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Zantulbasn Kondul

Chapter Text

The birth of her child had been a difficult one. Had Gandalf not been there… Belladonna didn’t want to dwell on such thoughts. The pregnancy had been harder than the others and after carrying for an additional five weeks, her body was too taxed to go through the hours of labor that finally started yesterday morning. Bella considered herself lucky that her son was laying in her arms, whole and hale.

Her Bilbo.

Bilbo was cuddled up to her breast where he nursed feverishly as his parents cooed over him. He was not yet a day old but he had no trouble when it came to feeding. Bilbo turned away when her milk ran dry and his mother gently moved him to her other breast, shushing him when he gave a small whine of protest.

“I know, little one, I know.” She soothed.

“Everything is horrible.” Bungo muttered, his wife humming in agreement. Bilbo’s little head (although it had felt like a watermelon not too long ago) searched frantically for her nipple before latching on with a quiet sigh. Belladonna laughed softly, trying not to jostle her son to much, and trailed her finger down his button nose. Her daze drifted to her son’s chest where a small birthmark lay.

Hobbits didn’t have birthmarks; Bella had first learned about them when she had traveled to Bree. It had been an unusually warm summer and many of the men living there could be seen going without a shirt and with their trousers rolled up past the knee. Some had odd marks on their backs or chests and Belladonna had asked Gandalf, whom she had been travelling with for her father would not let her travel alone, about them. She had been socked for she had heard stories from the Wandering Days of children, infants, with strange marks being born and being abandoned on the road. Whenever she had asked her elders and teachers why that was, they never gave her an answer and, since she had not passed her majority and the book keepers weren’t afraid of her yet, Belladonna was unable to access the histories from the Wandering Days. It was something she had been meaning to research but had been waylaid by plans of adventuring, both at home and beyond the borders of the Shire.

Something isn’t right about this mark… Bella thought as she traced a finger over the visible area, feeling the slightly raised skin. The black mark stood out against Bilbo’s soft, new fauntling skin, almost like a bruise, but Bilbo didn’t twitch at his mother’s prodding. Bella let her mind wander as she rubbed the mark.

 

“I sense magic on your son, Belladonna. I fear the road ahead will not be an easy one but I believe he will come out on the other side to accomplish great things.”

“What do you mean? He’s just a Hobbit.”

“That remains to be seen, Bungo. But I would be willing to guess that Bilbo isn’t just anything.”

 

“What do you make of Gandalf’s words?” Belladonna asked her husband, finger moving along the edge of the mark.

“I’m not sure. Talking in riddles isn’t something a man who wishes to help should do.” Bungo griped, showing (not for the first time) his annoyance with his wife’s friend. He moved his hand to rub his son’s head as Bilbo huffed quiet breaths against Belladonna’s breast where he had fallen asleep while eating.

“You don’t think…” she trailed off, watching one of Bilbo’s fists clench slightly as he dreamt. Bungo followed her gaze to the mark on their son’s chest.

“Bell… Those are just stories.” he sighed softly, not wanting to worry his wife but had the opposite result.

“No they’re not!” she snapped quietly. “There are stories that no one wants to tell, books that aren’t available to everyone!” Bella glared at her husband but it had no heat to it. She knew he had the same education that she had.

“I cannot disagree with that.” Bungo allowed, moving to sit closer to his wife. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, trying a different method to comfort her. “However. Our son was just born, you need to recover, and I have no plans to leave you and search for something that may or may not be there.” He told her gently. “Until we can confirm anything, we shouldn’t worry about it. Worrying will not make anything come true and it also won’t make anything disappear. So, until we learn anything, we just need to focus on Bilbo.”

Belladonna leaned into the warm weight of her husband but still felt fear moving in her gut. “Bungo, I’m scared.” She whispered, looking up at her husband with tears in her eyes. “What if people treat him like a freak because of his mark? What if they hurt him? Banish him? What if…”

Bungo turned is head and kissed his wife’s temple stopping her rant. Bella rested her head on her husband’s shoulder as he sighed and took a moment to think. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. Thankfully, Bilbo was still asleep and hadn’t been awoken by their speaking, his mouth slightly open.

“Bella…” Bungo sighed after a minute of silence, choosing his words carefully. He brought his free hand to cover hers that cradled their son, easily supporting Bilbo’s light weight. “If something were to happen and Bilbo was… different than other faunts, then I would do everything in my power to protect you two. You are my life and I would rather die than have something happen to either of you.”

Belladonna smiled slightly and tilted her head up to kiss her husband’s jaw.

“As it is now,” he continued, “nothing will be stopped by worrying about it.” Bungo repeated himself, not sure if Bella was hearing him. “Whatever will come of the magic in Bilbo will happen. Gandalf gave us no indication that there is anything we can do to stop it. So, unless he finds some way to stop whatever may happen to Bilbo, all we can do is love and raise him as our parents did with us.” He finished, giving Bella’s shoulders a light squeeze.

Bella looked down at her blanket covered legs, glancing up at Bungo through her lashes. “And…and what of his other words.”

“You have given me more than I would’ve expected.” He moved his hand to rub Bilbo’s head. Belladonna felt her chest clench in emotion when she saw the shining love in his eyes. “I cannot ask for anything more than that. You’ve given me the greatest gift already.”

Bella let out a watery laugh and leaned up toward her husband. “Come here, you lump.” Bungo leaned down to meet her, their son protected between them.

“I love you.”

“And I you, my dear.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo barely repressed a sigh as he opened the door of his smial to reveal (another) chuck of rotting meat. It had been the third in as many days and Bilbo was beginning to worry about the blasé attitude at the idea of wasting perfectly good food. It seemed like the tweens didn’t care about the warnings of their elders about preserving any leftover food for the winter. He turned away from the door to bring out a bucket of water and fresh rags from an alcove in the entryway that had been put there specifically for this purpose. He carefully wrapped the meat in a large rag, wrinkling his nose at the foul odor, and carried it around to the back garden to be disposed of later. He made a mental note to do just that, when he had the patience for it. Bilbo cut through His smial on his way back, grabbing some soap from the kitchen. Back on the front porch, Bilbo used a rag with the soap to work up a lather in the bucket and crouched down to start scrubbing the ilk from his porch and door.

You deserved this.

Bilbo sighed as a voice, much like his own but much darker and twisted, slithered its way into his mind, today would not be a good day. He would have to work to ignore it so he turned his focus back to the task at hand: rotting meat stuck in wood grains. He was quite lucky to catch it before the morning sun could completely dry the rotted meat to the wood.

He was nearly done with his task when he heard someone walk up to his gate. With his back to the gate, Bilbo waited for the person to announce their presence, hoping that it wasn’t another tween to throw another overripe fruit at him.

They’ll say their piece and move on. He reminded himself, scrubbing a bit harder at a stubborn bit. Bilbo ignored the first time a throat was cleared.

And the second.

On the third, Bilbo looked at the sky with a sigh of exasperation, dropping the rag back into the bucket, and offered a greeting. The person behind him proceeded to ramble on about mornings and in what form of good they should be, causing Bilbo to roll his eyes and stand. After pausing to rub his sore knees, Bilbo turned to glare at the man in front of him. This wasn’t going to be an easy morning…

“I wish you a good morning, Gandalf. But if you bring mischief and mayhem with you then I must insist that this is a morning to be good on.” Bilbo grumbled, straightening his vest.

The wizard seemed cheered by his response, leaning on his staff and smiling at the younger male. “I shouldn’t be surprised that you remember me, although I do not believe we’ve met in-”

“30 years, yeah.” Bilbo crossed his arms over his chest defensively, unsure of just what the wizard wanted yet but he didn’t think he wanted to know.

“Has it really been that long?” Gandalf asked, a curious look on his face. “Where has the time gone. I believe we have some catching up to do, may I come in for tea? We can chat about what we’ve been up to.” The old man’s eyebrows rose along with his request and Bilbo sighed, knowing it would be futile to deny him.

The Hobbit nodded and moved the bucket out of the entry way, yet another thing to clean when he had the will for it. Bilbo saw Gandalf’s eyes follow the movement but the man said nothing as he opened the gate for himself and climbed the short way up the stairs to the door. After the bucket was out of the way, Bilbo opened the door for the two of them, instructing his friend to leave his various things at the door and to wipe your feet if you don’t mind, thank you. He shuffled into the kitchen where he quickly pulled a kettle, thankfully already full of fresh water, over to the fire to boil and grab some cups for them (well, a teacup for him and a tankard for his too large guest.) Throwing some tea leaves into the kettle on his way by, Bilbo walked over to the table and placed the tankard in front of Gandalf before retrieving the kettle and setting it on a raised piece of stone to steep.

The two made awkward small talk (at least if you asked Bilbo) as they talked about what they’d been up to recently, Gandalf about his various adventures in the world and Bilbo about his mother’s prize winning tomatoes going missing before the competition every year.

He doesn't really care.

After a few minutes, Bilbo pulled the kettle off the stone and poured the tea, each reaching for their preferred additive that sat on the table. After taking a sip of tea and feeling the warmth in his hands and bloom in his chest, Bilbo decided to address the Oliphant in the room.

“What brings you here, Gandalf? We both know this isn’t a social visit.”

“What makes you say that?” Gandalf protested, looking affronted.

“Had it been five years, yes, ten years, maybe. But I haven’t seen you nor have I gotten word of you in decades and much has happened since we’ve last spoke.”

Gandalf sighed, a look of regret on his face as he wrapped his hands around his tankard of tea. “I do apologize for that. The death of your parents did not reach me for a long time and once I had I made too many attempts to distract myself that the thought of anyone left behind afterwards escaped me.”

At the mention of his parents, Bilbo felt himself deflate and could not bring it upon himself to say something cruel to the man. They were his parents as well but his mother had been friends with Gandalf since she was a faunt and Bilbo knew that if anyone felt their loss on the same level as he, it would be Gandalf. “I understand. I found myself looking for distractions as well after their passing.”

Your fault.

He reached up to fiddle with a piercing in his left ear, an unconscious action that gave him some form of comfort at times. “The years since that winter have been hard and I fear I may have grown bitter in that time.”

Gandalf glanced at the piercing when Bilbo moved to it and the smaller man quickly moved his hand back around his cup. “And how has that been going?” Another glance at the piercing.

Bilbo sniffed and looked away from the man across from his. “As fine as it can be, I suppose.”

“How fine would that be? When was your last shift?” Gandalf continued when his first question was ignored. The second one had the same treatment as the first but Gandalf repeated himself, undeterred.

“Two months.” Bilbo muttered before seeming to draw himself up and glaring at the man across form him. “But I don’t see how that is any business of yours. How often I shift is not important to anyone other than myself.” He snapped. His hands gripped the cup between them tightly, reveling in the sharp pinch of a stray splinter piercing his palm as he felt the muscles on his back ripple and bunch, ready to react if needed. Bilbo focused on the momentary flash of pain and took a steadying breath and looked away from his guest, not wanting to show him how true his words were.

“Two months?” the wizard repeated, shocked. “Bilbo, that is far too long to go between shifts! What has made you wait so long?” His face was one of pure concern and care for Bilbo’s wellbeing.

Lies.

“I remember as a child, even after you got the piercing, your parents couldn’t keep you from running around in your-”

What brings you here, Gandalf.” Bilbo bit out through his teeth, cutting off Gandalf. He met the man’s gaze evenly, challenging him to say anything more.

Gandalf sighed heavily, leaning forwards to rest his elbows on the table. (Bilbo’s gaze flicked to the offending body parts but decided to pick his battles and let it go.) He took a slow sip of tea before moving the tankard off to the side and gave Bilbo a serious look. “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure.”

Bilbo felt his stomach drop. “I’m sorry? I don’t believe I heard you correctly. An adventure?” The hobbit shook his head. “Gandalf, I cannot leave the Shire.”

“And why ever not?”

“I fear they would not have me back. Adventuring is simply not done.”

Gandalf frowned slightly. “My dear boy, you seem to have lost faith in your fellow hobbits. Belladonna went on more adventures than I can remember and she was always accepted back. What makes you think this way?”

Disgusting.

Monster.

Murderer.

“It is the height of impropriety, Gandalf!” Bilbo tried to keep his voice steady as the dark voice in the back of his head, that he had been ignoring quite well up until now, started to wear through his patience.

“That didn’t stop your mother! As I said, she went on many adventures and accomplished great things, all while keeping her high standing within the Shire.”

Look at where those adventures got her.

Bilbo glared at the table, for he was not brave enough to look at the man, while his anger made him give in to the voice. “Those accomplishments didn’t do much to help her, now did they? You seem to have forgotten, Gandalf. Did it slip your mind that my mother’s adventures and accomplishments weren’t enough to save her? Did her high standing within the Shire protect my father?” They weren’t enough to save me. He thought bitterly. When silence was the only thing to meet his words, Bilbo glanced up and felt his anger melt away and guilt replaced it like a stone at the look on Gandalf’s face. It seemed like an age had passed for the man with a single sentence, grief the only emotion in his weary eyes.

Look at what you did.

“No, no, I haven’t forgotten.” Gandalf sighed. The man took a deep breath and straightened, gathering himself. “But, I do believe that if she was asked, Belladonna would say that she doesn’t regret it.” The man tilted his head toward Bilbo. “And I don’t believe you will either.”

Bilbo looked away from Gandalf, choosing instead to look into his now lukewarm tea. He sighed heavily, moving to rub his face. “Alright, fine. I will hear them out.” He glared at Gandalf and waggled a stern finger at the wizard’s cheerful look. “That doesn’t mean I will join them. I will hear their story from them. I do not expect you to tell the complete truth.”

“That is just splendid, my dear boy!” Gandalf cried happily, surging to his feet and rushing to the entryway, Bilbo following at his heels.

“Wait! Gandalf!” he shouted, “Who am I expecting? How many are in their party?”

This is a mistake.

“I think that should remain a secret, who knows what I may say.” Gandalf smirked, a sparkle of mirth in his eyes. “Thirteen will be coming, not including myself. Prepare for a feast, for they will arrive quite starved.” He answered as he gathered his things, opened and walked out the front door. He turned on the front step to look at the exasperated hobbit behind him. “For now, I must go tell them the good news. You should expect them to arrive sometime around supper time.” He gestured to the green (unblemished) door, “May I put a rune on your door? I do not want them to get lost in the winding hills of the Shire.”

Bilbo nodded, suddenly exhausted, and turned to go collect a piece of paper for him. He had not yet gone four steps back into his home when he heard an odd noise coming from behind him. Bilbo reluctantly turned around and groaned when he saw the tip of Gandalf’s staff pressed to the (freshly painted) wood of his door carving a rune into it. Bilbo pinched the bridge of his nose and fiddled with his earring, this was definitely not what he wanted this day to be. He didn’t respond when Gandalf called a farewell, the gate opening with a soft creak and closing with a quiet snick. Bilbo didn’t move for a few moments, standing in his doorway, thinking about his luck.

Exhaling sharply, Bilbo opened his eyes and risked a glance at the mark. It looked deep and it shimmered slightly in the light. Bilbo looked at his feet and decided to let it go, it would be a problem for another day. He turned inside and walked to his larder, the only one out of the three that he was able to keep stocked. With it being only half of what he was comfortable hosting a dinner party with, Bilbo knew he would have to buy some premade items due to the short nature of this party. He ran a hand through his hair and moved to his washroom to go get ready for the day. Ten minutes later, Bilbo was out the door off to the markets. The Shire was slowly waking up but Bilbo knew that it was only a matter of time until the paths were full of other hobbits.

Despite the early hour and emptiness of the rest of the Shire, the market was still full of other hobbits wanting to get the early deals and fresh produce. Bilbo walked along the edges of the crowds, trying to keep eyes off of him. Bilbo fidgeted with his waistcoat nervously as he saw people whispering about him.

They don't want you here.

He hurried to a vegetable vendor, who of course demanded twice the listed price because her produce was only of the best quality and had been picked at the peak of freshness not an hour ago. He shuffled to the butchers for several cuts of marinated meat, paying thrice what the customer ahead of him payed because this meat was of a far better quality and from the farmer’s fattest livestock. Laden with three bags of groceries, Bilbo dragged his feet to the bakery. He had received some bread that was only slightly stale this time, which he counted as a win since he didn’t have to pay anything extra for them. Shoulders slumped from the whispers and glares, Bilbo turned to go home when he heard someone cry out from behind him. Something hit him on the back and Bilbo fell to the ground. He looked over his shoulder to see his cousin Otho laying on him, looking dazed. He moved to help the faunt, who had not yet turned nine years old, when he heard someone shout shrilly.

“Get your hands off of him!” Bilbo looked up to see his cousin Lobelia stomping towards them. “What did you do to him?” Lobelia reached down and snatched her son from Bilbo.

“I didn’t do anything! I swear it.” Bilbo replied, looking contrite. Lobelia ignored him in favor of checking her son for any injuries.

“Are you alright? Did it do anything to you?”

“No mama, he didn’t.” Otho said softly, glancing up at Bilbo out of the corner of his eye. Bilbo smiled reassuringly at the boy, making him smile in response.

Lobelia shook him, bringing his focus back to his mother. “It Otho. It.” Her gaze turned to Bilbo. “You do not touch my son.”

“Lobelia, it was an accident.” Bilbo pleaded, his stomach twisting at her words and the confused look on Otho’s face. “He probably tripped on-”

“Don’t you dare blame him!” Lobelia shouted, pulling Otho close and standing. Bilbo, still on the ground, had to squint into the sun to see her. A crowd had gathered around them when Lobelia had first yelled and they whispered amongst one another, glaring down at Bilbo. “You had some hand in it! I know it!”

“Leave him alone Lobelia!” Someone shouted from the crowd. Bilbo’s cousin Drogo pushed his way through the other hobbits and helped Bilbo from the ground. “You are always trying to start a fight, instead of doing that why not teach your child to look where he’s going so he doesn’t trip over his feet!”

Lobelia turned her nose up at them. She fumed silently for a few seconds, looking as if she couldn’t think of anything to say. She finally sputtered angrily, “Fine, have fun with the freak Drogo,” before pulling Otho away. The child gave a tiny wave, Bilbo tried to smile and waved in response. Drogo huffed and glared at the hobbits around them until they slowly started to scatter. Once everyone was back to their business, Drogo turned to face his cousin, looking him over and recovered his bags from the ground.

“Are you alright?” he asked, holding out Bilbo’s bags. Bilbo nodded and took the bags back.

“Thanks. Nothing wrong with me besides a dirty waistcoat. Well, and the usual.” He shrugged. Drogo frowned and put his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders, looking him square in the eye.

“There is nothing wrong with you Bilbo, you hear me? Nothing.” Drogo gave Bilbo’s shoulders a squeeze before dropping his hands back to his sides. “You can’t help how you were born, and you can only do your best to change how people see you.” Bilbo’s stomach twisted at the familiar words and he looked at his feet.

He's lying.

“I should get going.” Bilbo lifted the bags slightly. “I have a lot of work to do.”

He can't stand to be around you.

“Are you hosting a party?”

“Yes, annoyingly last minute but yes.”

Drogo’s face lit up. “Look at you! With who?” he asked excitedly. “Must be the Tooks, they’re the kindest to you…”

Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies.

“I don’t know who they are.” Bilbo said.

“Huh. Well, I shouldn’t keep you much longer. Do you need any help?”

Give him a way to escape.

“I should be fine, but thank you. For everything.” Bilbo smiled weakly at his cousin.

“Anytime Bilbo.” Drogo returned the smile before turning and meandering down the path through the markets. Once his cousin was out of sight, Bilbo looked around and saw some of the hobbits had begun staring at him again. Bilbo sighed before turning and walking up the path back to his smial.

Over the course of the next few hours, Bilbo couldn’t find a moment of rest. Even though he had bought so many pre-made items, there was still so much to do. He quickly lost track of time as he cooked, steamed, broiled, smashed, and boiled everything. By the time he had the time to sit and rest, the sun had long since set and the poor hobbit was tucking into a small snack when his mind began to wander, wondering about just who would be joining him for dinner tonight.

Flipping through the different races of the world (well at least the good variety for Bilbo would have to have a stern talk with Gandalf if a group of orcs showed up at his door) he tried to figure out the most likely of them.

Starting with those closest to him, Bilbo nearly choked on his fish at the thought of hobbits going on an adventure. Taking a sip of water, Bilbo calmed himself and continued eating. This fish was too delicious to waste choking on it.

Men were next on his mind. Although Bilbo couldn’t do much (any) fighting, he could hide better than any man. Perhaps an army of men was trying to siege a fortress and required Bilbo’s aide on the (certainly not dangerous) quest.

It wouldn’t be elves. Elves were by far the best at, well, just about anything they put their minds to, if his mother’s stories were to be believed. Bilbo had never heard of an elf coming to a hobbit for help and doubted he ever would.

That left dwarves. Belladonna had met a few dwarves and had very few good things to say about them (which was quite a feat when it came to Bella). Even then, what good words she did have for them weren’t very flattering. They were as honorable as they were stubborn, had an appetite that resembled a hobbit’s with manners to rival a pigs, and they were very skilled fighters. She always finished that with: “But they had to be excellent fighters, considering how hot headed they are. I swear! Dwarves are always brawling or starting a new war before the last one is resolved!” As much as Bilbo hated to judge just on stories, he trusted his mother’s opinion and honestly hoped that dwarves would not be the ones standing behind the door.

A few hard pounds at the front door startled Bilbo from his thoughts. He panicked for a moment and rushed to his room to change into clean clothes. He was straightening his hair as he walked back down the hallway to the door. Another three impatient knocks sounded and Bilbo muttered to himself, feeling annoyed. He had just learned about this party this morning! His guests can wait a few more moments. Reaching the door, he pulled it open and felt the blood drain from his face to join his stomach at his feet.

“Dwalin, at your service.”

Chapter Text

At this point, ten dwarves and one wizard later, Bilbo was about ready to shift and drive everyone from his home. Quests and reputations (although Bilbo’s reputation would just be a self-fulfilling prophecy if he ever shifted in public again) be damned. Under almost any other circumstances, Bilbo would’ve been ecstatic to have so much life and joy in Bag End. It seemed that the Invaders had not deemed the feast he had made to be enough food for them and had instead devoured all the food in the smial. That wasn’t even the worst of it. They had tracked mud all through his home, absolutely destroyed the bathroom, and had mishandled the furniture! And Gandalf! Oh-ho, Bilbo was going to have words with that two-copper magician. He had done nothing but smile and laugh at the dwarves’ actions.

As the Invaders finished their horrid song and stopped tossing about his dishware, Bilbo nearly shifted and gone for Gandalf’s throat at the smug look on the man’s face. A perfectly timed knock at the door had saved Gandalf, allowing the old coot to mutter a couple words as the group fell silent.

“He’s here.”

Bilbo took a few steadying breaths and only growled softly as Gandalf passed in front of him. The temptation was almost too much for the hobbit. He instead focused on the fact that there were others in his home that would most likely kill him if he were to shift in front of them but still closely trailed behind Gandalf to the front door. It was pulled open and Bilbo could feel a hush come over the already quiet group as the dwarf in the doorway turned and addressed Gandalf. He walked in, greeted his kin, and then moved to look at Bilbo. Oh, how Bilbo hoped that this dwarf’s (Thorin, as he later learned his name to be) manners matched his dignified appearance. His hopes were dashed as Thorin smirked down at him and proceeded to open his mouth.

“So, this is the hobbit.” He sneered. “Looks more like a grocer than a burglar.” Some of the other dwarves sniggered along with the jest but Bilbo only saw red. His skin rippled dangerously as he growled low in his throat.

Shut up, you know he's right.

Unlike his earlier growl, this one was meant to tear through enemies and intimidate them before Bilbo even had to do anything. Thorin obviously felt it because he turned sharply, looking surprised, and rested his hand on the hilt of his sword but Bilbo didn’t care. Some small part of him wanted Thorin to draw his sword, just to give Bilbo a reason to vent some aggression. The events of that day, his exhaustion, and the actions of the dwarves had driven Bilbo to his breaking point. He glared down at his feet, toes curled into the wood in an effort to hold back his shift, his anger making his voice waver.

“If you wish to stay, then you will listen to what I say. Your coat, your boots, and your weapons,” he glanced at Thorin’s sword hand, “will be left by the door.” He took a deep, calming breath. “You will maintain common decency if you’re in my halls. These are my halls and I will not be treated rudely so long as they remain mine and you remain in them.” He looked up to challenge Thorin’s glare. “If you believe you cannot handle this very simple task, then I must ask you to see yourself to the door.” Bilbo clasped his hands behind his back, waiting for Thorin’s response. After about a minute of silence, half of which Bilbo’s anger had started subsiding and he began to feel ashamed for his behavior but refused to back down,

Yavanna that was stupid.

What were you thinking. 

You shouldn't speak to him like t-

Thorin bowed his head slightly.

“Of course, you have my apologies.”

Bilbo nodded in acceptance and watched as the dwarf removed the specified items and placed them neatly by the door. The rest of Bilbo’s guests hurried to do the same and soon enough there was a full set of twelve coats and pairs of boots along with a surprisingly large pile of weapons the dwarves hadn’t yet removed. Now fully embarrassed by his outburst (but pleasantly surprised that the voice decided to stop), Bilbo tried not to shift uncomfortably as he felt Gandalf’s stare bore into his back. Thorin stood in front of Bilbo, looking less regal in his socked feet to the hobbit’s glee, and waited respectfully for Bilbo’s next request.

“Thank you. Now, there is some food waiting for you in the kitchen.” Thorin nodded and moved to walk past the hobbit. “I have one more request of you and yours.” Thorin paused. “If you treat my home with respect, then we will have no issue. I truly have no real care for how you treat me so if I find offense in any of your actions toward my home, I will make you leave.” Bilbo spoke slowly and clearly, his anger from earlier nearly gone.

Thorin had a dangerous gleam in his eye but nodded his assent. “My kin and I will treat your home better than our own.” Bilbo thanked him and let him continue towards his meal, the other dwarves coming back to life as Thorin passed him, jeering and welcoming him loudly as he passed. Bilbo took their distraction to hurry to his room, shutting the door tightly before collapsing into a chair. He bent over his knees with his head in his hands, groaning softly.

“What was I thinking?” he chastised himself quietly, echoing the voice. The first time he stood up for himself in years and Bilbo couldn’t believe he decided to do it to a dwarf! That’s not even including the fact that he could have had the aide of an additional eleven dwarves! There was a gentle knock at the door and Bilbo called for them to enter when he heard Gandalf’s voice through the wood. The wizard entered and shut the door behind him, sitting across from Bilbo and looking at his friend with kind eyes.

“What’s wrong Bilbo.” He asked. The hobbit ran his hands down his face before straightening and looking at his mother’s friend.

“A lot has happened since your last visit.” Bilbo sighed. “Life has not been very kind to me as of late.”

“What do you mean? What happened?” Bilbo stayed silent for a moment, deciding what he should tell the man.

Stop this.

“Hobbits… Hobbits, as I’m sure you know, are not very kind to things…” He swallowed. “People that they don’t understand and many don’t make any attempts to understand.” Bilbo looked away. “After the events surrounding your last visits, those few who had tried to understand… many believed it better if they simply stopped trying to understand.”

He truely doesn't care.

“Oh Bilbo.”

The hobbit shrugged. He couldn’t change the past. Besides, Bilbo has had a very good life compared to many others across the land. A few piles of gone off meat and whispers in his head were nothing compared to what they had to deal with.

“If I knew what would happen-“

“Why are they here?” Bilbo interjected, sounding very tired and wanting to change the subject. He pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance, a headache preemptively forming in preparation of Gandalf’s surely cryptic response. “And please give me something to go on so I’m not completely surprised.” Gandalf sighed softly before replying.

“Thorin wishes to take back his kingdom of Erebor. Now I think we should-“

“Erebor! The kingdom that my mother told me about?”

Gandalf nodded.

“A-and that is Thorin’s kingdom.”

Another nod. “In the wake of his grandfather’s death and father’s disappearance, the kingdom now falls to Thorin.”

“Oh Yavanna.” Bilbo moaned. He hadn’t just ordered around the leader of 12 dwarves, he had ordered around a king as if he were a troublesome faunt! The idea of dying by the dragon was a notion far into the future and a death he only has to participate in if he chooses. The possibility of being gutted by a slighted Dwarven King was something much more likely at this point.

Gandalf (the old sod) chuckled at Bilbo’s panicked expression. “Have no fear, Thorin seemed to be impressed that you stood up to him.” The wizard heaved himself out of the small chair he had squeezed himself into and looked down at Bilbo. “We should go back out. I have something to give Thorin and I believe they  would like to speak to you about your involvement in the quest.” Bilbo sighed but stood as well, looking up when Gandalf placed a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll have to talk about what has happened during the years since my last visit.” He said before leading Bilbo back to the dining room.

No we won't. 


 

A scant ten minutes later, Bilbo found himself sitting in his father’s chair, fiddling with his earring while staring at the contract. He remembered the stories his mother would tell him about the mistreatment she had seen the dwarves faced in the cities and towns of men. He thought about the younger members of the group and how that life was the only one they had known. No good creature deserved to live that sort of life and believe it to be normal. Bilbo glanced over the contract once more and groaned softly.

Not giving himself a chance to change his mind, Bilbo stood abruptly and marched to his office. After quickly retrieving a quill and signing the contract, Bilbo marched back out and shoved the papers under Thorin’s nose.

“You have yourself a burglar.”

Thorin took the contract and handed it to Balin. “My thanks.”

Bilbo shrugged it off. “I have no plans for the next year, so why not slay a dragon.” Thorin only blinked at him and Bilbo stood there awkwardly for a moment before mumbling about needing to pack.


 

Thorin watched as the hobbit scurried away, Gandalf ducking out of the room behind him. He leaned closer to Balin, who was looking over the signed contract.

“What do you make of the hobbit?”

“He seems a little odd but we did burst into his home unannounced. He signed to contract without making any demands, even those that would serve to aid him.”

“He didn’t make any notes?” Thorin was shocked. Not that he would admit it out loud but he had tried writing up the contract in such a manner that would make the hobbit turn up his nose at the deal.

Baling shook his head, eyes still scanning over the document as he double checked. “Not that I can see.” He finished looking it over and all of its various additions before facing Thorin. “Ignoring the circumstances that brought us here and his actions from earlier, I still don’t trust him.” Balin frowned. “Signing a contract with this many clauses against him – which I still don’t approve of, I’ll have you know.” He added with a raised eyebrow. “Suggests to me that either he is too incompetent to know he should look over a contract before signing it or that he has nothing to lose. Given how he looks to be a very well educated man, I’m leaning towards the latter.” He paused, looking down the hallway in the direction the hobbit disappeared in. “And that would make him reckless and a possible danger to the Company.”

Thorin nodded, trusting Balin’s observations. “We’ll need to keep a close eye on him then.”

“Indeed we do.”

Chapter Text

Considering Gandalf’s warning possibly having some truth behind it that would mean struggles for Bilbo, his parents made a vow to each other that no matter what, they would love and protect their son form anything.

And love him they did.

As Bilbo grew older he found that he had to rely on his parents for most of his companionship. This worried Bella but Bungo believed it was because Bilbo was quicker to anger than the other faunts. Bella thought it was like they could sense that something was off with her son. Even when he was learning to walk, as soon as he would toddle over, the other faunts would scatter. It got to the point where even Bilbo realized that something was going on and asked his mother about it once while she was bathing him.

“Momma?” Bilbo was watching his hands as they moved about below the water. He had spoken so quietly that Bella nearly hadn’t heard him.

“What is it, sweetling?” She asked, scooping water over Bilbo’s head, making a note to herself to take him out soon as the lukewarm water made him shiver.

“Why don’t-. How come-. Am I different?” It took the twelve-year-old several tries before he got the question out and it made Bella’s heart break. She had hoped that her and Bungo’s love would be enough for a little longer but she knew that sooner or later, Bilbo would notice how the other faunts treated him. Bella fumbled for a moment, unsure how to answer. Her gaze fell to his birthmark on his chest and her mind wandered.


Over the years, Bella had noticed that it changed. It changed the most while Bilbo was still a toddler before slowing slightly. When she had first noticed it, Bella was sure it was just the trick of the light. She was in the middle of trying to change a squirmy six-month-old out of his pajamas. She knew something was wrong when Bungo came to her shortly after Bilbo’s first birthday. (Don’t get her wrong, Belladonna absolutely adores her husband… sometimes he can he a little blind when it serves him.) He had also noticed something about the birthmark while trying to clean their son after an unfortunate diaper explosion. It had definitely changed shape now, Bella was sure of it. Bungo took a quick sketch of the mark and they kept an eye on it for any more changes.

For the next two years, the mark changed nearly every six months and Bungo made sure to sketch and date each change. Once she had enough drawings, Bella ventured to Bree to ask around about the nature of birthmarks. The residents had been as perplexed as she had at the changing mark. She had reached an understanding of: Birthmarks either stay the same or fade over time, bet never change as drastically as Bilbo’s had.

Returning home with more questions than when she left, Bella found her family asleep in front of the fire. Bilbo must have thrown some sort of fit, if the state of the room and his face were to be believed, and worked himself to exhaustion. After dealing with a screaming child for hours, Bungo had quickly fallen asleep as well with Bilbo sprawled across his chest. Bella’s heart clenched with so much love for her boys and she knew that whatever Bilbo’s mark meant didn’t really matter. She would do whatever she could to keep them safe.


 

“Momma?” A little voice brought her back to the present. Bella grabbed a towel and reached over to pull Bilbo from the bath, settling him on her hip after wrapping him up nice and warm.

“Sure, you’re different.” She started with a small smile. Bilbo’s face fell but Bella lightly pinched his nose, making him look up at her. “Everyone is different! What’s what makes life so interesting. How would you feel if everyone was the same?”

Bilbo thought for a moment. “It’d be really boring.” He said finally.

“Boring is an understatement!” Bella exclaimed, smiling when her son gave her a small grin. She pulled the stopper from the tub and carried Bilbo to his room. She tossed him on his bed and lightly threw his nightclothes at his face, both actions making him squeal with laughter. After dressing him and drying his hair, Bella sat on the bed next to him. “Bilbo… If you grow up to be anything like your mother,” or something else, she thinks, “I cannot promise that the Shire will be accepting of you. I was lucky to have met your father and I can only pray it will happen with you too.” Bilbo looked up at her, blue eyes looking confused and scared. Bella ran her fingers through his hair in hopes of comforting him. “But,” she pressed, “you know what? There is an entire world out there. An entire world for you to explore while you look for your family.”

