bilbo, and how Bilbo wishes he wasn’t the reason for that hollowness in the first place.

 

Contrary to the Elder’s beliefs, Bilbo had always been very, very clever.

 

So, he knew that if he wasn’t around, his carrier wouldn’t have to do so much to protect him. He wouldn’t have to abuse himself, lose himself so that Bilbo could stand between him and everyone else at the marketplace and buy enough food for two. Bilbo didn’t even doubt that without him there, his carrier would be fine with the Alphas because they really aren’t all that afraid of Bilbo and his young face. But they parted when Bungo walked before them, a sway in his step and his chin up.

 

Bungo Baggins was a fighter in his own right.

 

Maybe he should admire his sire more, for her strength and tales of prowess and handsome features, but he doesn’t. Because it’s like his carrier said. His sire was fearless, and dead. Bungo had fear, and he used it, twisted himself around and in it and as a result Bungo and Bilbo were alive. Bungo showed his neck when prompted and knelt when bid, but he also kept his hair short and lived by himself and did his own shopping. Bungo stepped off the pathway for Alphas but held out his hand and wrist to be kissed in respect in every conversation. Most importantly to Bilbo, Bungo showed him how to fight too. Because Bilbo wasn’t the son of some Alpha prick who could get away with whatever he wanted. Bilbo was his carrier’s son, so Bilbo had to learn to keep his head down and play nice and sometimes, keep a lid on his temper and bite his tongue so hard it bled. He learned how to step quickly and quietly, he learned how to sweet talk his way out of trouble and how to avoid trouble before it even started.

 

“These things,” Bungo said, artfully arranging the flowers at their dinner table, “these are the things that Alphas and Betas never learn. They do not have to. But Bilbo, not matter what you are or will be, you will live. You will live a long time because you will be wise.”

 

Seated quietly at the same table, Bilbo clipped a gladiolus stem and nodded.

 

~*~

 

Wisdom came with age.

 

Bilbo turned twenty while he was alone in his carrier’s garden. The Alphas came upon him like dogs on a bone.

 

Bilbo felt like a bone as he scrambled into the house and slammed the door on two sets of fingers. He felt like a bird bone, made without a center and easily snapped between someone’s teeth. He felt flushed and sweaty, slick gathering on his thighs and his mouth was dry. Not a moment after the door slammed shut for good, the window in the backroom opened and he smelt his carrier. Bungo Baggins smelled like fresh sweetgrass and sunshine, but most importantly he smelt like Ome, like home. Bilbo stayed leaning on the door, unwilling to let the house be overrun but he felt something bubble up in his throat and he keened. Bungo was at his side an instant.

 

“Bilbo, Bilbo my son it is alright…” Bungo smoothed his hands over Bilbo’s face, but as much as Bilbo longed to melt into the touch, he remained firm against the door.

 

“Bilbo, wee one, they are gone now, they are gone you can let go of the door.”

 

Bilbo just shook his head and keened again, shivered as he looked at his Ome with tear-filled eyes. Bungo moved to try and pull Bilbo away. “You have to stop distress calling, wee one. They may come back.”

That made Bilbo tighten his grip on the door. Everything around him was a blur of scents and sounds, he felt off balance.

 

“I have to...protect you...I won’t let them in.”

 

Bungo paused and it seemed as if he swallowed his heart before continuing. Without speaking, he reached forwards and untangled Bilbo’s hands from door and held them close as he guided Bilbo to the bath.

 

“It looks like you really take after me, hmm?”

 

Bilbo swallowed and looked at his hands, staring at the scratches and bruises. Finally, he shook his head and dropped it down onto his carrier’s shoulder, leaning on him as they walked into the bathroom.

 

“I was never as strong as you are.”

 

~*~

 

His twentieth name day was ending, and Bilbo was readying himself for the second part of what he was meant to Become. The news that he was an Omega had not yet settled in, but despite himself he felt some stirring for excitement at this, he first Understanding.

 

His carrier had been alternating between giving him space and staying as close as Bilbo would allow, which meant that Bilbo had been curled up on his carrier lap for most of the day, only letting him up to use the bathroom.

 

As twilight approached however, Bungo gently disentangled himself and shook Bilbo out of a fitful sleep.

 

“Bilbo. Bilbo it’s time.”

 

Blearily, Bilbo woke up and hummed slightly.

 

The process for the first Understanding was simple. A young, newly Becoming Hobbit would go out into a garden or woods, and Yavanna would take care of the rest. Bilbo shifted on his feet before following Bungo out to the edge of the forest.

 

When they came to the forest edge, Bilbo was about to step away from his carrier when Bungo suddenly grabbed him and spun him around into a crushing hug.

 

“Good luck, wee one.”

 

Bungo held him for a long moment, and it felt as if his carrier’s breath came in ragged, sobbing gasps. Then Bungo stepped back and released him, gently cupping his face. And then Bungo was gone, turning his back and walking back to Bag End.

 

Blinking slowly, Bilbo walked carefully into the forest. He had stripped down until he was just in his pants, and he had forgone underclothes. Step by careful step, he strolled in, unsure of what he was meant to do.

 

The forest was beautiful at this time of night, the odor of purple-green filling the air. The leaves were dipped into summer lifeblood, the shades of red patterning like fire across the tapestry of night. The stars shone like eyes above him, and he tried to meet the gaze of everyone, smiling to himself. He remembered spending time here as a faunt attempting to count each and every star, eventually tiring himself out. His carrier would come back and carry him into the house, only for Bilbo to do it again the very next night.

