Chapter 1: Soulmates
Thorin had been hearing his Heartsong since he came of age. The sweet melodic tune came to him every night in his dream and followed him during the day. The voice of his Heartsong was definitely not a dwarf, too high-pitched to belong to a stout, muscular dwarf, or even a lady-dwarf. No, the voice Thorin heard was like a birdsong, light and happy and beautiful. These were qualities life after Smaug often did not have. Before the dragon came though, Thorin would think of the beauty in his song and smile to himself, daydreaming and drifting until his head finally hit his pillow and the voice returned to him.
Once, in fact, after a long and rowdy feast and many mugs of ale deep in the heart of Erebor, when Thorin finally keeled over in the middle of a drinking match between him, Dis, and Frerin, the voice sang a different song. It was the raunchiest, heartiest drinking song Thorin had ever heard, and when this Heartsong devolved into mad giggles over the lyrics of the song, Thorin awoke with a wide grin and a chuckle of his own spilling from his lips, despite the pounding headache behind his eyes.
Thorin was excited to meet his One, pride welling in his heart thinking of how someday, that beautiful voice would be given a face and a name, and they would stand at Thorin’s side. He didn’t have time for such fantasies after Smaug burned his home to the ground. He put thoughts of his One out of his mind as he helped his people find a home in the Blue Mountains, as he grew into the role he wasn’t supposed to inherit so soon. As he fought for Khazad-Dum and watched his grandfather die, as he held the lifeless body of his brother in his hands, as he comforted Dis through the death of her One and her brother, he came to realize that he was not fated for happiness. Whatever cruel end awaited him, Thorin did not want his sweet sounding One to have to suffer it with him. If Thorin life was cursed in some way he couldn’t help but wish that he would never meet his One.
For days after the attack Thorin could not sleep, would not sleep, for fear that if he closed his eyes he would dream silent dreams and discover that the missing half of his soul had perished in the dragonfire like so many others. When he finally gave into exhaustion, his dreams were flooded with his Heartsong, and inwardly Thorin felt something like hope for the first time in a long time. There was at least one good thing left in this world, one thing safe from ash and smoke and flames. Outwardly, Thorin did not dare speak about his soulmate, not when so many of the refugees in his care had lost theirs to the dragon. He did not want to increase their suffering, and he didn’t want to selfishly seek out his own happiness while his people suffered and died, so Thorin did not go looking for his soulmate, did not even think of them.
But in a truth that Thorin would not even admit to himself, his Heartsong was the only thing he could find solace in. Without it Thorin would be too weak to lead his people and act as their leader. Thorin would lay his head down at night and soak in the comfort of the music in his dreams, wishing he could reach out and feel more than empty space next to him. Thorin ached every morning as he dragged himself back to awareness and away from the sound of his One. His One faded into a dream, a fantasy, until Thorin convinced himself that he would never meet them, that the voice of his Heartsong simply did not exist.
Thorin wished it was that easy.
It took Bilbo Baggins a long time to realize that he was missing out. It happened a few days after he turned 40, one month after his mother let her broken heart get the better of her. Belladonna had not lasted long after Bungo passed, her husband dying in the middle of the cold season, along with a handful of other hobbits who contracted the Winter Flu. Spring came and Hobbiton recovered, but Belladonna’s heart could never fully heal. She held on for the sake of her son, knowing that once she left his world, there would be nothing she could do from keeping the loneliness from creeping into Bilbo’s heart.
Bilbo always had his family, from the very beginning. They made a queer family, but each of them was odd in their own way. Belladonna, a wily, adventurous Took girl who spent the days of her youth riding out to see the world. Bungo, a right and proper Baggins if there ever was one, who built a hobbit-hole for his polar opposite and loved her wholly, adventures included. And then there was Bilbo, a singular little child, a strange combination of reservation and well-meaning alongside boundless curiosity and wonder. This lead to days on end of Bilbo observing the black and white world around him, pondering who might be his soulmate and which color he would most like to see first. Bilbo had quite a few questions about every color in the rainbow, and unlike some other more prudish hobbits, Belladonna was happy to answer.
“Mama, what color is the sky? And the grass? What color would you call my hair? What about your hair? Or, is all hair the same color? Papa’s hair does look like it could be the same color as yours. Hamfast told me that everyone has different colored eyes, is that true, Mama? What color are your eyes? What is the very best color?”, Bilbo would bombard his mother like this almost daily, a family ritual of sorts.
Bilbo would sit with his mother while she crocheted by the fire, spinning him tales of her travels outside of the Shire (even if they were exaggerated at times). His father would putter around their cozy hobbit-hole, tidying up, or other times sit and write, transcribing whatever tale his wife chose to tell that night. And Bilbo would sit, enraptured by Belladonna’s stories, dreaming up his own adventure, imagining himself walking among elves. As soon as the story ended, the questions would begin. Bilbo would ask everything he could possibly think about his mother’s story and then move onto the more pressing, everyday questions, which was usually where he would start asking about colors.
Belladonna never minded. She took each question in stride and answered with honesty that many parents do not show their children. Her husband would but in here or there, but usually he was content to watch the rapid-fire discussion between his wife and son.
