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Hearth and Home

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and Bilbo didn't hesitate to throw open his window, despite the late October chill in the air. It smelled clean and wet after the storm last night, and he breathed deeply, letting the peacefulness of the quiet, well washed world smooth through him.

He could already smell breakfast. His mother had always woken early, and after-- That line of thought was ruthlessly cut off. There was no reason to dwell on why Bilbo Baggins, 26 and living in a home Belldonna had helped him purchase and clean, lived with his mother. He dressed slowly to settle his emotions back in place and went down to check if their newspaper had come yet.

It hadn't, but what was on the front stoop kept him staring slack jawed. The largest of the three people had his head turned into the wall as he slept. Leaning on him was a tiny boy who couldn't have been more than 12, wrapped in a coat that couldn't have belonged to him with how he swam in it. He had bright red hair that contrasted starkly with the black of the others, and nearly colorless lashes that rested on freckled cheeks as he slept.

The third was already stirring at the sound of Bilbo moving behind him. He shivered a bit in the dawn chill, and Bilbo figured it must be his jacket on the youngest. He blinked sleepily around, and came abruptly awake when he saw Bilbo standing there.

"Bom," he said quietly, shaking the boy. "It's time to get up." He reached across to lay a hand on the man's shoulder. "Bifur, we have to go."

While the others slowly came awake, he rose and ducked his head nervously to Bilbo. Bilbo decided he had to be a high schooler.

"Sorry, sir. You have a good roof here. Keeps the wet off nicely."

Bilbo's eyes widened. "You were here all night?" he asked, aghast. While he had watched the lightning with pleasure through a window, a cup of cocoa in his hands, these three had been huddled on his front stoop?

"Sorry, sir," the boy repeated, flinching back. "But we'll be on our way now, and no harm done."

"No!" Bilbo exclaimed, causing him to tense and reach out to hold the boy with a white knuckled grip. "I mean no," Bilbo continued, stuttering and trying to keep his voice level. Who knew how they had come to be on his doorstep, but if they were out in a thunderstorm they might not have a place of their own to go. He didn't want to scare them away. "We're making breakfast. Come in and have some. It's the least I can do for not inviting you in last night."

"You don't have to," the boy said quickly.

"I'm hungry, Bof," the youngest said, still staying quiescently in the other's grip. He looked up, blue eyes seeming too big for his head.

"You're always hungry," the older boy muttered, but he wavered. When the man who had been addressed as Bifur put a hand on his shoulder, he visibly relented.

Bilbo, in the meantime, had stepped back with his eyes wide, looking at Bifur. His face and head had livid wounds that were turning into scars all over the left side. "What happened to him?" he demanded.

"Car accident," the older boy said, tensing again.

"What was he doing?"

"He was being the passenger!" he was told shrilly, and the boy looked ready to deck him. "The driver lost control of the car when a tire went out and they crashed into a tree. The police declared it no fault. Bifur did nothing wrong!"

Bilbo reviewed what he had said and winced. "I'm sorry," he said, because he had always been taught to admit his mistakes. "Please come up for breakfast."

A few moments later, Bilbo led them up into the upstairs apartment, the older boy's arms around the younger protectively.

"Mom, we need at least six more eggs for breakfast!"

Belladonna poked her head out of the kitchen and her eyes widened to see the guests. "And the sausages. Would you like toast or potatoes?"

"Both?" the youngest asked, eyes wide.

Bilbo's mother melted. "Of course. Bilbo, show them the bathroom so they can get washed up while I cook. And find them something clean to put on after they shower."

They did as she told them, all a bit overwhelmed by Belladonna. Half an hour later, they were back in the dining room looking mismatched in Bilbo's clothes as they dug in to a breakfast as large as Belladonna could make.

"So tell me," she said when they all had full plates. "What are your names and how long have you been homeless?"

They all tensed, but the oldest held out a hand and nodded. The older boy shared a look with him and then nodded reluctantly.

"I'm Bofur Carys. My little brother is Bombur, and Bifur is our guardian."

"He looks young for it," Belladonna said, politely surprised. "How old is he?" She looked to the man, but it was Bofur who answered.

"Almost 27," he said hotly. At Bifur's snort of amusement, he hung his head and corrected himself. "Twenty six last May."

"My age," Bilbo said, forcing himself to look at the right side of Bifur's face when he smiled at him. "And you boys?"
"I'm sixteen. Just started junior year. Bom is fourteen."

Seeing the looks of incredulity, the small boy put his fork down and drew himself up as much as he could. "It's not my fault I haven't grown yet! Mom was small too." He wavered a bit. "That's what Bif says."

The man nodded, but Bilbo was hardly paying attention. Imagine, being solely responsible for two teenagers. He didn't think he would be able to do it, and from Bombur's comment, Bifur must have been raising them for years.

"And your home?" Belladonna asked gently, prompting them back on topic.

Bofur tensed again. "Bif lost his job after the accident, and with all the bills we couldn't pay rent. It's been two-- two and a half weeks."

"Have you told someone at school?"

Bofur shook his head emphatically, then glared as his brother said "We haven't been going."

"If they found out, child services would get involved and they'd take us away from Bif. I'm not going to let that happen!"

Belladonna nodded silently and sipped her tea, looking over the trio.

"I'm not!" Bofur repeated. "Now he needs us and I won't let anyone take us away!" He was shaking with tension, hands balled into fists. Bifur, looking sad, reached out and covered one trembling hand with his own.

Belladonna looked over and met Bifur's eyes with unflinching compassion. Even Bilbo, who still could only take quick glances at the man, could see the sorrow and pleading in them.

There was a moment of silence, and then Belladonna carefully put her tea cup in its saucer. "Well. When the stores open, we'll go get you all kitted out for the winter and moved in. On Monday, I'll call your school and explain that with your cousin's illness you had to spend some time moving in with friends who could help you care for him. I'm sure I can get them to excuse your absences."

They all stared at her, but despite the hope dawning in three pairs of eyes, Bofur shook his head. "We couldn't."

