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Absolutely Still

I wrote this for a deaf Bilbo prompt that I seem to have lost completely.  So, oh well.  Hopefully other people will like it anyway.

Title: Absolutely Still
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo
Warnings: Some able-ism/ hobbits don't like the deaf.  Plus fluff and courtship and ridiculousness
Word Count: 6660
Disclaimer: If I owned the Hobbit everyone would live.
Summary: Kíli and Bilbo fall in love over tea and Iglishmêk.


Your world has always been silent but that does not mean it isn't beautiful and you hate those who looked at you with pity in their eyes. How can they think that you are broken when you do not feel incomplete?

Your mother understood that. She always loved you without hesitation and you do not remember your father as anything but kind. It was the rest of Hobbiton that troubled you – the fauntlings who tormented you as a child and the adults who sneer behind your back; they are the ones who cannot look past your so-called disability to the person underneath. Your neighbors may not hate you but their judgment makes them awful company and thus, with a few small exceptions, you live a solitary life.

You take long walks through the Shire's well-tamed woodlands and spend hours reading. You work in the garden and cook food enough for one, going to the marketplace and buying tales of far off places that you visit in your dreams.

When you must interact with other hobbits, you prefer to write instead of speaking. Your neighbors do not need more reason to look down their noses at you and you can see from their expressions that you do not pronounce the words correctly, your own voice a foreign vibration on your tongue.

Even your mother's endless patience could not teach you to match the sounds of silence, though you owe your ability to communicate to Belladonna Baggins nonetheless. She taught you to write and to read, to see the words that others speak by the movements of their lips and while she lived, you had a language of gestures all our own.

Indeed, your mother is the reason that you are able to stand proudly. She taught you to live within the world instead of sending you away to live in isolation the way that Bungo's family wished. Your mother made you strong enough to survive your parents' passing but you still miss them every day.

No one else has ever tried to see the world as you do; no one else cares to speak your language and you do not expect for this to change.

---

It is spring when you first meet Kíli and his brother, the dwarves of Ered Luin having arrived in Hobbiton to sell their skills and wares. That morning you walk to the market just as usual, nodding at those neighbors who tip their hats to you.

However, when you arrive, you find everyone crowded in the north corner of the square. The rest of the market is practically empty and you can't imagine what would draw so many hobbits when there is shopping to be done. You are curious, more curious than you've been for many years, and your nerves are jumping with the need to go and look.

But you are as much a Baggins as a Took and a Baggins never passes up the chance to get a deal.

So you ignore the crowd for now. Instead you take of advantage of the other merchants' irritation to bargain heavily. Tammy Goodfellow gives you three pounds of mushrooms for the usual price of two, Farmer Boffin is practically giving away the last of his winter squashes, and Widow Thornberry finally brings down the cost of her yarn to something reasonable.

These are only a few of your many clever bargains. By the time you've finished, you know your pantry will be bursting and your father would be proud. However, your mother's spirit also beats inside you; Belladonna gave you her curiosity and you can't leave the market without finding out what's going on.

The crowd has thinned a little now and you squeeze your way through without much trouble until you can finally see. Your first impression is of motion – whirling, spinning motion almost like a dance – and then you blink to see two dwarves instead. One blond and stout, one taller slim brunet, and both of them are smiling.

These smiles stop you in your tracks because they are as wide and bright and joyous as you wish that you could be. They look so happy, so content with themselves and their place within the world.

Indeed, the dwarves move around each other with the ease of long familiarity, tossing their goods back and forth as they chatter to the crowd. Although they are speaking too fast for you to read the words upon their lips, you are certain that their voices are as happy as their smiles, and you do not need to hear them to know their skill is true. Their craft speaks for itself in the strong lines of their knives and pitchforks, the solid horseshoes and delicate hairpins that are spread across their stall. If you had a lady love, such pins would be a fine gift to offer, and indeed, they're going fast.

You stand out of the way as your fellow hobbits conduct furious negotiations over the last dozen prizes and you're impressed that even Widow Thornberry doesn't makes the young dwarves quail. The brunet just meets her scowl with an even wider smile as he sets to bargaining.

The dwarf sends her away with two pins and an entire set of dinner forks before turning to the next customer and when he notices you watching, he winks mischievously. You find yourself blushing beneath the full force of his dimples even though you're not a fauntling to be thrown off step for long. He's just being nice to a potential customer and yet, you continue watching anyway.

