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A Child's Love

Title: A Child's Love
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, minor canon pairings
Warnings: Canonical death of minor characters
Word Count: 5478
Disclaimer: Like I own this.
Summary: Bilbo and Kíli raise Frodo after his parents die.


My uncles are amazing. Well, Mum says that Bilbo is actually my cousin, but everyone knows that cousins have to be your age.  Like Merry and Pip who always seem to get me into trouble and then run away.

But I always forgive them when they say they're sorry because they're the only ones who don't laugh when I ask them to act out the Battle of Five Armies instead of playing other games.  That's one of my favorite stories, maybe even better than the one with the dragon, because Uncle Kí gets to be an awesome hero there.  Merry and Pip like to fight over who gets to play Azog since they like to act out dramatic dying scenes and sometimes Sam, the gardener's son, will do Bilbo's part.  But only I get to be the hero of Erebor, dashing in to slay the monster in the nick of time.

Uncle Kí often gets a funny look on his face when I say that while chasing Merry around Bag End, kinda like mum when someone mentions my granddad.  But he usually cheers up quickly and if I ask nicely, he even lets me play with his bow sometimes.

It's a proper weapon even though Kí mostly goes hunting with it now and I always feel ten feet tall waving it around.  Though he doesn't let me touch the arrows so we have to fake that part, Pippin pretending to be shot and writhing on the ground.

But once I defeat the monster we're all friends again and then it's time for the stories.  Uncle Bilbo tells the best stories, all about quests and danger and daring heroes, and even though Merry and Pip usually have to go home before we get to the best parts, I spend hours listening to him.  I want to be just like my uncle someday, run off into the wild and have a grand adventure before coming home to stay.  Because I think I would get lonely if I never came back; I would miss Mum and Dad and all my cousins, even the stupid ones.

Honestly, they're all stupid except for Merry and Pippin because no one else believes that Bilbo's adventures really happened, although I think Uncle Kí should make it obvious.  But not even my parents believe him, they think my uncle just went off to some dwarven kingdom and found his husband there, never mind the treasure and the weapons he brought back.

So they just nod and smile when I tell them about Bilbo's journey and I know that neither of them is really listening.  Mum thinks I don't know when she and my dad are lying, but I'm not an idiot and they shouldn't worry that I don't have more friends my age.  Because it's not my fault that most of my cousins are boring and I'd rather spend my time with my uncles instead.

Even when they're not telling stories, Bilbo and Kí are fun to be around, talking and laughing and cooking the most fantastic things.  Mum's not a bad cook but Uncle Bilbo is better and he lets me lick the bowls when I help him out.

So that's where I am one fine autumn morning just after I turn twelve.  Dad had dropped me off at Bag End right before Second Breakfast because he and Mum wanted to spend some time doing "grown-up things."  That's what Uncle Kí always says when it's time for me to leave in the evenings, "Run on home, Frodo, your uncle and I need to do some grown-up things."  Then Uncle Bilbo blushes and kisses him on the cheek, just like Mum does when Dad gets her flowers.

But today we're in the kitchen and my uncle is showing me how to bake a carrot cake for when our next birthday comes.  That's my favorite so I'm trying to follow along with each step of the process, only I keep getting distracted by the hobbit's tale.  Bard's battle with Smaug never becomes less exciting even if I've heard it a thousand times already and I'm too busy mouthing along with the words to remember how many eggs that is.

"And then Bard the Bowman drew back his ancestor's fabled arrow, the only one of its kind left in all the world.  If he missed this shot it would mean doom for his city and the end of Erebor, but the man trusted in the skill of his hands and with a prayer to the Valar, Bard let the arrow fly.  It soared through the air like an eagle and the Bowman's aim was true for it struck the dragon Smaug square in his breast, just where the burglar had noticed that a scale had fallen loose.  With a great roar of- "

My uncle pauses there when someone knocks on the door, nodding at Kíli to answer it.  It's probably for him anyway since his students often drop by with questions and I can't wait until I'm old enough to learn with them.  But right now I just want Bilbo to continue with his story because he's stopped at the best part.

