A Time Before You
‘I’m telling you-’ He protested, voice lost amongst the boisterous guffaws of his brethren.
‘He couldn’t sit down for a week!’ Kili finished with a smirk, dodging as Fili made to thump the side of his head.
‘You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?’ Fili pouted as Kili shrugged, finishing up the last of his stew.
‘What else are brothers for?’
They had been of the road for close to a fortnight now. The further the party of fourteen drew away from the Shire, the more relaxed they seemed to become – well, save for one certain hobbit. And an inscrutable wizard who, thanks to his pipe weed, very rarely seemed on edge at all. Oh – and Thorin. The would-be King without a mountain was always tense, no matter what. Or so he had been, until their latest evening.
There was nothing special about it; Just an average night. A campfire, some company. Some bloody forest and rocks and the cool damp of early evening settling around them. Same ol’ recipes from Bomber – not that they weren’t appreciated, mind you; but one could only stomach so much rabbit stew.
Bofur surveyed the camp with an easy smile. Tensions were to be expected; it wasn’t every day that a group with such diverse background would travel halfway across middle earth together.
Miners and toymakers, Kings and thieves. It’s a wonder we’ve not killed each other yet
Warm blue eyes fell on the last of their company; their fourteenth. He sat slightly to one side, just out of the warm glow of the flames. No other eyes seemed to space him a second glance.
Speaking of which…Yes, his broodiness himself – glaring at the poor wee lad again
Bofur couldn’t understand it. Sure, their hobbit was a little fussy, and prim…and proper…with manners and a huge pantry and a round, soft waist and chubby cheeks and soft, un-calloused hands…but he was there, with them, wasn’t he?
That’s more than most of us can say for our own kin
Watching he crowd surrounding the two boisterous dwarrow princes, Bofur noted, not for the first time just how little their burglar had integrated with them.
We’ll just have to do something about that…
‘No time like the present’ He said to himself. ‘Bilbo!’ Wide grin stretching his lips, Bofur beckoned their hobbit closer.
Eyes wide, Bilbo looked behind him, just to be sure – just to be certain that it was indeed him that Bofur was calling to. Just seeing his uncertainty made Bofur cringe.
Poor lad. We haven’t been treating him that bad, have we?
‘It’s your turn to spin a yarn. Wouldn’t you agree, lads?’
Wide blue eyes stared at him blankly.
We really need to focus on getting him to pay attention to what’s going on under his nose if he’s to make it as far as the dragon…
‘Go on!’ Kili piped up.
‘Oh yes, Mister Boggins! Let’s hear what you naughty Shire-folk get up to behind closed doors-’
‘-and in those prized gardens-‘
Fili and Kili smirked as they jostled the shorter male, watching with clear amusement as his eyes darted from one to the other as they took turns in speaking.
Dawning understanding quickly replaced confusion. A deep, hot blush spread across his cheeks to the tips of his pointed little ears. Fingers clenching around his bowl, Bilbo ducked his head, avoiding their eyes. ‘That’s not really appropriate talk for polite company, boys.’ His voice held an air of finality to it.
Aww, nice try, but you can’t get around dwarven stubbornness that easy.
‘Not for polite company?’ Bofur piped up, holding out his bowl as Bilbo collected them, head down. ‘Lucky for us, I don’t see any polite company around.’ He winked, raising his voice. ‘Do any of you see polite company around here, lads?’
It’ll do him some good. Help him bond with em. Once they see he’s not so different from the rest of us, they won’t mind his priss and pomp quite so much. I’ll bet my hat on it
‘No, really Bofur. That’s not-’ The hobbit scowled at him for the first time.
Just like a kitten. All ruffled and harmless
‘Come on, Mister Boggins. Don’t be such a prude.’
Hands trembling, Bofur watched as Bilbo slammed the bowls down into the large empty pot Bomber had used to cook dinner.
Best start carving a new set by the sound of things…
‘Well, I never! To-‘ Bilbo started, puffing himself up to his full height.
‘Oooooh, is that an admission?’ Fili jumped in, snickers emanating from around the camp.
‘Think we’ve got ourselves a virgin!’ Fili crowed, thumping Bofur on the shoulder.
Maybe the lads’ll know when to stop. Surely their Uncle…
‘Yet another area in which our burglar falls short.’ Thorin’s lips twisted into a small, confidant smirk.
And with that, the whole company – even young, barely experienced Ori, pounced on the topic, their teasing blending together to create a loud, barely understandable cacophony of noise.