You tell yourself that you have a reason. You want to ask these dwarves about repairing your great-aunt's silver candelabra and you patiently for the crowd to dissipate. It's been many years since a true smith came through the Shire so that takes almost an hour, but eventually you feel comfortable stepping to the front.

“Good morning,” the taller dwarf greets you with another blinding smile before continuing with a stream of words that you cannot quite make out. It's not just the speed; he shapes each word in a different manner than you're used to and you're sure that his voice would taste of far off lands if you could hear him now.

But you can't. You can only point to your ears and shake your head before pulling the chalk and slate out of your pockets. You always make sure to have them when you might need to write.

You expect the dwarf to look at you with pity or at least stop smiling. However, to your great surprise, the brunet simply nods and begins to sign instead. You have never seen anything like it, his fingers twisting around each other in a swift and graceful dance. His motions reminds you of the language that you created with your mother, though far more complicated, and when the dwarf looks at you expectantly, you realize that you're right.

These dwarves have a language built on gestures instead of sounds and you can only stand there gaping in utter disbelief. Before you can recover from your shock, the blond dwarf walks over and smacks his companion on the shoulder. He chides the brunet with a stream of words that you struggle to lip-read.

“Kee...” A name? “Don't be an idiot.” That much is clear. “These people don't know... their own language... Talk too fist...” Probably fast. “Is all.”

His scolding delivered, this dwarf turns to you and speaks much more sedately, the words rolling clearly off his tongue. “I apologize for my younger brother. He does not always think before he speaks. My name is Fíli and my brother here is Kíli. How can we assist you with your metalwork today?”

You should bring up your great-aunt's candelabra, the message already written and burning in your hand. But the sound that rips from your throat has nothing to do with that at all.

“Please, will you teach me?!”

The dwarves' eyes widen and you cover your mouth with your hands, mortified by your own audacity. But now that the question has been spoken, you will not take it back.

“Teach you what? Iglishmêk?” the brunet asks and you realize that the last word must be the name of the dwarf's language even as you scribble your reply.

'Yes. Your language. The signs. Will you teach me?' You hold out your slate, pleading with your eyes as you cannot with your voice. The taller dwarf shuffles awkwardly, looking over to his brother instead of answering.

“Why do you want to learn Iglishmêk?” Fíli asks. “Don't hobbits have a language of their own?”

You shake your head emphatically, wiping off your slate so that you can reply. 'We don't have anything like that. I used a few signs with my mother but nothing complicated and no one else has ever tried.'

“Why not?” the dwarf asks in clear confusion when you pause to erase your slate again.

You struggle with your answer; how can you explain a lifetime of sidelong glances in a few short lines. Eventually you settle on, 'I was born like this and most other hobbits think I'm broken. They don't want to talk to me.'

“Are they stupid?!” Kíli exclaims when he's finished reading your response. His brother smacks him on the shoulder and mutters his name with a frown. However, you find yourself warmed by the open outrage on the young dwarf's face. No one has been offended on your behalf in a long, long time.

“We'd have to ask our uncle,” the blond dwarf says, turning back to you. “We would need his permission before we could teach you anything.”

'But you'll ask?'

Fíli grins, his smile bright and cheerful, and for the first time you can see the resemblance that makes these two dwarves kin.

“We'll ask right now,” the blond dwarf tells you. Fíli turns his head and presumably says something since another dwarf walks out of the stall, wiping his hands off on a rag. You hadn't noticed him before and that's probably a good thing. This dwarf is stern while his nephews are inviting and if he had been manning the front of the stall, you would have lost your courage before you'd ever asked for help.

Even now you struggle not to quail beneath his gaze, those dark eyes noting every single detail critically. You're not the only one who stands up straighter; Fíli and Kíli practically snap to attention when their uncle starts to speak.

“Well? Who is this? I have orders to fulfill.”

“We know, Thorin. But this hobbit wants permission to study Iglishmêk.”

Their uncle's face twists, his expression an odd mix of consternation and incredulity.

“Why would you even...?” Thorin starts before glancing at you and switching to a language that you don't recognize. His nephews reply in the same language and you can't deny a twinge of jealousy. These dwarves communicate so easily, making themselves heard in whatever manner that they please. You envy their versatility. When they reach out to the world, they find their efforts answered while your attempts to bridge the gap are stymied at every turn.