“The sky is blue, my love, light blue. The grass is bright green, and different shade of green than what colors our front door. Your hair is beautiful, almost golden here in the orange firelight. My hair is deep dark brown, and your father’s hair is somewhere between mine and yours. Your friend Hamfast was right in a way, there are many different eye colors out there. For example, yours are blue, but mine are brown. Your father has hazel colored eyes, and I think they are indeed, the very best color.” Bella sent a sly smile to her husband who huffed a sigh into his book, but couldn’t keep a grin off his face.
Bilbo always remembered his parents acting this way with each other, like there was a big secret that only they shared. Bella and Bungo were the picture of happiness, and their love for each other only helped to grow Bilbo’s excitement at the prospect of having a soulmate, someone who could make him that happy. On one of these nights where Belladonna and Bilbo were creating wild fantasies about soulmates and coloring, Bungo popped in to give his two cents on the matter.
“One day, someone will give you your colors, no doubt about it,” His father would tell him. “One day, you will see your first colors on the face of your soulmate, and that feeling is like nothing else in this world.”
As a child, Bilbo was filled with excitement for his future. As he grew older, though, his father’s sentiment turned into a hope, then a wish, then a dream, until the thought of getting his colors was no more than a fantasy to Bilbo. Being relatively remote, almost every hobbit was able to find their soulmate within the Shire. There were a few who never did get their colors, but the reason was not always clear. It was singularly uncommon to come of age without having met your soulmate already, or meeting them sometime soon after. Bilbo came of age and kept growing, not once having seen one glimpse of color. The fact of the matter was Bilbo and everyone in the Shire had come to accept that Bilbo would never get his colors.
On that morning, a few days after turning 40, one month since the last time his mother listed the colors of the rainbow to him, Bilbo realized that he was well and truly alone in this world. Bilbo looked out the window of his bedroom at the grey trees, and the white sky, turned to the grey walls of his bedroom, the black and grey grain of wood on his bed posts, seeing nothing but grey and black and more grey. He shut his eyes, pulled the grey quilt over his eyes, and cried.
Chapter 2: Choice and Chance
Bilbo makes a choice and leaves the rest to chance. Thorin couldn't care less. For the most part.
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Bilbo woke the morning after those thirteen blasted dwarves decided to decimate his home in a state of utter confusion. Those rascals, while having cleared out his pantry, left boot marks on his dinner table, and left bits of food and mud in every spot imaginable, also apparently had enough sense to clean and stack his good china, and fold Bilbo’s extra quilts into a neat pile beside the fireplace. Bilbo scoffed out loud remembering that ridiculous song and dance they had done while putting away the dishware.
He was just wondering how they all could have come up with that song so quickly, or if somehow it had been planned beforehand, when his eyes fell upon the contract, lying open to display the signatures scrawled along the bottom. Thorin son of Thrain and Balin son of Fundin. There was an empty space where Bilbo assumed they wanted his name to go, or at least some of the dwarves wanted his name to go. Actually, if he thought about the events of the previous night, Bilbo decided that maybe only Gandalf had wanted his name there at all, of the dwarves behavior toward the hobbit was anything to judge by.
Especially their leader, that Thorin Oakenshield. How incredibly rude he was, even after Bilbo had hosted his terrifying gang of ruffians for dinner! Bilbo had gotten his hopes up when a knock on the door finally rang out and shut up the dwarves for the first time that night. He was almost relieved when Gandalf had opened the door of his hobbit-hole up and the dwarf on the other side of it did not immediately begin to shout his head off, as had been the trend up until that point.
In fact, Bilbo’s impression of the dwarf had been very high, indeed. Before he had even learned of the true nature of this unexpected visit, Bilbo could admit that Thorin Oakenshield looked, well, regal. With his head turned to the sky and the slow, small bow he gave Gandalf. And then he had to keep talking, and ruin the whole image.
Why would anyone, ever, make an excuse of getting “lost” in Hobbiton? Let alone admit to getting lost twice! There was only one road! How many hobbit-holes had the “King Under the Mountain” knocked on that night?
And then, as a cherry on top, without one word of thanks for hosting his twelve belligerent brutes, he had the audacity to insult Bilbo to his face! Bilbo let out an inane laugh at the incredulity of the dwarf’s comment about grocery.
He shook his head and picked up the contract to reread some of the more ridiculous sections. He didn’t feel quite so queasy reading about all the possible ways he could have died on their absurd quest. How Gandalf could ever think that Bilbo was the right burglar for this quest, Bilbo would never understand. Gandalf should have known that a Baggins is not one to volunteer himself for “incineration”. No, Bilbo would much rather stay here, in the Shire, safe and comfortable in his Bag-End. By himself.
The thought stilled Bilbo where he stood in front of the hearth. The place where he would sit with his mother and father, and later on just his mother, and now a place he could barely stand to be by himself. The silence of the living room without anyone to speak with, no one to brighten Bilbo’s grey view from his chair by the fire. It was almost too much for Bilbo to bear.
And then to see those thirteen dwarves, all their cheer replaced with solemnity, gather together and sing of the home they had lost. The scene of brotherhood in his home reminded Bilbo so forcefully of his family that he had to retreat back to his bedroom, in hopes of lessening the ache in his heart.
Bilbo plopped down heavily in the armchair that was always favored by his father, staring blankly at the contract in his hands, but not reading the words. Bilbo considered his options: He could remain here, in a home haunted by his family who he loved so much, surrounded by the same grey world he had been living in all his life. Or, he could gamble his life away and escape with a band of hooligans to face whatever horrid end came their way.
