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A Husband's Choice

After far, far too long, this series is finally complete.

Title: A Husband's Choice
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, mentions of others
Word Count: 9507
Disclaimer: Like I own this.
Summary: Somehow Bilbo never expected to get old.

I never truly expected to get old.

It sounds rather foolish now since every mortal is born knowing that we live on borrowed time; we are all racing toward our own destruction and all that matters is what we do along the way. Yet somehow that future always seemed so distant, and I was too busy living to notice when this changed. Because I was in love and I was happy and Kíli always looked at me like I was the most beautiful treasure that he had ever seen. He still does even now that my hair is white and my hands are wrinkled so I sometimes wonder what I've done to deserve a love like this.

Sure we've had our rough patches and there are times when I want to strangle the stubborn bastard, but I have never regretted making the choice I did.

The only thing I regret is how much pain our relationship caused Kíli when his family turned against him and I wanted to kill his brother every time my husband’s smile dimmed in memory. For as happy as the archer was in Hobbiton – and he fit in better than I had ever dreamed he would – Kíli could not stop the thought of Fíli from blindsiding him sometimes.

Those sad smiles made my heart ache and that’s why I volunteered to write to his brother when Mingal arrived. The raven would not leave without a message, one that Kíli could not give him, but there was no reason that a note from me should be seen as an apology.

If anything my letters were rather more pointed, because I wanted the dwarf king to feel guilty for everything that he had put Kíli through. I wanted Fíli to understand how much he hurt his brother with his stubborn pride and prejudice and I prayed that he would change his mind one day. Because it was my husband’s family that had carved those scars on his heart and it would have been easy to hate Fíli more than I have ever hated anyone.

Yet, despite everything, I couldn't really hate the dwarf king because in one sense he was right. Loving me was going to hurt his brother; my death would shatter Kíli, and from what little I knew of dwarven politics, he could not have married me in Erebor.

Fíli was right and yet he was an idiot because he refused to consider Kíli's wishes in his stance. For we are all of us shaped by our choices; our lives are only worthwhile if built by our own hands.

I had learned this truth after my parents died as every distant relative for leagues around suddenly swarmed into Hobbiton to control my life for me. No one bothered to ask me what I wanted; they just sat down to plan out my future in excruciating detail, for they were certain that they knew what was right for me. They were utterly convinced that my dreams could be no different than their own.

If not for Menegilda, I probably would have ended up much like Kíli, burying my own desires to become the hobbit that my relatives wanted me to be. I would have settled for a vague sense of contentment, married Lobelia when she asked me, and died knowing that I’d never truly loved.

But the old hobbitess had protected me from my other relatives, both those with greedy fingers and those with the best of bad intentions in their hearts. She had saved Bag End and saved my independence so I was forever grateful for the intervention, though even Menegilda could not save me from my loneliness. It took a wizard, a company of dwarves and a most unexpected romance in order to do that.

I couldn’t tell you why exactly I decided to join Thorin’s company on their journey after most of the dwarves had been so rude to me. Maybe it was because I had seen a mirror of my own loneliness in Kíli's eyes, a hint of restless dissatisfaction after the other dwarves had left Bag End behind. Or maybe it was his earnestness as the archer tried to convince me to come with them, his honest faith that I was braver than I'd thought.

So while I made no promises that evening, when I woke up the next morning I could not bear the thought of letting this opportunity slip away from me. I could not bear the thought of another fifty years of isolation when an adventure sat at my fingertips and thus I found myself chasing after Thorin's company.

Yet loneliness is no foundation for a relationship, not one that will last for more than the flicker of a candle, and if not for Kíli's kindness, I might still have turned away. But when the other dwarves continued to look down upon my efforts, the archer went out of his way to ease my transition into the wild world around us; he was kind and gentle despite his martial prowess and I could not have stopped myself from falling for that heart.

However, my long years of solitude had not left me unaffected and with my growing feelings for the archer came a wave of doubt. Kíli was everything that I had ever dreamed of, when I had dared to dream at all, and I could not believe that he would want me in return. Not when he was a prince and I was just Bilbo Baggins: middle-aged and a little odd at heart.

So I stayed silent until Kíli finally kissed me and even then I tried to leave the dwarf a way to bow out gracefully. For surely this was only an infatuation, a fleeting crush brought on by close quarters and the danger that we faced every day.

These doubts left me vulnerable to Fíli's manipulations and while I truly do not hate the dwarf for trying to separate us, I do not know if I will ever forgive him for telling me the truth. I did not want to know that I was dooming Kíli to live out his years in sorrow – I still don’t want to know that – and in my weakness, I tried to break it off.

I told Kíli that we could no longer be together, ignoring my dwarf's heartbroken protests and fleeing before he could see the sorrow in my eyes. I told myself that he would be better off without me even though seeing his misery was akin to carving out my heart and I wept that night as though I were already dead. But no matter how much it hurt I held tight to Fíli's promise that his brother would find someone else to love again; someone who was more acceptable to his family and would not die when Kíli was in his prime.