Pushing the princes’ hand from his shoulder, Bofur placed his knife and half-finished carving on the ground besides Bifer. Why were Bilbos shoulders shaking in such a way? What was that noise – high pitched, a gasp, perhaps? – and why is Malhala’s name had no one else taken note of their burglars’ less than enthusiastic response to their good natured teasing.
He barely made it to his feet as Bilbo stumbled away from camp, pot clutched tight to his chest.
Surely those hadn’t been tears staining his cheeks…had they?’
‘Oh Malhala help us…’
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
The Nerve! Those-those…dwarves!
‘Manners of a Sackville-Baggins with the tact of a Took, the lot of them!’ Bilbo furiously wiped at his cheeks, breath uneven. He weaved through the trees in the general direction Balin had pointed to earlier that evening; when they had first begun setting up camp he had wanted to know where he might wash up for the night.
What right do they have? Polite society dictates the respecting of ones’ privacy. Sweet Aulie, those bloody…stupid…inconsiderate-
The soft miners voice broke him out of his musings .No matter how much he favoured the funny-hatted dwarf, he wasn’t the slightest bit in the mood for his company.
‘Not now, Bofur.’ He sighed, voice tight.
Just what about the concept of personal space and privacy is it that dwarves struggle to comprehend?
He could hear the shuffling of the dwarfs’ feet, rustling between fallen leaves. No matter how sneaky a dwarf could be when underground, in their element, this – the forest, the rolling green, the great outdoors – this was hobbit territory. There were few – if any, since his mothers’ passing – that could sneak up on a Baggins.
‘Aww, Bilbo. Me an’ the lads, we didn’t-’
A heavy hand rested on his shoulder. A shard laugh fell from his lips as he spun around, backing away. ‘Of course you didn’t. None of you ever seem to mean any of it.’ Tone bitter, eyes flicked up to meet Bofur’s before sliding away. ‘It doesn’t make me fit in any better, though, does it? Doesn’t make any of you see me as more than-that…a fussy, fat little nuisance who-who doesn’t know the first thing about joining in such talks?’ biting his lip, Bilbo turned to one side.
I’ll never hear the end of it now…I might as well pack up my bedroll and start back for the Shire. Perhaps if I set off before first light Gandalf won’t try and…
‘Surely we’re not that different from talking to hobbits, are we?’
He could hear the teasing lilt in the others voice, the light hearted question hanging thick between them as silence reigned.
Bilbo couldn’t find the words. To him, they were nothing alike. One would use sweet, simpering words, feigned politeness and manners to lull him into a false sense of security – of belonging, of being accepted. The other made no effort to conceal joy or anger, irritation or mirth. They were rude and brash and didn’t even know what a doily was, much less what it was intended for. And yet, yet-
‘Do we offend you so much, Master Baggins?’
I would rather spend the rest of my days – however long of short they may be – in the company of the honest dwarves than with all the hobbits of the Shire,
‘We didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position. I didn’t mean to upset you’. Bofur sounded so…serious. It made Billbo’s heart ache. The gentle, quick to smile toymaker shouldn’t ever sound like that. ‘If your lot aren’t used to such talk, I’ll make sure to steer the conversations me an’ the others have away from you in the future.’
Heart in his throat, Bilbo spun around, hands shooting out to grasp the dwarfs arm with unsteady hands.
‘It’s not that!’ He stumbled over his own words, unable to get the m out fast enough. Unwilling to say the words that begged to be said.
Please, not you too…Don’t leave.
‘I…’ He took a deep breath, nibbling on his lip. ‘In the Shire, there are…proper ways to do everything. From first breakfast through supper, visiting a relative to borrowing milk. Everything has a proper, ordered, traditional way for any self-respecting hobbit worth their larder to follow.’
His fingers ran over the weather-worn sleeve. Streaked with mud and dirt and Oh my, is that blood? It was impossible to tell in the fading twilight what colour the cloth had once been.
Thick, calloused fingers pressed softly against his. Bilbo daren’t peek up at the dwarf, lest he loose his nerve.
‘Wh-while we may not be a race who holds much stock in kings and riches and the like, we always have had a class system of sorts. Being born a Baggins – not just a Baggins, but a Baggins of Bag End, the wealthiest of the branches of our family – classed me as somewhat of a gentle hobbit.’ A small, wry smile flicked across his lips. ‘Despite my Took side. You see, regardless of the infamous reckless nature and their purchase for mischief, both are old, respected families. My, technically I am third in line for Thrainship when Old Took passes – not that I want it, mind.’ He shook his head.
