Bilbo regarded the crystalline blue gem twinkling in his hand for a few moments and then gently closed his fist around it with deep reverence. It was the most brilliant cornflower blue that he’d ever seen, even surpassing his cousin’s prizewinning crop of bluebottle flowers, and he was in awe that it came from him. Actually, every time that he looked at it he was overcome all over again, for he never shed any tears nowadays. He had thought that he broke that ability during the fell winter when his parents died and all he could do was drip blazing tears in the reds, oranges, and yellows of heart-sick sadness. No more tears came after that. None, at least, until now.
He had been spitting mad, like a teapot forgotten on the high boil or a cat dropped into cold water, when the dwarves and wizard unceremoniously invaded his peaceful home. They raided his pantry, destroyed the layout of his furniture, and poked their noses into absolutely everything! He’d been hard-pressed to hide his family’s valuables, one tiny chest in particular, so as to keep their grubby paws off of things which were absolutely none of their business. Then, oh and it still made him angry to think on it, the leader arrived to both simultaneously insult Bilbo even while he availed himself of his hospitality. Of all the sheer nerve! Bilbo didn’t know how dwarves did things, but that sort of behavior just was not tolerated in the Shire!
But then he found out the reason why he was being intruded upon and could barely restrain the hysterical laughter. Him, Bilbo Baggins, a burglar? He knew that Gandalf’s garden didn’t grow all the way from root to bud, but this really took the cake when it came to insane ideas. What sort of hobbit did the old wizard think he was, anyway? Out there were the Big People, and with them came danger; the old tales always warned of that, warned exactly what happened to hobbits who were unwary enough to be caught out where the Rangers couldn’t protect them, and Bilbo had absolutely no intentions of finding out if those tales were still true or not. He was staying. Right. Here. Thank you very much.
Bilbo supposed those words must be engraved in some sort of book dedicated to famous last words, for he found himself sprinting out the door after the dwarves the next morning, contract in hand and hastily-packed rucksack on his back. He swore that the Valar must derive a perverse pleasure out of making a mess of his fate, for the adventure starts out as a rather horrid affair. He does join, yes, and is given a pony to sit upon, yet there is no true warmth shown from any of the thirteen he’s traveling with and he cringes to think how the entire journey will pass if it remains that way.
Balin is the first dwarf who actively makes a friendly overture to him, and it’s even on the first night that they stop. As Bilbo stands with his bedroll in hand, trying to figure out exactly how everything is set up, as he’s never exactly done this before in all of his walking holidays, the little dwarf gently shows him how to lay things out just so to make a suitable bed. Bilbo would have been fine, but it was the additional pat on the shoulder and tin of salve which surreptitiously pressed its way into his hand which broke through his composure. “It’s good for sore muscles,” Balin whispered, and Bilbo was so very glad that the white-haired dwarf walked off then, because he truly needed to dash off into the woods for a little privacy. He didn’t go far, mindful of his safety in the wild, but the pressing urge just couldn’t be allowed where other eyes could see it.
There, in the deepening shadows of the trees, Bilbo cried for the first time since his parents died. His heart swelled with happiness and gratitude for Balin’s kind inclusion and one single tear escaped his eye to roll down his cheek, crystallizing until it dropped into his waiting palm. It twinkled and seemed to shine brighter than the dying sunlight could possibly reflect to show its brilliant cornflower coloring, and he knew what he had to do. Gems like these were never kept by the hobbit who shed them, they were always shared, and Bilbo would do his best to honor his people’s traditions. Bilbo hooked the thong from under his shirt and fished his gem pouch from where it usually nestled safe against his chest; the new gem would be added to the pouch until he got a chance to gift it to its intended, for there were too many eyes idly watching around the fireside at night and he couldn’t risk it. He’d heard that dwarves were greedy for gemstones and went to great lengths to acquire them, so he’d have to be careful in how he gifted the gem. Keeping it for himself never entered into his mind, as that would have been an abomination of Yavanna’s gift. Before he headed back and lost the privacy, though, he did make good use of the salve on muscles which felt as abused as pulled taffy, particularly those on the inside of his legs where he had never ridden a pony before.