Belladonna arched her brows at him, but before she could respond there was another voice, slow, hoarse, and stumbling. "Thank you."

This time they all stared at the oldest of the guests. "You-- you can talk, Bif," Bofur said, voice breathless with wonder.

Bifur shook his head slightly, and opened and closed his mouth as he struggled for words that stuttered and shook when he finally found them. "Slow. Bofur fast." He took a deep breath and swallowed twice, then spoke as clearly as he could manage. "Good boy."

Bofur lay his head on his cousin's shoulder and wept, tension leaking out of him. Bombur only hesitated a moment before climbing over Bifur to wrap his arms around both of them. Bilbo idly played with his fork, averting his eyes to give them privacy and smiling slightly as he darted glances at the three of them.

Chapter Text

After eating breakfast, the Caryses' clothes were moved to the dryer. Belladonna was able to see the size of the load, and she shook her head.

"As soon as that laundry is done, we're heading out to get you new clothes," she said firmly, and though Bofur tried to talk her out of it, she would not be swayed.

Bilbo was glad. He had set everything up while the three showered and turned the washer on as soon as they were out, so he was aware of the state of their clothes. They had little enough to wear, and what they had was old and worn thin. And once they were dressed in their own things again, it was obvious that Bombur was in his brother's cast offs. They needed new clothes.

Bofur and Bombur clambered into the back of the car easily enough, and Belladonna climbed into the driver's seat. It was Bilbo who noticed Bifur's hesitation.

"That's right," he said softly, coming to the other man's side. "It was a car accident." He looked over in concern, his worry overriding his fear of the scars on Bifur's body. "Will you be okay?"

Bifur nodded, but it was an uncertain nod. Bilbo put a hand on his shoulder and leaned close to make sure no one else would hear. "Mom is a good driver, and the car was just inspected last month. I can't promise nothing will happen, but we'll be as safe as you can be." Bifur reached up and gripped his hand and Bilbo felt the calloused strength in it. "Why don't you sit in the back with your cousins. That's a different view, so it should help."

Bifur nodded again, and the look he shot from the corner of his eye was grateful. He slid into the back seat, helping Bombur with his seatbelt before taking care of his own.

"What was that all about?" Belladonna asked softly.

"Just deciding who got shotgun," Bilbo answered, looking down at his own belt. His mother could always tell the truth just by looking at him so he had learned when to avoid her eyes. She would know he was holding a secret, but she would respect his privacy.

The big department store in the mall was just opening when they got there, so the salesgirl in men's quickly moved to them with a smile.

"Can I help you with--" She blanched, stopping stock still as she caught sight of Bifur.

"No," Belladonna said with a glare. "I'm sure we'll get everything we need on our own."

The girl looked ashamed, but left them alone. They started at the border between men's and boy's, picking out packs of socks, underwear, and undershirts. When Belladonna started checking the winter coats in the aisles, Bofur started to protest.

Belladonna shot him a sharp glance. "Young man, I always wanted a houseful of children to spoil, and Bilbo was all I was ever blessed with. You will let me pamper the lot of you, because there is nothing you can do to stop me."

Bofur was cowed, and Bifur chuckled and smiled his thanks. Belladonna smiled back at him and held out a brown wool coat for him to try on.

Once she had gotten them all coats that she liked the look of, they moved on to pants and shirts. The Caryses favored browns and grays, colors that hid dirt and wear. They picked out hard wearing jeans. It took barely a look for Belladonna to shepherd them into the changing rooms with blues and greens, plain t-shirts and long sleeved button downs. She nodded her approval when things fit right and sent them back with more.

After an hour, they each had three pairs of pants and six or seven shirts in neat piles in the cart Bilbo had been sent for halfway through. And while they were overwhelmed and unable to protest, Belladonna carted the lot of them over to the shoe section to fit them with boots and sneakers.

It was Bilbo's job to distract them while she paid, and he did so by pointing out the tools and hardware in the section next to the register. When they were called to help carry bags to the car, Bilbo grabbed a few things he'd noticed them looking longingly at and rang them through covertly.

They got home in plenty of time to make and eat lunch before the noon appointment Belladonna had made for Bifur with her own doctor. She got him back in the car, this time in the passenger seat. Bilbo met his eyes and nodded assurance, and Bifur sent a small smile back. Bofur climbed into the back seat, going along to talk to the doctor for his cousin who couldn't.

Bombur waved them off with a smile, but it fell off his face as soon as the car was out of sight. Bilbo saw him start to tremble slightly. Bilbo was uncertain what to do, but touching Bifur's shoulder had seemed to help earlier, so he tried it again. Bombur looked up at him.

"They'll be back, right, Mr. Baggins?"

"Of course they'll be back," Bilbo answered, feeling something melt inside him. "Do you know how to make bread?" Bombur shook his head and Bilbo smiled at him. "I'll show you."

They walked up the stairs together and Bilbo kept an arm around the boy's shoulders. Bombur leaned into him, and Bilbo wondered at the amount of trust the boy was showing a man who was all but a stranger to him.

They baked bread and made soup. While the dough was rising, Bilbo showed the boy how to make whipped cream, and they made a cake. They hard boiled eggs and then smashed them into egg salad. By the time the others came home, almost two hours later, the apartment was full of scents and food, and Bombur lit up like a lamp as his brother and cousin walked through the door.

Belladonna out hand on Bifur's shoulder. "Take your medicine and try to get some sleep. We'll get you when dinner is ready."

He nodded and went. Bombur looked after him, brows drawn in worry, and Belladonna leaned down to give him a hug.

"The doctor took blood for tests and ran a complete physical. Bifur is just tired." Bombur didn't look convinced, but he just nodded. Belladonna gave him another squeeze, then shooed them all out of the kitchen. "I'll watch the food. You go and clean up the office if it's going to be a bedroom."

"Mrs. Baggins is an amazing lady," Bofur said when the three were alone.