Only the hobbit has barely opened his mouth again before his husband comes back into the kitchen and I get a bad feeling when I see who's with him.  It's one of the Brandybucks, Mum's second cousin on her father's side I think, but I've never seen him look so serious before.

Uncle Bilbo walks up behind me and places one hand on my shoulder, watching the other hobbit as he shifts awkwardly. He obviously has something to say but he can’t seem to manage it until Kí speaks up.  "Tell us what you came for," the dwarf orders quietly.  "Bad news does not get any softer if you wait."

So Ethelbert shuffles forward and kneels down in front of me and that's when I truly become terrified.  "Frodo Baggins, there's been an accident.  Your parents were boating on the Brandywine and I'm afraid they're gone.  We are very sorry for your loss but we Brandybucks promise that we'll do everything we can to see you through these troubled days."

"What do you mean, gone?"  I ask, his words not making any sense.  I saw Dad only a few hours ago, he was grinning cheerfully like usual and my mum would never have abandoned me.  "When are they coming back?"

"I- " My question seems to catch him off guard, Ethelbert looking up at my uncles helplessly.  So it is Bilbo who crouches down to destroy the world I've always known.  "Your parents aren't coming back, love.  He was trying to be gentle but I've been where you are standing and there's no gentle way to speak this truth.  Your mother and father are dead and you won't be able to see them anymore."

My parents had explained death to me once when my great-great-grand-aunt Menegilda had stopped coming by.  They said that all hobbits returned to the earth someday and while it was okay to cry and miss them, this was the price of having life.  But Menegilda had been ancient, her face all wrinkled and gnarly like an old oak tree, and her funeral had been fun.  It had been just like a birthday party, everyone drinking until they had trouble speaking and all her oldest friends spinning wild tales about the things she'd done.  So I thought death was supposed to be celebrated like it’s the prize you win for a long and happy life.

But this doesn't feel like that.  This is lonely and painful and I don't think my parents won anything at all.  Or maybe they did and I'm just the one who had to lose for them to do it because Mum and Dad were supposed to be here until I was old and grey.  They were supposed to see me grow up, have a feast ready in our hobbit hole whenever I came to visit and home won't be home without them there.

I don't even notice that I'm crying until my uncle wraps me up in his arms and then I can't stop sobbing, burying my head against his shoulder and trying to shut out this new reality.  My uncles are fun but they're not my parents and I just want my mum back.

---

Living in Bag End is awful.  It's too big and winding and I want to go back home.  I'm supposed to be curled up by the fire drinking cocoa with my mother or trailing after my father on his way to the market - I'm not supposed to be here with them dead and gone.  I don't want Uncle Kí to hug me when I have nightmares or Uncle Bilbo to make me breakfast so I yell and cry and break things when they try.  But they just look sad when I shout at them and Uncle Kí always hugs me anyway, my fists bouncing off his chest like he doesn't feel them at all.

He never yells back at me no matter what I say, simply looks at me all huge and disappointed until I trail off guiltily.  I know it's not Kí's fault that Mum and Dad have left me and my uncles are doing their best to ease my pain, but I don't want to be happy right now.

I want to be sad and depressed and angry with my parents for doing this to me, for abandoning me to the care of distant relatives.  Though in my calmer moments, I have to admit that I prefer Bag End over my other options because at least here I have a room to myself instead of being shoved in with half a dozen Brandybucks.  My cousins don't seem to mind living over top each other but it's only when I'm alone in bed that I feel free to weep.

I spend hours sobbing into my pillows and if I could, I would stay right there until the ache in my chest finally kills me too.  But no matter how awful I'm feeling, I still get hungry and the first time that a grumbling stomach drives me into the kitchen, I just grab a handful of food from the pantry and run back to my room.

However, my uncles always seem to know when I'm coming and they don't allow me to wallow for too long.  Instead I find myself sitting down for proper meals somehow, listening to Bilbo and Kíli talk about their day over supper and eventually the pain begins to ease.

