Warnings: Angst. So much angst.
Word Count: 2836
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit it would somehow be sadder.
Summary: Bilbo once had siblings. Now he just has memories.
On his fiftieth birthday, Bilbo Baggins has been an only child for twenty-nine long years. He doesn’t throw himself a party to mark out the occasion. Instead the hobbit spends this birthday like he’s spent so many others: with his baking, a pot of tea, and the ghosts of memory.
Bilbo can still see his siblings running wild in the garden, Bella and Rosemary playing in the flowers while their father watches from the porch. He can still hear his older brother’s voice every time he roasts a chicken, Bindo telling him to baste the skin with butter to keep the meat from drying out. Belladonna and her eldest both loved their cookery and Bilbo always makes them biscuits before he visits now.
The day after his birthday, the hobbit strolls to the cemetery with a basket on his arm. He cleans the weeds from his family’s graves and sets their boundaries back to rights. Then flowers, food, and presents are left against their headstones, these bright spots of color meant to keep them company. Bilbo ensures that every member of his family is made quite comfortable before retracing his steps back to Bag End.
As he walks through Hobbiton, ghosts of his siblings and his parents haunt his footsteps. Bilbo can see them everywhere: the market, the pond, the mill bridge; but the hobbit doesn’t mind. Although his neighbors think him odd for his distraction, he could not wish for better company. The hobbit is content to live with shadows and the rest of the Shire has learned not to invade his privacy.
Indeed, no one visits Bag End – they haven’t in some years – and he’s caught off guard when a wizard decides to drop by suddenly. Gandalf disrupts the hobbit’s life by his mere existence, never mind the nosy questions, and Bilbo puts him off as rudely as he dares.
However, that’s not enough to stop the wizard’s scheming. That night his peace is broken once again as a baker’s dozen of armored dwarves show up on his doorstep. They claim Gandalf invited them and Bilbo is too shocked by the wizard’s gall to protest the way he should. By the time he regains his voice, the dwarves are already inside and no Baggins worth his salt would ever mistreat a guest, even one he hadn’t planned for and didn’t really want.
So the hobbit feeds his visitors, hoping they’ll eat quickly and then leave him well alone. Bilbo intends to treat them with his mother’s chill politeness but his manners are sorely tested as his ghosts and guests collide.
The dwarves sit in his parents’ chairs and eat Bella’s favorite pudding, the one the hobbit makes each winter to place upon her grave. They treat his dishes casually, his mother’s finest china used as dinner platters and Bindo’s hand-painted centerpiece covered with bread rolls. Rude and course, the dwarves spill ale on Bilbo’s place-mats, the ones Rosemary gave as gifts for Yule the year before she died.
Soon the hobbit’s voice grows hoarse with shouting at his guests to put things down and he wants nothing more than to throw the whole lot out. Hospitality is one thing but no one could blame him for evicting such unwanted, troublesome, uninvited guests as these.
And yet… everywhere he looks, Bag End is full of color. Bilbo’s smial is full of life as it hasn’t been in years.
There is conversation, light, and laughter where the hobbit had known silence. There may be a mess but there are also many hands to clean it, the dwarves turning as cheerfully to chores as they had to suppertime. Bilbo hardly needs to instruct them as his mother’s china is washed and dried and put away, the patterns looking all the brighter for their use.
Bag End was meant to be a home not a mausoleum. His smial was meant for entertaining friends and family, adults discussing gossip while a horde of fauntlings ran round underfoot, and when the dwarves gather around the fireplace to sing and play together, Bilbo aches for better days.
These dwarves are not all brothers – at least he doesn’t think so – but they act like family nonetheless. Although they fuss and scold and tease each other, there’s fondness underneath and they include the hobbit in their jokes without a moment’s hesitation. Bilbo feels welcomed by these strangers and so tonight he’s not alone; tonight he’s part of something but the hobbit knows that it won’t last. These dwarves do not belong here; their kindness is ephemeral and will drift off with the dawn. Bilbo’s guests will leave and then he’ll go back to living with his ghosts in solitude. That’s what he wants – to be left alone – and yet… Bilbo doesn’t think he can go back to silence after this.
The thought makes him a little crazy, that’s the only explanation. That or desperation, a drowning lunge for a spark of life that flies just out of reach. For when the dwarves ask Bilbo if he will join their grand adventure, the hobbit just says yes.
Bilbo doesn’t ask where they are going or why Gandalf is so determined to have a hobbit burglar. None of those details matter against the chance of getting out. He doesn’t even care that he’s heard talk about a dragon, though the thought of facing one puts shivers in his soul. Bilbo can ask those questions later, once the thrum of urgency has faded from his chest. Because he knows that this is it; if he doesn’t leave this instant, he will never leave at all.
