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With all the force of a great typhoon

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Part One

For all that the Shire was a lovely place to live, its property laws were a little backwards in Billa Baggin’s time. Male hobbits were the only ones allowed to own property and females, if left alone without any brothers, were require to take a husband to keep their property. Otherwise, hobbit holes would be passed on to male cousins, nephews, so on and so forth.

Usually this little clause in Shire-law wasn’t a problem. Hobbit families were as large as their holes, with multiple male heirs being born alongside a good number of sisters. Families passed down their holes through the generations and made it comfortable for the whole family to live there, barring removed cousins and unwelcome aunts.

But after Bungo Baggins moved away from his family’s hole to build a new one at the Top of the Hill, everything changed. For his wife, Belladonna Took, gave him only one girl.

Billa Baggin’s birth was a hard one, and it left her mother weak and shivering. Rather than risk another disastrous birth like the one that almost took his daughter and his wife, Bungo Baggins decided to keep Billa’s gender a secret so that she could inherit Bag End instead of it going to those nasty Sackville-Baggins’s.

He made the decision without consulting his wife and so, when it was time to present Billa to the gathered hobbits of Hobbiton, Bungo almost gave his weak wife a heart attack when he presented her darling baby girl as a small, writhing boy-hobbit. There were many tense nights in Bag-End after that. Bungo tried to explain to his wife what a mess it would be if they were to present Billa as a girl and Belladonna tried to explain to her husband that she would not allow him to spread lies about her daughter if only to protect the family hobbit-hole.

In the end, Bungo won the argument when Lobelia Sackville-Baggins came to visit, grumbling about how she wished Belladonna had birthed a girl so she could one day inherit all of Bag-End. Belladonna promptly kicked her out the door and locked it quickly, running to her daughter and folding her tightly in her arms.

“I hope for your sake, my dear Billa, that the laws will change.” She whispered into her thick tufts of blonde hair. “And know that all this I did for you.” She fell into her chair, crying into her daughter’s hair. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in her neck, feeling Billa’s fingers clench in her curls. “I’m so sorry.”

And so it was that Billa became Bilbo and the sole heir of Bag-End who was a girl became a boy in the eyes of all hobbits. Bungo, Belladonna, and Gandalf were the only three who knew her secret – Gandalf discovered it after visiting Belladonna and knocking on her door to have a naked hobbit lass answer the door with curious green eyes – and the only ones who dared address her by her real name.

Despite the secret she was forced to keep, Billa grew up rather normally. She enjoyed playing with the boy hobbits more than she did the girls, and she became fast friends with Hamfast Gamgee who, despite his average appearance, always seemed a little too clever for his own good. He cornered Billa one day when they were five, pulling her away from everyone else and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Bilbo, huh?” he asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Billa gulped, the cautious words of her parents burning in her sharp, pointed ears. “Yes.”

She tipped her chin up and tried to look fierce, but the result was more endearing then it was frightening and it earned her a smile out of Hamfast rather than the frown she was expecting.

“Okay, then,” he said, nodding amiably, but with a special something sparkling in his eye. “I’ll keep your secret.”

And so it was that Billa found herself a staunch protector, a strong hobbit who rebuffed any would-be tormenters and kept a silent vigil by her side.

Despite her true gender, Billa found herself enamored with both boys and girls as a young hobbit, and she made a point to go out with both as often as she could. She dated a young girl named Bell for a few months when they were in their tweens before kissing a boy named Markso in the field behind his house. Bell later married Hamfast and Markso found a nice hobbit named Jax and they both fell in love and lived happily ever after while Billa was left to ponder a great many things about her own character.

Despite the gender roles of the Shire and the backwards laws that kept females from owning property, homosexuality was seen as a rather normal thing as those couples who could produce no heirs always had extended family who would inherit their homes after they passed. What wasn’t normal for hobbits and, indeed, rather frowned upon, was the practice of bachelorhood.

Females who never married – and, yes, there were always a few who didn’t – lived in their cousins hobbit holes and spent their lives yearning for husbands, or so the general populace of the Shire would have young lasses believe. In truth, those females seemed just as happy as their male bachelor counterparts.

To those who never married, bachelorhood was seen as lifestyle choice. And to those who had married, it was deemed odd and unnatural. And so it came to be that Bilbo Baggins, formerly Billa Baggins, was shunned by pleasant society and left alone in the hobbit hole that she had shed her true identity to live in.

Truth be told, she didn’t mind all that much. Growing up as a girl forced into being a boy had, indeed, taken its toll on her psyche, and left many unpleasant thoughts lingering about her person. She was tempted to give it all up and renounce the farce that was her life after her parents passed, but let her rogue temper pass in favor of keeping Bag-End and all its possessions. She resigned herself to a life of sitting quietly about the same time a wizard came knocking at her door, muttering vague nonsense about dwarves and adventures and the unpleasantness that was Billa’s hidden identity.

Of course, Billa didn’t believe him. She let Gandalf walk off with nothing but a headshake or two in his direction, and was quite surprised when he reappeared not a week later with a dozen or so dwarves in tow.

And that was how she found herself with a houseful of dwarves calling her Bilbo and Boggins and Master Bilbo Baggins and tracking mud all over her carpet. They ate everything in her pantry – a great, almost unnatural feat as Billa’s pantries were the talk of the Shire for how well she kept them filled – threw her dishes around, and talked a great deal about dragons and elves and some other things that sounded quite unpleasant to a gentle-hobbit like Billa.

It wasn’t until the leader of their company arrived that Billa even let herself considered the possibility of going with them. The leader, Thorin Oakenshield as Gandalf called him, was a rude, boorish dwarf with wild, unkempt hair and horrible manners for a supposed King. But Billa found herself drawn to him like a moth to a flame. There was something about his person that called to her. Something about his bearing that gave her pause as she considered him.