It still hurts to think of my parents but now the memories make me laugh as well as cry because I can remember how much they loved me and I have to believe that they didn't want to leave me alone like this.  I have to believe that they would want me to be happy and are still watching over me.  That's what Uncle Kí tells me when he tucks me in at night, leaning down to press a kiss to my forehead.

"Your parents are always with you; they live on in your memory and deep within your heart.  So they know how much you miss them and they will not begrudge you a smile or a laugh; no, it will bring them joy to watch you grow and live your life."

The dwarf just smiles sadly when I ask him how he knows this, needing more reassurance than simple words can give.  He says that this is what his brother told him after their father died and somehow knowing that he understands is enough to help.  Both Kíli and Bilbo seem to understand the pain I'm feeling, their smiles sympathetic but never pitying, and that means more than any platitudes.  Because my uncles don't judge me on my bad days when I still scream and cry and throw things against the wall and they don't judge me on the good days when I manage to forget my grief for a time.

So life goes on, the days turning ceaselessly until I almost feel like my old self again.  I feel some of my old wonder and curiosity welling up inside me and soon I am playing with my friends once more.  I am running and laughing and chasing butterflies, climbing trees and searching out mushrooms in the fall.

But my new guardians don't let me run completely wild so there are also lessons of all kinds.  The reading and writing aren't really my favorites, at least not until I discover Bilbo's collection of elvish myths and tales, but we spend hours in the kitchen trying new recipes.

Once I get a little bigger, Kíli finally starts teaching me archery like I always begged him to and when he presents me with a bow of my very own, I can't stop grinning for a week. Although, I'm not actually very good at first, my arrows falling far short of their mark until I want to scream.  But I have never been able to resist a challenge and the hours of practice are worth it when one of my shots finally goes where I aimed.

My uncle looks so proud then, clapping me on the shoulder with a beaming smile and I will practice twice as hard just to see that look again.  I mean, I will probably never be a natural nor have Kíli's blinding grace, but if we can hunt together sometimes that will be enough for me.

Because there's something special about my dwarven uncle, something comforting, though I can never seem to put my finger on exactly what it is.  Maybe it's the fact that some parts of hobbit culture still confuse him utterly and I feel like a hero when I manage to explain.  Or maybe it's the way he throws himself wholeheartedly into whatever he's doing, his happiness as infectious as anything.

I think that's why it was Uncle Kí who first made me smile after I came to live in Bag End and it is Kíli who always knows how to make me smile now.  Not that I don't adore Bilbo, because I do, but his husband is much better at keeping up with me.

Although we have our quiet moments as well, the dwarf and I, once I'm worn out enough to actually sit still.  Sometimes he'll braid my hair while Bilbo knits by the fire, his voice deep and soothing as he explains what the patterns mean.  Or Bilbo will be the one cleaning dirt off my cheeks with an exasperated smile while Kíli signs to me in Iglishmêk.  I am fascinated by the language, the way that a few simple movements can paint an entire conversation, and the dwarf is as patient a teacher in this as in archery.  But I'm pleased to discover that I have more of a knack for signing than for shooting and soon the three of us are trading jokes and snickers whenever our more unpleasant relatives come by for tea.

Lobelia never does understand why I'm always laughing during her visits and while her persnickety words are actually kind of entertaining, I don't like her son at all.  He's just mean where her insults are clever, the kind of fauntling who likes to torture butterflies and when I try to stop him, it always turns into a fight.

So the two of us spend most of our time glaring at each other, Lotho shouting curses while I taunt him with my signs and eventually my aunt starts to send him off to market until she's done visiting.  Though whenever I see my cousin, I still make the sign for ‘Idiot’ because that one he's learned to recognize.

It's only years later that I find out what it really meant for Kíli to teach me Iglishmêk so freely and that is the wizard's fault.  Gandalf would show up randomly, twice in one year and then not for three, but it was always exciting whenever I saw his grey hat bobbing up the path because he brought the best tricks with him in those old robes of his.  Not only his fireworks – which had made for one very awesome fifteenth birthday party – but also intricate toys and treats and gifts as well.