 

He began to feel light and floaty, as if his insides were swimming in the clouds. He was light footed as he strolled through the bushes, well off the beaten path, and he spread his arms wide. His steps came quicker, as if he was dancing through the forest. The lights seemed to grow brighter, but Bilbo did not care.

 

The Omega felt the urge to drop and roll in the wonderful soil and he did so, falling flat on his face and wiggling. The lights grew ever brighter, and from a great distance he heard a voice like a wind chime, or a dirt song.

 

Hello.

 

I am your motherfriendsister.

 

I Understand you, Bilbo. Can you hear me?

 

Chuckling, Bilbo nodded into the grass, flexing and unflexing his fingers and toes into the dirt.

 

“Yes…”

 

You can hear me? Are you sure? No one has in a very long time.

 

Huffing, Bilbo nodded.

 

This is splendid Bilbo.

 

I love you.

 

And because I love you, I am going to give you my gift. My Understanding.

 

“Thanks…” Bilbo hummed, feeling very relaxed and unable to move from his spot.

 

I will show you what I can show no one else.

 

“Ok…” This forest smelled nice. So nice.

 

I need you to help me.

 

That made Bilbo frown. “What’s wrong?” His voice came out slurred and soft.

 

I am hurt. I ache.

 

Bilbo’s brow furrowed. Who would want to hurt this nice lady? She really did seem nice.

 

A chuckle.

 

I will show you who hurts me. Then you can help me.

 

Bilbo swayed and nodded, eyes closed against the blinding light.

 

 “Help you how?” He mumbled.

 

Look and listen and help...

 

-the sky was on fire and world ached because everything on it was dying-

 

Bilbo jerked up, screaming as the feeling of a great, unimaginable pain swept over him. He writhed helplessly, tossing his head as tears began to roll down his cheeks. It hurt so bad.

 

-there is a ring, a simple ring that is unbefitting of kings, but everyone wants it, because they must have everything and a little bit more. The war has raged for days and it may rage for months because who can win? Who can win when the prize is this? -

 

Bilbo moved so that he was down on his knees, holding his arms above his head with his hands folded together.

 

“Stop this! I am begging you please stop this I can’t, I can’t do this-”

 

-there is so much blood in the dirt it looks like an ocean of red, and it is just as wet and warm. The horses keep slipping in it, so the riders use the steeds as cannon fodder and then they jump into the fray, swimming through blood and bodies to get to the next enemy. The elves die. The men die. The dwarves die. The hobbits are already dead. The world is on fire because the people on it lit the flame. Where is the ring? -

 

Bilbo let out a string of sobs because so many, so many were dead and how was he supposed to help? Why was he special? He couldn’t save them, he couldn’t even help himself.

 

I need you to help me.

 

“I can’t.” He said, holding his head in his hands and squeezing to try and ease the pain.

 

I need you to help me.

 

Bilbo screamed, and he screamed, and he screamed until he passed out.

 

Help me...

 

~*~

 

The next few days were hell for Bilbo.

 

He did not go outside, he barely slept, and when he did sleep it was fraught with nightmares. Word spread around of the Baggins boy and how he was not only an Omega, but an Omega whose connection with Yavanna was faulty.

 

Of course, Bilbo knew the truth. His connection with Yavanna was fine. It was too fine. Everything was on high alert for him, from the terrible dreams of supposed prophecy to the jolliness of the tomato plants that occasionally hummed songs to him when he decided to walk through the garden.

 

He walked about his house with a slack jawed expression, a permanent migraine in his temples and visions of war behind his eyes. He watched the Elders come into their home with a blank gaze and watched as his carrier -who had been high strung since his birthday- gave them strained smiles and flat stares.

 

“It may be for the best,” one Elder said, “to cut off his connection to Yavanna completely. She clearly does not want him. I don’t know why you do.”

You are a filthy whore and your son is of the same breed and I hate you for owning this nice house and having a beautiful face and-

 

Bilbo is often surprised by how hateful people can be. He liked it better when he couldn’t only see what was on people’s faces.

 

Bungo’s lips twitched but he said nothing.

You would insult him in my home? Your nasty prudish twit?

 

“To cut off his connection with Yavanna would destroy any Understanding he has. It would shut him out of our world. It would be cruel.” Bungo sipped his tea and closed his eyes, turning away from the table to where Bilbo sat, staring at nothing.

Sometimes we must be cruel to be kind, please don’t let this be one of those times.

 

“I can’t say here or there.” Bungo said instead of what he felt. If you force him to do anything, I will shove a petunia up your ass.

 

That made Bilbo chuckle. If there was one thing he had liked, it was reading beneath the surface of his carrier’s words. They were often funny, and sometimes they had so much love in them Bilbo burst into tears.

 

“The boy is clearly suffering, Bungo,” the Elder put on a simpering tone and leaned forward to clasp his hand. We should be discussing this with an Alpha. Can you even understand it? Why haven’t you mated already? Whore.

 

Bungo chuckled and huffed at his pipe, blowing a smoke ring into the Elder’s face, making her cough.

 

“Tea is running a little long today, I see.” He said, taking his hand back.

Don’t tell me he is suffering, I see his suffering I bore him from me, he is off me I would do anything to ease his pain do you understand me? Anything even at the cost of myself-

 

“I’m afraid I must be seeing you out, I do have errands.” Bungo rose and took the tea right out of the Elder’s hands, placing it aside and herding her out with firm but delicate movements.

Get out of my territory.

 

“Do come back next Sunday Ethel. I’m making lemon cake and I know that you enjoy it.” Bungo waved cheerfully as he shut the door before Ethel could get another word in.

 

And die out there.

 

He turned to where Bilbo sat on the floor beside his armchair, staring out the window playing war in his ears.