It wasn’t until later that she realized exactly what she sensed about him and why she felt herself straining towards him. It was the air of his being, the cautiously confused thread of his identity that she found herself leaning towards. She recognized her soul in his and the case of mistaken identity that united them both.

Thorin was a King forced into the role of an all but unknown common dwarfish blacksmith.

Billa was a female hobbit forced into the role of a male land-owner without a soul to speak her secret to.

And so it was that Billa woke up the next morning in her empty house and hurriedly packed a bag, flying out the door with every intention of catching up to Thorin Oakenshield and his Company and joining them on their wild journey to take back Erebor.

*

Due to the time constraints of their journey and the dangerous nature of what she was doing, Billa was forced to keep her identity a secret, if only to keep her place in the Company. She had joined with the hope of sharing her secret, but was quickly put in her place by a worried wizard who feared that if she told them, they would only make her turn around.

“If you wish to tell them after the journey, you may do so.” he told her, resting a large hand on her shoulder. “But keep it secret for now. These dwarves are proud and quick to judge. I do not want them to make snap decision for you based on something they considered a weakness.”

Weakness,” she sniffed, kicking at the rocks in her path. “Being born a female is no more a weakness than being born a male is. I, for one, am glad I am a girl because at least I don’t have to walk around with a piece of meat between my legs pretending it doesn’t make all my decisions for me.”

The last part was muttered more to herself than to Gandalf, but he heard her anyway and laughed heartily, drawing the curious eyes of the rest of the Company. Billa stormed after from the chortling wizard in a huff and caught up with Bombur, with whom she had been having a nice conversation on the benefits of smoking meat before Gandalf had so rudely interrupted.

But keeping her secret was easier said than done.

Over the next few weeks, Billa worked hard to keep the dwarves in the dark, cutting corners and making all kinds of messes to make sure they were unaware of her real gender.

For example, when the dwarros washed, Billa held back, much to the teasing of her dwarfish companions.

“Come on in, Bilbo!” Fili and Kili – the two Princes who, to Billa’s surprise, had taken to her rather quickly compared to the rest of the Company – called from the middle of the small river. “The water’s fine!”

“No thank you!” she hollered back, cupping her hands over her mouth. “I’m quite fine here, thanks.”

She did dip her toes in to please the others, but found a few hard eyes watching her, suspicion forming in their narrowed brows.

Dwalin approached her not long after.

“How come you will not wash?” he asked bluntly, crossing his large arms over his even larger chest.

“How come you care so much?” she snapped, scurrying away before he could think to reply and throwing herself into a conversation with Bofur.

Ori caught her on watch one night, cutting her hair with the help of a reflective shard of glass she’d found while they were traveling.

“What are you doing that for, Mister Baggins?” he asked, giving her a good scare as she held her hair in one fist and a knife lifted from Bifur in the other.

“Don’t scare me like that,” she said in a mutter, grumbling about the sleeping patterns of dwarves and whether or not they could sleep through the night without getting up to do something.

“Are you cutting your hair, Mister Baggins?” Ori sat down beside him, yawning a little and scratching at his eyes.

“Yes, Master Ori,” Billa replied curtly, jerking the knife through her curls until they scattered, cut and unbound, into the wind.

“Why?” he asked quietly.

He could feel his gaze on her head and the great abundance of curls there.

Hobbit hair grew quickly, female hair even more so. As a child, Belladonna had to cut Billa’s hair every other week to keep it from growing past her shoulders and giving her already feminine face the push it needed to be recognized as that of a girl’s. Billa hadn’t given her hair much thought before she’d run out of her home, but she figured she would know when to cut it by the feel of it brushing against her shoulders. Hobbit boys usually kept it close, no longer than their shoulders, and so that was how Billa wore it, despite everything girlish within her that wanted to let it grow wild down past her shoulders.

“Because I have to,” she responded, pulling the knife once more through her hair before sighing and letting it fall.

“Now is not the time for vanity, Master Baggins,” Thorin growled, startling Billa and Ori both as he stormed past them and into the dark woods beyond their clearing.

Flushing, Billa retired to her bedroll and let Thorin take the next watch, running a hand self-consciously through her curls.

There was one terrifying moment with the trolls where Billa’s secret was almost revealed. It happened when the trolls were stripping them out of their clothes, leaving only their basic underthings on before stuffing them into thick burlap sacks.

Billa cried out as the trolls advanced on her, panic sending her heart into a flurry in her chest. She wore underclothes yes, but she also wore a tight binder across her chest that would be visible the minute they took her coat and tunic off. She struggled viciously against them, going so far as to scream loudly and bite a finger that moved too close to her before the trolls got tired of her behavior and threw her roughly into a sack.

“You must’ve been really scared of those trolls,” Bofur said to her after helping her out of her tight sack. “You wouldn’t let them touch ye.”

“They’re just so big compared to me.” Billa brushed her clothes down primly, straightening her coat and taking care to make sure her binder was still snug around her breasts. “I thought for sure if they touched me they would break me in half before they even realized it.”

“Makes sense,” Bofur nodded, but there was a gleam in his eye that Billa did not at all like. It reminded her too much of Hamfast’s expression before he cornered her that day in the Shire.

Billa thought for sure she would be discovered at Rivendell.

The dwarves knew no privacy and when Lord Elrond showed her to a room separate from the lodgings of the Company, Billa relaxed slightly, allowing the carefully constructed boundaries she put up during her long life fall. Something about Lord Elrond’s smile when he greeted her and the easy way he talked to her whenever they were alone, made her think he knew of her true identity and that he was doing his best to make her feel welcome. She felt warm and safe in the knowledge that someone other than Gandalf knew she was a woman, so that if she died on this journey, at least someone would know the truth, beyond that which she told the other dwarves.