And yet, for once, you seem to have people in your corner. You may not be able to read the dwarves' lips but necessity has made you skilled at interpreting expressions and Fíli and Kíli are arguing your case. They are far more passionate than you have any right to expect from total strangers who do not even know your name.

Indeed, when Thorin finally cuts his nephews off and turns to you instead, that's the subject of his first question. “What are you called, halfling? I would know exactly who I am dealing with.”

Everything about this dwarf is sharp, from his scowl to his eyes to the way he forms his vowels, and your hand shakes slightly as you scrawl 'Bilbo Baggins' on your slate.

“And why should I allow my nephews to teach you Iglishmêk, Master Baggins?” Thorin asks you flatly. “You are a hobbit not a dwarrow and my people guard our secrets carefully. What makes you worthy now?”

'Nothing,' You tell him honestly. 'I am just a hobbit. But that language is the most beautiful thing that I have seen in many years.'

The dwarf's face softens slightly at your words, though he is not ready to give in. “And what will you do with Iglishmêk if we teach you? How will you treat our masterwork?”

'I will use it,' you write, your strokes slanting across the slate with fervency. 'I will talk with my hands as I cannot with my voice and I am willing to pay handsomely for this rare privilege.'

Thorin studies you for a long moment. You can't be sure if he's judging your intentions or your gold and you shift beneath his gaze nervously.

“Fine,” the dwarf says finally. “Kíli may teach you if, and only if, it does not interfere with his other duties. You will pay him one silver coin an hour and if you ever use Iglishmêk secrets against my people, I will claim your head myself.”

'Agreed,' you scrawl before holding out your hand to seal the bargain. Thorin's grip is firm and you know he isn't someone you would ever want to cross. Thankfully, you have no intention of betraying the trust that the dwarf has shown in you.

“Thank you, uncle!” Kíli exclaims. He bounds forward to give the older dwarf a hug and then turns to you again. “Let's start now. Can we start now? Come on, I'll walk you home.”

Before you realizes what is happening, the dwarf has grabbed your basket with one hand and your elbow with the other, swinging you around and starting to walk back the way you came. He guides you out of the market and then stops, dropping your arm and handing you your basket with a slightly sheepish grin.

“Sorry about that,” Kíli says. “I hope I didn't offend you. I just wanted to get away from uncle so we could talk properly.”

The dwarf looks at you so hopefully that you can't hold back a smile even though he did just walk across half a dozen lines of Hobbitish propriety. You've never much liked all those rules about politeness anyway.

'Your uncle is a bit intimidating,' you write and when Kíli reads your note, he throws back his head and laughs.

“It's hard to take him seriously once you've seen him and my mother fighting over the last bowl of stew,” the brunet tells you once he's stopped chuckling. “But you're not the first person to think that and I didn't want Thorin's frown to scare you off. You don't have to pay me for lessons either. We can just talk to each other if you want.”

Kíli seems to be completely serious and in the face of this generosity, all you can ask is, 'Why?' This one word covers a wealth of questions but somehow the dwarf seems to understand exactly what you mean.

“Because you asked. Because most hobbits have been treating us as novelties, useful to have around but not actually real people, and I don't think you're the type to do the same. Because I want to get to know you and I see no reason why I shouldn't. I could always use another friend.”

'Fair enough. But I'm still going to pay you,' you scribble quickly. It's not as though you lack the money and you don't need any handouts, especially not ones that might harm someone else's livelihood.

“All right. If you're sure,” Kíli agrees reluctantly. “Do you want to start your lessons now?”

You do, of course, and the ensuing conversation is one of the most fascinating and frustrating that you've ever had. Fascinating because Iglishmêk truly is a language as rich as any other, signs flowing from Kíli's fingers as smoothly as the words trip off his tongue. However, you feel none of the same grace as you attempt to follow his example. Your own hands feel stiff and awkward in comparison.

It's frustrating and yet liberating because you have Kíli as an example of what you might learn with practice and he shows surprising patience with your failures. That first impression was not a lie but it wasn't the whole story either, the dwarf's initial overwhelming manner balanced by gentleness as well.

Indeed Kíli shows no signs of irritation when you mess up, 'Hello' for the fifth time. He just shows you the correct motion with a smile on his face.