Bilbo’s face was screwed up in confusion, realizing that he was maybe, possibly, perhaps considering following these buffoons on their doomed quest to fight an actual dragon.
Then a thought entered his head that immediately had him racing around his house, grabbing his pack and anything his flustered mind could think to bring with him. It was a memory that Bilbo had almost forgotten, something that didn’t mean much to him until right this second. The thought echoed through his mind louder and louder until he could see the line of dwarves accompanied by a wizard at the end of the road.
Bilbo remembered something his mother said to him, one day soon before his father died while Bilbo was lamenting the fact that maybe he was destined to see grey for the rest of his life. Belladonna never tolerated her son giving up, especially regarding such important matters of the heart. Belladonna Took, adventuress extraordinaire, slapped her teacup down onto the table, and waving one finger wildly in the air at her son she told him,
“If you are fated to see the world in shades of grey, you damn well better be determined to see as much of it as you possibly can.”
In all honesty, Thorin had been gobsmacked when he heard a small voice calling out them to wait. He turned around to stare at their supposed “burglar” and only let his jaw hang for a few seconds before righting himself and calling for the hobbit to be put on a pony. Thorin wondered what could possibly convinced the soft, short, grocer of a thing to join them on their quest, thinking that maybe the Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End had been replaced over the night.
Then the halfling started jabbering on about “walking holidays” and “no ponies necessary, thank you”, and let out a down right squeal when he was hefted onto one by Dori and Nori. That was more in character with the neurotic, fainting, flimsy thing they had met last night. It was almost impossible for Thorin to keep from rolling his eyes out of their sockets when Bilbo stopped them all to make a very public complaint about his missing handkerchief. Thorin stayed and the front of the line, and it seemed that the hobbit was content to stay at the back of the line with the wizard, talking of unimportant things just to fill the air with some useless noise.
“Well, Thorin, what do you think about our newest companion?” Thorin heaved a sigh and threw his coin bag at Balin without so much as a glance that way. Balin’s answering chuckle told Thorin he wasn’t really looking for an answer. Balin already knew just what Thorin thought about the hobbit, thoughts that most of the company would probably wholeheartedly agree with: Bilbo Baggins seems to be more trouble than he is worth to this quest. He is inexperienced, untrained, clueless, innocent, and a bigger liability than Thorin would like. Thorin could only hope that Gandalf wouldn’t fail him in this.
As if the wizard had heard Thorin’s doubts, Gandalf let out a hearty laugh at whatever Bilbo had just said to him, and Thorin risked a look over his shoulder to see the scene. Gandalf was still laughing, shaking his head at the hobbit and saying something that made the hobbit laugh back at him. Bilbo smiled, but kept his eyes warily trained his pony’s mane and hands tight around the reins, as though is he let his guard down for one second the beast would send him topple him right off the saddle.
Gandalf let out a contented sigh, and his eyes made contact with Thorin’s. The wizard lifted his eyebrows and nodded his head down, quite obviously trying to say I told you so from afar. Thorin turned around with no answering look, and shook his head. Weren't wizards said to be wise? Where is the wisdom in putting the fate of their whole journey on the shoulders of a halfling? Thorin’s eyes rolled again out of their own accord as he heard Gandalf begin to hum a melody to himself. Thorin strained to hear the lyrics in the wizards mumbled voice, but Thorin could not mistake Bilbo’s excited cry when the hobbit recognized the tune before Thorin did.
“Gandalf, I know that melody! My mother taught it to me, said it was an old hobbit walking tune, however do you know it?” Bilbo asked his friend, glee mixing with another tone Thorin could not quite recognize.
“Perhaps it was once a hobbit walking song, or perhaps it became one once your mother took to singing it, but I can assure you, that is not where your mother learned this song. Let’s hear how much of it you know and see if I cannot grow your knowledge. We both know that your mother was not as great a teacher as I.” Gandalf smiled slyly behind his long grey beard, winking at the hobbit, and Bilbo laughed in return as if they had shared some secret joke.
Thorin glanced over his shoulder in time to see the halfling draw a deep breath and start singing, swaying in his seat with the rhythm of the music.
“The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can”
Thorin whipped his head back around to hard he wrenched his neck, but he didn’t so much as flinch from the whiplash. No, Thorin was far too preoccupied with the light, sweet song floating his way from behind. He would recognize it anywhere, follow that voice to the ends of the earth, he would never be complete without that voice by his side for the rest of his days.
The feeling of finding your soulmate had been described to him many times before, by his parents, by his sister, and they all told Thorin it would be nothing like he expected it to be, and Thorin had to admit that they’d been right.
Thorin never expected to feel such utter, absolute, bone-shaking dread.
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Chapter 3: Mushrooms
Little mushrooms cause big problems.
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Bilbo has been staring at these godforsaken mushroom for far, far too long. Bilbo knew he had to have been crouching there, in the forest, all alone, for much longer than he should, but he was sent out here on a mission and by thunder he was going to finish it.
Bombur had actually sent him out just as the sun was going down to pick out a few wild mushrooms to add some variety and flavor to their rather redundant daily stew. Bilbo could only blame himself for being handed the task, since he was the one who raved over mushrooms for almost half the day, letting his stomach practically do the talking for him. As much as Bilbo was glad Bombur decided to listen to him, here on the foot of a tree holding two practically identical mushrooms in either hand, Bilbo swore to never again speak to that dwarf on any subject, lest some other regretful situation befall him afterwards.
