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Title: The Other Side of the Coin
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, background Fíli/OFC
Word Count: 11,366; (62,997 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit there would be more angst
Summary: Kíli just wanted to have an adventure, he never expected to find love as well. (The companion piece to A Terrible Mistake)

Part I: Secrets
Part II: Sabotage
Part III: Sorrow
Part IV: Schism
Part V: Strife


Although we were now within the boundaries of the Shire, Hobbiton was still a fair distance away and neither of us felt like rushing the journey there. So we dawdled instead, Bilbo and I rising late and camping early to take advantage of this country's lush spring days.

And they truly were lush, the Shire's verdant promise visible in every blooming orchard and flower-covered field. Daisies, buttercups and yarrow; poppies, goldenrod and tea roses along with a score of other blossoms which I couldn't even name. Yet their scent was a sweet cloud in the air when we tumbled down into the grass, Bilbo kissing me senseless and then weaving flowers into my hair.

My hobbit claimed that such wreaths announced our intent to marry, but while I allowed him to adorn me as he wished, privately I thought he must be pulling my leg. Though it seemed that my lover was actually serious because when we rode into Frogmorton, the entire village stopped to stare.

“Mister Baggins, you've come back.” One of the younger hobbits exclaimed, his voice breaking the silence as he and his sisters looked up at us in awe. “And you're riding a pony!”

“Never mind the ponies, he's caught himself a dwarf.” An older hobbitess cut in, eyes locked on the flower garlands in our hair. Bilbo had woven particularly fancy ones that morning and now I understood why he had taken the extra care, for I could feel her sharp gaze passing judgment on every misplaced leaf.

But just when I was starting to doubt that his people would accept me after all, she broke into a huge smile and reached up to pat my hobbit on the leg.

“Good for you boy, I always knew you had it in you to snare yourself a proper husband and this one looks he's good with his hands. And his mouth.” She said as she looked me over, her salacious wink making Bilbo laugh.

“Thanks Menegilda, though I'm afraid my mother taught me not to kiss and tell. Besides, if we're being accurate, it's more like he caught me.”

This exchange caught me off guard for even dwarves without my secrets tended to keep their private lives out of the public eye. So while I tended toward filthiness in the heat of the moment, this was rather like hearing my mother critiquing my technique and I was sure that I was blushing furiously. However the other hobbits took their joking as a sign of acceptance, gathering around to offer congratulations and some filthy implications of their own.

So even though I felt as if I would burst into flames from embarrassment, this was a much better reaction to my presence than I had feared. For no matter how Bilbo had reassured me that his people would not mind, my brother's rejection was still an open wound across my heart.

A wound that I had been doing my best to ignore until it healed and the sheer joy of these last days had helped my peace of mind. Because even though it hurt to think of Fíli, I knew I had made the right choice for my own happiness and these hobbits' obvious delight meant I would not be without allies here.

Besides Bilbo had my back as always and when their questions became more than I could handle, my love was quick to rescue me. “You'll get used to them,” He whispered as he made our excuses and I could only hope that he was right.

So we nudged our ponies onward, the hobbits allowing us to leave once we promised everyone invitations to the wedding, which would be a party to remember if Bilbo's people had their way. Menegilda was the last to say farewell, waiting until the rest of the crowd had dispersed before giving me one last flirtatious wink and offering my hobbit this advice:

“Hold your head up high, lad, because he obviously adores you and that's the most important thing in a man. So if anyone gives you trouble over marrying a dwarf, say that Menegilda likes him and I'll take my broom to anyone who disagrees. Though you may want to hurry home now because last I heard, the Sackville-Bagginses had finally convinced the Thain that you were dead and claimed your smial for themselves.”

“They what?!” Bilbo shouted, wheeling his pony around to race off down the path. I gave one last wave to the old hobbitess and then followed, catching up to my love at the next bend. But his scowl was truly ferocious and I decided to leave him alone until he calmed enough to listen to advice.

Although it took over an hour, my hobbit's curses eventually trailed off into silence and I had to admit that I was impressed by his sheer inventiveness. However, by this point our ponies were beginning to tire from the breakneck pace so I spoke up to rein him in. The distance was simply too far to travel in what was left of the day and driving our mounts to exhaustion wouldn't help anything.

Besides if his relatives truly were trying to steal Bag End then we would need to be well-rested and thus we camped just past the Bywater that night. From there we could reach Hobbiton fairly early the next morning and practicality aside, I was also happy to have an evening's respite before facing another score of over-excited halflings who delighted in making strangers blush. Which reminded me of something I had to say.

“So I guess we're getting married then?” I inquired when Bilbo and I curled up by the campfire, wrapping my arms around my hobbit and nuzzling his neck. “I mean I intended to ask you anyway, if a bit more romantically than this, but your neighbors obviously expect a party and I don't know anything about how a hobbit wedding works. Dwarven weddings tend to be quiet affairs, stern and private just like us.”

“The person who said that obviously never met you,” My love replied with a fond smile before leaning in to kiss me on the cheek. “But don't worry about meeting everyone's expectations; the ceremony is pretty simple and I'll tell you what to say. As for the party, I'm sure one of my relatives will be happy plan it and as long as there's plenty of food, our guests will be satisfied.”

“Good to know, though I'm still going to wed you properly before we set that date. Because there are some dwarven traditions which I plan to follow no matter what my brother thinks.”

Bilbo agreed without argument and with this weight off my mind, I fell asleep easily, waking up to the soft light of dawn. My hobbit was already awake and with such an early start, the two of us reached Hobbiton right after second breakfast, whereupon we discovered that Menegilda had been right. For we arrived just as Bilbo's relatives were beginning their auction, the contents of Bag End strewn across the yard for everyone to see. Quite a crowd had gathered to bid on my lover's belongings and I heard him take a furious breath when his mother's china was the first item called.

“How dare you?!” He roared, shoving his pony forward to confront the Sackville-Bagginses. “I am most certainly not dead and I do not approve of this.”