"She is," Bilbo agreed, emptying desk drawers into boxes.

"I just don't understand why people like you would help us."

Bilbo smiled and shook his head. "Does it matter?"

"Yes," Bofur insisted. "Since the accident, no one's helped us. I'm too young to get office workers to listen, so we were never able to file all the things we should have filed to get workman's comp or Bifur's unemployment. All the hospital cared about was getting its money. The landlord didn't think twice about turning us out. Why did Mrs. Baggins take us in so quickly?"

"Mom's a sucker for hard cases. That's why she married dad." Bilbo laughed at the familiar joke, until a stab of pain in his heart reminded him that his father wasn't there to share it anymore. He stopped laughing so abruptly that it felt like he'd lost his breath as well.

"Mr. Baggins?" The redhead's blue eyes were huge as he turned to race from the room. "Bifur! Bifur!"

The older brother grabbed him. "We can't go to him for everything, Bom. He's resting and he needs that."

"But I think we broke Mr. Baggins," Bombur hissed. "What do we do, Bof?"

Bilbo shook himself out of it. If they had been sleeping on stoops they didn't need to hear his grief. "I'm fine," he said with the smallest of smiles. He could tell they didn't believe him, but they were all new to one another, and they let it pass.

He took a deep breath and put a hand on each boy's shoulder. "You have Belladonna Baggins on your side now. Everything will be okay."

Despite only knowing them for a few hours, both seemed to believe that.

Chapter Text

It was amazing how much could accumulate in a room in two years. Bilbo wouldn't have thought it himself, except that he had spent much of the past day in cleaning out his mother's old room. He'd gotten the call around noon, and it was late morning now, and the room was finally livable: clean enough to house someone's clothes and personal items, with the bedding aired out and fresh sheets and pillow cases.

The bell rang and he smiled to himself, pleased at his own timing. He went down to the door and greeted Saradoc, who gave a nod of his blond head and turned to leave. Bilbo frowned after him, but reached out for one of Frodo's bags and led the boy back upstairs.

He watched the boy out of the corner of his eye as they took the stairs. Frodo was a tiny slip of a thing, dressed neatly and struggling patiently with his second suitcase. He looked around the spacious entry when they reached the landing, and Bilbo saw huge, blue eyes quietly taking in everything.

There had been another small boy with large blue eyes in this home, and Bilbo smiled remembering him. Bombur crouched in front of Frodo, looking far more than his 220 pounds in comparison.

"Hello there, half pint. No smiles to greet your cousin?"

The boy's lips dutifully turned up, but the smile didn't reach his eyes as they looked up at Bilbo.

He smiled back anyway. "We're glad to have you," he said. "I know we don't know each other well, but I'm sure we can all have fun together. And it's just for a few months, and then you can go home."

"Back to Uncle Rory?"

"Yes," Bilbo agreed with a nod. "Home to Rory."

The boy tipped his head to one side, slightly shaggy curls brushing against his forehead. "What's home mean?" he asked.

Bilbo and Bombur glanced at each other, but Bombur was quick to answer. "It's the place you live with the people who love you."

Frodo looked at him a long moment and considered before he answered. "I don't have one of those."

Another glance was exchanged, and Bilbo crouched down as well. "Frodo, we're all sad about your parents. But surely it's not that bad living with your uncle?"

"I don't live with Uncle Rory," Frodo answered, eyes wide and honest. "Just when he can't convince someone else to take me. Uncle Rory doesn't love me."

"More fool him," Bombur said, rising and holding out a hand. "Let me show you your new room." Frodo took it hesitantly, as though unused to having his hand held. "It's all clean and ready for you. Is this it? Left most of your things with your uncle?"

The boy shook his head. "This is it."

Bilbo watched them go down the hall together and very carefully closed the door to his room as he entered. He made it a ritual to pull out his address book and look up his cousin, and when the call was picked up his voice was still low and controlled.

"You have full custody and guardianship of him?"

Something must have come through in his voice, because Rory paused before answering. "I do."

"And he spends most of the time living with other people?"

"I'm sixty, Bilbo," Rory said. "I can't keep up with a boy that age. Especially one like him. Lobelia says he has ADHD and refuses to take his medication. It's one of the reasons she sent him back to me last year. He's always getting into trouble, and even Eglantine says she can't control him. And she has four girls, so she should know what to do, right?"

Bilbo took a deep breath, then another. One more before he could speak at less than a shout, and he didn't want to do anything that would worry Frodo. "Give me the name and number of your lawyer, because I'm petitioning for guardianship. I have no children, and even I know that a small child needs stability, especially after losing his parents. If you couldn't take care of him, you should have found someone who could do it all the time, not foisted him off on people who were only doing it so you'd owe them or because they owed you."

He became aware that his voice was rising and took another breath. "Prepare all his records for me: school, medical, financial. Especially financial. If I find out that anyone has been taking advantage of that boy to steal what Drogo and Primula left him, so help me I will not be responsible. You are an awful uncle, Rory Brandybuck. You'd better call your lawyer and let him know to expect a call, because it's coming as soon as I can get in to mine, and that will be soon."

He took down the information Rory read him and hung up without saying good bye. He didn't even deny it. Bilbo had been hoping that it was just a child's misunderstanding, but Rory hadn't denied that he "took care" of his nephew by handing him off to anyone who would take him. And that was unforgivable. Bilbo dialed again.

"Durin Law. How may I help you?"

"Ori, it's Bilbo Baggins. I need to see Balin as soon as humanly possible."

"That sounds very serious."

"It is."

"Hold on. I'll see what we can do for you." There were a few moments where Bilbo listened to the hold music and tried to keep himself calm, and then Ori was back. "He says if you don't mind watching him eat lunch you can come at noon, if it's that important."

Bilbo sighed relief and nodded, even though Ori wouldn't be able to see it. "I'll bring crepes. Thank you."

