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A Dragon's Tale

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A cool, late-summer breeze kissed his face and he smiled toward the sky, eyes closed in his bliss. The scent of iris, lupine, and poppies stood out the most to him, carried by the wind, but he may have been biased considering they were his very favorites of the season. Soon enough and he would be planting his fall garden: it announced that time of the year that was red and golden and smelled of apples; pumpkins and walnuts overflowing from barrels throughout the Shire. It was entirely lovely and he was looking forward to an excuse to begin baking in excess.

As he lifted his pipe to take a drag of Old Toby, he startled at the tickle of smoke against his nose, blinking his eyes open. A towering and looming figure stood at his fence, looking down at him with a kind smile and a twinkle in his eye. All grey, as always, a pointy hat atop his head and a wooden staff in his hands.

Bilbo Baggins blinked dumbly at Gandalf before he let out a noise of shock, hopping to his feet. “Gandalf!” he shouted, watching the wizard begin to chortle. “What on earth are you doing here? Oh, it is very good to see you, my friend!” He hurried to his gate and opened it, gesturing exuberantly for the wizard to enter his yard. “Come in, come in! How are you faring?”

“My dear Bilbo,” Gandalf said, fondness coloring his voice as stepped forward. He kneeled down and placed a large hand on the hobbit’s shoulder, gripping it and giving a good-natured squeeze. “It is good to see you. I’m well, my old friend, I’m well. You haven’t aged a day, have you?” The wizard tipped his head back and peered at him from under his bushy eyebrows, raking his eyes up and down along his person. Inspecting, as per usual.

Bilbo chuckled. “I should think not! I’m doing wonderfully, you know, and whatever you’re here for, my answer is no,” he said, grinning and rocking forward on his toes as the wizard shot him a sharp look. “What? Do you think I don’t know you? Have you come to help me prune my garden? Perhaps plan my birthday party? No, nope, and not ever! What business do you have with me? Oh, how terribly rude, please come in and have some tea.” He waved for Gandalf to follow, hearing a huff behind him, happily ignoring it as he moved to his smial door. He opened it for the wizard and closed it behind him before he trotted off to his kitchen.

“Bilbo,” Gandalf called wearily. “You cannot ignore me. And I think I would like some wine, thank you. It’s been a very long journey and I know you only have the best in your cellars. It should be nearing luncheon and I would like to join you at your table for it!”

“Of course you would,” Bilbo sighed, shaking his head to himself as he moved to his pantry. He wandered into his wine cellar and grabbed a lovely red, hastening to fetch a Big Folk glass for the wizard. When he heard a pained grunt from just down the hall, he snorted, moving to his dining room. “That is what I would call your ‘handwriting on the wall,’ Gandalf, and if that isn’t a sign of what troubles you’ll find here, I don’t know what is!” The hobbit opened the bottle of wine as Gandalf ducked into the dining room, grumbling and carrying his chair of choice - not that Bilbo had many so large, of course.

“That is the sign of a home of exceedingly small individuals,” the wizard grumped as he kneed chairs away to set his own in place. He sat down and when Bilbo handed him a full glass of wine, he smiled and murmured his thanks. Gandalf took a healthy drink, not even bothering to savor it, which the hobbit thought a bit of a waste. It was one of his oldest and deserved some quality time with whoever was drinking it!

He waggled his finger at the wizard. “I will not allow you to drink me out of house and home this time around,” he warned but the wizard only waved dismissively at him and mumbled into his cups. Bilbo rolled his eyes, turning on his heel and heading for his pantry once more. “Do you know what, I’m not even going to cook. You’ll have sandwiches and you’ll enjoy them! And the answer is still no, make no mistake. I will join you momentarily, please make yourself at home!” The hobbit gathered what he needed to make a large spread of cold turkey and tomato sandwiches, along with a platter of different cheeses and fruits.

Yes, Bilbo Baggins knew Gandalf the Grey quite well! They went back centuries, really, if he thought about it. Goodness, had it been such a long time? He supposed it had! Even as old as he was, time still went by perilously quick and he had to dig his heels into the ground sometimes to appreciate the present.

They had met in the far Northeast of Middle Earth, when dragons reigned over those lands and began to spread their wroth South. It was a dangerous time for all given the darker powers that ruled and which attempted to turn the mighty beasts to their cause; most did, even himself, but most also fell. Bilbo himself had taken an arrow as tall as a Man (and thick as one's calf too) to his belly and surely would have died if a wizard hadn’t appeared at his side.

Bilbo was indeed a dragon. Or he had been, at any rate. Now he was a hobbit, a queer creature of the West that Gandalf had been fond of from the beginning of their days; and really, after being turned into a hobbit, he could see why. He was quite fond of them by now as well! It took many years when he had first appeared to be accepted but the matriarch of the Baggins clan at the time had finally taken him under wing and taught him of their ways. So he was a Baggins from there on out - Mad Baggins to most other hobbits.

He still was Mad Baggins but it was an entirely fond endearment now. The hobbits of the current generations cherished his presence and his advice - they were also fiercely protective of him, much to his own amusement. He found he could take care of himself but if it made them happy to protect him from any outsiders, well, could he really deny them?