The minute he spoke up, the entire crowd went silent and you could have heard a pin drop across the way. Up on the porch, his relatives stared at him in shock, though the youngest lass had a dangerous glint in her eye. She would be the one to watch because the older hobbits were soft and portly and the lad seemed rather hazy on what was going on. Indeed, it was this lass who stepped forward to answer Bilbo's accusations, her tongue as sharp as her smile was false.

“You were gone for a year, cousin, you can hardly blame us for assuming the worst. Particularly when you ran off with dwarves. So while it took some time for the Thain to agree, you can check our paperwork yourself and I assure you that the firm of Grubb, Grubb and Burrows filed everything properly.”

“I am not your cousin, Lobelia, not yet. You may be engaged to Otho but you're still a Bracegirdle until you come of age and you have no business here.” My hobbit retorted, glaring up at the interlopers. “And while your paperwork might have been legal if I were actually deceased, since I am still living my smial belongs to me. So I would greatly appreciate it if you would get your filthy hands off my silverware and your feet off my porch.”

Although Lobelia protested mightily, she had no leg to stand on and the lawyers of Grubb, Grubb and Burrows eventually convinced her to back down. Then Bilbo watched smugly as his relatives slunk off in disgrace before enlisting several of his fellows to help carry everything back inside.

Since we had arrived before any of his belongings were sold there was no grumbling over their reclamation and truly most of his friends seemed more interested in what I was doing there. However, after the requisite introductions and promises of wedding invitations, the swarm of neighbors finally left and a comfortable silence descended once again.

Bag End had hardly changed in the months since we had left, still warm and cozy in spirit despite the hint of neglect in the air. But the dust and chill were easily dispersed with a few open windows and a fire in the hearth, tasks which I took care of while Bilbo set his home to rights.

My home as well, and that thought made warmth blossom in my chest. For I was more than a guest now, more than the stranger who had looked around this smial with envy in my eyes. We had both changed, my hobbit and I, and while parts of the journey had been painful, we were better for it in the end. Here I had a chance to be happy despite what I had sacrificed, far happier than I could have been living Fíli's lie. Here neither of us would be alone and the love I saw in Bilbo's smile would have been worth far more scars than those upon my heart.

I was still contemplating all that had occurred since the last time we were here when my hobbit dropped down next to me, resting his head on my shoulder with a contented sigh.

“It's good to be home,” He said and then chuckled quietly. “Even if I had to fight off Lobelia's grasping claws before we could get in the door. But while that branch of the family is rather awful, everyone else should treat you right. In fact I think you'll probably be something of a hero to the fauntlings and I know you'll win over the older folks like Menegilda as soon as they meet you for themselves. So why do you look so sad?”

“I'm not really, I promise. I was just thinking on how much my life has changed.” I told him in answer to his soft question, turning to press a kiss into his hair. “If anything I'm simply overwhelmed with happiness to have finally made it here.”

“All right, if you're sure.” Bilbo replied, taking me at my word despite his obvious concern. But my hobbit knew the comfort of silence so he simply hugged me tightly before standing up again. “I'm going to see if your lot left anything in the pantry for elevenses and you can join me when you're ready. Try not to dwell on the past too much if you can.”

It was good advice and I truly meant to follow it from this moment on. I planned to look to the future now that I had one worth striving for and while I could never forget where I had come from, I also would not let it drag me down.

But first I allowed myself to mourn the consequences of my choices and all that I had lost by breaking my own path. Only then did I wipe my eyes and go to join the best thing in my life.

---

I spent the next few weeks settling into my new home, familiarizing myself with the Shire and trying to decide just what my place would be. Because I could not be content with doing nothing, even if we could afford it, and while Bilbo wiled away the hours with his books and illustrations, I had never been the scholarly type.

Indeed whatever Fíli thought of me, some part of my heart was truly dwarven since I was happiest when shaping wood or metal beneath my hands. So I thought I might take over the empty forge in the market for my hobbit had mentioned the lack of consistent metalwork.

Though first I had to do some research because I seemed to offend at least one person every time I left the house. It was never intentional, but while my love had given me basic lessons on etiquette and our neighbors' quirks, the intricacies of Shire manners put royal politics to shame and I simply could not keep the feuding straight. Thankfully most hobbits seemed to take my ignorance in stride and the fauntlings were always happy to tell me just what I'd done wrong. Yet I could hardly run a successful business while accidentally insulting half my customers and I refused to gain a reputation as an unskilled bargainer.

I still had some pride after all and I did not want the other hobbits to think that my love had chosen poorly when he pledged his life to mine. Even if my burglar does not care.

So I studied the masters at work, joining Bilbo on his social outings and paying careful attention to the hidden meanings behind every polite word. Truly my tutors would have been proud of my determination and while it took nearly a month, eventually I felt that I knew enough to hold my own.

Along the way I learned that every meal was sacred, wearing boots indoors was a sign of barbarity and one did not get between a hobbitess and her wedding plans, even if you only wanted to remind her that you hadn't set a date. Yet despite all my mishaps along the way, I never felt as though I was being judged for my failures as I had been by my family in the past.

Because I wasn't doing this to make Bilbo happy or chase some far away ideal; I was doing this for me.

What kind of husband would I be if I did not try to improve our lives together? What kind of love could we have if I shunned his heritage simply because it was different than that which I had known?

My hobbit was worth it precisely because he never asked and made sure that I knew his love was unconditional. For while I was learning about my new people, Bilbo was working hard to make me feel at home.

It was the little things: hanging my bow and quiver in pride of place above the mantelpiece, somehow finding the ingredients for traditional dwarven dishes when I was feeling overwhelmed and teaching me the local paths so I would not get lost. Small things but they turned Bag End into our home instead of only his and I did not have the words to tell Bilbo what this meant to me.

So I tried to show him instead: stealing kisses whenever I wanted to make him smile, tackling the repairs around the house without complaint and overcoming my habit of secrecy to hold his hand when we strolled through the Hobbiton.