“But I already have a family.”

“Yes, you do.” Bella said sadly, trying not to think of the day when she and Bungo would be gone. She sniffed. “I’ll make you a promise, Bilbo. If you want, when you’re old enough, all of us can go on a mini-adventure. How does that sound?”

Bilbo went bug-eyed for a moment. “Even Poppa?”

Bella nodded. “Even if I have to hog tie him and put him on my pack.” Bilbo giggled and nodded enthusiastically. “Good. Now get to sleep, my little adventurer.” Bilbo smiled and dutifully got under the covers and rolled into a comfortable sleeping position. Bella blew out the candle, pressed a kiss to the top of Bilbo’s curls, and walked out of the room. She left the door open a hair just in case Bilbo needed something in the middle of the night.

“Are you sure he needed to hear that now?” The voice of her husband coming from behind her spooked Bella. She quickly shushed and herded him to their bedroom. Closing the door behind them, Bella leaned against it, rubbing her face with a deep sigh.

“He just started asking questions. I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to lie to him and he would have heard it at some point. I hope that I just gave him more time to think about it while we can still answer any questions.”

“We’re still going to be around for a while.”

Bella sighed again, pushing off the door to move past Bungo to their dresser to pull out her nightdress. “I know, sorry. I just like to prepare for everything.”

Bungo turned to watch her, hands thrust in the pockets of his trousers. “Oh, no, I understand. It’s fine. Just…” He hesitated, causing Bella to pause and look at him over her shoulder, “I don’t think you would be able to get me onto a pack.”

Bella snickered and grabbed the hem of her dress. “Don’t tempt me.”

Bungo laughed as well. “You’re going to be the death of me.” Bella winked at him and pulled her dress over her head, fully intending to get ready for bed. However, neither of them went to bed until much later that night.

In the next room, their son was dreaming about all the adventure they would be having as a family.

 

Looking back, Bilbo only wonders how he could have been so naïve.


 

Everything stayed in a state of limbo until Bilbo was 18. The mark had stopped changing when Bilbo was 15 and his parents have been waiting for the other glove to drop since. The mark was still rather blob-ish and indistinguishable. It looked like something familiar but Bella couldn’t put her finger on it and it was driving her mad.

On both sides, about a quarter down, the mark was pinched, making a small portion of the mark mostly separate from the rest. The small portion had three indents pushing in from the top, forming four equal pieces. The main mark also had an indent on the bottom but it wasn’t nearly as severe as the others. With each change, Bella would look over the previous sketches and try to figure out what it was turning into. She had written many letters to Gandalf, asking for his advice, but none were answered.

Despite the obvious changes to his birthmark, Bilbo hadn’t asked anymore questions about being different and had made a considerable effort in being included with the other faunts. Although no one knew about Bilbo’s mark, the young still avoided him while the older were unsettled by his presence. He had only been able to make friends with close relatives but he was content with that.

It was a week after his 18th birthday and he was at his first cousin Otho’s smial down the hill from Bag End. Bungo and Bella wasted many a day arguing about whether Bilbo should be allowed out of the house without supervision, especially after his mark stopped changing. Bella thought it would be better that if something happened, Bilbo should be at home so he could be safe at home. Bungo argued that it wouldn’t be fair to Bilbo to lock him in the smial, with no freedom, without him knowing why they were doing it. They ended up compromising that Bilbo could go out if it was close to Bag End. It was so close that Bella shouldn’t have been surprised when a scream drifted in through the kitchen window where she was getting a head start on supper. Dropping the ingredients, Bella was out the door before they hit the ground, the door slamming shut behind her. She rushed in the direction of the scream and arrived at the smial just as a crowd started to form. She pushed her way to the front of the group and found Otho crying into his mother’s lap. A little way away from the two, Bella recognized Bilbo’s clothes in shreds on the grass.

“Where’s Bilbo?” Bella yelled, running forward to grab the clothes from the ground.

“I don’t know. I heard a scream and only found Otho out here. Bilbo was already gone.” Otho’s mother told her, trying to calm her son. Otho seemed too hysterical to talk so Bella looked around the garden for about ten minutes, calling for Bilbo and leaving no stone unturned. After finding no trace of her son, Bella ran back to Bag End, hoping that Bilbo had run back home. Running up over the crest of the hill, Bella’s heart stopped when she saw a mass in front of Bag End’s door.

“Bilbo!” She called, sprinting the rest of the way up the hill. The mass lifted its head and Bella froze a few feet away from the figure, her heart now frozen with fear.

There was a warg pup in front of her smial.

The pup wagged its tail when it saw her and stood up. It took a few steps towards her and even from this distance, Bella could tell that the warg’s shoulder would come up to her chest. Bella panicked and put up a hand in front of her like a shield.

“No no no! You stay there!” Surprisingly, the warg listened to her shaky command and sat down. (Although it whined and its tail looked like it was about ready to fall out.) Bella took a closer look at the creature. It certainly didn’t look like the other wargs she had seen, all those years ago.it had the same body structure but its body was covered with soft looking, fawn colored fur that looked like it had a slight curl to it. The pup also didn’t have any sign of abuse to it. Bella was about to write it off on the fact that it was young and it may have been able to escape before the abuse started but there was something it its eyes…

The warg whined again and paddled its front feet, making its chest puff out. The movement drew Bella’s attention to a mark on its chest. The mark was lighter than the rest of the fur, almost white, and it looked like someone had pressed their hand to its chest. Bella squinted in confusion, watching the warg closely, the warg watching her right back.

Suddenly, the warg started shaking and whimpering in pain. The sounds made Bella want to help the poor thing but her feet wouldn’t move when she heard the first bone crack. After the first crack, many more sounded in quick succession. Bella watched in horror as the pup’s legs broke and bent the wrong way and its skin started falling loose around its sides. By the time to popping stopped, the pup was laying on its side, panting. Bella hoped it was over but the skin kept getting looser and looser until it fell away, revealing a figure huddled where the warg was. Dirty blonde curls had Bella running forward and falling to her knees in front of her son.

“Bilbo.” She gasped, pulling him onto her lap, uncaring of the mess he was laying in. She rolled him over so he was on his back, his nudity only a passing thought in her mind. Big eyes on the verge of tears blinked up at her.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I guess I’m very different.” Bilbo said sadly. Bella was about to respond when she felt as though they were being watched. Looking up, she saw Hawthorne (possibly one of her nosiest cousins) standing a short way away, face ashen. Bella opened her mouth to say something but before she could say a word, Hawthorne was running away, screaming for the Thain. Bella sighed, knowing that they would have less than an hour before people would come knocking.

“Come on, love.” Bella grunted, heaving Bilbo into her arms. “We should get you cleaned off.” She dropped him off in front of the bathroom and left him be when he said he could handle it himself. She hesitated a moment before rushing to the front door when she heard it opening. Luckily, it was just Bungo coming into the smial, looking frazzled. He tore his eyes from the skin mess outside to look at his wife.

“H-hey… I heard about Bilbo.” Bungo grasped Bella’s arms, worry the only thing in his voice. “Where is he… Is everything okay?” Bella nodded and told him Bilbo was in the bathroom. Bungo let out a sigh of relief. “What’s…” he paused. “Do I want to know what’s outside?”

Bella sighed and pushed past her husband to lock the front door. “That… Outside, that was Bilbo not too long ago. He’s one of the Cursed.”

Cursed?” Bungo looked concerned for his wife’s sanity for a moment. “What…”

Bella sighed again and moved to the kitchen to lock the backdoor as well, Bungo following close behind her. “I… I did some research a while ago. May have used my father’s name to get some of the more off-limits books.” She shrugged. “In one of the history books, one that dated back to before the Wandering Days, I read about something that sounded like Bilbo’s… situation.” Bella cleared her throat. “Their original name was scratched out and replaced with the Cursed Ones.” One of Bungo’s eyebrows rose at the name. Bella nodded in agreement. If hobbits could be reduced to a few words, one of them would be dramatic. “The Cursed Ones were able to turn into animals at will but the animal was different for each one. They could only transform into the creature that matched the mark on their chest.”

Bungo didn’t know what to say. He stood there speechless before finally saying, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know what to do!” Bella snapped, the stress of their circumstances starting to sink in. “I found the book after I got back from that one trip to Bree and when I got back, everything was so peaceful, so perfect that I couldn’t destroy it. I tried to forget about it and just let Bilbo be a faunt, not an outcast! I couldn’t do that to him. I just-”

“Ok, ok.” Bungo soothed, pulling his near hysterical wife into his arms. “We can talk about this later.” Bella pressed her face into her husband’s chest for a moment, taking comfort in his presence. “What do we do now? To help Bilbo.” He clarified, and Bella let out a breath.

“Mom?” Bilbo’s voice came down the hallway and his parents moved to see what their son needed. “Oh, hey dad. When did you get here?” Bilbo’s voice sounded numb and Bella would tell he was exhausted.

Bella heard Bungo respond but she took this time to take stock of her son. Bilbo had a towel around his waist and every inch of his skin that she could see was bright pink, like he had been scrubbing it. The pink turned into an angry red color on Bilbo’s chest where his-. Bella groaned internally. How could she not see it… Bilbo’s mark had changed into a clear and clean cut paw print. Warg paw print, she corrected. The black mark stood out sharply against the red of his chest and Bella’s own chest stung in sympathy. He must have been trying to scrub the mark off… She thought sadly. She heard her name and she saw Bilbo looking at her.

“You go get dressed. Your father and I will be in in a few minutes.” Bilbo nodded and walked to his room. When he was gone, Bungo turned and looked at her expectantly.

“So…”

“A lot of the book was removed but there was plenty about that happened after we settled in the Shire.” She continued, moving to sit in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace and Bungo sat across from her. “If a babe was born with a mark, the Thain did one of two things. Either the babe received a piercing on their ear, so everyone knew what they were, or they were banished.” She finished gravely. Bungo had already gone pale at the sound of the ear piercing (a hobbit’s ears were very important in their society, with large and unblemished ears being one of the first things a hobbit looks for in a spouse, making them always on display) and he was practically a sheet when she finished.

Bungo sat silent for a minute and Bella gazed out of the window, waiting for him to process it all. It was just beginning to get dark but the normally quiet area was alight with activity.

“I think we should let Bilbo choose.” Bungo said. Bella nodded, silently dreading what was coming. Before they went to Bilbo’s room, Bella explained what had happened earlier. Bungo’s face changed from pale to slightly green.

“When you said…earlier…what was outside was Bilbo, I wasn’t quite sure what you meant. That’s… wow.”

“Yeah. We should go talk to Bilbo. My father will be here soon, no doubt.”

Bungo nodded and they walked to Bilbo’s room. They knocked and entered when Bilbo called for them to. Their son was sitting at the head of his bed with his knees pressed to his chest, glaring at the wall across from him. Bungo and Bella sat on either side of him, unsure of how to begin.

Eventually, Bungo spoke first. “Bilbo, we need to talk.”

“You think?” The teen remarked snarkily. Bella saw Bungo twitch at the lack of manners and she gave him a look. Considering what he had been through, Bilbo should get a pass for today. Bella sighed and started telling Bilbo everything she had learned, ending with the decision he would have to make. By the end of her tale, Bilbo was gripping the fabric of his trousers tightly and he was staring with wide eyes at his mother.

You knew?” He bit out. “You knew and you didn’t do anything! You didn’t tell me!”

“There wasn’t anything I could do! I wrote to Gandalf many times but he never responded.” Bella had to move out of the way as Bilbo jumped over her and started to pace rapidly across the room. “I didn’t want to put that heavy weight on your shoulders.”

“Like that did me any good.” Bilbo scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“Bilbo!” Bungo chastised, at the end of his rope.

“What?” Bilbo shouted, spinning to face his father, arms wide and eyes angry. “While I’m dealing with the fact that I’m a freak, I hear that my mother knew about it but didn’t tell me anything!” He huffed and went back to pacing.

Through the material of his shirt, Bella saw Bilbo’s skin bunch and move. “Bilbo,” she said softly, apprehension settling in her stomach like a rock, “I think you should calm down.”

Calm down? Really?” Bilbo’s fists clenched and unclenched. “Not only am I a freak, but I have to decide between mutilating myself or banishment!”

“Bilbo-”

Bungo was interrupted by a loud pop followed by a crack and Bilbo falling to his hands and knees. His parents rushed to his side. Bella pushed Bilbo’s hair out of his face, his features contorted in pain.

“No no no no… Not again…” Bilbo moaned, panting through the pain.

Bella turned to her husband. “Help me get his clothes off. We don’t know how often this is going to happen so I’d rather spare as many articles of clothing as possible.” She explained when Bungo gave her an odd look. It took them about a minute and hundreds of apologies to get Bilbo out of his clothes. After throwing the clothing in a corner of the room, they could only watch Bilbo’s change.

For Bungo, he had no past reference but Bella watched as Bilbo’s change went through the reverse process it had before. Bilbo’s skin stretched to accommodate the new muscles that were suddenly growing underneath it and allow the bones to break and shift into place. During the process, Bella made sure to give Bilbo reassurances, although she wasn’t sure how aware he was of her words. She only stuttered when she watched Bilbo’s face morph into a warg’s, his facial features going slack before the bone grew to fill the empty space.

They could tell when each area was… “complete” when long hair started growing in patchy clumps before his whole body was covered in wavy, light brown fur. Once it was over, a few minutes after it began, Bilbo lay panting on the floor. He didn’t move for a long while, his legs and tail splayed without care across the wood.

“Bilbo?” Bungo asked softly, a hand reaching forward to run his fingers through the fur on Bilbo’s neck. The teen let out a weak whine before standing up and shaking, his paws slipping on the wood. Bungo continued petting his son and Bilbo leaned into his father’s touch, tail wagging slightly. “Is this like what you saw before?” His question was directed at Bella although he didn’t look away from Bilbo.

“Yeah, just… the opposite, until his fur fell off.” She shuddered at the memory. There was a knock at the front door and everyone jumped. “Stay in here, try to get him to change back.” Bella told Bungo. She leaned down and cradled Bilbo’s new face in her hands. “I’m so sorry, Bilbo. But you don’t have any more time to think about your decision.” Bilbo closed his eyes and whined, leaning into her hands. Bella took a moment to steel herself before leaving the room, shutting the door behind her, and walking to the front door. The weary face of her father stared back at her when she pulled the wooden door open (not to mention the large group of hobbits standing outside the gate).

“Bella…” He sighed.

“Hello, father.” She responded, lifting her chin slightly, not wanting to appear as shaken as she was.

“I’m so sorry, but may I speak with Bilbo?”

“He’s indisposed at the moment. What do you need to speak with him about?”

“Bella, you don’t need to do this. Where is your son.” Gerontius said stiffly, quickly growing annoyed with his daughter’s attitude.

“He’ll be out shortly.”

“Belladonna. I have had a very long evening. I know you know why I’m here and it would be easier on everyone if you let me speak to Bilbo as soon as possible.” Gerontius pinched the bridge of his nose and the crowd started murmuring in confusion.

“Oh, yes father, I’m sure you’ve had a long day.” Gerontius’ face pinched in distaste at her manners. “I apologize for my words if that makes you happier but I believe that Bilbo has had a longer and harder day than nearly anyone in the Shire has ever had! His entire world has come crumbling down around him and now his grandfather is coming to force him to make an impossible decision! Please understand why I’m a little cross at the moment.” Bella started leaning forward in her anger. “Now, you will wait until Bilbo-”

“Mom.”

Bilbo interrupted his mother, effectively stopping her tirade. Bilbo was coming up behind her (Bungo was further behind him, looking as pale as he did earlier), wearing only trousers at the moment but that was the least of their problems. When Bilbo came into the doorway, the crowd got louder, half of them at the amount of skin showing and the other half about the mark on his chest. Bilbo leaned against the door arch and smiled at his grandfather.

“I’m sorry about my mother, we’ve all had a stressful day.” Bilbo implored. Bella bristled but bit her tongue, she knew Bilbo was trying to calm her father down. “If you don’t mind, I believe I have a decision to make.”

Gerontius nodded, his eyes watching Bella. “Do you know your two options?”

“Yes. The piercing or banishment.”

He nodded again. “And your choice.?”

Bilbo took a deep breath. “I know my parents would come with me, even if the banishment was only on me. I can’t allow them to leave Bag End to our greedy relatives, so I choose the piercing.”

Gerontius’ eyes widened but he otherwise didn’t look too surprised with Bilbo’s decision. “May I?” he gestured inside. The two Baggins at the door moved to allow the Thain entrance. They moved to the kitchen where Gerontius pulled a leather pouch from his trousers and opened it on the kitchen table. “Can someone put some water to boil? I don’t need much. Just enough to clean the area a bit.” Bungo quickly put a small pot of water to boil on the fire as Bella grabbed some cloth. Gerontius pulled a large tool with a long, hallow needle (the needle having a small hole at the tip), a hallow tube that was smaller and shorter than the tool’s needle, and a flat circle of metal with a sturdy looking wire running through the top of the circle.

The four of them sat in a foreboding silence as they waited for the water to boil. The lack of ceremony surrounding this event made it seem more surreal to Bella, oddly enough.

“Have you ever done this before?” Bilbo asked his grandfather as Bungo went to fetch the now boiling water.

“On leather, yes. Every Thain must practice this just in case a child is born with the mark is born.” Gerontius said seriously. He positioned Bilbo so he was leaned over the kitchen table so the right side of his head of pressed against the wood with his left ear exposed. He cleaned the area halfway up the outside of Bilbo’s ear and cleaned each of the metal objects involved. He positioned the tool over Bilbo’s ear, the delicate flesh in between two pieces of metal. He looked up at his daughter and son-in-law.

“You may want to hold him down.”


 

Over the next decade, things turned to a gross mockery of the limbo state the Baggins family found themselves in before. No one said or did anything untoward to the small family but if they saw Bilbo running around in his warg form (which he was forced into every four to six weeks whether he wanted to or not), the area would quickly empty of hobbits. Bilbo’s parents encouraged Bilbo to go outside and run around, the smial was alright when he was still young but his growing legs made Bilbo want to run and jump. It also served to help Bella whenever she went to the market. If her market day coincided with Bilbo’s shift, she would cover Bilbo with sacks and use him as a giant basket. Bella hoped that the more the Shire saw Bilbo, the less scary he would appear to them. The youngsters always seemed more interested in Bilbo than the adults were, the braver faunts usually begged their parents if they could ride on the “giant doggy”. This always served to amuse Bilbo although the parents would just shoo their faunts away while gawking at Bilbo’s piercing.

The piercing was one of the more difficult things for Bilbo to get used to, surprisingly. When he would shift into his warg form, his ears would change and allow for the piercing to stay put in his ear. Changing back into his hobbit form where his skin falls from his body, the piercing goes along with it. Luckily, the wire has a very sturdy clasp that allows for it to be reinserted into the hole in Bilbo’s ear. Before his ear went numb to the pain a few years after the initial piercing, Bungo and Bella had to pin Bilbo down in order to get the wire back into his ear. It pained them greatly to do this but every time they thought about leaving it out, even for a day, the Thain’s words would remind them why they couldn’t.

 

Bilbo lay panting on the table, thankfully he hadn’t passed out from the pain but it had been a close thing. Gerontius turned to Bungo and Bella and spoke slowly, making sure they understood the words he was saying.

“That earring is the only thing allowing Bilbo to stay in the Shire. If he goes without it, and he is reported, he will have to leave. This is something I cannot be lenient on for if I do not enforce this, I fear that the Hobbits of the Shire will take it upon themselves to remove Bilbo from its borders.”

Bilbo’s parents looked over at their son on the table, fear gripping both of their hearts.

“Is there anything you can tell us about hobbits like Bilbo?” Bella asked her father, needing to know as much as possible.

Gerontius shook his head. “I fear no one knows any more than what is in our history books. I am very sorry, my dear. I can only tell you that if the Shire feels threatened by Bilbo, it would take all of my power to keep Bilbo from coming to harm.”

 

And so, Bilbo’s parents did everything they could to keep the Shire happy. They allowed in unexpected visitors, went to every party they were invited to, and held dinner parties at regular intervals, anything to show everyone that they were the height of propriety. Bilbo and Bella were returning from such a shopping trip as previously mentioned to prepare for a dinner party, also previously mentioned, and when Bella opened the front door to Bag End, Bilbo shoved his nose into the crack and flung the door open. Bella winced when the door snapped against its hinges as Bilbo plodded through the front door, trying his best to keep his awkward, 29-year-old, warg body from knocking the groceries from his back.

“Bilbo, dear, please be more careful with the door. I don’t know how much more abuse it can take at this point.” Bella called after her son, watching the door wobble when she moved it. Bilbo huffed at her over his shoulder but otherwise ignored her and crouched in the kitchen so she could unload the ingredients. Bella sighed, making a note to get the door fixed soon. This was the last party before winter hit and they still haven’t fixed the damage Bilbo did to the door during his angsty teen years. She would talk to someone after the dinner party about getting the door fixed but now she went to work making dinner as Bilbo drifted to sleep in the middle of the kitchen (Bella was barely able to get all of the groceries off of Bilbo before he rolled over, it was a close thing).

Bella was able to get an appointment with a carpenter but the door remained unfixed due to the first snow arriving the next day.


 

If the sudden arrival and ferocity of the show fall wasn’t enough indication to the ferociousness of this winter, the first howl should have been enough to convince the most stubborn of hobbits. Bella allowed her paranoia to take over and started rationing their supplies early on, so they would be okay even months into the winter, but many other families weren’t as lucky.

After a month of constant winter with none of the usual breaks of sunshine and no end in sight, Bella took preemptive measures and arranged with the Thain to have most of the food and wood to be collected in one area so it could be rationed more effectively. Every week, Bella would go out with Bilbo in warg form donned in his basket bags and distribute a week’s worth of supplies to each family. Bilbo’s large paws made it easier to walk across the lightly packed snow and more often than not, Bella would ride on Bilbo’s back whenever she tired from slogging through the snow. When the howls started a month and a half later, Bella unearthed her old sword and began taking it with them on their weekly trips. Four months since the first snow, the Shire was lucky to not receive anything worse than a few stray wolves here and there. A few smials on the edge of the Shire had claw marks on their doors but so far no one had been attacked. But Bella never did have the best luck.

It was at the end of their 13th run when Bella noticed shaped darting over the hills behind them. She urged Bilbo to hurry home and hung on for dear life as he loped the rest of the way to Bag End. They rushed through the door, Bella swiftly securing it as best she could and locking it behind them. Bungo poked his head into the entryway, drawn to the racket.

“What happened?” He asked, worried. Bella waved him off, still shaky from the ride. A quick series of pops and cracks later and Bilbo was reaching for his pants (Bilbo left his outfit by the door for ease of access) and earring. Over the years, his shifts came faster and easier with practice until it only took a few second with either one. He pulled on his pants and collected the skin from the floor, bringing it over to the fire. It didn’t lead to the greatest smell but with the wolves about, Bella didn’t want to leave the skin lying about outside.

“Mom saw some wolves when we were on the way back, and we had to hurry.” He smiled at Bella over his shoulder as he heaved the skin into the fire. “I guess she didn’t enjoy running.”

“There is definitely more than one reason why hobbits don’t ride ponies!” Bella panted. Bilbo was about to retort about being compared to a pony when Bungo cut in.

“Wolves! Do we need to worry about it?”

Bella pushed away from the door (it may or may not have caught her while she recovered) and wrapped her arms around her husband. “I hope not. It wouldn’t hurt to blow out all the candles and snuff the fire for a bit.”

“I’ll grab all the blankets!” Bilbo called, grabbing the rest of his clothes and heading off to the bedrooms while Bungo and Bella got to work on the candles and fire.

It was twenty minutes later when they heard the first scratch against the front door.

They all froze under the cocoon of blankets, not making a sound, hoping that it would go away. A minute later, there was another scratch and they could see off-white shapes moving outside the windows. Bella jumped from the blankets, sword already drawn.

“Go hide!” she commanded. At the sound of her voice, the scratching started again with more ferocity than before, causing the door to shake on its hinges. Bilbo shoved the blankets away from himself and stood behind his mother, already starting to pull off his shirt.

“I can help!”

“No Bilbo! You go with your father.” Bella didn’t look at her son. Instead she focused on her sword and the door, which was now shaking from the wolves flinging themselves at the green wood.

“But-”

A cold blast of air interrupted Bilbo as the door fell from its hinges and fell outwards, allowing both the wind and wolves access to the smial. Before Bilbo or Bella could react, a wolf jumped through the doorway and pounced on Bella, who fell back with a scream and wildly tried to thrust her sword into the wolf’s chest. A second wolf turned and growled at Bilbo, who was still frozen in shock. The wolf leaped at Bilbo but, with a cry, Bungo pushed his son out of the way and was bitten in the shoulder. Seeing both of his parents being attacked, Bilbo saw red and had his fastest shift ever. A final wolf fell on Bilbo mid-shift but it was flung against the wall with a wild roar from Bilbo.

Bilbo dove on the wolf that had attacked him and bit its neck, effectively breaking its neck. He then turned to the one on his father, it hadn’t noticed what had happened to its packmate. Bilbo smacked the wolf off of his father and bit at its neck as well, ripping out its throat and leaving it to thrash and whine on the floor when the last wolf jumped on Bilbo’s back. The wolf tried biting at the back of Bilbo’s neck but his thick fur gave Bilbo enough time to shake the wolf off and swipe at its belly. It let out a harsh whine and ran for the door, leaving a thick blood trail in its wake. Panting, Bilbo looked around to make sure everything was safe and whined when he saw his mother trying to crawl to her husband.

With the help of her sword, Bella was able to keep the wolf’s teeth at bay but her lack of armor allowed the wolf’s claws to tear at her legs and chest. Bungo, with nothing available to him, was unable to defend himself and looking at him, Bilbo knew he was already gone. Bella gasped for air and looked up at her son.

“Please Bilbo… Give your mother a hand? I… I need to be with him.” Her eyes were wide and filled with tears but there was no fear to be found. Bilbo padded over to Bella and lightly nudged her with his nose until she was lying next to Bungo, whining whenever she made a noise of pain. Bella pulled herself close to her husband and Bilbo moved to lay behind them, draping his tail over their bodies. He could tell that Bella didn’t have long so he did his best to make her as comfortable as possible. They laid there, silent once more, with the only sound being the wind whipping around Bag End and Bella’s ragged breathing. Eventually, the latter petered out until the only thing keeping Bilbo company during his vigil over his parents’ bodies were the small snow drifts forming in the entryway.

Over the hours of waiting, Bilbo felt a veil being pulled over his eyes as he was being drawn further and further into his mind. Bilbo’s first reaction was to growl and snap by the time a tall figure darkened Bag End’s doorway. He had no reason to go back anymore.

No reason at all.

Chapter Text

Gandalf was not sure what he expected when he crested the top of a hill and saw Bag End’s door open but he was at a loss for words when he saw the warg crouching over the bodies of Bungo and Belladonna. One of the Rangers that had accompanied him quickly drew and notched an arrow.

“Wargs came across the river as well?” He asked, aiming at the warg’s head.

Gandalf grabbed the man’s bow before he could fire and yanked it away from Bilbo. “Go back and help the others.”

“But-” the second Ranger protested, eyes never leaving the warg in front of them.

“I’ll be fine. Go.” He pressed, his gaze also not moving from the warg that had not stopped growling and snapping in their direction. The Rangers were still reluctant but they knew not to argue with a wizard and left the home. With them gone, Gandalf could focus fully on Bilbo. He knew that no words would be able to reach the hobbit so he carefully stepped over the bodies of the wolves to get closer to Bilbo.

“It’s going to be alright, my boy.” Gandalf could not stop himself from trying to comfort Bilbo. “Let’s see if we can get you back to being you.”

Bilbo’s growls had gotten progressively louder and deeper to warn the wizard away as he approached. When that did nothing to dissuade him, Bilbo crouched low, ready to pounce on Gandalf. The wizard had been whispering into the end of his staff, causing it to glow. When Bilbo decided the man was too close, he leapt at him and Gandalf met him in the middle, jabbing him in the chest with his staff. Luckily the effect was immediate.

Bilbo flew back with a bright flash and a yelp, missing his parents, and slammed into a wall before falling to the floor with a dull thump. Gandalf did not hesitate in rushing over and kneeling at his side, for he knew that if Bilbo couldn’t be saved, then the spell would have had no effect and the wizard would have had bigger issues to deal with (namely a furious warg on top of him but those concerns were moot at this point.) However, now that the spell was cast, Gandalf could only watch and offer soothing words as the creature in front of him twitched and whined every so often.

When Gandalf heard the telltale sounds of bones shifting, he hurried off to retrieve some blankets to keep Bilbo warm, for he had no idea how long it would take before he was in his hobbit form once more. He also grabbed two white sheets and carefully wrapped Belladonna and Bungo before carrying them to their room to lay on their bed. He returned to find the two Rangers standing in the doorway.

“That was quick.” He remarked, glancing over his shoulder to check on Bilbo.

One of the men shrugged. “We ran into most of the wolves on the way in. Any groups still around were small – and smart enough – to run when they saw us.”

“Hobbiton and the immediate areas are secure. We’re waiting to hear from the other Rangers now.” The other reported.

Gandalf nodded in approval, his gave drifting to the wolf remains still within the smial. “Get rid of those, would you?” The Rangers glanced at Bilbo when a loud crack was heard before nodding and moving to drag the bodies outside and down to the pyre where the other wolf bodies were being taken to burn.

 

 

By the time Bilbo finally grew quiet and his warg skin fell away to leave a small hobbit body behind, it was dark outside and Gandalf had built a fire to combat the chill. The wizard grabbed a blanket and quickly wrapped it around the hobbit. Bilbo looked up as the blanket settled around his shoulders and looked up at Gandalf.

“Gandalf? What are you doing here?” He paused, rubbing at his mark. He looked, taking in the broken door, blood on the floor, and his warg skin around him. “My parents?”

The wizard shook his head sadly and gathered the hobbit to move them both closer to the fire. Bilbo didn’t say anything more. He simply held on to the wizard’s arm and stared into the fire.


Gandalf stayed at Bag End for a little more than a month, until the snow began to melt. During that time, he had helped Bilbo bury his parents and soothed him when he shift forced its way free. Now, there was nothing holding the wizard to the Shire and he itched to leave once more. One fine morning, with the sun shining and a few brave birds calling to one another, Bilbo watched him go with a small smile and the promise to return soon. The smile fell when he turned to see the inside of his empty smial. The month since his parents’ deaths had done nothing to lessen the pain of their passing nor the sorrow he felt when he sat by the fire and expected his father to be smoking beside him or when he was cooking and he heard the whisper of his mother softly berating him for getting a recipe wrong on purpose.

No, Bilbo did not think he would ever get over that.

And so, Bilbo rarely left Bag End, choosing instead to chase ghosts even as life slowly came back to the Shire. He continued like that until one evening when he heard a knock on the (new) front door. Bilbo set down his dinner (the pitiful sandwich being his first and only meal of the day) to answer it, the memory of his mother’s laughter following him as she told him to get off his lazy butt and answer it. He pulled the door open to reveal the form of Primrose Bracegirdle. It was no lie that she disliked Bilbo. (She had hated him and his mother since his father rejected her to marry Belladonna.) So, she didn’t even bother to hide her sneer as she took in his unkempt appearance.

“Oh Bilbo,” she said with mock sincerity as she pushed her way into Bag End. Her hands hovered over his shoulders as if she couldn’t bring herself to touch him. “Have you seen the way you look? Your hair is unwashed, you’ve lost weight, and-” she gasped as if scandalized. “Where you wearing these same clothes when you went to the market last week?”

Bilbo looked down at his disheveled clothing. She wasn’t wrong, about any of it. He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t see why my appearance matters when I’m not going into public. Plus, since-” he swallowed, “since my parents-”

“Sweet Yavanna, Bilbo! Will you let that go already?” Primrose’s shrill voice cut through Bilbo and a heavy weight settled in his chest.

“What?”

“Don’t you know you aren’t the only… hobbit… to suffer this past winter?”

“Well ye-”

“And do you know that you don’t have it as bad as some of the other hobbits?” She continued to shout as if Bilbo was not saying anything.

“That doesn’t mean I cannot-”

“Do you know little Lily Brown? All her family is gone. Sickness took her younger two siblings and her mother while wolves got the remaining five children and her father.” Primrose glared down her nose at Bilbo, crossing her arms over her chest. “That poor girl is younger than you and she is taking her circumstances with twice the amount of grace than you! She goes out every day and helps those less fortunate than even her.” She turned away from the stunned hobbit with a scoff and marched to the door. “Remember Bilbo: no matter how bad you have it, there is always someone who has it worse than you.” She left Bilbo with this last remark before slamming the door behind her, leaving him with a lump in his throat and a weight in his chest.

Bilbo stood there a few moments longer before stiffly walking back to the kitchen and throwing his sandwich away, appetite lost. He then went to his room and curled up on his side on the bed.

What are you doing?

Bilbo startled as a thought popped into his mind. The voice was a whisper of what his normal thoughts sounded like but it scared him, making him tense and a trickling sensation run down his back.

Did you not hear that woman?

Get up.

Lily is much stronger than you.

Everyone is stronger than you.

You weak,

Useless

Thing.

The voice seemed to take over his mind, despite being so quiet. Bilbo curled into a tighter ball, hands over his head as he tried to block it out.

You can’t do anything right, can you?

That’s why Gandalf left as soon as he could.

He probably couldn’t bear to be near you.

You can’t even take care of yourself.

You’re going to die alone in these halls.

Just like mommy and daddy.

Because no one can be around someone like you.

Bilbo jumped off the bed and ran into the washroom, smacking the tap on the tub to start filling the tub. He splashed water on his face as the tub filled and stared at his reflection in the mirror.

Worthless.

Hideous.

Freak.

With a muffled scream, Bilbo punched the mirror, the sharp bite of pain silenced the voice for a moment, and quickly stripped before climbing into the tub. He scrubbed at his skin and hair until his skin was a bright pink and his scalp ached. He ended up washing his hair three times before he found it acceptable and got out of the tub and draining it. Back in his room, Bilbo scrubbed his hair with a towel and quickly dried his body before pulling on some sleep pants and climbed in bed. A whisper of “worthless, hideous, freak,” playing on repeat in his head as Bilbo curled up and tried to get some sleep.

 

 

The next morning found Bilbo dressed and heading to the market for some shopping and just to prove to himself that he could.

Look at them, they’re all staring at you.

