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No Place Like HoME

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There was somebody in his favourite seat. Again.

Gil picked up his coffee and stomped over to the only other free seat with power, the one with the wobbly table and barely any legroom. He fixed the usurper with a glare, which the other man didn't even have the courtesy to look up from his laptop and notice.

Gil unfolded his laptop and plugged it in, settling his mouse on the table next to it. He had an essay to write, but the café had a reliable and, most importantly, fast internet connection, so he loaded up HoME instead.

He logged in and took a sip of coffee while it loaded.

Seconds after logging in, someone whispered him.

From [Aragorn]: Perfect timing. You want to tank Mines of Moria for us?
To [Aragorn]: Sure, just let me vend and throw me an invite.

In marked contrast to every other guildless hunter Gil had ever encountered in-game, Aragorn was a competent and fair leader. He'd asked him if he wanted an invite to <Kingdom of Erebor> several times, but Aragorn always politely refused.

Moments later, Gimli was in a group with Aragorn, Arwen <The House of Elrond>, Gandalf <The Istari> and Legolas <Greenwood the Great>. The other two he recognised, but the final one...

To [Aragorn]: Seriously? Greenwood? A hunter from Greenwood?
From [Aragorn]: I've grouped with him before, he does good DPS and listens to orders.
To [Aragorn]: I'll believe that when I see it.

And then they were in the instance and Aragorn was outlining tactics.

He had to grudgingly admit that they made a good team. The hunter knew how to manage his threat, didn't pull out of turn and was quick off the mark with crowd-control. They brought down the final boss, threw around the virtual high-fives and immediately headed into another instance.

Gimli got a new helm, enough marks to buy him his next upgrade, and two new achievements.

And he still had an essay to write.

[Party] Gimli: Sorry guys, I gotta go.
[Party] Aragorn: See you round.
[Party] Legolas: Nice playing with you.

Gil logged out and rubbed his eyes. He shoved his laptop back into his shoulder bag and went to get another coffee.

The usurper of his usual spot was packing up to leave. Gil watched him, sharp-eyed, and swooped in as soon as his drink was ready. He sunk into the soft, comfortable chair and pulled out his textbook.

--

Gil's dorm room was fine, but his desk chair got hard after about an hour and the coffee machine on his floor was broken - had been broken for months, no sign of a replacement - so he ended up at the café more afternoons than not.

The café was small, independent, and more expensive than the chain stores closer to campus, so the majority of the student population ignored it. Arts students made up the bulk of the students who did frequent the establishment. And then there was Gil: short and chubby, nominally studying literature and basically invisible.

Gil wondered if his new worst enemy was also a student. He looked like he was probably doing Literature. His hair was black and straight, worn long and cascading over his shoulders. He was gorgeous.

Gil truly hated him.

He took a seat at one of the other tables and booted his laptop, glowering.

[Guild] Kili: Greenwood took down Dol Guldur last night
[Guild] Gimli: They WHAT
[Guild] Fili: Pics or it never happened
[Guild] Kili: Check the forum thread, they have pics
[Guild] Gimli: We were SO CLOSE, I can't believe this
[Guild] Thorin: We'll get there. Everyone needs to get geared up for Mount Doom now.

<Greenwood the Great> really were the worst. They were super-elitist, if you weren't max level and at least on Tier 3 gear they wouldn't even talk to you.

<Kingdom of Erebor> were a small guild, and these days a lot of the players had day jobs and could only raid on weekends. But Guild Leader Thorin (warrior) was determined that they not let it hold them back.

From [Kili]: Fili and I are joining RDF, you up for it?
To [Kili]: Always

Twenty minutes later, just as Gil was starting to wonder if maybe he should try to do some reading while he waited, the notification popped up. He accepted the invite and joined a party with Fili, Kili, Bilbo <The Shire> and Legolas <Greenwood the Great>.

