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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 17

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 17: Hadedsasekh
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: Angst, angst, angst, angst angst
Word Count: 3872 (95,421 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'                           Chapter 6: Ges                 Chapter 11: Ze'sasekh              Chapter 16: Ges-sasekh
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded             Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon              Chapter 13: Gemsasekh
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager               Chapter 14: Ramekhsasekh
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh           Chapter 15: Gamekhsasekh


Bilbo doesn't look back when he leaves the Lonely Mountain. The hobbit keeps his gaze on the road ahead as he marches into Dale, seeking out Bard and asking the man for shelter overnight.

He and Bilbo had gained a measure of friendship over the long months of winter – man and hobbit bonding over planning charts and annoying dwarven habits – and Bard is more than happy to offer his hospitality. The man gives Bilbo a bed beneath his roof and a seat at his dinner table, Sigrid, Bain, and Tilda greeting the hobbit graciously. Although Bard is clearly curious, he doesn't ask any questions about Bilbo's plans or what sent him running from the mountain suddenly.

The hobbit is grateful for his silence. His nerves still feel raw from his conversation with the dwarf king and while he's trying to block his connection to the princes, Bilbo is out of practice. Some things keep slipping through.

He knows when Fíli and Kíli realize that he's left them; Bilbo feels the exact moment that their joy turns into pain. The princes' sorrow crashes through him, smashing his walls to pieces and the breath out of his lungs. He chokes and gasps, his plate slipping from numb fingers to clatter on the floor. Bilbo has ripped their hearts out – he can feel the gaping wound – and in so doing, the hobbit carved a hole inside his chest. Even when he blocks Kíli and Fíli, the ache doesn't fade completely; although he cannot feel their misery, he can still feel his own.

But Bilbo did the right thing – he did – and if he holds his course, the pain of separation has to fade away in time. So the hobbit tells himself that this is for the best. He tells himself that he isn't disappointed when he wakes up the next morning and no one's come after him.

The burglar wants to wallow but he plasters on a smile, forcing himself to eat his breakfast even though he has no appetite. Once everyone has finished, Bilbo thanks Sigrid for the meal and asks Bard if any boats are traveling to Thranduil's hall today. The hobbit will take any ride available – trade barge, canoe, or rowboat; he'd even hide in fish again to leave the mountain's shadow now.

However, that sort of sacrifice isn't necessary. Bard volunteers Bain to take Bilbo across the lake to Thranduil's kingdom, the two of them leaving as soon as the breakfast plates are cleared. Bain is a sweet kid and he chatters on about his friends while the hobbit stares into the distance, a few grunts enough to keep Bain talking happily. Bilbo lets the words wash over him as their small boat travels across the breadth of the Long Lake. When they reach the other side, the boy takes them up the river into Mirkwood and soon Bain is leaping lightly onto the elf king's dock.

He ties his boat off before helping Bilbo and by the time the hobbit has settled his pack onto his shoulders, Tauriel is standing there.

Thranduil forgave her disobedience for her deeds in battle and now the elfine is the captain of Mirkwood's guards again. She earned the respect of her king, the respect that she had wanted, and Tauriel has no regrets about the choices that she made. Not when the borders are finally open, the dragon is dead, and trade is flowing between three kingdoms once again. Not when her prince is ever at her side.

Indeed, Legolas is there to offer Bain his greetings as one prince to another. The elf gives the boy a message for his father, seeing Bain off before turning to the hobbit. Legolas is still a little distant but Tauriel makes up for her prince with cheerfulness. The two of them escort Bilbo to Thranduil's palace, a journey that took only a few hours on the river requiring the better part of a whole day. However, traveling through Mirkwood as a guest is very different from being an intruder and the hobbit can't deny that there is beauty even here.

When the trio finally arrives, Thranduil welcomes Bilbo into his home with open arms. The elf king has softened greatly ever since the battle ended and the white gems of Lasgalen were finally returned. Indeed, he counts the hobbit as an ally for his efforts with the Arkenstone and he's more than happy to help Bilbo reach his home again.

“You have earned my friendship, Master Baggins, and you will always be welcome in my kingdom,” Thranduil tells him. “Though I admit I'm surprised you didn't arrive here with twenty dwarves as escort. Erebor's royal family is very fond of you.”

The elf king might have said more – he loves a decent monologue – but the look on Bilbo's face stops him cold. The hobbit has gone pale; so pale that Thranduil doesn't have the heart to ask him what went wrong.

Bilbo doesn't realize what he looks like; he's too busy trying to breathe through the vise around his chest. The magic that binds him to Fíli and Kíli does not approve of separation and thinking about the princes only makes the feeling worse. The hobbit doesn't have the strength to wonder why Thranduil has fallen silent; Bilbo is just grateful that he stopped poking at that wound.