And so it was that Billa was taking a bath in a large copper tub provided for her by Lord Elrond, when Nori came bouncing in, muttering something about Ori and Dwalin and the proper courting methods of dwarves.

“Come on, Bilbo!” he called to her, kicking open the bathroom door and gesturing wildly. “There are pranks that need playing. No time to lose!”

“Eru save me!” Billa screamed, ducking far beneath the water’s surface, grateful for the great pile of bubbles covering her from head-to-toe.

“Well?” Nori said impatiently, propping his hands on his hips. “Are you coming or not?”

“Give me a moment!” she shouted, shooing him out the door before taking a moment to thank all the gods above that her breasts had been covered by the bubbles.

The next morning, she and Oin were walking through Rivendell’s garden, taking stock of the flowers and discreetly picking some healing herbs that may prove helpful on their journey. Fili and Kili quickly joined them and whisked Billa away under the pretense that Thorin wished to speak with her.

Billa found herself worrying a little as the Princes took her farther and farther away from the lodgings of the Company, but there was little she could do to stop the mischievous brothers as they drew her towards their destination. She felt the hot springs before she saw them, stepping over the ground as Fili and Kili pushed her onwards over pockets of steam rising gently from the ground. She started struggling just a moment too late, for they had already reached the springs. Before she knew it, the Princes were throwing her in, holding her over a startlingly steep drop before releasing her into a pool where the rest of the Company was already gathered.

She came up out of the water sputtering, only to be further drenched when Fili and Kili – completely naked and not the least bit ashamed – followed her into the springs with twin whoops of laughter.

She glared at the Princes as hard as she could, feeling a bit like a Shire kitten left out in a rainstorm. Apparently the Company shared her sentiment, for they started laughing heartily, pulling a blush from her cheeks and an amused “humph!” from her lips.

“Come on, Bilbo, don’t be shy!” Bofur crowded in close to her sides, knocking his legs against hers.

“I am not shy, thank you very much,” she said, sliding away from him. “I’m just – just –”

“A prude?” Kili supplied and the Company fell into another round of laughter.

“Ha ha,” she said, glaring at the soaked Prince, but even her lips twitched a little at the remark.

She refused to remove her soaked clothes, much to the disappointment of the Company, and waited until there were only a few dwarves remaining in the pools before hauling herself out of the water and making a beeline for the halls of Rivendell.

She found her room and locked herself inside, pushing a desk chair up under the doorknob just in case, and took off her soaked clothes, leaving them in the bathroom to dry. She even took off her binder and massaged her breasts, curling underneath the covers of the Elf-sized bed Lord Elrond had provided her with every intention of sleeping for the next week or so.

It was by some miracle that she was up and dressed when Thorin came for her, breaking open her door with no small amount of cursing and striding furiously into her room when she did not immediately answer her door.

“We are leaving,” he said sharply just as she was pulling on her coat. Binder in place and tunic and blouse safely covering it, Billa nodded at him and pulled on the worn red cotton. She grabbed her pack from off the bed and followed him out the door to where the rest of the Company waited, nodding at them before silently falling in line.

She was a little sad to leave Rivendell and the soft feeling of security it had given her, but she was more upset to leave Gandalf and Lord Elrond behind, the only two people she felt totally comfortable discussing her true identity with. Mistaking her reluctance to leave Gandalf as a yearning for the safety of the Homely House, Thorin was waspish with her and entirely too rude, going so far as to wish her back to the Shire.

“He’s been lost ever since he left home,” he said with a glare in her direction, eyes burning with a malice she did not understand, nor deserve.

She stiffened her trembling chin and followed him anyway, until at last they reached the cave where Billa felt she could safely leave them all behind. It was only when Bofur stopped her that all her suspicions were confirmed in the worst possible kind of way.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, grabbing Billa’s arm as she made a move to leave.

Billa made to twist away from him and his hand grabbed something else instead, startling a fearful gasp out of her and a hurried apology out of him.

“Sorry!” He released her immediately, backing away with his hands in the air as if he was afraid she would slap him. “Sorry, I’m so sorry!”

Billa took one look at his remorseful expression and folded, shrugging her shoulders with a sheepish smile in his direction. “It’s alright,” she whispered, rubbing her hand down her arm. “It was an accident.”

The air was quiet between them for a moment as Bofur’s eyes widened and he lowered his hands slowly by his sides.

“So it’s true, then?” he asked, moving towards her. “You’re a . . .?”

He trailed off and gestured down at her chest, having the good grace to a look at least a little bit ashamed.

She laughed quietly at his expression and nodded tightly. “Yes,” she said in confirmation. “I am.”

“Mahal’s hammer,” he breathed.

But instead of looking disappointed or even disgusted, he just looked upset and even a little awed as his hand rested gently on Billa’s shoulder.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” he asked and Billa blinked in confusion, everything she knew about dwarves and her role as a pretend-male-hobbit collapsing in a grandiose pile at her feet.

“What?” she replied dumbly because her brain had betrayed her and left her with nothing else to say.

But before Bofur could respond, the floor broke inwards and the whole lot of them fell down into the depths of Goblintown. Billa managed to break away from the main group and had every intention of following after them with her small letter-opener of a sword. But she was sidetracked when a nasty goblin jumped on her head and she fell even further into the darkness.

There she met a nasty creature and found an even nastier ring that proved quite useful in her escape from those dark tunnels. By the time she managed to find a way out, the Company had moved far down the hill and were discussing her whereabouts with worried expressions.

She caught up to them in time to hear Thorin declare in a scornful, booming voice, “He is long gone.”

She stopped dead at the fierce expression on his face and for a moment she actually thought about leaving them. But then she saw Bofur’s dismayed face and the sad, disheartened expressions of the Princes, and decided against it, pride puffing up her chest and giving her the strength she needed to pull the ring off her finger.