[Party] Bilbo: Did I interrupt an Erebor party or something?
[Party] Legolas: I'm not in Erebor :P
[Party] Kili: We're just that awesome

From [Kili]: Greenwood D:
To [Kili]: Ughh

Honesty compelled him to throw in a word for the archer though.

To [Kili]: He's not a bad player though
To [Kili]: For Greenwood anyway

Their fifth was a halfling rogue, who proved competent albeit slightly distractible. They wiped on the second boss when a stray bomb took out Fili (and therefore his heals) but recovered and took out the final two bosses without drama.

From [Legolas]: Nice playing with you again
From [Legolas]: LMK if you ever need DPS lol

If Gimli ever needed DPS he had a list of at least 10 other players he would be inviting before a random Greenwood hunter.

To [Legolas]: Same if you need a tank

--

Gil ordered his drink and shuffled around to the other end of the counter to wait for it. It was a Friday, his classes were over for the day and he was just about ready for a nap.

"Chai Latte for Leander?" called the barista.

Gil turned to find out what kind of person was named Leander, and discovered it was the table-stealing jerk from the other day.

The guy picked up his coffee and made a beeline for the good table. Gil ground his teeth. What the hell. Gil had ordered before that guy, he was sure of it.

He glanced around the rest of the cafe. The guy caught his glare and smirked, Gil was sure of it.

He turned to the barista. "Sorry, uh, could you make mine to go? Short black for Gilbert."

"No problem," said the barista cheerfully.

When his name was called, he fired one last resentful glance in the guy's direction and stomped out of the café. He would go to the library. Maybe he'd read some books. Do some study.

Oh, who was he kidding. He'd play some HoME.

--

"Short black for Gilbert!" called the barista. Gil grabbed his drink and slipped into his favourite spot. He recognised the guy standing two people behind him in line and couldn't hold back a smug grin.

Gil logged on as his bank alt and sorted through a week's worth of mail before logging on as Gimli. He immediately had a PM from Aragorn inviting him to a Shelob's Lair run.

[Party] Aragorn: Next boss is Shelob
[Party] Aragorn: Pippin: We're going to need AOE here but let Gimli get aggro first
[Party] Aragorn: Tauriel, she hits hard so keep Gimli's health up above 40%
[Party] Aragorn: Ready?
[Party] Legolas: rdy
[Party] Gimli: ready
[Party] Pippin: rdy
[Party] Tauriel: Ready

Gimli pulled the boss and suddenly there were alarms blaring in his ears.

"Holy shit," he said out loud, pulling off his headphones only to discover the alarms were in real life.

[Party] Gimli: Gotta go fire alarm sorry
[Party] Legolas: Fire alarm sry back asap

Gil snapped his laptop shut and looked over to meet the startled eyes of his MORTAL ENEMY.

"Everybody out, leave your stuff, just go," called the barista. "I know, I'm sorry, it's policy."

Now that he was paying attention Gil could smell smoke. He grabbed his laptop and backpack but left the power adapter, shrugging his jacket over his shoulders as he walked outside.

His enemy followed him out.

"So," said the guy, "you play HoME."

"We so wiped," said Gil. "Aragorn is going to kill me."

The guy laughed. "I think he'll understand. Um. I guess you're not really named Gimli."

"Gilbert," Gil admitted. After a moment's resentment, he held out a hand.

"Leander," said the guy, shaking Gil's hand. At Gil's incredulous look, he said, "You're named Gilbert."

"And I never thought I'd be glad for it," said Gil.

Leander pulled his phone out of his pocket and started thumbing at the screen. "I'm going to call Arthur and let him know what's happening."

"Er," said Gil.

Leander glanced back at him. "That's Aragorn, you didn't know he lived here?"

"No," said Gil. "Huh. I don't know any of the local players, my guild is all people from back home."

"We go out for drinks every Tuesday," said Leander. "You should come."

"Patch night, nice," said Gil. Theoretically he could use the hours the game was down for maintenance to catch up on his reading. Mostly he spent it puttering around the internet, bored.