 

“How about a stew for dinner? I bought oxtail and I know you like it.” Bungo tugged Bilbo to his feet and marched him towards the kitchen with all his false sweetness from before gone.

 

“Perhaps something with oranges for dessert?”

 

~*~

 

Two weeks after his Becoming, his carrier had enough. Enough of watching Bilbo wither away to nothing or watching Bilbo stumble about the house with tears running down his face. Enough of the sleepless nights and the days spent in a waking nightmare. In the evening, Bungo sat Bilbo down for a talk.

 

“Bilbo.”

My son. My son. My boy.

 

Bilbo had liked sleeping on a raised bed, it kept the whispers of the earth at bay. It dimmed the feeling of too much just a little and he slept somewhat better for it. However, the whispers of the other hobbits of how unnatural he was had made him try to sleep the traditional way. On the ground so that he could be closer to Yavanna. If only they knew, he thought wryly. Bungo’s mouth twitched, -you are so much like your sire- and he knelt beside him.

 

 “Do what you need to so that you feel safe, Bilbo. Do want you need so that you can be happy.”

I can’t watch you hurt anymore.

 

Bilbo swallowed and nodded.

 

He laid his head back on the floor, reached into his soul, and grabbed the bond between him and Yavanna and gently, ever so gently, he twisted it until it broke.

 

The world went silent, and they both cried, and neither knew if it was out of joy or grief.

 

~*~

Bilbo knew that he knew only two things for certain. He knew he loved his carrier, and he knew he was lucky to be alive.

 

Bilbo was born on the last day of autumn, and he went into the winter with his newfound status as a faulty Omegan hobbit branded like a scar on his forehead. He wondered if he really was a faulty Hobbit, because his Understanding hadn’t gone away completely despite him destroying the bond.

 

There were still some flickers and snatches of blood, some hums from plants when he walked by and some keenness on what is was people were truly feeling. The nightmares didn’t stop, but they weren’t as often. This would all have been great, and Bilbo would have rejoiced if he didn’t feel like a piece of himself was missing.

 

It was as if some great, gaping hole in him had opened and he was walking through the world with a stomach he couldn’t fill, a mouth he couldn’t feed. He spent much of his time in the forest, soaking up the voices and trying to soothe a great ache in his chest that he knew was necessary but still hurt so much.

 

When winter was in full swing, both Bilbo and Bungo got sick.

 

At first it was just a small cold, and Bilbo recovered quickly, but Bungo got worse.

 

And worse.

 

And worse.

 

Small walks to the market together became long walks, with many breaks for breath and pauses until finally, Bilbo just went alone. The cold became colder, and then the fever set in. He Ome was plagued by fever dreams when he slept, and when he woke up, he was barely coherent, rambling on about nonsense and asking him questions Bilbo couldn’t answer.

“When is Belladonna coming home? I miss my bell song. She looks a bit like you…”

 

The robin-egg-blue eyes of his carrier turned into a fever bright, icy blue that shook Bilbo to the core whenever he saw it. His Ome’s skin was flushed and pale all at once, and no medicine he bought from the market seemed to help. The doctor he called was utterly worthless, stating that he had done all he could, that all anyone could do was just sit by and wait.

 

Bilbo was tired of waiting.

 

Bilbo waited by his bedside in the morning, trying to feed him a weak, watered down broth mixed with several medicinal herbs. He waited in the afternoon, just listening to the ragged breaths that seemed difficult for his carrier to take. In the evening, he felt as if he was waiting for those breaths to stop.

 

Some sick part of Bilbo, the wretched dark part of his soul, wished his carrier would just die. To watch him be strung along by some cruel semblance of hope was almost more than he could bear some days. Some days he would walk into the room and hear his Ome take shuddering, wheezing breaths and he would count them, watching and waiting for the moment they would just stop all together, and Bilbo would be well and truly alone in the world.

 

Bilbo felt the exact moment his carrier was about to die, after so many, many weeks of almost-living. He wasn’t old enough to remember it when his sire died, but if it felt anything like this then he wondered how exactly his carrier survived.

 

The pain. The pain. The pain. Something inside of him, the part of him that was memory and joy and delight and Ome, my Ome, snapped like a wire strung tight. The bond he thought he had broken off when he closed his mind to Yavanna blew open, the pieces left disconnected flew about in a frenzy, flicking and hurting him, hurting him-

 

He discarded everything in a flurry of movement and ran.

 

The door to Bag End flew off its hinges as Bilbo tore through it, the green paint flying off as it banged against the wall outside. Bilbo couldn’t care less as he flew to his carrier’s side and knelt. The breaths came fewer and slower now, and Bilbo hastily bent his head to his Ome’s chest, searching for a heartbeat.

 

“Bilbo…”

 

Upon hearing his carrier’s voice for the first time in weeks, Bilbo’s head jerked up. He met his carrier’s gaze with shock.

 

Ome!” He burst out, clutching Bungo’s hand tight. “You’re awake! Are you feeling better? Are you-” Something in his carrier’s eyes stopped him and he swallowed.

 

“No.”

 

“Bilbo, it’s time…”

 

“No.”

 

“I doubt you have any say in the matter, but I understand.” At that statement, Bungo cracked a smile but Bilbo could feel no joy.

 

“No. It isn’t fair! It’s not...I’m not…” He trailed off, placing one hand over his eyes. He wanted to say so much, to say I can’t let myself lose you or let go of you because I am not as strong as you are, I will be alone, and I cannot bear that, please don’t go because I love you. Don’t go I love you. Don’t go I love you…

 

“Bilbo, it’s alright.” Bungo squeezed his hand with a grip that was far too frail.