I even let him take me to the tailors as I had promised back in Laketown, leaving with an entire wardrobe of hobbit-style clothes. He bought it all, from waistcoats to knee-breeches, though I refused to give up my boots entirely. Impolite or not, I kept them by the door to wear on longer outings and given how my hobbit always jumped me on our picnics, I rather thought he was happy that I did.

As for the rest of my attire, the look in Bilbo's eyes was well worth how naked I felt without my usual layers and when the days grew hotter, I learned to appreciate the lighter fabrics just as I was beginning to appreciate the way his people thought.

Truthfully, although this acclimation was stressful at times, it was also more fun than I had had in ages and the day I bargained our groceries down to the normal hobbit price, all my work paid off in pride. Because this meant I was no longer considered a total stranger in the village and the very next morning, I asked Edel Proudfoot if I could negotiate the purchase of his forge.

It took a great deal of haggling but eventually we reached a deal which satisfied us both and I ran back home to tell Bilbo the good news. However, when I arrived at Bag End, I stopped short in surprise for there was an enormous raven perched on our windowsill.

A bird of such size could only be a messenger from Erebor, yet I could not imagine why he would be here when Fíli had definitely not forgiven me already and only the king and his advisers should have access to their roost. But my hobbit wouldn't have been smiling if the raven brought ill tidings, so I gathered my courage and continued up the path.

“Greetings child of Durin,” The bird addressed me formally when I made myself known, his choice of words making me flinch. “My name is Mingal and I have been sent by my sire to be your messenger.”

“Your sire? You mean Roäc? ” I asked, unable to understand why the ancient bird would have ordered this. “He does know that I've been banished from Erebor? And that I can never return as long as I refuse to give up my love for Bilbo here?”

“What do ravens care about whom you love?” Mingal replied with a croaking laugh and a rustle of feathers which might have been a shrug. “You are a Durin by blood and now that the Lonely Mountain has been reclaimed, all Durins must have a courier. Those are the laws of my people and while I am young and unproven amongst my kin, I swear to serve you well. Do you have a missive for your king?”

“No!” I could not stop myself from recoiling at his question, my mind filled with images of my brother's smugness should I break our silence first. To initiate contact was to imply forgiveness or that I might be in the wrong, and this was something which I simply could not do. I had not been the one to end us; I had never wanted to choose and if Fíli wished to speak with me again, he must first apologize.

Though there were others to whom I would not mind writing and somehow I found the calm to ask, “Could I send a letter to some of my friends instead? They would be pleased to know that we've arrived.”

“I do not know.” The raven told me and I felt my heart sink at his words. “My orders are to act as the link between you and the lord of Erebor but I may ask Roäc if such additional duties are allowed. However, I must have a message for the King Under the Mountain before I leave and I do not know when I will be able to return again.”

“Then you shall have one,” My love cut in while I was still staring at Mingal in frustration, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and steering me inside. “If you would just give us a moment.” He told the raven politely and then led me deeper into the hobbit hole until we were out of hearing range.

“Bilbo, I can't!” I exclaimed, rounding on him the moment that the bedroom door swung shut. While I was too distressed to explain properly, somehow my hobbit was able to understand my broken rambling, or perhaps he simply knew me that well.

“I know Kíli, I know but it's all right.” Bilbo said softly. “Mingal must have a message but he did not say from whom and if I contact your brother, it should not count against your stance.”

I had not thought of that and my hobbit's pragmatism cut through my worries as no simple reassurance could. The sudden relief made my knees go weak and I sat down on the edge of the bed, fighting the urge to giggle wildly. It was that or cry at the knowledge that my relationship with Fíli had come to this.

But now that this crisis was averted, I recalled the news I had to share and I told my hobbit about buying Proudfoot's smithy while he penned a short note to send on raven wing. Although the building was plain and the forge was far simpler than those in Ered Luin or Erebor, it was sturdy and it was mine. Indeed I rather doubted that I would be doing anything too fancy for the simple folk of Hobbiton and I could improve my tools over time.

So we sent Mingal off with his message and then spent the rest of the afternoon tending to less stressful tasks such as messing around in the garden and sorting through the mail. It was the usual combination of hopeful merchants and friendly invitations to visit for dinner, but while we had often accepted the later, tonight we decided to stay in instead.

There was something wonderful about curling up by a crackling fire, my head in Bilbo's lap while he read one of his tales aloud and I needed the reassurance of our love right then. For thinking about Fíli still made me strangely insecure, strange because I did not regret my choice.

No, my doubts focused on what my love could have seen in me; but as I lay there, listening to Bilbo's voice weave magic, all my worries disappeared for now.

---

The next morning I rose early to begin setting up my shop, pressing a kiss to my hobbit's cheek before slipping out the door. My love rarely woke before breakfast unless it was required but I had always enjoyed watching the sun rise and I sipped a cup of tea on the porch while this new day dawned.

Then I walked down to the marketplace, greeting the few hobbits I passed with a nod and smile before continuing on my way. At this time of day only the farmers were about and so when I reached my new property there was no one to watch me when I slipped the lock.

Although I had called it a building earlier, this claim was actually something of an overstatement. In truth Hobbiton's smithy was simply a sturdier version of the other market stalls: three walls and a ceiling to call my own, blocked off by a series of wooden slats when closed. However, it held a forge, an anvil, plenty of charcoal and a basic set of tools which would be more than enough to start me off.

Once I had earned a decent stack of coin, I would build myself something better and someday my smithy would rival any I had seen. But not yet because while my portion of the trolls' treasure had allowed me to purchase this, I wanted my new life to grow free from the old.

Any money I spent now would be earned by my own hands and no one else's for I was no longer a prince to live off other's charity. Though there was one princely thing which I still had to do.

So I nursed a fire in my forge until the coals were burning fiercely, the heat chasing the damp chill from the air. By this point the market was beginning to come to life around me and I started a couple simple projects to remind my hands of their skill. Some nails, a chain, a coat hook and indeed the first few were bent beyond repair. But soon I grew familiar with my tools and the ringing sound of my hammer drew curious glances from the people who passed by.

While I did not receive any orders this first morning, I did not expect any, for hobbits were not known for rushing into things. Hobbits other than mine of course, but even now Bilbo was considered a little odd amongst his kin and that was why I loved him after all.