Her sudden appearance gave the group a right shock, but she managed to soothe them well enough, addressing them all – but mostly Thorin – when she said. “That’s why I came back. Cause you don’t have one; a home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.”

 If maybe she saw something other than malice glittering in Thorin’s eyes when he next looked at her, she chalked it up to wishful thinking more than anything.

She endured their gazes as long as she could before the war-horn of the orcs brought them all crashing back down to reality. It wasn’t until later when Thorin stormed down the length of the tree to face his enemy that she realized just what a mistake she’d made falling in with this Company.

“Of all the loving –!” She threw herself after him without another thought for her own well-being.

She managed to kill the orc who held his sword above Thorin’s head and she stood tall in front of him as the Pale Orc assessed her with his cold, beady eyes.

“Kill the Halfling,” he muttered in his guttural tongue and Billa prepared herself for a painful death.

But it was at that moment that the rest of the Company, inspired by Billa’s act of selflessness, threw themselves at the orcs and managed to beat them off until the Eagles came to whisk them to safety.

Billa had been picked up by an Eagle and was just settling comfortably on its back when an arrow, fired by an orc at the unprotected back of the Eagle, struck her in the side. The shaft went straight through her hip and she cried out loudly, folding herself around the painful wound.

“Bilbo!” Someone, probably Bofur, called for her when they heard her cry out, but she didn’t respond, breathing deeply through her nose to try and quell the panic burning up through her gut.

Bilbo didn’t know much about orc arrows, but she assumed from the lack of sticky residue on the arrowhead that it wasn’t poisoned – thank Eru. But the shaft was poking straight through her hip, throbbing painfully with every beat of heart. Rather than pull the arrow out and risk bleeding out on the back of an Eagle, she snapped the two ends off and quickly wrapped her coat around the wound, binding it tightly and covered it with the long end of her tunic so the others wouldn’t notice.

Bofur was on her as soon as they landed, shaking her lightly with a frantic, worried gaze.

“I heard you scream,” he said after he released her, frowning heavily. “Are you alright?”

“Need me to look over you, lad?” Oin asked, his blasted horn turned in Billa’s direction.

“No, no.” She waved him off, paling considerably. “I’m fine. Almost fell off is all. Gave me a right scare, it did.”

In all her years of pretending to be a boy, Billa had grown particularly good at lying. So it was easy enough to convince the both of them that she was fine and that she hadn’t been injured in any way during the fight. They both dismissed her the minute Thorin started to move and she fled to the back of the Carrock, trying resolutely to ignore the painful throb of the arrow still stuck in her side.

“The Halfling?” Thorin breathed the minute his eyes were open, and Billa cringed, preparing herself for the worst.

Instead of a thrashing, she got a hug. And instead of a verbal berating, she got a few quick words of gratitude, along with a stream of fervent apologies.

“It’s alright,” Billa waved him off as gently as she could, trying not to let him see just how much his hug had jostled the arrow in her side and set her teeth clenching tightly.

He gave her a skeptical look, but nodded tightly, turning to let Oin assess and bandage his own injuries.

The made it down the Carrock in surprisingly good time, camping at its base with their backs pressed defensively against the stone. Billa took the first watch, gritting her teeth as she waited for the last of the dwarves to fall asleep before she rushed away from camp and into the woods where she could just make out the faint babbling of a brook.

She collapsed on the rocky shore and began ripping off her tunic, clenching her teeth around the shout that threatened to rip from her throat. She took off her coat and her shirt, leaving her binder on as she carefully unwrapped the faux bandages she had tied around her waist. She sucked in a breath when the wound was exposed to the air, the flesh red and puffy around the wooden shaft of the arrow.

“Okay, Billa, you can do this,” she breathed, closing shaky hands around the shaft of the arrow.

She knew that bandages around her waist would only serve to bring about the suspicions of the company, so with a heavy heart Billa resigned herself to cauterizing the wound, treating it with all the careful medical knowledge she’d learned from Oin the last few weeks of the quest.

She threw on her coat and returned back to the camp, grabbing the knife she’d filched from Bifur and holding it over the fire until the end turned red hot. She ran back to her small camp by the brook and held her breath, twisting the end of her sleeve and stuffing it in her mouth.

Then, without a moment to rethink her actions, Billa ripped the arrow shaft out of her hip, biting down around the scream that threatened to explode out of her. She let herself writhe in pain for a few seconds before she grit her teeth and pressed the edge of her knife against the profusely bleeding wound.

Burning, all-consuming, horrifying, and relentless pain flushed through her torso and she screamed into her coat sleeve, tears leaking from her tightly clenched eyes.

She must have blacked out because the next minute she was lying in the shallow brook, her nose just barely above the water’s surface. Groaning, she sat up, reaching down to feel the mottled skin of her hip. The pain surfaced again and she clenched her muscles against it, fighting the blackness that threatened to overtake her vision.

Carefully, carefully, she cleaned the tissue around her hip, feeling for her knife and sticking it in the water to cool. She washed the blood from her tunic and coat and checked to make sure her binder was securely tightened before she stood to head back to camp.

She made it back just as pink was coloring the sky and the others were stirring into consciousness.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” Fili grumbled from his brother’s side, sitting up and glaring half-heartedly at Billa as she stumbled back into camp. “I was supposed to watch after you.”

“You needed sleep,” she said blearily, stumbling over to her bedroll and collapsing into a sitting position.

Fili eyed her suspiciously and turned to whisper something to his brother. Billa ignored them both and turned to find Thorin watching her, something appraising and secretive in his normally dark eyes.

