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Not About That Heroic Life

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"Yeah, I did it. Why not? Look, I do a lot of shit."

—Lana Del Rey, when asked if she did witchcraft against Donald Trump


The first time is unnatural.

1968. Her goldfish dies. A portrait of Mother Mary looks upon the scene in quiet penance or loud judgment.

Maya's own mother, with an indistinguishable face, brings a hand down on her small shoulder, but the teen fails to feel it and makes for the door. The shoddy tank and a shovel the size of her calve are respectively under each arm as she slips busted sneakers on.

"I'll bury it in the garden. Be right back."

The woman she leaves behind almost calls her back, like the meaningless consolation offered during a funeral, not knowing there will be nothing left to grieve.

Certainly, Maya carries no remorse; the pet was only something she had won at a festival, after all. She isn't going to actually bury it in the garden either, not wanting to be reminded of how she didn't take proper care of it. The girl hadn't even bothered to give the poor creature a name, though "Ori" had been swimming around for a while.

So, the forest it is, in the dead of night among the very much alive crickets…

… and a man with the same idea, burying the body of a dead, nameless sister behind a bush. Maya stands no chance, her scream seeping into the earth like the discarded goldfish and its water, tank lolled against the base of a tree. The authorities will find her body much later, when DNA testing revolutionizes criminal prosecution.

The second time is peaceful.

2067. Stage 5 leukemia. Her hijab is coiled on the table, as her son and his wife hover over the bed. You'd think that by now, there would be a cure for this shit.

The world is white and gray and almost gone; Maya can feel it in the very bones that intend for her death, but finds little reason to struggle. She has lived a full life—one and a third, her heart whispers—Allah needs her back now.

"M-mama, don't go," (what's his name again?) sobs.

"Don't stay," Maya replies, wheezing past the cortisone in her veins and the respirator. "I… don't want you… t-to see me… like this."

The crying only gets louder then, wracking the shattered man like a torrential rain over dry canopies. She smiles one last time and points a wrinkled finger up, before melting into the sheets.

The fifth time is bullshit.

Unknown year. A student throws a SAT book over her lithe black form. Being mush has always been her dream, next to being a fucking spider. Real funny, Buddha.

The seventh time is hot.

754. It ends fairly quick and simple: she's trying to make bread and then the oven decides to cook her instead, bursting from its clay top. Hopefully she tastes good? Do they do cannibalism this gen? Maybe the pagans, huh.

The tenth time is loving.

1980. Bullets hurt like a bitch, but "he", this new Maya, laughs hysterically as they come raining down from the sky. His little brother is not far behind, as they take shelter behind a decaying brick wall, combat boots pressed into water and muck.

The opposition is closing in on the dynamic duo, but they will never shut down their spirits. Just a while ago, the siblings had taken down a base, alerting other guerillas of the conquer. In the wake of being tracked down, they wound up fleeing the scene once reinforcement arrived.

"Los hemos puesto en la persecución!" he praises. There is fire in his sweet brown eyes and golden light in the leaves. "We have put them on the pursuit!"

"Somos imparables," Maya replies, squeezing his thin arm. "We are unstoppable."

And the twenty-two year-old genuinely believes it, wiping bloody hands down his grimy green uniform. Upon noticing the way his right leg loses feeling the longer they play sitting ducks, Maya turns fully to the other boy, who has not yet turned fourteen. Farewells are in order, after all. He hears the chopper overhead and sees the red dot zipping along their heads, breaths and heartbeats synchronized. Baby brother grabs the cross around his neck as he leans in.

"Eres mi orgullo y gozo. Te amo no importa que," a hard kiss to the forehead. "You are my pride and joy. I love you no matter what."

They are shot consecutively, slumped side by side in the heart of their beloved, broken nation.

The fourteenth time is magical.

1992. What the hell, gravity. She thought you were pals, but maybe Jesus doesn't do witches.

Maya falls off her broom and sees The Boy Who Lived once in the stands before the impact. Quidditch fields don't shit around; the yellow of her uniform stains so easily. She quite liked being Indian too, how unfortunate.

The eighteenth time is traumatic.

1889. Summer fumes and iron gates. Maya is a slave to a wealthy plantation owner on the outskirts of some jungle, tilling soil and root for the bananas that would one day find their way into the bellies of the masses, at his expense.