Bilbo probably wouldn’t stick to that promise, since there were no bad intentions behind Bombur’s asking for a favor, and at this point, Bilbo can’t be too picky. After Bofur became friendly with Bilbo it didn’t take much for Bofur’s brother and cousin to join him in the hobbit’s company. Bofur’s easy-going nature soothed Bilbo’s tendency to worry all the energy out of his littler body, and Bombur, while being a quieter fellow, never seemed to mind Bilbo’s pointless ramblings. Bifur was even less of a conversationalist than his cousin, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. They settled into the routine of sitting beside each other before going to sleep, Bofur or Bilbo telling a tale or two, Bombur giving a hearty chuckle whenever the story called for it and Bifur making remarks every so often, only half of which Bofur felt were worth translating for Bilbo. And in all honesty, picking some mushrooms for dinner would be the most useful thing he’s done since joining the company, and really there was no one to blame for that besides Bilbo himself.
“Bilbo, could I get you to find a few o’ those mushrooms you were tellin’ me about earlier? I think they’d make a fine addition to supper tonight.” Bombur said to him after Bofur and Bifur had set off to find firewood. Bilbo had been so excited to finally be tasked with something, even something so menial, that he nearly tripped over himself in his haste to help his new found friend. He had gotten so ahead of himself that it wasn’t until Bilbo was a few steps into the woods that he realized what a problem he had just made for himself.
Upon his unfortunate realization, naturally, Bilbo stood like an idiot in the middle of the wood without moving at all, waging in internal war on whether or not to turn back and ask for help, or just pray to whatever god was listening and hope he picked the right mushroom. Once Bilbo decided he’d rather be incinerated in dragon-fire than bring Thorin Oakenshield’s respect for him to an inconceivable low by asking for help picking mushrooms , Bilbo continued his trek into the forest, keeping an eye out for any fungi growing at the root of the trees he passed by.
And that is how he ended up on the forest floor, two small piles of nearly identical mushroom on either side of him, thoroughly inspecting each one in hopes on finding some hidden difference between the two that would tell Bilbo which mushroom was to one good for stew and which one was an incredibly effective laxative. Usually, Bilbo had no trouble distinguishing what should be eaten and what shouldn’t, but that was because he got his potentially poisonous foods either at the market or out of his own garden. These two mushrooms looked incredibly similar in almost every way except there was a slight difference in the shade of gray on the mushroom caps, and that little gray tint was causing Bilbo a lot of heartache.
One of these mushrooms is red, and the other is not. Bilbo just had to decide which was which.
And if he didn’t decide soon, someone was going to come and find him, and figure out the one secret Bilbo had tried so hard to keep from thirteen unbelievably nosey dwarves, and then they would just have another thing to hold over him for the rest of the journey, and mostly likely they would make him tell why exactly he couldn’t see color, and then they would look at him the same way the other hobbits looked at him in the Shire, with a mixture of pity and wariness, always wondering why Yavanna wouldn’t give him a soulmate like everybody else, and then he would have to work even harder than he is right now just to be seen as normal , let alone as part of the company, and then Bilbo would die a painful death in a dragon’s lair without a single person in Middle Earth to deliver the news to.
Somewhere in the middle of Bilbo’s spiralling, a dwarf did indeed stumble upon the interesting sight of the company’s burglar crouching in a small hoard of mushrooms, muttering to himself, quite detached from any and all of his surroundings. Nori watched the show for a few minutes until he saw Bilbo heave a despairing sigh, bringing his hands up to cover his eyes and letting the mushrooms fall through his fingers onto the dirt beneath. Obviously there was something the matter with Master Baggins, and Nori was too curious to know how that related to mushrooms, so he stepped out from his hiding spot and stepped over to Bilbo, making enough noise to be noticed.
“Having trouble, Master Baggins?” Apparently his stomping around wasn’t enough to break Bilbo from his racing thoughts, because his head snapped out of his hands fast enough to tip his balance and send him toppling down onto his bum.
“Didn’t mean to scare ya, Master Burglar,” Nori apologized, “just was wondering what you’re doin’ with those mushrooms. Seem to be having difficulty with...something. Would you like a hand?” Nori was sure they were just having a harmless conversations about mushrooms, but looking at the way Bilbo gaped at him, eyes wide and face turning pink, visible even in the dying light, Nori began to feel as though he misstepped.
“No! Well, no-- I mean, yes-- But no, really, Master Nori I thank you, b--I can do this myself, I think, I should-- I can’t- Guh!” Bilbo broke off his jumbled reply with a frustrated grunt, clenching his fists and looking up to the sky. Nori could have easily excused himself and let the burglar have his breakdown in peace, but he was growing more and more curious as to how some mushrooms caused him to become so apoplectic, so instead he remained and waited for an answer as Bilbo collected himself. Bilbo’s shoulders slunk down in defeat and he dropped his hands down onto his lap, twisting them together uncomfortably.
“I need help with this,” Bilbo said, lowering his head but still not meeting Nori’s eyes. Had it been any other company member asking help with something so simple a newborn could accomplish it on their own, or if Bilbo hadn’t said it in such a defeated, deprecating voice as though the shame of needing any help was almost too much, Nori would have laughed right in their face. But instead, Nori nodded his head and went to kneel next to Bilbo where he still sat surrounded by blue and red mushrooms.