Bilbo gritted his teeth and paid for a bag of apples, the price seeming a little steep but he wrote it off as a side effect of the winter killing many crops.

Why did you go outside?

Bilbo walked over to the stand where Ponto Goodbody was selling his fresh made bread.

They don’t want to se-…

The voice grew quiet when Bilbo caught the conversation of two woman walking behind him.

“-eard that when the wizard found him, he had eaten half of Bungo and was getting ready to start on poor Bella.”

“I can’t believe he killed his own parents!”

“This winter drove many to desperation… I suppose when one is a monster they can do what others cann-”

The rest of their conversation was lost as they wove their way through the market crowd, but Bilbo had heard enough. His hands were shaking and his heart was beating a harsh rhythm against his chest.

Did you hear that?

Bilbo could almost hear a smirk in the voice.

They know what you are now.

A monster.

That’s not true! That’s not what happened! Bilbo thought desperately as he paid double for a single loaf of bread.

How do you know?

Gandalf told me… Bilbo turned away from the stand and started walking, pointed towards home.

How do you know he wasn’t lying?

This had Bilbo stopping in the middle of the lane, heedless of the stares and glares of hobbits walking around him.

Because… I trust him. My mother trusted him.

Look at where that got her.

Wonder where that’s going to get you.

The voice left him with that as he climbed the road to Bag End. At least the smial was not as quiet as it once was.

Chapter Text

Bilbo sighed as he followed the dwarves through the Shire. Luckily, it was still early so the streets were rather barren, only a few gardeners and bakers. But as word spread (as it magically seemed to do in the Shire), hobbits were slowly trickling out of their homes to gawk and glare at the Company as they passed. Bilbo hoped that they stuck to glaring; he has not sure how he would explain it if they started throwing things.

They came up to the stables with the sun just beginning to peek over the hills and Bilbo sighed again. He should have realized that they would be riding. (Really, what other option was there? Walking?) As the dwarves went about collecting their ponies, Bilbo moved to the stablemaster to purchase his own pony.

“Master Baggins, what are you doing? We’ve already got you a pony.” Bofur asked when he noticed what Bilbo was doing.

“Just Bilbo, please. I’m not a master of anything.” Bilbo replied. Not for long, anyway. He thought. “And I thank you for the thought. But… I have never had a good hand when it comes to any animals, so I think it would be better for everyone if I purchased a Shire pony. One that I was more experienced with, and had more experience with me, anyway.”

Bofur still seemed a little put off by this and opened his mouth to argue again, when he was cut off. “Let the halfling do as he wishes. It is no problem of outs if he wants to waste his gold on something that has already been provided.” Thorin said from where he was paying for the board of his own pony. The stablemaster gasped at the slur but Bilbo only blinked.

Ungrateful.

The…approval of their leader had Bofur turning away with a shrug. Bilbo quickly finished purchasing a pony and joined the dwarves outside to collect her. Although he tried to stay away from the dwarven ponies, their eyes were still wide and their ears pinned back in fear. The dwarves were able to keep them from bolting and somewhat calm but the ponies still snorted and chomped at their bits.

“Aulë, Bilbo, you weren’t joking when you said you and the beasts didn’t get on.” Bofur laughed as his pony tossed its head. “Are you sure you didn’t roll in wolf stink before we left?”

Bilbo smiled, a strained smile that did not quite reach his eyes. He patted Myrtle’s neck when the pony bumped his back with her nose. “No. No, of course not.”

“Enough dawdling. Let’s go.” Thorin commanded, mounting his pony. The rest of the Company followed without another word (Bilbo scrambled onto Myrtle with much less grace than the others) and they were off.

 


 

Their travel through the rest of the Shire was mostly uneventful. Their stop at the stables allowed more hobbits to hear of Bilbo leaving with “a troop of…dwarves!” and the path was lined with gossiping hobbits.

“Maybe they plan to use his pelt…”

“…time he left, if you ask…”

“Good riddance!”

“…who will claim Bag…”

Bilbo was not sure if the dwarves noticed the whispers and he could only hope that they paid them no mind, if they did.

You can never return, you know.

You’re making a mistake.

As soon they find out what you are, they’ll kill you…

Stop it.

Bilbo gritted his teeth when his stomach gave a little twist of nerves because of the voice. He trusted Gandalf (trusted him enough anyway) and if he trusted these dwarves, then Bilbo saw no harm in trusting them too. He was pulled from his thoughts when he saw Bofur riding next to him. The dwarf smiled when Bilbo noticed him.

What is he doing?

“Hello, Master Bofur…” Bilbo trailed off, unsure.

“Hello there, Bilbo!” he grinned. “I have a question for you, if you don’t mind.”

Bilbo nodded.

“I couldn’t help but notice your fellow hobbits,” he jerked his head to the hobbits still lining the road (although the groups were getting smaller and smaller as they approached the edge of the Shire), “seem to be angry with our group.”

“Ah.” Bilbo was happy that Bofur thought everyone was glaring at the Company as a whole, and not just him. “Hobbits don’t particularly like anything new in the Shire.”

“Why not?” A new voice asked on the other side of Bilbo. He looked over to see Ori holding a notebook. When he saw Bilbo looking at said notebook, the scribe lowered it. “I hope you don’t mind. There is so little known about halflings that I’d thought to record some information about you. Erebor’s library should have information about all races, after all.”

Bilbo shrugged. “Alright. I don’t think I’m the best to ask when it comes to all things hobbit but I’ll try my best.” He allowed, more interested in seeing Ori steer his pony while he wrote than he was concerned about any questions he may be asked. “Before anything, calling a hobbit ‘halfling’ is considered a grave insult and is only allowed in very few, and specific, instances.”

Ori muttered a hurried apology before scribbling in his journal. (Bilbo was impressed to see his hand writing was still legible despite the rocking of the pony.)

“To answer your question: I believe it’s because hobbits are so small compared to everyone else and we don’t learn to fight. Hobbits prefer to warm -up to individuals instead of choosing to dislike an entire race. For example, the merchants from outside of the Shire…”

 


 

The back and forth between the two lasted hours, only pausing when food was passed around when the Company rode through break. Ori was an endless fount of questions (Bofur had left them to it and returned to ride with his family) and Bilbo found himself talking more than he had since his parents’ death. He answered questions from, “Why do you live in holes in the ground?” to, “Have hobbits always lived in the Shire?”

Bilbo could feel his voice starting to go when they began to set up camp for the night but he could not care less. It felt amazing to talk to someone else other than himself.

Nori, who brought them dinner, interrupted Ori mid-question. (Bilbo was not sure where he got all his questions. Really, hobbits are not that interesting), “I’ve got a question for you, Master Baggins.”

“Just Bilbo.” He corrected, taking a bite of stew.

“Why do you have that ear piercing? I didn’t see any others with one.”

Bilbo nearly choked on the stew that landed in his stomach like a stone. It felt as though the eyes of everyone in camp were on him and it felt like the voice uncurled from wherever it stayed the entire day.

It’s time.

Tell the truth: they’ll kill you like the freak you are…

Lie and it will come back to haunt you and they’ll still kill you.

Gandalf wouldn’t let them.

You trust that? If a thought could smile than it definitely was.

Just like when you trusted him to come back for you?

Ori took his silence as an inability to answer and quickly stated, “It’s okay if you can’t tell us. You’ve already answered so many questions.”

Bilbo took a deep breath. “It’s fine, it’s not a secret, just… personal.” He put his spoon down, appetite gone. “This marks me as different. You wouldn’t find anyone else with one.” He flicked the earring.

“Different?” Ori had his charcoal pencil poised over his page.

Will you lie?

Or sign your death warrant?

“I wasn’t made for the Shire.”

Coward.

“What do you mean by that?” Nori prodded.

“That’s a hobbit secret, sorry…” Bilbo evaded.

Ori seemed to be pacified by this but Nori’s eyes narrowed. Bilbo stood and nodded to both dwarves. “Goodnight Master Ori, Master Nori. I’m not used to all of this sort of travelling.” He tilted his head toward the ponies as ways of explanation before hurrying off to his pack, passing his stew off to one of the -li brothers, and unrolled his bedroll. He heard Thorin mutter something about him as he strode by but he ignored it, choosing instead to try to sleep.

 


 

Sleep did not come easily that night, nor in the two weeks since, for that matter. Every day he had to deal with remarks from Thorin that came back to haunt him as he was trying to fall asleep. Each day also brought Bilbo further and further from when he was supposed to shift and it was setting him on edge. He could often feel Gandalf’s eyes following his as they setup and broke camp each day. Unless the wizard was planning on helping him, Bilbo did not think he could simply run off for a few hours to shift without rousing suspicion. But of course, the man did nothing.

It all came to a head one night when the Company set up camp on the edge of a cliff. Bilbo was teased by Fíli and Kíli, Thorin snapped at them (all three of them?), and Balin told the story of Azanulbizar. The hobbit-shifter made eye contact with Thorin as he (a tad overdramatically) turned to look at the group.

“Thorin, I am so sorry for what you’ve been through. By the gods, I can only imag-”

“Yes. You can only imagine, can’t you.” Thorin snapped, eyes piercing. “I don’t think a halfling like you has experienced anything like heartache in your insignificant life!”

A few of the dwarves called out in Bilbo’s defense, Ori and Bofur being the loudest. The hobbit only glared with the intensity to match their leader.

“Bilbo…” Gandalf warned.

“No, your majesty, you’re wrong. While I haven’t felt sorrow quite on your scale, I have felt my fair share of it.” His skin rippled as he took a step toward Thorin. “Let us review your story, shall we? You lost your home due to conditions outside of your control. So have I. You lost most of your family and you couldn’t do anything to save them. Me too. You had responsibility thrust upon you before you were ready and you had to work hard to survive. You often worked in places where people openly loathed your existence. Yes, yes, and yes.” Bilbo ticked off on his fingers. “Like I said, I may have not experienced sorrow on the scale you have, but that does not make mine any lesser. Sorrow is not a competition. Do not make it one.” Silence fell over the camp as the hobbit and dwarf stared each other down.

Finally, Thorin smirked and looked down his nose at Bilbo. “Fancy words, halfling. However, next time you lecture someone, make sure you believe what you’re saying first.” He then turned and strode off to his pack.

“You overdramatic pr-” Bilbo growled, moving to follow.

“Bilbo. Take a walk.” Gandalf said, voice crystal clear despite being across camp. Bilbo turned to glare at the wizard before marching down the path that lead them up here.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.” Bilbo heard Gandalf reassure someone before he was out of earshot.

 

 

Bilbo wandered back to camp sometime later, his earlier irritation not at all gone. Despite being four weeks overdue, he could not shift. So, he was a bit on edge and jumped when he suddenly had a face full of dwarf.

“Bilbo! Gandalf told us what you did. Why would you leave your home when you knew you couldn’t go back?” Ori’s face was equal parts flustered and confused… and entirely too close to Bilbo’s.

“I, uh.” Bilbo tugged at his earring and took a step back, entirely too aware of the eyes of the Company. “My mother traveled quite frequently in her youth and told me many stories of dwarves being mistreated in the cities of men. I couldn’t honestly let that go on if I had some chance to change that. And the Shire hasn’t truly felt like home since my parents died. I was fond of Bag End, but it would be selfish to put my needs above so many lives.” He glanced around and saw some of the dwarves looking at him in awe (the younger ones, anyway. The older generation still looked mostly unsure of him) while Thorin continued to glare at him.

“The wizard didn’t explain ‘why’ though.” Bilbo looked at Nori, the dwarf had that calculating look in his eye again.

“That’s…”

“A secret?”

Bilbo nodded, forced a laugh, and looked at the moon. “Wow, is it that late? I think I should try and get some sleep.” Without further ado, Bilbo walked to his bedroll and tried to force himself to sleep. Again.

Bilbo just wished he could shift soon.

 


 

In the morning, the Company was a little strained as they broke camp but everything slowly went back to normal as they traveled. Bofur rode next to him and they made easy conversation while they rode. The only difference was Ori, who was riding up next to Dori. Despite the lack of his (finally) dwindling questions, the journey seemed to pass quickly and in no time, they were stopping to make camp.

Bilbo was eyeing the burnt farmhouse warily when Gandalf hurried past him in a huff. A short conversation later, if you could call being yelled at by a retreating figure a conversation, and Bilbo was pleased to find out he was not the only one at his wits end with rude dwarves. Even if he was worried about being left alone with the dwarves, Bilbo appreciated the comradery.

Bofur caught his distraught expression and wandered over with two bowls of stew and an easy grin. “Don’t worry, Bilbo. He’s a wizard; he comes and goes as he pleases.” This did nothing to pacify Bilbo. “Here, go give these to the boys.” He held out the bowls and nodded to where Fíli and Kíli were tending to the ponies. Bilbo knew he was only being given this task because Bofur did not want to do it. When he looked from the bowls to Bofur’s face, the lazy dwarf’s grin only grew.

 

 

Bilbo was not going to do anything for Bofur ever again. By taking the bowls their dinner, Bilbo now sat watching as three trolls (three! Trolls!) roasted half of the Company while the other half sat in sacks nearby.

It had started when Bilbo found the boys staring at the ponies and the subsequent discovery of the trolls. The little devils had actually suggested that he go up against three (again, three!) trolls by himself and had shoved him off before disappearing. Bilbo was not having any of that. He marched back through the bushed and grabbed the retreating dwarves by the collar and pulled them, stumbling, back to camp where they told the others about the situation.

As the group, on Thorin’s order, rushed off to fight the trolls, Bilbo wisely stayed back. Which had led him to where he was now. (He felt bad for Dori. He was dropped from such a height that the dwarf was left in a daze, and caused everyone to be captured when the trolls snatched him up again and threatened him. And now he was on the spit, which could not be helping things.)

Bilbo had heard one of the trolls mention something about being done before the sun came up and he was trying to think of a plan that would work. If only he could stall long enough for Gandalf to return…

You think dying by troll is better than by dwarf?

Not now. I’m busy.

It wouldn’t be fast, you know.

Bilbo tried to ignore all the ways he could be killed by the trolls and stepped out into the troll camp, an overly bright grin on his face.

“Oh thank Yavanna!” Bilbo exclaimed, clapping his hands once. The trolls all turned to look at him and Bilbo forced his feet to stay still. “You’ve found them!”

“We found what?” one of the trolls growled.

The troll with the ladle and apron leaned closer. “It would be a nice addition to the stew, it would.” It extended a finger and prodded Bilbo in the stomach. The hobbit groaned but latched onto the finger and (attempted to, anyway) shook it vigorously.

“You found my dwarves, of course! Thank you, thank you, thank-” The troll pulled away, nearly causing Bilbo to fall on his face.

“I don’t sees your name on them!” The skinny troll squawked, glaring down at Bilbo with his good eye.

“Why would I put my name on them if I was planning on eating them?” Bilbo could tell that the dwarves had many things to say about that but they were, thankfully, staying quiet.

“And hows something as small as you planning on doing that?” The troll that spoke first asked. For ease, Bilbo decided to call him ‘One’. Brilliant? Yes, he knows.

“I’ve infected them. The worms keep them easy to handle.” Bilbo replied easily, hands behind his back.

“Worms?” Three, the skinny troll, shouted and jerked back from where he had been attempting to sneak a dwarf snack.

Now this, the dwarves took offense to. They began shouting all sorts of insults in Bilbo’s direction.

“I don’t have worms!” Kíli shouted. “You have worms!”

“I’ll remember this!” Dwalin threatened from his place on the spit, which greatly lessened any fear Bilbo may have felt.

“I thought we were friends!” Bofur cried.

Bilbo even had to dance away from Fíli, who was attempting to bite his ankles.

One leaned in closer to Bilbo, looming over him. “They don’t seem very ‘easy to handle’ now do they?”

“Excuse me, but your presence has agitated the dwarves enough that the worms have no influence on them.” Bilbo was proud of himself for not taking a step back.

“So what?” One growled, Two and Three having gone back to turning the dwarves. “Do you want us to just leave?”

“Well…” Bilbo shrugged.

One roared in anger and started to grab Bilbo.

“Let the dawn take you all!” Oh, Bilbo could kiss Gandalf right now. A rock split, sunlight poured through, and the troll turned to stone. Together, hobbit and wizard got the dwarves put back to rights. The moment he was free, Bofur pulled Bilbo in for a fierce hug.

“Oh, I didn’t doubt you for a moment! Mind as sharp as a tac, this one.” Bilbo stepped back to raise an eyebrow at the dwarf. “Don’t trust things said in the heat of the moment, Bilbo. People tend to lie then.”

“So, we aren’t friends, Master Bofur?” Bilbo teased.

“Course we are, Bilbo! Have I not told you to drop that ‘Master’ nonsense yet? Shame on me.” Bofur smiled widely.

Don’t get attached.

Remember?

The two were interrupted when Thorin came over to yell at Bilbo for his actions with the trolls. He managed to get a few barbs in (not at all allowing Bilbo to say, ‘No, you did not have it under control.’) before Gandalf called him over. Bilbo nodded to Bofur, who went to go check on his brother and cousin, and wandered over to check on Dori.

“Master Ori, Master Nori,” he greeted before turning to the grey-haired dwarf currently sitting on the ground. “Master Dori, how are you?”

“Ah, I’m fine, Master Baggins. Bilbo.” He corrected when Bilbo opened his mouth. “I’m still a little out of it from the fall. Thank you for asking.”

Bilbo smiled and left them to it when Thorin called for them to move. He trailed behind the group as they found the troll cave and let them do the searching once they found it. A short while later, following the dwarves leaving the cave, Gandalf came over to Bilbo and gave him a small sword, waving off his refusal.

From there, everything was havoc. A strange wizard came out of the bushes, covered in bird mess on a sled pulled by rabbits. Large rabbits. The wizard pulled Gandalf aside to talk about something important, presumably. After that came the wargs. Of course. (It unsettled Bilbo to see the dwarves kill something that resembled him so closely.) One of the wargs had been able to tackle Dori who, in his daze, landed awkwardly under the beast. Once the warg was killed and moved, Óin rushed in to check on him.

“Óin?” Thorin called, turning away from Gandalf.

“Not good. He’s fractured his leg.” Óin stated, carefully prodding Dori’s lower leg. “He can’t walk.”

“I’m fine!”

“If he tries to walk, forget running, it would just make it worse.” The healer continued, ignoring Dori. Bilbo turned when he felt eyes on him and saw Gandalf looking at him with an odd twinkle in his eyes. He hated that twinkle.

“Gandalf no, I can’t.” He said fearfully, taking a step back and pulling at his earring.

“Did you not speak about wanting to change the dwarf’s fate just yesterday? You are needed now.”

The brown wizard, who had been checking the stays on his… rabbits, looked up, his eyes wide. “A hobbit-shifter? I didn’t know there were any left.”

Bilbo shut his eyes for a moment. “I’m the only one I know of.” The wizard looked at him sadly before going back to his task.

“what does he mean-” Thorin started before Gandalf’s staff stopped him.

“Gandalf, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t shift yesterday. No matter how hard I tried.”

“We can help you.”

Bilbo stared at the grey wizard for a second longer before ripping his jacket off his shoulders and shoving it in his pack, his waistcoat and shirt following.

“You won’t let them harm me?”

“Of course not.”

“Will someone tell me what’s going on?!”

“All in good time, Thorin.” Gandalf said, angering the dwarf more, although he stayed silent.

“You’ll need to put a rope around me. To give him something to hold on to.” Bilbo stated when he was down to his smalls.

“Of course.” Gandalf repeated.

“Right.” Bilbo nodded before shoving his smalls down and into his pack. Gandalf and the other wizard walked and placed a hand on either one of Bilbo’s shoulders. He closed his eyes again, trying to pull his shif-

Oh.

 

 

Ow.

The pain was so intense and it was over so quickly that it left Bilbo disoriented. He fell forward on all fours a second after closing his eyes, shift already complete. He took a moment to collect himself before he shook out his fur and opened his eyes. He took a moment to appreciate being nearly eye-to-eye with Gandalf before he looked around.

I told you.

Well fu-

Chapter Text

“What,” Thorin began, his voice deep with anger and the promise of violence. He lifted his sword and pointed it at Bilbo. “is that.” The rest of the Company was still standing where they had been moments ago, only many now had their weapons pointed at Bilbo.

That, as you so kindly put it, is Master Baggins!” Gandalf exclaimed as if nothing was amiss. He moved closer to Bilbo with some rope (Yavanna only knows where he got that from) and his pack and began securing them to the shifter, the rope looped behind his front legs. “Bilbo Baggins! The hobbit that you’ve been traveling with for nearly three weeks.” The wizard let out a huff, securing the final knot.

Said hobbit, who had been torn between ducking down to make himself smaller and running for…somewhere, hunkered down until his belly brushed the dirt when Thorin took a step in his direction.

“That thing has no place in my Company!” he roared.

Gandalf’s irritation was tangible when another howl rang through the air and he looked up at the man, ears pinned to his head. “We don’t have the time for this. Either we all leave now, or I will take Master Dori’s place and leave you to fend for yourselves.”

Bilbo huffed and glared at the wizard. He had some nerve, implying that he was the same as a simple horse.

Another howl filled the empty space between dwarf and wizard, this time closer, and Bilbo looked around at the dwarves. He expected the glares and ready weapons from the dwarves he did not know very well, but he felt a pang in his chest when he looked at the ones he was beginning to call his friends. Bofur had his mattock at the ready as he stood strong with his family. Ori was squat next to Dori on the ground with Nori standing protectively in front of them, glaring daggers at Bilbo. (Oh, and he also had actual daggers. Lovely.)

Bilbo’s chest twisted again and he lowered his head.

It was inevitable, you know.

No one would want to put up with you once they knew what you were.

Yeah, I know.

Bilbo was not paying attention to the conversations going on around him and startled when a weight was lowered onto his back.

“Whoa there, Bilbo.” Gandalf put a hand on his flank to calm him. Oh, that wizard was going to get bit if he didn’t stop comparing him to a horse. “It’s only Master Dori and Ori.”

Ori?

“Master Ori is joining his brother so he will not fall off.” Gandalf said, as if hearing Bilbo’s question. It made sense. Bilbo could hardly ride a pony at the start of the journey (not that he was an expert now…) and he could not imagine trying to stay vertical with an injured leg.

Once the dwarves were situated and still, Bilbo stood slowly. Thorin gave the dwarves on his back a sharp nod and then they were off.

 

 

Bilbo felt sorry for the dwarves on his back. He was attempting to keep his stride long and smooth while keeping it short enough so he did not outrun the dwarves. He had to adjust how he ran multiple times, usually when Dori’s fingers twisted into his fur. Yes, Bilbo did try to make it easy for the brothers, but as the Orc pack weaved across the plain, the Company did so as well. As they ducked behind yet another (conveniently placed) rock for cover, Bilbo felt Dori adjust once more with a groan.

Thorin questioned Gandalf on where they were going and was ignored when the wizard darted off again. The dwarf looked like he wished to make some sort of noise in frustration but wisely kept quiet as he led the Company to follow. They got to the last, and largest, rock in the clearing when Bilbo heard something climb on top of the rock and quick breaths. He made himself as small as possible and the dwarves on his back flattened themselves into his fur. Bilbo watched out of the corner of his eye as a warg crested the rock, its grotesque rider on its back. He sent a quick prayer that the warg would move on and go back to chasing the brown wizard.

Nobody was listening.

The warg or the rider (Bilbo was not sure which and he did not really care, it had the same outcome) spotted Bilbo or the dwarves (again, same outcome) and the beast leapt. Bilbo had just enough time to respond and catch the warg in the throat, throwing it to the ground while the rider went flying. The dwarves made quick work of the rider as Bilbo shoved the warg back into the ground and bit into its neck. When it went still, Bilbo looked over his shoulder to check on his riders (he was seriously going to hit Gandalf). They were wide eyed but thankfully unharmed. The warg had made too much noise before it died and it was back to the running again.

They had not gone three steps from the rock when Gandalf vanished, again. Bilbo was willing to act as the wizard’s steed if it meant that he would not disappear. Or at least he would take Bilbo with him.

The dwarves were sprinting across the field but, without any cover, the Orc pack was slowly beginning to surround them. Bilbo tried to stay towards the middle of the group, conscious of the two on his back. Thorin and Dwalin took care of some wargs that were faster than the others but it became apparent that it was useless. Dwalin shouted about the wizard abandoning them and the cry seemed to summon the man; his head popping out of a…rock, of all places.

Bilbo ran with all his might toward the rock, leaving the dwarves behind him. He just had to get these two safes. If these two were safe then he could go back. He had to get them safe. He had to get them safe. Had to get them safe. Had to get them safe. Had to get them safe. Get them safe. Get them safe. Get them safe. Get th-

Bilbo skidded to a stop at the opening in the rock and laid down so Ori could slide off and help his brother off and into the opening. Bilbo spun and took in the scene around him.

 

I need to protect them.

 

The dwarves were still making their way toward the opening but some were too slow. Bilbo took off, quickly covering ground until he was near the back of the dwarf group.

 

I need to protect them.

 

Bombur was struggling to keep up with the group and a rider less warg was eagerly nipping at his heels. Bilbo crashed into it, sending it tumbling. He quickly gathered himself, shook it off, and ran after Bombur. He ran up beside the rotund dwarf and kept pace with him. The dwarf looked at him and Bilbo stared at him before looking up at him back, pleased that he could do so without falling.

 

I have to protect them.

 

Bombur, bless him, understood Bilbo’s meaning and grabbed the fur on his shoulder, pulling himself onto his back with a mighty heave. Bilbo did not break stride and put on another burst of speed to catch up to Glóin, the next dwarf. He saw Bombur on Bilbo’s back and did not need any more instruction. He pulled himself up a little less gracefully than Bombur and was grumbling about dwarves being sprinters before he was even seated fully. Bilbo trusted the dwarves to get a handhold as he sprinted back to the opening.

 

I have to protect them.

 

The rest of the Company saw him running by with Bombur and Glóin so when Bilbo ran back to get Bifur and Bofur, they did not need any encouragement before swinging up onto his back. Bilbo went back and forth, his mantra running through his head, collecting the dwarves until only three were left. Thorin and Fíli were the closest while Kíli was further out, trying to stem the wargs with his bow.

“Kíli!” Thorin shouted but the dwarf did not hear him. Bilbo ran full tilt when he saw a warg rushing Kíli from behind.

 

I need to get there.

 

I need to protect them.

 

I need to protect my dwarves.

 

Bilbo’s paws beat out a thundering rhythm as he raced across the plain. The warg was so close, too close, to Kíli. He pushed himself harder, legs burning.

 

Please

 

Please

 

Please!

 

“KÍLI!” Thorin and Fíli shouted in unison, causing the archer to turn just in time to see Bilbo crash into the other warg. The two went tumbling and Kíli ran for the rock. Both wargs got their feet under them at the same time and they held their ground, glaring at one another, waiting for the other to make the first move.

Bilbo’s growls were deep and guttural with his panting and he barked at the other warg, attempting to warn it off. It simply stood, tense and silent, waiting to strike. At some unknown signal, both leapt at each other. They met in the middle in a clash of snarling, teeth, and claws. They rose on their hind legs, neither willing to let the other get the upper hand. Bilbo’s memory kept flashing to a time with snow and cold and blood, so much blood.

 

I will protect my dwarves.

 

The two fell away from one another, each covered in their fair share of cuts and bites. They did not wait more than a second before rushing at one another again. This time, as the warg went high again, Bilbo went low. He wedged himself under the warg and heaved. The warg fell backwards and lay still for a moment, dazed. The shifter descended on its neck and bit at it harshly. The warg tried fighting him off, claws raking across his soft belly. Bilbo bit harder, teeth sinking even further into flesh, and blood filling his mouth.

 

I WILL PROTECT MY PACK!

 

Warg now still, Bilbo pulled back, fur bloodied, and hurried to the rock where Thorin was still waiting at. The dwarf slid down when he saw Bilbo headed towards him. The rest of the dwarves moved back to give Bilbo room as he squeezed himself through the opening, thankful that Ori had cut his pack from him. He finally forced himself through the gap and rolled down the slope, coming to a stop at the feet of the dwarves. He let himself be still for a moment and calm down. Now that he was not running around and no one was in danger, his exhaustion and pain was fully setting in. He also registered something on his mouth, and his snout, and most of his face.

Was it blood?

He hoped it was not blood.

It was probably blood.

He also remembered calling the dwarves his pack. That was definitely not a thought for right now.

“Come on, Bilbo. It’s time to go.” Bilbo rolled his head to look at Ori, who was standing by his shoulder, clutching Bilbo’s pack to his chest. Bilbo let out a sigh that ended up more like a wheeze and forced himself to his feet. Many of the dwarves took another step back but they did not reach for their weapons. (Thorin may have lifted his sword a bit but Bilbo still counted this as a win.) He limped behind the dwarves as Gandalf lead them away from the cave and onto a cliff overlooking the most beautiful sight Bilbo had ever seen.

Rivendell.

Bilbo did not care that Thorin was shouting at Gandalf, he merely nudged Ori in the back in hoped of getting the pa- Company moving again. Ori batted his nose away and Dori glared at Bilbo from his place under Nori’s arm. Thorin reluctantly called the Company to moving and Bilbo eagerly made his way down a steep path, careful not to slip and take out the group in front of him.

In no time, they were standing in the clearing before the city and Bilbo drank in the sight, even if he ducked down a bit so no one accidently shot him. He was admiring the smooth archways and gleaming stone when someone came out and spoke with Gandalf. The elf’s eyes swept the group and stopped when they landed on Bilbo.

“Is that…a skin changer?” He asked. His eyes widened a fraction, the only sign of his surprise. “I wasn’t aware that there was any left in the area.”

“There isn’t.” Gandalf replied. “He is a shape shifter. He has much more control over himself than a skin changer.” He corrected simply. Bilbo could feel the eyes of the dwarves on him but ignored them in favor of looking friendly and non-threatening. (A little hard with the blood on his face but Bilbo thought he did pretty well.) Gandalf inquired over the lord of the city and before the elf could say much, a group of elves on horseback rode in, circling the group. The dwarves quickly took a defensive stance and Bilbo was not sure if he should be surprised or not that he was placed on the outside of the ring. An elf dismounted his horse and greeted Gandalf. He was obviously the lord that Gandalf was looking for and, like the elf before him, his eyes scanned the dwarves and quickly stopped on Bilbo.

“A ski-”

“Shape shifter.” Gandalf but in and gave the same explanation to the lord (Elrond, Bilbo thinks). He was thankful when the conversation quickly moved on from him to the leader of their group. One insult and one misunderstanding later, the Company was being led through the city. Upon the dwarves’ request (demand), they were led to an open room where everyone could sleep without being separated. Everyone started filing in and choosing their preferred spot when a hand on his shoulder stopped Bilbo from entering as well. He looked into the kind eyes of the elf that first greeted them.

“We can have out healers look at your wounds. And you can wa-”

“Our healer can look him over.” Thorin interrupted, standing with his arms crossed in the doorway. The elf nodded, bowed, and went on his way. Bilbo walked in to the room behind Thorin and Óin started walking over with his pack. “No.” Óin stopped. Thorin turned to Bilbo, eyes hard.

“Thorin, he needs-” Óin tried.

“What he needs is to answer for himself. Change back.” He ordered.

Bilbo blinked before starting the shift. A whine was pulled from his throat whenever a bone snapped or something shifted. His skin started sagging off his body and he slumped to the floor. Bilbo laid in the skin for a few moments before rubbing his face and standing up. He retrieved his earring from the skin and replaced it in his ear. He turned and made eye contact with Thorin. His face was no longer bloody but his wounds bled lazily. Uncaring for his own nudity, Bilbo met his gaze evenly and asked nonchalantly:

“So, you have questions?”

Chapter Text

“What are you?”

Bilbo shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest (as comfortable with his own nudity as he was, having so many people staring at him was still unnerving), “I’m a hobbit.”

Thorin took a step closer. “Specifically.” Bilbo sighed and sat down in the remains of his warg shift, pulling a paw to cover his lap, to the dwarves’ disgust.

“Don’t worry, this,” He gestured vaguely to the pelt around him, “will dissolve once I’m far enough away.” He told the group before focusing on Thorin’s question (demand). “I am a hobbit-shifter. The only one of my kind, as far as I know.”

Telling them the secret will bring them to the Shire.

It will happen all over again.

“Only one of your kind?”

The hobbit nodded. “There hasn’t been more than one shifter in a long time. Even then, we aren’t very common.” Thorin was about to ask another question when Bilbo held up a hand to stop him. “I should warn you, this part of hobbit history isn’t very well known or well-remembered.”

Thorin gave no reaction and merely moved on to his next question. “Why did you lie to us?”

Bilbo glared in response and removed his earring from the warg pelt, replacing it in his ear before answering. “I did not lie. I am a hobbit. I simply can do something that the rest of the hobbits cannot do. I apologize for holding that from you all.” He glanced around to the dwarves, receiving mixed expressions in return. “My secrecy stems from necessity.”

“And that is?”

“A long story, going back into my history.”

“We have the time.”

“That, Thorin, is not true.” Gandalf said from the doorway, grabbing everyone’s attention. Lord Elrond and another elf stood behind him. “Lord Elrond has agreed to look at the map.”

Thorin looked like he wanted to refuse, glaring at Gandalf before looking at the Company. “Balin, with me. Dwalin, keep an eye on him.” He ordered. The dwarves nodded and Balin moved to join Thorin. Before they left, Lord Elrond and the elf moved in to the room. Elrond looked down at Bilbo, a soft smile on his face.

“Bilbo Baggins. It is good to finally meet you.” Bilbo nodded. “You must forgive me for my surprise at the gate. I had heard of you from your mother but when she passed, I was unaware what became of you. She would not tell me what your shift was and seeing it now, I can understand her reluctance.” He gestured to Bilbo’s warg shift which currently dwarfed his regular one. “It is magnificent but it would not get the best reactions from all who see it.” He pointedly did not look at the dwarves.

“No worries.” Bilbo replied with a smile. Thorin cleared his throat and glared when the pair looked over at him.

“I brought a healer to look at your injuries.” He gestured to Bilbo’s chest and Dori’s leg.

“We have a healer.” Thorin bit out.

“And I have no doubt that he is exceptional. The combinations of their abilities, however, will speed up healing.” Thorin ground his teeth but nodded. The elven healer quickly got to work on Dori’s leg, splinting it and rubbing a salve into the skin while the other group gave their farewells and left. The group stayed in awkward silence as the healer worked, sure hands finishing the wrap on Dori’s leg before moving on to Bilbo. His wounds were cleaned and bandaged as needed and then the healer was gone.