In a moment of madness, when backs are turned, Maya steals about a dozen boxes and races towards freedom. On the carriage ride to the main city, he kisses the ginseng around his neck and prays to the spirits.

Had fucking Falco, the other slave, not snitched on Maya, sweet spring rain and new life would've welcomed the old man to his destination; but it's never a happy ending. Needless to say, he is made into an example, captured and hanged from the rafters like the tigers and bears in his master's office—heads held high, faces in a perpetual state of shock.

The twentieth time is spiteful.

Unknown year. Cylindropuntia fulgida isn't quite what people would call sentient, but when you're under the sun 24/7 and mirages start looking more like home than your own memories, no one can blame Maya for ruining one or two hikers' days. He dies once the spikes hit their clothes anyway; not alive long enough to see the wonderful pain. Hope insurance covers cacti.

The twenty-second time is cruel.

1218. She, again, wakes up some time later, in a castle by the sea, like some soap opera copy of Annabel Lee. On top of that, this is the first white life, but it goes down all the same, something like this:

Arranged marriage. The entire country attends the wedding. Long veil, red slippers, hands pressed into pale backs, a hundred eyes. Etiquette classes built up to this special day, to love and be loved by this one man. She is godless, because she is trained to believe that he can replace divine power.

Broad shoulders, pretty lips. They are in love for one night, and she gives birth to the product ten months later on a gray morning, in the dim parlor room. Meanwhile, he is in his study on the third floor, pretending to be at work, and another woman wails out the back door, dress and pride undone.

A cold becomes a fever becomes pneumonia, and Maya dies still tethered, in name, to the cheating son of a bitch, daughter ripped from her cold arms; she barely had time to be the mother she never quite had.

To add insult to injury, the kingdom makes a memorial of their false love in the town square.

The twenty-fifth time is different. Well, actually, not really, but it's kind of funny at least. A little bit dumb too.

2017. Normally, when people are allergic to something they, for lack of a better phrase, get the fuck out.

If the only consequences are a small itch on the lip or flaring sinuses, some might risk the occasional shrimp or fruit. Hay fever, after all, can range from mouse-like sniffles to I-shattered-the-toilet wheezing, the latter of which can be mildly rectified by popping pills or just, y'know, not leaving the house until spring exits through the back door like a jilted lover. However, in most cases, people prefer to actually live a little; dying of asphyxiation is really not worth the peanut.

Maya belongs to neither group of allergic persons, because membership would imply having a functioning sense of caution and self-preservation, both of which she lacks when it counts the most. Perhaps these same faults are the reason why she won a Nobel Prize for being a mad chemist.

But yes, she is, for lack of a better word, stupid, and her friends say—scream—as much. This has long been pre-established, way before these people even had conceivable particles in the universe.

Anyway, spoken like true roommates, Carrie and Solam had a good run, they really did; tried to be convincing with all their buddy-buddy goodness, but Maya has better things to do than be reasonable, like wrapping her arms around her favorite oak tree and equivocating relocation with deforestation.

"Ben and I were just starting to have a symbiotic relationship," she cries, muffled by her wild hair. "I watched the fifth season of Breaking Bad in its branches. I practically lived off of this bark for finals!"

"No, you're confusing Starbucks and wood, not the same edibility," Solam reminds. "Girl, you'll get over it. I promise, we'll plant you a better tree, in a better neighborhood, with a better wifi reception. They're just moving Benjamin to the park anyway."

"Bah, the kids won't appreciate him like I do. They'll... they'll stone him to death with legos or something, or carve hearts into him!"

"She's got a point, little bro," Carrie relents. Nonchalantly, she scrolls through her phone, waiting out the tantrum with pictures of marble cakes and pugs; all the while fanning the flames. "Relationships shouldn't be set in tree."

"Don't you start supporting her psycho-babble—"

"Hop off my dick, Solami sandwich!"

"Maya," Solam breathes, clapping his hands together as if in prayer and inching towards the problem child menacingly. "Maya, light of my life, you don't even have the balls to part with a plant, so do please shut up and let the construction people do their thing. It's been two hours already."

Said men were dawdling around the site, sharing imaginary popcorn amongst themselves upon realizing that the drama over an oak tree might have been the highlight of their week; that, and cracking a cold one on the job.

Maya looks between the unimpressive crew and her friends, glasses slipping down her button nose. "What are the chances of my pride being unharmed in a compromise?"