Thus I was prepared to be patient and even if it took months to prove myself, it's not as though I lacked the time. In any case, my first order of business was to forge my hobbit's wedding band for no Durin had ever been married without a ring of his own making and Bilbo deserved no less than that.

It took me almost a week to finish since mithril was an unforgiving metal and I did not have enough to waste. Not when this was the last of my inheritance, the small ingot entrusted to me when I came of age. This metal had been one of the few treasures rescued when our kingdom fell and was passed down from Thráin to his children before he disappeared. Then Frerin's had been lost at Azanulbizar, Thorin's given to my brother and Dís' had come to me.

I could only hope that my mother would not condemn the way I chose to use it, not that I have the courage to tell her anyway. But sometimes avoidance is the best solution for I cannot bear the thought of seeing disappointment in her eyes again.

Though when I finally completed Bilbo's ring, I was not thinking about my family, only about how my hobbit would react. Because for some reason I was still nervous even after all we had been through and I wiped sweaty palms against my trousers before standing up. My love looked at me curiously when I stepped away from the table but there must have been some similarity in courting between our peoples for his eyes lit up the moment that I dropped to one knee.

“I said that I was going to do this properly,” I began, pulling the mithril band from my waistcoat. “So Bilbo, love of my life, will you walk with me through cave and mountain and stand steady by my side? Will you wear this sign of my mastery which I shaped with the strength of my heart's passion and entwine our souls in partnership until Mahal rebuilds the world?”

“Of course I will, Kíli,” He replied with a beaming smile, wiping tears of joy from his eyes. “And while I'm afraid I cannot remember all those lovely words to repeat them at the moment, I hope that you will do the same with me.”

“Until the last sun dies,” I promised, slipping the ring onto his finger and kissing him to seal the vow.

The band looked perfect there, shining brightly in the candlelight, and I felt something in me relax at the knowledge that we could not be parted now. For dwarves did not much bother with official engagements and while the hobbit ceremony still remained, in the eyes of my people we were husbands true. Or we would be, if such unions were allowed.

“This is truly lovely, Kíli,” Bilbo whispered while looking down at his ring and it warmed my heart to know that he saw beauty in my work. “Also you may have caught me unprepared, but I have something for you as well.”

My hobbit went to his writing desk, pulling a small leather pouch from a secret drawer which I had never noticed and then spilling its contents across my hands.

“These belonged to my parents,” He explained with a sad smile, looking down at the two golden rings cradled in my palm. “Neither of them will fit you but I would be honored if you would combine them into your wedding band.”

“Bilbo, I couldn't,” I protested, the thought of destroying family heirlooms nearly anathema. But my hobbit would not accept them back, wrapping my fingers around them with a shake of his head.

“No, I want you to do this, really. These rings have been kept in the dark with my memories for far too long and it is time for them to live again. My parents would have been honored to be part of our new life in this manner and they would have loved you just as I do if you had had the chance to meet.”

I could hardly say no to such a plea, so I did as he asked and soon we were as wed as we could be in dwarven eyes.

The sight of our new rings made the other hobbits offer both congratulations and jealous glances and my business tripled overnight. Indeed I became so busy that I began to run short on materials, which Bilbo took as an excuse to plan a trip to Bree. For while some traveling pedlars had the type of metal I required, their stocks were slim and usually low quality compared to the worst of dwarven ores. In contrast the human town was well-situated upon the trade routes and while many of those in Ered Luin had already moved east, enough dwarves remained in those hills to supply smiths like me.

Thus even though we were still only engaged in the eyes of Bilbo's people, setting a date for our wedding never seemed to be a priority. The topic didn't even come up again until almost a month later, when Gandalf the Grey appeared on our doorstep once more.

I must admit that I was slightly wary of his arrival since the wizard seemed to delight in disrupting other people's lives and he had certainly changed my hobbit's the last time he was here. But this turned out to be no more than a friendly visit on his way back east and there were no displaced princes, forgotten heroes or actual burglars to be seen.

Instead we shared a quiet meal and watched the sunset from the porch, Gandalf making a production of his talent at smoke rings. The wizard also regaled us with tale of his journey to the north before asking how we were settling in and he seemed surprised to hear that we were not married yet.

“Well we are by dwarven standards,” Bilbo told him with a sheepish grin. “But somehow we keep getting distracted before we set the Shire wedding date. Although, now that I think about it, a winter wedding would be lovely and that would give us lots of time to send some invitations out.”

“Invitations?” The wizard asked and in so doing, doomed himself.

“But of course. You are heading east now, aren't you?” My hobbit replied with a touch of condescension. “I'm sure you wouldn't mind passing a few messages along. We can hardly go ourselves, our raven hasn't returned yet and it's not as though the postman would be willing to travel all the way to Erebor.”

“Oh, um, my dear friend. There may have been a miscommunication. I am certainly heading east but I do not know if my travels will take me that far.” Gandalf stuttered, trying to weasel his way out of the request.

However, Bilbo was having none of that and he pinned the wizard beneath an iron stare. “Then I'm sure you can find someone else to pass the message on. You do rather owe me after all.”

Although Gandalf did not seem particularly happy about it, he eventually gave in and so my hobbit and I spent the rest of the evening writing out notes for him. There were not many, only the official notice to my brother and proper invitations to those members of our company who had seemed on our side. In truth, I was not sure if any of them would risk Fíli's wrath to attend but I wanted to share my happiness and let them know I was all right.

So we settled on a date far enough in the future that our friends could reach us even if the wizard took the scenic route. Though he did promise to deliver them within three months in exchange for some Longbottom Leaf, leaving the next morning with a smile on his face and a song upon his tongue.

Of course now the two of us needed to inform the Shirefolk of our decision and as much as I wished we could just run away instead, my hobbit assured me that eloping was not allowed. Instead we were required to make our announcement at a dinner party and then sit through a great deal of excited squealing about the romance of it all.