 

“No, it’s not, you don’t…” Bilbo sobbed, still clutching his carrier’s clammy palm.

 

Bungo sighed. “It is alright Bilbo. I do know. I Understand you. You are my son.”

 

Bilbo’s head jerked up and he met the eyes of his Ome. Those blue eyes had gone from their fever-bright icy blue back to their original, beautiful, robin’s egg color and Bilbo swallowed, hard and loudly.

 

I know every word you have left unsaid.

 

“I can’t,” he said, clutching his hand tight. “Ome I can’t, I can’t-”

 

I love you more than words and to lose you will rip out my tongue and my soul.

 

Bungo coughed, and tears fell down his face. “You can, Bilbo, I know, I know…”

 

You are my son and I am sorry, but you are stronger than you think you know and beautiful and bright and wonderful and you will live.

 

Ome,” Bilbo rasped, hastily wiping his own eyes so that he could see his carrier’s slight smile. “Please, please no…”

 

You are my everything, don’t go. Don’t leave me alone in this world or the next.

 

“Bilbo, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright...ssshhh wee one, ssshh”

 

It’s time for me to go, my son. My son. Beautiful boy.

 

“Ome...no.” Bilbo gave a wet sob and squeezed his carrier’s hand.

 

I love you.

 

Bungo chuckled and reached forward, weakly sliding his fingers through Bilbo’s wayward auburn curls.

 

“I love you, Bilbo.”

 

I love you.

 

And then quietly, Bungo Baggins died.

 

Loudly, Bilbo Baggins grieved.

 

He knew then why they called it heartbreak.

 

~*~

 

Hobbits prided themselves on knowing what remained unsaid. That was the basis for their empathy after all. Manners or not, every Hobbit was frightfully honest to a fault. This had its ups and its downs. On the one side, no Hobbit could ever be a politician. On the other, when the folks milling around him at his carrier’s funeral told him they were sorry, Bilbo knew they meant it. Hobbits only say what is necessary after all.

 

“My many condolences for your loss and may your carrier travel safely to The Great Green.” Asphodel, a lovely Omega who seemed to be permanently pregnant, told him.

 

I wish I could help.

 

Bilbo tried to smile and thanked her. A migraine was throbbing behind his eyes and Bilbo fought the urge to bury himself in a dark room under the covers of his raised bed. She scurried away, and Bilbo was finally left alone for the first time all morning.

 

The funeral was a quiet affair. Not many would show their public support for an unmated, disobedient Omega and so Bilbo’s (and wasn’t that an odd thought? Only Bilbo’s-) hobbit hole was filled with only a few Omegas that had free time. Only Asphodel had come up to wish him well after all. All the others were merely pleased to be out of their homes for a while.

 

Bilbo swayed from room to room like a ghost, clutching a teacup with hot bergamot in it, watching the steam curl to the ceiling with flighty fingers of hot mist.

 

He has a hole inside him.

 

 But maybe there was a hole inside everyone, and he just wasn’t aware of it. Maybe they were all trudging through life, feeling as though they were hungry for a meal that would never come. Then he shook his head. If everyone felt like this, Hobbits would be the most depressed race on Middle Earth, and the Elves had them beat on that one.

 

Maybe he was alone, with the hole inside of him. (A cruel voice in the back of his mind told him that yes, he was alone because his Ome was dead and even now, the Alphas and elders eye him like a lamb up for slaughter.)

 

The hole in his heart had formed the minute the life left his carrier’s eyes. It was a gaping thing, and every time he tried to feel joy or laughter, the hole greedily devoured it, leaving him barren and raw.

 

Or maybe the hole was not inside him. Maybe he was the hole. Maybe his whole body was that ache, that deep, horrible ache, and he would never be anything else.

 

A stream of laughter from the kitchen met his ears.

 

Bilbo knew less than two things now. He knew he loved his carrier. He was not lucky to be alive because he was alone.  

 

You are my son and I am sorry, but you are stronger than you think you know and beautiful and bright and wonderful and you will live.

 

Would he? He was not as strong as Bungo Baggins. Bungo Baggins could keep going on after his sire died, and he not only went on, but he raised Bilbo to be...what? What was he? Bilbo stared down at his cup and watched it shift to the beat of the music and dancing that had begun in his living room.

 

He was a Hobbit that refused to Hobbit. He cut off his empathy, he turned off his connection with the earth. He was an Omega that could not Omega. He could not be like his Ome and be wise and show his neck and not bare his teeth in rebellion. His carrier had raised a wee little fool.

 

you will live.

 

But in what way? He was not as strong as Bungo Baggins. He could not live his life here, at least not like this. Not like this.

 

Bilbo risked a sip of the tea and found it to be overly sweetened with honey. He curled his lip and set it aside, making a note the never ask Asphodel to make his tea again.

 

you will live.

 

But at what cost? Himself?

 

you will live.

 

He was not as strong as Bungo Baggins.

 

But he was a Baggins.

 

So maybe he could try.

 

~*~

His carrier had been quiet. Not because he was forced to be, but because he was a deep thinker and observer. He placed a great weight on his words and was reluctant to waste them. So Bag End, as a result, was very quiet in comparison to other hobbit holes that were full to the brim with screaming children and constant laughter. Yet Bilbo and Bungo were happy, because to them the house was loud enough.

 

There was always the friendly echo of welcome home to greet them when they opened the door and the crackle of a fire or a cooking pan. There was the thump of books closing, the silent patter of hobbit feet scurrying from room to room. The was the occasional quiet conversation, the warm undertones of I love you underneath every word.

 

Bilbo and Bungo knew how to listen, so the house was loud in its own quiet way.