Thus I avoided the archer when every inch of me cried out for his kisses and I dreamed of the lazy hours that we had spent in Beorn's hall. I refused to listen when he tried to speak with me and if spiders had not attacked our company, I might never have returned to his embrace where I belonged.

But they did attack and I had never been more terrified than I was when Kíli crumpled to the ground. Not for myself, although my heart had started pounding as those monsters dropped upon us; I was terrified that my dwarf would die thinking that I did not love him and how was I supposed to live with that?

This awful possibility gave me the courage I needed in order to fight the creatures and I used my ring to lure them into the ambush in which Sting earned its name. When all our enemies had fallen, I cut my dwarf free from his bindings, and this time I listened when Kíli tried to change my mind again. I listened and I realized the damage I had done.

In my attempt to protect my beloved from future heartache, I had stolen the archer's choices from him just as my relatives had tried so hard to do to me. I had allowed my fears to hurt him when all I wanted was for Kíli to be happy and yet he was the one who was begging for me to understand. My dwarf was asking for my forgiveness when I should have been apologizing for the pain that I had caused and I would not make the same mistake again.

Because I loved him and I did not deserve him and I could not throw away this second chance. To be perfectly honest, I still don't deserve him and I sometimes cannot believe that I almost lost Kíli to my own foolishness. But in that moment I promised myself that I would never walk away and this is a promise that I've kept through every obstacle.

Starting with Fíli and his stupid, stubborn, unyielding prejudice. The elder prince only grew more bitter as Kíli and I grew closer and while I tried to talk to him when the company was imprisoned in Thranduil's dungeons, I could not make the dwarf understand.

Even though he clearly knew that he was losing Kíli with his bigotry, Fíli would not listen to my arguments; the prince could not find it in himself to bend and so he just kept spewing bile laced with grief.

Neither dwarf was able to cross the divide of tradition despite the love that they still held for each other and it was this love that hurt them because only those we care about can slice our hearts so deep. If he did not care then Fíli would not have looked so sad when he banished his brother and his sorrow made me think I had a hope of changing him.

So I wrote the dwarf king message after message with my husband's blessing and as the decades passed in silence, I stopped expecting a reply. But it made me feel better to think that Kíli still had a connection to his former life even as we made a place for ourselves in Hobbiton.

We created something beautiful between us, a home and family where there had been only loneliness before. Suddenly Bag End was filled with love and laughter instead of grief-tinged memory and I could not imagine how I had ever thought myself content without Kíli at my side. So even when we were fighting – and there were times I wondered if we’d ever speak again – the hobbit hole felt far too empty when my dwarf was not around.

For Kíli lived inside my heart now; our lives were twined together as we had promised at our wedding and I could not carve him out. I could not dream of wanting to and it did not surprise me when my husband charmed the rest of Hobbiton as easily as he’d swept me off my feet.

In truth, the only person who was able to resist his dimples was Lobelia, the young hobbitess scowling at Kíli every time he greeted her. But as the years passed, I started to believe that her dislike was more affectation than reality since there was no way that she could have failed to learn my husband’s name after all that time. Lobelia’s sharp intelligence was the main reason that we got along so well, mutual dislike transmuted to a strange sort of friendship, and yet the hobbitess called Kíli “Dwarf” for sixty years.

Thankfully, my husband found her snark more amusing than insulting, and he would show himself out gracefully whenever she came to tea. The archer never lacked for friends with whom to spend those hours; when no one was visiting from Erebor, he simply hung out with his students or played with my young cousins from across the Brandywine.

Yet despite this wealth of company, I could still see a hint of sorrow about Kíli in quieter moments, a shadow that did not disappear until Fíli softened his position and my pseudo-correspondence turned into the real thing at last. Because my husband had sorely missed his brother and while it took time for Kíli to trust the dwarf king’s motives, I saw a change almost immediately. He was softer once Fíli had apologized, his stories losing the edge of bitterness that they had carried in the past.

This transformation was completed the day that Frodo came into our lives, for my dwarf was truly meant to be a dad. He was good with children, his kindness capturing their hearts just as it had captured mine, and my young cousin was no exception to this rule.

Frodo had always adored Kíli for his stories and his smiles and the feeling was mutual since the child was impossibly adorable. So we had often invited him into our home when his parents wanted a few hours of freedom, the lad spending many mornings careening around Bag End with Merry, Sam and Pippin on his heels. But while Frodo had always been my favorite, it was different after Drogo and Primula died.

Before we had simply been Frodo's uncles and now we were his parents; we could no longer give him back when things grew hard. Indeed, there is a responsibility to being a father that is rather terrifying, but even though I had no idea what I was suggesting when we took the fauntling in, Kíli rose to the challenge gracefully. The dwarf weathered Frodo's crying jags and screaming anger even as my own patience began to falter and together we managed to adapt to our new lives.

So how was I supposed to keep track of the years when I was busy chasing fauntlings around Hobbiton and teaching our son about elvish history? How could I notice old age creeping up on me when my husband only grew more handsome and he still kissed me with the same wondering tenderness?