And Bilbo wasn’t even the first dragon-turned-something-else! Gandalf had saved two more of his kin but he never hoped to see them again - not that he particularly wanted to, of course. He had always been a bit of a loner, dragon-kind or hobbit, and found he didn’t miss his scaly kin one bit. Perhaps that was why he let the wizard save his life: to seek out a different kind that he might feel more ‘right’ with. Of course he hadn’t really wanted Gandalf to save his life at the beginning of their conversation, either! He had informed the wizard he was quite alright bleeding out on the bank of a river and doing anything more than that seemed like a chore. When he asked if Gandalf may have had a last meal lying around, the wizard bopped him on the snout with his staff and declared laziness a poor excuse for dying. And now here he was. A hobbit.

A peaceful hobbit for many long years, thank you very much.

Bilbo served his guest luncheon and made a cup of tea for himself before he sat across from the wizard. “So! What have you been up to, Gandalf? Wreaking havoc across Middle Earth?” he asked cheerfully, raising his eyebrows innocently at the pursed-lipped frown he received.

“My duties, Bilbo Baggins,” Gandalf said far too seriously. He huffed when the hobbit snorted. “You may call it wreaking havoc but I call it adding a bit of spice to life. Something we could all use, I should think.”

Bilbo laughed, covering his mouth with his hand before he was able to finish chewing. “Of course. I’m sure that’s what everyone you came across thought it was, just adding a bit of spice to life, not diving headlong into a perilous adventure, eh?” he said, waving his sandwich toward the wizard. His good humor melted away when Gandalf clasped his hands together and leaned across the table toward him, an odd glint in his eyes.

“Speaking of adventure,” he began, ignoring the hobbit’s immediate scowl, “I believe I have an offer of one and just for you, my dear friend. You will listen to my offer, Bilbo Baggins, as a guest of your home!” His voice grew louder to compensate for the fact that Bilbo had clamped his hands over his ears and was shaking his head dramatically. “You have been sitting idly for far too long!”

The hobbit gaped at him as he dropped his hands. “Sitting idly?” he squeaked indignantly. “Pardon me, I believe I’ve been sitting exactly the way you originally intended me to be and the way I very much like now! I told you, no! No to whatever you’re planning, no to any further madness in my life, I’ve had quite enough of it. No, no, and no. No adventures, they are terrible things that give you scars and make you late for dinner. I’m very happy here, you know.”

“Are you? Are you happy here?” Gandalf asked, apparently not believing such a dastardly thing could happen. “You have known the wide world and it is far beyond the Shire now. It has been centuries since you left this place and when we first arrived here, we spoke of how one day you might travel as the hobbit you now are. You wished to see the world from the ground and not the sky.”

Bilbo sent him a flat look, entirely unimpressed. “And that was right after I found myself a hobbit. I thought I’d feel the itch to stretch my legs but I never have! My life is here, in my hobbit-hole, reading and writing and eating and celebrating a very simple life indeed. I do not even want to know what you’re planning, don’t bother telling me unless you’d like to hear further protests; the answer is and will forever be no,” he stated firmly, taking a large bite of his sandwich.

Gandalf’s mouth twisted into a frown before he harrumphed and took up his own sandwich. Along with three more. Bilbo blinked as he watched the wizard move to his feet, dodging the lit chandelier above the table and looking down his large nose at the hobbit. The hobbit who glared right back up at him, opening his mouth to tell him off, but the wizard beat him to it.

“Then it is settled. I shall inform the others,” he declared loudly, turning and swooping out of the dining room. Bilbo dropped his jaw, pointing after him, a strangled whine leaving his throat. He hopped up, abandoning his own sandwich, and hastened after the wizard who was walking with purpose toward his front door.

“Excuse me! Where do you think you’re going? You’ve only just arrived and- and you shall not be informing anyone of anything! There is nothing to inform anyone of! Gandalf! Wizard, by all the Valar, if I could breathe fire-“

“You would set me ablaze?” Gandalf interrupted drily. “What I shall be informing the others of is my business but I should think I will see you soon, my friend, whatever comes out of it. I will be in the Shire for another night yet! Expect my return and perhaps keep that fine vintage ready for it.” He opened the smial door and ducked through it, stepping back out onto Bilbo’s doorstep.

“Y-You- I should- what do you- absolutely not!” the hobbit cried in distress as he stood in the doorframe, staring up at the wizard with wide eyes. “Goodness gracious me, Gandalf, I am too old for this! There will be no adventures here, thank you very much! I am far beyond that sort of thing, believe you me, and I swear, if you show up at my home with any other persons I will not open my door! No indeed. Will you not stay and finish your lunch? Surely it’s better than attempting such a thing while you’re- well, whatever you’re doing. Walking!”

Gandalf waved his staff, balancing between it and his armful of sandwiches as he looked down at the hobbit. “There is little time and I will be fine,” he answered, his eyebrows raised to his hairline. “My dear fellow, calm yourself. This will be a good visit yet and I think you may find your interest piqued. If nothing else, it shall be most amusing for me. Until then!” He made an aborted attempt at raising his staff in farewell lest he lose a sandwich before he was off, sweeping down Bilbo’s yard - the latch on his gate mysteriously opened by itself and the wizard nudged it the rest of the way with his foot.