Far too much responsibility for no thanks whatsoever. I never could understand how Old Took resisted just banging their heads together when their squabbling got to be too much. Patience of an elf…
Glancing up, he noticed Bofur’s smile looked strained, almost brittle.
‘Ah. Say no more.’ Bofur removed his hand from Bilbo’s own soft, travel stained digits. ‘Travelling with commoners makes many a noble uncomfortable. I won’t be bothering you no more, Lord Baggins.’
Bilbo’s mouth fell open. Frozen in place, he had to job to catch Bofur before he left the small clearing.
‘No!’ Grabbing hold of the back of the older males’ shirt, he stumbled, arms windmilling. With a soft oomphf, he came to a halt; cheek pressed to the centre of Bofurs back, arms falling loosely around the miners hips. ‘That’s not what I meant at all. Oh, bother.’ He whispered to himself, breath ghosting up, across his neck. ‘Why is this so hard?’
Fingers flexing against the still dwarf, he took a deep breath.
I can’t lose him. Not Bofur. Not my first real friend.
‘Just…hear me out. Please.’
Eyes slipping closed, he took a slow, steadying breath.
‘As a gentle hobbit, there have always been expectations of me; how I must act, how I must present myself, what I must be. Father took quite a hit to his respectability, marrying a Took girl – even though it was for love. Third child as well – virtually no dowry to speak of. And Mama never was one for doing things the proper way.’ Lips curling into a fond smile, he could picture her so clearly; a wide, mischievous grin, dimpled, rosy cheeks and wild, bright green eyes like fresh cut grass. She gave the best hugs.
I suppose everyone thinks that of their mothers
‘When…when I was born, I shouldn’t have been the first of many. I should have been the fifth.’ Eyes closed, he could feel Bofur shifting beneath his grasp. ‘I know how precious dwarrows are to your people – how rare of a gift. Can you…Do you know what that is like? For a hobbit, a dozen or more faunts are normal. The thought of one – just one faunt, let alone a score of-of-‘
‘Hush’ Warm, strong arms pulled Bilbo to his chest, wrapping the trembling hobbit in a tight hug. A single, traitorous tear escaped from beneath his lashes. He allowed himself a moment of weakness, sagging into Bofurs arms.
‘That must have been mighty hard on ye mam.’
Breath hitching, Bilbo nodded. Resting his cheek against Bofurs chest, he listened to the steady thump-thump-thump of his heart. Fingers carded soothingly through his curls, calming him. ‘They said she deserved it.’ The fingers stilled. He went on. ‘That she was tainted. They…most of the lads and lasses my age would have avoided playing with me anyway. Not proper for a gardener’s boy to play with the masters’ son – even the Gamgees said as much. But the other gentle hobbits. The other Bagginses and the Proudfeed, even the Tooks…’ He shrugged, answering the question burning in Bofurs faze. ‘Too wild by far. Too proud. Went off on an adventure to see elves when she was still a tween. Long memories we have in the Shire. They still haven’t forgiven her. Or me.’
Bilbo pulled back, wrapping his arms around himself. ‘I guess it just followed me through my tweens, past my majority. No courting offers before my thirty-third; nor after. Not even after the fell winter, when I would have been easy prey for some strong-willed lad or lass to coerce into marriage.’
‘Not you’ Bofur sounded sure. ‘You’re far too smart for that.’
‘I wasn’t after Mama passed.’
Silence fell between them once more; neither knowing quite what to say.
‘Your esteemed leader was right. I haven’t a clue…Truly. I am an old batchelor already. Such I shall remain.’ A bitter, resigned smile fixed on his lips, he jerked; a gentle, calloused hand cupped his cheek.
‘I doubt that very much.’
Light met dark blue; neither able to drag their gaze away from the other. Leaning into Bofur’s touch, the kind-eyed miner-come-toymaker lend down, lips just a hairs breath away from his.
Bilbo jumped, breath coming in heavy pants.
‘Where have you run off to now?’ The sound of heavy, footsteps crashing and crunching through the forest filled the air. ‘What have I told you about going off on your own?’ His deep rumble carried on the breeze.
‘His highness calls.’ Moment broken, Bilbo pulled away. ‘You coming, Bofur?’
With a shake of his head, he reached up to readjust his hat. ‘I’ll catch up; you go on ahead.’
Watching Bilbo hurrying to find their grouchy leader before he became lost again, Bofur sighed. ‘Amazing little creatures, hobbits. Just as strong as any dwarven warrior on the inside…with the soft, dull gleam of unmined gold hiding the beauty and strength beneath. I just hope he picks one worthy to help mould him.’