But on this particular visit, the wizard has been telling us about his travels in the North while Bilbo and Kíli prepare dinner, the two of them moving together like they share one mind.  I'm never sure whether it’s weird or adorable the way that they always seem to know where the other's standing, though by now I'm mostly just used to it.

So I pay it little mind when Bilbo motions Kíli toward the door to get more firewood, signing a quick request for mushrooms before returning to my book.  But I glance up again when I feel the wizard's eyes boring into my head.

"Kíli taught you Iglishmêk, did he?"  Gandalf asks, the question given a strange weight by the shadows in his eyes.

"Yeah, so?  Bilbo taught me Elvish," I reply, my shoulders hunching defensively.  The movement seems to make the old man realize just how weird he's acting because his pensiveness disappears into a kindly grin.

"Nothing, my dear Frodo, or at least nothing serious," the wizard promises, taking a puff of his pipe.  "However, you may be interested to know that Iglishmêk is considered one of dwarvenkind's most cherished cultural secrets, second only to Khuzdûl.  He could not teach you the latter, even banished as he was, but to teach you the former means that you are very important in his eyes.  A child of the heart if not the blood."

Something about his quiet words strikes me deep in my chest, even though he is not saying anything that I do not already know.  But I think that maybe I have never wanted to admit it - I never wanted to admit that I love Kíli and Bilbo just as I love my parents still.

It seemed like a betrayal of the ones who bore me and yet now I wonder if I have done all of us a disservice by holding back this truth.  Because my uncles have never tried to replace my mother or my father even as they've raised me in their stead and surely that deserves acknowledgment.  Surely they deserve to know just how much they mean to me.

So when Kíli returns to Bag End with the firewood and a dozen mushrooms cradled gently in his hands, I go to meet him by the door.  'Thanks Dad', I sign before relieving him of his burden and I head into the kitchen just as his eyes light up.  There's no need to make a big scene about it - I'm too old to be hugged like a fauntling anymore even though his delighted smile almost makes me feel like one again.  So I casually offer to help "Father" with the last bit of our meal and when I receive the same combination of surprise and happiness, I decide that it was worth the twinge of embarrassment.

I still miss my parents and I probably always will, but this is my family now and I'm okay with that.

---

I can't believe that I'm finally coming of age.  It seems like it's been forever since I was a fauntling, running off to see my uncles with stars in my eyes.  I was such a dreamer then and while I still think about having an adventure of my own someday, the Shire is really world enough for me.

This is my home, here in Hobbiton where I was born and raised and plan to die one day.  I know every creek and inlet, the best places to collect mushrooms and herbs and wildflowers in the forest and I have traded many kisses beneath its wooded canopy.  I have friends here, friends and crushes and a weight of memory that I don't know how to live without.

So while I might be a little jealous when my fathers tell me they are leaving for one last grand hurrah, I promise to stay behind after only one minor argument.  Because we all know that they may not be coming back, not with Bilbo grown so old now, and I can't imagine leaving my home behind for good.  Instead I will stay in the Shire, watching over Bag End to ensure that the love never fades from these walls and maybe someday I will have a family of my own.  I wouldn't mind seeing a gaggle of children running through the garden just like I used to do, listening to stories of myth and history at their dwarven grandfather's knee.

Dad has always been great with fauntlings and I'm sure that he would be no different with my own, though it hurts to think of him without Father at his side.  They have always been Kíli-and-Bilbo in my mind, one unit even when they're fighting about something ridiculous and if I fall in love, I want it to be like that.

But that day is somewhere far in the future so for now, I throw myself into planning our celebration until the work drives such sad thoughts away.  After all, this is my majority as well as my fathers' goodbye party and it's going to be the best damn party that Hobbiton has ever seen.  We send out invitations to everyone, hire Ruby Bolger to decorate and the Brandybucks to feed them all, and the Party Tree looks gorgeous when the day finally arrives.