The next few days passed in a blur of pain and walking as the Company made for Beorn’s house. Of course, none of them knew their destination at the time, only that they were headed somewhere safe to rest; the house of a friend who would take them in at Gandaf’s recommendation. Billa noticed Thorin’s eye on her through the entirety of the journey, his face drawn in an unusually concerned frown. She ignored his shift in attitude – although the glowering in her direction was still pretty much the same – and focused on trying to get Bofur to keep his secret.

“You can’t tell anyone!” she said to him, one night around the fire when the rest of the Company was asleep.

“Why not?” he asked, whining like a pouty little fauntling. “The Company would be mighty impressed, Bilbo! Mahal’s balls, you’re already one of us! Being a lass won’t make that any different.”

“Keep your voice down,” she hissed, reaching over to cover his mouth.

Bofur rolled his eyes and licked her palm and she scowled at him, muttering something about how she expected that from the Princes but not from the likes of him.

“If I can’t tell anyone, can I at least know you’re real name,” he asked when she’d settled a bit, still glaring at him from time to time, but with lessening intensity.

She sighed and conceded, rolling her eyes at his pathetically pleading expression. “Billa,” she said softly, looking around the sleeping bedrolls to make sure no one had heard her.

“Billa.” Bofur nodded with a thoughtful expression. “Suits ya,” he said at last.

“Gee thanks,” she muttered and he threw an elbow into her ribs.

They arrived at Beorn’s house and Billa relaxed a fraction, trying to let some of the walls she’d thrown up since Rivendell fall away. She went back to discussing politics with Balin, scolding the Princes, and talking recipes with Bombur. She let Ori ask her all kinds of questions about hobbit culture and even let Nori teach her how to pickpocket, if only so she could get a better knife than the dinged, broken piece of metal she’d taken from Bifur.

It wasn’t until Dwalin offered to teach her how to spar that things took a turn for the worst. Not wanting to look weak, she accepted his offer, much to Bofur’s concealed dismay.

“Your wounds are barely healed,” he hissed, catching her by the arm when she tried to brush past him and out into the yard where Dwalin waited.

“I’m fine, thank you,” she said pulling his arm sharply from her grip.

She had let Bofur act as an intermediary between her and Oin, showing him her wound so he could ask questions about its healing progress with Oin without raising too much suspicion. He’d whistled low and fierce when she showed him and almost dragged her off to Oin, but she’d thrown a proper tantrum until he’d released her and promised not to tell anyone.

Now, staring off with him in the hallway, she had the feeling he was right, but refused to back down, moving past him and out into Beorn’s yard. Half the Company was out there already, waiting with baited breath as she moved into the makeshift arena opposite Dwalin. He bared his teeth at her in a feral grin and Billa tried not to feel discouraged.

It took Dwalin less than thirty seconds to down her and less than five for the Company to realize she knew absolutely nothing when it came to swordplay. Mock-fighting quickly devolved into proper lessons with Fili, Kili, and even Thorin.

Around the fifth lesson, Dwalin deemed her proficient enough to actually start fighting. He seemed impressed with her progress despite the fact that she’d told him several times that hobbits were quick learners and extremely light on their feet. Rather than face off against Dwalin straight off, Billa was paired with Kili who was a good swordsman and, more importantly, lacked the muscle strength to lop her head off in one swing if he tried.

She could feel Bofur’s anxious gaze on her from the sidelines as she fought with Kili, using all the defensive moves she’d been taught and barely any of the offensive ones. She could feel herself growing hot and her limbs heavy with each movement, but she kept fighting, determined to prove herself to the Company.

Despite the pain in her side and the heaviness of her limbs and the burning sweat flowing down from her brow, she was doing okay. Until Kili landed a solid blow against her collarbone and knocked her clean across the yard, that is.

They had switched from sticks to blunted swords to the real thing after much practicing, so the wound wasn’t the first she had received during training. But it was, by far, the deepest, and the most painful.

Kili yelped in alarm, dropping his sword and rushing to her side. “Bilbo!”

She tried to sit up, to move for her sword, to do something other than lay flat on her back, but she was unable to move even a single muscle.

She closed her eyes and suddenly Kili was above her, pressing his fingers against the flow of blood.

“I just tapped him, Uncle,” he said over his shoulder, addressing someone moving quickly toward them. “I didn’t mean to hurt him, I swear!”

Kili moved away and then Thorin was above her, scooping her up into his arms and moving quickly towards Beorn’s house.

“Oin!” he called and the part of Billa that wasn’t bone-tired and in pain started panicking, struggling pitifully against Thorin’s grip.

“Let go,” she moaned, reaching up with numb fingers to pry at the hard hands latched around her waist. “Get off.”

“Hold still, Bilbo,” Thorin whispered, his voice entirely too soft as he bent to lay her in front of the fire.

“No!” she shouted, pushing back against Oin’s arms as he reached towards her. “No! Stop it!”

“We need to get her shirt off,” she heard him say to Thorin, his voice barely reaching her dim ears. “I need to see the wound. Clean it.”

“No!” She thrashed against Oin’s arms as he bent to remove her shirt. “No, no, NO, NO!”

“Bilbo!” That was Fili, or maybe Kili. It didn’t matter because all the voices were the same, pleading with her to stop struggling and let Oin take a look at her wound. The only voice she didn’t hear was Bofur’s and she knew he was off to the side somewhere, fretting over her wound and the big secret about to be revealed.

The struggling stopped when a strong pair of arms circled her waist, pulling her into someone’s lap. Her back fell against a warm, solid chest and she knew immediately that Thorin held her, his warmth enveloping her from head to toe. She struggled a moment more before sighing in defeat, and turning her head against his shoulder.

“Relax,” Thorin breathed into her ear and she trembled as she felt Oin’s fingers tugging at her shirt. “He’s just going to look at the wound. It’s fine, Bilbo. No one’s mad. It’s fine. Everything’s –”

His voice died when a sharp gasp cut through the room as Billa’s shirt fell away to reveal the wound and the binder beneath. She opened her eyes to meet Oin’s shocked gaze, felt his fingers run over the wound before jerking away from her sharply.