The rest of the evening passes in a blur of fear and preparation as the hobbit packs up the essentials that he cannot live without. His guests offer him advice on everything from food to martial weapons while the youngest dwarf comes over to poke amongst his things. He gives Bilbo increasingly exasperated advice on how to organize his clothing until he finally just gives up and takes over halfway through. The hobbit watches with some bemusement as his pile of belongings becomes a well-balanced pack in minutes, much more quickly than he could have done the job himself.
However, Bilbo has to blink back tears when the dwarf gives him a proud smile and he sees a shade of Bella standing there. His sister used to grin like that when looking for approval and he’s not sure how he manages to stammer something out. He may be running from his ghosts but he knows that he will miss them and his sleep is fitful when the party finally ends.
Indeed, Bilbo cannot stop himself from looking back as his new company departs and he swears he sees his family waving on the porch. His sisters would have been so excited to hear about his journey and his parents would have hugged him tightly before they wished him well. Bindo now, Bindo would have fretted over his brother’s safety, telling him to bring three coats and baking up a storm. But in the end, the hobbit knows he would have gotten Bindo’s blessing with the rest. He’d always encouraged Bilbo even though he worried and the hobbit sees the same dichotomy in Thorin Oakenshield.
The dwarf tries to hide his fretting behind gruffness but even when he’s snappish, Bilbo knows their leader cares. Thorin watches his companions the same way that Bindo used to watch his younger siblings, proud and anxious and protective all at once.
In truth, the hobbit feels rather sympathetic to the dwarf lord’s worry and he tries to make it better where he can. Bilbo tries to be a voice of reason and support, helping Bombur with the meals, advising Ori with his knitting, and offering a friendly ear to Thorin when he needs to vent about his nephews without being overheard.
Fíli and Kíli seem to zig-zag between careless cheer and stubborn bravery and the hobbit does his best to rein in their most dangerous impulses. Bilbo’s not entirely successful in this endeavor but somehow Thorin’s nephews always manage to pull through and they remind him more and more of his sisters as the company travels on. Fíli and Kíli have the same bright curiosity, the same hint of wildness, and the same repentant faces when he scolds them properly.
Perhaps that’s why the hobbit has a soft spot for the princes and he can never stay too mad at either dwarf for long. Bilbo knows that they don’t mean to cause their company headaches; Fíli is usually just trying to keep his brother out of trouble and what drives Kíli's decisions is anybody’s guess. The hobbit knows that the archer isn’t stupid but sometimes he has to wonder if he thinks things through at all.
So Bilbo tries to do some of that thinking for him, teaching Kíli as best he can to act with common sense. It’s probably a lost cause, but he enjoys the company and the archer’s kin seem grateful for his help in the attempt.
The long miles pass more quickly when spent in conversation, the hobbit making sure to speak with all the dwarves in turn. With Balin he talks of poetry, with Óin of herbs and healing, with Ori how to knit and purl his stitches right. Bilbo commiserates with Dori over the stress of younger siblings and with Dwalin over trying to protect their reckless heads. He speaks of flower craft with Bifur through signs and a willing translator, Bofur offering several suggestions of his own. Glóin and Nori are more reticent than the others, though the former loves to talk about his family once the hobbit learns to ask. Bilbo trades Bombur recipes for stories of his children and sometimes he dares to offer a few memories of his own.
Of course, Fíli and Kíli are his favorites, the hobbit can’t deny that, and he laughs more in their company than he has in many years. Kíli's cheer is utterly infectious and though Fíli tries to maintain more dignity as befits his uncle’s heir, this rarely lasts for long. Most of their conversations quickly devolve into friendly bickering when Bilbo is involved, Fíli and Kíli vying for the hobbit’s attention just like his sisters used to do.
Sometimes Thorin’s intervention is the only thing that keeps the trio moving and this too makes Bilbo smile. He knows that tone of fond exasperation, he’s used it once or twice, and the more time they spend together, the more Thorin feels like the older brother that he no longer has.
So while the journey is proving rather difficult – the hobbit quite unused to all this running for his life – Bilbo can’t regret the impulse that brought him here. He cares about these dwarves, this company that welcomed him without a second thought, and he wants to see them happy. The hobbit wants them to have the home they speak of with such longing and although he’s still not sure about the dragon, he’ll do what’s required to help his company. If Thorin needs a burglar, then a burglar he’ll be.