However Bilbo managed to free us from any preparations by appointing Menegilda and his aunts to plan the thing and while they were bound to go a little overboard, at least we wouldn't have to be involved. For I much preferred spending time with my hobbit over spending time with them, lazy mornings and heated nights over hours with books of clothes and etiquette. Honestly, I never knew that wedding planning could be so involved and whenever I saw the hobbitesses' rictus grins, I was sure that we'd made the right choice.

So while these ladies did attempt to ask our opinion from time to time, Bilbo and I made a game of avoiding their house calls, seeing who could come up with the most outrageous excuse for being busy and eventually his relatives just gave up.

Although I had to wonder what kind of monster we'd unleashed when Menegilda shouted through the door, “We'll make it a day to remember lads, I promise you that,” and then cackled her way down the path.

---

As the months passed, my business grew in leaps and bounds until I was known throughout the Shire as the person to turn to for all sorts of metalwork. I even started to expand into some wood carving, because while hobbits had their own masters in this craft, our styles were different enough to keep from clashing over customers.

Indeed several of the oldest woodcarvers decided to take me under their wing, showing me some of their techniques in exchange for dwarven patterns and I tried not to think about the fact that ancient in hobbit terms was barely a hundred years.

But that was a sorrow I did not need to face just yet and I refused to lose the joys of the present to the thought of future pain. Particularly now that our wedding was fast approaching and none of my companions had sent us a reply. Whatever their feelings, I had at least expected some acknowledgment and hoped that one or two of them might make the journey here. If nothing else, it would have been nice to have another dwarf around in order to draw the stares away from me.

There was nothing malicious about them, well other than Lobelia's, but I was still considered something exotic by many of these folk. Exotic and slightly incomprehensible for choosing to marry one of their own and I often heard the gossips wondering what I had seen in my hobbit, or what he had seen in me.

However, just as I was finally resigning myself to meeting my wedding day without a shield-brother at my side, Mahal answered the prayers I had refused to make.

I was in my forge that morning, finishing up the last repairs to Liza Greenhand's shears, when I heard a commotion coming from the north side of the marketplace. But the hobbits' voices sounded more excited than afraid so I put it from my mind to focus on the tricky bit of metalwork beneath my tongs.

Which is why I nearly took out my hand and half the wall when I heard someone call my name.

“Oh Kíli, just look at you,” A familiar voice cried out, a voice I had not thought to ever hear again. So I placed my hammer down carefully, staring at my anvil as though it held the secrets to the universe and told myself that it was just a trick of my tired mind.

Though truthfully I was simply terrified. Terrified to discover that this was only a hallucination or that she had traveled all this way to say that I was wrong. But she must have been able to read these worries in my expression because moments later, I was enveloped in a fierce hug.

“Mother?” I asked, my arms coming up to clutch at her shoulders and even though Dís only reached my chin these days, somehow I still felt small. Small and confused because I did not know what to do with this reaction when I had been expecting hatred on par with Fíli's for betraying our family name. “What are you doing here?”

“I talked to your brother,” was her reply and I could not keep from wincing at how that conversation must have gone. “And while I understand his actions, I do not agree with them. For I think we held too tightly to our past, teaching Fíli the pride of kingship without the gentleness and it is not your fault that you never fit into that mold. If anything it is ours for forcing you to hide the truth of who you are and while this is not the path I expected you to take, you are my son and you are unique and there is nothing wrong with that.”

“Truly?”

“Yes love, truly, and I am so sorry that we made you feel like this. I may have had some doubts at first but seeing what we created in your brother has shown me the error of our old ways.” Mother said softly, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. “Now take me home and introduce me to this hobbit of yours.”

The whole situation was rather surreal and the feeling that I must be dreaming only intensified when I saw the companions whom Dís had brought. For Bofur, Dori, Nori and Ori were all waiting outside my forge, along with a few guards I did not recognize.

So the next few minutes were filled with greetings and congratulations, particularly once they noticed the ring upon my hand. Of course then I had to explain the differences between dwarven and hobbit weddings since mother was quite distressed to find that she had missed our vows and this conversation took us all the way to my front door.

While the others had seen Bag End before and like it fine, I was greatly relieved when Dís appeared charmed by the sight of my home. But perhaps even proper dwarves could appreciate its cosiness and my companions clearly noted all the signs of my occupation that were not there before. They seemed particularly amused by my wardrobe once I changed out of my dirty smithing clothes and I elbowed Bofur in the side when he laughed.

“They're actually quite comfortable,” I explained a bit defensively, smoothing the wrinkles from my shirt. “And if you're staying for the wedding, I'm sure Menegilda will force you into a waistcoat soon enough; that old hellion has definite ideas about the proper way to dress.”

Nori just scoffed in response and there was a dwarf who would learn to regret his flippancy. However before I could go into greater detail about the terrifying nature of old hobbitesses, Bilbo walked through the door and I suddenly had other things on my mind. My hobbit was a bit startled to see everyone standing there but he recovered quickly to greet our former companions happily. Only once each of them had been hugged and fussed over did my love turn to me and the dwarrowdam at my side.

“Hello ma'am, I don't believe we've met before,” He said calmly, his smile dimming not at whit beneath my mother's searching gaze. Only someone who knew him well would have seen that he was nervous by his refuge in formality. “Bilbo Baggins at your service.”

“Dís, daughter of Thráin at yours,” She replied with a shallow curtsy. “I've come to see my son.”

“It is good to meet you, Dís. Please make yourself at home for you and your companions are always welcome here and I know Kíli will be overjoyed to show you around,” My hobbit told her, before breaking away from his formal Shire manners to add with narrowed eyes, “Assuming of course, that you have arrived to offer your support instead of condemnation because we have had quite enough of that.”

“Hah! You are a brave one, aren't you? So I suppose that you will do.” Mother nodded firmly and then patted Bilbo on the cheek. “Though if you do not treat my child right, we will be having a very different conversation later on.”

“Now,” She continued, looking around the smial with the air of one surveying her domain, “What is this that I hear about wedding plans?”