 

But now the house was quiet.

 

Someone had told him once that houses, especially hobbit houses, took on the feelings of their owners. If Bungo died and the warmth was gone, what was Bilbo?

 

Days passed. Bilbo did not think or clean or go outside. He drifted aimlessly from room to room like a ghost, breathing in the scent of his Ome, something like fresh sweetgrass and warm sun. He did not eat, drink, or bathe.

 

Weeks passed. Hamfast began to check up on him. The kindly, portly Beta made sure that he ate, dressed in new clothes, and cracked the windows open to let in the light. He did not touch the flowers that were laid on his doorstep. Bilbo forgot the sound his own voice and grew accustomed to the new quiet. In the morning, Bilbo watched the sunrise. At night, Bilbo cried himself to sleep.

 

A month passed and Bilbo went outside for the first time. He had been looking at his carrier’s garden and saw the overgrown vines and weeds and had found himself set with a new purpose. Throwing on a pair of overalls and a hat, he let himself into the garden and set to work. A half hour in, a small pebble tapped the back of his head and he frowned. Sniffing the air subtly before he turned around, he smelt something like burnt bread before turning to face the culprit. A young Alpha, complete with a cocky smirk and a blond shock of hair, staring at him, slouched against his fence.

 

“Hi,” he said. Bilbo did not respond, watching him with a flat gaze. The Alpha soldiered on, uncaring. “You really shouldn’t wear pants you know. Makes you look immodest.”

 

Bilbo said nothing, but he extended his right hand for the Alpha to kiss in greeting. Smirking, he placed a clumsy smooch on the back of it, far too close to his knuckles to be considered a proper greeting but Bilbo let it pass. The Alpha did not give him his hand back.

 

“You smell-” he began, and Bilbo ripped his hand out of the other’s grip, uncaring about how it made him look. He leveled the Alpha with a flat stare, still not speaking. “-divine.”

 

The Alpha raised himself to his full height, some inches above Bilbo’s head.

 

“You never responded to my flowers.”

 

Bilbo said nothing.

 

The Alpha clicked his tongue.

 

“Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree huh? Not very smart in my opinion.”

 

He waited for Bilbo to respond. He didn’t.

 

“I could take care of you. Your carrier is dead and you’ll need someone around to protect you.” At this, he gestured to the pile of flowers at Bilbo’s door. “This can be avoided. I’ve been watching you. I know you hate it.”

 

Bilbo’s eye twitched. Frustrated, the Alpha blustered on, uncaring of the angry flush that was beginning to darken Bilbo’s face.

 

“You shouldn’t try to imitate that bitch-” Bilbo threw his fist into his face before he had even thought about it.

 

That had always been his problem though hadn’t it? Heart first, then head. But as Bilbo watched the Alpha wither on the ground, clutching his broken, bloody nose, Bilbo felt no regret. He never did, if he was being honest. The Alpha hastily stood up and stumbled his way out of Bag End, and Bilbo watched and smiled. He then turned back to the mint. So much overgrowth. Later, when he burned those flowers at his door, he may burn some of it back.

 

~*~

 

Years passed.

 

By all accounts, Bilbo Baggins looked like any other Hobbit at thirty-three. He was short, with freckled tan skin and a head full of auburn curls. He kept his body clean, the hair on his feet neat, and his stomach full. He had the same large, curious eyes and the same gently pointed ears. He was more pretty than handsome maybe, what with his plump lips and soft features, but most Omegas tended to be, so that wasn’t unusual. He wore bright colors, sang beautiful songs, and tended to his carrier’s garden.

 

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit. Being a Hobbit required that certain social rules be followed. For example, Hobbits always slept close to the ground in hopes of hearing the earth, Yavanna, speak to them in their dreams. Bilbo did not, and they thought him sacrilegious. Most Omegas were wed well before their thirty-third name-day, usually to the highest bidding Alpha their parents could find. Bilbo was not, and that made him disrespectful.

 

Hobbits were supposed to throw name-day celebrations, and Bilbo was instead going for a walk in the woods with a basket in one arm and a harvesting knife in the other. The other hobbits could mock him all they liked, Bilbo had the best sense for wild berries in the Shire and he intended to take full advantage of it. Terrifying dreams and forcibly suppressing his Understanding aside, Bilbo enjoyed this perk of being so close to Yavanna. So, with a skip in his step and a trek through a vacant, dangerous, clever back road, Bilbo set on his way.

 

He was about halfway through picking berries and had just stumbled upon a patch of mushrooms when he heard it. A horribly off-key, rasping, parody version of a hobbit eating song. He grimaced and, despite his dislike of the figure attempting to hit high notes, he was forced to keep listening by simply being in the area.

 

We go eating! To the table

Makes us merry...precious...make us want to eat!

Rabbit tails, fox whiskers, bird bones still ripe with meat!

Feasting, feasting precious!

We feast on bread and glut

Tomorrow we will starve again

So today we fish and-

 

The song was cut off by the sound of frantic splashing, as if someone was flailing about in the water. Bilbo stood up from his hunched position by a bush and hastened toward the sound. He knew very well that only hobbits lived in the Shire, and that he was the only hobbit who could swim. Horrible music notwithstanding, no one deserved to drown.

 

Bilbo eventually came upon the river, and instead of finding a flailing hobbit he found...something else.