“No, like this,” the brunet murmurs, reaching out to take your hand. He guides your fingers through the movements and you can't help beaming when you finally get it right. Soon you are able to sign, 'Hello, my name is Bilbo,' with a fair bit of confidence. You know you'll probably forget every word within the hour but for now you let yourself be proud and Kíli is unfailingly supportive of your accomplishments.

The dwarf doesn't treat you as though you're stupid just because you cannot hear him. He doesn't grow impatient when you miss a word or become confused by his strange accent; he just repeats himself as often as you need.

Most of all, Kíli treats you like a friend even though you're largely strangers. The brunet asks for your opinion and actually pays attention to the answers and you find yourself reluctant to say farewell when you finally reach Bag End. The conversation may be mismatched – the dwarf signs near as quickly as he speaks while you write your responses and try to practice the first words that he showed you – but it still flows far more smoothly than many that you've had.

So you linger at the door to your smial before giving in an asking, 'Would you like to have some tea?'

“Oh, I'd love to. But I should be getting back. I'll never hear the end of it if I leave Fíli and Thorin to close up shop alone. Next time, for sure; if that's all right?”

'Of course. It's an open invitation as long as you're still teaching me.'

“Thank you,” the dwarf replies. Your words seem to mean more to him than you expected. Most hobbits toss around such invitations like confetti but not you and perhaps Kíli can sense that. Or perhaps the dwarf was truly serious when he said that he wanted to be friends.

'You're welcome. Tomorrow?'

“Of course. Practice the signs I showed you and we'll see how much you remember when I come back again.”

With a wink and another flash of smile, the dwarf hops down off your porch. He heads toward the market, looking back at you and waving before he crests the hill.

You do practice that night and you study hard during the days that follow, wanting to prove that you are worthy of the lessons that the dwarves have offered you. Indeed, the expression on Thorin's face when you greet him in perfect Iglishmêk one morning is worth the time it took to get each sign just right.

Both Fíli and Thorin prove decent practice partners, the older dwarf thawing considerably once he realizes that you are studying his people's language seriously. So you chat with the other two dwarves while waiting for Kíli to finish up his chores and you always say hello when passing by their market stall. Your vocabulary is tiny at first, barely a few dozen gestures, but constant practice helps your knowledge grow by leaps and bounds. Soon you're holding actual conversations with the fluency of a fauntling and you know enough to ask Kíli how to sign the words you want.

Although you do pay the brunet for his lessons, you don't pay him for all the time you spend together; even the Baggins fortune could not have handled that. Over the course of that long summer, you explore most of Hobbiton together.

You show Kíli the beauty of your homeland and the Shire does not require sound to bring wonder to your face. You spend hours sitting by the Mill Pond and hiking beneath the dappled shade of trees. You lead the dwarf to hidden fields of wildflowers, a thousand brilliant blossoms growing thick across the meadow. You climb the hills near the great smials and marvel as the Shire spreads out in all directions, laughing and signing until the setting sun paints the sky with gold.

Suddenly, your days are full of friendship where they had been full of loneliness before. You have friends with whom you can talk about your hopes and fears and dreams and who don't get insulted when you write or sign instead of speak. Why would they be offended when they're signing back to you?

Of course, in truth, most of Hobbiton is used to you by now. You're the strange cousin that almost no one likes but they still have to tolerate and your neighbors mostly just ignore you or give you dirty looks. It's the rest of the Shire-folk who can actually be dangerous when they run into you.

You're reminded of this rather sharply towards the end of summer. You're chatting with Kíli at his market stall that morning – or rather, you're signing while he's talking since his hands are full. He's taking care of detail work on a few custom jewelry orders and there's something quite entrancing in the deft movements of his hands. Indeed, you're paying more attention to the dwarf than to your surroundings when Kíli glances up and his eyes widen suddenly.

“Hey! What are you...” is all the dwarf gets out before someone grabs your shoulder and yanks you off your feet.

You cover your head on instinct as you tumble to the ground but that leaves your body open to your attackers' boots. There are six of them surrounding you in a loose circle and while you can't hear what they're saying, you can guess the gist of it from the revulsion in their eyes.

You don't recognize their faces so they must be visiting from other reaches of the Shire, young toughs made brave by anonymity and the flush of alcohol. You're no fighter and you know it; you have no hope of holding off six hobbits who've decided that they hate you for existing. All you can do is hope that they get bored before they've inflicted too damage and you flinch when the tallest one raises a closed fist above your head.