The hobbit stared after him, his jaw lowered and his finger held in the air. “G-Gandalf!” he managed to squeak out in one last indignant cry. The wizard did not look back. Bilbo swayed, reaching out to grab his door, watching a pointy hat bobbing as Gandalf trudged down Bagshot Row and eventually disappeared. “I say! If he thinks I will humor him for even a moment, he has another thing coming!” He waggled his finger toward the path before he turned on his heel and stormed into his smial, closing the door behind him with a decisive bang.

No, certainly not, no adventures. They were for the young and foolhardy and he was neither. Bilbo Baggins’ place was in Bag End and it would remain that way for the rest of his long life. Yes indeed, no adventuring.

——

The first dwarf had been both confusing and terrifying; Bilbo was certain he had the wrong home. When the second dwarf had come, his confusion had only increased and by the third and fourth, he was downright irritated. But really, it was the other eight that had quite literally fallen into his home, backed by Gandalf, that were the true kicker for him.

I want them out,” he hissed, balling his hands into tight fists at his sides as he glared at the wizard. “Gandalf, I want them out of my home! I gave you my answer earlier and- and now look at what you’ve done! I have twelve blasted dwarves in my home raiding my pantry and destroying my furniture! Look at my floors! What is the meaning of this? I told you no!” He scowled as Gandalf gazed down at him as if he were a misbehaving fauntling.

“Bilbo, calm yourself,” he ordered, which just had the hobbit’s hackles rising further - that was the second time in one day the wizard had commanded that. “This is a merry gathering, many of these dwarves have not seen each other for years. You can join in with their good cheer, if you would like, and leave your unnecessary worries behind you.”

The hobbit opened and closed his mouth twice before a gurgle of anger escaped his throat. “What did you say? Unnecessary worri- oh, you must be joking! I don’t care if they haven’t seen each other for years, I haven’t seen you for years and I don’t throw my food about when I finally do!” he snarled, planting his hands on his hips and tapping his foot on the ground. “And they certainly don’t have to be so joyful in my home. What are you planning? I am quite serious, tell me right this instant what you are planning with these dwarves!”

Gandalf sighed, his eyebrows drawing together. “All in due time, Bilbo, all in due time,” he returned wearily, as if he were the one thrust into a precarious situation. “We are missing one but he will come and we will discuss it, my dear boy. Until then, I suggest you cal-“

“Do not say it again!” Bilbo snapped, digging his fingertips into his sides as they trembled. He hadn’t felt that particular twitching in a very long time - the one where he wished he had talons and could put them to good use. Gandalf noticed and narrowed his eyes at him, squaring his shoulders. The hobbit huffed, his eyebrows shooting to his hairline as he stared right back in challenge.

“So, we hate to interrupt,” a voice said from behind Bilbo, slightly familiar to him.

“But we’ve finished supper and we were wondering where we should toss the leftover mess,” another voice chimed in and the hobbit turned around, glowering at the two young dwarves. ‘Ee’ something, that was all he remembered, one blond and the other brunet.

The dark-haired one flinched and took a step back at the look on Bilbo’s face but his brother (he thought) was pursing his lips tight and trying not to laugh. His rather pronounced dimples gave him away and the hobbit found himself lamenting for their parents - he knew troublemakers when he saw them. He arched his eyebrows at them, forcing himself to find patience.

“Pardon?” Bilbo asked, then started. “Oh, er, I use quite a lot of it for compost, which is outside and ‘round the corner of my home. But, ah, please don’t touch it, just take whatever you lot have left behind and leave it outside, thank you.” He hunched his shoulders as another dwarf appeared with one of his plates in hand, looking at the hobbit and giving a polite smile, despite his obvious unease.

“Excuse me,” the young dwarf said, “but what can I do with my plate?”

Bilbo would rather not speak of what happened over the next five moments, thank you, as his heart only just barely survived the ordeal. He stood, tugging at his suspenders as he stared down at his table covered in cleaned and dried dishes, stacked and ready to put away. As if they were handled by proper houseguests and the dwarves were certainly not that. His shoulder was clapped by that blond one and when he looked at him, he found himself unable to stop a quick smile; perhaps they were poking fun at him but it wasn’t entirely meant with offense.

The three bangs on his door stole the smile right from him and he swung his gaze to the archway as his home fell silent. Bilbo was beginning to think of the dramatics of dwarves but when Gandalf looked concerned and announced ‘he’ was there, the hobbit wondered who in Middle Earth the wizard had invited to his smial. And why could ‘he’ not use the blasted bell?

As the dwarves piled from his dining room, he got a bit lost in the fray, and it was only when he heard a deep baritone voice mention a mark on his door that he was able to tumble into his hall. He straightened himself out and scowled, pointing at his door.