"Over your dead body." Ah, the magic words. Don't you know it, boy. The treehugger of a college student will later reflect upon this discourse and nod in approval at just how well Solam knew her to be in that life: stubborn to a fault.

"Your words, not mine hater."

It is at this time that a bee decides to make its way back to the hive, which so happened to be in the oak tree, the oak tree held by the woman, the woman with allergies, allergies that would surely prove fatal right about now.

Mondays, right? You think you're fighting the good fight, and then nope—just nope.

Of all the people present, neglectful Carrie spots the insect first and remembers the whole spiel about avoiding that which kills you. Before she can alert Maya though, as it often goes in stories with "moral" lessons, the youth shifts to the left just enough to agitate her incoming threat. She hears rather than feels the stinging countdown in her bicep, eyes watering against her will as the witnesses scream for a different reason this time.

"Oh, that's not good," she manages to get in, before dying a rather horrible death by flower-fucker.


This is new, and by that, Maya means the afterlife. She doesn't remember ever having passed through there longer than ten fingers counting, or with an original body intact.

Hello darkness, my old friend, is her first thought. I see you smirking at me like some Babadook ripoff, you absolute bastard. Just take me already.

She hasn't slept much this week too, or any week for that matter, because those don't exist anymore and the angels, spirits—whatever the floating, glowing replicas of Gal Gadot and Natalie Portman were—don't run on naps.

And for the record, nobody warned her about how expensive-looking the waiting room would be. She can't even breathe on anything, lest she have to pay for it; that makes her miss the floor of her campus library at 6 A.M. all the more, seeing the damnable sunrise wink through the blinds and a blinking laptop screen.

There is no fun to be had when one can't even slide a rebel finger over a statue, in fear of it chipping in the slightest. Silver columns, golden arches, and crystal eaves stretch as far as the eye can see, and the woman sits alone in this wide world, twiddling her thumbs and waiting for something she can't quite picture.

It must be somewhere though; she is sick of sitting around. In the bedazzled comatose of certain doom, much like the transition into adulthood, Maya is a headless chicken running towards the horizon. (Yes, she speaks from first-hand experience.)

"I didn't know this would involve so much waiting," she mumbles to herself. "Have I reached my limit?" Over the many, many years, the ancient soul learned to appreciate the art of self-conversation, as it sometimes outdid the talks she had with other beings; that, and when you have died one too many ways, rationalizing a loose screw comes naturally.

"Reviving always comes within seconds… damn, an asshole bee took me down this time and I can't even be six feet under without re-encountering the joys of having a sleep-deprived, panic attack-inducing conscience."

"We call that being unfortunate and self-loathing," a voice calls from the darkness, startling the 'undead' from her pity party. Maya raises her head quickly, staring right into the face of… uh…

"And what do they call you, nosy?" she irritatedly echoes, shielding her eyes from the blinding light and knowing full well that this may be the top dog speaking, the ol' G-O-D.

"I am one of the Valor."

"Fancy, but where am I?"

"You are currently in the Hall of Mandos. In this realm, one need not worry about physicality." The holy one gestures to Maya, but she can't really make out hands. There is certainly a tall, graceful shape to the entity when the pupils adjust, though not enough to be distinct. "The main concern is, are you ready to endure mortality once more?"

"Wow, I'm getting a choice?" Maya lowers her arms, opting to stare up at the ceiling and its endless capacity for chandeliers. "I thought you gods were all the same, because… it's always just been waking up without a given or purpose, no prayers answered. What makes this round so different? Am I even allowed to ask that, Your Brightness?"

"They did not tell me about your silver tongue!" the figure laughs. A slender, pale complexion begins to form underneath the heavenly glow, minty locks cascading down the front of an earthen dress. "Would you believe me if I claimed compassion?"

"I'm too old for that, but I guess I could. From one oldie to another. What do they call you?"

"I am Yavanna. I would like to grant you an audience with a special someone right now, one of my dearest creations. Benjamin, please step forward."

"Benjamin... that rings a bell—I, what?!" The woman dares to focus her gaze down, meeting bemusedly the green-eyed child with skin the texture and color of a beloved oak tree. He's even got the nub of a nose to prove it. "Holy jambags, you're a real boy!"

"Right?" he grins and jumps into her arms, feeling of splinters and sap. "I can hug back now. Thank you for risking your life to keep me home."

"Problematic faves are to die-for, y'know. I should be a good person more often, I'm pretty great at it."