Indeed, none of the elves ask the hobbit why he's leaving. The escorts Thranduil gives him simply lead the burglar through the forest, their conversation unassuming as they guide Bilbo around the pitfalls that catch trespassers unaware. Even without the traps, the hobbit comes close to walking into trees more than once. His attention is focused inward, the ache inside his chest growing stronger with every step he takes. Apparently the Valar don't like it when their gifts are rejected and while distance dulls Bilbo's sense of the princes, it doesn't dull the pain. But the hobbit is stubborn and he learns to shove down the hurt just as he shoves down his guilt and loneliness.

By the time the burglar and his escorts reach the western edge of Mirkwood, his bonds have been reduced to a throbbing ache within his mind. It's constant but endurable and Bilbo is determined to ignore the feeling until it goes away.

“Thank you for your help,” the hobbit says to Tauriel when they stand outside Beorn's door a few days later and he doesn't only mean for the protection that she has offered him. The captain proved a fine conversationalist over the course of their journey – full of tales about the forest and eager to hear stories of the world outside. Speaking about Hobbiton helped Bilbo to remember why he left the Lonely Mountain, his longing for his home drowning out the need for other things.

“You are welcome, Bilbo Baggins, and I believe that we will meet again someday,” Tauriel replies as Beorn comes out to meet the hobbit. “But now we must both be moving on.”

Bilbo watches the captain until she and her warriors have disappeared over the next hill and then he turns to the skin-changer. The hobbit is slightly wary of Beorn since their last meeting was on the battlefield, with bloody bits of orc dangling from the bear's enormous jaws. But it seems that Azog's death has improved the skin-changer's disposition and he smiles widely as he welcomes Bilbo back into his home.

The burglar spends several weeks beneath Beorn's roof, waiting for the path across the Misty Mountains to finally clear of snow. It's a long wait but Bilbo tries to stay busy, helping the skin-changer with his chores in exchange for his extended room and board.

Two pairs of hands make the work go faster and Beorn finds uses for Bilbo's small fingers here and there. The hobbit often spends his evenings as a tailor and while darning gives him time to brood, he uses it to justify the path he chose to take. This was the right thing to do – the hobbitish thing – and the princes will be better off without him. Fíli and Kíli will be happier with their kingdom and their kindred than they could be in the Shire; the burglar is not worth such sacrifice. Even if his heart was certain – even if Bilbo could have believed that a love built on magic was the truth – their lives were just too different. Thorin showed him that.

So the hobbit does his best to put Erebor and her children from his mind and for the most part, he succeeds. But sometimes his thoughts drift back to the Lonely Mountain and the dwarves he left behind.

“Do you believe in destiny?” Bilbo asks Beorn one evening when they're sitting by the fire. He's been thinking about Fíli and Kíli and the words slip out unintentionally. Indeed, the hobbit blushes furiously when the skin-changer turns to look at him quizzically. But it's too late to take the question back and maybe Beorn will be able to offer some advice.

“What do you mean?” the skin-changer replies.

“Do you believe in destined lovers? People the Valar decided should be matched together,” the hobbit says, trying to explain the ashânumahâl as best he can. “Dwarves do. Some of them are born with names printed on their skin and their hearts bonded to another so that they'll never be apart. They see these connections as a gift – as the highest love that anyone can offer – but hobbits have never been comfortable with outside forces meddling in the things we do. We leave that sort of interference to our mothers and it does not seem right for the Valar to tell us whom to love.”

“That does seem rather foolish,” Beorn agrees after a long moment, the skin-changer considering each word carefully. “And I do not know of any such bonds amongst my people. But love has always seemed a foolish thing to me. That is the nature of it: to burn brightly and recklessly like an untamed fire and only the lucky few are left with banked embers instead of injuries. I cannot blame the dwarves for seeking a better guarantee.”

“I've never thought of it like that,” Bilbo replies. “But how can you trust that the Valar made the right choice? How do you know it's real if your feelings aren't based on anything?”

“The Valar do not control us, it is not in their nature, and I do not believe that a heart can be forced. The destined lovers that you speak of may be linked together but that doesn't mean they have to follow as the spirits lead. There is always a choice and whatever love grows between those people is surely real enough to them.”

Beorn's words are pretty and part of Bilbo wants so badly to believe they could be true. But Fíli and Kíli's declaration had been so sudden and the bond between them so unnatural, how can he believe that the dwarves' minds are unclouded by the Valar's meddling?

However, the hobbit doesn't want to insult his host by dismissing his opinions so Bilbo simply shrugs and says, “Perhaps. But I do not think that destined lovers will ever seem quite right to me.”