That night, Bilbo’s estimation of Balin crept even higher as the elder dwarf calmed the camp after Kíli and Fíli’s trick and told them all a heart-wrenching tale about the Battle of Azanulbizar wherein Thorin lost both his grandfather and his father, along with most of their forces. Bilbo just couldn’t imagine losing that many who had been kin, friends… people you had seen and talked to every day, and then after one blood-soaked day never see again. He honestly didn’t know what to say or think. I’m sorry wouldn’t come close to expressing how much his heart ached in sympathy for all those who were there and lost that day. He was shamed to think of how the Shire carried on with grief when they lost ten hobbits during the fell winter, of which two were his parents, and thought that they didn’t truly know the meaning of grief. These dwarves had lost their home, their peace of mind, and then lost the bonds of kinship in battle. Bilbo curled back up in his bedroll and quietly prayed to Yavanna to bless them and to lift their grief, for they had suffered far more than any of the Valar’s creations should be asked to.
At sunrise, they were all rousted up and after a quick breakfast found themselves back on the trail again. Bilbo blearily packed his bedroll, half-heartedly brushed at his hair, and made sure to eat as much as he was allowed- who knew when these dwarves would deign to stop next for food? Then it was back on top of the dratted pony for another day of riding. That woke him up quicker than anything as his muscles pulled in pain, though the salve had helped tremendously, and he paid more attention to his surroundings. Luck seemed to be with him today as Balin rode past on his way up to the head of the line and Bilbo quietly garnered his attention.
“Master Balin, might I have a word?” he asked.
Balin amiably grinned and nodded as he pulled up to ride beside. “Of course lad, what is on your mind this morning? Did the salve work well for you?” he questioned, and Bilbo felt his ear tips heat in embarrassment.
“Oh, yes, it did. Thank you very much for that, it was very helpful,” he stammered, still embarrassed that he’d needed the salve in the first place while everyone else seemed to manage just fine without it. “I had actually wanted to give you something,” Bilbo started as he pulled his little bag out from under his shirt and easily fished out the special gem. “This is something very special to my people, and it’s a gesture of friendship to be given, so I hope that you’ll accept it.” He dropped the little stone into Balin’s palm and had to remind himself to breathe as the stunned dwarf examined his tear gem.
“Master Baggins, it’s not necessary, but if it’s important to you then I will most happily accept. Thank you kindly,” he bowed as well he could in the saddle. “Though I have seen much in all my years, I have never seen one such as this, what kind of stone is it?” Balin asked, and Bilbo had to remember the explanation he’d thought up last night.
“Please, call me Bilbo, and it’s simply a stone found only in the Shire. We give them as gifts to friends, and after last night I hope that I could count you as one,” he stated as lightly as he could.
Balin didn’t seem to notice anything off in his words and for that Bilbo was thankful. “Then I am Balin to you, young Bilbo,” he tucked the gem away in a small metal case which he secreted away in a hidden pocket in his clothing again. “And aye I would be honored to count you as friend, lad.” A shout from further up the line caught their attention and cut their conversation short as Balin was called up to speak with his brother and Thorin.
He and Bilbo shared a parting nod, and then Bilbo was left to ride with Gandalf. He took one look at the wizard’s knowing expression and frowned. “Not one word out of you. It’s your own fault that I’m here in the first place, so I don’t want to hear anything from you on this, and you’re not to tell them either,” he warned. Gandalf merely had the temerity to chuckle around his pipe stem in return, though he did remain blissfully silent for the rest of the day’s ride.
He watched the others as a few days passed, and edged closer to a few, drawn by his own yearning to finally be close to others after long years of solitude- Bofur, Ori, Fíli, and Kíli were the four that he felt the safest approaching as they didn’t seem to mind his overtures of friendship. He felt it strange that dwarves drew his heart’s emotions out of their shell whereas his own people couldn’t. Indeed, other hobbits had stopped trying more than twenty years ago after he’d rebuffed them so many times and given him up as a mad defect, a hobbit who had died inside yet still continued to live and breathe. Oh, they still treated him kindly, but it was with the sort of patronizing air that one would give an invalid, and Bilbo had ceased to care about even that- numb to it. Until thirteen dwarves turned up on his doorstep and aggravated him back into living. He changed his mind hourly whether he wanted to hug them or hit them for it.