"I see that you recognize some good within your withered soul," Yavanna comments, a whimsical note hanging between them. Some kind of wind picks up behind her, but it seems to barely rustle her perfect countenance. "I am in need of someone for an adventure that must be rewritten."

"What's the catch?"

"A dear friend has lived a broken life. I pray that you may help him find his way the second time."

"So he's done this before," Maya observes. "I think we'd get along well then, but I'm not very good at staying alive." She wrings her hands in a show of submission, until a ridiculous notion comes to mind, because why not? The goddess seems chill. "What might help though... can I get a cheat item? Like in a RPG game? I've always wanted to emulate The Penguin from Batman."

"It will be done."

Cue a pregnant silence, a potential smile, and a peachy blackout.

Honestly, it must be the sheer, damned nature of life and death to be without warnings; why did she expect this to be any different? One moment, she's reunited with her plant friend and on-hold for her maker, and the next she's thrust into a tiny, itchy chair next to a suspiciously familiar manger, a sleek black umbrella in hand. She rises from the seat cautiously, circling around the very short people crowded around the straw bed.

22 September, TA 2890. Bilbo Baggins comes into existence with an adorable cry and rosy cheeks, and Maya doesn't think that she could love anything more than him.

Chapter Text


 

"People think I'm anti-social because I don't join their conversations. The truth is, I don't give a damn what they're talking about most of the time."

—Heath Ledger


The loft is warm and sunny, a little too much so for one very confused zombie.

I was so close to witnessing the birth of Jesus, Maya thinks, as she holds the curly-haired, big-footed baby in her arms and waggles her eyebrows to amuse him. Bilbo gurgles and reaches for the umbrella nestled against her hip, the mischievous imp. They start so young.

The surrounding crowd of curiously tiny people—Hobbits—are bickering about all things pertaining to the weather, food, and gardening. The effect of a newborn child on display seems to have lost its effect, gifts and pleasantries off to the side, but Maya has always been a sucker for this. You kind of have to be, after centuries of births and a hundred more baby showers. She had her own children too, somewhere over the rainbow; motherhood is a full-time job.

Since she dropped out of the sky, with her twenty-fifth body still intact, the woman's brain has been working overtime to magically fill her in on this new world. It supplies memories one face at a time, like she's always lived here, a promise of long-term residence. She knows that baker, that fisherman, even recognizes neighbors from The Hill and into the core of Hobbiton.

How did real estate work here? Could she even fit in a hobbit hole?

Internally screaming, Maya goes back to delaying a panic attack at the thought of being unemployed (again) by humming to the mini Baggins. He peers up at her with sweet brown eyes, and she shares in both his innocent wonder and troubling future. Were they both getting a second chance?

"Okay, so we're like in Lord of the Rings," she mumbles between them. "No wait, The Hobbit? Aw man, getting around that dragon's gonna suck major ass."

Oops, nobody tell the mother about that one.

"I see my little man has an admirer," a strong voice starts. The woman turns to see Belladonna Baggins née Took smiling down at her son, adoration framed in a straw hat and dark brown curls. She has a much livelier countenance than the rest of the Hobbits, all pearly whites and light steps, but also has an unmistakable will of fire. Suddenly, Maya feels uncomfortable, lost in slippery slope of thoughts.

I know her, but I don't. Who exactly was I here?

Nonetheless, she plays her part well. "I appear to have no competition too. Longo just asked about elevenses."

The Hobbit laughs heartily. "Our relations have just about had it with my entry into motherhood, and I have had enough of them." In one fell swoop, she disburses the group out the door. They grumble in uniform fashion, simultaneously offended and disappointed by the lack of another meal. Maya really doesn't want to ever be on the receiving end of that dominance. "Now get with you all! You had your fun and games!"

"Does that include me?" the woman playfully asks.

"No no, you need to stay and look over the house plans. Bungo wants a third opinion."

"Me? Are you mad? I have no idea how houses work."

"But surely your travels gave you some insight to architecture," Belladonna says.

"Um, where have I gone again?"

The Hobbit looks mildly disgruntled, tapping a plump knuckle over Maya's temple. "Bree? Rivendell? Eagles Eyrie? Some lake in the—"

"World-class explorer, got it. I don't remember much though, besides the places I slept in."

"You silly girl. Whatever do you do out there, if not observe and participate in all the merriment and wood?"

"How does a person partake in wood?"

"I'll have none of this avoidance. Where have you been off to this time?"