However, before the blow can land, your attacker is halted in his tracks. Kíli is standing behind him, the dwarf's expression far angrier than you have ever seen it. He looks positively murderous, ready to rip a total stranger to shreds in your defense, and all of his stories about fighting bandits suddenly make sense. You can see this Kíli charging into battle with a bloodstained sword held high.

“Leave Bilbo alone,” the brunet growls, fingers tightening on your attacker's arm until he drops down to his knees. Any sensible hobbit would have run in the opposite direction at the murder in his eyes but the rest of your attackers move to confront the dwarf instead. However, before they can reach Kíli, Thorin appears behind his kinsmen and even these hobbits aren't mad enough to challenge him. If Kíli is angry then Thorin is simply implacable, a forge hammer lying heavy in his hands.

“You want to leave now,” the dwarf says and while the words seem innocuous enough, something in his tone makes your attackers cringe. Suddenly the other hobbits are scrambling to flee and you can only watch from the ground as the tallest yanks at Kíli's grip desperately. But the dwarf won't let him go. He just leans forward to murmur something that makes the hobbit's face go pair.

Only then does Kíli release him, making sure that your attacker is really leaving before kneeling down beside you and his eyes are gentle when he signs, 'Are you all right? You're bleeding.'

Thankfully, it's just a scratch but you're happy to have the dwarf's help in standing anyway. Your knees are shaking now that the danger's over and you probably would have fallen without Kíli's solid strength to hold you up. He leads you into the stall and cleans your scrape with careful fingers, as intent on his work now as he had been on the jewelry he was making only a few short breaths ago.

You find yourself blushing at the care he shows you; or perhaps it's the dark sweep of his lashes that makes your heart tremble helplessly. Indeed, you startle when Fíli taps your shoulder and starts signing rapidly.

'Does that happen often?' he asks, indicating the hobbits who'd attacked you. 'I know you said you were not liked but that was more than scorn. That was ---'

Fíli finishes with a sign that you don't recognize. But before you can ask for clarification, Thorin steps up behind his nephew and growls, “Dishonorable. Dishonorable and cowardly to attack you six on one.”

The dwarf is still holding his blacksmith's hammer and his hands flex on the handle as he talks. You can't tell if he's more offended by the fact that you were attacked or the manner of it, though you're certainly happy to have him on your side. Better for you than against you when he still looks murderous.

'It's not usually that bad,' you are quick to reassure them. 'Most hobbits just ignore me or talk behind my back. The Thain is a relative and he does not look kindly on anyone who tries to hurt his kin. Even kin like me.'

“It's still not right!” Kíli bursts out. “I don't want anyone to hurt you ever and it's not your fault you cannot hear. I think you're perfect as you are.”

The dwarf's expression is so earnest that you cannot doubt him and you have no idea what you could possibly say to that. You just reach out and hug him tightly, burying your head against his shoulder, and you don't even notice when Fíli nudges Thorin out of the stall again.

“Thank you,” you whisper. “Thank you for caring as you do.”

“You're welcome,” Kíli says once you finally separate. “But it truly is no hardship. You deserve to be safe and comfortable here in your own home. You deserved to be treasured for your kindness, your humor, and your curiosity, and I would give everything I have to ensure your happiness.”

The brunet leans forward and you're sure he plans to kiss you, though you're not certain whether you're excited or completely terrified. Perhaps a bit of both given how your heart is pounding and you're definitely disappointed when Kíli presses a gentle kiss to your forehead and skips your lips entirely.

'Will you wait here until we close?' he asks. 'I would worry if you walked home alone right now.'

Truthfully, you barely register the question. You're feeling too much turmoil to translate his signs that easily. But you manage to nod when the brunet keeps looking at you expectantly and Kíli kisses your forehead again before returning to the front of the stall.

I wanted him to kiss me, you think as you watch him bargain with a young hobbitess. You wanted Kíli to take you in your arms and sweep your thoughts away.

When Kíli looks back to check on you, you realize that you still want him to kiss you and you have no idea what to do with that. You've never felt this way about anyone and you can't help wondering if you've just been confused by the kindness that the dwarf has shown you; Kíli's overtures of friendship are no reason to think that he might feel the same. Honestly, the dwarf has made your life so much better just by being in it and you don't need any more.