“Mahal!” he murmured, blinking in surprise. “Bilbo’s a girl!”

The room fell silent save the crackling of the fire as the gaze of thirteen dwarves fell upon Billa and the binder around her chest. Tearing up, she turned her head away from them, fighting against the strong arms that held her down.

“Let go,” she breathed, ignoring the steady stream of blood staining the white fabric across her chest. She pulled again at Thorin’s arms, surprised when they did not yield. “Let go!” she hissed.

“Oin!” Thorin’s sharp voice cut through Billa’s panic and the healer jerked sharply, eyes flashing up to his king.

“Yes, Thorin?” he asked, lifting the horn to his ear and angling it in his direction.

“Clean the wound,” he said, nodding at Billa. His chin rubbed against the top of her head and she shuddered slightly, letting herself fall back into his arms without struggle. “Bind it and check the one on her hip.”

“The one on her –?” His words ended in a sharp Khuzdul curse and a low appreciative whistle. “By my beard, lass, that’s some fine work there.”

“Do it now,” Thorin said sharply and Oin nodded, running over to his bedroll to rummage through his sack full of herbs.

“The rest of you.” Thorin addressed the Company and they all looked at him at once, trying hard not to be caught staring at Billa with shocked, flushed gazes. “Find Gandalf and bring him here at once. Find our host too, and ask him about provisions for the rest of our journey. Hopefully, he’ll give us enough to last through Mirkwood.”

Nori blinked, mouth falling open in shock. “But –?” he said, looking to Billa with wide eyes. “She –?”

“Go!” he ordered and the dwarves scattered quickly, leaving Thorin, Billa, and Oin alone.

Oin knelt in front of Billa and began cleaning her wound, humming a gentle tune to calm Billa’s nerves as well as his own.

It was a few minutes before she could work up the courage to speak.

“You knew.”

It wasn’t a question, nor an accusation. Just a simple statement of fact.

Thorin’s arms tightened around her and he shuffled her backwards into his chest, easing them both into a more comfortable position. “I caught you cauterizing the wound.” His fingers brushed lightly across her hip, startling a shiver out of them both. “I followed you into the woods to try and apologize for my earlier behavior. You took off your shirt and I, well . . .” His voice trailed off and he cleared his throat a few times before he could speak. “I was very surprised, to say the least.”

Billa giggled despite herself, covering her mouth with one hand when Thorin tipped his chin down over her forehead. “Sorry, sorry. Just.” She chuckled quietly for a minute before she found the words to describe her amusement. “Gave you a right shock, didn’t I?”

Thorin snorted, arms jostling her gently. “That’s a bit of an understatement.” Then he sighed. “By the time I realized what you were doing, it was too late to stop you. You passed out and after I made sure you would not drown face-down in that brook, I went back to camp.”

“Didn’t even bother to help me up,” Billa grumbled quietly, a teasing tone to her voice.

“If I moved you, you might have woken up. And I was scared what you would do to me once you knew I found out,” he admitted quietly.

Billa snorted. “What I would do to you?” she asked, trying to spin around in his arms to look at him. “Whatever do you mean by that?”

Thorin met her questioning gaze with a raised eyebrow. “You are a woman,” he said simply. “You could turn me inside out if you wished. I will admit I was – and still am – a little afraid of your ire.”

“What the –?” Billa spluttered, frowning when Oin turned her around so he could reach behind her to bandage her wound. “What on Middle-Earth are you talking about?”

She felt Thorin’s confusion in the tense line of his shoulders. “Dwarven women are the fiercest of warriors. When dwarves go to war, we leave our women behind to guard our homes for they are the most savage and brutal of our race. They will protect their young at any cost and are not afraid to hurt anyone and anything that stands as a threat to them.” Thorin relaxed a little, shaking his head as a soft laugh bubbled up from his chest. “I once saw my sister decapitate a mountain bear three times her size. It was the scariest thing I ever saw, and, to this day, I still have nightmares about it.” Then he stopped, tilting his chin down over her head as if he was trying to look down at her.

“Why? Are Shire women not the same?”

Billa couldn’t help it. She started laughing. She laughed long and loud and so hard it drew the attention of the rest of the Company. They poked their heads out of whatever hidey-holes they’d stuffed themselves into and startled Oin as he wound the last of the bandages around her shoulder. Gandalf and Beorn returned to hear the tail-end of Billa’s laughter, listening to it fade and break off into sputtering sentences followed by high, childish giggles.

“So. Back then?” Billa could barely contain herself to ask the question. “When they realized, I was a girl . . ?”

Thankfully Thorin seemed to know where she was going. “They were scared of you, aye. Here we’ve been, treating you like one of the guys while, all this time, you were a women, a force to be reckoned with. A goddess to fear, if you will.”

“A goddess!” That squeezed another round of laughter out of Billa and she felt the air change as the Company relaxed back into her presence, settling around her as they waited for the last of her laughter to fade away.

“Eru save me!” she breathed when at last she was calm enough to speak. “And here I thought you were all just staring at my chest.”

The Company let out a noise of protest, shouting out shocked and insulted cries spawned from their strong dwarven pride.

“I would never!”

“Uncle would box our ears if we even dared!”

“I would never attempt such a thing, milady.”

“Please don’t hurt us!”

“Alright, enough!” Thorin cut them all off and set Billa off his lap, draping his fur coat around her shoulders. “We have no reason to act differently around Bilbo –”

He paused then and looked down at her.

“Billa,” she corrected with a smile, smug with happiness knowing that she could do so.

Billa now that we know she is a woman,” he said. “She has traveled this far without a word against us, and I believe she will continue to prove a valuable asset to our company.”