Bilbo stood up and pointed at his pack across the room. “May I?” he asked Dwalin. The dwarf nodded so Bilbo moved to it (the dwarves parting to give him room) and put on some trousers. When he turned back, his warg shift was already gone and the dwarves stared at the spot it had lain with wide eyes. Bilbo sat there once more and sighed.

“Please sit. There’s no need to make this more serious than it is.” The dwarves slowly sat but Dwalin continued to stand, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

“W-why does it do that?” Ori whispered, gesturing vaguely to the area around Bilbo. Dori smacked him on the arm and whispered something to him.

Hmm.

Looks like Dori doesn’t want his brother to talk to the thing.

“I don’t know.” Bilbo answered, ignoring the thoughts. “I only know it disappears when I walk away. It makes clean up easy.” He tried to smile, but he knew it looked too strained, too forced.

“Back to Thorin’s question.” Dwalin growled. Bilbo ran a hand through his hair and looked at his hands.

“Hobbits didn’t always live in the Shire. Our original home has been forgotten but we know it used to lay somewhere over the Misty Mountains. We may have been neighbors, for all I know.” Bilbo paused, remembering this next part of history well. “Something happened and the hobbits fled. We wandered for over two centuries. Some groups broke off along the way, trying to find home in different areas that looked fertile, but many of the hobbits crossed the Misty Mountains and settled in the area near the Shire before that land was given to us by a nearby king. Hobbits have been living in the Shire for a little over thirteen hundred years. All fauntlings are taught this version of history. My kind is kept out because of outdated views and old fears.”

Bilbo let out a little huff of laughter, still not looking at the dwarves “In that time, it was far more common for a hobbit to be born as a shifter than not. It runs in families and hobbits have large families, after all.” Shrug. “During the Wandering Days, hobbits were hunted. Hobbit shifters, specifically. We were hunted for sport and displayed like trophies. The hunters were quick to learn-”

Don’t tell them.

“-that just killing a shifter was useless-”

You’re going to sign the hobbit’s death sentence.

I trust these dwarves.

You call them ‘pack’ but do you really trust them?

Thought so.

“-because killing a shifter, even if they are in their other shape, causes the shifter to revert to their hobbit shape.”

“Then why were they hunted so much.” Fíli asked from beside Dwalin. Bilbo glanced at him, crossing his arms over his chest.

“The hunters found a way to keep the shifters in their other shape even after death.”

“And what was that?” Glóin spoke up.

Ah, Glóin, looking for a quick way to get gold.

Bilbo hesitated.

“No lying, now.” Dwalin growled.

“I-if a shifter’s…will was broken…like if they felt a great enough sorrow…the shifter would…change into their second shape…and be stuck.” He told them reluctantly. “The hobbit loses everything about their self and is left savage. There is no coming back from that. The hobbit is gone and a beast is left in their place. The hunters would kidnap families and kill the parents in front of their faunts in hopes of breaking them. Entire lines were wiped out because of this. Shifters were looked at as a curse and soon, if one was born, they were abandoned in the wilds and the hobbits would move on.” The dwarves all let out varying noises of shock and disgust.

“How do you know what happened when the families were taken? You said it yourself that there was no way back after a shifter lost their will.” Nori asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Hobbits have large families.” Bilbo repeated. “Sometimes a faunt was strong enough to resist it and they could get away because their shift was small, fast, or could fly.”

“So not all shifters are like you?” Kíli asked, eyes wide.

“A warg, you mean?” Bilbo smiled at the dwarf’s enthusiasm when he nodded. “No, that’s completely random.” He gestured to the mark on his chest. “The only way to tell is by the mark on the shifter’s chest. All shifter’s have one, although my mother told me it was little more than a blob when I was a babe. This mark changes as the shifter grows up and however fast it changes and settles gives one the idea of when the hobbit is going to have their first shift.” Bilbo’s smile fell slightly and he put his hand over the mark. “I had my first shift when I was 18 but that also depends on the hobbit. That’s when I got this.” He flicked the earring. “My first punishment for being born.”

Bilbo could feel the dwarves’ confusion and explained. “Hobbit ears are very sensitive. No one would dream to ever pierce their ears. I had to be held down for them to put it in the first time, and it took years for it to stop hurting.” The dwarves were silent and Bilbo was focused on his hands once more.

“Why… Why are you called a shape shifter and not a skin changer?” Ori spoke up again. Bilbo look up at him. “I mean, if you lose yourself along with your will… isn’t that the same thing?” Dori squawked and pulled Ori back.

“I’m still me.” Bilbo answered, voice strong again. “No matter which shape I’m in, I am in total control. For a skin changer, they are truly man and beast in one and the personalities bleed into one another. They are sometimes a man, they are sometimes a beast. I am a hobbit. At times, I have four legs and a tail, but it is still me. I’m unsure how many times I’ve had to tell other hobbits that.” He muttered.

Bifur grunted something. “So, you have no warg instincts?” Bofur translated, not looking at Bilbo.

The hobbit scratched the back of his head. “I have some.” He paused, trying to answer honestly. “I’ve always been aggressive over my belongings and I’ve…preferred large groups to being alone.” He hedged, still not wanting to think about the pack issue. “There is a reason why we go savage when we lose hope, after all. It’s connected to our emotions, I think. When I’m tired, hurt, stressed, or something along those lines, I tend to be more territorial.” He saw the look in Kíli’s eye and quickly spoke to stop it. “But I don’t have improved smell or hearing in this shift. That would make no sense.”

“Yeah, that makes no sense.” Kíli mumbled.

"Why do you still have your wounds?" Fíli asked.

"My best answer is that it's still me so the injuries stay when the blood that was on my face is gone because it was on my other shift."

"What happens to your skin when you do shift?" Óin spoke up for the first time.

Bilbo scratched his head. "It stretches?" The dwarves looked unimpressed. "No really. My mother once shaved part of my warg shift," the dwarves now looked uncomfortable, "because she was curious. My back was covered in banding from where my skin stretched apart. When I shift back, instead of shrinking my skin back to how it looked before, I grow a new skin and when I'm finished shifting, the old skin falls away."

"So you're aware when you're in there?" Kíli looked ill.

"Yes?"

Fíli looked confused. "That still doesn't ex-"

“Let me make sure I understand.” Dwalin interrupted. “You’re a hobbit shape shifter, not a skin changer, because you are in you in either form. You lied to us because your kind was hunted. And if we make you angry, you’ll happily rip us in half.”

Bilbo sighed. “While anger make me more likely to shift, I have had a lot of practice in resisting that. And it would take a lot more than that to make me go savage.”

“Have you?” Bombur asked quietly.

Bilbo’s stomach twisted and he looked away. “Almost. My parents were killed in front of me and I couldn’t help them. Gandalf was able to bring me back.” Many of the dwarves nodded, making the connection from a few days ago.

“How do you know all of this if hobbits hate shifters so much?” Ori blurted, fighting Dori off.

“There are some books not available to most hobbits that my mother was able to access since she was the daughter of the Thain. She also sent many letters to Lord Elrond who had some knowledge of our history.” He rubbed his arms, just noticing the slight chill in the air.

No more questions were offered and they were brought to a dining hall by the kind elf that had greeted them. Thorin and Balin were already there, the former sitting with Gandalf and Lord Elrond at a smaller table where the latter was sitting at a long table. The dwarves quickly filled in and Bilbo (still shirtless) was forced into a seat next to Dwalin when the dwarf took the seat across from his brother.

“So?” the larger dwarf grunted, eyeing the platters being brought in.

“He identified that moon runes were on the map, so we need to stay at least until nightfall. He promised that the correct moon is tonight.” Balin glanced over at Bilbo.

Dwalin shook his head, inspecting the salad in front of him. “Not right now, I’d rather not explain it more than once. Too much.” His brother nodded but went back to examining Bilbo (who was quite happily munching on his own delicious salad, picky dwarves).

 

 

Bilbo wished they could have stayed a little longer. But after leaving with Lord Elrond some time after eating (Dwalin had been able to tell Thorin what they had learned but Bilbo was still forced to repeat himself when Thorin asked more questions) Thorin and Balin returned in a rush and forced everyone to pack because they had to leave now. (Everyone was still mostly packed so it was just a matter of getting organized again.) Thorin stared hard at Bilbo before allowing him to join them on the condition that he would transport Dori and any extra supplies they stole from the elves (despite Dori’s arguments, Óin said he should not do much walking on his own for the next two weeks or so).

Ori walked up to him before he shifted and put a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for doing this, Bilbo. You could’ve left us with the trolls or when Dori injured himself, but you didn’t. Even if they won’t say it, we are in your debt.”

Bilbo shrugged it off. “It was the right thing to do, Master Ori.”

Ori suddenly looked far angrier than Bilbo had ever seen him. “I told you to call me Ori, and I don’t think anything has happened that would make me change my mind about that.”

Bilbo stared at him, too shocked to respond right away. “My apologies, Ma-. Ori. I just thought…”

Ori just looked at him kindly and turned away when Thorin snapped at them. The hobbit felt a bubbly sensation in his chest, it was not unpleasant but he still waited for a thought that would chase that feeling away (it did not come). Thorin barked again and Bilbo shifted, was weighted down by a few packs and Dori, and then they were off (again).

 

 

The next three weeks passed fairly quickly. Day after day of flat land interrupted by the occasional hill blurred together. Bilbo spent most of that time in his warg shift. It was not worth it to shift back and forth each night when they stopped for camp. Instead, he shifted long enough to eat his supper (at least one dwarf would complain about the warg skin putting them off eating, some complaining more lighthearted than others) then he would shift back and sleep as a warg, if they needed to get away quickly. He tried to talk to Bofur once (Master Bofur if you’d please, Bilbo) but had not tried to again, the experience was so awkward. He spent most of his “hobbit time” with Ori (which meant he spent most of his time with Nori and Dori as well) or with Kíli.

The dwarf prince came to him every couple of days, complaining how it was unfair that Dori was the only one of them that could ride a warg or about his feet were killing him and he was wondering if Bilbo would be so kind? (Bilbo’s personal favorite was when the dwarf nearly sprained his ankle in an attempt to mooch a ride.) His brother, uncle, or Dwalin would usually drag him off before Bilbo could respond.

When they came to the mountain pass, Dori continued to get rides for a few days before the path grew too narrow for Bilbo to continue as a warg. His charge was pleased to get the go ahead from Óin and eagerly walked on his own. As far away as he could be from Bilbo. On his first day back as a hobbit, the Company found themselves in horrible weather on a ledge that barely held them all. Bilbo really missed his fur and flat ground.

Although, Bilbo would have been happy to spend the rest of the journey in these conditions if it meant he would never have to feel the terror of seeing the stone giants again.

Really, I’d take just about anything over this. He thought, hanging on the side of the cliff. He could hear the dwarves collecting themselves above him and the others come running in. He struggled to find a foot hold while still staying ca-

 

Let go.

 

Bilbo stiffened as the thought floated, unbidden as always, into his mind.

 

Everything will be so much better if you let go.

 

Why are you putting yourself through this.

 

Everything will be better if you just

 

L E T

 

G O

 

Bilbo saw the dwarves reaching for him and tightened his grip in defiance of the voice. He reached for their hands right as Dwalin swung a hand down and hauled him up onto the relative safety of the ledge they found. Bilbo gasped and trembled, laying on his back while he tried to collect himself.

“I thought we’d lost our burglar!” Dwalin said and Bilbo turned his head to look at him, and saw Thorin standing behind him. The dwarf was looking at him with so much contempt and disgust that he did not need to say anything to strike Bilbo to the core.

He really does hate me, huh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bilbo was in a daze as Ori led him to a cave Fíli and Kíli found a ways down the path. He put his pack down in an area away from the rest of the dwarves and sat heavily next to it. Bofur came up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Bilbo’s skin crawled at the contact.

Please don’t.

“I’m real glad we got you back, Bilbo.” He said with a fond smile before turning and joining his family.

Liar.

Bilbo laid his head down on his pack and rolled until he was facing the wall, unsure if food was being prepared and uncaring if it was. The dwarves left him alone and he was glad for it, tracing the grains in the stone in front of him with his eyes in the silence of the cave.

He barely noticed when the floor fell out from below him.

Chapter Text

Bilbo jolted back to awareness when the Company landed in a bowl-like structure make out of wood (twigs, it looked like) and rope. He had a moment to be grateful that he was not under Bombur before they were swarmed with goblins. They tried to put up a fight but the goblins were too quick. (Bilbo did not have the time to pull his sword from its sheath before he was grabbed. Not that that was saying anything…) The Company could wound a few but for every cut dealt to one, it appeared as though five more took their place. They were beat into (relative) submission and forced out of the bowl and down a path. Bilbo found himself in the center of the group and, try as he might, was unable to slip from the goblins’ grip. When the path they were on opened into a large cavern, Bilbo wished that he could disappear.

They were everywhere. Goblins on paths that zigzagged the cavern walls. Goblins on ropes dangling from those paths. Goblins on top of other goblins. Goblins… falling from paths. But all of that paled to the mass of flesh waiting for them on a throne.

That throne is the nicest thing here. Bilbo noted. If one ignored the skulls and animal skins…

The Great Goblin’s throne was indeed the nicest thing in Goblin Town, the designs were still decipherable and it was covered in many skins in different sizes and colors that looked to be in decent condition, considering. The skins spilled over the arms of the throne and pooled on the floor around it. The Goblin King looked up as their group stopped at the edge of the furs.

His eyes bulged as he took in their large group and began squawking about thieves and assassins. The Goblin King stumbled from his throne, using smaller goblins as stairs, to peer closer at them. Suddenly, the goblins were on them again, beating them and pulling off their weapons.

“Dwarves, your malevolence.” A beady eyed goblin told him when things had calmed slightly, bowing slightly. “And a halfling.” He added, excitement in his voice.

“A halfling?” Bilbo was pulled to the front of the group (Ori received several nasty whacks when he tried to hold Bilbo back) and the Goblin King squinted at him. “I can’t remember the last time a halfling tried passing the mountains. Go on! Check him!” He pointed with his large club, moving back and Bilbo was brought further from the group. He was forced to his knees (Bilbo was happy that the furs offered some kind of padding against the hard wood floor) and goblins tore and scratched at his jacket, waistcoat, and finally shirt until he was bare chested. The goblins moved back and the king hummed happily.

“A halfling and a beast!” He crowed. Bilbo glared at him from his place on the floor, chest and back stinging with multiple scratch marks. “What are you then? Wolf? A house cat? Hard to tell, exactly. Give us a show!” The hobbit just looked at him. “What are you waiting for? We need to know how large the skin will be!” The goblin took pleasure in Bilbo’s confusion. He gestured at the floor and Bilbo’s eyes fell to the furs under his knees, his stomach beginning to twist in dread.

No no no no no.

Looking closer, Bilbo noticed a single handprint on each of the furs. The colors were faded but the handprint always contrasted just enough to catch the careful eye. He scrambled back with a yelp as the dwarves started yelling in confusion. Bilbo’s eyes ran over the furs, counting, feeling sicker with each new skin he saw.

Fourteen.

Fifteen.

Sixteen.

Seventeen, eighteen. Sweet Yavanna…

Nineteen, once you add yourself.

Bilbo was shaking now at he looked back at the Great Goblin as he towered over him. “Change now.”

Bilbo shook his head.

“Bring up the Mangler! Bring up the Bone Breaker!” the goblin cried, the sudden volume making Bilbo jump. “If the beast will not perform, then we will have to make our own entertainment. Start with the youngest.” He sneered and pointed out Ori.

Bilbo looked over his shoulder at his (only) friend. The dwarf’s eyes were wide in terror as his brothers fought against the goblins trying to pry him away. His heart twisted and he reacted without a thought.

Wait!” the Great Goblin looked down at him but the rest of the goblins continued in their efforts to reach the youngest -ri brother. Bilbo stood on shaking knees. “I’ll do it. Just leave them alone.” The Goblin King did not look as though he was going to agree to that for long, but called off the goblins, watching Bilbo intently.

The hobbit did not bother with removing his trousers, it would be painful later but he just wanted to get this over with.

You’re just handing yourself over.

You should have let go.

Falling would’ve been a better death to skinning.

Bilbo gritted his teeth and focused on the shift. The stress and will to protect help make the shift faster but it was still painful. A high whine escaped his jaws when his legs wanted to bend against his trousers, the fabric just sturdy enough to put up a small fight and held the shifting bones in an unnatural position. With a rip and a yelp, Bilbo’s trousers finally gave way as his legs grew and the joints popped into place with a loud crack. The Goblin King had retreated to his throne, looking over Bilbo’s panting form as his shift finished.

He laughed happily and barked an order to the surrounding goblins. They jumped on Bilbo who was really getting tired of the diseased things crawling on him. He tried to fight them off as they tied him to some of the posts that held the platform up. The dwarves, who had been struggling against the goblins this entire time, fought harder when a goblin approached Bilbo with a rusty knife.

“I don’t have a warg skin.” The Goblin King trumpeted. “Hold still, would you? This won’t take long and it would be a waste if you ruined it.” Bilbo closed his eyes when metal touched the back of his neck.

You deserve this.

You’re going to die.

No one will care.

No one will remember you.

No one is going to sa-

Stop!” the goblin jolted in surprise, nicking Bilbo. He whined in confusion when he heard Thorin walk up behind him.

“Oho! Today truly is my lucky day! A bounty and a beast fall into my kingdom. Thorin Oakenshield…” Bilbo’s focus turned from the conversation to the knife still present at the back of his neck. (The goblin did not move the knife away from Bilbo’s skin, nor did he continue to flay him, so Bilbo chose to look on the bright side.)

A goblin let out a loud cry somewhere to Bilbo’s right, followed by the Goblin King, and then the goblins were attacking the dwarves. The goblin with Bilbo was shrieking terribly as he forced the knife into the shifter’s skin. Bilbo let out a long string of whines at the tearing feeling on his back, yelping when the goblin was thrown away from him (and causing the knife to drag a long slice down his back) as a bright flash filled the cavern. He could barely register the sound of Gandalf’s voice over the rushing noise in his ears. He just wanted to rest, his back burning and eyes heavy. All too soon, one of the dwarves (Glóin? Bombur? Bilbo only noticed large and orange before they were gone) urged him to his feet and down the path.

 

 

Fighting,

Shouting,

Falling,

Swinging,

Jumping,

Even more falling,

And sweet Yavanna, all the running.

Bilbo tried to focus on his surroundings and not on the increasing burning sensation and the feeling of wet fur on his back as he followed the dwarves. He let the Company focus on fighting and stayed out of the way as they (hopefully) reached the end of the goblin tunnels. A dwarf or two followed behind him to keep the goblins off of him but Bilbo knew they were not completely successful. He could feel stinging cuts all over his sides and further down his back where a goblin was able to latch on.

After the last fall (Bilbo was lucky enough to have managed to scramble away before the Goblin King fell on them), the Company could nearly taste freedom. They all pushed harder, fleeing from the goblin hoard, reaching for sunlight, for fresh air.

 

When they finally burst through a door in the mountain side, nobody slowed. They all ran down the mountain side to get as much distance between the goblins and themselves. The trees closed in around them, providing comforting cover as opposed to the open mountainside. They did not stop until the mountain’s slope began to gentle and flatten out. Thorin was the first to stop in a small clearing in the trees, the rest of the Company gathering around him. Gandalf counted the dwarves as they entered the clearing.

“…three, four, five six seven, eight… Bifur, Bofur, that’s ten. Fíli, Kíli, that’s twelve. Bombur, that’s thirteen. And Bilbo, fourteen.” The wizard let out a happy sigh when Bilbo came tumbling in behind everyone, barely slowing in time to avoid crashing into Bombur. He immediately began to shift, knowing that treating his back like this was nigh impossible. Óin and Ori were at his side when he finished, the former with his pack of medical supplies (the fact that it survived the goblin tunnels was a miracle in and of itself) and the latter with a pair of trousers. Bilbo happily took the trousers and sat on a rock so Óin could look at his back.

Bilbo knew it was going to be bad. In his warg shift, the slice went about a third of the ways down his back but, judging on how low Óin’s hands were prodding, the slice now went halfway down his back. In such an unsafe area, there was not more Óin could do then pack the would with some gauze and wrap it tightly. The sun was far past its zenith (Bilbo wondered just how long they had been in those tunnels) but Óin had plenty of light as he got to work.

Ori shuffled into his eyeline, tugging a reluctant looking Dori behind him (Nori was allowed to saunter in behind them freely). “Master Dori!” Bilbo greeted as happily as he could through gritted teeth. “I hope your leg made it out of there alright.” The older dwarf nodded, looking uncomfortable.

“Bilbo. We wanted to thank you. For what you did back there.” Ori nudged Dori.

“Yes, thank you very much.” He mumbled. Nori offered the same gratitude, sounding genuine.

Ori glared at his oldest brother. “You didn’t have to protect me. But you did, and took the consequence for it.” Nori and Ori bowed slightly, Dori following with a moment’s hesitation.

“This is the second time you’ve helped my family, Bilbo.” Nori spoke, looking up to meet Bilbo’s eyes. “You have my greatest thanks. If you ever need something, you only need call.” The family straightened, leaving an extremely flustered hobbit in the wake of their words.

“Oh, there’s no need for that.” He stammered quickly, waving his hands before Óin ordered him to stay still. “I only did what any one else would do. I’m sure any of the others would have done the same, if they were in my position.”

“No, they wouldn’t have.” Thorin stated, walking up to the group. “In your exact position? I don’t know many that would have acted as you have. Many of us have not given you the slightest bit of kindness and yet you have worked to save us again and again. I just need to know: why?”

Bilbo sighed and glanced at Ori out of the corner of his eye before looking fully at Thorin. “Look, I know you hate me, I know you always have. And you're right. I didn’t have to do what I did. But it was the right thing to do. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. You all deserve a home. I haven’t really had a home in a very long time. But, even though I hated the Shire, I do miss my books. And my armchair. And my garden. See, that's where I belonged. That's home. That's why I did it, 'cause you don't have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.”

The group was silent as Óin finished the final wrap and tied off the dressing. They regarded Bilbo with wide eyes, most looking as though they have never seen a hobbit before while Gandalf looked on with a proud look on his face. Some looked repentant (Bofur, Dori, and Dwalin, surprisingly), others looked thoughtful (Balin, Glóin, and Nori), and some looked as though they won some big prize (Ori and Kíli). The rest, notably Thorin, looked shocked at his words and no one spoke for a time, choosing to sit with their thoughts instead.

Finally, Nori stepped forward with Bilbo’s sword in his hand. “Bifur grabbed your pack and I was able to snatch this before they chased us off.” Bilbo moved to take it, words of thanks on his lips, when a long howl pierced the air.

“Out of the frying pan…”

“And into the fire. Run!”

(Bilbo was not sure how to feel about the fact that Gandalf was always long gone before he finished shouting that particular warning…)

They were off again, down the mountain side, following Gandalf and Thorin as they tried to lead the Company to safety.

 

They did the opposite of that.

 

The Company had followed a path that led them out of the forest into an area with a steep cliff on three sides with the orcs closing in. They frantically climbed the few trees in the clearing (Bilbo had to be thrown into a tree by Fíli and caught by Kíli, much to his embarrassment). Just as the final dwarves were safely in the trees, the wargs were upon them. They scratched and clawed at the trees, jumping in a vain attempt at reaching the lowest dwarf. The wargs backed off as a figure rode into view. A figure that Bilbo had been told was dead. Azog shouted something at Thorin before the wargs were at the trees again, attacking with more vigor. It was not long before the trees began to topple into one another, the occupants of those trees hurriedly jumping to the next tree only for that tree to fall as well. Bilbo’s arms and legs were burning while his back was uncomfortably numb, but Óin’s work stayed tight around his chest.

They had to stop at the final tree, the one sitting on the precipice. Bilbo watched the wargs claw at the trunk with wide eyes, knowing that he would not live long enough to see Erebor, let alone long enough to figure out what he was going to do after Erebor was reclaimed. The tree gave a violent shudder as a bright light flew past Bilbo’s head and landing amongst the wargs. The Company watched the dry brush catch light around the feet of the wargs, causing them to scatter, and began furiously chucking flaming pinecones at the wargs.

With the final wargs fleeing in terror, Bilbo thought they were safe (or safer than before, anyway) but the tree jolted before starting to lean over the drop. He scrambled for a handhold on the branch he was just sitting on, his back burning with the pull as his legs dangled in the air. Nearly all the dwarves were in a similar predicament, although Ori only had Dori’s legs keeping him from falling. Bilbo felt a fierce protectiveness come over him as he watched the dwarves struggle to stay on the tree, but he could do nothing to help them. That is until Thorin began striding down the trunk, sword and shield raised as he charged Azog.

Balin and Dwalin cried out as Thorin met mace, the latter putting himself in a worse situation when the branch he was on broke slightly when he moved to help. Bilbo knew he had to do something and found himself standing on the trunk before that thought was finished. He automatically reached for his sword, cursing when his hands met the cloth of his trousers. Nori (hopefully) still had it. Undeterred, Bilbo started down the trunk, beginning the shift as he walked.

He had tried this once before as a faunt. It was after his parents died and he was desperate to know if he could have done something more to save them. All he felt was overwhelming pain as joints did not match correctly and his muscles trying to move while growing and stretching. Now… now it just felt right. He sped up as the white warg grabbed Thorin in its jaws, shaking him before throwing him across the small field. An orc approached Thorin, sword drawn, and Bilbo fell to all fours. He leapt the final few feet, easily sailing over Thorin and finishing the shift at the same time.

Bilbo crashed into the orc, sending him flying. Before it could return to its feet, Bilbo fell upon it, catching its face in his jaws and crunching down. He ignored the foul taste of blood in his mouth and moved back until Thorin’s side touched his hind paws. Bilbo glared at Azog, daring him to move closer. The pale orc smirked and signaled the other orcs to move forward. Bilbo growled, blood dripping from his mouth, and waited for something to get close enough to strike down. That did not happen.

The dwarves had come.

Several dwarves ran in, weapons raised and war cries on their lips. Bilbo felt a flash of affection and mine, pack, protect as he watched the dwarves swiftly striking down a number of orcs and wargs before they began fighting back. Bilbo turned his attention back to the pale orc and equally pale warg as they moved towards him. A low growl rose form Bilbo’s chest as he watched them stalk closer. This was not like the first warg Bilbo fought, weeks ago. There was no posturing, no intimidation, just waiting for the someone to strike first. That too, did not happen.

The eagle had come.

 

 

Wait, eagles?

Bilbo could not believe his eyes a large eagle swooped down and flung a warg and its rider off the cliff, another fanning the flames to drive three wargs away, a third coming to the fallen tree to lift some of the dwarves that could not fight off the tree. One by one, the dwarves were lifted off and away from the flames. Azog turned tail and fled as an eagle came close to gently lift Thorin off, his oaken shield falling from his grasp. Bilbo gathered it in his jaws, careful not to damage it or get splinters in his mouth, and watched with a pang in his chest as Gandalf jumped from the tree and was carried off with the rest of the Company.

They’re leaving you here.

Because you are a beast like those other wargs.

You’re going to die here.

Bilbo did not have a moment to think on those comments because an eagle had swung around behind him and carefully picked him up in its talons. Bilbo nearly dropped the shield in surprise and tightened his grip as the ground fell away below him. His eagle flew up next to the one carrying Thorin and Bilbo’s heart dropped when Thorin did not give any signs of life as his nephews and kinsmen called to him.

 

 

They flew for several hours. Bilbo got lost in watching the terrain rush by below them, terrain that would have taken them days to traverse on foot, gone in a second. He made sure not to fall asleep, as to not lose his prize, but he did slowly relax in the eagle’s hold. His aches and pains made themselves known, along with the feeling of wet fur on his back although the skin below it was still worryingly numb.

The eagles banked around a rock sitting high above the trees and began to unload their passengers. Bilbo was released first and he moved back to give the eagles room to place Thorin down. Gandalf slid off his eagle and rushed to Thorin’s side. Bilbo dropped the shield as the rest of the dwarves joined them and crowded around their king. There was a collective sigh and then Thorin spoke.

“The halfling?”

“It’s alright. Bilbo’s here. He’s quite safe.” Gandalf soothed, moving out of the way as Thorin struggled to his feet. Bilbo’s ears were pinned to his head as Thorin turned to glare at him.

You.” Thorin shook off the hands holding him and took a menacing step forward. “Have you not done enough? Have I not done everything in my power to drive you away? To make you feel like an outsider?” Bilbo shrunk back as much as he could as Thorin moved closer, shouting at him, his eyes full of anger. Suddenly, Thorin’s face cleared and he looked at Bilbo with kindness. He reached one hand out and Bilbo flinched slightly. “I have much to atone for.” He finished softly.

Bilbo’s eyes flashed from the hand to Thorin’s face multiple times.

He doesn’t care about you.

He’s trying to repair the hurt he’s caused.

He’s lying.

You’ve lied.

He wants you dead.

He protected me in the goblin cave.

He will betray you.

I’m willing to take that chance.

You will regret this.

No I won’t.

Bilbo still shook slightly as he moved forward until the tips of Thorin’s fingers brushed his forehead. The dwarf slowly moved his hand to grab the back of Bilbo’s jaw and pulled him forward until their brows met. Bilbo felt the tension drain from his body at the contact, the dwarves cheering behind Thorin. The dwarf moved back and looked Bilbo in the eye.

“I’m very sorry, Bilbo.”

Bilbo huffed slightly, his head buzzing. The air felt too heavy and his legs too weak to support him. Darkness clouded his vision as Bilbo felt the world tilting; his previously numb back now burned and ached. Bilbo was unconscious before he hit the ground, heedless of the cries of the Company.

Chapter Text

When Bilbo came back to himself, he nearly groaned when the sun was too bright even as it filtered through his eyelids. He did grumble when he opened his eyes and saw that he was still atop the large rock. (Somehow, he hoped that his unconsciousness would have fixed that minor issue.) His noise had not gone unnoticed and Bilbo heard boots scuffing the rock as the Company moved towards him.

“Stay back! The lot of you!” Gandalf commanded, prompting Bilbo to open his eyes (for he had shut them with the hope that closing his eyes once more would have changed his surroundings). The wizard was standing in front of him with his staff planted (in a very stern, ‘don’t mess with me’ way, Bilbo noted) with the dwarves on the other side of him. The only one permitted access was Óin, the shifter guessed, who was poking at his back. With the Company properly chastised, Gandalf turned to look at Bilbo. “It’s best you stay in that form, Bilbo. Your back has been tended to and we don’t have many extras.” Bilbo huffed in response and tried to angle his head to see what Óin was doing. The elderly dwarf pushed his head back.

“His back will hold.” He proclaimed, standing. Bilbo stood as well, once the dwarf had moved out of the way, and lightly shook out his fur causing his back to sting something fierce. “His back should hold.” He heard Óin sigh.

“I know of someone who lives nearby.” Gandalf said abruptly.

“Friend or foe?” Thorin asked from his seat on the rock.

“Neither.” Gandalf answered, voice grim. “He will either help us or he will kill us.” The dwarves all looked grave at his words where Bilbo rolled his eyes. Typical. He thought. The wizard saw his reaction and guessed Bilbo’s thoughts for he smacked the hobbit with his staff, muttering for him to watch his cheek.

“We need to move.” Thorin ordered, receiving a hand up from Dwalin. The king winced as he was tugged to his feet. Bilbo watched his tense movements as Thorin led the dwarves to the beginning of a rough staircase carved from the stone. The shifter sighed and plodded over to him (ignoring a few of the dwarves that still watched him warily). Thorin stopped when Bilbo moved in front of him and lowered himself to the floor.

“What-”

“Excellent idea, Bilbo!” Gandalf cut Thorin off with his happy cry. The dwarves swiveled to look at the wizard. “Our hobbit is stuck in that form for the time being and our fearless leader shouldn’t be moving in his current state. Bilbo has offered his services to ease his pain.” Thorin frowned at Gandalf’s tone.

“He is also injured.” He countered, eye flicking to Bilbo and back.

“Yes, but he can walk.”

“Without me on his back, yes.”

“He was able to carry Bombur and Glóin without issue.”

“Maybe on flat land…”

Bilbo tuned out their bickering as the two went back and forth, simply waiting for the verdict.

He still doesn’t trust you.

The voice spoke quietly, merely a brush in the back of Bilbo’s mind, surprising him. The voice had not been so quiet in a very long time.

Despite his flowery words, despite your actions, he still won’t trust you.

The voice grew louder as Bilbo unconsciously leaned into it.

Why would he, anyway?

Truth be told, you haven’t really done much.

What have you done?

You’ve killed one warg and one orc.

What have the others done to help this journey?

Thorin trusts them all much more than you.

They all trust each other much more than you.

You’re still an outsider.

He probably expects you to throw him off before you carry him safely.

Are you even sure you’d be able to go the entire way?

Without slipping?

Without falling?

The path is very…

The voice faded when Gandalf, inevitably losing his patience with the dwarf, snapped loudly: “Did you not mean your words to Bilbo, Thorin Oakenshield? Were they simply to ease his mind but held no true weight in the long run?”

The dwarves were silent as Gandalf’s words settled amongst them.

“Of course, I meant them. The hobbit has proven his worth to me and my Company.” Thorin looked at Bilbo’s back, and seemed to prepare himself.

“Do you need help?” Dwalin asked from behind him, his tone betraying his jest. Thorin ignored his friend and swung onto Bilbo’s back.

Now, currently, with Bilbo laying as he was, his back stood just above Thorin’s waistline. This should have been an easy move for Thorin to make, if he was not injured as he was, that is. Barely a hiss betrayed the dwarf’s pain as he settled on Bilbo’s back. He whined as Thorin moved as far back as he could, for he had landed on some of the hobbit’s dressings. Finally, his charge settled and tentatively wove his fingers through the fur on Bilbo’s side. The hobbit took this as his cue and slowly stood. The hands in his fur tightened sharply at the movement and Bilbo growled out a quick warning. The hands loosened slightly and the both looked at Gandalf, the dwarf pleased to be taller than the infuriating wizard.

“Down we go.” Gandalf smiled, gesturing to the stairs.

 

 

It had been a slow (and in Bilbo’s opinion, needlessly terrifying) process going down the stairs. Gandalf and Dwalin had led the way, followed by Bilbo and Thorin, and then finally, the rest of the Company. No one said a word, apart from Dwalin who would call out lower steps or poor spots along the way. Bilbo had double and triple checked where he put his feet, aware of the narrowness of the path and the weight on his back.