The afterlife, Maya refrains from saying and makes up an activity on the spot. "Oh, y'know, just swimming with octopi on the golden coast."

Yes, because Middle-Earth definitely has those. Most definitely, ya twat.

The Took raises her eyebrows. "And here I thought you'd be finding those elves in the forest for me. What happened to your sense of adventure?"

"Careful, Miss Maya." Bungo Baggins emerges from the wooden doorway, after bidding his guests a better farewell. His cuffs are unbuttoned, linen shirt and handkerchief ruffled among other things; one of the Sackville-Bagginses must've gotten to him, but the Hobbit seemed to always be casual. "Once you get her going, she'll be ready for an adventure of her own."

"And what would you know of my adventurous capacity?" the wife pouts.

The husband shares a look with Maya and winks. "It's a blessing to have you here, dear traveller. Come in for some tea, no forest-dwelling now. You are already doing enough of that."

Belladonna pokes Bungo in the cheek as she takes his arm. "Stay as long as you like, Maya. You're most welcome in this household."

Cotton-mouthed, the woman files in after the couple, unexplainable worry weighing on her steps, Bilbo cooing into her breast.

"Who are we supposed to be this time?" she murmurs to her little ward. "Who am I supposed to be for you?"


13 December, 2898.

Money: it even makes Middle-Earth go round.

Currently, the zombie is still young, dumb, and broke, tinkering with junkyard scraps in an attempt to occupy herself. She thought that with all the tree-people and magic and dragons, the root of all evil would be less of a concern, but it seems to have amplified in value.

Maybe that's why everyone would die for a little gold ring.

Fucking capitalism.

"Maya, are you homeless?"

"Damn straight, son."

Belladonna almost drops her handiwork, mouth agape in horror.

"Bilbo! What did we say about using that word? And Maya, not around the eight year-old!"

"Lighten up, Donny. The kid has to learn about poverty some time. I am simply a real, free-loading example. History in the making!"

"Don't call me that," the hostess scowls. She wags a gloved finger in her direction, sooty from pruning potted herbs. "No more self-deprecation, you're a valued guest of Bag End.

"But it's what I do best," Maya whines, rolling over the carpet dramatically. "And I don't think eight years of not paying rent is considered 'being a guest' anymore. Who are we kidding here?"

Because of her "previous" occupation as a traveller, Maya was no longer eligible for a burrow, as the length of her residency did not meet standards. On top of that, she was Man, and a single woman at that; not that it stopped her from trying to dig her own hole into the ground, but she quickly learned that Hobbits took their earthen homes very seriously and could not compare her commitment. Fortunately, Belladonna and Bungo took her under their wing, having completed the construction of their famous smial early on. Maya only pitched in for home decor, and maybe the windows.

Gotta love me some stained glass, she muses.

On top of feeling guilty for getting her ass saved, she spent a great deal of time empty-handed. Employment in The Shire was rather disorganized and open-ended. Whoever could fulfill the role of cheese merchant or vegetable producer simply stepped up to the stall, if their talents so inclined… or their height. It seemed that the privilege of small business exclusively fell into the hands of citizens three foot and under.

So here she is this Yule, stealing from scrap yards and fighting the restrictive job market. Three hours ago, Maya tried to operate a spindle, only to soldier-kick the pedal and break the whole contraption. Now, she rolls up her sleeves, cleans out an old tin box, and secures her last pins into a soaked doily (sorry Donny) of melted coins and copper wire, tied off with a sliver of zinc. This is fitted carefully into the container, and she is careful to avoid letting the liquid soak anywhere else other than the cloth.

Is Maya going to start a fire? Maybe. Is that going to earn her a bitch-slapping? Most definitely. But she isn't about to let all those chemistry and physics classes go to waste. Who would even do that to themselves? She paid cash for the courses; they were going to cash her outside, whether her university approved or not.

"Mayayaya, what is that?" Bilbo calls her back to reality, laid out to her right and twiddling with the hems of her coat. Every time she sat down to tinker, he wasn't far behind. It seemed that the child had a curious streak, something the woman appreciated and would surely take into consideration when helping him navigate the world. 50/50, he would either get himself stuck in a ditch or become a billionaire.

The implications of introducing technology to Middle-Earth are pushed to the back of her mind; there are greater things to worry about than a couple of Hobbits with robots.

"An electric motor," she says.

"Eel-eck-tree motter?"

