“I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing you until late tonight?”
Fili, fumbling over the buttons of his shirt, glanced over his shoulder at his consort.
He noted the tiredness of consort’s tone, and looking at him, it was as if he’d aged several years overnight. White curls were unusually limp and the crinkle around his eyes deeper and the lines of his mouth harsher than the day before.
Finished dressing, Fili approached the bed and sat down beside him.
“I’ll try to find some time to go with you to see him,” Fili promised. “Maybe around lunch time?”
His consort nodded and patted him on the cheek like a child. It used to bother him but he’d gotten used to it. Gotten used to not being the one.
He cradled his head in his hands to gently bring their foreheads together and got a tug on his mustache as thanks. A final peck on the nose, he made his way out the door to perform his duties.
After he’d left Bilbo released a shaky breath and crawled out of bed.
It was passed the lunch hour and Fili had sent someone to let him know he couldn’t make it.
So, wrapped in his warmest clothes and cane in hand he left his and Fili’s chambers and moved down the hall with his old knapsack on his back. He bumped into Dori along the way, the dwarf’s arms filled with half a dozen fabrics. They chatted briefly, mostly about how the shop was going and Nori’s behavior.
Ever since Ori had set out with Balin and Oin to reclaim Khazad-Dum, Nori had been stirring up more trouble than he could handle. His most recent venture had landed him in a cell and Dori was saying he had every intention of letting him sit there and think about it for a while before bailing him out again.
“He’s plenty rich now,” Dori grumbled, “No need to pilfer the pockets of nobles.”
Bilbo chuckled. “Well, perhaps he just needs a distraction.” With that, they parted ways. He hadn’t seen most of his old friends in a while and he missed them something awful but he’d made peace with it. He knew most of them were thriving in Erebor, some more than others, but otherwise happy and healthy.
He did wish he would be around long enough to see Balin, Ori, and Oin again, but he supposed that was hoping for too much.
As he hobbled down to the deeper tunnels, having to light a few of the lanterns on the walls as he went, the air began to chill.
Finally he stood before a large block of stone, four feet wide and five feet high, decorated with a series of beautifully engraved illustrations depicting a long, treacherous journey and a battle with a great, ugly dragon. In the very center of it all, however was a scrawling, uneven epithet.
In the forty seven years Bilbo had lived in the Lonely Mountain, he counted himself one of the blessed few outsiders allowed to learn the language of the dwarves.
Here lies Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, Son of Thror, of the line of Durin.
It was rather plain, but Bilbo knew Fili had never truly forgiven his uncle. For abandoning him and Kili in Laketown, for falling to the gold sickness, for dying.
It gave the tomb character, he supposed.
“Happy anniversary, then,” Bilbo said cheerfully. He gazed at the tomb, head tilted and pretending he could see passed the stone at Thorin himself.
“It’s been a most dramatic year, if I say so myself. Kili managed to marry himself off to that Firebeard from the Iron Hills and she’s already expecting. They’re absolutely disgusting together if you ask me.” He smiled fondly.
“Dís is beside herself, more than ready to be a grandmother. She’s determined that it’s going to be a girl, says she feels it. Already commissioned a whole wardrobe for when the wee thing is born.
“Bofur and Bombur were well, last I say them anyhow. Bombur’s working in the kitchens of course, and his little ones aren’t quite so little anymore. It’s astounding, Bodor is only thirty years younger than I am and still acts like he’s in his teens. Brombi and Bundir are much more mature though, I’ve seen them running errands for the weaving and jeweler’s guilds lately. Apprentices, and all.”
Bilbo shifted on his feet and dropped his knapsack on the ground.
“I’ve taken up smoking again, I know, I know, Rifgar told me I shouldn’t with my health as it’s been but I doubt it truly matters that much anymore. We finally grew a good batch of pipeweed, after all these years, too. The soil in the Greenhouse wasn’t good enough. We had to grow it outside.”
He packed his pipe and lit it, puffing a few times and releasing a smoke ring that made him quite pleased. “Tried to teach Kili how to do that, all he managed to do was choke.”
With his free hand he pushed aside the contents of the bag and pulled out a small, smooth rock. “Bifur’s gone and taught me how to polish rocks. It seemed awfully silly at first, polishing a rock, truly, but it’s become quite fun.”
Bilbo place it in front of the tomb and decided to sit down. He was already aching all over just from the trip down the tunnel. His back chose then to twinge painfully.