Yet one morning I woke up and realized that our fauntling had turned into a fine young hobbit; he was an adult and I was suddenly feeling the hard weight of my years. I was fragile now and I knew that Kíli worried about me even though he tried to hide his fears. However, there was a hint of sorrow in his voice now when he spoke of the future; a hint of futility in his eyes whenever I dropped a dish from trembling fingers or lost a name into the mists of memory.

But my husband would not allow those fears to rule him so we rarely spoke about it and I was the one who finally brought up the idea of traveling back to Erebor. I could not allow my weakness to stop Kíli from seeing his brother any longer and perhaps being on the road would make me feel young again.

It certainly could not make me feel any older and I truly did not know whether I would live to see my home once more.

However, when my husband and I stepped out onto the porch and let our front door close behind us, I felt as though I had been reborn. For all that we were leaving behind – our son, our home, my ring and one fantastic party, this was where my heart truly lay. I was happiest in the wilds with no one but my dwarf beside me and the entire world waiting in breathless possibility.

We could go anywhere, do anything with only the whims of our own feet to guide us, and I walked through the garden gate with a little skip of happiness.

“The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

Kíli's smile was incandescent as he added his voice to my song and the music helped to overcome the twinge of loss I felt at the thought of the precious treasure on the mantel, the ring that my husband had to fight so hard to leave behind. It called to me as I strode into the evening; my ring whispered and entreated but when the starry night close around us, I did not need to answer anymore.

---

We journeyed back to Rivendell where Kíli was finally reunited with his brother and the years had been as kind to Fíli as they were rough on me. The promise of his youth had matured into an easy confidence, strength and power such as befitted the Lonely Mountain’s king.

Indeed he looked like a king and while we would probably never be close friends, I slowly discovered a new respect for my husband's family. We came to a truce of sorts, one where Fíli no longer accused me of stealing away his brother and I no longer tried to punish him for making Kíli choose. Instead we talked about our lives, the weather and all things inconsequential, and I began to see a side of the dwarf that I had not known before.

I discovered that there was more to Fíli than pride and prejudice; there was humor, laughter and his mother’s crooked grin. He had found mercy where there had been stubbornness, wisdom where he had searched for honor and a hint of Kíli's kindness where there had been only rigidity.

In truth, I almost could not believe that the dwarf had transformed so completely in the past six decades but when we finally arrived at the gates of Erebor, I understood the softness I had seen. It was Fíli's family that had changed him; his children shifting everything as they are wont to do. It was the king’s wild-eyed daughter, the youngest one who could have been his brother’s twin if she were a little older, and it was his wife, the queen’s firm gaze revealing someone who would not stand back while her husband threw his heart away.

Indeed, Helva was a force of nature to match any iron-blooded hobbitess, the dwarrowdam taking one look at our road-weary bodies and ushering us toward the gates. She actually reminded me a great deal of Menegilda and her no-nonsense attitude was just the thing to take these bloody-minded dwarves in hand. Them and me if her smile was any indication and I admit that I was rather amused when she tucked her arm in mine.

“So tell me, Bilbo. Is yours as stubborn as his brother?” Helva asked me, chuckling lightly when my eyes widened at her straightforwardness. “I swear Fíli gives me more grey hairs every day.”

“It must run in the family then,” I replied with a laugh of my own, picking up the pace a little so that we could walk in stride. “Between Kíli and Frodo I'm surprised that I didn’t go white years ago. Are all dwarrows so obstinate or did we just get the stubborn ones?”

“A bit of both, I think,” Helva mused, looking over at Fíli with a fond light in her eyes. The dwarf king was watching his children warmly as they chattered at his brother, Freyda hanging off Kíli's arm like a limpet while she babbled on. “While most dwarrows are quite sure of their own opinions, the Durins have always been a little more bull-headed than the rest. But then again, that's why we love them, isn't it?”

“I suppose it is,” I told her and I knew that my own gaze must be just as fond when I glanced at Kíli's delighted face. “Someone has to keep their crazy plans in line.”

The queen looked at me intently for a moment and then she gave a nod of approval at whatever she had seen upon my face. “Bilbo Baggins, I do believe that we will get along just fine. You are a member of this family as much as any other and if the old guard gives you any trouble just send those fools my way.”

With this announcement of support, Helva turned us over to the crowd of dwarves waiting at the gates of Erebor – nearly every member of our company there to welcome my husband home. While we had traded messages for decades, I had not seen many of them since Kíli had been banished and any semblance of dignity quickly dissolved into chaotic glee.

We hugged and laughed and spoke over top each other like excited children even as a gaggle of dwarrowlings ran between our feet. For several of our company had started families of their own and I quickly lost track of who was who when everyone was introduced. Thimda, Draní, Selva, Heimdur – cousins, brothers, wives and sons – and while I could not have told you which was which, I was pleased to see them smiling. Prosperity suited my dear old friends; they looked comfortable and happy and I knew then that all our struggles had been worth the pain.

I had wondered sometimes if Erebor was worth everything that it cost Kíli even if our quest had given me the life of which I’d dreamed. But upon seeing what our friends had built from the ashes of Thorin’s treasure madness, I could not wonder anymore.