 

The person that sat crouched on a rock looked as if they were terribly sickly. They were tearing into a raw fish with a savagery Bilbo had never seen before, and despite himself he recoiled in disgust. The few yellow and black teeth the figure had pierced into the raw flesh, and with a jerk of that bulbous head the strip was torn away and devoured with a slurp. Their grey flesh and emaciated figure held onto the rock with long, rotting toenails. The sight of their filthy loincloth and rancid hair made his stomach flip, and while he would not allow himself to Understand them, he was sure the figure had no pleasant thoughts whatsoever. Still, manners were manners, and truly, who was he to judge others for their fashion sense or life choices? This person’s taste in loincloths was none of his business, save to ensure that it never came near his person.

 

Bilbo was about to retreat, seeing that no one was drowning. Before he could take a full step however, a glint of gold caught his eye. Crouching, Bilbo moved a few leaves to the side and noticed a small, plain, golden ring. He frowned. No one in the Shire would be very interested in a ring like this. Hobbits tended to avoided jewelry, as metal often picked up the emotions of the owner and amplified it to an unpleasant degree. Bilbo had never so much as glanced at a jeweler. The only reasonable explanation for its presence here was that the figure on the rock was its owner. Bilbo looked back up. There was a horrible crunch as the thing bit through the fish head and swallowed it whole, only to begin choking.

 

“Gollum! Gollum!”

 

The head was quickly dislodged and placed back into their mouth for more chewing. Bilbo twisted his mouth in disgust.

 

Looking back down at the ring, Bilbo considered his options. It really wouldn’t do for some unsuspecting hobbit to come prancing through the forest and step on this, only to be overwhelmed with some horrible emotion they couldn’t process. They could pass out, lay here for hours and die of cold. Still, Bilbo really did not want to attract the attention of what or whoever that was on the rock over there. Bilbo frowned, going with his very last option and reaching out to pick up the ring with his guards fully up. He was prepared for a lot of things. What he truly experienced was not one of them.

 

As soon as his finger touched it, Bilbo reared back as if he had stuck his hand into flame. A cross between disgust and horror rolled up his spine, and his fought the urge to retch. Touching the ring felt like he had stuck his whole hand into a pile of cold feces, and now that he was aware of it, the aura that radiated off the humble band was...indescribable. It made bile gather in the back of his throat, made him want to curl under his covers and hide from the world because it was too much-

 

He did not know if the figure on the rock had any ownership of this ring. At this point, he didn’t care. Because right there, in front of his feet, was the object of his nightmares. And if this ring was real then…there was a high chance that everything else was too. Swallowing hard, Bilbo tore his eyes away from the ring and chanced a glance at the creature, who had somehow not heard Bilbo have a small mental breakdown behind it. Slowly, not risking their response should they prove to be malevolent, Bilbo took out his handkerchief, and after a bracing breath, he threw the cloth on top of the ring and scooped it up. Quickly, he gathered up his basket and made his way, as quietly as he could, back to Bag End. He recalled what his Ome had taught him about walking through crowds of people unseen, and he used those skills to his advantage. The figure never noticed him.

 

As he walked, he tried to calm his racing thoughts. It was real. The ring was real. There was no mistaking it, this vulgar thing and its hideous whispers that flowed into his mind, so like the ones from his dreams. So flustered was he that beneath his feet, he felt the spirit of the earth curl around his toes, almost sadly. I told you, I told you...

 

He paused, still on the forest path, and with a great sigh and a small moan of pain, he yanked his head to the side and vomited all over the side of the trail.

 

~*~

 

His parent’s extensive library yielded very little information.

 

He gathered scraplings of information, a children’s story from the far back of the lowest bookshelf that spoke of an extremely simplified battle between a towering, somewhat goofy dark lord, a man with a glimmering crown and shining sword and his elf-friend. It ended up being a somewhat ridiculous story about the power of friendship and the glory of elves. Rolling his eyes, Bilbo had moved on. Another book about the history of men was slightly more revealing, mentioning again an unnamed king and his elf-friend, as well as their quest to destroy a trinket. The specifics of what the trinket was were not mentioned, save that it contained a great evil.

 

From his bedside table, he heard yet another whisper crooning from the humble, hideous ring on the coffee table in the library.

 

“You are lonely...Bilbo Baggins…”

 

Forcibly uncrossing his eyes and looking up from “The Murmuring Metal: The Life and Times of a Dwarvish Jeweler in Quest of the Perfect Trinket to Gift His Omega”, Bilbo frowned but did not respond. Despite Bilbo blocking out as much as he could, the ring had kept a steady coo of disjointed sentences and taunts to get his attention. It made him feel dirty and somewhat confused, but it was most enlightening. It felt like a miasma of concentrated, sentient darkness that descended upon the owner like a blanket. It reminded Bilbo of bone-chilling cold, or a hunger so intense that one felt numb, of a man’s hand clutching his own while lying on a sick bed, of the feeling of death in the apothecary. It was the hatred he felt towards himself after wishing his father a mercy killing. It was the look of half-mad wolves and a full, swollen moon hanging like an eye in a quiet, bloody night. It was eating rotten food to try and feel full, to stave of the animalistic hunger and despair. It was a darkness that liked its cage because look at how easy it is to get what I want, what you want, just slip me on your finger-

 

It was a beckoning sliminess, a threat in a tiny gold band that was just a whisper of what was to come, because something worse is coming. It was the blood on the soggy dirt in his dream, and the same screaming, and the same dirt song sung from a grieving earth. That was coming. Perhaps not today, or tomorrow, but someday it would come, and this darkness would be here when it did. It was patient. I can wait.

 

“I can be your friend...ally...lover...Biiilllbbooo Bagginssss…”

 

Bilbo lowered his reading glasses.

 

“Shut up.”

 

Turning back to the novel, he sighed. Dwarves were a respectable race, but the ability to drag a single sentence on for two pages left much to be desired.