"Yup, gonna make a washing machine outta this." One head scratch later, and she reconsiders. "Wait no, maybe Middle-Earth needs a race car…"

"How does it work?"

"Well you see, the currents move through a filtration system connected by these wires, and then they break into—uh, on second thought, you don't need to know this yet. Too many big words ahead." Maya pats his curly head for good measure, as he blinks suspiciously at her.

"Why do you get to decide that?"

"'Cause I'm your other mother, shorty."

He flushes indignantly. "I-I am not! Mama said I'm the tallest boy in the neighborhood!"

A delicate eyebrow raises in amusement. "And I haven't lived a thousand years. I like you just the way you are, little man. No need to be a beanstalk."

She still gets a bitch-slapping from Belladonna when the motor works and Bilbo exposes her for the used doily. The household would discover another source of income when Maya begins to mass-produce installable washing machines over the race cars; they would've caused traffic and unwanted attention anyway.

Papa Baggins walks into the room like the black guy with the pizza gif later that day. Poor guy, he wasn't expecting two kids.


17 April, 2904.

Kids should be mystified by anything, but at this time, Bilbo has been around Maya long enough to officially be the HBIC.*

Like for instance, when she whips out the umbrella and gives it a twirl around town during spring showers, he doesn't bat a lash. In fact, he either shrinks in on himself and steers clear of the crowd that begins to excitedly form around his companion, or promptly begins his career as a drill sergeant.

"All right, you dog-eared pipsqueaks, line up! I am intolerant to your noise level and don't want any of you disrespecting the nylon. It's waterproof, folks."

"Why are you like this?" Maya asks, letting one frazzle-haired kid pat the tip.

"Learned from the best, ma'am."

"You're, what, fourteen and already wanna be a ball-crusher? Hey wait don't write that down, I see the notebook. Your mother will lay an egg pleas—"


02 July, 2905.

In the following year, Gandalf the Grey makes his presence known to Bag-End. He takes Bilbo out on a walk to find Elves and teaches the boy how to skip stones as Maya hides like a fawn under Belladonna's skirts. The summer air does neither female any favors and rather stifles both of them.

"Enlighten me as to why you can't meet one of my oldest friends?" she asks the woman.

"Science and magic don't mix," Maya bullshits, the response muffled by bunches of blue cloth. In reality, she just has really bad memories of his look-a-like from another universe, where children have to live under staircases until they come of age and inherit large sums of money. When is Maya going to get that lucky?

At least she has the honor of seeing Gandalf's famous fireworks, wondering if he's worth a business investment someday.


18 August, 2910.

"So Miss Maya, we here at Susie's Souperium care greatly about investment. Where do you see yourself in the next decade?"

She pretends to think about it for a moment. "Is it viable to say shish kabob? Actually, dragonfire is probably the equivalent to nuclear here, so maybe nonexistent. But then again, we're all kind of unreal to begin with, and as Descarte once said, 'except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.' I personally believe—"

The shopkeeper hires her to make it stop. Needless to say, Maya is a natural at botching recipes.

I couldn't cook for shit in university or as a mother, she muses. I refuse to upgrade my standards now, ahahaha.


25 December, 2916.

Bilbo becomes the first ever Hobbit to build a microwave. He and Maya decide to name the prototype "Cornelius."


14 May, 2918.

The one and only Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is born and Bilbo punches the baby girl's brother in the nose, after the latter had insulted Maya's eye-shape.

I guess you can't outrun discrimination, even in a fantasy series.

"Thatta boy! Get him right in the throat!" Maya calls from the confectionary table, as Bungo tries to save his family reputation. Lobelia wails from her mother's bosom, probably already having guessed that her future relationship with her cousin-in-law will be the worst kind.


22 September, 2920.

On his thirtieth birthday, which happened to coincide with one Istar's once-in-a-blue-moon visit and the annual harvest festival, Bilbo Baggins realizes that he has another set of memories in his head; of a time when his parents left him alone and wealthy, of a place full of goblins and Elves and orcs and magic, of a world where he lost the only person who'd mattered more than his own life.

He can't help but wonder if it's all a dream, but decidedly, when he feels the warm hand on his back and a knowing gaze, the young—old? dead? reborn?—Baggins begins to cry.

It seems that the fireworks had to wait this time.

Chapter Text

 

"I've been trying to fix my pride

But that shit's broken, that shit's broken."