Frodo seemed enchanted watching Bilbo and Bombur make crepes. Bombur set him running for supplies and made an extra so that the boy could try filling and folding it. He watched eagerly as the crepes left the pan and listened attentively to the large man's instructions. Bilbo smiled, more firmly determined, and slid two into a box to bring Balin.

The boy seemed nervous climbing into the car, but he dutifully held the box of crepes steady as Bilbo belted him in. They would need to get a car seat. Bilbo wasn't completely certain of the regulations, but Frodo was small and probably still needed a seat.

Ori buzzed them into the office, then beamed at the sight of Frodo. The boy his behind Bilbo and his burden of food while Ori called down to Balin and then waved them through. He bent over his desk, twirling a pencil in his hand, and Bilbo was certain Frodo would have a gift to take home with him by the time they were done.

Frodo handed the box to Balin, who gave him an approving nod and pointed to a seat that had a step and thick cushions for children. The boy climbed into it and then looked back and forth between the adults, lip wobbling slightly.

Bilbo smiled reassuringly as he took his own seat. "Balin, this is my cousin, Frodo Baggins. Frodo, this is my friend Balin Durin. He's a lawyer and mostly works with children."

"A pleasure," Balin said with a smile before he looked over at Bilbo with one brow raised. He opened the box and started eating with one hand, a pad and pen ready to take notes.

"Frodo's parents are my cousins Drogo and Primula. They--" He glanced over at Frodo. "There was an accident almost five years ago. Neither of them had wills, and Primula's oldest brother, Rory Brandybuck, was given custody." He paused and Balin nodded understanding as he ate. "Rory hasn't actually been raising Frodo. He's been sending him around to various family members until he gets sent back and then ships him out somewhere else."

"How many times has this happened?"

Before Bilbo could truthfully answer that he didn't know, a small voice piped up. "Ten."

They both looked over at the boy, who had curled his legs up onto the chair with him. "And do you know why you've had to change homes?" Balin asked gently.

"Aunt Asphodel says I'm too loud. Uncle Dudo said I'm too quiet. Aunt Eglantine said she didn't have enough time for me with the new baby. Merimac says I'm a bad influence on Berilac. Aunt Lobelia says I'm too much trouble and don't do as I'm told. Saradoc wants to go to Europe for the summer but doesn't want to pay for me."

"That's six," Balin pointed out when it was clear the boy was finished.

"Before that I was too little to understand," Frodo answered.

Bilbo's hands clenched into fists. All the relatives mentioned had their own children. They should have been able to understand Frodo better than a middle aged bachelor. "Would you like to stay with me?"

Frodo looked at him, his legs dropping down over the edge of the chair again. "I am staying with you. Unless you're tired of me already?"

"I mean forever. Would you like this to be your home?"

"But when you don't want me anymore..."

"That won't happen."

"How do you know?"

That made Bilbo pause, because how did he know? "The same way your parents knew," he said finally, "the first time they saw you, that they would love you forever."

Small hands clenched into fists. "They left."

Bilbo stared, aghast, and then crouched in front of the boy's chair. It had been a long time since his psych classes and he'd never really used the degree, but he thought he remembered what to say. "Frodo, what happened to your parents was an awful tragedy, and we're all sad about it. But they never meant it to happen. They weren't tired of you, or angry at you. They loved you, and nothing can change that. They would want you to feel loved and happy."

The little boy trembled through the words, and when Bilbo opened his arms, Frodo threw himself into them, sobbing. Bilbo held him tight, stroking his hair and rocking him gently.

"And you'll never get tired and send me back to Uncle Rory?" Frodo asked in a shaking voice, clinging close.

"Mr. Durin will help me get custody of you so no one can take you away," Bilbo answered.

"Really?"

"I suggest a contract," Balin said, breaking his silence. They looked up, and his pen was already moving. "Mr. Bilbo Baggins promises that his home will always be open to Mr. Frodo Baggins, no matter how loud he is, how much trouble he gets into, or if he forgets is manners. Mr. Frodo Baggins promises--" He looked up and met the boy's eyes. "Because both sides have to make promises for a good contract. Mr. Frodo Baggins promises to do his chores at home, work hard at school when it's in session, and try to remember his manners. And if he forgets, he will say he's sorry."

"I can do that," Frodo said softly.

"As can I," Bilbo said.

"Good. Then let us sign it, and it will be binding."

Bilbo signed first, then gave the pen to Frodo, who signed with childish, round letters. Balin signed as a witness and tore the page off the pad. "For you to keep," he said, handing it to Frodo. "May I speak with your cousin privately? You can wait with Ori in the lobby and I promise he will be out soon."

Bilbo gave Frodo one last hug before releasing him, and the boy looked back at him twice before he was out of the room. "I will do it, Balin. I'll have the place inspected, take parenting classes, pay whatever I need to pay."

"And Bifur?"

Bilbo didn't turn. "He already raised Bof and Bom, so I doubt he'll need the parenting classes, but I'm sure he'll take them if I ask him to."

"That isn't what I mean," Balin said gently.

Bilbo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Is it about the homosexuality or the disability? He isn't dangerous or significantly impaired, and we were married as soon as it was legal. You should know that. You were there."

"I know all that. But I know some of your family don't approve and if we don't have that this will be hard. You shouldn't set him up for disappointment. And he's right that you hardly know him. This isn't like when you took in Bifur and his cousins. This boy is younger, and has been poorly used. You haven't thought it through."

This time Bilbo turned around. "I haven't, but I don't need to. Frodo needs a proper home and people who love him. I think Rory will support me, and if he does then it doesn't matter what Lobelia says about it. Are you going to help me?"

"Of course I am," Balin said. "I just want to be sure you know what you're getting into."

"He's worth it."

He passed the lawyer the information he needed and went to collect Frodo. The boy was leaning on Ori's desk, watching shyly as he drew. They both looked up when Bilbo cleared his throat, and Ori carefully tore the page out and gave it to Frodo. Frodo hugged it to his chest and moved to Bilbo's side.

"What do you say?" Bilbo prompted gently.

"Thank you," Frodo said softly.