 

“Don’t you long to be desired? Omega Baggins…”

 

Bilbo twisted the corner of his mouth down.

 

“Once again, shut up. I am trying to read.”

 

“Poor Bilbo Baggins...what are you living for? Come and know me...I... will be your friend sweet hobbit…”

 

Bilbo slapped the book closed and turned to face the seemingly innocent band of gold.

 

“Be silent!”

 

“Where did your father go? Such an empty home...but that’s what you wanted, yes?”

 

Bilbo arose swearing, storming over to the ring and grabbed it, cloth and all. With a well-practiced arm, he threw it into the flames that sat crackling merrily away in the hearth. What was the point of researching it if he could just destroy it now? The blasted, wretched, slimy-

 

Laughter.

 

Taking a few deep breaths, Bilbo looked up into the fire and listened to the ring cackle as it began to glow in the flames.

 

Ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burum-ishi krimpatul…

 

Bilbo gaped. The ring laughed. The sight stirred a memory, a voice…

 

One ring to rule them all,

One ring to find them,

One ring to bring them all-

 

“And in the darkness, bind them.” Bilbo murmured the last part aloud, staring down at the ring that was now glowing hot with black speak. He shook, watching his handkerchief burn in the flames. The ring laughed and laugh on, gleeful as Bilbo stumbled back into his armchair. A wayward auburn curl fell into his eyes, and he didn’t even have the strength to push the lock of hair back from his face.

 

Somewhere within his racing thoughts, an idea was forming. He let it happen, still staring blankly into the flames.

 

His parents could not have known that rhyme. It was not a Hobbit tale, no doubt evidenced by its lack of presence in this, the most extensive library in the Shire. So where had he heard it? His muddled mind pulled thoughts together, memories that he thought he had long since forgotten…

 

A flash, an image.

 

A tall man...no! Not a man, an elf, an elf with dark hair and…

 

 “...an unnamed king and his elf-friend, as well as their quest to destroy a trinket…”

 

Bilbo sat straight up in his chair, nearly cracking his neck as he did so. Elrond. Elrond Peredhel. His mother’s friend, and an elf whom he used to see often in his youth. The elf who had told Bilbo that rhyme in passing, humoring the whims of an over-curious fauntling. The elf who could tell Bilbo everything he needed to know.

 

Set upon with a new-found purpose, Bilbo grabbed the nicest stationary he owned as well as his writing supplies, immediately beginning to pen a letter to the elf he hadn’t seen since before his mother died.

 

He was about halfway through explaining his discovery of the ring when he stopped. It was just another stray thought, but he seemed to be having a few good ones lately. (Up to the ring still cooking in his fireplace.) How would Elrond react to the Ring, his old enemy? Maybe he would be more suspicious of the Hobbit and avoid answering honestly? Or worse, what if he decided to take the ring for himself? Something inside the Omega twisted. Maybe not. It might be wiser to disguise his quest for knowledge as a friendly visit and nothing more, and slowly obtain the information he sought. Nodding to himself, he threw away his old letter and started a new one.

 

To Lord Elrond Peredhel,

 

I don’t expect you to remember me…

 

With the letter done and sent with his fastest pigeon, the ring retrieved from the flames -it would seem as if some time spent in fire would shut the ring up a bit, he stored this information away for later- Bilbo took a minute to stop and brace himself for what he had to do now.

 

“Do what you need to so that you feel safe, Bilbo.” his Ome had told him this, but this was before Bilbo had a cursed ring in his home and before he had died. He wished so desperately that he was here right now, he had to hug him, be comforted, to ask him “What if it’s not my safety at stake here? What if it’s a hundred thousand others who don’t even know my name?”

 

Bilbo didn’t know the answer. Maybe he never would. But maybe was time he let himself dream the dream in full. Maybe it was time to be a little bit...fearless. Yes. Fearless.

 

He grabbed a blanket, put out the fire, and laid down with his ear to the ground. Hesitantly, oh so tentatively, he opened his soul.

 

He knew why they called it heartache.

 

It was wound that didn’t need revisiting, an ache that moved in him like a wave. The migraine of too much and too loud and all at once began to settle behind his eyes and he closed them with a sigh.

 

There was an echo of something like joy, of being missed and coming home to a hot meal and a warm fire and for a second, Bilbo felt guilty from denying himself and the earth this most intimate of connections. But in the next breath he heard the soul-crushing sadness and incomparable true pain roll over him and he choked off a sob.

 

“Poor lonely Baggins…”

 

Bilbo swallowed and steeled himself.

 

 “Do what you need to so that you feel safe, Bilbo.”

 

The world will be much safer without the wretched ring and all its evils.

 

Bilbo forced himself to relax into the ground and ease into an unsteady slumber. With great difficulty, and much reluctance, he fell asleep. And in the bowels of a dead autumn, on his thirty-third birthday, Bilbo Baggins dreamed and twisted and sobbed, and in the distance a wretched creature screamed.

 

“Precious!”

 

~*~

He has earned this. The gold ring sits before him, just a few feet away, but already it is his. He is the Dwarven King, the King Under the Mountain, Ruler of the Halls of Hewn Stone. He has claimed his birthright. The smell of smoke and blood burns his nostrils and he inhales through his mouth, his iron boots sinking into the muddy earth below as he advances. He has earned this.

 

He does not see the blade descending as he reaches out.

 

He has earned this.

 

~*~

 

The response to his letter came surprisingly fast.