“There is no mark on that door, I painted it just this past week-“

“There is a mark. I put it there myself,” Gandalf interrupted, shooting him a look. Bilbo felt he was instructing him to behave but considering he was in his own hobbit-hole, he was quite ready to tell the wizard just what he thought of that. “Bilbo Baggins, allow me to introduce the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield.”

The hobbit met blue eyes and felt himself pinned to his spot by them. Now that he actually looked at his newest guest, he could certainly see that the dwarf was their leader - he had a bearing about him that spoke of royalty but before he could ask, Thorin was sweeping his gaze along him. Their ‘leader’ looked entirely unimpressed and Bilbo felt his irritation rising further - at Gandalf, at the situation, and at whatever derogatory thoughts were clearly going through this dwarf’s mind.

“So this is the hobbit,” Thorin said, mirth at his expense growing in his eyes. “Tell me Master Baggins, have you done much fighting?” Bilbo blinked twice as the dwarf began to round his person, clearly taking him in and goodness gracious, the amount of arrogance he felt oozing from this one. The hobbit glanced at Gandalf before he looked back to the dwarf. Much fighting that he could not speak of but the most petty part of him dearly wished to.

“I have skill with a bow, if you must know, but I fail to see how that’s relevant,” Bilbo said, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning. “Why on earth should I have any experience fighting? Are we planning on participating in a battle in the Shire this evening? No? Then why does it matter?” He glared at Thorin as the dwarf froze, staring at him, eyes becoming stormy as his heavy brow turned down. Yes, he could bloody well defend himself, such a terrible shock.

“You use the bow?” the brunet dwarf suddenly burst out, shuffling closer and when Bilbo looked at him, he was grinning so widely it looked painful. “Why didn’t you say so sooner, Master Boggins? D’you have yours here? Most dwarves don’t have the dexterity for it, you see, but I do, obviously, so-“

“Kili,” Thorin all but growled and the dwarf shut his mouth. He swung his gaze to Gandalf, who put on an absolutely terrible attempt at innocence. “Did you explain nothing to the hobbit of why we are here? You informed me you had chosen our burglar but you failed to mention he wasn’t aware of it himself. What is going on, Gandalf?” Bilbo did not like this dwarf but he was entirely of the same mind with that question and turned to face the wizard, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

Gandalf harrumphed, looking warily between both of them before he gestured forward. “Let us sit and we will discuss it. Bilbo, gather some supper for Thorin, please, he’s had a long journey,” he said placatingly but didn’t bother to mask his pointed glare at the hobbit. “Come along. Fili, you seemed familiar with where mugs are, fetch Thorin an ale.”

Right. Fili, Kili, he would remember that- and bother it all, it didn’t matter! Bilbo opened his mouth, fully prepared to begin a furious tirade but the dwarves, much like sheep, herded themselves in groups through his home and to the dining room once more. Thorin Oakenshield didn’t spare another glance at him and simply joined up with Dwalin, with whom he exchanged a skeptical look. The wizard waited until they were alone but when he attempted to speak, the hobbit held his hand up for silence, waving it and shaking his head firmly. He was entirely certain he would explode if he were forced to use his words right then.

Bilbo stalked off to his pantry, staring forlornly at the empty shelves, his shoulders hunching. Did they have to leave him with nothing but beets and parsnips? A tap to his shoulder startled him into clutching at his chest and he whirled around to the white-haired dwarf. Balin looked sympathetic as he handed Bilbo a bowl full of food, some sort of hearty meal thrown together at some point, and patted him on the shoulder with his free hand.

“Don’t mind him, he’s never been good with first impressions,” the dwarf said quietly and gestured toward the hall. “We set this aside for him before it could all disappear. Best take it to him yourself, laddie, as Gandalf asked.” He arched his eyebrows to show his apparent meaning before he turned and bustled back into the dining room. Bilbo clamped his eyes shut tight and leaned his head back, lightly smacking it twice against one of his shelves as he attempted to steel himself. Whatever nonsense was about to take place, he was certain he wanted nothing to do with it.

The hobbit left his pantry and moved to his overfull dining room, eyeing the back of Thorin’s head as he did so. He reached around and dropped the bowl unnecessarily hard onto the table, ignoring blue eyes as they snapped to him. Bilbo looked at Gandalf himself and squinted - he would be having words with the wizard the moment he was ready and he would not be holding back. Propriety could take a hike as far as he was concerned. It didn’t take long for the dwarves to begin speaking and it was with a much more sombre air now that their leader had joined them. Ah, so he was a stick in the mud at all times.

Bilbo barely listened, pacing back and forth along his rug, arms crossed over his chest. He was preparing different versions of his speech - one was mostly for himself given it’s colorful nature but it was easing some of his tension, either way. Words like quest and key and door were thrown around but it wasn’t until ‘burglar’ broke through his distracted mind that he turned to look at the throng of dwarves again. Burglar. That’s what Thorin had said - that Bilbo would be some kind of burglar. Well, he certainly would not!

“W-What’s this about a burglar?” he asked as he stepped closer to the table and peered over Thorin’s shoulder. He frowned at the map until he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end and snapped his eyes up to the dwarves. They were all staring at him, half suspicious and half oddly hopeful - his heart stuttered in his chest and he swallowed. “You need a burglar for your Quest?”