We had restored the home of an entire people and that was something of which I could be proud, even if some of Fíli's people didn't deserve the help. For while most of the Sigin-tarâg took my relationship with their prince in stride, some of the older nobles reacted as though we were diseased. The dwarves scoffed at us, stared and whispered behind Kíli's back, but I could have ignored the sneering if they hadn't dared to insult my husband right in front of me.

One sour old bigot told Fíli that his pansy, worthless, hobbit-fucker of a brother should be sent back into exile where I could hear him and after that, well, the war was on. So I took the opportunity to sharpen my tongue on anyone who dared to cross me and I quickly discovered that the most skilled couriers in Erebor were nothing compared to the kind of verbal sparring that I engaged in over tea.

Truthfully I probably should have taken pity on their floundering but I've always had a vengeful streak and working them into a frothing rage was so very fun. Kíli and I made a competition of it after the first few weeks, the two of us trying to drive the bastards into apoplectic silence as fast as we could.

My record was ten seconds – years of sparring with Lobelia having honed my words to deadly sharpness – and I quickly drew ahead of my husband in our game. It was almost too easy to rile our detractors, proud warriors turning to cowards beneath my tongue, and I needed a more difficult challenge from time to time. So I would join Fíli in his throne room when boredom struck me, even Thranduil learning to be wary when I grinned at him that way. But I had to do something to repay my brother-in-law for his hospitality and I quite enjoyed making mincemeat of Fíli's adversaries.

However, I spent most of my time with friends and family, exploring Erebor with my nieces and helping Helva with her darning on quieter afternoons. There was always work to be done, even for royalty, and the queen was a fair hand with embroidery and needles both.

In truth, these were rather necessary skills considering the sort of trouble that Freyda liked to get into and so the dwarrowdam was always pleased to have another set of hands. We would trade tales over our sewing while Kíli wandered down to Dale to tests his skills against Bard's arrows, the two of us sitting by the window to catch the warm summer breeze.

We spoke of many things – our dreams, our children, the charming fools we called our husbands – and I still consider Helva to be one of my dearest friends. For she is strong and sweet and funny and I understood why Fíli adored her to the bottom of his heart.

Although the dwarf king loved with a quieter passion than his brother, it was no less recognizable for its subtlety and Helva returned his fond glances with smiles of her own. The couple fit together as well as any I had seen, the dwarrowdam's quiet practicality helping to balance out her husband's grander dreams. So between the two of them, the Sigin-tarâg would be in good hands and my nephew Jilí was well-prepared to take the throne once they were gone.

The young dwarf prince was much more serious than his sisters for that first flush of adulthood still sat somewhat awkwardly on his shoulders, but he was no less delightful in his own way. One simply had to treat his pride with gentleness and Jilí blossomed with enthusiasm about every aspect of the kingdom that would be his one day.

To be honest, I was never sure how the prince managed to sound so excited about mining rights and water treaties, but that is exactly why he would be a good king when the mantel came to him. So I answered his questions happily, teaching the lad what diplomatic tricks I could to ease his way in the future, just as I taught Frísa to crochet lace doilies and my husband helped Freyda with her archery.

Those were good days, happy days, and while Erebor would never truly be my home, it came closer than I ever thought it would. Kíli and I were comfortable here and in another life, I might have lived out my days beneath the Lonely Mountain with my husband's kin.

But we are only given one chance to choose our futures and one morning I look into the mirror to see an ancient staring back at me. Snow white-hair crowns a maze of lines and wrinkles that I do not recognize and I know then that I cannot stay. Whatever years I have left in the world, however many the Valar choose to grant me, I do not want to spend them here. I want to see my son again before the darkness takes me and go to Yavanna surrounded by the ones I love.

So while I try to phrase the thought more gently when I ask Kíli if he is ready to return to the Shire, I know my husband understands the truth by the sorrow in his eyes. Yet what is love but to allow each other to hold onto our illusions? For I know neither of us will ever speak the words aloud.

Instead we begin to plan our journey westward, Fíli more than willing to give us anything that we might need. Because my brother-in-law has become rather protective of me over the last years, perhaps a bit over-protective considering that the dwarf will not hear of us traveling alone.

Not that I can truly blame him for his caution when there have been rumors of raiders in the Southlands, whispers of orcs in Mordor and we have not seen a messenger from Moria in quite some time. However, while I do not mind the thought of company, our plans alter somewhat when Elrond summons his allies to Rivendell and the King Under the Mountain decides to send a delegation to answer the elf lord's call.

Suddenly it is a much larger expedition heading out from Erebor, Glóin and his son Gimli chosen to lead the company while my husband and I just tag along. Although our leave-taking is no less celebrated for the added urgency of their mission, the entire kingdom standing by the gates to wish our group farewell. This time Kíli and I are sent off like heroes instead of criminals and as much as I wish to return to my homeland, the parting is bittersweet.