I find myself more excited than I expected actually, the energy of the day overwhelming any thoughts of the farewells soon to come, and Gandalf arrives just in time to help us set up.  I'm sure he's brought something amazing to commemorate this occasion and I cannot wait to see just what it is.

So as soon as evening falls, I head over to the Party Tree where Bilbo and Kíli are supervising the last bits of this and that before our guests show up.  An arrival that begins only a few minutes later with a band of Tooks coming up the hill and it doesn't take long for things to descend into chaos after that.  The good kind of chaos, where drink and laughter and dancing all swirl together into one grand cacophony.  Sam and I start off at the food tables, the two of us having grown much closer since I moved to Hobbiton, and I tease him about his crush on Rosie when he begins to sigh.  Then, once Merry and Pippin find us, our quartet moves over to the dancing and we all cheer when they bring the fiddles out.

I must admit things get a little blurry after that but even tipsy as I am, I notice the dragon diving at us all.  Though I’m drunk enough that I find it more gorgeous than terrifying and I have to wonder if Smaug looked anything like that.  So I'm actually almost disappointed when it explodes into a brilliant burst of fireworks even if the sight is quite beautiful.

But I cannot be too introspective as the party continues on around me and I am feeling quite content by the time the speeches roll around.  Because of course there are speeches, it's practically required, although I am a bit surprised when Kíli steps up first.

For all his friendliness, Dad has never been that fond of public speaking - often joking that we hobbits have too many rules about what's acceptable and he's afraid that he'll give some nice old hobbitess a heart attack.  However, on this occasion he seems determined to make his feelings known and my eyes are tearing up by the time he finishes.

“You should all know by now that I'm not very good at this."  Kíli says to a wave of drunken laughter.  "But tonight I'm going to try to give you the speech that you deserve. Because I want to thank you for everything you've done over these last decades, welcoming me into your hearts and homes. You have no idea how much it means to call you all my family after being cast out of Erebor and I never thought that I would get this chance. I never thought that Bilbo and I would be granted the joy of a child to call our own and while I am sorry for the circumstances, I have never regretted being here to see the person he's become.

“And now it's time for my husband and I to return home for a while, leaving Bag End in our son's capable hands. Please treat him with the same love and care that you always have before and remember us while we are gone. Now, eat and drink and help us celebrate Frodo's majority.”

I smile at him then and I know that I am beaming, even if I cannot begin to put my thoughts in words.  All I know is that my heart is near to bursting and when Dad hops off the stage to hug me, I have to hug him back.  My face is squashed against his shoulder since he's still taller than me and probably always will be, but I don't really mind right now.  I'm too busy trying to burn this moment into my memory so that I do not forget my father's solid strength after he's gone.

However, I eventually do remember that half the Shire is watching this and I shove Kíli away with an embarrassed squeak.  Thankfully he doesn't seem to mind the rejection and despite my burning cheeks, I relent enough to give Bilbo a quick hug as well.

Then the music picks up, Lilabelle pulls me into another dance and I lose track of my fathers in all the fuss.  So I don't realize that they've left until hours later when my friends drop me off on my porch, none of us walking in straight lines anymore.  But as soon as I step into Bag End, I can feel the difference, a sense of emptiness that sobers me up immediately.

It's the little things: Kíli's bow gone from the mantel, Bilbo's favorite walking stick no longer by the door, and of course the silence where there was always life before.  Though I don't see the ring until I trip over it and it's strange that something so small can make my balance twist like that.

But why shouldn't it when its presence confirms the loss that I've been feeling, my fathers gone from Bag End for good?  Because Bilbo never would have left his ring here unless he meant it as my legacy and my heart is heavy when I bend to pick it up.  As beautiful as it is, I have little need for jewelry in the Shire and I would take my family over this trinket any day, so I really can’t understand Gandalf’s twitchiness when I mention it to him.  In truth, I almost forget about the ring once it's back up on the mantel, only bringing it down when the loneliness threatens to overwhelm my heart.

