Chapter 1 - Of Nightmares and Memories

Then (2941 T.A.)

The night was cool. The fire had burned down hours ago and Beorn's house...which was really more of a hall...lay in darkness. All was quiet, well, except for Bombur's snores. He seemed to be playing the let's see if I can't keep everyone else awake game again, and while it was never working on his fellow dwarves, Bilbo was wide awake...once again. Sighing to himself, he threw off his blanket and got to his feet. Maybe some fresh air would do him good...

Slowly and almost silently...maybe Gandalf was right about hobbits after all...he made his way to the door and stepped into the moonlit night. It was the second night after... Fire and burning flesh, cruel teeth and claws, the sickening sound of a giant white warg sinking his teeth...the screams of agony... And then the moment when all things Tookish inside of him took control and he launched himself at the orc...

"What on earth got into you?" he mumbled to himself. "You're a hobbit, not some kind of hero out of one of your books." And he wasn't. Far from it. He hadn't even known how to use that sword of his...if it wasn't a letter opener after all like Balin suggested...until about ten minutes earlier when he sort of accidentally impaled a warg's head on the blade. And then he needed five minutes to pull it out of the skull! Some hero... What were you thinking? Jumping an orc twice your size, pretending like you're some kind of warrior, rescuing the... He began to chuckle. He'd nearly thought of Thorin Oakenshield as a damsel in distress. As if the dwarf couldn't defend himself, as if he needed Bilbo of all people.

But he hadn't been able to defend himself. The chuckle died in his throat. If Bilbo hadn't acted... He couldn't even bring himself to finish that made him feel sick to his stomach and that never happened to hobbits! If he hadn't acted, the leader of their company wouldn't be simply recovering from his wounds... He would never have reached your journey's end... And for some reason that was inconceivable. There was no way... But why? Why should you care? And indeed, why should he? Thorin had been unwelcoming, unkind and downright rude at times... 'So, this is the Hobbit...' However, that had changed somewhat there, on the slopes of the Misty Mountains, just before they were attacked by the wargs...

He shrugged to himself as he walked past the dark, somewhat buzzing shapes he knew to be Beorn's beehives. Even they can sleep, so why not you? The urge to shout at that nasty little voice in the back of his mind was getting difficult to fight. It's because you can't figure it out, isn't it...why you did what you did...risking your life like that... But if he was honest with himself, there was no one else he'd rather die for... Thorin was a king, albeit without a throne at present, and Bilbo was just a hobbit of the Shire... Who has some skill at conkers, let's not forget that... Very useful indeed. What you need, after all of this is over, is to settle down with a nice hobbit lass. You can't go on fawning over Thorin like some lovesick puppy, especially not in the charming little forest you're about to journey into.

Mirkwood...Bilbo didn't like the look of it one bit. He'd rather camp out in the Old Forest than... But that was where they were headed in just a few days. Maybe you should just call it a day and head back to the elves? Just because last time the whole goblin business interrupted you doesn't mean it was a bad idea... Oh shut up! Oh no, he was starting to sound like that creature...and that wasn't good at all. But it was true, was it not? Except for that one moment of bravery, or brainlessness, what did Bilbo have to show for himself? The whole affair with the trolls had been a complete and utter mess, he had nearly fallen off a cliff...twice...the second time Thorin had to rescue him and almost paid for it with his own life, and generally speaking, he had slowed the dwarves down...especially after they left Imladris.

However... 'I have never been so all my life.' Maybe, just maybe he was of some use to the dwarves after all... Or maybe Thorin is simply grateful that you saved his life. Bilbo sighed. What would his mother say if she could see him like this? 'Bilbo Baggins, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Change the things you can and accept those you can't or you will never be happy.' And maybe, just maybe... Could it really be that Thorin was simply grateful? The way he looked at you when you gave your little speech about wanting to help them reclaim their hadn't saved his that point. True...Thorin had looked almost...sheepish. As if he was realising that there was more to the hobbit than he had thought so far. Maybe...

"Master Baggins..." Bilbo spun around coming face to face with none other than the object of his musings, Thorin Oakenshield. The hobbit must have been so absorbed in his thoughts, he never heard the footsteps behind him...and that in the Wild. For all Bilbo knew, Thorin could have been a wild animal or worse... 'The Wild is no place for gentle folk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves.' Nor for someone going about daydreaming...