“Goodbye my dear,” I murmur, wrapping Frísa in a tight hug before we go. “Keep practicing what I showed you and your wedding lace will be the most gorgeous that this kingdom has ever seen.”

Even Jilí unbends enough to embrace me, dropping his need to be proper in exchange for a real goodbye, and I am truly sorry that I won't be there to see the young dwarf become king. But I find some solace in the thought that my husband will be able to return to Erebor once I am fallen, his family here to help him through the pain.

So while I had worried slightly about the reception we would receive, it is good that we came back to the Lonely Mountain; it is good that my husband's most recent memory of his brother will be of Fíli's smile, not of pain and grief.

Thus my heart is light as our new company sets out to a chorus of waves and cheers, a familiar road stretching before us over the coming weeks. Although the trip is shorter than it was in the past since Fíli sent us off with extra mounts and strong young things to spare us the heavy lifting that comes with making camp. I must admit my old bones appreciate having minions around to chop fire wood and help Kíli with the hunting even as I guard our cooking pot religiously. Dwarven warriors may be good for many things but fine dining isn't one of them and I prefer my stew well-spiced.

But they soon learn not to interrupt me when I'm cooking and so our journey passes in relative comfort until we ride through the gates of Rivendell once more. Elrond's house never seems to change even though it has been more than seventy years since I first walked through its high archway and the familiar sight is comforting given the dark rumors that we've heard.

Surely nothing could ever threaten Rivendell's serenity, but when our host comes to greet us, there is clearly something weighing on his mind. Something has put shadows in his eyes and worry lines on his forehead, although I do not have the chance to ask what it may be.

Truthfully, Elrond barely speaks to me or Kíli during our first few days beneath his roof – the two of us resting and resupplying before we travel on. We will leave Glóin, Gimli, and the other warriors here since they have other duties and the eastern road from Rivendell is hardly dangerous anymore. After all, I may be old but I still have a sting to offer unwary enemies and Kíli is more than capable of handling any stray goblin that runs across our path.

So I'm in the kitchens overseeing our journey rations when a great hue and cry goes up in the courtyard, my husband hurtling through the doorway moments later with panic strewn across his face.

“Bilbo! It's Frodo,” the dwarf gasps out and that's all I need to hear to leave my planning in the dust.

I follow my husband as he races through the halls of Rivendell and when we reach the courtyard, I see our son in the arms of an elf maiden, cold and limp and far too still. It's all I can do to hold myself back as Lord Elrond takes Frodo from his daughter and carries him to the healer's hall, but I know that we'd only get in the way right now.

Instead Kíli and I huddle in the corner, holding on to each other tightly and watching as the elf tries to save our child's life. Tries and Yavanna's grace succeeds, though the chances seem slimmer with every day that passes by. For the shard of Morgul blade lodged in his shoulder resists all of Elrond's attempts to remove it and no matter what he does, Frodo will not wake.

While we wait for a change and pray for a miracle, Kíli and I find ourselves lost in memories. A lifetime of misadventures tossed back and forth as we sit by Frodo's bedside, laughing about all the trouble that our son and his cousins used to get into.

Trouble and sweet moments both since Frodo has always been a gentle soul at heart. That's one reason why it hurts so much to see him laid low with injury, because my son has never been the kind to seek a fight. Although he is as skilled with bow and blade as Kíli could make him, Frodo prefers to win battles with words instead of weapons – he takes after me in that – and he should have been back home where he belongs. But my husband and I taught our son to face life's challenges without flinching so I cannot be too surprised that he volunteered to carry my old ring to the elf lord's hall.

If only I could see it. Just a little glimpse would surely ease my worries and I need the comfort now; I always need it because I still can't think of that shining treasure without a hint of avarice. I may have buried it deep, drowned the greed in love and family, but that doesn't mean it's gone. Yet I would have given up my ring twice over for the life that I've been granted and I offer a prayer to the Valar when Frodo finally opens his eyes again.

It takes three days for Elrond to work this miracle, though even he cannot heal the wound entirely. But my son is alive and the only thing that really matters is the way he smiles when he sees his fathers there.

The elves leave us to our reunion as soon as Elrond is sure that Frodo's on the mend – half politeness and half annoyance with our cacophony if I had to make a guess. For we are all speaking over top one another as we trade tales of all that's happened in the last decade and the noise only increases when his cousins arrive.

Merry, Sam, and Pippin blow into the room like a hurricane, only Kíli's firm glare stopping them from jumping on the bed. However, even my husband cannot stop them from talking – in truth, I believe nothing is strong enough for that.

Yet their excitement eventually eases enough for something resembling an actual conversation, the young hobbits wrangled into a neat line by the bed. Between the three of them and Frodo's interjections, we piece together the whole story and Gandalf is going to get a piece of my mind when I see him next. I don't care if he was captured by Sauron himself, the wizard was supposed to take care of my child not send him off on a mad quest of his own, and I fully intend to talk to this Aragorn as well.

Although threats will have to wait until Elrond's council has finished its discussion because the fate of the world suddenly turns on a scrap of gleaming gold. It's such a little thing to cause this much furor and I hold onto my husband's hand tightly as the meeting dissolves into squabbling.