Thorin was not very helpful during this process. Whenever Bilbo would pause, thinking about where to put his next step, the dwarf would shift and distract him. He was too stiff, as well. Too often, when Bilbo needed to lean further to the next step, Thorin’s body would not move with him and the dwarf nearly fell off once or twice. (Yes, Bilbo was aware that the dwarf was severely injured but if he did not relax even the smallest bit, he would not be feeling his wounds anymore.)

When they had finally reached ground level, many of the dwarves had fallen right where they stood, enjoying the feel of solid ground beneath them. Bilbo wish to join them but his charge made no request to be let down. After a few minutes, Gandalf bade them onward and Thorin still did not move from his back. Bilbo found this puzzling but, with no way to express it, he decided to save the thought and simply bask in Thorin’s apparent comfort in his presence. They walked this way for nearly an hour before Dwalin was called over. He and Thorin exchanged a few words and Dwalin grunted, pressing a hand against Bilbo’s chest to stall him.

“Whoa there, Bilbo.” (The hobbit suppressed the urge to nip the dwarf.) Bilbo stopped walking and laid when asked. Dori was brought over as well and between him and Dwalin, there was enough grunting and adjustment on his back to make Bilbo want to turn and look. As his neck twitched to turn, he felt Thorin settle and the other dwarves step back. Dwalin nodded and Bilbo stood once more before looking over his shoulder. He was met with the top of Thorin’s head; further down, the tips of dwarven boots. Feeling him shift, Thorin moved his head to look at Bilbo, peering at him both sideways and upside down.

“In your own time, Master Baggins.” Thorin told him before relaxing again and looking up at the sky. Bilbo stood still for a moment, stunned with Thorin’s sudden attitude shift. Ori nudged him as he walked by, bringing Bilbo back to the task at hand. They continued like this for a few hours more before stopping to make camp. During this time, Thorin became a heavier and more solid weight on Bilbo’s back before the shifter felt boots fall on either side of him. He tried to keep his steps as smooth and even as he could to keep the sleeping dwarf on his back.

As they walked, the dwarves were talking merrily amongst each other. (Bilbo wondered if there was anything that could keep the cheer from some of them.) Every now and again, one of the dwarves would attempt to include Bilbo in on the conversation. It was not very effective, for he could only nod or shake his head and sometimes offer the appropriate noise, but Bilbo appreciated the attempt. With the Company’s view of him shifting along with Thorin’s (there were still those that were clearly uncomfortable around him, namely Dori), Bilbo could not help but feel uneasy. He was not sure if they had felt this way from the beginning and did not act on it because of their leader’s strong feelings against him or if they followed Thorin blindly.

No need to think on this too hard.

You know the answer already.

 

 

These dwarves would turn on you as soon as Thorin gave the word.

 

Ori and Bofur may not want to at first…

 

 

 

But you know they couldn’t go against their king.

 

The voice taunted Bilbo from the back of his mind even as they stopped to make camp.

 

You can’t trust any of them.

They’re waiting for you to drop your guard…

Give them your friendship…

So you can give them your hide.

 

Dwalin clomped over to help Thorin down and, once free from his burden, Bilbo laid down and placed his head on his forepaws.

 

I wonder how they’d do it…

Leave it to surprise?

Drop hints here and there to allow the feeling of dread build up in you?

Or would they just have a conversation with you about it over a nice cup of tea.

 

Bilbo sighed, watching the dwarves get organized.

 

Who would do it?

I bet Dori wouldn’t say no, if offered.

Dwalin, as an act for his king, perhaps?

Or maybe Thorin would allow his nephews the honor of skinning the be

 

“Bilbo?” The shifter startled, his head jerking up, when Kíli spoke up right next to him. The dwarf took a step back and held his hands up in a placating manner. “I didn’t mean to spook you.” He moved back when the hobbit did not move further. “I’m going out to try my luck at hunting and I was wondering if you wanted to help?” he questioned, holding up his bow as though Bilbo did not believe him.

Bilbo stared at him for a few seconds. He could feel the bone deep exhaustion in him body, various aches and pains making themselves known, and the tender feeling on his back. Despite that, he still felt the need to do something, help the Company however he could. Everyone else had been through what he had, more or less, and they were still getting things done. Thorin had nearly died and he was off in the corner of camp, fighting with Óin about what he feasibly could and could not do.

I can do this. Bilbo told himself as he heaved himself to his feet. Kíli’s eyes grew large and had an excited sparkle in them.

“Since you’re coming along,” Bilbo did not like the tone of his voice, “do you think I could ride you?” the hobbit huffed and turned slightly to bump Kíli with his shoulder, unsteadying him and he fell to the floor, groaning even before he made contact. “But nearly everyone has!” he whined, gaining the attention of most of the camp.

“Can’t blame him.” Fíli called from where he was sharpening his knives.

“Aye, I’ve seen they way you ride a pony.” Dwalin added. “I’m surprised the poor beasts don’t throw you with the way you treat their flanks!” The Company shared a laugh as Kíli picked himself up, an annoyed look on his face.

“Come on, Mister Boggins.” He clipped, turning in a random direction. “We have some hunting to do.” He marched off, leaving Bilbo to follow on his heels. They were silent (not that Bilbo had much of a choice) until the noise and light from camp faded away, then Kíli looked up at him.

“You didn’t agree just to be polite, did you?”

Bilbo glanced down at him and made a negative sounding grumble (he hoped).

Kíli squinted at him. “Can you help? Beyond carrying what I catch?” he asked bluntly. Bilbo grumbled and poked Kíli with his nose, sniffing obviously. The dwarf rolled his eyes. “Your nose is more obvious than Dwalin’s tattoos. But can you-”

Bilbo cut him off with a soft growl, tipping his snout in the air and taking a deep inhale. He turned his head sharply to the left, glanced at Kíli, and set off in that direction, making Kíli the one to grumble to himself as he followed. He thankfully kept quiet before the two came up on a small herd of deer grazing between the trees. They crouched behind a bush and Bilbo looked at Kíli, a self-satisfied air around him. The dwarf shoved his face in response and readied his bow.

 

 

In the end, they made off with three does and a buck. Kíli had downed the first two before they all sprinted off, toward Bilbo. The hobbit had moved to the other side of the deer and was able to snag the buck, causing the animals to panic further, allowing Kíli to hit the final deer. The two were absolutely chuffed as Kíli pulled the deer onto Bilbo’s back, the feeling growing when they returned to the cheers of the Company. Two of the deer were selected for preserving while the other two went to Bombur. The portly dwarf smiled at Bilbo as the shifter plopped back down near the fire. Bilbo tried to give a toothy grin in return but, going off of Bombur’s expression, it was not very successful.

Bilbo dozed lightly as dinner was prepared, eyes opening slowly at the sound of Ori calling his name.

“Bilbo? Are you not going to change back?” The scribe was holding a rather generous portion of venison.

“Soup’s on, Bilbo!” Bofur cried, bent over his own meal.

Bilbo looked from Ori to the rest of the dwarves and back again.

“What’s the hold up?” Fíli butted in from where he was helping Balin and Nori smoke the meat.

“I believe Bilbo doesn’t want to shift when he has no clothing.” Gandalf added, earning a grateful glance from Bilbo.

“We’ve all seen your pestle, my boy. No need for bashfulness.” Óin called loudly. Some of the dwarves chuckled while Bilbo glared at the old dwarf. He was beginning to believe his deafness was selective.

“Ah, but we were in Rivendell at the time. Bilbo is much more conscious of where he puts his… pestle.”

“As we all should!” The dwarves howled at Nori’s declaration. Gandalf had the decency to cover his smile by taking a drag from his pipe. Bilbo huffed and bared his teeth to delicately pluck the meat form Ori’s hands, swallowing it with a few chews. It was not much but Bilbo was grateful for it after the events of the past few days.

After they had calmed, the Company ate their meal quickly and quietly (for the most part, occasionally a dwarf would share a joke at Bilbo’s expense). When the last had finished, Thorin called for them to prepare for sleep and was not met with a single complaint. Unable to help, Bilbo moved out from underfoot and watched the dwarves work. If he was not as exhausted, Bilbo would have compared the Company to the organized chaos he had observed in anthills back in the Shire. Dwarves easily slipped around one another, moving things, fixing the fire, and tending to one another. When a dwarf finished his assigned task, he would break from the group to set up his bedroll (if it had not been lost already). The camp was nearly ready when Óin approached him to change his bandages, tutting about the lack of proper equipment.

Finally, wrapped in new (because fresh was not the correct word) bandages, the dwarves were settling down when Ori walked up to Bilbo, an odd look on his face.

“Bilbo, my pack was lost. Would you mind if, ah… I, uh…” He stuttered, gesturing vaguely at the space next to the hobbit. Bilbo, in lieu of making sound in response, moved to give Ori more room to lay down. When one dwarf was settled, Bilbo felt another pressure on his other side and looked to see Kíli snuggling into his fur. Bilbo rolled his eyes, sighed, and put his head down to sleep.

 

 

It was good that the Company could have such joy that first night after the eagles because the knowledge of the orcs following them began to weigh on the Company until no one said a word as they traveled, the fire was near nonexistent at night, and words were spoken no louder than a murmur before they slept.

Four days after the eagles, Bilbo caught the scent of orcs. It was still faint but troubling nonetheless. He had to shift back to let the Company know. The dwarves were silent at the news while Thorin turned to Gandalf (he had received Óin’s permission to walk on his own the day before).

“Are we near your acquaintance?”

“Yes. Half a day at the most.” Gandalf informed them as they started off again, their pace brisk. Bilbo shifted and hurried to catch up (his shift was not as fast as the one against Azog but it was still fast enough to leave Bilbo feeling off balance).

“You still haven’t told us anything about our perspective host.” Balin pointed out from his place near the wizard.

Gandalf was silent for a moment before answering. “His name is Beorn. He is a skin changer.” Bilbo saw the dwarves turn to look at him; he ignored their stares.

“Like Bilbo.” Fíli said.

Both Bilbo and Gandalf shook their head. “You are in no danger from Bilbo in his warg shift.”

“Are we with this Beorn?” Thorin asked.

“Until he accepts us on to his land, yes. He will only see us as an enemy, whether we throw down our weapons or not.”

Gandalf’s words settled heavily amongst the dwarves. Bofur spoke up as they passed through a copse of trees. “What choice do we have?”

A distant howl filled the air, spurring the Company to move faster.

“None.”

 

 

Bilbo felt something like awe towards the dwarves. They had walked through the night and now they were running from the orcs with no trouble. In his current shift, Bilbo was built for long distance travel while he did not think the dwarves were (he remembered Glóin blaming his poor performance in distance running on his dwarven heritage). They were running through an open field with trees in the distance and Bilbo kept a close eye on the Company, ready to help if he was needed.

The wargs had caught their scent and were closing quickly. The pack had burst through the tree line just as the dwarves were entering the trees on the other side. The dwarves pushed their legs faster, their steps pounding against the soil. Bilbo winced in sympathy as Thorin jumped from a root that had a steeper fall than he expected. The dwarf stumbled but did not stop moving or call for help.

A sudden roar through the trees made everyone stop, looking around for the cause. Crashing through the trees drove the Company forward as Gandalf called for them to run. They broke out of the trees and saw a house standing tall before them.

“Hurry!” (Gandalf was as helpful as always.)

They heard a loud cracking noise when they were nearly to the door. Bilbo looked over his shoulder to see a huge black bear speeding towards them.

Gandalf left that bit out. Bilbo thought, heart racing.

 

Nothing you can do against that.

You could hardly handle another warg…

That must be twice the size of a warg, at least.

 

Bilbo slowed to a stop as the dwarves struggled with the door. He turned and faced the bear head-on.

I have to do something.

He pushed himself forward, launching at the very angry bear. He skirted around it when it swiped at him, nipping at its heels until it turned away from the dwarves with a growl. Bilbo backed away, barking, keeping its attention as the dwarves, sweet Yavanna, still struggled with the door. With his attention split, Bilbo was too slow and the bear was able to rake his claws across Bilbo’s shoulder. The hobbit jumped away with a yelp and put more space between him and the bear.

The dwarves had finally gotten the door open and were calling to Bilbo, drawing the bear’s notice as well. Bilbo nipped the bear’s heels one last time before darting around it and rushing at the door. The dwarves had left enough room for him to fit through the doors but had not left a path through their bodies, so Bilbo was forced to jumped over the Company and tumble into the house. The Company closed and locked the door in time for the bear to crash into them.

“Don’t tell me that was…” Thorin trailed off, turning to stare at Gandalf, clearly exhausted.

“Our host.” Gandalf replied. Bilbo, who had yet to stand from where he landed, dropped his head to the floor wearily.

Of course it was.

Chapter Text

The dwarves remained tense for hours. They sat, weapons drawn, waiting for the bear to come back, ignoring Gandalf’s reassurances that they would be just fine. Bilbo joined them for the first hour or so before he decided to believe Gandalf and joined the wizard in lounging on a pile of hay. (Bilbo normally would have objected but it had been so long since he sat on anything remotely soft, he was not giving up this chance.) Óin had already tended to his shoulder and Bilbo was absolutely sapped of energy so, once he had trusted guard duty to the dwarves, he promptly passed out. The dwarves must have given up at some point because, the next time Bilbo woke up, the dwarves were asleep in the hay.

He was also several feet off the ground.

Bilbo yelped and paddled his feet in the air. He felt a hand tighten on the back of his neck (his back injury was looking better. Was.) and he looked up into a furious face. The dwarves had awoken at his yelp and they were all shouting and grabbing their weapons, demanding for Bilbo to be released.

The being (this had to be Beorn, oh joy…) ignored them, baring his teeth at Bilbo and growling. “What are you?” Beorn did not wait for an answer and marched to the open front door, throwing Bilbo out. The hobbit whined as he came to a stop, catching the shapeshifter’s scowl as he shut the door. He heard yelling from inside the house, from both the dwarves and Gandalf, but the door remained shut. Bilbo stared at the door, blinking before standing and limping to a clean spot next to the door and curled into a tight ball, watching the tree line across from him.

The noise from inside quieted as Bilbo started to doze lightly. His ears twitched when the door opened and he lifted his head tiredly to see Ori looking at him. The dwarf moved out of the house, shutting the door behind him, and walked to Bilbo’s side.

“He’s – Beorn – heard our story and he’s allowed us to stay.” Bilbo did not allow relief to fill him when Ori’s expression grew serious. “He wants to hear your story, however. Then he will decide if you can stay as well.” He held up the blanket in his hand. “He won’t wait.”

Bilbo, not for the first time on the quest, wished to be far from this mad venture as he stood. He started to shift, soft whimpers and whines coming from his throat as his injured skin moved and stretched. When it was over, Ori draped the blanket over Bilbo’s shoulders and the hobbit looked at him gratefully.

“Let’s get this over with.” He sighed. Ori nodded and led him inside, an arm around his shoulders.

The fire had been lit in Bilbo’s absence and the Company was assembled around a large table that took up much of the space in the common room. Bilbo blanched when he saw how small the dwarves looked sitting on overly large bench. If they looked like fauntlings sitting down for supper, he did not want to imagine how he would appear.

Beorn sat at one end of the table, the chair across from his empty with the space in between filled by the Company. The skin changer was stern as he nodded at the free chair. “Sit.” He ordered and Bilbo hurried to do so, accepting Ori’s assistance to get up on the seat. He settled and looked expectantly at Beorn, trying not to look as scared as he felt.

Better give him exactly what he wants…

Not many ways to weasel your way out of this one.

“What are you.” Beorn ground out.

Gandalf answered before Bilbo could answer. “As I’ve told you-”

“I don’t care for your words, wizard. I wish to hear it from him.” Beorn interrupted, eyes not leaving Bilbo.

“I am a hobbit. A hobbit skin changer.” Bilbo hurried to finish when Beorn’s face looked pinched.

“Impossible. My people are gone.” Beorn ground out.

Bilbo opened and closed his mouth, hesitating. “I… I am so sorry for your loss. And I am sorry that you are not wrong. My kind and your people are different… Hobbit skin changers are a relic of the past, a quirk in the blood. We are rare. The last skin changer, the last recorded one anyway, was kin of mine. Bandobras Took was born nearly two centuries before me. He was actually well liked for a short time and earned the name Bullroarer because his shift was a raging bull. The one before that is even further off…” Bilbo trialed off at the blank expression on Beorn’s face.

“You keep saying skin changer but I have not heard of such a race.”

“That’s because they are a well kept secret in the Shire. And we are not a separate race from hobbits.”

“Secret?” Beorn looked confused. “As though it is something to be ashamed of?” Some of the dwarves looked smug at already knowing this information while some watched with rapt attention, waiting to jump to Bilbo’s defense. Ori, Bilbo noted, was scribbling in his notebook (how that thing survived was beyond Bilbo), most likely updating the knowledge he had. The hobbit did not begrudge his friend for writing down his people’s greatest secret; if he was being honest with himself, Bilbo was feeling equal parts joy and vindication at having the knowledge out there and letting people know about it, people wanting to hear about it.

Bilbo automatically reached up to tug on his earring (he had made sure not to lose it) and nodded. “Very much so. Many hobbits started treating me differently after my first shift.”

Beorn looked sadly at the earring, as though he could tell its exact purpose, but he perked at Bilbo’s words. “First shift? You aren’t born being able to change?”

“No.” Bilbo pulled the blanket open slightly, showing his mark. “This used to look like a birthmark, like men have, or so my mother told me. She had no idea what it was. Hobbit’s don’t have birthmarks, you see.” He explained, closing the blanket again. (The Company was now paying attention to his words, for this was more than they had learned before.) “I first shifted when I was 18. I got into a fight with my cousin while we were playing in the garden outside his smial. I was so angry, about what I cannot even remember now. But I was so angry and we were shouting at each other and suddenly, it felt like I snapped.” Bilbo’s eyes glazed over as he remembered that day. “There was so much pain and my cousin was screaming and I was terrified…” he swallowed and cleared his throat. “As soon as I could, I ran home. I missed my mother somehow, she had run out when she heard the screams, and the doors into the smial were shut. I was beginning to understand what had happened, as impossible as it was, and I couldn’t open the doors so I waited for my mother to return.” Ori had put his charcoal pencil down at this point and Bilbo had everyone’s full attention. “When she did, she was scared, like Otho, and she didn’t recognize me. Obviously.” Bilbo scoffed, embarrassed at his childish belief that his mother would recognize him even though he was a beast. “I wanted her to see me, wanted her to stop being scared, I wanted to be normal again. The pain started again and it was worse the second time. Far worse. I, ah, I got the piercing the very same day.” Bilbo looked down at his hands, he had not meant to ramble on for so long. Bilbo jumped when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder (thankfully not his injured one). He looked up to see Beorn looking down at him, his face full of sorrow.

“You are welcome to stay.”

Bilbo nodded at Beorn in thanks as small cheers broke out from the dwarves.

 

 

With his acceptance, Beorn provided them with a feast the likes of which they had not seen since the Shire. The dwarves were much more respectful during this meal than Bilbo had ever seen them. (He was sure he was dreaming or one of his injuries was infected and this was the resulting fever dream when Fíli asked his brother to pass a dish.) The tall skin changer ducked out midway through the meal, saying he was going to check the borders of his land for orcs. As soon as the door shut, Gandalf added that the man was probably checking their story. Bilbo looked at the front door, brow furrowed.

“Why would he allow us to stay, if he had any doubts about us?”

“Bilbo, I do believe that is because of you.” The wizard gave Bilbo a meaningful look. “If he wanted us gone, I don’t think he’d have much trouble making it happen.”

The hobbit dragged a piece of bread through some honey, not really planning on eating it but just to give his hands something to do. “How would my presence change anything. Me being here or not does not change the trustworthiness of this company.”

“Be that as it may, what would you do if another hobbit shifter showed up at your door one day?”

“I would bring them inside.” Bilbo answered immediately.

Gandalf nodded. “Beorn is the only one of his people, like you, why should he have any different reaction?” Bilbo did not respond and the rest of the meal passed in silence. As soon as the Company started shifting and leaving the table, a collection of various animals appeared to (efficiently, surprising enough) remove the dishes and small number of leftovers.

Bilbo slid carefully from his chair and stretched, wincing when the move pulled at the cuts on his shoulder and back. Óin appeared at his side before his arms fell back down. “Need to check your wounds.” He said gruffly.

“You checked them when we arrived!” Bilbo tugged his jacket (Beorn had pulled clothing that was slightly too large for him from Yavanna knows where) tighter around himself, allowing himself this small amount of petulance after wandering around in his warg shift, naked, or in dirt encrusted clothes since Rivendell.

“That was when we worried about a bear breaking down the door and killing us and when I didn’t have the proper supplies to look after such wounds. That was also before you slept on the bandages.” Óin’s eyebrows lowered sternly as he pointed towards the hay pile they slept on last night. “Now shift it.

Bilbo hesitated, pondering the pros and cons of arguing further.

Stop whining.

You should be grateful he’s willing to waste supplies on you.

Don’t make him regret his kindness.

The voice came so suddenly and forcefully that Bilbo jerked when he swiftly moved to obey. He heard Óin huff something like, “Good lad.” as he marched off. He removed his jacket and shirt sadly as he sat, folding them neatly and placing them off to the side as Óin settled next to him, a bag provided by Beorn at his knee. The healer was peeling away the bandages when Ori, Fíli, and Kíli plopped down across from Bilbo, who raised an eyebrow in response.

“Are you really the only one of your kind?” Kíli blurted. Bilbo saw Ori pull out his notebook as he nodded.

“I didn’t lie to either you or Beorn. I said the knowledge of my kind isn’t well known or well-remembered. That’s mostly because of the taboo nature of the knowledge but it is also in part because there aren’t very many of us to give knowledge. By the time another is born, many hobbits have already forgotten or wave the stories off as fiction.”

“Aye.” Glóin cut in from behind him. Bilbo ignored Óin’s hissed command to keep still and glanced over his shoulder at the dwarf. “I also remember you saying that bauble of yours was a punishment.”

Bilbo nodded, looking down at his hands. “The first punishment, yes.”

“You don’t have to tell us.” Thorin assured as he filed in with the rest of the Company. (Gandalf was the only one that did not join them, choosing instead to smoke by the fire.)

“No, it’s alright.” Bilbo smirked down at his hands, clenching them in his lap. “Never had anyone curious before. Truth be told, talking about it makes everything sound a bit petty and ridiculous.”

“Bilbo. The words you spoke all those weeks ago hold true.” Balin spoke softly from where he leaned against the wall. “We have all had different experiences and difficulties but we will not look down on you for yours, despite what they may be.”

Bilbo swallowed. Objectively, he knew this to be true. Applying it to himself was where he found trouble. The voice taunted him as he began to speak to the dwarves.

“It’s a long story…” he started.

You fool.

They don’t really want to hear about these things.

They’re just being polite.

Stop acting like a faunt hiding behind his mother’s skirts.

Bilbo worked to ignore the voice, even as it repeated itself over and over again, and told the dwarves, briefly, about how he grew up to when he received the piercing. The group grew somber when he recalled the pain from it.

“It was like nothing I had ever felt before, apart from shifting, maybe. I told you I had to be held down for them to do it. At first it was simply my mother and father holding down my arms and legs and my grandfather sitting on my chest while he made the piercing-”

“What!” All of the dwarves were looking at Bilbo in shock and disgust.

“Your grandfather did it to you?” Bofur shouted, outraged.

“Your parents allowed this to happen?” Bombur cried.

The rest of the dwarves bellowed similar remarks of anger and disbelief, Óin being the only one still quiet as he worked on Bilbo’s back.

Bilbo waited for them to calm down before answering. “Of course my grandfather did it. It was his duty as Thain of the Shire to perform such a duty if the need arose. The Thain is the authority figure in the Shire.” He explained. “And my parents had to allow it. It was either that or I would be banished, with them along with me, most likely.”

“They should have gone with banishment, if you ask me.” Fíli grumbled, earning a glare from Bilbo.

“I’m sorry, Fíli but I would think an I exiled prince would not be the first to choose banishment.” He snapped, suddenly fiercely protective of his parent’s decisions. “My world had changed forever and my parents didn’t want to add the loss of the only home I’d ever known on top of that. The stress of wondering where we would live. If we could live there peacefully. Wondering how long it would be before we were forcibly removed from there as well. My parents made the best decision they could at the time, with me and my wellbeing in mind.” Bilbo felt his anger draining away as he finished and Fíli looked suitably chastised.

“He’s right, Fíli.” Thorin spoke, breaking the tense silence that had fallen over the group. The dwarf offered a quiet apology and Bilbo nodded in acceptance, feeling foolish. “You were young when this happened?” he asked, looking at the hobbit.

“Somewhat…” Bilbo trailed off, thinking. “I was 18 at the time, which is around 12 or 13 in the years of men.” The dwarves started grumbling about how young he was. “I was over half way to my majority, anyway.”

Glóin cursed about how Bilbo was barely more than a child and the hobbit resisted the urge to roll his eyes, picking up where he left off.

“Back to the story at hand…” Bilbo cleared his throat as the dwarves refocused on his tale. “They ended up having to call in another three hobbits in order to hold me down. My grandfather also had to do it twice, he hesitated the first time and the needle didn’t go all the way through.” He finished quickly, shrugging, continuing before the dwarves could raise more complaints.

“Things changed right away. With ear piercings not being in hobbit fashion, due to the pain, it was the first thing anyone noticed when they saw me. Now, I had never had many friends in the first place, they were mainly cousins and distant family relations.” (He failed to mention the fact that nearly all hobbits were distant relations through marriage and the like.) “After my first shift, they quickly fell away, their parents citing illnesses or injuries as excuses for why their fault couldn’t play. I did have some cousins that still tried to be around me. That was usually when I was in my other shift. My mother would make me carry her shopping when she went to the market and some of my Took cousins would ask for a ride if they saw me.” Bilbo’s lips twisted at the bittersweet memory. “It never ceased to amuse me.”

“So you wouldn’t mind lightening our packs for the rest of the journey, then?” Bofur joked, earning himself a glare. “It’d be like your childhood all over again!” Some of the dwarves chuckled at Bilbo’s expression.

“And you wouldn’t mind giving me a ride?” Kíli added, causing Bilbo to finally roll his eyes.

“No.” He deadpanned, pretending not to notice the dwarf’s sad expression. “I only did that because I was young and it was my mother.” Bilbo added.

“That was the second ‘punishment’” Dwalin clarified, the dwarves sobering immediately.

“Isolation, yes. My family was treated like an outsider. Although I didn’t notice the bigger part of that until I was older and my parents were gone. You see, to say hobbits dislike outsiders is a massive understatement. Many may act polite but more often, visitors will be ignored, given incorrect directions,” Thorin scowled at that, “and sold overpriced goods in the market. We were paying nearly three times what we had before. Luckily they waited until I had to do the shopping before selling the worst of their stock.” Bilbo paused, watching understanding dawn over the dwarves. Bombur in particular looked guilty.

“You don’t mean- Your stores…” he mumbled. Bilbo simply nodded, raising a placating hand when the dwarves stumbled over each other to apologize.

“It’s behind us.” He assured, scowling at Thorin when the dwarf still looked as though he was going to apologize. “All is forgiven.” He pressed. He waited for Thorin to settle before moving on.

“It truly wasn’t anything more than an annoyance. The worst was after my parents passed.” Bilbo swallowed, feeling Óin move to work on his shoulder. The dwarves stayed silent, waiting for him to gather his thoughts. “They were killed the winter before my 30th birthday. That winter was the worst in recorded memory. Normally the Shire doesn’t have terrible winters but this one lasted months longer and it was far colder.” He saw some of the dwarves nodding, remembering this winter hitting them in the mountains as well. “It was cold enough that the Brandywine froze, the large river we crossed when we left the Shire. This allowed the wolves to cross.” The older dwarves stiffened at this, sensing what was to come. “It was so late into the winter and families were running out of food… My mother and I were making runs to get supplies to those families when the wolves caught our scent. I was able to get us home in time but they followed us. Our door was weak after years of me slamming it open in my warg shift and it didn’t last long. I had already shifted back but… it was too late.” Bilbo felt a Óin place a hand on his good shoulder, giving it a squeeze before going back to the task at hand.

“That was when…” Ori whispered, trailing off.

“I went nearly savage. I don’t remember much besides the crushing loneliness, the sorrow, having no idea what I was going to do… It was as if a voice was telling me it would be easier to run away, to just let go and not feel this anymore. I believed it. I had already killed the wolves and I gave my mother one last favor, she was dying and my father was already gone but she wanted to be with him. The last thing I remember is laying down with my parents… And then I was waking up to Gandalf standing over me.”

Useless.

They would be alive if you were better.

If you were stronger.

If you were faster.

You can’t do anything.

Everyone around you leaves somehow.

These dwarves will be no different.

Bilbo shut his eyes, the voice washing over him and weighing on his shoulders, causing him to hunch under Óin’s hands.

“Lad…” Balin started.

“It was horrible when the hobbits found out.” Bilbo interrupted, needing to get this out. “My grandfather had passed earlier in the year and his eldest son had taken the title of Thain. Grandfather had once offered to do everything he could to keep me safe, my uncle didn’t have those same views. He was already very old when he took the position and didn’t have it in him to… deal with me I guess. When the rumor started going around that I had killed my parents, not wolves, he had done nothing to stop them. When my home was vandalized over and over again, he offered no aid. When I was accosted in the street and rotted meat thrown at me and my home, no one was punished.” Bilbo ground out, his anger at being abandoned by his family building with each word. “This was my third punishment. The third punishment for being born as I was. The third punishment my parents and grandfathered tried to keep from me: I was totally ostracized from the community and was actively shown how much people didn’t want me there.”

Óin instructed him to lift his arms and the hobbit did as he was told, the dwarves silent.

“What are they going to do when you get back?” Nori pointed out.

“I won’t.” Silence. Bilbo sighed. “If they tried so hard to get me to leave, do you think they would welcome me back with open arms? I imagine a new family moved in before that day was done. I can only hope they followed my wishes and gave the Smial to my cousin Drogo… He was one of my only friends….” Bilbo trailed off, dropping his arms when told. Free from Óin and his prodding fingers, Bilbo looked around at the dwarves. They were all looking back with varying emotions. Sorrow from Bombur, Ori, Bifur, Fíli, Kíli and Óin; awe from Glóin and Bofur; and surprise from Nori, Dwalin, Balin, and Thorin. (Dori looked slightly constipated for some reason…)

“You gave up your home for us?” Thorin croaked, eyes wide.

“I suppose… It wasn’t entirely selfless. You gave me a nudge out of the Shire, and Bag End hadn’t felt like home for years-”

“But you did give up the opportunity to live in the place of your birth, the only place you have called home, to come on this quest with us.” Thorin interrupted.

“If you put it like that, then yes.” Bilbo huffed. “But my mother often said that home is not a place, it’s what you build around you.”

“Your mother was a smart woman.”

“Yes.” Bilbo agreed with a soft smile. “She thought she was.” He heard a chuckle come from Gandalf by the fire.

“You could stay in Erebor!” Kíli exclaimed suddenly. “Right, Uncle?” he looked over at Thorin, eyes sparkling with excitement.

“Oh, there’s no need for that… I’m sure I can find somewhere else to live. You’ll want to be rid of me at that point.” Bilbo dismissed quickly, waving a hand. Kíli made a displeased noise and Thorin stood up and moved Ori, Fíli, and Kíli to sit across from Bilbo.

“Bilbo.” He started seriously, hand on his knees and meeting Bilbo’s eyes. “I would be an honor to have you stay in Erebor. You have done much for this company, risked your life time and time again, and you’ve trusted us with the greatest secret of your people. I have done you a disservice, not letting you know your value earlier.” Thorin ducked his head in shame. “We would be remiss if we did not allow you to stay once we’ve retaken the mountain.”

“Oh.” Was Bilbo’s intelligent response, his face slack in shock. He ignored the warm, light feeling growing in his chest, refusing to fan the flame.

No use living on words when we are still far from our goal…

“You can rebuild your home there!” Kíli pipped up, peering over Thorin’s shoulder.

“We can be your new family.” Ori added. Bilbo hesitated, the feeling growing, and looked over the Company once more. They all, baring Dori, were waiting pensively, hopeful expressions on their faces. (Dwalin simply looked on with an oddly blank yet expectant look, refusing to show as much emotion as the others, being the stoic warrior he was.)

“I’d like that.” Bilbo told them, allowing the feeling to grow slightly with their cheers.

 

 

Beorn returned during supper and nodded at Gandalf before walking off deeper into his home. The members of the Company look at one another, hoping that was the acceptance they were waiting for. When Beorn made no indication that he wanted them gone, they slowly relaxed throughout the rest of the night and when they were bedding down for the night they agreed it was not necessary for there to be a watch. The next day, they awoke to a breakfast similar to yesterday (except Bilbo was not thrown out by Beorn, but the day was just beginning), and Bilbo knew that he could get used to this.

They all got used to staying at Beorn’s because they had to stay for several weeks. During that time, the Company healed, rested, and most of all, they ate. Bilbo was finally able to eat as much as he wanted without there being any shortages on rations. After the first day of a full seven meals, Bilbo sat back with a happy sigh, patting his too flat stomach, and Beorn was more than happy to fulfill that need. In fact, whenever one of the Company would bring up the worry of overstaying their welcome, Beorn would assure them it was fine.  He would say, “The little puppy is still eating like the food is going to disappear. Stay a few more days.” (Bilbo was miffed at the nickname but as long as he kept getting food, he was not going to complain too much.)

The dwarves were not idle during this time. Those who were able trained most of the day in the field surrounding Beorn’s home. A few days into their stay, Bilbo joined them outside, leaning back on his hands on the grass, legs crossed at the ankle and face tilted into the sun. He regretted his decision when Dwalin clumped over and told him that Bilbo needed training in using his sword. Nori had returned it the first day and it lay next to Bilbo, shining in the sun. Bilbo tried to beg off but Dwalin was adamant. So  the hobbit found himself being worked to the bone daily and he was even more grateful for the food when he collapsed onto the bench at mealtimes.

Once Óin had given the go ahead, Bilbo started shifting during the training sessions, another thing Dwalin said needed work.