So we showed Dís and our friends to their guest rooms and then invited Menegilda and her cronies over to have supper that night. It seemed the safest way to introduce them to my mother, though I regretted this choice slightly when the conversation became dominated by the discussion of color choices and wedding décor. Because some things were universal and while the dwarrowdam did not always agree with what Menegilda's group suggested, she certainly enjoyed the arguments.

Indeed now that she had arrived, I knew our marriage would end up as some crazy blend of traditions and would probably be talked about for generations to come. Which meant that once again, the safest course was to stay far out of their way.

The other dwarves quite agreed with this plan of action and to my slight surprise, our former companions took to the Shire like elves to trees. So over the next weeks, Bofur often joined me in the smithy for he was a fair hand with a hammer and Ori and Bilbo bonded over ink and tales. Dori was a hit with both the fauntlings and their mothers, while Nori discovered Hobbiton's seedy underside somehow and even mother's guards found ways to pass the time.

Thus it seemed like only a blink of an eye before the day was upon us and I could hardly sleep that night for the butterflies in my gut. But eventually exhaustion dragged me down and I managed to snag a few hours of rest before I was shaken awake again.

The sun hadn't even risen yet so my hobbit grumbled mightily as Dís ordered us out of bed and I wasn't particularly overjoyed myself. My mood soured further when mother separated us but the stern glare she sent me stifled any objections in my throat. Apparently hobbit tradition required the couple to undergo their preparations in different locations and only be reunited when the ceremony began.

Bilbo said that the tradition began as a way to keep young couples from starting their celebrations early, which made it a rather silly thing to hold me and my hobbit to. We'd been sharing each other's beds for months already so if that was bad luck then we were already doomed.

As are quite a few young hobbits if I haven't missed my guess. Though I suppose there are some benefits to this practice as well, I thought as my mother started giving me advice on how to make our wedding night memorable. The last thing I wanted was for Bilbo to hear any of her suggestions since our sex life was just fine and that conversation might actually make me die of embarrassment.

Anyway I was much more interested in the vows I needed to memorize, ten short lines written on the paper in Bofur's hands. He read them off to me while Dís fussed with my clothes and by the time mother pronounced herself satisfied several hours later, I had learned them fairly well. Any more than that was unnecessary since the whole point of a shield-brother was to remind the groom of his place when he stumbled and I had four on my side.

Them and my mother who now grabbed me by the shoulders and moved me in front of the mirror to show off her handiwork. She and Menegilda must have come to some kind of agreement because my clothes were made in the dwarven style, if much fancier than any I had ever owned, and I wondered if Dís had brought them with her from Erebor. Certainly we had never worn such lush velvets in Ered Luin for we were too busy working and it wasn't common to see fabric in this particular shade of blue. I actually thought that I looked slightly ridiculous dressed up in such finery, my haired tamed from its usual wild mane into something more presentable.

However, I could not refuse my mother's gift when this clothing marked me as one of Durin's line to dwarven eyes. It meant I would be married with the blessing of my family for even if Fíli was now king, Dís still claimed seniority.

Then it was time.

My mother led me and my companions out of the smial, our small procession walking to the Party Tree along the path the crowd laid out. They were packed three deep along our route, everyone cheering wildly while dressed in their winter finery and I was sure that many of them had started the celebration before they came. Once we passed by, the hobbits fell in behind us in a raucous mass and the whole lot poured into the field beneath the Party Tree.

This area had been completely transformed by our friends' hard work: the last snowfall brushed off the grass and shaped into sculptures, colorful tents and streamers raised above the gathering and mugs of hot cider for each guest to warm their hands. Yet as impressive as it was, the moment I caught sight of my hobbit, I had eyes for nothing else.

For Bilbo stood beneath the Party Tree, dressed in deep green and yellow which made his pink cheeks shine. His clothes were just as fancy as mine though in the usual hobbit style and he was the most beautiful thing which I had ever seen. But then again, he always was.

So I took his hands in mine, entranced by the way his eyes sparkled and stood before our friends and family to pledge our lives again. Though I started to wish that I had paid a little more attention to the planning once the ceremony started because then I might have known what was going on. However, Bofur nudged me whenever I needed to speak and I was in good company for Bilbo kept missing his mark as well.

But while Menegilda shook her head at us in exasperation, I found my hobbit's sheepish smile adorable and he told me later that it was entirely my fault anyway. Apparently the sight of my finery had scrambled his mind and my burglar was surprised that he made it through at all.

“Before the eyes of Yavanna and all her brethren, I will walk with you through every season and help you when you fall. I will support you through times of plenty and privation and as long as I am breathing, hunger will never live within our walls.”

With these final words, I placed Bilbo's ring back on his finger and then held out my hand for him to do the same before leaning down to kiss my husband soundly. Our guests cheered wildly, Dori and Bofur the loudest of the lot, and now the party could finally begin. And what a party for the food was plentiful, the drink flowed like like water and the musicians were enthusiastic players if not overly skilled.

So we danced and ate and wiled away the hours playing in the snow like children for I could never resist my hobbit when he giggled like that. But eventually the party-goers declared that it was time for us to leave, sending us back to our bedroom in a cloud of winter blossoms and innuendo and this was one tradition which I was happy to oblige.

Because when Bilbo and I were finally alone again, nothing but love and passion there between us, I had to pause for a moment to thank the Valar for the hobbit in my arms. Then I went back to kissing my husband, hands roaming over familiar patterns to bring us both to ecstasy.

Once we had finished and I was laying in our bed with my hobbit curled up against my side, I found myself thinking that in some ways this marked the true beginning of our lives together. Certainly the Shirefolk saw it like that and yet at the same time, this event was just one more step on our long road together which had started over a year before. For how could this prove our love when there was never any doubt and I would have lived for Bilbo anyway?

But such philosophy was not my bent and so I brushed these thoughts from my mind. In truth it hardly mattered when this relationship had started; what mattered now was that it would not end and it had been nice to have our friends and family acknowledge the commitment we had made.