“I think you should not run from love. It is foolish and reckless, yes, but it is also a rare treasure and one worth fighting for,” the skin-changer replies. Yet there is no judgment in his voice and he continues with a shrug. “But that is simply my opinion. We are all still free to choose. Now, have you finished mending that last pair of trousers?”

Bilbo lets Beorn change the subject without comment and the two of them speak no more of this. Their conversations focus on lighter subjects until the high pass finally clears. Then it's time for Bilbo to move on toward home again.

Beorn accompanies the hobbit through the Misty Mountains, bringing him to the highest peak before saying his farewells. He leaves Bilbo to make his own way to Rivendell since there is little danger now. Most of the orcs and goblins in these parts were slaughtered on the plains of Erebor and while the journey sometimes drags, the burglar does not fear for his safety as he did before.

Indeed, Bilbo has encountered only one other living creature on his way down to the lowlands: a stray raven that often hops from rock to rock. The hobbit hadn't known those birds could survive where the trees give way to lifeless stone, but the raven seems content to ride the winds above his head and if Bilbo sometimes tosses a piece of bread in the bird's direction, that's simply a 'thank you' for the gift of company. The long nights get lonely after all.

Bilbo means to stop in Rivendell before the last stretch of his journey but without Gandalf here to guide him, the hobbit cannot find the entrance. One pile of rocks looks much like any other and if Elrond's people left a signpost, it's not one that he can find.

“You haven't seen a bunch of elves, have you?” the burglar asks a nearby raven after an hour's futile search. “They've got a hidden valley and lots of pretty houses somewhere in these parts.”

Bilbo doesn't expect the bird to answer him. He's mostly just venting his frustrations at this point. But the raven looks directly at the hobbit and then shakes its head, a strangely disapproving look in its beady eyes. With one last dismissive caw, the bird flies away and leaves the burglar gaping on the ground. That raven could have been the one he met in the Misty Mountains, perhaps the bird has followed him all the way from Erebor. But even though his dwarves use these birds as messengers, Bilbo can't believe that a royal raven would be here.

Unless... No. It's just your imagination, the burglar tells himself. Although he spends a few more minutes looking for Rivendell, Bilbo's heart just isn't in it anymore. He would have liked to see the elves again, but he doesn't know if he could walk through the hidden valley without dwelling on Thorin's company.

Indeed, this is probably for the best. Elrond seems like the type of person to offer unsolicited advice and the hobbit doesn't need the elf to judge his choices, not when Bilbo has finally managed to lock down his bonds so tightly that he can't feel anything at all. Elves probably find their lovers by throwing rune stones beneath a glowing moon or some such nonsense and being told to trust the Valar won't help the hobbit now.

The Valar are the problem. If the burglar could have believed that Fíli and Kíli truly loved him, this whole mess might have ended very differently. Bilbo couldn't have stayed in Erebor but he could have asked the princes to come with him. He could have allowed Fíli and Kíli to decide whether they thought his love was worth it and depending on their answer, the hobbit might not be so alone right now. The trio could have compromised, traveling back and forth between the Lonely Mountain and the Shire, building a life that married adventure with all the comforts of a home.

But thinking about what could have been is both pointless and depressing. So Bilbo simply puts his head down and starts marching westward once again. Every step brings the hobbit closer to the rolling green hills that he has called home all his life.

Something in Bilbo's heart skips a beat when he finally crosses the borders of the Shire, a quiet voice announcing, This is where I belong.

These fields and forests are more beautiful to the hobbit than the treasure hoard of Erebor could ever be. While he sincerely regrets the circumstances of his departure from the mountain, it is good to be back home and eagerness quickens the burglar's steps as he nears Bag End.

Yet Bilbo's joy is tempered with confusion when he rounds the corner and sees a crowd around his smial. It cannot be a welcome party – the hobbit told no one he was coming – and indeed, the looks that he receives are far more shocked than welcoming. Bilbo shoves his way through the crowd while his friends and neighbors stare at the burglar as though they've seen a ghost. In truth, perhaps they have. The hobbit who left the Shire is not the same hobbit who returned but his long absence does not excuse the blatant thievery that seems to be going on.

“My chairs, my spoons, my mother's glory box... What is going on here?” Bilbo roars in fury. “Why are you stealing everything I own?”

“This stuff isn't yours. It belongs to Bilbo Baggins,” a strident voice replies and the hobbit turns to see Lobelia Sackville-Baggins glaring up at him. “He went mad and ran off more than a year ago so we declared him dead and we're auctioning his things.”

I'm Bilbo Baggins and you know it, cousin,” the burglar growls back. “And in case you haven't noticed, I'm very much not dead.”

