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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 18

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 18: Gimonsasekh
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: Angst, angst, angst, angst angst
Word Count: 2968 (98,389 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 17: Hadedsasekh
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 lasts three months before he admits that he's not happy. The hobbit should be happy now that he's home where he belongs and indeed, his love for the Shire helps to mask his discontentment for a time.

Some mornings, Bilbo goes to the market. He buys enough food to last the next few days and a little extra, the stores in his pantry slowly replenished over time. Shelf by shelf he replaces what Thorin's company had eaten until all evidence of the dwarves' visit is completely gone.

The hobbit spends other mornings writing, trying to record the details of his journey while they're still fresh in his mind. He's thinking of writing a book, a fairy tale for fauntlings that will teach them about the world outside the Shire: all the joys and danger that can be found if they just dare to look.

Of course, there's no guarantee that anyone would ever read that story since Bilbo has become something of a stranger to his friends and family. The more traditional hobbits and hobbitesses seem to think that he'll corrupt their children with ideas of adventure while the Tooks and Brandybucks talk like he's a hero when they see him on the street. Indeed, the story of his return has traveled across the Shire like a racing elvish pony and it's a rare day when no one knocks on Bilbo's door.

The other hobbits always show up right at teatime with their questions and their staring and if the burglar is home, he usually lets them in. It's partially politeness and partially a form of penance; the hobbit deserves discomfort after all the pain he caused.

Besides, Bilbo's visitors usually bring pity cakes to soothe the broken heart he'd mentioned and no hobbit would ever turn down gifts of food. The burglar eats and deflects and to those he likes best, he tells portions of the truth. Bilbo's journey hadn't been all death and hardship; there had also been friendship, loyalty, and laughter, and it's comforting to remember all the good times now.

However, on some afternoons, the curious are forced to leave in disappointment because the Baggins of Bag End is not at home. This is almost more scandalous than anything else – hobbits are always home at teatime – but Bilbo finds that he doesn't mind missing a few meals here and there. After all, the burglar missed plenty over the course of his journey without coming home much worse for wear.

When the mood strikes Bilbo, the hobbit leaves his smial and goes to soak in sunshine by the old mill pond. He spends hours cloud-watching, refusing to think of Erebor even when a raven soars across the sky. Once in a while, the burglar even dips his feet in the water, toying with the idea of learning how to swim.

His dwarves had certainly liked the water and the skill would have come in handy on the quest for Erebor. But the hobbit doesn't quite dare to try without someone here to teach him and it's not as though his companions will soon be dropping by.

Bilbo left the invitation but he doesn't actually expect his friends to take it. So the burglar sits there on the bank and says that life is fine.

Honestly, the hobbit is fine. During the day, he can keep busy and he barely thinks of Erebor or his dwarves at all. It's the nights that trouble Bilbo. When he runs out of distractions and his brain spins on and on.

The burglar misses his companions then. He misses Bofur's kindness and Dwalin's patient teaching, Nori's wicked joking and Dori's mothering. Bilbo misses Thorin fiercely, misses the dwarf lord's steadiness and his kisses, his love for his kingdom and his undying loyalty.

Yet it's Fíli and Kíli who burn brightest in the hobbit's memory. While Bilbo still cannot imagine their uncle being comfortable in the Shire, the burglar sees his princes everywhere. Their ghosts sit laughing by the fire as he prepares his supper, Fíli's amused smile almost real enough to touch.

The princes walk with Bilbo on his way to the marketplace, Kíli's voice inside his head offering a running commentary on everything he sees. The younger prince would have loved the market: the people and the travelers and the children playing by the stalls. Fíli could have told the fauntlings stories while his brother acted out each part and Bilbo stood near to correct them when they got a detail wrong.

It's a gorgeous dream and the hobbit wants it desperately. He wants to introduce his dwarves to Hobbiton, bake them Yule cakes and teach Kíli how to roll out a pie crust properly. He wants to spend lazy days in his bedroom, loving and laughing on a bed that no longer feels so empty and show the princes the grotto by the mill pond that's just about their size.

But such wishes are impossible. Bilbo made his choice and he has to live with the result; the hobbit left and he's still not convinced that that was wrong. There's nothing to be gained from missing his companions or admitting to the longing that seeps through his bond at night.

The burglar is happy enough, isn't he? He doesn't need his dwarves as friends or lovers to make his life complete. Bilbo is bound to fall in love with someone else eventually and then he'll have his romance without any Vala's meddling. The hobbit is certain of it even if Thorin was the first person that he'd ever truly considered marrying and most of his kinfolk seem so boring to him now.