But Kíli and I stay out of the discussion, only my dwarf's firm grip keeping me from lunging toward my prize. It's so much harder to resist the ring with it glowing there before me, but I can be strong with my dwarf at my side. In truth, both of us take comfort from the contact because my husband hates being left on the sidelines while those he loves are sent to fight. Yet I know that he won't leave me to take part in this mad venture, not even when Frodo volunteers again.

Our days of adventuring are done now, the days of questing past, and I do not think that Kíli minds this fact. While he probably should resent me given the way my frailty restrains his options, my dwarf has never been one for regrets of that kind.

Instead we focus on preparing our son for the struggles he will face on this journey, kitting Frodo out as best we can. Which, I must say, is pretty good for an old hobbit and the dwarf prince who followed him home all those years ago.

So with Frodo armored in mithril and wielding Sting against his enemies, I will able to rest a little easier when we say farewell. Though I still do a bit of my own threatening before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, taking Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf aside and letting them know exactly what I think of people who let my relatives get hurt needlessly.

After all, I may be old but I’m not dead and I am pleased to see that they look suitably chastised when I’m done with them. For anyone who believes that hobbits can’t be scary has obviously never seen Lobelia in one of her high dudgeons or a mother scolding a son for his stupidity.

Boromir in particular seems to take my words to heart, swearing that he will do his best to bring my children back to me, children because I could hardly leave the other hobbits out of my threatening. Sometimes I think Pippin barely has two wits to rub together and Merry isn’t always enough to keep him from foolishness. But with Gondor’s scion on the task, I need not rely on fate alone to look after my hobbits and I find that I trust the young man’s promises.

Particularly since I know that Kíli has been doing some threatening of his own in these last hours and my husband can be quite terrifying when he wants to be. He simply channels his relatives – mirroring the mad light of Thorin’s eyes when the gold sickness took him or the way that Fíli spins his daggers gleefully – and more than one hardened warrior has fainted at the sight.

Thus, when the Fellowship of the Ring is finally ready to depart, I am content in the knowledge that we’ve done everything we can. I have faith in my son and I have faith in his friends so my heart only twinges slightly as they ride away.

Though my husband and I still watch the horizon long after Frodo has disappeared from sight behind the trees, only the setting sun driving us back into Rivendell.

---

Waiting has never been my favorite part of life. But I suppose old age is when the world teaches patience and there’s nothing else to do right now. All Kíli and I can do is wait for news and try not to worry, something that I manage better than my husband does.

For I have my book to distract me, our love story finally set forth in written word. I’ve been thinking about writing the tale for quite a while, ever since I first read the versions of our quest housed in Erebor’s library. They made the journey seem so epic, so grand and justified, and that’s not how I remember things at all. Sure there were moments of beauty and of honor, but I spent most of the quest running for my life and fauntlings should know what an adventure’s really like before they step out of their doors. They should know what they're getting into so that they can be prepared.

I am writing a hobbit’s tale, not that of a grand warrior, although I have left out some things that aren’t fit for younger eyes. This story already contains enough violence without going into detail about every single battle and some parts of my relationship are no one's business but my own.

But even cutting out the more risqué moments and all that unnecessary bleeding, there's enough left to fill a slim book of verse. So this project keeps me busy through the long months of waiting and I like the idea of leaving something behind when I die. A tale to be passed down in myth and history long after I am gone; although if my son succeeds in his endeavor, our family name will never be forgotten through all the vagaries of history.

If he succeeds, and I seem to be the sole person who still believes that his victory is certain as the months start to drag on. Even my husband is losing faith, not because he doesn't trust our son, but because he has far more faith in the ability of the world to crush everything he loves.

However, Kíli has gotten better since I first met him and so my dwarf doesn't spend every hour lost to fretting as he might have in the past. Instead he strikes up a friendship of sorts with Elrond's daughter, running interference between Arwen and the elf lord when their arguments grow fierce and in return she shows him the hidden corners of her father's world. There are secret bowers tucked beneath the falls of water, grottoes shaped from living wood where two lovers might escape from knowing eyes for a time.

Which is a good thing because my dwarf and I have grown slightly more discreet since the last time we stayed in Rivendell and we are already imposing enough on Elrond's hospitality.

But on most days my husband and I stick to the more public gardens, Kíli sprawled out next to me as I work on the next section of my book. He says that his naps are better when I read aloud and I can hardly argue with him considering how quickly my husband drifts off into dreams.

Perhaps I should try his method some time since my own sleep has been troubled lately and I'm not the only one who's been writing our story down. While the archer's account is certainly not meant for public eyes, Kíli has shown me some of the more flattering highlights and the sweeter ones as well. But even though it's nice to know that I'm still capable of blushing under the right circumstance, that's not why I urge him to go on.

Writing seems to ease my husband's worries, the mess of doubts that he carries flowing out onto the paper and leaving peace behind. It keeps him functional when he might have been tearing his beard out with frustration and I'm rather glad that Kíli still has hair by the time we receive word that Frodo is alive.