"I never had the chance to thank you properly... Not only for saving my life, but also for this..." He lifted his shield, the old oaken branch Bilbo had thought of as firewood until Balin told them of the Battle of Azanulbizar. The oaken shield that had fallen from Thorin's grasp as he was lifted by the great eagle. The shield that Fíli and Kíli had thrust into Bilbo's hands as they were climbing down the Carrock with the words, 'You give it to Thorin...' Bilbo still hadn't figured out why Thorin's nephews had done that.

Now he just lowered his gaze and murmured, "It was nothing...and if I hadn't done it, I'm sure Fíli, Kíli or Dwalin would have..." The grass between his toes was really quite interesting and he was so focussed on it that he failed to notice Thorin stepping closer until the dwarf gently placed his finger under Bilbo's chin and lifted his head so their eyes met once more.

"And they would have been too late..." Bilbo wanted to shake his head in denial, but firstly Thorin hadn't let go of his chin and secondly...the dwarf was right. He alone had been close enough to see what was going on, close enough to react without the danger of falling from the tree they were all perched on. "Bilbo..." The hobbit's eyes widened in surprise. Never before had Thorin called him by his given name. Until now he had only ever been the Hobbit or Master Baggins. "You saved my life and I'll forever be indebted to you..." Bilbo shook his head. There was no debt...all he cared about was that Thorin was here, alive and well.

But clearly the dwarf had other ideas. "I am. So, once we have retaken Erebor...if there is anything you need, anything at all, just say the word and I will see it done." Blue eyes gazed at him intently. "If you ever need help, I will be there..." Thorin was so close that Bilbo could smell the musky... It's like some intoxicating perfume, isn't it? And those eyes...

Deep dark pools swirling with emotions Bilbo hadn't thought the dwarf even knew of, emotions he would have sworn were as alien to Thorin as this whole adventuring was to Bilbo. And he would have been wrong. There was hope in Thorin's eyes mixed with clearly are delusional, Thorin and fear?...gratitude and pride, and something Bilbo couldn't quite discern. Or maybe you're just afraid? He's grateful, yes, but that's not all... "Bilbo..." Thorin whispered as he slowly closed the gap between them...

Now (3021 T.A.)

Bilbo woke with a start, chest aching, head pounding and tears running down his weathered face. That dream again...the worst of them all. There were many, many memories he would simply love to forget, but this one was the most painful...and also the one he treasured the most. Soon, he knew, he would be able to rest forever, and never again would the nightmares plague him. Age had caught up with him after he had left his magic ring behind...the One Ring...and now there would only be one more journey for the old hobbit.

To the Havens and beyond... Soon they would leave the Valley of Imladris behind, Rivendell that had been his home for two decades now. And he would be allowed to sail on the last ship to leave the western shores to the Undying Lands. And he would take it all with him...all that he had seen, all that he and his Ring had caused...and maybe he would find some solace there in Valinor before he died.

The pain was now a part of him, just like it was part of his nephew if he wasn't mistaken. It had begun when Thorin had banished him. When Thorin's promise of help turned to dust and he cursed Bilbo for stealing the Arkenstone. That was the day when those dark pools turned icy. And then the battle...and it's aftermath. Thorin's plea for forgiveness...his eyes glazing over as the light in them went out forever. And Fíli and Kíli...their bodies broken as they desperately tried to defend their King...defend their uncle.

There had been no one to share his grief, for no one knew... There was a new King under the Mountain and the remaining dwarves of the Company were trying to find their place in this new Kingdom of Erebor. That was what they had set out to achieve... 'And if you do, you will not be the same...' Gandalf had been right. He was going to return to the Shire, but he would never be the same again.

Back home in Bag End, in his cozy little Hobbit hole, everything reminded him of the dwarves. The ringing of the doorbell would make him hear a grumpy 'That'll be the door', the clatter of plates sounded almost like a merry dwarven song, and if someone ever knocked on his door... 'He's here.' Only he would never be here again. And the memories of those few stolen moments were all Bilbo had left.

The memory of that first night under the stars...that first hesitant kiss they had shared. The startling realisation that for all of Thorin's grumpiness there was a side to the dwarf that was kind and loving and gentle. And the moment he all but admitted that he harboured feelings for Bilbo... From the very beginning it would seem...which was why he had always been so nice to the hobbit. "You will understand my shock when I first saw our so-called burglar and felt something re-awaken within me that I'd thought was dead." Bilbo was mortified...after the first impression he had given, what with talk of conkers and the whole feinting routine, Thorin must have thought he was going mad. No wonder he was so charming all the time.