So you resolve to say nothing until you are more certain and your dwarves give you no reason to think that this will change. For the most part your friendship continues on as usual, though the dwarves are more protective of you than they had been before.

Fíli shadows you around the market under the guise of helping with your shopping and Kíli never misses an opportunity to escort you through Hobbiton. Even Thorin keeps an eye out for your safety and while some people might fight their worry stifling, you find it sweet instead. Eventually they'll realize that such attacks are rare – proper hobbits never beat up someone who can be politely shunned instead – and you prefer to enjoy the attention while it lasts.

These dwarves have been better friends to you than your own kindred and you try not to think about the day that they must go. However, summer is fading quickly and you know that Kíli and his relatives must return home for the winter; they've already stayed much longer than traveling craftsmen tend to do.

Indeed, it's barely two weeks later when Kíli takes you aside on your way back to Bag End. He was walking you to your door as usual but this time he stops you in the garden before you can climb the porch.

'There's something I need to say,' the brunet tells you, his expression unusually serious. 'My kin and I are leaving soon, returning to the Blue Mountains once summer turns to fall, and there's something that I want to ask you first.'

This is no more than you expected but it still hurts to hear; you've tried not to think about the farewells still to come. But then Kíli continues and you can only gape at him in shock.

'I want you to come with us,' the dwarf signs. 'You can make a new life in the Blue Mountains and no one would ever treat you the way your kindred do. You already speak Iglishmêk so it should not be a difficult transition; we could even build a hobbit hole if that appeals to you.'

The offer leaves you speechless – more so than usual. It's completely unexpected and certainly not an option that you ever thought about.

'But what would I do?' you eventually sign with shaking fingers.

'Anything you want', Kíli replies. 'If you wish to study, you will find that scholars are well-respected by my people. And if you wish to travel, there are many markets where we could use a hobbit's skill at bargaining. Will you just consider it? Please?'

'I will,' you promise. That much you can't deny him and in the days that follow, it seems that think is all you do.

You cannot get Kíli's offer out of your head; on the one hand, all you've ever wanted is to explore the world around you and on the other, you've never even left the Shire before now. Indeed, the thought of leaving now is terrifying; terrifying and tempting all the same.

Traveling with Kíli would be the culmination of a hundred idle fantasies and if you were a more reckless person, you would have accepted instantly. But you are not that hobbit. You learned cautiousness the hard way and running away from your problems seems like giving up. Bag End is your home and you don't want to leave it on someone else's terms.

Why should you uproot your life just because some of your neighbors hate you? How can you trust that living with dwarves would be any better in the end?

Kíli and his kindred seem to be your friends but, in truth, you hardly know them; one gorgeous summer doesn't mean that you should throw yourself upon their charity. Indeed, you aren't sure whether it's your pride or your fear that makes the decision for you, but when the dwarf asks for your final answer, there is only one that you can give.

'I am grateful, Kíli. I truly am. But I belong in Hobbiton and I don't think I can leave it,' you sign, your heart twinging painfully when his expression falls. 'I do care about you. You are my friends and this summer has been wonderful but I... I just can't take that leap.'

'Oh, Bilbo. I understand,' the brunet tells you before pulling you into a hug. 'I just wanted you to know that you have options and I ---.'

You don't recognize the last few signs that Kíli uses but he just shakes his head when you ask him what they mean. 'We're leaving tomorrow. Will you meet me in the morning? I have a gift for you.'

You tell the dwarf that he owes you nothing; you do not need a present to keep his memory. But Kíli is insistent and so you go to meet him early the next day. All three of them are there: Kíli, Fíli and Thorin, and it hurts even more than you'd expected to be saying your farewells. Indeed, Fíli hugs you tightly and Thorin claps you on the shoulder with a real smile on his face.

“You would have been welcome,” the dwarf pronounces to your great surprise. “And you will still be welcome if you ever change your mind.”

Then it is Kíli's turn to hug you and you are tempted once again when those strong arms wrap around you, his smile more tremulous than it's ever been before. But you stay silent because nothing has changed; you still cannot throw your current life away.

'This is for you,' the dwarf signs before pulling a slim volume from his coat. When you open the book, you see page after page of signs, each drawn and labeled in a careful hand. You can't imagine how much work this took to make and you look back up at Kíli, gaping helplessly. You offer the volume back to him – you cannot accept this – but the dwarf just takes your hands instead.