“We’ve said as much. Are you one or aren’t you?” a red-haired dwarf demanded - one of the suspicious variety. Bilbo pointed at himself, raising his eyebrows and managing a small snort. The dwarf turned away before he could possibly answer and looked between the others. “It is time. Oin has read the portents and they say it is so!” Bilbo blinked in confusion at the groans that statement brought about but the grey-haired dwarf with the trumpet puffed up.

“Aye! Ravens are returning to the Mountain as it was foretold! ‘When the birds of old return to Erebor, the reign of the beast will end.’ It is time!” he declared, the dwarves sitting nearest to him wincing at his volume. The red-haired dwarf nodded in satisfaction and turned to look at his leader once more. His eyes were distracted by the hobbit who was swaying on his feet.

Bilbo reached out and grabbed the corner of the chair Thorin was in. Erebor, Quest, a Door, a Beast. Oh, he was a fool. He was a terrible fool. He turned wide eyes to Gandalf, who was watching him with no small amount of concern - he looked prepared to catch the hobbit if he collapsed.

“Beast,” he choked out hoarsely, his eyebrows arching at the wizard. “What beast?” He had to hear it: he would hear it. And then he would… well, he wasn’t sure what he would do, but he knew it would get his point across.

“Smaug,” Thorin grunted out from directly in front of him, turning his head to peer at the hobbit with disdain. “He is a dragon that took Ere-“

“I know what he is,” Bilbo hissed, watching Thorin turn to stone before he looked at the wizard again. Gandalf at least looked apologetic but that did nothing for the hobbit’s rage. “S-Smaug? Smaug?! Oh, Gandalf… y-you can’t be serious! What are you thinking? I will- I will absolutely not… oh dear, I am not feeling well.” He let go of the chair and stumbled back a few steps, holding his hands out at his sides to retain his balance. His vision was spotting with black, fuzzy dots and a sound like a roaring river was rushing through his ears. He heard his name filter through and shook his head. “I’m alright, yes- yes I’m, ah…“

When Bilbo felt a cool hand on his forehead, he startled and attempted to sit up from his prostrate position on the ground. The large hand stayed him and the hobbit blinked blearily up at Gandalf, who let out a sigh of relief. “Did I faint?” he mumbled once he found his words. The wizard’s pursed lips were enough and he nodded his acceptance, waving him away, and pushed himself up with his elbows. Fainting had not been how he meant to prove his point but in Gandalf’s eyes, hopefully it worked well enough.

“Are you alright, Bilbo?” the wizard murmured and Bilbo clamped his eyes shut tight.

“Mhmm,” he hummed out. “Yes, just give me a moment, please and thank you. Actually, if someone could bring me a cup of tea, I would appreciate it. And then I should like to take myself to my bed and forget this evening has occurred. I think that’s the best thing for everyone at this point.” When he looked back to the wizard, he saw Thorin approach and stand at his side, staring down at him.

“You know of Smaug?” the dwarf asked and Gandalf whirled around to look at him with exasperation. Thorin ignored him, taking one step closer and raising his eyebrows. “How are you aware of him?”

Bilbo snorted, waving the wizard down from his growing irritation with the dwarf. “I read, Master Oakenshield,” he answered. “Did you know that a dragon taking over a mountain in the East and sending all of its inhabitants West past the Shire to establish the Blue Mountains might be interesting enough to jot down? Someone apparently thought as much.” He carefully pushed himself to his feet and when he looked back at Thorin, the dwarf was glaring at him.

It was mostly true. Bilbo had very much read a short story of the day Erebor was taken by Smaug - gold had attracted him and from what he had come to understand, the Mountain was full of it. It had nearly made him ill and he hadn’t delved any further into the story. It was surreal enough to read about a dragon he was familiar with, let alone the terror he had laid down upon the dwarves. Gold was their greatest weakness and strength both; it attracted them like moths to a flame but they were stronger for it and the curse they spread did damage even if one escaped from their maws.

“The dragon may yet be dead,” Thorin commented. “He has not been seen in sixty years-“

“And dragons can sleep for much longer than that, it’s been said,” Bilbo interrupted, arching his eyebrows at the dwarf, shrugging his shoulders. “If you plan on storming Erebor, I hope you know you’re likely going to your death because that dragon is still alive. Probably. I-I don’t care what any portents say, you are aware of what Smaug has done, yes?”

Thorin dipped his head. “I am intimately aware of what he has done, Master Baggins,” he ground out in a low voice. The hobbit had apparently touched a nerve. “I know the dangers of it but these signs will have been read by many. If they believe Smaug is dead or can easily be killed, they will storm the Mountain themselves. It is not theirs to take and I will not allow any but one of the line of Durin to sit on its throne.”

Bilbo squinted at him. “And you are one of Durin’s Folk?” he asked evenly. Thorin inclined his head toward him and the hobbit pursed his lips. “Is that throne yours, is that what you’re saying?” The dwarf didn’t even have to twitch for Bilbo to have his answer. He sighed. “Right. I’ve got the King of Erebor in my smial, preparing for a mad Quest to slay a dragon; and you, Gandalf? How are you a part of this?”