“What do ya need, lad?” Nori asked as genuinely as he could, because he knows he doesn’t exude the most trustworthy air, but Bilbo still looked at him like he was expecting Nori to take back his words and leave him to sort out his own problems. When no rejection came, Bilbo scooted up so that he was sitting on his knees and grabbed a mushroom in each hand, looking at them with more fury in his face than when the company had started throwing around his beloved china.
“Bombur asked me to come out here and collect some mushrooms for the stew tonight, and I promised him I would, and now I’ve found these two mushrooms but I don’t know which is the eatable one and which one is not.” Bilbo’s story tumbled out of his mouth all at once like it was some sort of confession. The issue at hand did in fact take Nori by surprise, since he definitely did not know anything about mushroom, nor how to tell if one was eatable or not. Bilbo must have seen the bafflement on Nori’s face because he quickly clarified, “Now, I know how to tell which one is the eatable one, but I need your help for that. Just...please don’t tell any of the others about it?” Nori was beginning to feel more and more out of his depth with this one, more used to being in situations where the quickest way out involved violence or weaponry of some sort. He could also sense that whatever Bilbo was about to have him do would result in incredible embarrassment for one or both of them, but it was so easy to tell that all Bilbo really wanted was to do something right and keep his promise to his friend, so Nori relented.
“Not a word. What do you need me to do?” Bilbo held both of the mushrooms out towards Nori and with a heavy, solemn air, asked, “Which one of these is red?”
Nori’s first assumption was that Bilbo had played a prank on him, not such an uncommon occurrence when traveling with the two princes. But then, if it was a prank, it wasn’t a very funny prank, nor did it have much of an impact on Nori, besides a little confusion. Also, Nori had found Bilbo in a state of near tears over these mushrooms, and he doubted that Bilbo decided to just sit there until someone found him just so he could pull a weak prank on them. Fully decided that this was not a prank, Nori eloquently replied, “What.”
The tension in Bilbo’s posture dissolved a little bit at Nori’s antics, and he almost rolled his eyes.
“I can’t tell which of these mushrooms is red and which one is brown, but you can, so please, which one is it?” Nori still didn’t say anything, but frowned and pointed dumbly and Bilbo’s left hand. Bilbo let out a sigh of relief and set the red mushroom down in its pile on his left side and began collecting the brown mushrooms from the other pile, “Thank you, Nori, I couldn’t have done it without you! Can you grab some from this pile, I’d like to pack some away for dinner in the future; if there’s one thing I’ve learned already it’s that it is always smart to plan ahead.”
Bilbo chattered on and Nori started collecting mushrooms beside him while the cogs were still grinding incredibly slow in Nori’s head. He was almost afraid to ask, but his curiosity got the better of him, “Bilbo, can you not see colors?”
Bilbo slowed to a halt in the middle of packing away mushrooms and went quiet after the question. His eyes lowered to the ground and he ducked his head before carrying on with his task with decidedly less enthusiasm than before, and answered, “I haven’t got my colors yet.”
That alone gave Nori so much more to unpack he did not even know where to begin, so he decided he would either let the burglar do the talking or let the whole thing go. “What do you mean by that, lad,” Nori pressed, a feeble attempt to keep his wits from smoking out of his head trying to understand this hobbit.
“I just haven’t gotten my colors yet, alright?” he repeated himself with a harsher tone and much more bite that before, but almost immediately the fight drained out of Bilbo and he sat back on his heels and shook his head, “What am I saying. No, Nori, I haven’t gotten my colors. At this point, I don’t believe I ever will. If someone was meant to give me my colors, they obviously aren’t around any more.
“It’s unheard of in the Shire, fifty years old and still haven’t met my soulmate. I long ago decided to stop waiting on my colors, but for some reason I still tell myself ‘I haven’t gotten my colors yet ’. I’m sorry Nori, but you were a great help to me just now, so I thought you ought to know. Also, you promised me you wouldn’t tell anyone else, and I’ll hold you to it, don’t think I won’t. It’s just, some problems are unavoidable when you can’t see colors, and I don’t want to be any more trouble than I already am. You’re not going to tell them, right?”
Nori was...still confused. “You don’t see color...until you meet your soulmate?”
Now Bilbo was the confused one. “Well no, we actually have to touch our soulmate, on the skin, to get our colors. Do you just have to meet them? That seems much more convenient, and it would explain why you dwarves don’t shake hands.”
Nori desperately needed to get on the same page as Bilbo but this conversation was just spiralling, “No, we don’t…do it like that at all. You don’t have a Heartsong?”
“Heartsong? I’ve never even heard of that, can you tell me about it? Unless it’s another precious dwarven secret or something, then that’s fine. Although I did just bear my heart and soul to you, but no matter.” For such a serious topic of conversation, Bilbo still felt the need to say so much more than necessary for some reason. “So you all see color? For your whole lives?”
Nori was shocked; he couldn’t imagine having to live your life not knowing if there even was someone out there for you. At least with a Heartsong, as long as you heard it, your One was out there. Nori couldn’t imagine what it must have taken for Bilbo to admit that maybe he would never see color. “Yes, we do all see color. I probably am not the one to tell you about Heartsongs, but maybe sometime ask my brother about it. He loves getting to teach people, especially about dwarven history. That lad is like a walking library,” Nori reached over and put a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, “I won’t tell anyone; I made a promise, didn’t I? We should get back before Bombur finishes the stew we worked so hard to contribute to.”