Ori beamed at him. "You're very welcome."

Frodo's small hand wormed its way into Bilbo's. "Are we going home now?"

Bilbo gave his hand a squeeze and smiled down at him. "Yes. We're going home."

Chapter Text

"Mom, would dad-- Would he be celebrating?"

It was the last half hour, with everyone coming finally there and getting seated, and Bilbo felt more nervous than he had at any time up to the date. He turned, his dark suit jacked pulling out of his mother's hold as he moved to face her.

And it was a good question. Bungo Baggins, a man Bilbo had always respected and looked up to, had spent his life staunchly conservative. When he had died, homosexuality was still rarely openly talked about. Bilbo knew his father liked things the way they were, didn't want to rock the boat, wouldn't listen to talk of different ways to be a family or a couple.

"No one can say for certain," Belladonna said, voice still strong although she was nearly seventy. "But I can tell you that he loved you more than anything. I like to think that he would just want you happy. He worked for it all those years."

"Mom, I--" But how could he say that he didn't want to disappoint his father? How could he say it now, when he would go through with this anyway, because it was more important than his father's approval would have been even were he there to grant it?

Belladonna understood. She took his face in her hands and gently kissed his forehead, as she had done when he was small and unsure.

And then she drew him close and slipped her arm through his and led him out into the hall where everyone waited. With her ivory and olive dress contrasting the darkness of his black suit, she walked with him down one aisle to the center of the room. From the other side, Bifur and Bofur walked hand in hand.

They met in the middle, and Bilbo's hands were joined with Bifur's before Belladonna and Bofur stepped back. Bilbo looked up into his lover's eyes, and knew with his whole heart that this was what he wanted.

And in front of friends and family, they were married.

Chapter Text

As soon as Bifur came to the door to welcome them, Frodo hid behind Bilbo. It wasn't a surprising development. After seventeen years, the scars from the accident were still a frightening mess, especially to someone so young. But Bilbo could see the hurt in his husband's eyes, so he put a hand on Frodo's shoulder, squeezed it reassuringly, and pressed him forward.

"This is Bifur," he said. "He lives here too."

Bifur crouched down to be on a level with the boy. "Welcome home," he said, the phrase practiced enough to be easy coming out. But his voice was still halting and hoarse, and Frodo looked at him with worry overcoming his fear.

Bilbo smiled gently and smoothed down the boy's hair. "Bifur has trouble speaking, so he talks with his hands."

"Can I learn how to talk with my hands?" Frodo asked, looking up at Bilbo.

"Of course you can. Here, I'll teach you some now." Bilbo made his hand into a fist and nodded it. "This is yes." He tapped his first two fingers to his thumb. "And this is no. Do you think you can remember that?" There was a nod. "What's this one?"

"No."

"Good. And this is?"

"Yes."

"Good boy. Now, you can ask any question you want."

Frodo turned back to Bifur and bit his lip. "Do they hurt?"

Bifur hesitated before signing no, and Bilbo put his hand back on Frodo's shoulder to get the boy's attention. "Sometimes they do, because they're from a very bad accident," he said. "But Bifur has medicine that makes it not hurt. So some days he'll need you to be very good, but most of the time it's fine."

"Could you talk normal before?" Frodo asked.

Bifur's shoulders slumped as he signed yes.

"Should I not have asked?" Frodo asked, eyes brimming with tears of sympathy.

Bifur shook his head emphatically. "You should ask anything you want," Bilbo interpreted.

"Why do you live here?" the boy asked in a rush.

"Frodo, he can't answer that with yes or no," Bilbo pointed out. But as Frodo looked up at him sadly, Bifur waved for his attention. "Oh. Yes. Yes, of course I can. Bifur wants me to translate for him."

Frodo didn't make the most common mistake. He looked at Bifur, at his moving hands and the expression on his face, and not at Bilbo. Bilbo felt his heart swell at the instinct of small children.

"Your cousin Bilbo and I love each other very much, so we live together. And that's a good thing, because it means we have a lot of love to share with you."

The boy's eyes caught on the glint of light that shone off Bifur's ring, and pulled Bilbo's hand off his shoulder to examine his finger and the matching one.

"That's right," Bilbo confirmed. "We're married." Seeing the look of confused thought on the boy's face, he crouched down as well. "You heard what Bifur told you. We love each other so much that we decided to make a commitment to stay together as long as we can. Just like your parents and every other married couple did."

Frodo looked between them, brows still down. Finally, he asked "Who's the mommy?"

Bilbo smiled at him. "I think Bifur is," he teased.

Bifur made a face at him and started signing again. "If we had a child of our own, we'd both be daddies because we're both men."

Frodo stilled, eyes widening until Bilbo was afraid they would fall out of his head. "I'm going to be yours," he said breathlessly. "Can I call you daddy?"

The two adults shared an uncertain look over the boy's head, and then Bifur slowly signed yes. "If that makes you happy," Bilbo added. "We can talk about that later, if you want."

Dawning brightness nearly blinded them as Frodo's face bloomed into a smile. He left Bilbo's side to give Bifur a tight hug, and Bilbo heard him murmur "daddy" against the other man's shoulder.

Bifur held the small body close and closed his eyes. "My good boy," he said, and his voice was rough as much from emotion as disability.

Chapter Text

Bilbo didn't usually miss the Saturday farmer's market, but the bookkeeping needed to be done. Bifur had taken Frodo to see Fíli and Kíli play and then they would stay and help Bofur sell. Bombur was out with a friend from culinary school, getting something to eat at a place that wasn't filled with his family and then wandering the city. Bofur had made one joke about Bombur's girlfriend and he had turned cherry red. There had been no following comments.

In the meantime, Bilbo was able to sit and run through all the numbers for household income and expenses and for Bag End. At least he had been until the doorbell rang and Lobelia entered the house. He put the papers aside, thinking that for once he had a reason to be pleased she had come to visit, and made tea.