Bilbo snatches his silver spoons from Lobelia's grasp and marches through the gate, glaring at the auctioneer who has set his table in front of Bag End's door. “This auction is a farce. I'm not dead, I was simply on a journey and I would dearly like all my furniture returned!”

The other hobbit hems and haws and finally stammers, “Can you prove it?”

“What?!”

“Can you prove that you're really Bilbo Baggins? You could be an impostor trying to claim his fortune for your own.”

“An impos- Are you kidding me?” Bilbo exclaims, waving at his face. “Half the hobbits here have known me all my life. What more proof do you need?”

“Something official,” the auctioneer replies. “Something with your name on it in writing should suffice.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” the burglar mutters as he searches through his pockets. Bilbo isn't sure why a piece of paper is better proof of his survival than his actual presence, but at this point he just wants everyone to get off his property. This is not the homecoming he imagined and it seems fitting that the only paper Bilbo can find is Thorin's contract since agreeing to be the dwarf lord's burglar is what started everything.

“Here. Will this do?” he asks rather shortly and hands the paper over.

“Hmm. Perhaps. Perhaps,” the other hobbit says, pulling out his spectacles to examine Balin's tiny script. “Who is this Thorin Oakenshield you pledged your service to?”

Bilbo opens his mouth to deflect the question since it's none of the auctioneer's damn business. But when his eyes catch on Lobelia's spiteful face, the hobbit pauses. If he keeps silents, his relatives will be free to tell all kinds of stories and considering this stupid auction, Bilbo would prefer to control that narrative. He doesn't owe them the whole truth, but if his relatives are going to think he's crazy either way, the burglar might as well give them something really juicy. Maybe they'll be too busy gossiping to bother me at home.

So instead of speaking plainly, the hobbit asks in false surprise, “You mean you've never heard of Thorin Oakenshield? For shame. The dwarves of the east call him the Lord of Silver Fountains or the King Beneath the Mountain, but I called him my intended and if things had worked out differently, I'd be ruling Erebor right now.”

The whole crowd gasps at this revelation and Bilbo knows the news will be all over the Shire in an hour. That's enough for him and he turns back to the auctioneer, but Lobelia never did know when to leave things be.

“Why didn't you just stay there, cousin?” the hobbitess asks snidely. “If this dwarf was so amazing, then why are you back here?”

Bilbo grits his teeth, trying to keep his temper when Lobelia's words cut a bit too close to bitter memories.

“Because life is fucking complicated,” he bites out eventually. “Because Thorin is a king and I'm a hobbit and I could hardly stay in Erebor once I broke his nephews' hearts. You hear that, Lobelia? Two princes and a dwarf king tried to court me when all you could find in the whole Shire was Otho Sackville-Baggins to fill your marriage bed. But I suppose that was the problem. I did not wish to ruin what we fought for – not when I'd faced a dragon – and I was not suited to balancing a life of royalty.

“So if you see any dwarves looking lost around the Shire, please point them toward my smial,” Bilbo continues, looking at his neighbors. “Otherwise, just leave me alone to nurse my broken heart and give me my damn furniture back by dinnertime.”

“Oh yes, of course,” the auctioneer stammers. “Your paperwork seems to be in order so this is most embarrassing.”

Bilbo snatches back his contract from the other hobbit and then stomps into Bag End. He slams the door behind him before slumping against the wood with a deep sigh. His speech had struck a bit closer to home than he'd intended – particularly the last part – and the sight of his barren smial does not improve his mood. The hobbit's neighbors have stripped Bag End of everything, the only furniture remaining that which is built into the walls, and setting his house to rights will require several days minimum.

I guess I had better get started, the hobbit thinks, squaring his shoulders against the task ahead. As much as he enjoys relaxing, he has never shied away from hard work when required and the physical labor should keep him focused on the present instead of the past again.

It takes Bilbo nearly a week to return Bag End to its former state and even then there are a few pieces of furniture that he hasn't managed to reclaim. Only about half his neighbors brought back their purchases as ordered; the others forced the hobbit to seek them out himself. Some of them demanded payment for their trouble – Bilbo quite grateful for the bag of gold that he'd brought back – while others refused to admit that they'd bought anything at all. The burglar tracked them down through the chain of Shire gossip and if the items that he couldn't live without mysteriously reappeared in Bag End overnight, well, that's what a magic ring is for.

But eventually the job is done. Bilbo sets the last knickknack on his mantle and pronounces his home restored. All things considered, the burglar thinks he's done a decent job of settling back into Hobbiton after his long absence and he's fully prepared to stay right here for the remainder of his life. No more wild adventures or grand romances, not for him.


Chapter 18: Gimonsasekh