Not long after our wedding, the other dwarves decided to move on for they needed to return to their responsibilities in Erebor, traveling by way of Ered Luin to justify the trip. But they stayed long enough to pass on their wedding gifts: Dori and Ori's intricate knitting, Bofur's silver bracelets and Nori's concealed lock picks, “just in case.” While Bilbo seemed a little unclear on the concept of receiving presents, he was well-versed in politeness and we thanked our friends sincerely for their thoughtfulness.

Even mother had a few more things to offer us, above and beyond all that she'd already done, and when she finished there were dwarven heirlooms mixed in with those already on the mantelpiece. Nothing that would be missed by Fíli, but items which warmed my heart nonetheless such as my first wooden toy and the hearth cup from our home in the West.

If this were not enough already, the other dwarves had also brought gifts from some of our former companions who could not come themselves. A dagger from Dwalin with a reminder not to let myself go soft, a book of recipes from Bombur with all my favorite foods, copies of some of Erebor's library for my hobbit and a flask of aged wine from Glóin for the two of us to share. Each was a blessing on the life I'd chosen and the grace they offered me would live on in memory.

Though it was still a somewhat tearful goodbye since I did not know if I would see my friends again and I hugged my mother tightly while the ponies were being saddled up. Then Bilbo and I stood on the porch to watch our friends leave, trading cloth-packed lunches for promises to write, and we waved until they rode around the bend.

Then we ducked back through the door to our smial and returned to the usual rhythm of our lives.

---

Mingal came back a few weeks later, alighting on the the windowsill without a word of explanation for his long absence and yellow eyes glared at me when I asked. But Roäc had given him permission to carry letters to dwarves other than my brother so I could live with his ill mood.

While mother and her companions would not be back in Erebor for months yet, we sent the raven off with notes for Dwalin and the others who had not made the trip themselves. Their kindness deserved recognition whatever their motivations and I truly wanted to know how they were settling in. Besides Glóin's son was a dear friend of mine, one of the few that Fíli had not tried to chase away, though my brother probably would have if he had known just what we got up to when Gimli visited.

But with Mingal as my messenger I could ensure that my letter did not reach the wrong hands and my friend would want to know about Bilbo since he had sometimes wondered if dwarves like us could love. Now I had proof that our hearts were no less than any other and perhaps this would give him hope.

Though I don't know how he could doubt it with the way that Dwalin pined: ever steadfast, ever loyal and ever unrequited in the end. I wasn't sure how the warrior would be coping now but he had always found refuge in duty and perhaps our contact will do him some good as well.

So when the raven returned a few months later, several messages tied to his legs, I could hardly wait to read the replies. Those from Glóin and Bombur simply sent best wishes from them and their families, though they included some interesting gossip from the halls of Erebor as well. Apparently my brother had begun searching for a wife, which did not much surprise me since Fíli was never one to be second in anything.

Dwalin's letter was more reticent, focusing on the repairs and technical difficulties of restoring the Lonely Mountain to its former shine. But the warrior had always hid his emotions stoically so I had practice at reading between the lines and although he was melancholy, he had not given up.

In contrast Gimli was excited, his words spilling out in a slew of questions and congratulations and here at last was someone who truly wanted to know everything.


Kíli!

I can't believe you didn't write me sooner and with this news to share. What is it like to be in love? Is it as glorious as all the stories say? And that explains why Fíli won't talk about you and snarled at me when I asked. Do you think my father would react the same way? But your mother came to your wedding so I guess there's hope for me yet and maybe your brother will relax over time.

So tell me about Bilbo. Why him? Is he cute? And I should have known that you'd do something crazy like fall in love with another race entirely. Though if his people truly accept such relationships as you say, maybe I'm a little jealous as well. That would certainly be nicer than having to hide all the time.

Now you have to tell me everything!



His letter read like this for pages, question upon question, and I answered them because I could never resist a chance to brag about my hobbit's charms. Besides Gimli was young yet, though he would hate me for saying this since there were not that many years between us, and I did not want him to think that who we were was wrong. After all, our people would never change if those who were different simply accepted the status quo without complaint and some part of my heart still hoped to go back for a visit some day.

When I finished writing out my replies, I sent them on with our raven and this was the pattern of our lives for many years. I spent my mornings at the smithy and my afternoons with Bilbo, except for those days when neither of us ever left the bed.

Out in Hobbiton, our neighbors had started greeting me by name and several of my husband's relatives were always dropping in to visit, their children sitting at my feet and demanding stories of the outside world. With their parents' permission I indulged them, spinning tales of the wonders I had seen while glossing over some of the dangerous bits. Not entirely because I did not want them to rush off without thought to their own safety, but there was no need to traumatize the brats for life.

Every few months Mingal would return with another batch of messages and letters, nearly more than he could carry after my mother's group arrived back home. Since the wedding notice neither Bilbo nor I had written anything to my brother, largely because he had not chosen to reply and I was no longer the type to beat my head against a wall I could not break. But when mother informed us that he would soon marry the daughter of Rundím, this pattern changed.

Because on hearing this news we had to send Fíli our congratulations whether he wanted them or not and although my hobbit wrote the letter, I truly meant the sentiment. From then on Bilbo continued a strange sort of one-sided correspondence with my brother, sending random thoughts and news and wishes while receiving nothing in return.

However, my hobbit persisted anyway, stubborn bastard that he was, and I left him to his efforts without argument. There was no reason to stop him and in truth, this gave me hope because whatever my brother's feelings on me, we were still connected by raven wing. So the King Under the Mountain would never be able to forget me just as I would never forget him. Besides, even if I did not hate him, I was still rather bitter and I quite enjoyed the thought of forcing Fíli to face what he had done.

Though as the years passed and my roots spread deep within the Shire, even this bitterness began to pass. There was too much else to focus on, too much to be proud of, and eventually I began to go months without thinking of my brother at all.

Instead I thought of forging and surprises for my hobbit, picnics and tumbles in the grass. After a few years I had saved enough to rebuild my smithy exactly as I wanted, a proper dwarven forge indeed, and that project occupied my hands for months. But when it was finished, I had something that I was truly proud of and now I could tackle the complicated metalwork of which I had dreamed. So the first thing I did was build Bilbo the clock that he had always wanted and I finished it just in time for our anniversary.