“Keep it. It was my pleasure,” Kíli tells you. “I wouldn't want your Iglishmêk to get rusty while we're gone. Read it and practice and maybe you'll be as good as me when we get back.”

“You're coming back?” you breathe.

“Of course I'm coming back,” the brunet replies before letting your hands go to sign, 'I ---.'

He uses the same sign as before; you recognize the motions even though you still don't understand. But you know there's no point in asking for a translation now. So you just look at Kíli, trying to imprint every detail of his features into your memory.

But no moment lasts forever and eventually the dwarf murmurs, “I'll see you again, Bilbo. I promise.”

Kíli gives you one last hug and mounts his pony, joining Fíli and Thorin by their cart. You wave farewell as the trio ride away, standing at the crossroads until you can't see them anymore.

---

You don't miss the dwarves at first. You spend the day on chores and errands – there are a thousand tiny details that keep Bag End up and running – and you don't give yourself time to think about your missing friends.

But then you wake up the next morning and you find yourself alone. You never realized how much time you spent with Kíli and his kindred until you are trying to remember how you spent your days before. There are too many empty hours; there's too much time to fill.

You do your best. You read and walk and putter in the garden, preparing the beds for winter and planning for the spring. You even try your hand at learning elvish, an endeavor that's only slightly more successful than your attempts to butter up your neighbors with your special crumpet recipe. No one can resist your mother's crumpets but every meal is still uncomfortable and you can't help comparing their awkward smiles to Kíli's easy grins.

But even though the loneliness weighs on your shoulders heavily, you never read the book that Kíli gave you. Although you often take it out and run your hands across the cover, you cannot bear the thought of continuing your lessons now. To study Iglishmêk without the dwarf feels like admitting that your friend is really gone.

If you don't open the book then you can pretend that Kíli is just around the corner, maybe buying a few candies that he'll bring back to share. Indeed, you find yourself looking for the brunet in quiet moments, turning your head to sign and finding no one there.

However, you still can't force yourself to open Kíli's present. Not until the day that you start to sign 'Good morning' to your mirror for practice and stumble halfway through.

The thought of forgetting Iglishmêk is worse than acknowledging his absence and you take out Kíli's book that night. You find yourself smiling widely when you finally start reading. The early drawings are a little rough but that just makes them dearer in your eyes and the strokes grow more practiced as the book goes on.

From then on you spend your evenings studying and practicing, the hours slipping away as you lose yourself in pleasant memories. You still miss Kíli but somehow the loss is not as sharp now and you turn the pages slowly, wanting to savor your gift before it's gone.

Thus it's almost Yule before you reach the end of the dwarf's present and see a series of symbols that changes everything. 'Love' is written in Kíli's looping script beneath the images, the word blurring in your version as your eyes slowly fill with tears. Because you finally know what Kíli was saying right before he left the Shire and it's too late to tell him that you might feel the same. You cannot run to the Blue Mountains in the depths of winter; even if you knew exactly where to find him, this is not the time for traveling.

However, winter turns to spring and spring turns to summer and one day you walk into the marketplace to see a massive crowd again. You stop in your tracks, not daring to hope that your dear friends have come back. But then there's a flash of dark hair and you're running, your shopping basket lying forgotten on the ground.

You don't feel as though you're running from your problems, not this time. It feels as though you're running toward your future as you dash through the crowd.

Suddenly Kíli is standing there before you and the dwarf's face lights up with happiness as he sweeps you into his arms. You return his hug just as fiercely, not caring one whit about your audience. They can gossip if they want to; you don't give a damn.

Because all you can see is Kíli and you sign 'Ask me again,' when you finally pull apart. The dwarf looks a little confused by the order and you can hardly blame him, but you need the words to pass his lips. You need to know that you haven’t missed your chance completely and Kíli seems to understand when you make the signs again.

“Bilbo. Please come with me,” the dwarf says and you don't know how you ever missed the adoration in his eyes. “Travel with me to the Blue Mountains once the summer's over. We can build a life together and never be apart.”

'Yes, Kíli. I will come,' you sign with a wide smile. You tell him yes in perfect Iglishmêk and you mean the words with all your heart. 'Because I love you too.'


End