The wizard looked as if he might be choosing his words carefully before he spoke. “Thorin’s father, Thrain, gave me the map and key to pass down when it was time. It is time now, Bilbo, both for Erebor to be retaken and the dragon slain. There is a change in the wind, I fear, and Smaug has sat comfortably for far too long. Where the Mountain lies offers a vantage point that could be used against many, if the wrong sort were to take Erebor, and we have the rightful king with us; Thorin is one that could unite the dwarven kingdoms and strengthen the East once more,” he explained, purposefully slow through some words. He wanted the hobbit to read between the lines, as it were. And Bilbo was fairly certain he had been successful.

He eyed Gandalf for a long moment before he looked back to Thorin; the dwarf was staring rather intensely at him and it was a might unnerving. Bilbo frowned, crossing his arms protectively over his chest. “Alright. And how, exactly, do you plan on killing the dragon? Will you have an army waiting for you in the Iron Hills?” he asked. Strangely, the king’s posture became defensive, one shoulder turning more toward Bilbo, his fingers curling into a fist.

“I met with my kin but they will not stand with us. They think this Quest is a fool’s errand,” he said, a bitter edge to his voice. “They choose to ignore the signs out of hope that they are false but when I stand in Erebor once more, they will flock to the Mountain like vultures to carrion.” Bilbo wrinkled his nose at him.

If. If you stand in Erebor once more,” he returned, holding up his hand when Thorin’s mouth opened to no doubt offer more horrid analogies. “Sorry, I happen to agree with your kin, this seems like an absurd thing to attempt even with an army. And you are- you are thirteen! That dragon could smash you all flat without any effort, I imagine; how exactly do you plan on killing him?”

Thorin took a step closer to him. “I trust my Company with this Quest, as they trust me. We will see it done. Long have I waited to stand before the filth that killed my people and took my home from me; I will see him dead. We require a burglar for this and Gandalf has recommended you for such a position though I know not why. You are not a creature meant for the Wild and skill with a bow or not, you would not fare well if we were to encounter troubles on the Road. We are not storming Erebor, Master Baggins, we are using small numbers and stealth to our advantage; and we require a thief. It is clear to me you are not one,” he informed the hobbit quietly, such a strong amount of scorn in his voice that it took Bilbo aback even further than he already was.

He watched unyielding blue eyes as they stared at his own hazel, warring between utter incredulity at the dwarf’s assumptions of him and still feeling concern for his wellbeing. Because his blasted heart had grown too soft in the Shire! Bilbo could feel Gandalf’s own annoyances but found them particularly easy to ignore. He rapped his fingers against his arm from their still-crossed position and lightly shook his head.

“Now, we’ve only just met tonight, so I know you are, of course, vastly aware of all that is me, Master Oakenshield, but can I clue you in on a little more?” he asked faux seriously, leaning further up toward the dwarf himself, ignoring the wizard’s grumbling. “I’ve learned through my life that when you read a book only by its cover and judge it solely on that, you can miss out on a great many things. Some books have changed lives and some have altered their readers’ viewpoints. If I were to look at your cover, I would deem you a gaudy, ugly thing that is attempting, by sheer volume, to impress but is failing rather spectacularly given your unappealing nature. But do you know what? I believe in opening the blasted book before I write it off because I never know what I might find. You may want to practice at it yourself and perhaps then you’ll find your thief.”

Bilbo slid back, straightening his suspenders and leveling the dwarf with a glare. “Now. If you don’t mind, I should like to spend the rest of my evening far from foolish dwarves,” he stated, turning to Gandalf. The wizard was offering him a helpless gaze, though his eyes were twinkling - he was never overly fond of the hobbit’s sarcasm but he appreciated his spine. “Gandalf. I will take a kettle to my room and after you’ve given me enough time to enjoy a cup of tea by myself, you are more than welcome to join me for a friendly chat.” He tilted his head toward the wizard to show he fully intended on seeing him there before he turned on his heel and marched out of his sitting room, making his way to the kitchen.

The youngest dwarf, Ori, was already preparing him a kettle and when he caught sight of the hobbit, he hastened to finish. Bilbo murmured reassurances and thanks once he got his kettle, cups, and a pile of scones on a tray - and then he eagerly fled to his bedroom. Oh yes, he was quite finished with this evening and he had a thing or two to say to Gandalf; he did wish, however, that some weren’t out of genuine fear for the ‘Quest’ the dwarves were about to embark on.

——

When a sharp rap of knuckles sounded on Bilbo’s door, he cursed the spill of tea over his fingers as he startled, setting his cup aside and plucking up his napkin. “Yes yes, come in,” he called, mumbling to himself about pesky wizards as he patted himself dry. The door opened but when he heard heavy footfalls, the hobbit’s head snapped up and his gaze locked on Thorin Oakenshield once again. He could have cried.