Our son did the impossible as I always knew he would and when he finally returns to Rivendell, I run forward to wrap him in my arms. He may be worn and tired, his quest taking a finger and leaving shadows in his eyes, but he is alive for me to hold and that is all that matters now. So I pull Frodo in closer as Kíli joins our huddle, my husband enfolding his family into a warm embrace and for a moment everything is right with the world again.

However, Sauron was not without his allies and even as the kingdoms of men and elves and dwarves celebrate Frodo's victory, the armies of Saruman fall upon our home.

It is one of Mingal's children who brings the message, our first raven having long since gone to Aulë's keeping and his family released from our service when Kíli returned to Erebor. But several of his descendants chose to settle in Hobbiton and Khirühith knows that my husband would want to hear this news.

Although, in truth, none of us want to hear that our beloved home has been conquered, green fields trampled into a mire of blood and mud and needless slaughter. For Saruman's armies had swept over the Shire without mercy or a hint of warning and whole families had been lost without a fight.

This knowledge burns within me, my heart breaking with grief and helpless anger at the fact that I can do nothing to help the home I care about. My husband and son may be safe in Rivendell, but my family is scattered all across the Shire and I do not even know who survives. Yet I know that I would not be of any use in a war, not anymore, and Kíli still won't leave my side to fight. Instead all we can do is wait as those we love march into battle, dreading the moment that Khirühith arrives to say we lost.

But even though my nephew Lotho has sided with the wizard, the lad proving himself as wicked as I always feared he would; even though scores of my friends lie dead and bleeding, the information that trickles in from Hobbiton gives me hope as well.

For my husband's students have not stood by idly while their lives are threatened and they rally the rest of the Shire in the defense of our home. After all, we hobbits may be small but we can be ferocious when given the right cause and there is no better cause then this. So I'm not surprised when I learn that Lobelia is leading the charge against Saruman, her sharp mind turned to different tactics and even imprisonment doesn't slow her down.

Indeed she is at the head of the militia that finally strikes down the wizard, one last battle before the war is finally won. At last there's peace again where there had been only conflict and my family can finally go home once more.

We return to the Shire several weeks after Khirühith brings us news of victory, saying farewell to Elrond and all his people after thanking him for his extended hospitality. Frodo and the others have already ridden on ahead to check on friends and family, but these old bones move slower than I want to admit. However, while I know that I won't be much help with the rebuilding, I am tired of being unable to help.

I want to prove that I am still worth something and I desperately want to see Bag End again. For somehow the smial survived even as other hobbit holes were burned to ashes, though my son warns me that there are scorch marks on the walls. Yet these scars will show what we Baggineses are capable of surviving when the world throws us tragedy.

What all hobbits are capable of doing when necessary, my heart swelling with love for my people once we cross the borders into the Shire and see everyone working to rebuild our home. We are strong because we stand together, old feuds forgotten in the face of greater necessity and even Lobelia seems softer when I see her again.

“Bilbo, Kíli. It is good to see you home,” the hobbitess says and for the first time in my memory, her smile holds no lies. So I climb down from my pony carefully, reaching out to hug my cousin and murmuring an apology for leaving her to fight alone.

“It doesn't matter. You were needed by your family and there is no shame in that,” Lobelia says with a shake of her hand. It's weird to see my cousin look so subdued and I find I do not like it, but before I can worry too much a mischievous glint appears in her eyes again. “Besides, your husband's students turned out to be less useless than I expected, so I suppose I can forgive your late arrival and we need all the help that we can we get right now. Are you ready to get your hands dirty, Master Dwarf? I know how much you enjoy grubbing around.”

There's the Lobelia I know and love and she's just the person to take charge of the rebuilding, organizing work parties and aid for those who had lost everything to Saruman. Indeed, the wizard left his mark on the Shire in a way that will probably never be wiped clean; he had killed and burned and slaughtered and he had tainted the very land itself to build his foul machines.

But we hobbits know the earth and with time we begin to cleanse the worst of the damage from our fields and forests even as my husband turns his expertise to stone and wood instead. Kíli throws himself into the rebuilding with fervor, the dwarf needing to feel useful after spending so long on the sidelines of Middle Earth's most recent battles, and a score of new hobbit holes come to life beneath his hands. They are masterworks and while my husband could not have built them alone, I have never seen him look as proud of any of his creations as he does when the last stone is laid.

Well, anything other than my wedding ring because the mithril band still makes Kíli smile softly every time that he sees it on my hand.

In contrast, I am of little use in the more physical aspects of rebuilding given the way that my body aches these days, but even an old hobbit can still find ways to help. Because homes were not the only things destroyed by the wizard's fire and I cannot let the knowledge of our history be lost.