A loud cheer went up around the room, slightly nervous and wavering on the part of the dwarves.

“Gandalf?” Thorin addressed the wizard who sat up sharply, smoking his pipe in the corner with an amused expression on his face. “You knew Billa was a girl before you recommended her to me, correct?”

“Indeed, Master Oakenshield.” Gandalf nodded, throwing a wink in Billa’s direction. “I have known Billa since she was a babe. There is no one better suited to the job of burglar than our dear Billa Baggins.”

“Billa!” Ori cried out, turning to her with a great smile on his face. “That’s a cute name!”

“Shut up!” Dori hissed, grabbing his arm, but Billa laughed, smiling at the young scribe with everything she had.

“Thanks, Ori,” she said and he nodded amiably, pulling his arms away from his brother and leaning into Dwalin’s side.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Fili piped up from somewhere behind his Uncle.

“Yeah!” Kili moved through the crowd of dwarves, face folded in a childish pout. “We would’ve wanted to know.”

Thorin opened his mouth to scold his nephews but Billa shook her head, smiling kindly at Kili. “I was afraid of how you would react.”

That caused another uproar in the Company.

“What?”

“Whatever do you mean, Bilbo? I mean, Billa!”

“We wouldn’t have made you leave or anything. Hell, we tried to convince Uncle to let us bring Mum along, but he wouldn’t have it. Our Company’s better off with the smarts a woman can provide, I said, but he just wouldn’t listen!”

Billa took a deep breathe, silencing the dwarves with a light glare. “Let me explain,” she said slowly, making sure to catch the eyes of each and every one of them.

They listened to her story with appropriate pity and outrage, frowning at the backwards ways of the Shire and vowing to take up arms against anyone who dared to say Billa was less than the dwarrows for simply being a female. Billa’s heart swelled as she looked at them and her heart gave a great sigh of relief as they talked amongst themselves about how brave she’d been cauterizing her own wound and keeping her secret to herself.

Over the crowd, Billa met Bofur’s eyes and nodded, quickly looking away when a gleam of I-told-you-so began to flash tauntingly in his dark eyes. She ate heartily with the rest of the Company and went to sleep, surprised to find Thorin pulling his bedroll beside hers.

“What’s this?” she asked, sitting up and fighting against the sleep that threatening to take her.

“Since the truth is finally out, I believe I can start apologizing now,” he said with a secret smile, drawing the edge of his bedroll flush against hers. “Seems I am indebted to you, Billa Baggins. And I intended to repay it in full.”

Billa went to sleep that night with his eyes warm on her face and a smile spread wide across her lips. Her heart fell in with the dwarves as they rallied around her despite the fact that she was a female.

A girl could get used to this, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

*

Despite her revelation, nothing really changed about the air of the Company. If anything, she was treated better for being Billa than she had been for being Bilbo. She learned from Balin that dwarven women were, in fact, angry four-foot goddesses of war with generally more kills under their belts than even the toughest of the male warriors. It made Billa smile to hear it and she wished desperately to meet a dwarven woman, but resigned herself to traveling without a female companion.

They left Beorn’s and headed for Mirkwood, stopping before they entered its gloomy darkness. Gandalf left them – much to Billa’s dismay – and they continued on, scaring themselves silly in the darkness, running into spiders and elves and all kinds of crazy. They spent more time than Billa would have liked trapped in Thranduil’s woodland realm, but they finally escaped – thanks to her brilliant stroke of genius – in emptied old wine barrels. To say Billa was less than thrilled by their watery exit was a bit of an understatement. But to say that she hadn’t enjoyed it . . . well, that would just be a bold-faced lie.

Before they left the Woodland realm, Billa had watched Kili and Tauriel, smiling every time they talked. She relished teasing Kili over his crush as they moved away from Mirkwood, ignoring the glowers Thorin sent her way with every mention of Kili’s elf-crush.

Something else had changed in the Company just before they’d left the realm of the Wood-elves. Something between Billa and Thorin; something that charged the air between them and left a lot of room for longing stares and lingering touches.

She didn’t know when exactly it started. At the Carrock, perhaps. Maybe even before then. But sometime over the course of their journey, Billa Baggins had fallen for the King Under the Mountain. And, as far as Billa knew, the King Under the Mountain, had, indeed, fallen for her.

Things really came to a head in Laketown, in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin began stealing her away for whispered conversations, drawing her into shadowy arches and resting his hand on the small of her back.

“When this is all over,” he said to her one night as a man in a boat floated by to their left. “I want you to stay with me.”

“Bold, don’t you think,” Billa giggled over the butterflies in her stomach, dragging her eyes up from Thorin’s steel-toed boots to somewhere around his mouth.

“I mean it.” His eyes burned in the darkness.

“Mmhmm,” she hummed, stretching up onto her tiptoes. “Sure you do,” she whispered right up against his mouth.

But then came Smaug, and the silent battle for the Arkenstone, and Billa feared . . . she feared that Thorin’s mind had been lost forever.

So desperate was she to bring him back that she surrendered herself to his lusty gaze, tucking the acorn she’d been showing him back into her pocket and wrapping her arms around his neck.

They came together harshly, a twinge of desperation uniting them both. For a moment, Billa was sure she could draw Thorin back from the edge. And for a moment, Thorin was sure he was going to drag her down with him.

But, they parted, and Billa was left with no choice but to trade the Arkenstone to Bard and hope that Thorin deigned to spare her life. He did, barely, but only after nearly hurling her off the ramparts and sending her crashing against the stone bridge of Erebor.

“Are you alright, Billa?” Fili came to visit her after while his brother distracted Thorin in the treasury.

“I’m fine,” she sniffed, resting a hand over her stomach. It had been roiling uneasily since Thorin had banished her, singing out its discomfort as she tried to sleep in a tent back in in Dale.