And was soon proven to be naively optimistic to think anything good of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins née Bracegirdle.
"Rory sent a message that you were going to adopt Frodo," she said when the tea had been brewed and they were sitting together at the table.

Bilbo blinked. "He sent that out in June, four months ago."

"Otho had business abroad. We just got back." Lobelia managed to look superior as she sipped her tea.

Bilbo remembered her copious planning emails, but that had been in May. "Lotho must have missed a lot of school," he said politely.

"Oh, he stayed with my sister Anemone. But he isn't the point," she continued as if she hadn't abandoned her own son for almost half a year. "You've been a bachelor for years and now you're suddenly going to raise a troubled child? You don't know what you're getting into, Bilbo."

Bilbo's cup clicked lightly against the saucer. "I am not a bachelor, as you well know," he said, voice tight and held ruthlessly under control.

Lobelia made a face at him. He remembered that she had been one of the most outspoken against his marriage to Bifur. She had not been invited. "Perhaps," she said finally, voice thick with disgust. "And look at the one you married. He can't be safe for a child. I'm sure poor Frodo is frightened of him. The courts will never let him be around a defenseless child."

"His doctor gave testimony is writing and in person that Bifur is completely self controlled and not violent," he said, lips thinning. More than ever, he was glad to be the only one home. Bofur hadn't attacked anyone for implying his cousin was a danger in years, but there was always a time for him to start again.

Lobelia's eyes widened as if she couldn't believe anyone would listen to that. "And those hideous scars didn't have any influence? When Frodo starts crying over them, you'll see the error of your ways. He was perfectly fine the way things were going. You're just going to confuse him with all of this court nonsense. Best to give it up now."

Bilbo rose. "We were inspected in late June. We all took a parenting class together. Financial, medical, and personal backgrounds were checked by the end of July. You should check your email more often, Lobelia. We signed the final papers almost two weeks ago. Frodo is ours, and there is nothing you can do to ruin it now."

She jumped to her feet, glaring at him. "And what kind of role model will you be? A pair of gay men playing at being married? You'll do nothing but turn him into one of you. How could you be so selfish, Bilbo Baggins! You aren't thinking of that boy at all!"

"Selfish?" Bilbo demanded, voice rising. He lost his temper rarely, but Lobelia had done her best to hit every trigger he had. "More selfish than a woman who would saddle her family with her own son to take a half year of vacation? More selfish than a woman who would find a way to get a small boy diagnosed with a condition he does not have for no reason? No reason unless it was to get you more sympathy from friends who are just as selfish as you are. I think I might be the first person to think of that boy in the last five years!"

He glared at her while she tried to hold her anger through her complete shock.

"Get out of my house, Lobelia," he said finally, growling with anger. "I have things to do."

She obeyed without question in her shock, and he remained standing where he was until he could control himself. Then he grabbed his coat and was out the door in a flash, almost running the mile and a half to the market.

"Daddy!"

And when he caught up the small boy who ran to him, when he kissed his husband in greeting, when the sellers who were his friends smiled at them, the knot in his chest unwound.

Chapter Text

The Caryses had grown up in circumstances very different to Bilbo's childhood and didn't often talk about it. It took years for Bilbo to string the small bits he found out into the story of their life before meeting him.

Bifur's parents hadn't graduated high school. As soon as they found out that Nizhoni was pregnant, both of them dropped out. His mother's parents disowned her so they lived for a while with his father's parents. But they had a younger son to raise as well, and only one income.

Both got jobs and saved up as much as they could so they could move into a small apartment of their own. And then, it wasn't the worst that could happen, but it was bad. Bifur was a large baby, and Nizhoni was young and small. It was a hard delivery and she never fully recovered. And for the next year and a half, Charlie Carys worked at three jobs to try and pay all of the prenatal medical bills, the rent and food and utility bills, and the new medical bills that accumulated while the woman he loves died by inches in front of his eyes.

Bifur learned to be alone when he was far too young. He rarely cried, because it would do nothing. His mother could do less and less for him and then she was gone. And if it weren't for old photos, he wouldn't remember what his father looked like. Because the bills didn't disappear when Nizhoni died, and the stress of working three jobs and trying to raise a child alone got to Charlie in the end, and Bifur was only five when he was made an orphan.

The younger son was out of the house at that point - graduated, working, and married. But Bifur's grandparents couldn't take him in. They were getting older and not in the best of health. And that was how he came to be raised by his aunt and uncle; their first child even though he wasn't really theirs.

His grandmother felt bad about the situation and would take him for afternoons when both the adults were still working and Bifur was out of kindergarten. Without being told to, he kept it secret that she spoke to grandpa the same way she spoke to him. He was good at keeping secrets and very independent. When grandpa died, grandma trusted Bifur more than the old man.

She died within days, and even at nine and a half Bifur understood that she had taken her own life.

Bofur was born not long after, and even through grief, Bifur was excited to be an older brother. Because he couldn't remember his mother and had few memories of his father. His aunt and uncle were the ones who raised him and he wanted to call them mom and dad. He knew, young as he was, that it wouldn't reduce the importance of the parents who bore him. But he also knew he couldn't explain it and that it would upset them, so it was another secret he kept.

Bofur and then Bombur joined the family, and Bifur did his best to take care of them while his aunt and uncle were working. There was no day care in the factory and their grandparents were dead, so he was the only one left. He did his best to be the best big brother, and his aunt often smiled and told him how much of a help he was.

He had a part time job through high school, whenever he could spare the time. Bofur and Bombur started school, and the places that would hire a student usually allowed him to bring them with him. He offered his pay to the family, but was always told to save it for his future.

As soon as he graduated he went to work full time for Dale Construction. He got a cheap studio apartment in a bad part of town and tried again to give money to his family. They still wouldn't take it, so he put as much away as he could. He didn't drink or smoke, and he bought very little and nothing that wasn't practical, so even when projects stopped for winter he managed.