The stew was practically done by the time the walked back to camp, but the bounty of mushrooms seemed to excite the whole company, save one dwarf. After talking with Nori, Bilbo had felt a little more light-hearted that he had earlier on the trip, but Thorin managed to ruin that as well in a matter of seconds.
“How did gathering mushrooms take so long? It could not have been that difficult a task, even for you, Master Burglar.” Panic set in on Bilbo almost immediately after Thorin opened his mouth, and he was searching for a quick excuse that would be believable, but not make Bilbo look like an utter dolt, when Nori surprised them all.
“Aye, wasn’t hard at all, with Master Bilbo’s knowledge of plants, didn’t take more than a few minutes. He did help me collect a few other things too, however.” Nori unhooked a pouch from his belt and tossed it to Oin, who was sitting near the fire with his brother. He opened the pouch to reveal bundles of herbs and flowers for medicine and poultices, earning a happy thanks from the healer and stony silence from their leader.
As Bilbo turned away to help Bombur serve the stew, he shared a small smile with Nori. Bilbo would really have to make it up to his newest friend, but for now, Bilbo was content, and it would be a while before he let Thorin Oakenshield ruin that for him again.
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Chapter 4: Flowers and Fights
Thorin always knows exactly how to mess things up.
HEY EVERYONE-- what's got two thumbs and can't get either of them to FUCKING WRITE??? THIS GIRL!!!
I literally NEVER wanted this chapter to take so DANG long, but i also had NO IDEA what to write for it until like,,, two days ago!!! I'm so sorry for the wait, I can't promise it won't happen again, but I'm only two weeks away from the end of term so I should have more free time coming up. Fingers crossed.
Also THANK YOU!!! to everyone who commented, kudo'd, bookmarked, hit, WHATEVER, thank you SO MUCH!!!! it all makes my heart grow three sizes :,-)))
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sometime after the Troll incident, there was a smaller, less life-threatening and more embarrassing incident involving the young princes of Durin and Bilbo’s shirts. It had happened in the confusing mix of uncontrollable excitement on Bilbo’s part to finally wash the remnants of troll mucus off his body, and a poorly planned prank from Fili and Kili; they had tried to steal their burglar’s clothes and hide them somewhere far from the bathhouse, and wait to see if the hobbit would dare to streak across the Last Homely House in search of them or if he would rather drown himself in the bath. Instead what ended up happening was the clothes were found not one minute after being hidden by Thorin, who promptly threatened the brothers for a record amount of time and charged them with returning the clothes with an apology from both of them.
Bilbo, who normally would have been infuriated to learn he had almost fallen victim to a prank, let alone one that involved nudity, laughed when the boys explained themselves and apologized. His good mood from the relative safety and the bath and the food would not be ruined so easily by a harmless, failed joke. No, instead it would be ruined by Fili and Kili’s insatiable curiosity.
“Master Boggins, we were wondering about your shirts,” Kili began after Bilbo had accepted their apology, and Fili finished his question,
“Why do you embroider the color of the cloth into them, instead of your name?” The question had the blood draining from Bilbo’s face in a second, and had him rethinking the “harmlessness” of their prank. Unfortunately the boys were as stubborn as their uncle, so that added two more dwarves to the list of People Who Know Things They Shouldn’t Know. Fili and Kili were not as good at hiding their distress when Bilbo told them he probably didn’t have a soulmate, so Bilbo had faith that they wouldn’t betray his secret. In fact, the boys had volunteered to be his personal “color-identifiers” for the rest of the journey.
“Just point, and we can tell you what color it is. Simple, easy, no one even has to know about it! Watch, we’ll give you an example,” Fili cut himself off abruptly to point at one of the convenient water pitchers placed in each of the guest quarters they had been shown to. Fili doesn’t even have to look at his brother for Kili to catch on.
“Ah, yes dear brother, that light blue vase on the dark brown table in the corner is almost exactly the color of the water running through the white marble fountains these pointy-eared pansies are so fond of!” he said, emphasizing each color with overt winks thrown in Bilbo’s direction. The boys went on in that fashion for much longer than Bilbo thought they could, considering that the descriptions of almost everything in the room was either tan or white. As childish and playful as it was, Bilbo couldn’t help the sudden rush of emotion that knocked his breath away while he listened to the princes list off colors to him, exactly the way his mother used to. He knows Fili and Kili probably wouldn’t understand what’s got him so choked up, that filling in colors for someone who can’t see them is something so kind and intimate, done between family members and loved ones usually, not business-acquaintance-strangers you’ve only known for not even three weeks, that he just accepts the offer in exchange for sworn secrecy on their behalf.
Once Fili and Kili have made their oaths, they insist on showing Bilbo all across Rivendell, never once ceasing to describe, in much more detail than necessary, the colors surrounding them. Bilbo has to remind them both several times that colors like “teal” and “cerulean” and “sapphire” all look gray to him, so Bilbo has no way of knowing that all three of those colors are shades of blue. It was a nice distraction from the deep-seated and constant anxiety Bilbo had felt since he joined this ridiculous quest, just a fun game to play while they wait for a decision to be made by someone in charge, until the three of them stumbled upon the gardens.