The king froze for only half a second before he closed the door behind him and stepped further into the room, looking entirely uncomfortable. Bilbo was sitting on his armchair in front of the fire and dearly wishing he had asked who it was - though he didn’t expect any dwarf to show up at his door! The hobbit’s nose twitched as he gestured at the wooden rocking chair in the corner of his room. Thorin glanced at it, then him, and arched a brow.

Bilbo sighed. “Then stand,” he sniffed, waving him forward. “Can I help you with something? I believe it was Gandalf I invited to join me and not yourself.”

Thorin took in a deep breath as he clasped his hands behind his back, turning a moody scowl to the fire rather than at the hobbit. “Gandalf is distracted entertaining my Company with a tale of a battle he fought in an Age ago,” he informed him, forcefully neutral. “I wished to speak with you on your earlier words.” Bilbo dropped his head back rather dramatically onto the top of his chair, rolling his eyes and heard a grunt in response.

“I won’t be offering a lecture, Master Hobbit,” Thorin supplied with some sarcasm of his own. “I received another for myself after you took your leave. The wizard apologized for your behavior but informed me I deserved it.” The hobbit snorted.

“Sounds like him,” he muttered, turning his eyes back on the king. “And you very much did deserve it. Have you come to apologize?”

“Will it make you less antagonistic?”

“Not likely but it would be appreciated all the same of course.” He offered a facetious smile at the sidelong glance he received.

Thorin sighed as he turned to face him. “I am sorry for the judgements I gathered without knowing you. Gandalf didn’t inform you of our purpose and I know now why you have been less than tolerable this evening; I might be as well in your position. You are not… what I expected for a burglar. The wizard seemed sure of you and your potential skill for it,” the king said, looking rather like he sucked on a lemon.

Bilbo blinked twice at him before he snorted, laughing in disbelief. “I feel as if I’ve just been insulted in numerous different ways. And you aren’t tolerable, by the by, you’ve been entirely intolerable yourself,” he said, chuckling again as Thorin visibly reined in his obvious irritation. “Goodness gracious me. You wrote me off the moment you saw me and you’ve been swimming in your pride since! I’m not a burglar, you’ve got that right, at least. I don’t make it a habit to steal given I’m a hobbit and we don’t want for anything here. Gandalf thinks I have an itch for adventure, he is attempting to exploit my helpful nature, and he knows hobbits are very light on their feet; small, too, of course. I can understand why he thought I might be good for it but that hardly means I want anything to do with it.”

“You seem certain of our demise,” Thorin stated drily. “I’ve fought in and won great battles, Master Baggins. I would not throw my life, their lives, away so easily. I have confidence in this Quest and coming by my father’s map and key seems fate to me. There is no choice for me anymore, this is something I must do and I will do. Erebor belongs to dwarves and I will see my people roam her halls once again. You may not think it wise or perhaps even worth the risks but it is for myself and my Company; we will see it done with or without you. I am sorry for my harsh judgments this evening, they were undeserved and you have my thanks for hosting us though I know you had little choice in the matter. We will take our leave early tomorrow.”

The hobbit watched Thorin speak, resting his elbow on the arm of his chair and dropping his chin into his hand. “Thank you for that. Suppose I’ll continue to have no choice when it comes to you lot spending the night in my home,” he said with a breathy huff. “I understand why you want to do this, I really do. I simply don’t think it’s a good idea and there is a far greater chance of failure than there is of success.”

“And the chance of success is enough for me,” the king returned firmly. “It is enough for all of us. Balin has written contracts for each member of the Company and he asked that I give you the one meant for our burglar. I see not why as you have made it clear you wish not to join us but it is yours to view. Regardless of what Gandalf has said, I still don’t believe you fit to join us and that it is for the best you remain in your Shire.” He stepped closer as he spoke and retrieved a thick piece of folded parchment from under his outer tunic, holding it out toward the hobbit.

Bilbo sighed as he took it, unfolding it and blinking at the length of it. He read the first few lines of it and mumbled to himself - it was clearly going to be thorough. The hobbit paused as he heard his bedroom door open and lifted his head, raising his eyebrows as he watched Thorin leave the room, pulling the door closed behind him. Well. At least he had apologized even if he still managed to insult him while doing so; and he very much doubted Bilbo’s capabilities. Bilbo rather doubted his. He read through until he came across what injuries and gruesome deaths he might come across, tossing it onto the table next to him; he found himself familiar with the way dragons might choose to kill something. The hobbit thought it fair he might not want to be on the receiving end of it for once.

Only a few moments of silence were to be enjoyed because another knock came to his door. Bilbo sniffed, knowing it was Gandalf, and he called for the wizard to join him. And join him he did, happily taking a cup of tea and a scone as he chose to sit on the ground across from the hobbit. There was really nowhere else for him to be.

“You understand why I wish for you to join us,” Gandalf stated without preamble as he peered at the hobbit. “You could be of great use to them, Bilbo. You could protect them if need be, when the situation might call for it. There are not many in this world anymore who have had interactions with dragons let alone have an intimate understanding of them. You are quite a small fellow and this Quest needs a burglar. I have chosen you for it and for more than one purpose. You have a large role yet to play in this world.”