Three months after his return to Hobbiton, Bilbo is still waiting for this romance to arrive. Indeed, the burglar is quite alone when one of his young cousins stops by for tea and changes everything. Marigold has always been a curious lass – she's made the burglar tell the tale of his adventures five times over and she's not content with the same rough version of the story that everyone else receives. Marigold wants to know the details, all the details, and her pleading convinces Bilbo to share more personal memories.

He tells the lass about Thorin and their romance, how he won the dwarf lord over with deeds of bravery. Marigold suitably impressed by Thorin's skill and majesty but then she wants to know how Bilbo could have left him for his nephews. Why he didn't just reject them and marry Thorin anyway.

So the hobbit tries to explain Kíli's boundless energy and his brother's fond exasperation, Fíli's desire to take care of his kindred and the archer's deadly focus when their lives were on the line. Bilbo cannot let Marigold believe that Thorin's nephews were less than wonderful. Because his dwarves were stubborn, funny, and quite infuriating. They were as sweet as any love could ask for and completely baffling. Fíli and Kíli were not perfect. But the princes' imperfections only made their virtues shine the brighter, their courage more impressive for their fear.

Indeed, Kíli and Fíli were exactly as they should be – just as the Valar made them – and while Bilbo had complained about their manners sometimes, the hobbit did not truly wish to change them. He didn't want to change anything that made his dwarves unique.

“It sounds like you really love them,” Marigold says when he's finished speaking and without a second's hesitation, the hobbit answers, “Yeah. I do.”

In speaking the words aloud, the hobbit finally hears their truth. He loves Fíli and Kíli. That's why he misses them so dearly and can't escape those memories. Bilbo loves them and it's no Valar's bond that made him say it. The hobbit has his connection to the princes locked down tightly but thinking of their sorrow makes his heart ache anyway.

Indeed, the smile drops from Bilbo's face when he realizes what this means. The hobbit loves Fíli and Kíli and he broke their hearts in two. The burglar broke his own heart in the process without even realizing and destined lovers or not, he doesn't know if the princes will forgive him for the way he'd left; the way he'd run away if he's being honest now. Bilbo had needed to leave the Lonely Mountain, but he should have done it differently.

So the hobbit drops his walls, letting Fíli and Kíli into his heart without restriction as he's never done before. He needs to know if there is any hope of reconciliation but the emotions slamming into Bilbo send the burglar to his knees. Because there is only sorrow; love and grief and an endless longing that tries to swallow Bilbo whole. If a soul could die from yearning, the hobbit would have perished instantly, his breath stolen by a desperate need to see his dwarves again.

“Cousin Bilbo? Are you all right?”

A touch on his arm grounds the burglar within the maelstrom of emotion and Bilbo pushes back his princes' pain enough to whisper, “Marigold?”

“Should I get a healer? Are you going to die?” the lass asks and with some effort, the hobbit manages to focus on her face. Marigold is worried about him, almost panicked, and Bilbo can't have that. So he dampens his connection to Fíli and Kíli until he can breathe again, though the echo of their sorrow still burns beneath his skin.

“I'm all right, my dear. I promise,” Bilbo says with a pained smile. “I simply hadn't realized how much I love my princes until now. I love them more than anything and the knowledge that I've lost them was a bit too much to bear.”

“Why can't you see them? Don't they love you too?”

“Sometimes love is complicated,” the burglar tells her. “Fíli and Kíli live in Erebor and they have duties to their kingdom while I... I didn't even say goodbye.”

“Then you should say you're sorry,” Marigold replies. “That's what my mother always tells me when I do something wrong. If these dwarves really love you, I think that they'll forgive you as long as you apologize. After all, mum forgave me when I broke my grandma's crystal vase; she just had to yell a bit before she could calm down.”

It sounds so simple when she says it. But Bilbo has felt the grief he caused his princes and there's no way that an apology would heal those gaping wounds. He threw away Fíli and Kíli's love over fear and indecision, and he can't expect the brothers to forgive his cowardice; Bilbo can't even forgive himself right now.

So the burglar makes his excuses to Marigold, sending the lass off with a pocketful of cookies and his apologies. Not good behavior for a host but Bilbo's cousin doesn't seem offended, taking her leave with a cheery promise that things will work out soon.

The hobbit isn't nearly as optimistic. Yet Marigold's suggestion will not leave his mind and by the time he's finished supper, Bilbo is sure he has to try. The burglar has stolen his princes' choice too many times already. Fíli and Kíli had deserved to choose whether they wanted to come with him and things might have turned out very differently if he'd tried harder to explain his turmoil instead of sneaking off. So Bilbo refuses to make that same mistake again. He cannot simply decide that the princes do not want to see him even if their hatred is the most likely outcome now.