I don't blame my fathers for leaving but that doesn't stop me from missing them and I often wonder what they're up to now.  On those nights I sit in my favorite chair by the fire, running my fingers across the smooth metal and dreaming of dwarven kingdoms far away until the ache in my chest disappears.

Though really I am happy for the most part and it's not as if the days have stopped turning now that Kíli and Bilbo are gone.  Dad's students still meet every week for practice and friendly competitions and while I rarely win these, I do well enough.  Merry and Pippin are still incorrigible, getting into far more trouble than hobbits their age should and I am dragged along for the ride more often than not.  Even Lobelia stops by from time to time to ask how I am, though privately I think she just wants to ensure that I haven't ruined my hobbit hole somehow, and after several years of this, I can almost understand why Bilbo enjoyed her company.

It's not as if she ever finds anything to grumble about since Mr. Gamgee still tends to the garden and any repairs I need, though Sam has started doing much of the harder work.  Really, I'm completely spoiled now; my fathers left me enough money that I can survive without working and renting out Kíli's smithy to passing dwarves adds enough for minor luxuries.

So I read and study and go for long walks around the Shire, sometimes alone and sometimes with this year's paramour.  Nothing serious, not yet anyway, but I quite like kissing hobbitesses and tumbling them in the grass and we always part as friends once the romance fades.

Merry and Pippin like to tease me about my many lovers but even if I'm waiting to meet the one I want to marry, I see no reason to wait alone.  I'm going to enjoy myself until someone captures my heart as completely as my fathers are bound together and if that day never comes, that will be all right as well.  Because I am happy on my own - my friends and assorted hobbies keep me quite entertained - and I don't need romance to make my life complete.  I would like to have it someday and I will seize the chance should it arise but I am not the sort to pine over things that might not be.

Besides, my persistent bachelorhood drives the older hobbitesses crazy - all but Lobelia who seems to be hoping that I'll die alone and childless - and I enjoy their attempts to set me up with every lass around.

Thus life is good, full and rich and beautiful, and I have no complaints about the road my feet are on.

---

But then, over a decade after my fathers left Bag End to me, Bilbo's Ring changes everything.  Or maybe I should blame the change on Gandalf since the wizard blows into my life like a winter storm on that fateful evening and I never could have guessed how his arrival would alter my destiny.

In truth, his news seems impossible even as he tells it for evil sorcerers and their wicked creations should only exist in bedtime stories and ancient fairytales, but the wizard's voice wavers as I have never heard before.  There must be something truly awful happening to put that horror in Gandalf's eyes and no matter how much I want to, I cannot doubt the words he speaks.  It may be impossible but it is true, and when that fiery script appears on Bilbo's ring, something in my heart quails.

I am just a hobbit; I have no experience with magic such as this and although I am not proud of it, I almost beg the wizard to take this burden off my hands.  Surely he would be a better choice to stop the Ring from returning to its Master since I have never even held a blade with any ill intent.  What is my hunting bow against an army?  What chance could I have?

And yet, I have more knowledge of fighting than Father did when he began his quest and he never allowed fear to stay his hand.  Bilbo faced down a dragon alone and unaided and even if he was not the one to kill it, there was bravery in that.  For Bard could never have made his shot with Smaug still in the mountain and neither of my fathers fled when there was a battle to be fought.  Whatever doubts they may have had, whatever terror was running through their veins in that moment, they stood strong together and did what must be done.

So I hold my tongue instead of running; I swallow down the cowardice and ask the wizard what he thinks I should do.  I may not be the best option and I'm certainly not the bravest, but Gandalf would not have asked me if there were any other choice.

Someone must stop this Sauron from destroying everything that I hold dear and while turning a blind eye to the future might have been comforting in its denial, it would not keep the Shire safe.  So I may not be a fighter, I may not be a hero, but I am my fathers' son and I will fight to protect the home that they built for me.

I only hope that my parents, all of my parents, would be proud of me.


Finis