Bilbo’s mother had told him so often about the gardens at Rivendell, always granting her son’s wish to hear about them again, no matter how many times she had told him before. No other tale of Belladonna’s had so much color in it as these gardens did. Bilbo knew, even as a child, this was no view to see in black and white. Yet, here he was: standing in his mother’s favorite spot in all of Middle Earth, looking around at what he must assume are the “blue lilies like no other garden in Arda, green ivy with leaves the size your you hand, vines dotted in the tiniest pink blooms you could ever see,” and the world is still grey.
The lighthearted mood of their earlier escapades dimmed quickly as the brothers watched their burglar’s eyes turn watery and shoulders fall as he reached out to touch a bright magenta dahlia. They shared a look, realizing maybe they had a bigger problem on their hands than previously thought.
It is that scene that Thorin walks by; he sees Fili lay a protective arm around the hobbit’s drooping shoulders and turn in toward the rest of the garden, walking through the greenery and pointing occasionally at some plant or another on their way. He sees Kili going deeper into the garden, picking up every fallen blossom, petal, or even leaves off the ground and returning triumphant to his brother and the burglar to show off his treasures. A few times, Bilbo would reach out and take one of the flowers Kili had found and keep it with him. Whenever he does that the brothers shoot each other a quick glance over the burglar’s head, some sort of secret communication taking place without any acknowledgement from the hobbit between them.
Thorin was too far away to hear what they’re talking about, but simply watching the scene gave him incredibly mixed emotions. Rationally, Thorin was happy to see Bilbo get along with his nephews, but the warm feeling of affection for his boys is quickly overtaken by jealousy. Totally unwarranted and unreasonable jealousy turned Thorin’s muscles to stone and almost tainted his vision red as he stared at the arm around his Heartsong’s shoulder, an arm that clearly is not Thorin’s, therefore had no place on that shoulder.
When rational thought decides to return to Thorin, the only emotions left are concern and confusion. He was ready to rip Fili’s arm out of its socket to keep him from touching the burglar that Thorin does not even like, for no logical reason whatsoever! Thorin beat a hasty retreat away from the gardens without being seen by any of the three inside and returned back to their guest rooms. For the sake of everyone involved, Thorin was ready to forget he ever even saw or felt a thing and return his attention to the task at hand.
At least, he tried to return his attention to the task at hand. But later that evening, when Fili, Kili, and Bilbo rejoined the group for a rebellious bonfire dinner, rather than eat the rabbit food the elves so “generously” prepared for them, the unchecked jealousy and possessive fire came back. The three of them were seated by the fire, the halfling squished between the two princes, hands still full of petals and leaves, and all of them laughing like they were children. It looked as though they had gotten into an impromptu flower fight, judging by the dusting of ripped petals and pollen stuck their hair. Bilbo himself had at one point put a great white flower behind his ear, the wide petals contrasting against his curly hair that seemed to glow with firelight. He was laughing breathlessly between Fili and Kili, his cheeks coloring with joy, and Thorin had never seen him so relaxed as he seemed there. He looked beautiful.
When that little though flicked through Thorin’s mind he nearly crushed the bowl of stew he was holding, his knuckled having turned white in his grip without ever realizing. He set the bowl down with more force than necessary, garnering the attention of most of the company, three flower boys included. When he coughed out Khuzdul in their direction, not asking but ordering his nephews to follow him, he turned and walked away from the company before seeing the wide, confused, slightly terrified looks perfectly mirrored on the brothers’ faces. Thorin was going to end whatever was happening, and he planned on ending it tonight.
Bilbo had no idea just what Thorin had said to his nephews before rudely stomping off in the middle of dinner, but by the looks on Fili and Kili’s faces, it was nothing good. If Bilbo hadn’t been quite so concerned for the boys he would have laughed at the way they sprung up in tandem the moment after their uncle’s back turned the corner, quickly brushing off all the loose petals from each other’s clothes and hair, letting it all haphazardly fall onto Bilbo in their panic.
The brothers steeled themselves before joining their uncle away from the company. The rest of the dwarves turned back to their dinners, a much quieter affair than it was just a minute ago. When the palpable tension in the air diffused somewhat and light chattering began again, Bilbo made his way from where Fili and Kili had abandoned him over to sit with Bofur and Bifur.
“I know I probably shouldn’t even ask, but what just happened?” Bilbo leaned in towards Bofur, knowing that out of the dwarves present, Bofur was least likely to give him a hard time over his naive question. But Bofur just glanced over Bilbo’s shoulder to where the three Durin’s had went off to before replying,
“Honestly, I’m not quite sure myself. Wouldn’t be so surprised if it had something to do with the way you had the boys dressed up like fairies, with the flowers in the hair an’ everything.” Bofur made his point by picking a few scattered leaves off the ground and throwing them over Bilbo’s head with exaggerated arm waving included. Bilbo opened his mouth to say how he wasn’t the one who started that and not to blame Bilbo for the excitability of the two brothers, but the words died on his lips as he snapped them closed. If Thorin’s problem was with the flowers, which hopefully it wasn’t, but if it was that would mean either Fili and Kili are going to lie right to their uncle’s face about what they all were doing in the gardens, or they are going to give up his secret within 5 hours of learning it!