“Fighting as a warg obviously comes much more naturally to you but it’s still sloppy and mostly built on luck.” He told Bilbo who was skeptical about the necessity. It ended up being a good idea. The dwarves could practice on a warg that could learn their moves (Bilbo was mostly nervous when Kíli started firing arrows, heads liberally wrapped in cloth, at him. He was willing to help, but he did not want to lose an eye over it…) and Bilbo was able to learn how to attack something that had weapons and armor. The training sessions would usually devolve later in the day. Bilbo often found himself toting Fíli or Ori on his back as they worked on striking down the rest of the dwarves from a mount (Bilbo refused Kíli the first few times, simply to see the dwarf’s indignation at being excluded. But he eventually gave in and Kíli’s utter joy at being able to ride a warg was worth the wait). He would also wrestle Glóin, the dwarf was convinced he could beat a warg, steal Bofur’s hat and lead the dwarf in a chase as he tried to get it back (he was able to catch Bilbo half of the time), or have Óin poking at him for the healer wanted to use this chance to examine a warg’s physiology.

Every few days, Beorn would also join the group, sometimes as a bear, sometimes not. The first time, he was a bear and everyone froze, not willing to take the chance to breathe, when the hulking figure plodded over to Bilbo, sniffed his face, and rubbed their foreheads together. Everyone breathed out as one when Beorn nudged Bilbo in play and the two were left alone to wrestle and mock fight.

Things were relaxed and good, so Bilbo knew they would have to leave this place sooner rather than later. When Thorin finally announced they would be leaving, Bilbo noticed he was not the only one saddened by the news. They set out the next day, so laden with food and water skeins that Bilbo needed to shift and carry some so the ponies were not overburdened. With Beorn’s warning hanging over their heads, the Company set out. Mirkwood was a few days ride and Bilbo’s load did not feel any lighter when they reached it.

Bilbo could feel the oppressive feeling hanging around the forest as soon as it came into sight. He did not like that they had to cross through it and, when Gandalf announced he would be leaving them, was tempted to take the long route, challenges be damned. This was not to be, however, and Bilbo watched both Gandalf and the ponies run off before turning back to the forest, head tilted back as the trees loomed over him.

He only hoped they could pass through quickly.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was quite done with this forest. Quite done with this quest, if he was asked. The wood was so dark and oppressive and Bilbo hadn’t seen the sun in weeks (not that he had any idea about how long they had been in this accursed place). They had been in here so long that the packs that were once overflowing and a burden to carry were now far too light for comfort. It had been some time since they first began rationing food, even longer for their water, and to top it all off: they had lost the path. Bilbo plodded along at the end of the group, far too exhausted to put forth the effort to shift back so the dwarves happily unloaded their now empty packs onto him. He grumbled to himself as Thorin lead them around yet another apparent turn in the forest.

 

I’m going to die out here… Bilbo thought to himself.

Who did I think I was showing up, by coming on this venture?

 

Bilbo growled softly when (another) dwarf bumped into him. If he was to be perfectly honest, he's had it up to his ears with this dwarves’ nonsense. Today it was Glóin knocking into him, yesterday it had been his brother the day before that the -li brothers had nearly managed to knock him over! The worst of it was that he had not received one apology, they hardly glance in his direction to make sure he was okay, and they would be back at it the very next day! (Absolutely unrepentant!)

 

You could leave them.

What have they ever done for you?

It wasn’t until their “Mightier Than Thou” leader accepted you did the majority come around.

 

Bilbo nearly stopped in the path, Bofur making his displeasure heard when the shifter slowed. These thoughts were not the same as before. He was beginning to fail to tell the difference between those thoughts and his own. The realization made him sick to his stomach as he tried to knock the voice down.

 

No, they’re my friends! They wouldn’t do the same to me and I surely won’t do it to them.

Coward.

You’d probably die before you did anything for yourself!

You’re lying. That’s not true!

It is true.

You know that.

You wouldn’t lie to yourself.

You know what will happen if you don’t leave while you still can.

 

Bilbo was not able to reply (he did not want to think about it too much… arguing with oneself was bound to get confusing) before images were pulled to the front of his mind, all coming from half formed thoughts from the beginning of the journey when he feared the most out of the dwarves discovering his secret.

 

Thorin glared down at him, eyes cold and uncaring, the rest of the Company standing behind him with sneers on their faces. Bilbo had said something that Thorin took offense to and the dwarf now believed he would be of better use as a new cloak, rather than a burglar. The royal dwarf wouldn’t care to do it himself, of course, and he sent the Company to collect Bilbo’s pelt. The dwarves were eager to obey their king as they rushed Bilbo.

Dwalin ran at him, axes drawn and mouth open in a fierce battle cry. Balin, his face blank and emotionless as he brought his sword down in a killing blow. Kíli used his arrows to slow Bilbo so his brother could strike. Dori and Nori striking efficiently to protect Ori. Glóin and Óin worked seamlessly as a tag team, both spry for their apparent ages. Bifur went berserk on him while Bofur and Bombur acted as support.

Each attack ended the same: Thorin looking down at his pelt, declaring it not fit enough to wipe his feet on when he entered his chambers. Bilbo’s pelt would end up in the fire and his meat would be fed to the dogs.

 

Bilbo continued to follow the dwarves, his steps unconsciously following the others as he processed those thoughts. He knew that the dwarves would never do such a thing. Yes, they were loyal to their king, but they also had a choice. They would not hurt him because they were friends…right? He tried to focus on that fact while an uneasy feeling came over him. When Bilbo came back to himself, he noticed that the plodding and complaining of the Company had been replaced with loud arguing… several feet behind him. The dwarves were huddled in a circle, arguing and pointing wildly. He turned and hurried back to the group, catching the tail end of what Bombur was saying.

“…have only a few days left of water, even less food.” Bilbo’s heart sank to his stomach (which did nothing to fill it, sadly) and he saw several of the others droop as well. He knew that they were not doing too well with rations but to hear it spelled out so bluntly did nothing to help his spirits.

“We should’ve started rationing as soon as we stepped into this forest.” Balin muttered into his beard, glancing at Thorin.

“Wouldn’t have done us any good.” Glóin countered.

“Aye, some of us shouldn’t have eaten more than their share…” Dori added, glancing at Bilbo. The shifter responded by taking a step back and baring his teeth slightly. He had not taken more than was given. If anything, he took less, so paranoid was he that he was taking too much from the others. It had long since started to show, he was certain that his ribs would be clearly shown in either form.

Bofur scoffed from where he stood beside the shifter, “Look at him, Dori! Bilbo hasn’t been taking more than he should, he’d be the best looking out of all of us, but he looks the worst.” The miner argued, mirroring Bilbo’s thoughts. To the hobbit’s confusion, half of the Company nodded along with Bofur, but the other half gave no reaction.

“He’s much larger than us.” Glóin cut in, pushing to the front. “He couldn’t possibly survive this long if he was eating the same amount as everyone else.”

“So, you acknowledge that we’re starving him?” Kíli shouted.

“Only if he was eating only what was given to him!”

“Óin!” Fíli shouted at the elderly dwarf, loud enough to catch his attention. “Do you think Bilbo would have survived only on rations this long?”

Óin looked uncertain. “I’m not familiar with hobbits, hobbit shifters even more so. I don’t know anything about his diet nor how often he should be eating to maintain a healthy weight.”

“See!”

“He said he wasn’t sure!”

“He didn’t say Bilbo wasn’t eating more!”

“He also didn’t say he was!”

Bilbo looked back and forth as different members of the Company voiced their opinions, shouting over one another. He had stepped back even further now, a soft growl sitting in his chest and his tail between his legs. He didn’t notice Bofur stepping back with him, a hand tangled in his fur, focusing on the louder dwarves. The dwarves had separated into two groups, the different groups shouting across at each other. Bilbo’s ears pressed against his head when Dori stepped forward, voice cutting through the yelling.

“You know what he does?” He started, stepping up to Thorin and pointing harshly at Bilbo. The others quieted down, watching and waiting.

“Enlighten me.” Thorin replied blandly, being one of those who believed Bilbo (not that he stood up to defend him).

“I bet he goes to the rations when we’re asleep and eats what he wants!” Bilbo’s growl grew louder at the accusation in the dwarf’s voice.

“And what about those on watch?”

“He’s the quietest being I’ve seen, in either form! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to walk circles around the watch without them noticing.”

“Dori, listen to what you’re saying.” Ori tried.

The dwarf continued on, ignoring his brother, “We will die in this forest, mark my words. We will die in here if we don’t find something to eat.” He finished, leveling a glare at Bilbo. His words hung in the air, no one daring to speak after his proclamation.

“Dori. Surely you don’t mean-” Balin began but Bilbo had heard enough. He shook off the packs (they could only be so secure with a single rope holding them) and bolted. He ignored the calls of the Company and their crashing through the wood as they gave chase. As he ran, Bilbo had one must going through his mind:

 

Need to go

Need to run

Need to hide

Faster

Faster

Faster!

 

He paid no heed to the branches and vines whipping his face and tugging on his fur. Bilbo did not slow until he jumped over a small stream, stopping when the stream was out of sight. His heart was racing and his legs were burning as he stared at the ground. His mind was still reeling as he tried to process what happened. He had acted without thinking but he could not believe that-

“I would’ve said they deserved that… if you stopped ‘bout half a mile back. Not that I blame ya.” Bilbo jumped and spun around, trying to find the sudden voice. A thump and a groan came from off to his side. Looking over his shoulder, Bilbo relaxed slightly when he saw Bofur rubbing his back.

“That,” Bofur said blandly, standing stiffly, “was unnecessary.” The shifter returned Bofur’s unimpressed look until the dwarf looked away, back the way they came. “We need to find the Company again.” he muttered, fixing his hat.

Bilbo stiffened, looking at his friend with wide eyes, heart pumping one more. There was no way he could go back. They were talking about killing him! Bofur had to understand that. They could find another way out of the forest.

 

So cruel to your friends, aren’t you?

They were-

Yes, we know.

But what’s a little cannibalism amongst friends?

 

Bofur glanced over at him and sighed. “Bilbo, I understand why you’re scared. I really do. But,” Bilbo’s heart fell, there was always a but, “we are all tired, hungry, and sick of this forest. Dori wouldn’t have said those things otherwise…”

 

Oh Yavanna.

He thinks you’ve overreacted

Look at him

It’s all over his face

What if you did?

You ran before anything could be explained.

How do you think the others feel?

You don’t trust them enough to keep you safe.

Now you’re stuck, unprepared in this forest…

And now you’re going to die.

 

Bilbo startled when Bofur lightly touched his neck. “You alright? You were shaking…” Bofur looked at his friend, concerned. “Look, I won’t let them hurt you, alright?” Bilbo was still unconvinced but allowed Bofur to climb on his back. He followed their path back to the stream (it was not very hard, Bilbo did not think about covering his tracks) and the rest of the way back after jumping over it. When they were back in the area from moments before, Bilbo looked around, ears perked and listening but heard nothing.

“Where ‘ve they gone?” Bofur asked. “I swear they were right behind us…”

Bilbo had to agree with Bofur. The dwarves had chased after them, but the camp looked completely abandoned. Packs were dropped without care, some stepped on multiple times. Bofur slid from his back as Bilbo sniffed at a puddle. He skittered away from it when the smell burned his nose, sneezing lightly. Bofur was poking around in a bush and Bilbo walked over to look over his shoulder. The dwarf pulled a spiderweb from the leaves and looked back at Bilbo.

“I have a bad feeling…”


 

It took them several hours (what Bilbo thought was several hours, at least) to find them and when they did, Bilbo wanted to pull his hair out because of course things could get worse. They had followed spider webs from where the dwarves disappeared to what was a righteous mess indeed. Bilbo and Bofur hid in a bush as spiders larger than horses scuttled about above them. Bilbo counted at least ten spiders and a good number of them surrounded a cluster of large web sacks. Bofur spotted them as well and groaned.

“I really hope that isn’t them.” He sighed. They went still as a spider moved above them. “We need to get them out of there.” He whispered to Bilbo. “Do you think you can draw them away? I need to get up there.” Bilbo nodded slowly, uneasy. Bofur nodded in return and stalked off in the direction of the sacks. Bilbo ran off in the opposite direction and, once he was a good distance away, lifted his chin and howled long and loud. When the howl tapered off, the forest hung in stilted silence for a second before Bilbo caught the sound of clicking pincers and legs crashing through the underbrush. Once the sound got so close to make him nervous, Bilbo turned tail and ran. The spiders gave chase.

 

This is the end…

 

The spiders, for their large size, were fairly nimble. More often than not, Bilbo had to quickly change directions or maneuver through legs as the arachnids lunged for him and fell from the trees. Throughout the chaos, he made sure to keep the spider den in the corner of his eye, not wanting to lose track of the Company again.

Bilbo!

Someone was calling his name and that was all the shifter needed to sharply turn and sprint back to the den. A few spiders had doubled back and were attacking the freed dwarves. Bofur, being the only able bodied one, was trying to keep the others safe as they came back to themselves. Bilbo tackled a spider that was sneaking up on Ori, pinning it to the ground and biting through its’ neck. The hobbit had killed two more spiders before the Company got their feet under them. It did not seem to do much to help. Bilbo’s earlier estimate of around ten spiders was proven very wrong when the spiders kept coming. Every spider killed seemed to spawn another two. The group was beginning to flag when an arrow seemed to sprout from a spider’s head. Bilbo looked around to see elves appearing from between the trees, slaying spiders left, right, and center. The Company closed in around him and Bilbo felt a couple dwarves climb on his back.

The elves made quick work of the spiders that did not flee and in short order, one elf had a bow ready and aimed at Bilbo’s head. “Move, dwarf.” The elf sneered. “You seem to have brought some filth with you.”

The dwarves stayed firm, weapons at the ready. “No.” Thorin replied firmly.

“Move, now. Or I may not be so careful about where I aim.” The elf’s eyes narrowed.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I have been fighting orcs longer than you can imagine. I know what their diseased mounts look like. I will not repeat myself again.”

“He is not a warg!” Ori shouted from Bilbo’s back. The elf coldly raised an eyebrow.

“Have you heard of skin changers?” Balin asked smoothly, lowering his weapon just slightly, stepping forward. The elf nodded once. “Bilbo here is like a skin changer. He is only in this form some of the time and he is in full control of himself when he is.”

The elf looked unconvinced. He tilted his head to the side, keeping his eyes on the Company as he addressed a red headed elf behind him. They spoke quickly in their language, using succinct words. The redhead called out and another dozen elves stepped out from behind the trees, bows drawn and aimed at the Company. The main elf lowered his. “Prove it.” The dwarves turned to look at Bilbo and he shrugged (to the best of his ability). The dwarves slid from his back and backed up a pace to give him room for the shift.

It had been some time since Bilbo had shifted. The wood made it hurt more than usual and the rations could be eaten easily enough in either shift so Bilbo chose to stay in the more useful of the two. That being said, by the time the shift was over, Bilbo was huddled on the forest floor, aching and sick to his stomach. At some point, someone had draped a blanket over his shoulders and the hobbit clutched at it, shivering. He looked up to meet the hard eyes of the elf.

“Come with me.” He said finally, turning. The other elves descended on the group, stripping them of their weapons and tying them in a line. Bilbo was placed in the center of the line, both dreading where they were headed and wanting to get someplace warm.

 

 

The Elven Palace was indeed “someplace warm”. It was also someplace that Bilbo did not want to be because of all the sudden and frequent drops and made him feel wildly underdressed. It was just his luck that the first place they were taken was to the Elven King.

Fantastic.

Bilbo stood at the back of the group, working to keep the blanket covering anything indecent while also looking as though he was paying attention. The elves leading them had bowed once they reached the foot of the throne, the king lounging about the… antlers? (There had to be a name for such an item, Bilbo believed.) Thranduil had a bored air about him as he looked over the group.

“Dwarves?” he said lazily.

“And a skin changer.” The lead elf added.

“Skin changer?” An eyebrow was raised. “I wasn’t aware they were still surviving.” His gaze zeroed in on Bilbo. “Or so small.”

The dwarves remained silent while Bilbo vibrated in fear and annoyance. (It was not his fault if he was not so unnaturally long like everyone else was.) The king had an odd look in his eyes. “Take them to the dungeon.” He gestured to the dwarves. “Leave the skin changer.”

The Company began shouting and struggling as they were led away by the guards away from Bilbo. The hobbit watched them go, heart sinking. When he turned back around, he startled to see Thranduil standing in front of him.

“So, skin changer-”

“Shape shifter.”

“Hmm?”

“I’m a shape shifter, I’ll thank you to remember. Different from a skin changer.” Bilbo remarked in an odd wave of bravery.

The king acted like he had not spoken. “Where do you come from?”

Bilbo hesitated. “The… the Shire. West of the Misty Mountains”

“Why are you traveling with the dwarves?”

“I believed in their purpose.”

“Which is?”

Bilbo was silent.

“They intend to return to the mountain, do they not?” More silence. “I assume there is a time constraint, dwarves do so love to make things difficult.” Thranduil studied Bilbo for several long minutes. The hobbit started to shift uncomfortably and was about to say something when the king finally spoke. “I have a proposition for you, something that would benefit both of us.”

“Okay?”

Thranduil slowly paced around him. “The dwarves have something of mine, something very dear to me that lay in that mountain, gathering dust. Such an item does not deserve such a fate and I intend to have them returned to me.”

“What do you want?”

The king stopped in front of him, glancing at him before ascending the steps to his antler throne. “Gems as white as starlight. The White Gems of Lasgalem.” There was a reverent tone in the elf’s voice as he sat on his pointy chair. “I’d commissioned a necklace to be made and upon payment, the dwarves refused to return them to me.” The elf ran his fingers along the armrest on his spear seat, lost in thought.

The elf was quiet for a few moments before Bilbo spoke up. “Your proposition?”

Thranduil looked at him blankly. “I release you and your dwarves and you return the gems to me.”

“Oh.” Thranduil watched him silently, fingers back to stroking his danger stool while the hobbit thought it over.

 

You won’t leave this place otherwise

Why not?

It sounds like the dwarves are in the wrong in this situation.

But what about in recent years?

Elves aren’t entirely to blame but they aren’t innocent either.

But honestly, why not?

This is an easy way to get the Company out safely.

But what if they find out?

We don’t need to return to the mountain after the gems are returned.

But where would we go?

Beorn would probably take us in.

He doesn’t like dwarves so he wouldn’t care if he betrayed them like this.

Returning the gems would probably stop future wars.

Or cause them.

 

“Your answer.”

Bilbo met the king’s gaze. “I’ll do it.” Thranduil’s blank face almost looked pleased. “But how will we leave your halls? If we are allowed to leave, no questions asked, it may raise suspicions.”

“You don’t trust your dwarves to believe you in the event they doubt your loyalty?”

No. “I just want to make sure nothing goes wrong.”

Thranduil nodded slightly and looked thoughtful. Suddenly, the barest hint of a smile graced the elf’s face and he leaned back into his prickly perch. “I have a solution.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo was beginning to understand Thorin’s extreme distaste of elves. After Thranduil’s announcement of a plan, he sent Bilbo down to the dungeons to join the dwarves. He did so without letting Bilbo know what his plan was and with no other instructions except the understanding to not tell the Company anything. The dwarves questioned him when the elves left him in a cell, but the hobbit dodged the questions, offering half truths or feigning confusion. Bilbo settled in to his cell, waiting for the Elf King to give him further information.

 

That had been nearly a month ago.

 

After the first week, the dwarves stopped banging on the cell bars. The second week, they started to see recovery from their starvation in the wood. In the third week the Company stopped antagonizing the elves who walked by and delivered their food. Now, the dwarves seemed to have lost all hope in leaving this place. Bilbo tried to keep their spirits up by chatting with those nearest him but that too quickly petered out when they began to ignore him. In all his conversations, Bilbo stayed away from talking about the events in Mirkwood and the dwarves did not mention it either. The avoidance of the topic was beginning to grate on Bilbo.

 

I wonder what will happen when the dwarves find out what you’ve done.

 

The voice greeted him as he lay in his cot. Bilbo shut his eyes and tried to ignore it.

 

Thorin will probably take Dori on as an advisor.

Both of them will figure out the perfect punishment.

The perfect punishment for a traitor like you.

 

“Shape shifter, King Thranduil wishes to speak with you.” Bilbo tilted his head to look at the elven guard standing in front of the open cell door. The hobbit sighed and rolled from the bed. This was yet another thing that Bilbo had become used to. Thranduil “wishes to speak” with him a few times a week. Bilbo never saw the king and was instead led to specific places in the kingdom. After about an hour, Bilbo was told to memorize the path they took and delivered back to his cell.

This day, Bilbo was led on a path that was vaguely familiar, the walkway opening into the throne room he stood in a month ago. Thranduil was standing there, back to the group with his hands folded behind his back. The guards pulled Bilbo to a stop, bowed, and returned to the doorway.

 

Oh, he’s changed his mind…

 

“Two days.” Thranduil started suddenly. Bilbo waited for him to keep talking, fighting the urge to tap his foot when he stayed quiet.

 

 

Is he ever not cryptic?

Yavanna, is it so hard to just say something?

How does anything get done around here?

Obviously not much gets done, have you seen the spider infestation they have?

 

“In two days, there will be a festival.” The elf continued. “That is where the plan will come to fruition.” He turned to face Bilbo. “This is what you will do.”

 

 

Oh, Bilbo officially hated elves.

 


 

 

As promised, two days after that meeting, Thranduil’s plan went into motion. It started when the Company’s evening meal was being delivered. The entire morning, sounds from the party drifted down to the dungeons and eventually, evidence of that party drifted down as well. A good number of the elves bringing the final meal were…. inebriated. One of the elves giving Bilbo his meal was listing dangerously as he placed the tray on the ground. His partner was waiting outside the cell, some ways away, obviously annoyed with the guard he was stuck with.

“Gwinthir, hurry up!” the guard ordered snarkily. The drunk guard, Gwinthir apparently, muttered something in return in slurred Sindarin. Bilbo’s dinner tray was dropped on the ground with a clatter and Gwinthir hurried out of the cell, absentmindedly closing the door behind him. Bilbo watched them go with a raised eyebrow before moving to get his tray. Something glinted at him out of the corner of his eye and Bilbo gaped, seeing a ring of keys sitting innocently by his tray.

 

Oh.

This is it.

I wonder how you’ll pull this one off.

 

Bilbo stared at the keys for several moments before his brain caught up, Thranduil’s words from two days before jolting him into action.

 

“I’ll give you the chance, but I will not give you an infinite amount of time…”

 

He snatched up the keys and leapt to his cell door. His hands were shaking as he went through the keys until he found the one that worked. It took him a few tries to get the key into the lock but when he finally managed it, his door swung open with a quiet squeak.

 

No way.

 

Bilbo knew this was part of the plan, but he still shook with nerves as he moved to the next cell to where Kíli was sitting, eating his food dutifully. The dwarf did not notice Bilbo at first, but his head snapped up when he heard the key scraping against the lock.

“Bilbo?” he shouted in surprise. Bilbo shushed him (and the rest of the dwarves when they heard the young prince’s exclamation) and pulled the door open when the key finally went into the lock. The dwarf moved past the hobbit, giving him a surprised but grateful look as he went to find his brother. Bilbo ignored him and moved down the line of dwarves. Dwalin gave him a firm clap on the shoulder as he went to find his own brother. Fíli and Kíli were checking each other over for residual injuries once the former was freed from his cell.  Glóin and Óin were in the same cell and took a portion of the keys from Bilbo to aide in the release of their friends. In short order, Balin, Thorin, Bombur and Bifur, Bofur, Nori, Ori and Dori were released as well and the were standing around Bilbo.

“… Now what?” Bofur asked from the back. Half of the group looked to Bilbo where the other half looked at Thorin.

“Do you trust me?” Bilbo asked Thorin. There was a tense moment where Thorin did not say a word and merely studied him before nodding. The hobbit breathed a sigh of relief, leading the Company down the paths he’s gone down dozens of times. The dwarves followed him around the twisting corridors and through doorway after doorway. Bilbo made a point to check around every corner before leading the dwarves on. A few times, elves were passing though the corridors as well. As they passed by, Bilbo would plaster himself to the wall, heart pounding.

 

This was all a lie.

You and the dwarves are going to get captured again.

Take a deep breath.

This is the closest you’re going to get to freedom.

It was nice while it lasted.

 

Despite his doubts, even with the dwarves shuffling quite loudly behind him, the elves never made a move that would show that they knew the Company was there. The elves just carried on their way until they were out of sight. Bilbo would lead the dwarves on after a long count to ten. A few minutes later and a handful of close calls later and the group arrived where their equipment was stored. The dwarves streamed in, quickly collecting their gear, double and triple checking that they had it all. Once again, when they were finished, the dwarves looked to Bilbo.

“You’ve led us deeper in, how do you plan on getting us back up?” Dwalin questioned.

“I’m not.” Bilbo said bluntly, heading to the door, ignoring the dwarves. He checked around before explaining himself. “Elves, even drunk off their arses, are more perceptive than all of us combined and if we tried to escape by going back up, we’d be spotted before we got two steps passed the party. Are only hope is to go down, away from the majority of the elves.”

“How are we going to get out by going further into the kingdom.” Balin interrupted.

“I was getting to that.” Bilbo retorted bluntly. He saw the dwarves look equally shocked and impressed.

 

Serves them right.

I’ve had enough of them thinking they can walk on me when it serves them.

 

“A river runs through the bottom of the kingdom. They send empty barrels down through a hatch in the floor. That’s our way out.” Bilbo finished, waiting for someone to have an issue. When no one did, the hobbit, now a bit shocked himself, continued the path to the wine cellar. He caught himself whenever he wished to run through the halls, knowing that his time was running out but not wanting to push his luck with the dwarves.

 

Act natural.

If you act odd, they’ll know something is off about this entire situation.

You’ll be dead long before you see the mountain.

This is an everyday occurrence.

Leading a group of dwarves through the halls of the Elvenking.

Just a normal Mersday…

…Is it Mersday?

 

Finally, they all poured into the wine cellar and the dwarves were quick to inspect the room, looking for a way out. Thorin hung back with Bilbo, eyes scanning over the room.

“You’ve led us this far, Bilbo. How do you plan to get us out?”

Bilbo glanced at him before walking over to a group of barrels. Checking to make sure it was empty, Bilbo began shoving it towards where he knew the hatch was.

“Find a barrel.” He grunted. “Put them there. Look for the edges of the hatch and stack them within the borders.” The dwarves followed is finger to where he was pointing and quickly followed his orders. By the time Bilbo pushed his barrel over, the dwarves already had a neat stack of barrels waiting. Dwalin and Dori added his to the pile while the hobbit caught his breath. “Now, get in the barrels.” He panted. There was a beat before the dwarves started protesting, loudly.

Glóin, Óin, Dwalin and Dori were the loudest of the group, Nori, Balin, Thorin, Fíli and Kíli watched on, and, in the background, Bofur was helping Ori into a barrel while Bombur did the same with Bifur.

Enough!” Bilbo shouted, barely lauder than the others. Everyone went quiet and those already in barrels poked their heads out to watch. Bilbo glared at the group in front of him, barely able to stop himself from putting his hands on his hips and tapping his foot as his father would have done. “Listen. This is our only chance to get out of here. I have been sitting up in those cells just as you have, and I’m not keen on going back. Maybe my cell was different from yours and you would prefer to go back instead of going on to take your home back.” Bilbo’s ears twitched at the sound of shouts and stomping feet above them. They were running out of time. “So,” Bilbo marched around to stand next to the lever, “you have a choice. You can either take a chance with this,” he gestured to the barrels, “or you can go right back to your previous dwellings and wait for the next century for Thranduil to release you. And you have about a minute, maybe two to make up your minds.” The dwarves were silent, a few staring at the hobbit with dumbfounded expressions on their face.

 

We don’t have time for this!

 

The noises were getting closer and Bilbo tugged at his earring, the old tick resurfacing.

“Do as he says.” Thorin commanded, apparently hearing the noise as well for he looked over his shoulder. The dwarves did not hesitate and hurried to climb into a barrel. Bilbo was tapping his foot by the time everyone was settled and in a barrel.

“Hold your breath.” He said before giving the lever a hard tug. The dwarves all cried out as their barrels began rolling into the river below. Bilbo was quick to follow, running and leaping after the others. When he hit the cold water, his muscles locked for a moment at the shock before he automatically frantically kicked for the surface. He was able to grab onto the side of a barrel, shivering, his hands and feet beginning to tingle uncomfortably.

 

 

Oh did he hate elves.

Chapter Text

The trip down the river had not been the best, but it had not been the worst, Bilbo supposed (after this journey, the bar had been risen when it came to bad trips). It was what happened after getting out of the river that was the worst bit. But he was getting ahead of himself.

 

Looking back, hitting the water was the best part of the trip. Sure, his arms and legs locked up at the sudden cold and he fought against the instinct to gasp at the temperature (as would be the normal response if he were at home) but Nori was quick to tug him up to the surface. That, and they were not being attacked by orcs.

Yes. Orcs.

Sure, the Company travels through the wood and they cannot function beyond walking forward (and even then, they sometimes failed at that task), but orcs are not only able to travel through the forest with some skill and have enough of their minds with them to organize an attack on elves. It did not seem very fair to Bilbo, not in the slightest. Luckily, they made it through without too many injuries. Kíli was shot in the thigh by a stray elven arrow, but that was the worst of it. After they lost the orcs and the river calmed a bit, one could almost say the trip was pleasant. Bilbo tipped his face to the sky as he clung to a barrel, languishing in sunlight for the first time in what felt like years. They drifted in the lazy river for another hour or so before Thorin spotted a bend in the river and called for them to head for shore.

 

Bilbo kicked his feet, trying to get closer, having to let go of the barrel because it was too slow. He sank immediately, struggling against the water as he tried to surface.

 

So, this is how it ends?

Survived spiders, orcs, trolls…

Only to be done in by some water.

Not helpful.

I didn’t think it, he did.

 

Bilbo felt the river bed beneath his toes and pushed with all his might in the direction he hoped the shore was in. He surfaced long enough to draw in a breath before he began sinking again. Something grabbed the back of his shirt and tugged him up, pulling him onto shore. He splashed onto the small river bank, coughing up the water in his lungs. He flopped onto his back, seeing Dwalin standing above him.

 

“It’d be a shame to survive this long only to drift away a few feet form shore!” The dwarf chuckled when Bilbo glared at him.

 

Shove it, dwarf.

 

Bilbo stood on shaky legs before he began wringing out his hair, grimacing at the gritty feel of it. “Did everyone make it?” He asked, looking around and ignoring Dwalin’s bait. Everyone seemed to be there, all in various stages of drying themselves off. Kíli was poking at his injured thigh with Fíli hovering over his shoulder and Thorin and Balin were looking down the river, no doubt trying to figure out how they were going to progress. The sound of squishing boots came up behind him and Bilbo looked over his shoulder to see Bofur walking up to him, his hair a right mess.

“Why are you still shivering with the rest of us?” he asked. Bilbo frowned at the lack of context.

“Because, I don’t see a fire and we have no supplies…?” Bofur looked at him as if he had just said that dwarves have quite long beards.

 

Wow, now he thinks you have the smarts of a cow’s arse…

Why didn’t you figure out what he was talking about?

 

“Yes,” the dwarf replied, drawing out the sound, “but none of us can turn into a twenty-stone fur ball.”

Bilbo stood there for a minute, eyeing Bofur. “You just want to use me to warm yourself, don’t you.”

Bofur gasped and overdramatically clutched his chest. “Why I never. Bilbo Baggins, why would you think I’d ever do something like that.” Bilbo chuckled even as he started removing his clothes. “Here I am, worried about my dear friend, and he thinks there’s something nefarious about.” Bofur finished, shaking his head. Bilbo raised an eyebrow at Bofur’s antics, wondering how he could be in such good spirits, and tossed his bundle of clothes away from himself to shift. Bilbo shook his fur out once it was done, reveling in the feeling of being dry and warm. He had about a second with that feeling before something was pressed into his fur. Looking over his shoulder, Bilbo saw that Bofur had pressed himself into his fur. The dwarf had his arms spread wide, his face deep in the fur.

“Call me whatever you want,” Bofur said, voice muffled, “but I am a dwarf who takes advantage of his environment.” Bilbo just huffed at his friend and, after a glance at Balin and Thorin confirming idea that they would not be leaving soon, laid down and stretched himself out in the sun, heedless of how it jostled Bofur. Bilbo sighed, crossing his paws and resting his head on them, closing his eyes.

 

Forgot how nice it was to relax in the sun…

Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

A dragon waits for us at the end of this journey and dragon fire isn’t as pleasant as this.

 

Bilbo sighed again, keeping an ear out for the orcs. He dozed in the sun, allowing himself the luxury of soaking up the warmth after what felt like years without it. He heard someone else plod over and sit beside him, leaning gently against his side. Bilbo just adjusted for the weight and continued to doze. A few minutes later, when Balin and Thorin found some way to move on and called the group to prepare to leave, Bilbo was surrounded by dwarves. Namely, Ori, Fíli, and Kíli (who shuffled over when Óin was done with him). Bilbo’s ears twitched, hearing the soft sound of boots on rocks. It seemed out of place. Whoever was moving was trying to be quiet and he did not think a dwarf had ever tried to be quiet in their life. Something moved out of the corner of his eye and Bilbo jumped to his feet, upsetting the dwarves leaning on him. Bilbo’s sudden movements earned him an arrow in his shoulder and his growls, along with the cries of the dwarves near him attracted the attention of the rest of the Company. Bilbo ignored the burning pain in his shoulder and continued to make a slow advance to the bowman.

“Call off your dog or I’ll stick it between the eyes.” An arrow was nocked, and Bilbo could see the sun reflecting off the arrowhead as it was pointed him.

The dwarves were tense behind him. “Bilbo.” Thorin commanded harshly, moving to stand beside him. The bowman kept his arrow trained on the hobbit, watching Thorin with his eyes. The dwarf placed his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.

“What is a group of dwarves doing with a warg?” he demanded. Bilbo continued to growl softly, a high note sneaking its way into it as the pain in his shoulder grew. Balin stepped forward, a genial smile on his face.

“We are merchants, from the Iron Hills. We found the warg on one of our journeys. We were going to leave him to fend for himself, he was just a pup, you see. A pup on his own, no mother in sight, we knew he wouldn’t last long on his own. He kept following us and tried stealing food more than once. He was the most docile warg we’d ever seen, and our leader was kind enough to show mercy on the beast. The young ones had grown fond of his presence, you see.” Balin added as an aside to the bowman, as if it was an inside joke. “The beast is about as dangerous as a dormouse once he trusts you.”

The man stared at Balin, his bow unwavering. “You vouch for this thing?” Balin nodded. The bow was lowered slightly. “If it makes a move I don’t like, both of you are getting an arrow.” Balin nodded again and the bow was pointed at the ground. Bilbo resisted the urge to huff.