That night, Thorin had replaced the last vestiges of Bilbo's childhood with the firm belief that no hobbit lass...or lad as it were...would ever be able to make him feel as alive as the dwarf could with one simple glance or a gentle touch. There would be no settling down for him any least not in the Shire. For Thorin spoke of their home in Erebor and their future once the dragon was gone. Little did Thorin know then of what would really come to pass. That as soon as Erebor was his, he would turn his back on Bilbo, that he too would succumb to the sickness that had nearly destroyed his grandfather. Only Fíli and Kíli had tried to make their uncle see reason, had tried to mediate between the new King and the hobbit...and until the end, they had failed.

The love, for Bilbo was sure that's what it had been, had died in Thorin's eyes and had been replaced by his lust for gold...until the day he died. Nearly begging Bilbo's forgiveness...a forgiveness that had been given even before Thorin had finished raging at the hobbit...his eyes brimming with tears, regret and heartbreak evident in his voice. His hand had searched for the hobbit's and placed his signet ring in Bilbo's palm. And then he had closed his eyes and part of Bilbo had died with him.

Back in the Shire, he had tried to pick up the pieces of his old life, but with memories around every corner and a heavy dwarven ring hanging around his neck, Bilbo knew things would never be the same...that he would never be the same. And if folk began whispering behind his back about queer Bilbo, or even worse, the Adventurer, then he was fine with it. Initially some misguided hobbit lasses had tried to court him, probably more drawn by the promise of riches than Bilbo's sunny nature, but after a decade or two that had stopped and Bilbo was left to his own devices. He was still considered a pillar of the community, but the hobbits felt that for some reason, the Master of Bag End wasn't really a part of them any more.

Then he had adopted Frodo and in a way, the young hobbit made him feel more alive again. For ten years they shared a home and finally Bilbo had someone to tell about his adventures. Not all of it of course, but most. And Frodo was an eager listener and encouraged Bilbo to put pen to paper and write his story down. Together they would study the many maps Bilbo had acquired and again and again Frodo would ask Bilbo to tell him about the elves of both Rivendell and Mirkwood. And to please leave out the part with the eight-legs. Yes, Frodo was not too fond of spiders, and now Bilbo had heard of Shelob and how she had nearly killed the younger hobbit. All because of him and his ring.

"I should have told Gandalf all these years ago...maybe then..." It wasn't the first time he said that to himself, and he knew it wouldn't be the last. He pushed himself up and gazed out of the window. The sun was only just beginning to shine upon the valley; so it was still very early...too early for the hobbit to be up and about. But sleep eluded him and thus he reached for his book upon his bedside table and took out one of his most treasured possessions. A drawing he had made one night in Mirkwood when most of the dwarves had been asleep. A drawing of Thorin giving him one of those rare smiles. That drawing and Thorin's ring were more precious to him than even the Ring had ever been.

Mirkwood... Bilbo had been right; it was the most horrific place he had ever ventured into...even Smaug's lair was less terrifying. There was one enemy, he was big and you really couldn't miss him. In that forest... That ever constant feeling they were being watched, and then the spiders... But in a way, the time in least before Bombur took a tumble into the river...had been the happiest time in Bilbo's life. Each night Thorin would tell him of his past, of Erebor and Ered Luin, and Fíli and Kíli were as avid listeners as Bilbo himself. And for some reason, the two brothers didn't think it odd in the least that Thorin and Bilbo... On the contrary. "We haven't seen him smile like that in the longest time, Bilbo. So don't listen to what the others will say, you're part of the family now. Mother will be so happy."

And maybe Dís would have been happy. But when Bilbo finally met her upon his second visit to Erebor, he saw a dwarven woman grieving, mourning both the death of her two sons and her brother. And Bilbo was glad that she did hardly more than acknowledge his presence as she had her brother's bearings and tore open wounds that had barely closed. He spent hours sitting in Thorin's tomb and had to finally tear himself away. But even here, in Imladris, shadows of the past kept haunting him. Elrond had seen it, had offered some kind of elvish healing, but Bilbo had politely declined. The pain was part of him, as were the memories and the nightmares, and he would sooner give up his life than be healed.

He sat there, Thorin's ring in his hand and the drawing on his lap, and the tears welled up again. His days were now filled with regret and sadness, and it became increasingly difficult to keep up the façade of the somewhat strange but very much amiable hobbit. Too much had happened because of him. His ring had all but destroyed Frodo's life and Bilbo would never forgive himself for that. And how many lives could he have potentially saved if he had been honest about his precious? What if it had been destroyed sooner? What if... What if was a dangerous game to play. Soon there wouldn't be any more what ifs, any more doubts and regrets. Soon he would know peace. Soon... Little did he know what would be...soon.