Leander held up a finger as the phone connected and he explained quickly to the person on the other end. The alarms still blaring from the shop were joined by sirens from the fire trucks.

Gil was regretting leaving his power adapter now. He had a second one in his dorm, but he didn't like having to climb under the desk to plug and unplug it from the wall all the time. He went to ask one of the baristas if they could put it behind the counter for him.

"It won't be long, it was just a toaster oven accident," said the barista. "We're just waiting for the fire department to clear it."

Gil passed this information on to Leander once he hung up the phone.

When the fire department finally left, they shuffled back into the café as a group. Gil retrieved his power adapter.

"Do you have time to try again?" asked Leander. "The others say they're up for it."

Gil checked his watch. "I have class in an hour, so if we're quick..."

"An hour to do Shelob? Easy."

And it was.

"I was serious about joining us on Tuesday," said Leander, as Gil was packing up. "I'll send you the details."

"Thanks," said Gil. "Good game."

--

Gil walked into the pub and paused just inside the doorway. Why, he wondered, had he not thought to ask where the group would be sitting? Or any kind of identifying feature at all?

The pub wasn't full by any means, but there were enough groups of students around to make him hesitant to just walk to any of them.

He considered just buying a drink and nursing it at the bar in the vain hope that somebody he knew would turn up. No, hell no. He turned and walked straight into somebody just entering.

"Oh, you did come!" said the guy Gil had almost bowled over.

Gil picked himself up. "Oh," he said. "Leander. I was just... I wasn't sure..."

"We're over here," he said, leading Gil across the pub. "Arthur, this is Gilbert, the one who plays Gimli."

There was a round of cheerful introductions, including at least two other players Gil recognised.

"How many times have we grouped and I never knew you lived here," said Arthur. "I thought everyone in Erebor lived up north."

"They do, mostly," said Gil. They'd managed to recruit a few others, but the core raid group were all people he knew from uni back home. "Except me. I came down here for my Masters."

Once the initial awkwardness passed, they settled into a conversation that was so familiar he may as well have been back home. Class optimisation, PUG stories, the latest round of patch notes...

"I think they need to nerf that," said Leander.

"What would you know, you're in Greenwood," muttered Gil. "After what happened with Smaug--"

"Oh, you can't blame us for that."

"We had an agreement. You broke it."

"We ended up having enough signups from within the Guild that we didn't need--"

"You mean you wanted the sole credit for being the first to bring down Smaug."

"No, like I said..." said Leander.

"Hey, calm down, you two," said Arthur, looking between them with an amused expression. "That was a long time ago."

It really was. Gil had still been an undergrad. "Don't you miss vanilla sometimes, though?" said Gil. "I was so sad when they took out the Erebor key questline."

"Back when you actually had to read the quest text to figure out where to go," said Leander.

"Before they nerfed Vengeance to oblivion..."

"I only started with 2.0," admitted Arthur.

"Noob," said Leander and Gil in unison. Gil flushed and Leander laughed.

--

Gil was two people behind Leander in line. Leander appeared to live off a diet of rich, sugary coffee-alternatives, and was ordering a spiced hot chocolate.

Leander turned after he finished paying and their eyes met. This time, Leander's expression brightened. Gil wasn't quite sure what to do with that.

He ordered his simple, sensible drink and settled in to wait.

When Gil's drink finally arrived, he turned to find Leander had saved him a seat opposite him at the powered spot.

"Thanks," he muttered, embarrassed.

"You're welcome, but only if you join our Saruman's Tower run."

"Who's we?" he asked suspiciously.

"You'll like them," said Leander. "It's just Tara - Tauriel - and I from Greenwood."

That still made the group 2/5 Greenwood, but he held his tongue. Tauriel was a decent player. The other two were Faramir <Horn of Gondor> (priest) and Eowyn <Riders of Rohan> (warrior).

They kicked ass.