Thus Bilbo faces off with spiders, orcs, and goblins, sneaks through an elf king’s palace and steals gemstones from a dragon, none of which he ever thought he’d do. Somehow he succeeds even though it’s terrifying and when he finally sees his friends walk into Erebor, the looks upon their faces are well worth the bruises that he bears.
This should be their happy ending: the quest complete, their king recrowned. But nothing is that easy. War and greed disrupt their celebration and while the dwarves are prepared to battle for their homeland, Bilbo cannot watch them die the way his siblings did. He cannot bear the thought of blood upon the snow. To save them, he betrays them and he can only hope that someday his friends will understand.
The hobbit tries his best but the weft of fate is woven far outside his hands. Bilbo cannot stop the tide of hate that marches on the mountain, orcs and goblins filling up the valley end to end. He cannot stop Thorin and his kin from marching into battle and when the fight has ended, orcish blades have stolen what the hobbit loves once more.
Bilbo has the chance to speak with Thorin before the dwarf lord passes, his injuries too serious to heal. But their reconciliation doesn’t blunt the sting of sorrow and the sight of Thorin’s nephews breaks his heart entirely. The hobbit has outlived too many siblings whether born of blood or friendship and the faces that once cheered him now only make him cry. Bilbo weeps for Thorin, for Kíli, and for Fíli; he weeps for their lost futures and he knows he cannot stay.
This is not the hobbit’s home and while the other dwarves do their best to make him welcome, it is simply not the same. No one could ever replace his fallen siblings, but with Thorin and his nephews, he could have made new memories. Bilbo finds the Lonely Mountain far too cold without them and he would rather ease his sorrow in the land where he was born.
So the hobbit leaves as soon as his dear friends are buried, saying his farewells between his tears. He invites the rest of his companions to come visit anytime and he truly hopes they do. Over the course of their long journey, Bilbo got used to conversation and he fears he’s out of practice at living on his own.
And yet, he’s not alone as he begins the journey westward. The hobbit has new ghosts to keep him company. Fíli, Kíli, and Thorin make the long trek with him, their shadows walking through the Mirkwood and sitting at Beorn’s table with flagons in their hands. He can hear the archer laughing at Beorn’s many nicknames, Fíli and Thorin’s chiding an echo in his ears.
Each memory cuts deeply and Bilbo lets his grief flow freely, great jagged sobs that shake his chest as his pony trudges on. But he’d rather see the shadows than lose his dwarves forever and his steps begin to slow when he nears Hobbiton. Bilbo is afraid his ghosts will leave him; that Kíli's grin and Fíli's laugh and Thorin’s fond bemusement will burn away like morning dew once he’s come home again.
His dwarves do not belong here. The hobbit did not know them in the Shire; he does not have years of memories to keep their ghosts alive. Instead Thorin and his nephews blew through his life like a summer thunderstorm: bright and sharp and beautiful and much too quickly gone.
However, the hobbit cannot dawdle on the road forever and when he walks into his smial, he knows he feared for nothing. Because he can see Kíli and Bella sitting at the table, their faces bright with welcome as they turn toward the door. Bilbo sees Rosemary sewing in the corner and Fíli in his pantry, the young dwarf trying to decide between two different casks of ale. There’s Bindo in the kitchen and Thorin by the fire, leaning on the back of Bungo’s armchair as Bilbo’s parents watch their children with fondness in their eyes.
All his ghosts are here. All the hobbit’s family and a sudden stab of grief drops Bilbo to his knees. He sobs there in his foyer, weeping for his loss and the unkind fates that brought him to this moment – hurt and tired and so very much alone. Bilbo cries until he has no more tears to offer and then he picks himself back up as he has so many times before.
The hobbit’s life returns to a new rhythm quickly. His neighbors still think him strange – to be honest, even stranger – but Bilbo doesn’t mind that. Bag End is never empty with his ghosts in every corner and when he needs real conversation, the hobbit throws a party. He may be considered weird but there are always enough of the curious to fill the seats around his table and Bilbo doesn’t want to hide away completely. That was too much, too lonely, the way he lived before.
The weight of grief feels lighter with life inside his smial and he’s pretty sure his ghosts approve. Bilbo can see their smiles when Bag End is full of laughter, delighted grins upon the faces of both the living and the dead.
Indeed, the dead will never leave him and the scars upon his heart will never disappear, but the hobbit can’t regret his choice to follow Thorin’s dream. Despite their tragic ending, he’s glad he met the dwarf lord and his nephews just as he’s glad he once had siblings. Because family is more than blood; it’s love and memory. And whenever Bilbo leaves flowers for his fallen in the future, the hobbit always brings three flowers more.
(The ghosts might be real. I honestly haven't decided yet.)