Coincidentally, just as Bilbo was hurtling himself into a self-inspired panic attack, the object of his anxiety decided to return as if on cue. Thorin was yet again stomping, this time towards the company, and this time also angrier if the look on his face was anything to judge by. And Bilbo was judging by it, since the burning look was directed solely and unerringly at Bilbo. He barely registered the rapid, flustered Khuzdul following from behind Thorin, coming from Fili and Kili. Bilbo couldn’t tell what they were trying to say, but their tone of voice was bordering on frantic, each of them trying to step in front of their uncle to no avail.
Thorin halted right in front of the makeshift fire, anger illuminated by the orange glow, fists clenched at his sides, a terrifying and regal picture if Bilbo ever saw one. Quite fitting too, since right there is where Thorin decided to carry out his, very public, interrogation.
“Burglar! Do you care to share what secret you have sworn my nephews to keep from me?”
Despite the incredibly terrible situation Bilbo now found himself in, he couldn’t help but feel touched that the young princes did not give away his secret. Of course, that little glimpse of positivity was inevitably short lived, as now Bilbo was the one who had to lie right to Thorin’s face. Looking up at the dwarf towering over Bilbo who was still sitting on the ground, lit up by fire and rage, the hobbit wasn’t so sure lying was his best option. Even if he could come up with a convincing lie, Bilbo was almost certain the repercussions for lying to the company leader and king were somewhere along the lines of death.
While the problems in the hobbit’s head were growing exponentially larger by the second, Bilbo realized he still hadn’t even responded to Thorin’s wild accusation. He barely squeaked out a, “What?” before Thorin was speaking again.
“What exactly are you hiding, Burglar? I would like to know just what you three were discussing in the gardens when you collected all of that ridiculous garbage!” Thorin’s face was absolutely thunderous at that point, and Bilbo could practically feel himself begin to drown under the pressure of his anger, feeling like a fool, just sitting on his arse covered in flowers, taking this verbal lashing as though he deserved it when he most certainly did not. “Whatever it was, it must be some secret, for even my sister-sons to keep it from me! In the favor of a halfling! Tell us all, Burglar, before you lose your place in this company.”
At that, Bilbo could see the other dwarves begin to grow visibly uncomfortable with the weight of Thorin’s threats. Bilbo even saw Nori shift towards them and open his mouth to interject, but a murderous look from Thorin kept him quiet. No, this was Bilbo’s fight, whether or not he wanted to fight it.
Bilbo took a shaky breath before looking away to Thorin’s boots, the weight of Thorin’s eyes still on him making his shoulders draw even closer to Bilbo’s ears. He couldn’t even look at Thorin when he stuttered out, at barely over a mutter, “I don’t have my colors yet.”
“Speak clearly halfling, what are you-”
“I don’t have my colors yet.” Bilbo was still staring at Thorin’s boots, but the dwarves could all see the twisted expression on his face.
“We were in the garden because Fili and Kili were telling me the colors of the flowers. That’s it, I swear. Nothing that important,” Bilbo mumbled the last few words, saying them out loud in hopes that they might come true. Thorin and the rest of the dwarves were quite for a moment. Thorin thinking about what had been said while Nori, Fili, and Kili looked between the three of them and silently wondered if they could all just leave it at that without any further explanation, thus saving their hobbit from further humiliation. But of course, Thorin was not satisfied.
“There is not reason to keep that a secret, Burglar. There must be more that you have not-”
“What do you want me to say?” Bilbo interrupted again, though this time, his head was lifted and he met Thorin’s stare with a thunderous one of his own. He stood abruptly, loose petals falling to the ground at the movement; his own hands were gripped into tight fists, and behind the anger morphing his face the pain from his confession was still visible.
“What do you want me to say? That I can’t see colors and I probably never will? That your nephews are the first ones to show me colors since my mother died? That I am utterly alone in this dull, dead, grey hellscape, surrounded by dwarves who have seen color their whole lives? Or maybe you want me to tell you that there is not a single hobbit left in the Shire who still believes that there is a soulmate out there for me, that not even I believe it, and that my missing half is either long dead, or they never existed, is that a good enough answer for you, Master Dwarf?”
Bilbo was breathing heavily by the end, standing toe to toe with Thorin, looking directly into his eyes despite the tears threatening to spill over at any moment. The anger was still there in his expression, but not just at Thorin, there was a deeper, older anger that Bilbo had obviously long since locked away. Bilbo took one deep breath and as he let it out he straightened his hunched shoulders and stiff back, raising his chin to keep eye contact with Thorin. Then, in a voice only audible to Thorin, “I knew you were rude and unkind, but I never realized how cruel you are.”
With that, Bilbo took the white flower from behind his pointed ear and tossed it to the ground at Thorin’s boots, watching it hit the stone beneath them and wilt. He turned around, and with a barely audibly, “Goodnight,” to Bofur as he was passed, went off to bed.
Thorin was frozen in his spot, at a complete loss of what to do next. Fili and Kili looked equal parts shocked and furious at their uncle and left Thorin's side before he could turn and face them. The rest of the company had mirroring looks of shock, still absorbing everything the hobbit had said. There was no more chattering as they all found their way to bed, just the sounds of bedrolls being laid out and packs being shifted.
That night, as Thorin laid to sleep, he felt again more than ever before, that he truly did not deserve the beautiful voice that sung in his dreams.
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PS also if you were wondering the flower Bilbo has in his hair is a Gardenia, which ;-) symbolizes secret love ;-)