There are stories that only hobbits know, myth and tales passed down through the centuries, and they are all the more valuable for the short lives that we live. So I collect these legends, writing down the stories that my mother used to tell me and gathering tales from the other elders when I can. From an old Brandybuck I learn another version of the Founding of the Shire, from an old Boffins I gain the myth of the Old Forest’s Sorrow, and everyone knows the true story of how Yavanna courted Aulë

Though even with the help of Frodo and several other scholarly-minded relatives, these stories will take months to transcribe, particularly when I’ve also asked our friends to bring us any damaged books they find. While some are beyond saving, most can at least be copied, and there is nothing like the smiles that we receive when these volumes are returned to their owners’ hands.

For most hobbits do not have libraries of the sort that you will find in Rivendell or Erebor, what we have are memories given written form. Our books contain grandmothers' secret recipes and generations of tips for growing cabbage; they are our family’s histories and triumphs and favorite drinking songs.

So with this work before me, I hardly even notice the changing of the seasons until several years have passed. That is when I finish transcribing the last of our stories, this library granted to the Thain for safekeeping, and while there will always be more to capture, my part in this is done.

There is a younger generation of hobbits to write down the new myths and legends that are springing up around us, ballads such as the Battle for the Mill Pond and the Journey of the Ring. They will keep watch over my legacy and the history of our people now that it is time for me to rest. It is time for one final journey before my old bones give out.

After all, I can hardly refuse Gandalf when he offers me a place on the last ship to Valinor, the chance to see the source of all magic even as it fades from this world of ours. There is no place on Middle Earth for elves and wizards anymore, and there is no place for Ring-bearers like Frodo and myself.

For my son’s journey changed him, the scars and shadows on his heart never quite allowing him to settle back into our home. He no longer fit into the rolling hills of the Shire after seeing half the lands of Middle Earth and while he could ignore the itch beneath his skin as long as there was work to be done, Frodo cannot handle peace. It hurts to see him dissatisfied when he still loves our home so deeply and I would take this burden from him if I could. But my long years of bearing Sauron’s weapon affected me no less even if I have been changed differently so the best that I can do is ensure that my child will not face this trip alone.

To be honest, I almost don’t want to ask Kíli if he wishes to come with us because my husband was supposed to return to his family once I was gone. He was supposed to find solace from his grief with Fíli and his nieces and the dwarf has already given up far too much for me.

But I made a promise that I would never walk away again and so if our paths are finally to separate, it must be my beloved’s choice this time.

Thus, when Frodo tells us that he has chosen to accept the wizard’s offer, I do not try to change his mind. Instead I simply turn to my husband and ask him as cheerfully as I can, “Kíli, what do you say? Want to see the land of the Valar where no mortal soul has tread?”

The selfish part of my heart rejoices when Kíli just smiles at me brilliantly, leaning down to press a kiss against my lips. Because that is an answer, the only answer that I need, and I will not do him the disservice of arguing.

So we move to planning, tying up loose ends and saying farewell to our dear friends and family. Frodo gives Bag End to Sam so that the smial will never lack for love and laughter, though I make sure to leave the Baggins’ family silver to Lobelia.

Meanwhile Kíli rides east to see his brother, the two dwarves meeting at Rivendell for one last goodbye. For, now that they had reconciled, my husband could not leave without seeing Fíli or his favorite niece one more time and when he tells me of their meeting later, the dwarf must stop to dry his eyes.

Because Freyda does not understand why her uncle is leaving, even though she promises to treasure his bow forever, and Fíli wishes that his brother did not have to follow where his heart led this time. But despite the touch of sorrow that graces our leave-taking, there is no regret on my husband’s face on the day that we set sail.

Instead there is only excitement as we say farewell to the gaggle of friends and relatives who have come to see us off. Everyone is there: Merry, Sam, Pippin and the lovely lasses that they married; Lobelia looking as happy as I've ever seen her – which means smirks, a bit of sneering and the refusal to admit she's teary-eyed. There's young Lily Proudfoot whom I once thought Frodo might marry and who proved invaluable in my transcribing work. She's brought young Edmund with her and while my son would have been the better catch, the lad is one of Kíli's best students and current captain of the Brandywine River Guard. He offers Kíli a respectful salute before my dwarf pulls him into a hug, giving Edmund a few last tips on how to keep his shooting straight.

Everywhere I look, I can see the signs of the life that my husband and I built together, my heart swelling with a proud sort of happiness. For we changed the world even if it was largely by accident and we will be leaving far more than an empty home behind.

So I am smiling as we board the ship, joining Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and the other elves on the vessel that will carry us to Valinor. Moments later the crew leaps into the rigging as easily as they dance through the treetops, although I am relatively certain that the sails are actually decorative since it's a touch of Galadriel's magic that sends us on our way.

“Any regrets, love?” Kíli asks, coming up next to me as he wraps an arm around my waist. On my other side, Frodo moves up to the railing, waving at his cousins until they disappear from sight and I know exactly what my answer is.

“Of course not, Kíli. What could I possibly have to regret about the life we've lived?” I tell my husband, linking our fingers together so that the mithril of my wedding band shines in the light. I may have carried the One Ring of Sauron for decades, but this is the piece of jewelry that truly changed my world. So I lean up to kiss the dwarf, my dwarf, and his adoring smile is still the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen.

“Together then, to new horizons and whatever waits across the sea.”


Finis