 

Bilbo was grateful for this, as for the last few days he had been stuck in a sort of limbo with the ring. No matter what he did, what meditations he tried or what he did to distract himself the ring still managed to speak with him clear as day. Bilbo had resorted to putting the ring in other rooms while he went about his business, but that made him feel like he was in a prison cell of his own making and Bilbo was too stubborn to continue. Amid his frustration, Bilbo remembered how silent the ring had been when he had thrown it in the fire. The result of this thought was a fire crackling merrily away in the middle of the day, the ring sitting inside it on a pan so that Bilbo could retrieve any time he so chose.

 

He had not so chosen in over seven hours.

 

The silence was golden.

 

To Bilbo Baggins,

 

Your letter was a welcome surprise, and rest assured, I never forget a friend…

 

Bilbo felt a smile spread across his lips. Lord Elrond was most happy to have him in Rivendell and would send a party to meet him on the road in a few days’ time. However, as he read further, he could not help but notice the sense of loneliness that seemed to come through the page. Some time since Rivendell has had a visitor….

 

He felt a chord of sympathy twitch in him for the elf he had never met. He knew through word of mouth that Lord Elrond’s children, up to the adopted Estel, had long since grown up and taken their own paths. Sitting down on the floor, he lifted his eyes to look at the chair behind him that hadn’t held anyone in it for quite some time.

 

He knew the pain of an empty house.

 

Bilbo swallowed hard and wiped a tear from his eye. This blasted ring was tearing down his defenses and making him far too emotional for his tastes. He took a few breaths and pushed away the feeling of where is my family and do come, do come and see me, it’s empty here and far too big. He wiped his eyes and grabbed his stationary, focusing on the fact that yes, he would soon get the information he sought.

 

The guilt came shortly after, as it felt as if he was using Lord Elrond to get what he wanted, and immediately he penned another letter full of exclamations and excitement to see him, promising many years of future correspondence and an insistence that Lord Elrond and his kin were welcome at his table anytime. He even gave details as to when breakfast, second breakfast, and elevenses were as well, before demanding to hear about Lord Elrond’s favorite foods so that he could make them in case he swung by.

 

Then, after he sent the letter off, Bilbo sat up from his cushion to prepared for the road to Rivendell.

 

~*~

The next day saw Bilbo fully dressed, cleaned, and wearing the most travel friendly clothes he could find. He had resorted to digging through his parents closets and had come away with a thick but breathable forest green jacket from his sire’s closet, a brown shirt made of a similar material from a nondescript chest in the back of his carrier’s room (and oh it had ached to enter it), and a pair of pants that cut off just above his ankles.

 

Some digging through his sire’s wardrobe had led him into discovering several pieces of armor, a few pieces of gold, and wonder of all wonders, a blade. Bilbo raised his eyebrows in curiosity. It was made for a hobbit judging by its size, but this could have never been mistaken for a letter opener or butter knife. The blade was long and thin, almost like a needle in its sharpness. The handle was black and green accompanied by a swept hilt that was neatly engraved with vines. Twisting it up to his face, he caught sight of a word. Inula. That must have been the sword’s name. His lips twitched. He had never heard of a sword named after a flower. This blade must have never done any great deeds before, as most swords were named after their most powerful feat.

 

For a moment, Bilbo contemplated taking it with him, but shook his head. It was just to Rivendell. Sure, the wilds were dangerous for anyone, but he would be taking well-lit pathways, save for the backroads he had planned to take out of the Shire in order to avoid prying eyes. The wood he would pass through was spacious with thin trees and the creatures were friendly. There was no need for extra weight. Besides, how would it look to come to Rivendell armed against a presumed enemy? He neatly tucked the sword away and stood up to look at himself in the mirror.

 

Bilbo hadn’t taken the time to look in a mirror properly since his carrier died. If anyone asked him why, it was because he didn’t care about his appearance. While that was true, the real reason was much sadder.

 

He was all Baggins.

 

He had his carrier’s tan, freckled skin and his smile and his wayward curls, though the color was his sire’s. Bilbo missed having the real thing. Sometimes when he looked in the mirror, he found himself searching for at least a single speck of robin’s-egg-blue in his own eyes, but he never found it. Then the ache would return for a person who would never come back, and he would look away.

 

But now, struck with this new purpose, this new adventure of sorts, he looked almost unrecognizable in the mirror. A certain brightness was in his eyes, a hint of mischief about his lips. He looked like...well he wasn’t sure what he looked like.

 

He sighed and turned away, grabbing his travel pack from the floor.  

 

He was going to leave in the evening.

 

He wasn’t stupid. He knew that his every move was being watched by those Alpha’s who would oh so casually lean against his fence or stroll in the same direction when he went to the market. Ever since he had shown that he would respond physically if provoked, they had backed off some. Still, there was no need for them to know his business, and the last thing he wanted was for some knot-headed Alpha to follow him to Rivendell.

 

The thought darkened his mood, but the thought of where he was going lit his face up again.

 

He was leaving the Shire.

 

He was leaving the Shire.

 

It didn’t matter for how long he was leaving. It didn’t matter where he was going, only that for a brief period, he would be gone. No matter that the Shire was the safest place in the world, no matter that this was where his carrier was buried or where his ancestral home was. He was going away for a while. Just awhile. Then he would fall in love with the place again.

 

With that thought in mind, he marched over to the door and pulled it open, feeling a smile bloom across his face. The world outside was dim with evening blues and purples the hazy yellow glow of lights weaving in and out of the sky. In the distance, he heard laughter and it tickled his ears with its joy. The air smelt of autumn. Fireflies danced lazily outside his door, and moths fluttered about the dying bouquets of flowers that lay on his doorstep. The wizard standing among them was tall and grey and must have been about to knock on the door, for no sooner did Bilbo open it did the knob of a staff swing through and smack him in the center of his face.