Bilbo pursed his lips tight before he huffed. “You hardly know that for certain,” he commented, shooting the stink-eye at the wizard. “I’ve told you, Gandalf, I want nothing to do with this. The Road will always be dangerous and Erebor is a very long way from here. I’m doing well here, in Bag End; I would have to say you’ll need to find another hobbit for this. Or, perhaps, another of my kin that you’ve helped settle into this world.”

Gandalf waved his arm dismissively, a dark scowl taking over his face. “They are hardly as agreeable as you, my dear boy, and I think you know that well,” he said, sounding as if he may have regretted giving those particular dragon-kind a second chance. “Unpleasant even in different forms and far more firmly rooted where they are now. You expressed your desire for adventure long ago and you may have me believe those thoughts have fled you but when I visit, you speak fondly of all that you have seen in your time. You speak with a longing in your eyes that you cannot hide from me, Bilbo Baggins, and I am offering you a chance to see it fulfilled.” The hobbit groaned, burying his face in his hands.

“I hardly feel any longing,” he whined, voice muffled but still despondent. “Yes, yes, some days I miss flying. Some days I miss seeing the world in such a way and I think that’s a perfectly normal thing to feel! I miss my old friends but I won’t try to raise them from the dead for it! Gandalf, I truly don’t wish for anymore adventure in my life, I’ve had quite enough of it, I’ve seen far too much terror. I don’t wish to see anymore and I feel as if they are going to their deaths; I’d rather not witness it.”

“The ways of the world are beginning to change again,” Gandalf declared, his bushy eyebrows flying upward. “You may not have felt it but I assure you that dragon has. A darkness is forming once again in the East and I fear what may happen if it gains power! If a new enemy were to come, its eyes would be set on finding allies - Erebor offers one. As you are aware, it is easy to sway a dragon with the promise of battles, riches, and lands to rule. Smaug would again join forces with evil if he is offered the chance and he would allow that Mountain to fall into their hands. It has a strategic position with Mirkwood to its West and the Iron Hills to its East. And you know what lies South! We cannot allow Erebor to sit quiet any longer.”

Bilbo gaped at him, raising his hands toward the wizard before he dropped them helplessly to his lap. “What enemy do you think is coming, Gandalf? You sound very certain. The enemy of old is long gone, what do you fear is coming?” he asked in disbelief. “Who would be so powerful to sway Smaug in that sort of way?”

“I do not yet know,” Gandalf admitted. “But it is something I am working to learn. The rumors alone were enough to give me interest but when I ventured to the East, it was simple enough to see and feel for myself the truth of it. Something is coming and I fear it, Bilbo. That dragon needs to be slain and Erebor needs to have its king as the greatest dwarven realm on Middle Earth! That Mountain will strengthen ties between the dwarf lords of this world and should Thorin ever have need to call upon them, their armies will answer. I hope to never see that come to pass. I hope only for the dwarves of Erebor to find their home once more in this Quest and to eliminate that dragon for good; that is what I wish for but wishes are not always granted.”

The hobbit grumbled out his agreement at that understatement and turned his glum gaze to his fire. “Yes, well,” he managed, giving a quick shake of his head. “I hope none of that happens, as well, I truly do. I find it hard to believe such a powerful enemy could be lurking about but it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? I can’t worry myself over this, Gandalf, I can’t. Erebor is a very long distance from here and whatever peril that place holds won’t touch the Shire. I will worry if I have to some day but this isn’t any of my business. I’m not your hobbit.”

Gandalf squinted at him, attempting to make him squirm, but Bilbo just picked up a scone and munched on it with exaggeration. The wizard finally muttered what were no doubt terribly unflattering things about himself and got to his feet, looking down his nose at the hobbit. After a good long moment, he harrumphed, shaking his head and waving dismissively.

“We shall see. Come morning, Bilbo Baggins, we shall see,” he announced and turned with a whirl of grey robes, stalking to Bilbo’s door, pushing it open.

“Watch your head,” Bilbo called after him, smiling when he heard the wizard mumble ‘hobbits’ under his breath. When he ducked out of the room, Bilbo was sure he had left his door open on purpose like a petty tween and sighed, hopping to his feet. He pushed the door closed with a pointed bang, locking it and making his way to his bed. The hobbit collapsed onto it, looking at his ceiling and watching the shadows cast by his fireplace dance above him.

He wasn’t sure how long he lay there but when a deep-timbred voice began to sing about a wish for an old home and memories of the day Smaug came, he could admit his heart ached for the dwarves - he could also admit that Thorin Oakenshield’s voice might persuade many to do as he wished; but Bilbo was dragon-kind deep down and he did what he bloody well wanted.

——

When Bilbo ran through the Shire the next morning, spurred on by madness and exhilaration at the thought of another adventure, he left the worst of his doubts in Bag End and threw all caution to the wind.

Though, when Fili and Kili bodily tossed him onto the saddle of a pony for the first time in his life and he clung for dear life to its mane, he lamented that in some way, Thorin Oakenshield was right to doubt him for his lack of experience in the Wild - as a hobbit, at any rate.