 

Not like that’s going to matter much.

I’d wish he just killed us.

He’s going to anyway…

That much is obvious.

It seems rude to keep this charade up.

 

Óin had shuffled over to Bilbo during that exchange and prodded the area around the wound gently. Bilbo whined softly and laid down to give Óin better access, keeping his eyes locked with the bowman. The man may have lowered the bow, but he had yet to remove the arrow.

“Seems intelligent, that beast.” The man nodded at Bilbo, continuing without giving the dwarves a chance to respond. “You’ve answered my question what business a dwarf has with a warg but not what dwarves are doing in these parts in the first place.”

“I don’t recall you asking.” Thorin growled. Balin glared at him and took another step forward, angling Thorin behind him and out of the way. Bilbo tuned out the conversation as Óin pulled the arrow out of his shoulder and cleaned it the best he could, watching the bowman. His ears perked when they began negotiating transportation.

“I can take you, but not only will it be impossible to hide your pet, I will not let it into town. It’s going to have to go around the lake if you wish to bring it with you.” Balin hesitated before turning to look at Thorin.

“Do you think Bilbo can make it on his own? We have to take his offer, I fear we won’t make it to the mountain in time without his help.”

“He’s going to have to. We don’t seem to have a choice.” Balin glanced at Bilbo before turning back to the man. He agreed to the terms and coin was exchanged. (Bilbo was stunned, watching the dwarves pull coin from all sorts of places on their person.) The man counted the coin, nodded, and began to lead the dwarves back over the ridge from where he came. Thorin waited behind with Bilbo, watching the others walk off.

“Head towards that peak.” He pointed to a mountain on the other side of the lake once the dwarves were out of sight. “Stay near the edge of the lake when you are close enough. Wait for us there, we’ll meet you as soon as we can.” Be turned to Bilbo and took his head in his hands. “Stay safe, Bilbo.” Thorin tapped his forehead to Bilbo’s brow and turned to follow the others.

 

Marvelous…

 

Bilbo waited to give the dwarves time to leave with the man before picking himself up and trotting off in a direction that hopefully lead to the mountain.

 

They better not move on without me.

Chapter Text

They definitely moved on without me.

That can be the only explanation…

 

Bilbo was going on his daily ritual of pacing a piece of the shore closest to the mountain. He last saw the dwarves about a week ago and he has had the same routine for the past four days. In the morning, before dawn, he would crawl out from the den he had dug under a fallen tree and go out to hunt. (It was not very successful, he found a rabbit once; that was a good day.) At first light, he walks the same strip of shore for hours. At night, he would try to hunt again before curling back into the den to sleep.

 

They surely have been looking for a way to get rid of me.

 

Bilbo turned around, pacing past the shore of the lake for the countless time that day.

 

It would be fairly convenient too.

They don’t have to deal with killing me.

They simply have to land on a different part of the shore.

Take a slightly longer path to the mountain and theyd never have to see me again.

No muss, no fuss.

 

Bilbo looked over the lake, a heavy fog still hanging over the surface of the water. He could hardly see a few feet into the fog. He sighed and continued his march.

 

I’ll give them another couple days before giving up.

Where would we go?

We’ve thought about Beorn before.

He could be an option.

Lord Elrond was kind.

He might let us stay in his borders.

It’s an option.

I’d have to go back through Mirkwood though.

Oooo…

Yeah, you won’t survive that again.

We barely survived the first time.

How are we supposed to get to the other side of Mirkwood without passing through?

We didn’t go north because it was too dangerous.

And going south is too far.

Finding food is next to impossible.

Maybe the dwarves will take me in!

They went out of their way to get rid of you.

Do you think they’d let you into their kingdom?

No.

Of course not.

The men are also out of the running.

Oh, sweet Yavanna.

We’re going to die out here.

 

Bilbo stopped in his tracks, breath coming in in pants and his heart pounding against his ribcage.

 

Even if the dwarves don’t take back the mountain, it’s not like the hunting was the best to begin with.

The most we’ve had in our belly the past couple days was water.

We should’ve stayed in those cells.

At least then we would have had food.

Hopefully someone will kill us before we starve.

That doesn’t seem like a good way to go.

 

Bilbo sat in the rocky sand, his mind whirring beyond his control. Images of all the ways he was going to die kept flashing by. Starvation, drowning, eating mushrooms, being hunted and skinned, the eagles from weeks ago swooping down and ripping his innards out, orcs catching him and using him as a plaything. These scenarios sped by on repeat, each new iteration showing him in some new horrible location. Bilbo jumped when he heard a noise off to the side of him, expecting one of the visions to come at him. He looked to the source of the noise, out over the water. It sounded like voices… bickering?

“…don’t trust that kâmnuluhkhad. Keeping us from moving on. Greedy bastard just wanted to see how much gold he could ring from us.” The voice was faint but distinctive. Bilbo’s heart stopped when he recognized the voice. Bofur! Bilbo’s claws dug into the sand as he burst off in the direction the voice, and those murmuring in agreement. Skidding to a stop, happy yips and barks sprang from him when the dwarves’ boat came into view. When they got close enough, Bilbo jumped in the river and pulled the boat the rest of the way up the shore. Several of the dwarves cried out in shock and a few rolled back in their seats (most notably, Bombur fell back on Dori). Bofur jumped out of the boat and laughed as Bilbo jumped circles around him, a large wolfy grin on his face.

“Missed us, didja Bilbo?” Bofur asked with a cocked brow.

“Don’t think so. He’s too subdued.” Nori called from over his shoulder, securing the boat to the sand. Bilbo ignored him, far too overjoyed to care about the gentle ribbing. Something crashed into his side and Bilbo looked down to see Kíli, face deep in his fur.

“Mmm, so warm.” He mumbled, voice muffled. Bilbo rolled his eyes and shook to get rid of his parasite. Óin took Kíli’s place at his side, prodding his shoulder.

“Good to see you’re in one piece. The lads have some clothes for you. Do us a favor and shift so I can look at that shoulder of yours.” Ori walked up behind him, a large smile on his face and a bundle of cloth in his arms. Bilbo did as he was bade and shifted, gritting is teeth at the tightness of it. Óin’s fingers were at his shoulder as soon as Bilbo’s fur fell away. The hobbit shivered at both the cold of the dwarf’s fingers and the air around him.

“Hmm. It seems to look alright. You kept it clean and it’s healing nicely, considering.” The dwarf declared, stepping back and allowing Bilbo to get dressed. “You look thin. Have you been eating?” Óin eyed Bilbo when he smiled sheepishly.

“What was this about a bastard I heard?” Bilbo asked the group, avoiding the question. The dwarves seemed to stiffen all at once.

“The Master of Laketown.” Thorin grumbled, looking as if just speaking of the man made him want to wash his mouth. “The greedy barathgalt used food and drink to try and placate us so we would give him more gold than he is due.”

“Aye, I’m pretty sure he also kicked a family or two out of their home so we would be staying as close to him as we could without sharing the same bed. Didn’t feel any different.” Bofur added.

“All in all, it didn’t seem so bad to me.” Dwalin shrugged. “We got good food and a place to sleep and he didn’t get what he want. Who cares if he called on us at all hours of the night to negotiate.” Dwalin snorted when Thorin glared at him.

“We don’t have time for this. We need to move to the mountain.” Thorin took the group’s silence as agreement and ordered them to march on the mountain. Bilbo received his share of the equipment and fell into line next to Kíli, who was very unhelpfully gushing over the feasts they were treated to by the Master.

“You should have seen it, Bilbo! I haven’t seen so much food since Beorn’s! Everything was made fresh for us, no preserved meat or dry bread in sight. There were probably ten different kinds of meat, on a floating city like theirs, I have no idea where they kept the animals. Every bite was seasoned perfectly, that may just be because it had been a while since I’ve had any kind of meat cooked with any care about who was receiving it. They even had some plates of greens. I didn’t have any, but they must have been okay because Dori was able to get Ori to try a few bites without too much of a fight. Oh, and they didn’t give us water to wash it all down. Wine and ale was aplenty and, although wine isn’t my choice of drink, I have to say it rivaled the ale being served. I don’t think I’ve ever been as full as I have been these past few days.” Kíli sighed, as if he had just finished one of those legendary meals. He looked over at Bilbo, who had long since stopped humming at the appropriate times.

“I caught a rabbit a couple days ago. That was nice.”

“Oh lugnel, Bilbo, I should have realized-” Kíli stuttered.

“It’s alright Kíli, truly.” Bilbo soothed.

 

They didn’t even think about you.

 

“I had a nice little set up.”

 

They may not have conspired to leave you behind.

 

“I dug a den under a log.”

 

But had you not heard them, they would have left you behind without realizing it.

 

“Found some moss for a bed.”

 

You would have been all alone.

 

“I’m just glad I heard you approaching the shore.”

 

All alone when you died.

 

Bilbo smiled softly at Kíli, who relaxed visibly.

 

_

 

After that, the hike to the mountain was uneventful. It took three days to get close enough to look for any stairs. The first night, the dwarves surprised Bilbo by pulling out as much food they could smuggle out of Laketown. They had a feast in the shadow of mountain that night. The next two days were a more somber affair as they were passing by Dale to get to Erebor. Now, standing before the great gates of Erebor with a crick in his neck from trying to view it all, Bilbo marveled at the ability of dwarves.

“Amazing, isn’t it.” Balin chuckled when Bilbo nodded mutely. “C’mon laddie, we have some stairs to find.”

 

And find some stairs they did. He made a note to himself to have a talk with the dwarves about the definition of “hidden stairs” because, although the stairs looked like a pattern hewn into the rock, with a second glance, it was obvious that the pattern was supposed to be some stairs going up the mountain. Finding them was the best bit. (Bilbo was not one to simply stare at rocks all day, but he loved the minute details one could see in the towering carved figures.) the climbing that came after had Bilbo wishing that there was a hidden ramp somewhere as well. Alas, there was none so Bilbo held his tongue as the dwarves took turns tossing him up to the next level. When they finally reached the small alcove at the top of the stairs, Bilbo was sick to his stomach both from the height and from being tossed the whole way up. He was the second one onto the rock after Thorin and the poor hobbit crawled away from the top of the stairs and laid on his back, grounding himself.

“You alright there, Bilbo?” Bofur called from where he was pulling himself up.

“He looks a little green in the face. Too bad his shift isn’t a bird, wargs don’t seem like they’d be fond of heights.” Kíli added. Bilbo wanted to snark back at them but his stomach had nearly stopped flipping and he did not care to jeopardize that.

“Balin. How close are we?” Thorin asked, walking forward and placing his hand on a piece of rock. Balin walked up next to him, looking at the sinking sun and the only piece of stone it was shining on.

“I’d say we made it within the hour.”

Thorin nodded, “Soon our quest will be finished. Soon, we will be home.” The whole group fell silent with the weight of those words. No one spoke for a few minutes before Bilbo felt the urge to mention something.

“Not to be the bearer of bad news but, don’t we still have to evict a dragon somehow?” Half of he Company turned to glare at him. Thorin sighed and moved to sit against the wall.

“That, Master Hobbit, will be dealt with in time. First, we need to find the Arkenstone.” Bilbo wanted to push his point that there was still a living dragon, or at least a high likelihood of a living dragon, between them and the stone. However, he did not really wish to bring down this hopeful atmosphere once again. Instead he joined most of the Company in sitting against the rock. The group passed the time in silence, each one in their own minds. Bilbo’s eyes drifted to where the sunlight shone on the rock, knowing that in about an hour, there was a good chance he would be facing a dragon.

 

I know we say this a lot but…

You really are going to die this time.

 

Bilbo thudded his head on the rock behind him a closed his eyes, dozing lightly.

 

 

Sometime later, Bilbo was roused from his rest when the dwarves started shouting at one another, each one trying to get a look at the stone.

“Where is it! It should be here!”

“Break it down!”

“Quiet, the lot of you! I can’t hear with all your shouting!”

“We have the wrong place, there must be another place!”

“What are we going to do if this isn’t where the door is?”

“What if the magic ran out?”

Bilbo could hardly understand was a single dwarf was saying, they were shouting over one another so. He glanced in the direction in the now nearly set sun and realized why they were so frantic. It was almost time. The door should be opening. Bilbo saw that with how they were crowding around the door, they were also blocking any light from reaching the door.

“Stand back! The light won’t be able to do it’s magic if you block it all!” Bilbo had to repeat himself a couple times until the others finally heard him and backed away from the door. Everyone watched with baited breath as the sun sank lower and lower, the door never showing any sign of reacting. Just as the last of the sunlight was blotted out by a cloud, Thorin turned and threw the key at the wall with a shout. Bilbo scrambled to catch the key before it could ricochet of the edge of the cliff. Thorin stood motionless, his shoulders hunched and his hands, clenched and trembling.

“This quest was useless.” Thorin muttered, turning away from the group. He moved over to the start of the stairs. “I give my sincerest apologies to all of you. Upon our return home, I’ll see to it that you are compensated for your time.” With that, Thorin stepped down the stairs, quickly moving out of sight. The dwarves looked between one another, unsure what to do.

Dwalin was the first to move after his king, his brother close behind. Glóin and Óin were next, followed by Dori, Bifur, and Bombur. All too soon, it was only Bilbo, Bofur, and Ori still waiting.

“This doesn’t make sense! Lord Elrond wouldn’t lie and we followed the instructions. It should be here!” Bilbo clutched the key in his hand and ran over to the rock face, trying to feel for a hole in the wall.

“I’d like to think the same, Bilbo. But there is an entire mountain to search. Who’s to say that there isn’t at least one false door, and what would be the chances that we found the correct door on the first try? I don’t want to agree with Thorin but the odds were stacked against us from the beginning.” Ori countered.

“And what makes you think that the elf wasn’t lying to us in the first place? Lift the spirits of some dwarves, only to laugh at us behind our backs as we go on this wild goose chase.” Bofur added bitterly. Bilbo turned to look at his friends, stunned that they would give up so quickly.

“Are you hearing what you’re saying? Are you really going to let yourselves give up so easily, after everything we’ve been through?” Bilbo wanted to reach out and shake the two of them, put them back to their senses.

Bofur rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know Bilbo. We’ve come so far only to lose all our hope. And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. None of this matters. Laketown was the first bit of proper rest since we stayed with Beorn. I’ve got aches in places I didn’t know could ache and I’ve lost nearly a year’s worth of wages for this quest. All I have to show from this quest is some new scars. Those might get some attention for a while but they won’t put food on the table. Right now, I need to focus on getting home and making sure my family has the means to survive. I’m sorry if I disappoint, Bilbo, but I have different goals now.” Bofur ranted before turning and stomping down the stairs. Bilbo and Ori watched him go for a second before looking at one another.

“My brother’s will wait for me no matter what. I’ll wait with you, Bilbo.”

Bilbo smiled at his friend, patting him on the shoulder. “You don’t have to. I understand if you want to get a head start back home.”

“No, I haven’t lost all hope, not completely at least. And if anything is going to happen, I’d rather be here than… than….. half…….way…” Ori trailed off, jaw going slack and looking at something over Bilbo’s shoulder. Bilbo turned to see the moonlight shining on the rock and, more specifically, on the keyhole.

“Oh sweet Yavanna.” He spun around and started shoving Ori towards the stairs. “What are you still doing here? Call everyone back! Go! Go!” If Bilbo had not been as panicked as he was, he would have been worried at the way Ori stumbled down the stairs, shouting for the others to come back up, but the hobbit had bigger issues in mind. Namely, the keyhole and how temporary it may or may not be. Bilbo paced back and forth, trying to think of a solution.

 

Don’t want to take away Thorin’s chance to be the one to open the door…

Yeah, he would never forgive you if you opened the door and he wasn’t here to at least see it.

But to let the keyhole disappear.

That is beyond cruel, even for you.

Especially seeing how Thorin left, just a moment ago.

No longer the leader he was at the beginning of the quest.

However…

Who knows if a hidden keyhole would break something placed in it…

Now there’s a thought.

 

Bilbo paused in his pacing, glancing between the key and the keyhole. Quickly shuffling over to the keyhole, Bilbo carefully stuck the key in the hole and held up his hands, waiting for it to fall out. When it did not move, Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief before immediately restarting his nervous pacing. He kept his eye on the key, a quiet thumping noise barely registering in his stressed mind. He was so high strung that he jumped when the dwarves clambered back onto the rock landing. Thorin, naturally, was the first to arrive, his face blank and disbelieving.

“I-I wasn’t trying to open it! I just wanted to make sure that the keyhole didn’t disappear before you got back. I didn’t think that the key would break if the keyhole disappeared, just show us where it was.” Bilbo was quick to explain, although his words fell of deaf ears. Thorin approached the door and grabbed the key. It did not take much effort for the dwarf to turn the key, the object not making a noise even as it stopped moving. Everyone held their breath as Thorin lifted his hands and pushed against the rock wall in front of him. With a bit more effort, the wall moved, revealing a tunnel within. Thorin’s shoulders relaxed with relief. Everyone took a minute to stare into the tunnel leading into the mountain. After everything they went through, after believing this quest folly, they were almost done. In the quiet, Bilbo sidled up to Bofur.

“What happened to “none of this matters”, hm?” Bilbo asked, nudging his friend with his elbow. “Didn’t you want to get a head start back home?”

Bofur lightly shoved him. “Oh come off it. We both said some things we don’t mean.” Bilbo squinted at him but let it go. Turning back to their leader, he watched as Thorin seemed to shake himself free of something before facing the Company.

“We should rest. We pushed hard to get here. I would rather everyone rested than have someone make  a mistake.” Thorin looked at Bilbo. “That goes double for you. It wouldn’t behoove you to be tired while looking for the Arkenstone and return with an opal or moonstone.” Thorin smirked at his apparent joke and around to the others, expecting them to get to setting up a makeshift camp. Instead, no one moved and Bilbo scuffed his toes against some loose dirt.

“Now I won’t pretend I understood that joke but, if it’s alright with everyone else, I’d much rather get this bit over with. Besides, the last hour has given me enough energy to find fifty opals and moonstones. Besides, if Smaug is dead, I will have plenty of help trying to find the stone, won’t I.”

 

Where have you had any good luck on this quest?

That dragon is definitely alive.

One hundred percent.

And probably waiting at the end of the corridor…

With its mouth open…

Waiting to gobble up any hobbit stupid enough to try to steal from it.

 

No one spoke against him and all too soon Bilbo was carefully feeling his way down the tunnel slightly (only slightly, truly) regretting his words for each step away from the Company allowed a knot to grow in his belly, threatening to evacuate the small amount of food in his stomach.

 

Oh this is a bad idea.

A bad,

Stupid,

Idiotic,

Moronic idea.

Lobelia is going to get your silverware, you do realize this.

And you’re going to be a nice appetizer before the main course of dwarf.

 

Bilbo tried to shake those thoughts from his head as he rounded a final corner and saw the treasury in all its glory in front of him. As he stared across at the vast wealth in the room, Bilbo spared a thought as how he was supposed to find anything in the dark. (Perhaps waiting til morning would have been better… if it made a difference at all). Committing to his decision, Bilbo took a deep breath then carefully began picking his way across the gold. Thorin had given him a description of the stone before he left, most of the identifiers meant nothing to Bilbo but one. The stone glowed with a light that came from within. That should be easy to find, right?

Bilbo tried to stay to the belief that finding a glowing stone in the dark would be easy as pie but, after what felt like hours of searching, he still had yet to find that damn stone. Deciding on a new direction to go, Bilbo spun in a circle, trying to distinguish a new, yet unchecked mound around him when he saw it. There was something glowing at the top of one of the larger hills of gold around him. Not giving himself a chance to berate himself for missing the obviously bright object in the otherwise gloomy room, Bilbo climbed up the hill causing streams of gold to flow down the slope. One of the larger rivers caught something that went clanging down the hill. Stilling, Bilbo looked down to see a golden chalice resting in the valley he had been in. However, what caught his attention was something a few feet below him. The falling gold had uncovered something similar in shape and armor to a snake, only it had several spines, was colored a deep blood red, and was easily as thick as Bilbo was tall.

Across the dip between the gold hills, there was a sudden explosion of gold along with a gust of air. Turning his head, Bilbo’s eyes grew to the size of his mother’s china when he saw the tip of a snout sticking out of the gold. The inhale that came after made Bilbo leave his stomach behind as he clambered up the rest of the hill. It was pure instinct that had Bilbo grabbing the Arkenstone, sliding down the other side of the hill, and ducking under a bridge covered in (you guessed it) gold.

 

What was the ONE thing Balin told you?

Wake the dragon?

Get burned alive?

Sacrifice your friends to a furnace with wings?

No, of course not.

Now you’re going to die, the dwarves as well, and they will never get their home back.

All because of you.

 

Bilbo covered his mouth with both of his hands, endeavoring to cover his heavy breathing. His heart was desperately beating against his ribcage as the sound of thousands upon thousands of pieces of gold fell upon one another. Over the sound of gold, the dragon was making a rumbling noise as he rose from his glittering bed. He heard the dragon take several more lungsful of air, each inhale stealing the breath from Bilbo’s lungs.

“Well, thief,” Smaug finally spoke, his voice filling the chamber and shaking Bilbo’s bones. “I smell you. I hear your heart.” He paused, groaning in pleasure. “I taste your fear.” Bilbo did not dare to even move his head as a giant shadow moved by his hiding spot, the only sound accompanying it was the gentle sound of gold falling. Bilbo closed his eyes, trying to find a happy place to take his mind off of his current dilemma.

 

You’re on your own.

 

“Found you.” Bilbo jumped and turned to see a giant eye that seemed to be wreathed in fire staring back at him. He blinked, the eye blinked back. “It seems you have something that belongs to me, theif.” The eye moved to make way for an opened mouth, a bright light growing at the back of the dragon’s mouth. Bilbo stumbled back, tripping down a second, smaller set of stairs. He fell into the little passage he found not a second too soon as the area he had been standing was engulfed in flames. With a yelp, Bilbo scrambled backwards until his back hit another wall. Several feet away from the fire was not a safe enough distance and Bilbo could feel the skin on his face tightening from the heat while his clothes (and undoubtedly his hair) were at the very least singed from the fire as well. The fire continued for another terrifying few seconds before they petered out. The hobbit panted, unable to get himself under control.

 

How do you keep getting so lucky.

Seem highly unlikely at this point.

 

Smaug made a considering noise, moving over Bilbo’s hiding place. He screamed as a booming crash came from overhead, dust coating Bilbo’s hair. A second, then a third boom and Bilbo realized what was happening.

 

Better get moving or we’ll be crushed.

And face a firey death?

Or a different form of crushing.

Or being eaten.

Or slipping on the gold and hitting your head on that thrice cursed chalice.

Or slipping and sticking yourself with your own sword.

 

The bricks above Bilbo cracked and a few loose pieces were falling around him. The hobbit crouched where we was, covering his head with his arms, unable to make a move as his mind spiraled. He knew he was going to die here, no doubt about it. There was no way out of this. His luck had run out and now he can only hope that everything would wor-

 

SMAUG!” everything stopped as Thorin’s voice roared over the hills of gold. The dragon growled deep and low, the vibrations shaking Bilbo to his core. Although he could not see, Bilbo imagined Smaug glaring at the dwarf with the rest of the Company standing behind him, ready to follow their leader into battle. Bilbo allowed himself to hope that maybe he had some sliver of hope still with him. If Smaug was distracted enough by the dwarves, he might have enough of an opening to sneak away and get to safety. He waited for an opportunity, heart racing and twitchy. He stilled when he heard Smaug shift above him but the dragon did not move away from his hiding place. Instead, Bilbo watched as once again, Smaug’s snout came into view so he could speak directly to the hobbit.

“I could not smoke you out, so you can die here while I kill your friends.” He growled before bringing his foot down on the bridge one final time and Bilbo looked up to see the bridge collapse.

Bilbo heard Smaug's roar echoing through the chamber as he stomped after his friends. It was the last thing he heard before his world went black.

Chapter Text

“-bo! Bilbo! Bilbo can you hear us?! Baggins!”

Bilbo came to in the dark. Everything hurt, and he immediately began coughing. He tried to move and cried out when he felt a sharp pain coming from his lower body. Panting, Bilbo felt behind him, gritting his teeth and grunting through the pain. He felt the rough edge of brick starting at his lower back. Bilbo huffed, knocking his forehead against the ground below him.

“Bilbo!”

Bilbo snapped his head up, trying to locate where the voices were coming from. They were muted and sounded like they were hundreds of miles above him.

“Help!” he cried out, voice weak. He took another shaky breath. “I’m here!”

“Bilbo Smaug is gone! It’s safe to come out now! Where’ve you gone?”

The voices seemed to move closer before they fell silent. Bilbo’s heart was racing.

They’re going to give up and forget about you.

And you are going to wither away

Until they finally dig you out while they’re counting their treasures.

You’re going to be thrown out with the trash.

The voices continued, incoherently, right above Bilbo. He could hear their steps and they moved and slid on the gold above him. He yelped when the rubble shifted with their movements.

“Bilbo?!”

“Down here!” Bilbo tried again. There was a flurry of sound coming from those above him at his call.

“Oh Aulë… Hold on, Bilbo! Don’t move, we’ll come you!” Someone called to him, Bofur, he suspected.

“I have nowhere to go,” Bilbo grumbled to himself, relaxing slightly now that he knew that they would be coming for him. It was sometime later when Bilbo heard a ruckus above him and it was sometime later still when a hole was created into his little hovel and a head popped in.

“Bilbo!”

“Ori!” Bilbo smiled at his friend as the dwarf looked around. “I’ve got a bit of stone across my legs, otherwise I’d come to greet you.”

Ori did not respond to the light joke, turning to squint into the darkness shrouding Bilbo’s legs. He looked back at his friend, a comforting smile on his face. “Don’t worry, Bilbo. We’ll have you out in no time!” Bilbo returned the smile, watching Ori pop back out of the hole. He tried to get comfortable while he waited for the dwarves to dig him out, the slab on his legs making that difficult. Had the hobbit not seen what the dwarves were capable of during their journey, Bilbo would have been speechless as he watched his friends work as one to remove the rubble around him, secure the walls of the new pit, and lift the slab off his legs so Bofur could pull him out. Be that as it may, Bilbo was still in awe while he was being lifted to Glóin’s waiting hands. The dwarf shuffled away from the pit and sat him on a small hill of gold that Óin was standing beside. The healer quickly went through the motions of checking Bilbo for injury: checking his head and eyes, prodding his back, and checking the range of motion in his limbs. While he worked, Bilbo looked at the group around him, thanking them, when he noticed two missing from their number.

“Where are Thorin and Dwalin?”

 

Probably planning on where to put your pelt

 

The group looked around, looking uncomfortable. “His Royal Highness has been searching the gold since Smaug flew off,” Bofur answered grumpily. Bilbo’s brow furrowed at both his tone and words.

“Smaug just… flew away? Are you having me on? I would’ve thought you lot would be fighting one another to tell the story of how you conquered the beast or removed its fowl head from its miserable shoulders or something equally epic.” Óin moved on to check his legs and feet while the other dwarves continued to stare at him. Bilbo huffed. “Alright then, where would Smaug fly off to and leave his treasure behind.” More silence. Bilbo’s eyes widened as it clicked in his head. “Where can I see the lake.” He bit out, frustrated with the lack of answers. The dwarves looked down at their boots and Bilbo had enough. He pulled his feet from Óin’s hands and shoved himself to his feet, ignoring how his back and legs protested the movement. The cries of his name fell on deaf ears as Bilbo moved as well as he could up the gold, looking for a way out of the treasury.

He barely had enough time to find a stairway that looked like it led where he wanted to go before Ori was crouched in front of him, facing away from him and blocking his path. “Get out of my way, Ori,” Bilbo said, already starting to move around him.

“Up,” Ori ordered, shifting closer. Bilbo sputtered behind him. “You want to know what happened, even if you hurt yourself. I don’t want to see you hurt, so get on.” He said that last sentence in a rush and Bilbo could only blink at his friend before perching on the offered back. Ori stood carefully, and Bilbo’s hands clutched his shoulders and his knees squeezed his waist. The dwarf looped his arms under Bilbo’s knees and, after adjusting the weight on his back, set off across the gold. The pair was quiet on their journey, Ori making quick work of crossing the field of gold and later the stone walkways. Bilbo was able to get a look at Erebor as they passed through its walls.

It truly was magnificent. Bilbo could understand why those who lived in these walls spoke of them with such reverence and fought so hard to get them back. In some places, the walls stretched what seemed to be hundreds of feet, the shining ceiling supported by impressively carved pillars. As they passed through a living area, Bilbo marveled at the carvings etched into the mountain itself. For how secretive Bilbo had learned the dwarves to be throughout their travels, they had a remarkable amount of their history open for the eye to see. Bilbo itched to get his hands on the books that spoke of the scenes playing out before his eyes. They moved to a more industrial area and Bilbo peaked over the edge of a massive hole in the ground, his stomach dropped, and his eyes widened at a depth that no doubt continued far beyond the reach of torchlight. Bilbo got to see the (surprisingly) lit forges in all their glory before their journey led them through a hall with a gold floor. There were splotches of gold flung hither and yon and Bilbo could still feel the heat coming from the main body of gold, his mind could come up with no reason for the room’s appearance.

So caught up in his thoughts, Bilbo missed the moment when they moved outside until a sharp breeze slapped him in the face. He closed his eyes and took a reflexive breath, nearly choking on the smell of ash in the air. Snapping his eyes open, Bilbo scrambled from Ori’s back and dashed to the small wall of rock. His breath caught at the sight before him.

“Yavanna save us…”

If one had no knowledge of the area, the lake looked as though it had suddenly caught fire, inexplicably. But Bilbo knew. By the gods, did he know. Laketown hardly earned its name anymore. Over half the town was alight with flames. Any part left dark had either already been consumed or would meet the same fate soon enough. Bilbo was mildly concerned about the lack of a dragon flying above their heads, focusing instead to the water. He could see shapes in the water. Some were struggling to reach the shore, in boats or by sheer willpower, but far too many were still, allowing the water to take them wherever it bid. Bilbo tried to reason with himself that those shapes were just pieces of the town simply floating in the waves.

 

Don’t be naïve.

 

Bilbo shuddered as the voice whispered in his ear. He could nearly feel it uncurl from deep inside himself and wrap him tightly in its dark tendrils.

 

You know what those shapes are.

They were alive, living people.

People who had homes…

Jobs…

Families…

People whose blood is on your hands.

The list grows ever longer.

You should have been more careful.

More aware.

If you hadn’t been so stupid to awake the dragon

If only you hadn’t let yourself get cornered…

Trapped…

You could have made a difference.

Possibly helped kill the dragon before it could leave.

And those people would have been left alone.

Would have survived…

It’s your fault.

 

Bilbo jumped as a heavy hand fell on his shoulder. Bilbo looked over his shoulder to see Ori watching him with sad eyes. “Did they- Do you know- Can we-” Bilbo stuttered, unsure what one should say in such a situation as this. Ori just shook his head, making sure to keep his eyes away from the glowing lake. He turned around again and gestured for Bilbo to get on his back once more.

“We should head back. It’s freezing, you’re probably starving, and you were just dug out of the treasury. You need rest.” He insisted. Bilbo spared another glance for the people of the lake before listening to his friend and climbing onto his back. He clung tighter to the dwarf’s back, forcing himself not to feel embarrassed at his need for comfort.

 

Why are you so weak?

Why do you need comfort?

Was your home destroyed?

Was most, if not all, of your town slaughtered?

No.

You have no right to comfort.

This is your fault.

Your fault.

Your fault.

You should have-

 

“What happened to Smaug?” Bilbo asked suddenly, sitting up a little on Ori’s back. The shoulders under his hands shrugged.

“He fell.”

“Fell?”

“Into the lake. We don’t know what happened. He was attacking the town when suddenly he fell from the sky. Was about an hour before we found you.” Bilbo closed his eyes, sending a silent prayer for the people of the lake, hoping beyond hope that that most of the townsfolk had survived.

After a moment of quiet, Bilbo began asking Ori about the halls they walked through, eagerly soaking up the information the dwarf could provide. Whenever there was a lull in the conversation, Bilbo was ready with another question to fill the silence that was waiting to collapse on him. That was how they spent their time as they traveled back to camp, where Óin and several others loudly admonished Bilbo for trying to run off as he did. He allowed Ori to replace him on his abandoned perch and their medic when about rechecking and tending to his injuries. Bilbo allowed his eyes to travel about the room while the dwarf in front of him grumbled under his breath and the others wandered off, finally taking the room in all its glory. His gaze drifted to a stairwell where he could just make out the visage of Thorin watching over them, his eyes dark and heavy under his brow. A weight like a stone landed in Bilbo’s stomach and his hands fisted the material of his trousers to keep them from gripping the object hidden in his pocket. After a few tense seconds (for Bilbo, anyway), Thorin turned from the treasury, slipping into the shadows.

 


 

After that first day, the days passed much in the same fashion for Bilbo. While he was still healing, Bilbo kept the dwarves company while they sifted through the treasure. He spent most of his time with Bofur and Ori where he chatted with his friends about their hopes about what their new lives in Erebor would be like. He also bounced around from group to group. He learned about the value of various gems and works of gold from Glóin, he listened to Balin’s plans for how the gold would be used to rebuild the mountain, and he sat with Bifur as he dug through the gold, singing traditional Shire songs to fill the silence between them. Once he was healed enough to move around without pain, he wandered the halls, learning his way around the city, humming under his breath. (Thorin had wanted Bilbo to join in the hunt for the Arkenstone baling, however, had argued that the hobbit was free from his contract since Smaug had been disposed of, Bilbo had technically filled his side of the deal. Now the hobbit just had to wait to receive his payment.)

Now, a little over two weeks later, Bilbo was looking over the side of the mountain, watching the group at the base of the mountain. A few days after the fall of Smaug, the survivors of Laketown had met the elves from Mirkwood. A week ago, they had made their camp in the ruins of Dale, much to the anger of Thorin. He had raged for hours after that discovery calling for the others to work double, desperate to find the stone. Their leader had been pushing them harder and harder as the days went by, continuing the search when they nearly collapsed from exhaustion every night. Bilbo would watch him stalking over the hills of gold off in the distance, listening to the snoring of the dwarves as he drifted off. For once, he was glad the dwarves never stopped making some noise, even while sleeping. Their snores were enough to keep the oppressive thoughts at the edge of his consciousness at bay.