“You look pale.” His hand came up to grab hers and he squeezed it softly, smiling tenderly when tears began to drop from her eyes.

“I love him,” she gasped, folding into his arms and resting her forehead against his shoulder. “I love him. I loved him. I love –”

“It’s okay, Billa. It’s alright.” Fili held her, rocking her slowly in his arms. “Shhh, it’s alright.”

“He gave you a parting gift, Halfling,” Thranduil said from the other side of the tent where he, Bard, and Gandalf were discussing strategy for the coming battle. “I suggest you give your love to his gift rather than waste it on the crazed King himself.”

Billa pulled away roughly, looking back and forth between a shell-shocked Fili and the smirking elven king.

It was at that moment that her stomach decided to revolt, forcing her to rush outside and dump her poor supper on the rough stone of a Dale walkway.

“You –!” Fili pointed at her as she came back inside, a hand over her mouth and the other wrapped around her stomach. “You cannot be!”

“Shut it.” She flopped back onto her cot, rolling away from Fili as he rested his hand on her shoulder. “Go away!”

“He’ll take you back!” The young prince murmured shaking her roughly, before drawing his hand back and shaking her lightly. “He has to! You’re carrying his –!”

“I’m not,” she hissed, pulling away from him and drawing her legs up into her chest. “Hobbit pregnancies are very different from those of a dwarf! We have to be strong and healthy before our bodies can even begin to conceive a child!”

“Is that why your kind are always so fat?” Fili asked, face scrunched in thought and Billa resisted the urge to smack him upside the head.

“But this is a dwobbit pregnancy,” Gandalf said, pinning her with a knowing look. “Things are guaranteed to be a little different, wouldn’t you say?”

“That would explain while you’re showing signs so quickly.” Fili was quick to prod her not-even-a-little-bit-inflated stomach.

“Eru take me!” Billa cried, throwing her hands up and rolling over on the mattress.

“We need to get her out of here.” Bard looked to Gandalf, dark eyebrows peaking up around his hairline. “If war really is coming, we need to make sure she’s well out of harm’s way by the time the orcs get here.”

“Piss off, Bard!” Billa shouted, crossing her arms over her chest. “And for the last time, all of you, I am not PREGNANT!”

But nobody seemed to be listening to her. Not even Fili, the Crown Prince who’d come with the express purpose of listening to her cry.

“We can protect her in Erebor,” he said sternly, raising himself up to his full four-foot-something height. “She will be treated with the utmost care and –”

“Your king just tried to have her thrown off a balcony!” Bard looked to Fili, resting one fisted hand on the knot of his hip. “I don’t doubt he’ll treat her well once he learns of her condition. It’s getting her there unharmed that might prove to be the problem.”

“He looked mighty handy with that bow earlier,” Thranduil put in unhelpfully.

“She is carrying Durin’s heir!” Fili growled, blonde brows twisting in fury. “If you’re suggesting she go live with any but her fellow kind –”

“So let her go live with the Halflings.” Thranduil waved his hand. “It is none of my concern. “However. Should she need to stop in Mirkwood, I would welcome her in our halls. If only to learn just how she escaped us the first time.”

Billa swallowed nervously at Thranduil’s appraising eye.

“Enough!” Gandalf shouted above the angry clamor that ensued. “I will accompany her back to the Shire!” He drew himself up to his full wizardly height, filling the tent’s confines with his pseudo-shadows. “Between your three groups” – he looked between Bard, Thranduil, and Fili, casting a dark eye at each of them – “and Dain’s incoming army, you should have the battle well in hand.”

“I will send an escort with you,” Thranduil said, bowing his head in the wizard’s direction. “It will be good to have a favor over the King should he survive the coming battle.” He looked to Billa. “If I protect his heir, he will owe me a debt.”

“Why you –!” Fili rumbled, but Billa drew him back with a hand on his shoulder.

“Fili,” she said softly, and all his protest ceased. “Listen.” She ran a hand over his hair, tugging the beads on the ends of his moustache lightly. “Thorin is not in his right mind. You know this. You’ve seen it.”

“But –”

“This is not the last you’ll see of me,” she promised, even as her heart cracked in two at the very thought. “When all this is over and when he has returned to himself, you can come and get me.” She laughed lightly, tugging on his moustache braids one last time. “You know exactly where I’ll be.”

“Billa.” Fili folded his arms around her, hugging her tightly to his chest. He released her when she fell away gasping for air and smiled lightly, rolling his eyes in the direction of his mountain home. “Kili’s going to be upset he missed this.”

“Don’t tell anyone, okay?” Billa bit her lip, drawing it between her teeth and gnawing on it softly. “If I really am –” She laid a hand over her stomach, unable to say the words. “If I’m really carrying Thorin’s child, please don’t tell him. Not yet, at least.”

“Can I tell Kili?” he asked, brows scrunching in a pained frown.

After a moment’s thought, Billa smiled. “If you think he can keep it secret.”

Fili’s shoulders slumped inward and he drew a hand across his eyes. “So no, then?”

Billa laughed, folding her arms once more around him. “Be safe,” she whispered, pulling back. “That goes for everyone.”

“I would’ve loved to call you Aunt,” Fili said, resting his forehead against hers. “I hope I will someday, Billa.”

A horn sounded across the plain separating Erebor from Dale and Fili straightened, stepping away from her and running a hand down his fancy armor.

“I wish you luck, Billa,” he said, holding her eyes with a meaningful stare. “And I await the day I will be able to bring you home to Erebor.”

If Billa waved him with away with tears in her eyes, the three men gathered on the opposite of the tent were kind enough not to mention it. And if, months later, when Gandalf dropped her off at Bag End, she was crying for a home that was no longer in the Shire he kindly didn’t say a word.

 

End Part One