There was a fire in the factory in late May, right after Bifur turned nineteen. I was traced to faulty wiring in the end and when the building was rehabilitated that was fixed. In all, only twenty five people died, and one of the workers told Bifur it would have been more if it hadn't been for Conner and Emily Carys.

His aunt and uncle were the heroes of the hour. They kept counting the people outside and going back for more. In all, they brought almost thirty people out of the fire. Not all were alive, but more than twenty owed their lives to two determined people.

It didn't mean much to Bifur. When the EMTs arrived there was so much need that they had to divide those who could be helped from those who couldn't. Both aunt and uncle had too many burns and had inhaled too much smoke, and the EMTs did what they could to ease them and let them die.

Bifur tried to remember what they'd told him when he was five and his father died, because he couldn't let anyone else tell Bofur and Bombur. And then he would take them in, the way he'd been taken in himself. There was no one else.

He found another apartment. It was one bedroom and tiny, but it was what he could afford. The boys got the bedroom and he slept on the couch. They got clothes from thrift stores and school things on back to school sales. They ate frugally, because what had been adequate pay for one person was stretched thin for three.

He found other odd jobs to do, especially in winter when construction was light, but refused to work too much. It was what had killed his father, after all. He wouldn't repeat those mistakes. They were all young and strong. They would be fine.

They would be fine. Even if Bombur always wore ill fitting clothes.

They would be fine. Even though all three of them were too thin.

They would be fine. Even when they spent the summer in hard hats running errands for supervisors at Bifur's work sites.

They would be fine. Even though they played with bits of wood inexpertly carved into soldiers because they couldn't afford toys.

They would be fine.

Except that they weren't. Bifur despaired sometimes, feeling that he was doing poorly at repaying his aunt and uncle for their care of him. His cousins were too thin, too small, too ragged. Teachers made faces at him when he met them for conferences, but no one offered help. They weren't people who got help. They were the ones who slipped through the cracks.

Bifur did his best not to think like that, but there were days - days when one of his cousins was sick, or hungry, or upset because of something that had happened at school. There were days he acknowledged to himself that his life was a tragedy. Everyone who had taken are of him was dead, and now the only way he could truly provide for his cousins would be to work himself to death and leave them. But there was no one else, so he forced himself to turn away from the fact that he was hungry too so they could eat more, and wear his clothes until they were falling off him to pay for school trips, and fixing things that really couldn't be fixed so there would be enough money for utilities and medicine.

He was tired all the time, and when Bofur - ten years old - started taking care of things at home he wanted to protest but couldn't. He wanted to take better care of them, but all he could do was accept even the dangerous jobs and bring in what he could.

And that was how he found himself out one night, making a delivery with a coworker on a dirt road after it had rained all day. They were in sight of the delivery spot when the car went into a pothole they hadn't seen because of a puddle and spun out of control. His last thought as the tree approached was that he would be leaving them alone and he didn't want to. He wanted to live.

Please, just a little longer.

Chapter Text

"Do you remember when you were in college and you told me you weren't interested in romance?"

Bilbo looked up from the morning preparations to find that his mother had paused on her way to the door. "Of course I do," he answered, wondering why she felt the need to bring it up. He'd thought she was resigned to the fact that he wasn't going to give her grandchildren.

"I think you might want to think about it again," was all she said before she vanished out to her car.

It made him wonder. Perhaps she wasn't as resigned as he thought. Even if she hadn't brought it up in almost ten years. The fact that it had come from nowhere concerned him. But he resolutely put the line of thought out of his mind to continue work. He'd ask Bifur later; maybe he had some insight.

And then all his thoughts were on croissants and muffins, the oven and the tea kettles. Customers started coming and he couldn't do much more than concentrate on their orders during the early rush. It was mid morning before he got a break, and then there was clean up to do.

While cleaning, he set to wondering about what the rest of his family was doing. Bombur, of course, was in school. He was finally a senior and taking the year seriously. Bofur spent most of his time at the carpentry shop doing commissions and getting everyone familiar with his work. And Belladonna had taken Bifur to physical therapy.

It had been years since the accident, but they weren't sure he'd ever stop needing physical therapy. There was damage to his brain that couldn't be undone and a lot of things Bilbo took for granted just weren't automatic anymore.

But the session had to be over. What would they do after? They might have gotten something to eat. And Bifur had become an avid reader now that he wasn't working all the time to try and raise his cousins. They often made a library stop before coming home.

Bilbo daydreamed until the noon rush started and then put his family firmly to the back of his mind.

It wasn't until evening that his mother's words came back to him. Bombur was at a friend's, Bofur meeting with coworkers, and Belladonna was out with one of her groups of ladies for dinner. Bilbo and Bifur had eaten and were sitting on the couch to read.

The thought was very sudden, and Bilbo lowered his book and tipped his head back to look up at Bifur. His legs were hanging over the side of the couch as he leaned against Bifur's good right side. Bifur felt the movement and looked down at him.

"Mom thinks I might be in love," he said, because that was all he could think of for it to be.

"With who?" Bifur asked, voice nowhere near as rough as it had been that first day but still slow and scratchy.

"I can't figure that out," Bilbo admitted. "I've never been interested in romance. Getting drunk and having sex isn't what I enjoy doing of an evening." And that was what romance was, right? Going to a bar to find someone "special," drinking too much, going home with someone you didn't know, and having sex. None of those appealed to Bilbo - he preferred to be in control of himself, thank you, and what little libido he possessed was easily sated with his own hand.

"Romance isn't just sex," Bifur said. And he had such trouble speaking that Bilbo paid attention to everything he said. "Romance is hearts and minds, not just cocks."

Bilbo snickered at that and felt a nudge in the small of his back. "All the TV shows say otherwise, and my college roommate was focused on romance more than class work, or so his mother said, and he was always out clubbing."

Bifur shook his head. "Romance is want to be with. Want to talk to. Think about."

Bilbo waited to be sure he was done and then laughed. "But that's silly. The only one I feel like that about is you!"

It must have been the wrong thing to say, because Bifur looked stricken. Bilbo scrambled upright, reaching out to touch the other man's shoulder.