Perhaps the hobbit could send his regret along the bonds between them. But Fíli and Kíli also deserve to choose whether or not they want to feel him. Bilbo will not force his apology upon them, not when using their connection might sway the brothers' minds.

Instead the burglar sits down at his writing desk and tries to find the words to make his princes understand. It does not go easily. The first ten drafts are crumpled on the floor in minutes – too presumptuous, too cold, too stilted for what the hobbit needs to say. Bilbo does not want to assume anything about Fíli and Kíli's feelings; he just wants to tell the princes that he's sorry for his actions and it's nearly dawn before the hobbit thinks that he has the phrasing right.

Simple is best. If he keeps it simple, there can be no misunderstandings, just a few short lines pouring Bilbo's heart out on the page.

I am so very sorry, his letter reads after the standard opening. I never meant to hurt you but I had to leave in order to know how much I loved you; to trust that I loved you when we were Valar-matched. But I do. I love you more than I thought possible and if you are willing, I would like to see you both again. I want to tell you these things in person now that I finally know the truth.

However, if you do not want to see me, I more than understand. Whatever happens, I pray that you find joy and contentment in your lives. I will be waiting here in Hobbiton for whatever you decide.

The phrasing is still a little rough but the words are honest. So Bilbo signs his name down at the bottom and then puts his head on his desk for a moment to rest his tired eyes.

He is woken up just after sunrise by a tapping on his window. There is a familiar-looking raven standing on the other side of the glass, a strip of leather tied around the ankle that is tapping on his windowpane. The symbol is familiar, marking the raven as a bird of Erebor, though Bilbo can't imagine what it is doing here.

Perhaps Thorin truly had sent a raven to watch over his burglar; Bilbo had wondered about the bird that he saw the Misty Mountains, the one that had refused to show him the path to Rivendell. Indeed, the hobbit has seen several ravens in his garden over the last three months; he's even tossed them breadcrumbs when he made too much for tea.

“Have you been watching me?” Bilbo murmurs, reaching out to open the window and let the bird inside.

Thorin must truly have meant his words of friendship, something that the hobbit hadn't quite believed. But why else would the dwarf lord send the raven back once he knew that Bilbo had reached the Shire safely? Thorin must have hoped for reconciliation, wanting to ensure that the hobbit could talk to those he left behind. Indeed, the raven just caws once before hopping forward and tapping Bilbo's letter with his beak.

“You want that, do you? Well, it's meant for Fíli and Kíli, Thorin's nephews. Can you see that it's delivered to their hands?” the burglar asks. “But only if they want it. If they don't, please give the letter to Thorin to do with as he will.”

Bilbo feels a little silly speaking to a bird but the raven seems to understand him, nodding its head in answer to each question that he asks. So the hobbit rolls his letter up before wrapping a scrap of leather around the paper to protect it from the elements. Then he ties his message to the raven's leg.

“Fly safe,” Bilbo says, holding the window open once again. With one last nod, the raven leaps into the air, carrying the hobbit's hopes on windswept wings to Erebor.

With his letter sent, the burglar continues with his life as best he can. The only difference is the thread of hope he cannot squash and the sense of Fíli and Kíli that he doesn't try to block. Bilbo keeps their connection open this time, letting their bond tell him what little that it can. Truthfully, the hobbit doubts his princes have noticed any difference when his bonds are so much weaker than the ones the brothers share. But even this small thread makes Bilbo's world seem new.

The burglar's heart leaps at every echo and when the sense of sorrow suddenly fades, he drops to his knees and cries with happiness. Fíli and Kíli must have received his letter and while he cannot tell what they've decided – their bond grown thin with distance and denial – the hobbit is relieved to know that his words have eased their pain. That alone was worth the effort even if they don't forgive him and Bilbo tries not to hope too much.

Indeed, months pass without a letter from his princes. Summer fades into autumn and autumn into winter, and it's nearly Yule before there's a knock on Bilbo's door. Probably one of his cousins with another fruitcake – the hobbit has received half a dozen and expects a dozen more. Bilbo likes Yule, he likes the singing and the parties, and he's already smiling when he opens up the door.

Fíli and Kíli are standing on his porch.

Although the dwarves are travel-worn and weary, they are still gorgeous in his eyes. Bilbo opens his mouth to greet them but he has no words; there is too much that should be said and too much that he is feeling. His princes are here, their eyes shining with love and with forgiveness, and while the three of them will need to speak at some point, this is not the time.

“Oh my darlings,” the hobbit chokes out. He stumbles forward and the brothers catch him, sweeping their amrâbulnas into a hug. Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo wrap their arms around each other as the last barrier between their hearts starts to crumble and in this instant, they are home.

Chapter 19: Tigersasekh