That was a night to remember.

As were many of our evenings, afternoons, and mornings for while people always said that familiarity bred contempt, our passion just kept burning higher. How could I become bored when my hobbit was as adventurous in this as in all things and continually caught me by surprise?

Although Bilbo did become antsy from time to time, that old wanderlust taking hold again and no matter how I loved the Shire, I carried the same streak. So when it grew too strong, I would close my smithy for a few weeks and we would wander until Bag End called us home again. North toward Evendim and south along the Brandywine, we traveled through hills and dales and forests and enjoyed it all.

I even took my husband to the Blue Mountains one summer, showing him the places I had loved as a child and Fíli must have kept my banishment a secret for the dwarves we met greeted us with hospitality.

Sometimes this mood would strike in winter when traveling was less feasible and during those times I began to teach Bilbo archery. My hobbit took to it rather well once I had carved a bow to fit his stature, hitting most of what he aimed at even if he could not match my skill. When he was good enough, the two of us began to go hunting and soon we became known throughout Hobbiton for always having meat to share.

These lessons also made me think about how to protect my new home from danger, because I had heard about the Fell Winter and never wished to see blood spilled in these lands again. So I went to the Thain for permission to teach others how to fight.

When he agreed it caused a backlash among some of the older hobbits but Bilbo supported me in my efforts and I was not short on volunteers. Even some of the older generation decided to join me for they remembered well their helplessness and soon no one looked twice at our militia practicing. I focused on bows since most hobbits were more suited to ranged weapons, they could be used for hunting as well as killing and they had the added advantage of being far easier to replace. For the wood carvers who lived in the Shire found Bilbo's weapon easy enough to copy and this way the safety of our home would not fall on me alone.

It made me proud to see my students grow in skill and confidence and I slept easier knowing that our home was not unprotected when we were traveling. Well, safe from outside forces at least, for Lobelia still coveted our smial and I would often find silverware missing after she came to tea.

By this point the hobbitess had married Bilbo's cousin Otho and become part of the family, but that wasn't why my husband always invited her. No, he seemed to enjoy their verbal sparring, dislike transmuted to a strange sort of rivalry which entertained them both. So while I didn't exactly understand it, I always tried to greet Lobelia politely since I appreciated anything that made my hobbit grin like that.

Around this time Bofur and Nori showed up again for an impromptu visit and I put them to work. It was good for my students to learn other forms of fighting and these two were the masters of improvised weapons so my hobbits were in good hands. By the time they finished, the most talented of the militia were deadly with everything from garden shears to shovels and these skills would serve them well.

That was also the month that I learned that I was soon to be an uncle and when Fíli's son was born, my prayers went out to him. Allow the lad to grow up loved and treasured by his family and never doubt the place he held.

Though it also made me sad to know that Jilí might never learn that I existed, let alone meet me face to face. He was my nephew and yet we would be nothing to each other if my brother had his way.

That was a bad year all around for thoughts of Fíli kept striking me in quiet moments, leaving my heart bleeding with wounds I could not staunch. To make matters worse, Bilbo found his first grey hairs, a little thing which reminded me of his mortality and I began to have nightmares of him slipping through my hands. I woke gasping from visions of my husband dead or walking away from me once more and these dreams tainted my happiness.

For who knew how long I had left with my hobbit and as much as Bilbo tried to help, he could not calm my fear. So we started fighting from the stress of our worries, the quirks which had been cute suddenly turning to aggravation and those who love you know how to hurt you most. I even began to hate that ring of his, became jealous of how much he cared about it, and sometimes I wanted to rip it from his hands.

But although it seemed chancy for awhile, we survived somehow. We survived because both of us were too damn stubborn to give up.

So we talked when we felt more like screaming, we listened when we wanted to fight and eventually we found our balance again. I think we had become somewhat complacent after years together and now we had to relearn the art of compromise. Yet in the end, Bilbo and I were stronger for it and I began to remember that I had a right to happiness.

Thus the two of us returned to living in the moment, focusing on joy and love and laughter instead of what the future held. For if I had learned anything from growing up in exile, it was that death could wait around any corner and I refused to lose my hobbit before the very moment that I must.

Whatever mistakes the two of us had made, and in the last year there were plenty, we had not been defeated by our doubts. Just as the flowers bloom even after the harshest winter, our love would grow with forgiveness and I could ask for no more than that. So Bilbo and I went to every wedding and dinner party with a smile in our hearts and while I had never been a dancer, I let hope fill the music which I played.

For even with all the pain that we had caused each other, the joy outweighed the pain and I knew our lives were truly blessed. So as the years passed we still fought from time to time but we never allowed our arguments to fester again, not when we had learned from our mistakes.

Therefore when Fíli's wife bore him twin daughters, Frísa and Freyda, I did not allow myself to fall into depression over thoughts of what might have been. This was my life not any other and I would treasure it even if some things were not as I might wish. This was my family and I would love my nieces from afar even if I was never allowed to see them for myself. So I used the last of my mithril to forge them tokens of my blessing, two pendants for my youngest kin.

We sent them on with Mingal and Bilbo's latest message and I could only hope that my brother would pass them on. Maybe he is as tired of this rift as I am and will finally let his anger fall. Maybe this time he will respond.

However when Fíli failed to reply once more, I did not dwell on it because I refused to allow my brother's issues to dictate my happiness again.

And I was happy as the years continued to roll by, I was happy with the life which I had made. For I had love and friendship and respect for my skills and even acceptance from those I walked among. Though I never did stop hoping and one spring over thirty years after I had last seen my brother, everything changed once more.

Because when Bofur arrived for another one of his visits, the dwarf handed me a sealed message which bore the royal mark. After all these years, Fíli had made the first move as my heart demanded and my fingers trembled when I unrolled the note.

I am sorry, Kíli, sorry for everything. I hope one day you will forgive the wrong I've done you and allow me the honor of introducing my family to yours.



Epilogue: Serenity