Their tense stalemate was broken one morning when a man rode up to the gate. Bilbo recognized him as the man they met after their stay in Mirkwood. While he and Thorin spoke, Ori quietly filled him in on the details he missed about their trip to Laketown. Bilbo watched Thorin turn away from the small hole in the wall, eyes traveling over the company. His gaze hardened, and he tilted his head, so his voice would carry through to the man.

“Begone, ere arrow fly!” Thorin did not give Bard a moment to respond before he stalked off. Bilbo followed him, wanting to talk some sense into him. They were running low on supplies, they were massively outnumbered, they were exhausted! There was no way they could hold out against an army of that size and survive. Thorin ignored his worries and waved his reasons off as if he was a child. “Do not worry, Bilbo. I am glad that you worry about our safety, but you need not do so.” Thorin smirked down at him. “All will be well.” He finished, clapping Bilbo on the shoulder before leaving the hobbit behind, sauntering off as though he had accomplished his task of calming the hobbit. Bilbo watched him go, hand shoved in his pocket, and knew what he had to do.



And that was a choice he stood by, even as he found himself standing in the tent of Thranduil later that night. Thranduil was the only one who did not seem surprised about his sudden appearance and peered down at the hobbit, his stoic expression never changing. “I take it you have the gems.” He spoke suddenly, without question.

Bilbo glanced down at his toes before answering. “No, but I have something better.”

“And what, pray tell, could be better than what we agreed to not that long ago?”

“Something that will benefit all parties involved.” Bilbo looked towards Bard. “I couldn’t find the gems,” (not that he ever put forth the effort), “but with this, you can barter for their safe return, along with the gold the people of Laketown need to rebuild.” He finished with placing a loosely wrapped package on the table in front of him. Thranduil looked at him dubiously but leaned forward to flick the edges of cloth away. The elf’s eyes widened slightly, and Bilbo heard Bard’s quiet intake of breath.

“The Arkenstone…”

“Bilbo, what have you done.” Gandalf sighed from behind him.

“What I had to to keep my friends safe,” Bilbo replied with conviction, ignoring the grumbling wizard.

“What do you want from this?” Thranduil’s eyes flicked up to the hobbit before returning to gaze at the stone. Doubt planted itself in Bilbo’s stomach at the elf’s hungry gaze and he had the urge to whisk the cursed stone back to the mountain and beg for Thorin’s forgiveness.

Bilbo ignored it and stood his ground. “I only wish for my friend’s safety. Thorin would trade the gems and a fair amount of gold for this.”

“What is to stop us from asking for more?” Bard asked.

“Your honor.” Thranduil scoffed softly and Bilbo turned to glare at him. “I may have not delivered on my promise to retrieve your gems, and I apologize for that.” He said as sincerely as he was able at that moment. “But I have given you the means to get your gems, while hopefully avoiding bloodshed in the process. Which is something I believe everyone would hope for. I know I do.” He finished, muttering to himself. Thranduil spared him one more shrewd glance before he collected the Arkenstone, hiding it somewhere in his robes.

“I agree with you, hobbit.” Was all the elf said before he went back to lounging in a chair, sipping at some wine. Bilbo looked at him, brow furrowed, but that must have been enough of dismissal for the others for Bard moved toward the entrance of the tent and Gandalf bundled Bilbo into his robes to follow the man. Bilbo had to hurry to keep pace with the wizard and once they had found a fairly quiet area, Gandalf turned to the shorter man.

“Bilbo. Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I have a good idea.” He sniffed, glancing away.

“You are very brave,” Gandalf told him with a soft smile. Bilbo shrugged, looking over Gandalf’s shoulder.

“I don’t know about that. I just don’t want to see this turn to bloodshed. I did what I had to.” Bilbo said firmly.

“So it would seem.” He stared hard at Bilbo’s face for a moment before looking around them. “Come, I’m sure we can find you a tent somewhere.”

Bilbo looked at him, not totally surprised, crossed his arms tight over his chest, and planted his feet. “I’m not going back.” Gandalf just looked down at him, face suddenly tired looking. “I understand the consequences of what I just did. However, they are my friends.” He cleared his throat. “I feel like they deserve to look me in the eye when they give judgment.” Gandalf looked like he wanted to argue before he sighed and simply looked resigned. He nodded slowly and leaned on his staff.

“Good luck, Bilbo.”

The hobbit gave a sharp nod and turned on his heel, marching away from his friend before he could change his mind.

 

You’ve made a mistake.

How long will it take Thorin to run you through with his sword do you think?

Do you think he’ll know right away?

He’ll see the stone in the hands of his enemies and know.

He’ll know that he never should have trusted you to begin with.

You’re going to lose all your friends.

Hard to be friends with someone when they betrayed your trust.

Or when they’re dead.

You’ve made a mistake.

You’ve made a mistake

You can’t take it back.

 

Away from the light of the fires from camp, Bilbo crouched by a bush and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. His hands were shaking, and his breath came in as gasps. Bilbo grit his teeth, cursing the tears that gathered unbidden in his eyes. “I did the right thing. I just want to help. They’ll understand eventually. I did the right thing. I just want to help. They’ll understand eventually. I did…” Bilbo chanted to himself, speaking over the voices in his head. He wrapped his arms around his torso and struggled to control his breathing. “I just want to help. They’ll understand eventually. I did the right thing. I just want to help…” He bent over himself until his forehead was pressed into the dirt. The coolness of the earth served as an anchor for him, giving him another thing to focus on as he tried to calm down. Eventually, Bilbo was able to get his breath under control and the shaking slowed. With a final shuddering breath, Bilbo straightened until he was looking at the stars above him. Collecting himself, Bilbo scrubbed his face and stood. He sent the camp below a final look before finishing his trek to the mountain.

 

It’s rude to lie, you know.




That night, Bilbo tried to get as much sleep as possible but was only able to manage a few hours before a call went around camp that there were armies at the gate. Before he had left last night, the dwarves had pillaged the armory and were decked out in all manner of protective gear (although Bilbo could not see the point of some of the pieces. They seemed either redundant or just ornamental) that weighed them down. He dragged his feet as he followed the dwarves up to the rampart. Ori gave him an odd look when he lagged behind and Bilbo sent him a reassuring smile, quickening his steps a bit. He settled at the back of the group and tried not to hyperventilate as he listened to Thorin shout at those below them.

The dwarves in front of Bilbo took a collective step back in shock when the Arkenstone was presented to them. Bilbo’s throat closed at the looks of astonishment and betrayal on their faces, it hurt that they did not think to look at him in suspicion.

 

Look at how they trust you.

Not for long…

 

Thorin leaned back toward the group and whispered conspiratorially, “They are taking us for fools. This is a ruse. A filthy lie .” Bilbo’s hands curled into fists. Their leader’s voice rose as he once more addressed the group below. “The Arkenstone is in this mountain! This is a trick!” he bellowed and Bilbo closed his eyes. There was a beat of silence before Bilbo spoke up.

 

“It’s not a trick.”

 

When Bilbo reopened his eyes, the dwarves had parted, leaving him with an unobstructed view of Thorin. The dwarf’s face could not settle on one emotion; hurt, anger, betrayal, and sadness were there and gone again as soon as Bilbo could register them. The hobbit cleared his throat and took half a step forward. “The stone is real. I gave it to them.” He finished, tipping his chin up in what he hoped was confidence.

Thorin’s face finally settled. He took a step toward Bilbo, brow heavy with rage. “ What. ” He ground out.

 

Oh, Yavanna.

 

“I wanted to give it to you, I swear it! But-” Bilbo stammered, trying to explain.

“But what, thief ?” Thorin interrupted.

Bilbo bristled at the word, bitten out like a slur, and it gave him the push to meet Thorin’s glare. “You are changed, Thorin! The dwarf I traveled with would have never gone back on his word, never had jumped to attack if there was a chance to speak! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” He finished, huffing. Thorin had turned away slightly as he spoke and he suddenly rounded on Bilbo, making the hobbit stagger back a step.

“Loyalty? Do not speak to me of loyalty . You who worked all this time to gain our trust only to use it for your own gain.” Thorin’s eyes drifted to the earring dangling from Bilbo’s ear. “We were wrong about you. You are much more beast than we thought.” He snarled and, before Bilbo could react, ripped the piercing from the hobbit’s ear. Bilbo screamed, and his hands automatically snapped to grab at the injury. His ear was burning and the skin around the wound was slippery with blood. Bilbo had curled in on himself slightly and he looked up to see Thorin staring at his earring with a look of antipathy. “You don’t belong with the free people.” He carelessly threw the object from the wall and turned away from Bilbo. “Go back to the wilds, back to your kin.” He paused, considering. “Throw him from the rampart.” He commanded. Bilbo’s eyes darted around, watching the Company as they looked amongst themselves, no one stepping forward. Thorin turned to look at them.

“Did you not hear me?” he roared suddenly, lurching forward and grabbing Fíli’s arm. He shook off his uncle’s grip, staring at him like he did not recognize him. The group still made no move to heed their leader’s command and Thorin scoffed. “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” He said before he grabbed the front of Bilbo’s shirt and hauled him until his back dug into the edge of the stone wall, feet dangling and head hanging in free air. Bilbo let out a small whimper as the movement sent a new spike of pain through to his ear but otherwise remained silent as he stared at Thorin, eyes wide and scared. Everything was suddenly a blur as Gandalf appeared and demanded Bilbo’s safe return, then Bofur was there, herding him the rope, helping him over and down the wall. He made sure to keep his grip about the rope until his feet touched the solid rock, his hands were shaking so much. Hurrying to the group at the head of the army, Bilbo ignored the pain in his ear as he reached Gandalf, who quickly bundled him in the folds of his robes. “Bilbo are you alright?” the wizard asked in a hushed voice, leading the hobbit back through the soldiers.

 

Are you really asking me that, you two copper magician?

Just do whatever you plan to do and leave.

 

The voices were ripping at the back of his mind, egging him on to lash out at his friend. Bilbo closed his eyes, forcing them back. He nodded, looking up at the man, ignoring the feel of blood creeping down his neck. “I’m fine.” He bit out.

“Bilbo!” a voice called before Gandalf could say anything else. The hobbit looked over his shoulder to see Ori scrambling down the rope as well, a quick glance up showed his brother’s looking after him with wounded looks on their faces. The dwarf pushed his way through the elf army until he reached them.

“Ori? What are you doing?” Bilbo hissed, grabbing his friend’s forearms to steady him.

“You’ve gone out of your way to make sure we were safe, Bilbo. It’s time one of us did the same for you.” The dwarf said simply, smiling. Bilbo pulled him in for a quick hug.

“Thank you, Ori.” He whispered quickly before he pulled away.

 

That was their last moment of peace (such an odd way to put the situation they had been in, but it was peaceful compared to what came after) before chaos. The dwarves from the Iron Hills had arrived and were able to pull off a brief, one-sided shouting match with the elves before the orcs joined them. Then it was just a rush of yelling and running and death. Ori had done his best to stay with Bilbo, who had made sure to stay near Gandalf. As he trailed after him, Bilbo could not shake the feeling that he was not able to do enough. Lacking the proper protection, he could do little more than deflect attacks and get a jab in here and there. Ori was not faring much better, for he had shed his heavy armor at the gate. That lead to better mobility, but he had little more protection than Bilbo.

The wizard was slowly leading them toward Dale and, in a pocket of safety between battles, Bilbo stopped. Both Gandalf and Ori stopped as well, looking at him with looks of pique and concern respectively. “I can’t do anything like this.” He growled before either could voice their questions. He ripped his jacket and shirt off.

“Bilbo, you can’t!” Ori cried.

“I have to agree with Master Ori, Bilbo.”

“I’ll be able to do more if I shift.” He retorted, tugging his scabbard from his hips.

“You’ll be a bigger target!”

“And I’ll be faster and have more teeth.” The hobbit-shifter gave his friend a feral grin.

Gandalf glanced around them before leaning closer, putting his weight on his staff. “What will stop our allies from attacking you?”

“He will.” Bilbo gestured at Ori, who stared at him with wide eyes. He settled his hands on his hips, preferring to settle this before he was naked or unable to argue anymore.

“I will?” the dwarf squeaked. Bilbo nodded.

“The orcs won’t be expecting a warg to attack them and hopefully, seeing a dwarf riding a warg will keep others from attacking us outright.”

Gandalf and Ori were staring at him but, where the later still looked terrified at the idea the former at least had stopped grumbling and shaking his head.

“You can’t think this is a good idea?” Ori asked the man.

“Look, Ori.” Bilbo grabbed his shoulders, forcing his friend to look at him. They had already spent too much time in one place and the noise of battle was not going to go away any time soon. “We’ll keep each other safe, alright? You can hit orcs with your slingshot and tell me where to go if I don’t see an attack coming.” His friend still looked unsure, so Bilbo made his choice for him. He pulled his jacket from his shoulders and tugged his shirt over his head. “Gandalf, you wouldn’t happen to have any rope hidden away in yo-” He looked over his shoulder to see the wizard was already holding several loops of rope in his hands. He gave him a tense smile and Bilbo turned back to look at Ori. “Sorry, Ori, and good luck.” He finished before ripping off his trousers and shifting. A few seconds, he was looking down at Ori’s angry expression.

“That wasn’t fair.” The dwarf grumbled, tying the rope behind Bilbo’s front legs with stiff, jerky movements. Bilbo ignored him, waiting until the rope was looped around him twice and secure to crouch down. Ori climbed onto his back and pushed his legs under the rope, shifting a bit to make sure he did not slip. “You know,” he sighed as Bilbo turned toward the battlefield (Gandalf had bid them goodbye while Ori was tying the rope), “I don’t agree with a word Thorin said, but this makes me wish I stayed up on the rampart.”

Bilbo tried not to flinch at his words as he brought the two of them back to the closest edge of the battle. He let his instincts take over as he bit and slashed at enemies, stopped blows before they could land, and listened to Ori’s warnings to dodge a shot. He and Ori worked together. Ori used his slingshot to stun or distract an orc for Bilbo to tackle to the ground and remove their heads with a swift bite. With his body doing what it knew it needed to do, Bilbo’s mind could spiral out of control.

 

Ori didn’t mean what he said, he couldn’t’ve

Right?

We’re friends.

 

Bilbo skidded to the side and leaped on the orc who got a lucky jab at his flank.

 

…right?

Plus, he sounded like he was teasing…

 

With confusion ubiquitous when they caught the eye of those fighting, Bilbo was slowly collecting enough arrows to fill a quiver. Ori was doing his best to pull them out as they went, but he could only do so much.

 

Like we’d known each other for years…

Like how we’ve heard cousins…. Or lovers… or, or, or how childhood friends talk to one another!

Maybe…

 

Bilbo heard Ori call out that he was out of stones and to bring them further into battle. He obediently turned and began carving a path through to the thickest of the battle, feeling Ori shift and bend to cut down enemies as they passed.

 

Til we gave him an out…

Now he has a reason to push you away.

To abandon you.

 

Bilbo was pulled from his thoughts when he heard Ori cry out followed by a jab in his shoulder. Before he could do so much as look over his shoulder, Ori was already reassuring him. “I- I’m fine!” He did not sound fine. Bilbo went on the defensive while he waited for Ori’s command. “Keep going! I, uh, might just be a little more stuck to you than I was…” Ori trailed off moments before a large… bell (of all things! Dwarves had more of a flair for the dramatic than it appeared) broke through the ramshackle wall at the front of the mountain. The entire battle stopped, awestruck as the Company ran through the cloud of dust, Thorin at the front of the group. Everything was still as their advance was watched by all. The spell was broken when the group, now backed by the flagging dwarven troops, clashed with the orcs in front of them. The sound rushed back in and the fighting resumed. Ori straightened on his back, nearly vibrating with excitement.

“Bilbo, I can see my brothers! We need to go help them!” Bilbo was already turning in the direction of the front gate and pushed himself faster at his friend’s urging. They tore through the enemy, the journey made easier as the orcs were still recovering from the commotion at the gate. Within minutes, they had caught up to the remaining -ri brothers who had splintered off from the rest of the Company. Ori grunted and Bilbo saw a bloody arrow hit the ground before his friend slid to the ground and limped to his brothers. Bilbo kept watch around them, swiping at orcs and wargs to allow the dwarves a chance to have a quiet moment before it all went to hell again. Ori tapped his forehead to his brother’s, grumbling as Dori looked him over, fretting over every scrape. Nori looked over their shoulders and caught Bilbo’s eye, nodding his thanks. He returned the sentiment, turning away to separate an orc from its legs. Coughing up the black blood as best he could, he saw an elf get swarmed by orcs and lept to help before the dwarves could react.

He landed amongst the foul creatures, using the surprise of his attack to take out as many of them as possible before they could respond. The savageness of his attacks increased when he noticed he was too late to save the elf, his blood mingling with the already saturated mud below them. With a feral growl, Bilbo tore through the last orc of the group and turned back to where he left Ori. He worried when he could not see the scribe, lost as he was in the battle now. A slash at his back leg brought him back to the fighting, pivoting and crunching the orc’s head in his jaws. From that point, Bilbo was able to fight as his he wished, not needing to worry about a person on his back. The downside was that there was no distinguishing him from the other wargs. He collected a good deal more wounds, slowing him over time, but not enough to bring him down. After killing a countless number of orcs, Bilbo limped to the edge of the battlefield. Blinking the blood out of his eyes from various cuts on his face, he surveyed the battlefield with a sinking feeling in his chest.

 

We won’t win this battle.

We can’t win this battle.

 

Bilbo closed his eyes, letting that thought sink in. His face and back stung with the various scratches and bites he had received from wargs, he felt like a corkboard with the number of arrows he had collected, and he was covered in sword wounds. Despite his various hurts, Bilbo knew he was not going down without a fight. He had come this far. He had to survive as long as he could. If they somehow won the battle, he would see what his friends wanted to do to him. Regardless of his intentions, he broke their trust and he owed it to them to get whatever justice they felt they deserved. After that… well, Bilbo had to survive that long first.

The sound of rocks falling drew Bilbo’s attention and he craned his head to look above his shoulder. Thorin, along with Dwalin and his nephews, was climbing the cliff face above the alcove Bilbo had folded himself into atop battle rams. The sight gave him a bad feeling and he knew the dwarves were going to do something stupid. With a whine, Bilbo stood and shook out his fur before loping after the group. He reached the top only a minute after them and yet Thorin was already sending his nephews off alone. They were at war and horribly outnumbered. When was splitting up ever a good idea under those circumstances? Ignoring the pain in his legs, Bilbo put on a burst of speed, cutting off the young princes’ advances. He quickly dodged the swipe of Fíli’s swords before they recognized him.

“Bilbo?” Kíli gasped, wide eyes looking him over.

“Halfling?” Thorin blinked in surprise for but a second before his brow furrowed. He moved toward the hobbit-shifter, steps heavy. “What are you doing here!” he shouted. Bilbo growled at him, crouching low and baring his teeth. The display made the dwarf hesitate and watch him carefully. Giving Thorin one last piercing glare, Bilbo turned and moved to the tower Fíli and Kíli were heading towards. He stuck his head in the crumbling entrance and reeled back as the stench of orc filled his nose. It was far too strong and much too recent to be from the battle or from some previous orcish occupation. He turned back to the brothers and nudged them gently away from the building with a soft whine. Fíli put his hand on the largest portion of Bilbo’s head that was uninjured, trying to soothe him.

“That bad, huh.” He asked, looking at the tower behind Bilbo. Kíli tried to move around the hobbit but Bilbo was not having any of it. He carefully nipped Kíli’s shirt and tugged him back, not relenting until he was behind his brother.

“I don’t think the hobbit wants us to go in the tower,” Kíli said with cheek unfitting the situation. Bilbo was proud of himself for not biting the boy and appreciated Dwalin ignoring the comment.

“They may have dug tunnels. It could be a trap.” He suggested, adjusting his grip on his axes.

Thorin thought before nodding at his friend. “I agree. We fall back.”

“We’re so close! If the orc scum is in there I say we push on. Thorin, are you sure?”

“Yes,” He moved forward to place a hand on Dwalin’s shoulder. “We live to fight another day.” Dwalin looked as though he was about to argue but agreed with his king. Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief when the group turned away from the tower. They did not make it more than one step before a dark chuckle above them stopped them in their tracks. As one, they all looked up and Bilbo’s eyes narrowed at the figure of the pale orc staring down at them. Bilbo was going to enjoy removing his head from his shoulders. The orc said something in Black Speech, pointing down at them. Suddenly, the area was swarming with orcs as they crawled over the rocks into the small clearing they were standing in.

“Fíli, stay with your brother! Dwalin, with me!” Thorin ordered, easily slicing through the orcs coming towards them. Seeing as how he did not receive a command, Bilbo stuck close to the youngest members of the Company.

 

His decision paid off in the end when, not fifteen minutes later, Bilbo found himself with Kíli in the clutches of Bolg, struggling against the grip around his neck. They’d been separated from Thorin and Dwalin not long after the orcs descended when Bolg landed heavily between the two groups, setting his sights on the young Durins. He had pushed them down a flight of barely there stairs onto a ledge that Bilbo was at danger of falling off with every step. Fíli had been left somewhere above them after taking a blow to the chest from the mace. Bilbo was unable to check on the dwarf and he worried for him even as the pressure on his windpipe increased and Bolg smirked at his thin whine in response. Kíli was not faring much better, judging from the sounds coming from him. His thoughts were blessedly silent as he gave survival one last shot, flailing wildly and hoping to catch bare flesh with his claws. Bolg’s smile only grew at his attempts, his grip getting impossibly tighter.

His vision was beginning to grow dark at the edges and Kíli had become worryingly still when Bolg jerked suddenly before his grip slackened. Bilbo hit the ground a second before Kíli and Bolg, hacking as his body worked to bring air into his oxygen-starved lungs. Once he was able to get his feet under him, Bilbo stumbled over to Kíli and stood over him, growling at the figure in front of him until he recognized him as Fíli. The dwarf had an arm wrapped around his chest as he caught his breath. When he noticed Bilbo realized it was him, he yanked his sword from Bolg’s rapidly cooling head.

“I’ve got him. Dwalin’s disappeared somewhere and Thorin has no one watching his back. You’re in better shape than I am.” Passing an eye over him, Bilbo had to agree. Fíli had looked better. Along with his arm around his chest, he favored his left side and his face was worryingly pale. Bilbo tugged Kíli into an easily defendable alcove and made sure Fíli was settled before scrambling up to the higher level. The wave of orc from earlier had long since passed but he found the stillness anything but comforting. Around the ridge in front of him came the sounds of a scuffle caught his attention but a ragged scream hurried his steps. He turned the corner and saw Thorin standing at the top of a frozen waterfall, his back bowed in pain with a sword piercing his boot. He did not have time to react before Azog burst through the ice (Bilbo had many questions) and knocked Thorin onto his back. At this, Bilbo sped across the ice, barely having enough strength to shove his shoulder into the massive orc, following him as they tumbled away from Thorin. Azog recovered first, bringing his fist into the side of Bilbo’s head with enough force that he had to simply lay in the snow for a while, unable to stop Azog as he stalked away.

 

Next he was aware, Thorin and Dwalin were by his side, both favoring their various injuries. They were both talking to him, backs turned to the battlefield, their words lost to the dull roar in his ears. Taking their sudden disregard to their environment as a sign that the battle was over and it was safe (at least for the time being), he gave into his body’s wants and fell back into unconsciousness.




Old Toby. More importantly, Old Toby and warmth. Opening his eyes, Bilbo blinked at the firelight filling the tent he found himself in, sneezing when a puff of smoke was blown into his face. Glaring up at the wizard sharing the space with him, earning himself a smirk and a smoke ring to float about his snout.

“Nice of you to join us in the land of the living, my friend.” Gandalf quipped, ignoring Bilbo’s huff of indignation. The hobbit shifted to face his friend with a bit more decorum, wishing for a waistcoat to straighten. As it was, he lifted his head and crossed his forepaws. “You pushed yourself too hard in the battle. Your wounds have been tended, but I suggest you stay in this form as much as possible. Supplies are thin and it would put undue strain on the healers should you switch repeatedly.” Looking at his wrapped paws, Bilbo bowed his head slightly. “Rest as you need, although it would benefit you to help around the dwarfish camp. It would go far to engender trust in those outside of the Company.” Gandalf raised his eyebrows in that frustrating way of his and swept out of the tent. Bilbo had hoped for some words as to how his friends fared but figured the wizard had more important things to do than play carrier pigeon to a hobbit and a troop of dwarves. He resigned himself to rest for today and hopefully learn of their fates as he helped around the camp. Laying his head on his forepaws, Bilbo closed his eyes, a thought following him into his dreams.

 

They’re dead.

They died hating you.

All of this was for naught.



Bilbo caused quite the clamor when he emerged from his tent the next day, ravenous and ready to help. Gandalf swept in from somewhere to calm the dwarves, disappearing just as quickly before Bilbo could perform a series of charades with the wizard to inquire about the Company. He was given a share of meat and sent off to the battlefield to help with the carting of corpses for burning or burial, his aide was in high demand for he could pull more than the ponies and was easier to lead. At midday, the men and dwarves shared their lunch with him, tossing him pieces of dried meat and hardtack. They kept working until the sun was disappearing behind the trees of Mirkwood, Bilbo looked back at the battlefield despairing at the lack of progress made against the sheer mass of bodies that needed to be disposed of. Knowing that he would need to take his rest whenever he could, he returned to camp and laid before a large fire where supper was boiling. He had just finished cleaning his face and paws (he had long since done away with the wrongness that came with cleaning oneself with your tongue) when a shadow cast itself over his face. Looking up, he saw a dwarf standing over him, his arms crossed and a stern expression on his face. He’d seen him from time to time throughout the day. Malo, son of Talo, his name was.

Seeing he had Bilbo’s attention, Malo spoke down his nose to the hobbit. “You’re the burglar from the Company of Thorin Oakenshield.” It was not phrased as a question but Bilbo nodded anyway. He was not sure why Malo needed to “ask”, these lands were not known for their abundance of hobbit-shifters after all. Malo grumbled, “I’ve been told to send word that the members of the company, although in rough shape, are believed to survive their injuries.” Bilbo perked up at this but Malo was quick to add, “None have requested your presence. You are to continue working the field until told otherwise.” He turned without another word and disappeared into the tents, taking any warmth Bilbo may have gotten from the fire with him.

 

That’s that then.

They hate you.

Might as well leave before they decide to take a… less peaceful approach to your presence.

What was your contingency plan again?

Oh right.

You don’t have one.

You really have no clue what you’re going to do, do you?

Well, no, but-

Of course you don’t.

You didn’t plan at all, did you?

You can’t go back to the Shire, you won’t be able to stay here…

Where will you go?

 

Bilbo pushed himself to his feet and plodded off to his tent, ignoring the hunger in his stomach willing him to stay.

 


 

After that interaction with Malo, the mood of the dwarves around him was noticeably different. Previously friendly dwarves were now cold when speaking to Bilbo. Their orders for where to go and bring the bodies were terse at best and Bilbo went hungry at lunch as the dwarves now hoarded their rations. Bilbo was determined to persevere. He wanted to hear the words straight from the dwarves themselves. He went about his day in the same manner: he ate his fill in the morning, ferried bodies and supplies to and fro, and lapped up a bowl of stew in the evening before returning to his tent to rest for the night.

It was about a week before Bilbo saw any sign of the Company. He was in the middle of a supply run, waiting for the dwarves to unload his cart. The dwarven camp had been running low on food and the elves had ever so graciously given them aide. He was sitting, bored, while the cart attached to him gradually got lighter when he spotted Ori come out from behind a tent. His friend had not yet seen him, far more focused on where he was placing his crutch in the muddy earth. Ori was looking good except for the fact that he was missing his left leg from the knee down. Bilbo was grateful that, although it was an extreme injury, it seemed to be the worst of his hurts. He could not stop himself from letting loose a small whimper when Ori stumbled. The dwarf’s head snapped up at the sound and his eyes went wide. Bilbo’s tail thumped lightly when it seemed Ori was going to come over, going still when Ori awkwardly turned and hobbled away from Bilbo.

The day grew worse when, upon returning to his tent after a long day, he was greeted with a pile of ash and all of his belongings were gone. Bilbo just sighed and turned to look at a small copse of trees nearby. It was not the best, or what he would prefer, but it would do to hopefully keep the wind away from him and he could inquire about a new tent in the morning, nudity be damned. Despite the day he had, Bilbo found luck in a small hollow in the roots of a tree near the center of the trees. A couple swipes of his paws gave him a space large enough for him to squeeze into and he carefully folded himself into the space, resting his head on his forepaws.

Bilbo closed his eyes, readying himself for sleep as the voices crept in from the edges of his mind.

 

The dwarves hate you.

Why did you follow them this far?

You’ve only been a burden on them.

They would’ve been just fine without you.

You should have left them long ago.

You should’ve stayed behind at Beorn’s.

You should’ve left them in the mountains.

You should’ve stayed in Rivendell.

Even better, you should’ve let yourself fall from that mountain ledge.

That way you would never be a burden to anyone ever again.

You should’ve let go.

You should have killed yourself.

You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself. You should have killed yourself.  

 

The voices twisted and twined together, harassing him and keeping any hope of sleep at bay. He rubbed his paws over his ears as he whined, a vain attempt at blocking the noise. Suddenly, the voices quieted and a blanket of calm fell over him, allowing his mind to relax. As he drifted off to sleep, Bilbo felt a familiar sort of drifting as he thought on his isolation from his friends, a sort of drifting into himself that he felt he should be concerned about it, but he could not find it in himself to care. It felt warm and carefree where he drifted and Bilbo allowed himself to fall fully into the mist surrounding him. It embraced him like an old friend and as he fell unconscious, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire was no more.

 


 

Thorin heard someone rushing through the mud towards his tent and he moved outside in time to catch Kíli’s arms as his nephew skidded to a stop.

“What is it?”

“Bilbo. We found him. Was in the forest ‘bout a mile that way.” Kíli pointed, panting, “Left him a pony to keep him in the area, hopefully.” He added as an afterthought. Thorin blinked, taking in the information before he was calling for a ram. One was quickly brought to his side and, after swinging into the saddle, he waited but a moment for his nephew to join him before urging the ram forward. Following Kíli’s instructions, they made it to the area in short order and Thorin slowed the ram when they could see the form of a warg devouring the corpse of a pony. His mount skittered to the side and refused to move closer to the animal. Thorin settled the beast and slid from its back. When his boots met mud with a sickening squelch , the warg stilled.

“Bilbo?” Thorin spoke softly, moving toward the animal. His fur certainly matched Bilbo’s coloring, a hue too light for the wargs of orcs to have. Even the mark on his chest was familiar, although the handprint looked similar to charcoal once a hand was run over a drawing. Its eyes, however, were not recognizable as the warg glared at Thorin over the belly of the pony. The guards that followed him (a new, annoying addition to him being the realized king of Erebor) shifted nervously, their hands tightening around the spears they carry. He held up his hand, an order for them to hold their ground. “I mean you no harm, Bilbo.”  He took another step forward and a low growl filled the air. Thorin paused, raising his hands, palms facing up in a (hopefully) placating manner. “I only wish to speak with you and make sure you get the treatment you deserve.” Another few steps and Bilbo’s growls rose in pitch to become a snarl, bloodied lips lifting to show deadly teeth. “Bilbo,” step, “please,” step, “I mean you no harm.” Another step brought Thorin within ten feet of the warg, his words having no noticeable difference on the warg’s demeanor. Indeed, Bilbo continued to snarl, body low to the ground and ears forward, twitching occasionally when they moved. Thorin barely had any warning before Bilbo was launching himself at him, jaws wide and claws reaching.

 

Chapter Text

 

In the aftermath of the battle, they couldn’t afford to spare the proper time nor manpower required to give him the funeral he deserved. As it was, the Company did their best with what they had. He was given his own funeral pyre, away from the others to give them a chance to say goodbye to their friend. Whenever a member of the Company had the time, they would collect logs from a nearby copse of trees that had survived the desolation and the recent battle. It wasn’t the grandest, coming up to the chest of the surrounding dwarves and just large enough to fit his form, but they made sure it was made properly. The mood was predictably somber as a group of dwarves carrying a wooden pallet moved down the parted gathering. Dwalin, Dori, Glóin, and Bifur bore his weight, silently lifting his linen-wrapped body onto the pile of wood. Returning briefly to the group, Dwalin took Sting from his brother and Bifur retrieved a warg carving from his cousin. They solemnly placed their gifts at the base of the pyre and backed away. Dori moved to stand beside his youngest brother and placed a supportive hand on his shoulder, giving him an encouraging nudge. Ori shuffled forward and placed his half-finished courting gift next to Bilbo’s head. He didn’t have much to offer on the road, so he had been working on a drawing of both of his forms. He gave the sketch of the hobbit leaning against his warg form as the two dozed in the sun one last glance before turning away and returning to the comfort of his siblings, not meeting the eyes of anyone in the Company. With no other stepping forward Gandalf fixed them all with a heavy stare before touching the top of his staff to the pyre, setting it ablaze. Days later, when the wizard left Erebor to travel west, a pouch containing some of the ashes was tied to his belt.



The guard responsible for bringing Bilbo down was not reprimanded (at Balin's urging, for the dwarf was just doing his job), so all of Thorin's anger was brought down on Malo, son of Talo. Although the dwarf did not report Thorin's messages to Bilbo incorrectly, he did twist the words to fit his own agenda, leading to the death of a member of the Company. For this offense, Malo was banished from Erebor, forcing him to find his living in a different mountain with the label 'Traitor' following him.

Bilbo’s death was not in vain, for once Thorin was strong enough to rule his kingdom, he commissioned a pair of statues to guard the road leading into Erebor. The proud form of a warg soon sat along the road between Erebor and Dale, the golden silver granite smooth and shining in the sun. Across from the warg, a hobbit stood, a hand on the pommel of his sword and a small smile on his face. The pair stood as a reminder to all those who passed by to go forth with kindness, and to help those around you to the best of your ability. In a further show of goodwill, Thorin wrote a series of letters to the Shire, informing the Thain of the quest that took a hobbit from those safe hills, Bilbo’s fate at the end of said journey, and to extend an invitation to any hobbit-shifters that may be born in the Shire. Should they wish it, as long as a Durin sat on the throne of Erebor, they would find a safe haven within her walls.

As it was, with the birthrate of hobbit-shifters being as low as it was, there were not many who needed to take the dwarf king up on his offer. Those who did, however, would pass by the statues and know they’ve arrived in a place where they would face no judgment for the rest of their days.