“Confound it all,” He murmured. “I do wish you didn’t have to see me this way. I’ve gone stale and moldy these last few years. I haven’t been able to get out of bed without help most days. Fili has bore it with such patience. He’s been too good to me, considering…”
Back against the tomb, he fiddled with his pipe.
“I always wondered what you might think of how things turned out. I don’t think you ever would have imagined Fili would take your words quite so seriously. I certainly didn’t expect it. I still don’t know if it was the right choice. I do think of the Shire quite often. I’ve known I wouldn’t make the trip again since I returned from the last time.
“Primula and Drogo have made good use of Bag End, though, filled all those rooms. Nothing like the quiet, empty, smial I used to haunt. Frodo’s a charmer too, reminds me of you even. Dark hair, blue eyes, sweet talked the Gamgee’s boy into a romp through the woods. Not quite something I had wanted to walk into, but young love is rather senseless.”
Bilbo puffed another ring.
“I’ve arranged everything already, so it shan’t be like last time where I left everything a mess and everyone was floundering. A letter, on Fili’s writing desk, you see.
“He’s been awfully busy lately. There’s been a lot of interest in forming a trade caravan, what with most of the dwarrow here having been born on the road, they find they miss it. The trouble is figuring out the route. If the elves are willing to guide them through the Greenwood, there and back it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
“I told you before, didn’t I? The forest has healed greatly this last decade. What with Sarumon’s outing and the ring being dealt with. Thranduil has been insisting people stop calling it Mirkwood.”
He stopped and snickered.
“My apologies, Thorin. I know better than to mention him by name to you. I suppose you’ve turned over in there.” Bilbo took another huff.
“Well, that’s what Fili’s been up to for the last season or so. He hopes to have it organized for next summer. They want to travel all the way to Hobbiton, if you’ll believe it. Maybe even as far as Ered Luin but I told them they’d best plan for mid Spring if that’s the case. Otherwise they’ll be getting back in the winter months which simply won’t do.”
“It will hit him hard, I’m sure,” Bilbo commented suddenly. “Fili’s been pretending it’s not real for a while now. He’ll have a niece or nephew to look after soon enough though.” His expression turned conspiratorial. “But you know what? My gut is telling me twins. Dís is expecting one granddaughter but I’m betting on two! Don’t tell anyone I said so though. I’d like for it to be a surprise.
“Not that anyone comes down here for a chat. I don’t understand you dwarrows. Fili says it’s pointless, that you’ll be busy in Mahal’s Hall and won’t hear me over the hammering, but I say that’s codswallop. You hear every word I whisper in your ear don’t you? I’ll be angry if I find out you’ve been ignoring me when I take the time every year to come tell you about everyone.”
Bilbo leaned his head back against the tomb and stared at the shadows flickering on the ceiling of the tunnel.
“Fili’s worked tirelessly to do what you wished, you realize.” His voice was wavery whisper now. He must have been up for several hours now. He hadn’t been able to go more than three hours without a nap in a few years.
“He could have taken it as ‘make sure Bilbo get back to the Shire safe’ but I think he became a bit too attached after everything that happened. He’s made a terrible decision though, falling in love with an old hobbit who can’t love him back.”
“All those days being stuck in bed hasn’t made me a good husband at all these last few years. I’ve been cranky and restless, but he’s been so patient with me. So patient. I would have given up on me a long time ago. If he had, he would have been happy. I think he gets that from you, to be honest. Not letting go until the very end…
“I do miss the Shire, something terrible,” Bilbo admitted softly. “Rivendell too. And Lorien. I’ve only been there once but it was absolutely stunning. Excellent hosts too. Not that the events surrounding the visit were particularly pleasant but I digress…”
Bilbo was feeling quite cold now and tugged his coat out of his bag and gingerly put it on. He was panting by the time he’d clasped shut it but felt much better. He took one more shaky puff on his pipe before setting it down, blowing a final, wobbly ring.
His eyes were falling shut.
“I think I’m ready for my next adventure."
Their chambers were cold and dark when Fili returned that night. A sharp pain in his chest and a lump building in his throat. His writing desk, usually a mess, had been tidied up except for an envelope in the center of it.
He approached the desk and bit his lip, a shaky hand picking it up.
Fili distinctly felt the desire not to open it, wishing to go in search of his consort, but his fingers were already pulling a single sheet of parchment from the fold.
Scanning the words, his vision grew distorted and tears rolled down his face. His breathing hitched.
The letter fell from his hands and he turned to the door.