"I--" he said, and then ran out of words. He reached out and put his hand on Bilbo's chest.

"You feel that way for me too?" Bilbo interpreted easily.

Bifur nodded, eyes firm and worried on Bilbo's.

He considered everything Bifur said and his mother's earlier comment. And Bifur had learned patience, so he waited.

"If that's romance and love, I think I might love you," he said finally. "What should we do now?"

Bifur's mouth twitched into a smile. "Don't have to do anything. Like we are is good."

But it wasn't exactly how they were, because when Belladonna got home she found that the pair had fallen asleep on the couch, leaning on each other and holding hands.

Chapter Text

After half a year, Frodo was still nervous about waking them no matter what the reason. There had been a number of mornings Bilbo and Bifur had woken to a dark head nestled against or between them when Frodo had a bad night and quietly joined them. It made them feel bad, but being allowed that much made the boy feel safe.

So there was nothing out of the ordinary about waking with Frodo there. The fact that the boy was awake, staring, and practically vibrating was more unusual. But after everything, he wouldn't wake them even for Christmas. Bilbo yawned, checked the time - 6:07 - and shook Bifur awake.

The other man yawned in turn and nuzzled close. Bilbo smiled then whispered that it was Christmas morning. There was a long moment that Bifur used to rouse himself, then he was up with a roar, grabbing Frodo and tickling him until he was nothing but a mass of giggles.

"Let's go see what Santa brought," Bilbo said, taking Frodo and holding him while he calmed down.

"There's no Santa," the boy said.

"What? Why would you say that?" Surely nine was still young enough to believe.

"Lotho got lots of presents. I just got socks from Uncle Rory." Bilbo's heart clenched but then Frodo hugged him tight. "Presents from you are better!"

Bilbo hugged him back, sharing a look of despair with Bifur. They were doing their very best to counter the years of neglect, but it was so hard. Small children were resilient, but every now and then something like this came up so matter-of-factly that it made Bilbo's heart break.

The trio went through the apartment quietly and started breakfast. Frodo insisted that they needed a huge one, so they made eggs and pancakes and sausages, toast and cocoa and potatoes. It wasn't long before Bofur and Bombur came out, yawning but ready to eat.

While they ate and Bofur teased Frodo about all of the presents that had accumulated under the tree, Bilbo considered his son. Frodo had been insistent that he pick out presents and worried constantly that the friends he had made might not like what he got them. Knowing what he knew about what Christmas had been for him in the past made him want to spoil his boy even more.

Frodo made them open his presents first and sat anxiously watching them. Pot holders he'd made in school for Bombur, a tea pot shaped like a dragon for Bilbo, a work belt with lots of pouches for Bofur, albums of photographs carefully labeled in nine-year-old print for Bifur. They smiled and praised the choices, admiring the gifts vociferously. Frodo beamed and only then turned to his own presents.

Bilbo sat with him on the floor and whispered who every present was from. Child sized gardening tools from his friend Sam. A book of puzzles from Balin. Pictures for his wall from Ori. Matching gloves, hat, and scarf from Rory. Carved toys from Bofur. A child's cookbook from Bombur. Books from Bifur and Bilbo.

Frodo cuddled against them, beaming and so very happy. It was worth the extra effort they had gone through to decorate and get a tree when they usually didn't bother. It was worth being woken at six in the morning. it was worth the amount of dishes they'd have later from breakfast and from the cooking they spent hours doing to make the perfect Christmas feast.

That night Bilbo out Frodo to bed by reading to him from one of the new books - making sure to do all the voices. He tucked the boy in with a blanket from Dori. The police bear from Fíli was kissed goodnight along with the boy. And Frodo beamed tiredly at him saying thank you for the best Christmas ever.

Bilbo smiled and kissed him again. Because everything was worth it.

Chapter Text

"We can't afford it."

"It's not that bad, Bof."

"Not that bad? You're talking about four years of culinary school! With room and board! Of course it's that bad. We can't afford it."

Bombur frowned. "You don't get to live my life for me," he said in the flat tone that always signaled anger.

In his own anger, Bofur didn't hear it. "I'm not living your life for you!" he exclaimed. "But there are some things we just can't do!"

"I'm first in family to go to college, and that can get me a scholarship right there. There are other scholarships, and grants and loans. I've saved all my money for years - you know I don't spend it, you make fun of me for that. I can do this."

They had both just about forgotten that Bombur had announced his intentions at dinner and they weren't the only ones in the conversation when Bifur chimed in, but they both quieted instantly to give him time to speak.

"Your grades will get you in?"

Bombur nodded decisively. "I've been working hard and pulling everything up. Not the top ten of the grade, but I'm in the top fifty."

Bofur smiled with pleasure and nodded back.

"We certainly can afford it," Belladonna put in while there was a pause in the argument.

Both young men shook their heads. "We can't," Bofur said. "We've taken so much from you already."

"Because that is what family does," Belladonna said firmly. "Family takes care of each other. If Bombur wants to go to school, he will go to school. That is the end of the discussion."

Bofur bit his lip, because it couldn't be the end of the discussion. Certainly not with the way that Bombur was smirking at him. He was the older brother - he shouldn't be the one on the defensive. There was the question of transportation, and books. Fees for whatever was needed. Entertainment money so Bombur wouldn't be looked down on as some pauper going to school on charity. He would need clothes and supplies. It was so much more than just the cost of tuition.

But Bombur just scoffed at him when he mentioned it later. His clothes were fine. He had money in the bank. He had simple tastes. He would be fine.

He assured Bofur he would be fine again when he was packed to go. He emailed regularly and called at least once a week for the first semester, but Bofur still worried. He worried his brother, who had always had family around him, would get homesick. He worried he would be looked down on by the other students. Bofur worried.

When Bombur came home between semesters he gushed about the program and his teachers and his friends. He insisted on helping with the cooking and rambled for hours about food if anyone let him. And Bofur stopped worrying.