—Jon Bellion, All Time Low


She hasn't let go of his hands, even after the tears have been used up; for this, Bilbo is grateful. In the dim light of his room, washed out under the approaching dusk, the odd couple sits together and wades into the uncomfortable waters of truth.

"Ready to tell me why we ran away from a wizard, back there?" Maya smiles and tucks a curl affectionately behind his ear. "If I nabbed his hat, I think we could have made a good enough sum to start on that electric tea kettle."

The Hobbit feels a laugh work its way out of his throat, shaky but bubbly. She always makes him feel like there's never a reason to have tense shoulders. "We only just finished the toilets. What about the… what are they called again, boxing gloves?"

"Only when you're ready to beat up Lobelia's brother again."

"I'll never be ready. One look at his face and my eyes burn!"

"As much as they do now?"

The laughter subsides; he has a serious expression now, like an imprint in cold slate, like he's just come back from war. Maya scoots her stool closer, gray eyes flashing something impatient. Anticipating, waiting for all these years to not be alone.

"You're going to think I'm mad," he begins. "Unnatural."

"But you're not," she insists.

"Full of shit."

"Ha! Donny's gonna have a field day."

"Maya, you don't understand! I have… seen things."

"Try me." Her old heart unravels from its stagnation, ready to share and burst into song; is this the friend she's waited for all these lives? "Tell me everything that happened. Everything you saw."

"Where do I begin?"

"Where it hurts the most."

Bilbo surveys her face for a moment, lingering on the unchanging, encouraging smile of his childhood, and swallows hard.

"I-I shouldn't be alive. I shouldn't be this young. My parents are supposed to be dead. I was an uncle, then an old man, and then I was a bright light sailing to a better world… Gandalf was there, he was always..."

A grand hand gesture, pulling away from his friend and towards the dying day of the window. He sees something in that moment, lost in a fathomless former glory as he curls his fingers into a shaking fist, bringing it to the thinned, heaving mouth.

"I went on an adventure and never truly came back."

A sharp inhale is locked in the diaphragm, the room descending into a blue night. The youth—can he even call himself that anymore—is at the edge of his seat, picking at nothing on his pant legs. His forehead is slick with sweat that winds around his front curls and traps them to the flesh.

"You went to look for Elves and found out they couldn't fulfill your hairy fantasies?"

The moment is ruined as Maya nearly bursts into laughter at Bilbo's blushing cheeks.

"I do not have a hair fetish!"

"My boy, who said anything about a fetish? Get your mind out of the stables."

He rubs at his watery eyes in bemused, well, amusement. Maybe a pinch of salty annoyance. "I cannot, for the life of me, interrupt someone's concerns with such terrible jesting as you have!"

"It's literally my life mission to keep you on your toes. I think I'm pretty good at my job, too." The immortal tilts her head. "Now, what kind of an adventure are we talking about here?"

He relaxes and recalls a mountain song, fire, the face of a white terror… love, buried beneath a hall of gold and mithril shirt.

"I was so naive then, so unsure of myself after inheriting Bag End. Could I live up to my parents' expectations? I told myself that I wanted to be a respectable Hobbit, but deep down, something had come undone. One day, Gandalf showed up on my doorstep proposing a solution. There… there were thirteen dwarves that same night, all different but full of the same conviction. They ate me out of house and scared the living daylights out of my neighbors! And then, I was expected to help them reclaim their homeland, just like that."

Laughter, a kind of exasperated fondness gleaming from the whites of his teeth. "We fought trolls, orcs, a dragon… got captured by King Thranduil and flung into a river by barrel… I was almost thrown—oh, no."

"Hm?"

"I…" The Hobbit slumps in the chair, the blood draining from his face almost as quickly. Maya knows what he's about to say, can experience the guilt in her very soul, but wants it to come out and be done with.

Let him feel what he needs to feel.

"I-I just watched them die. I just l-let them die." He collapses in on himself, bending over and crying his poor little eyes out on Maya's knees. Wailing, breaking, falling apart, like she once did. "I let the b-brothers die. I f-fainted and did nothing a-and Thorin—"

"Does not blame you," Maya finishes for him.

"Beg your pa-pardon?"

He looks up at her, swollen face and all, finding a strange light in her quicksilver eyes, like she's been there and back again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

A curious realization dawns on him, as his small hands firmly grasp at her longer ones, each squeeze running up her forearms like stallions over field.

"Maya," he calls. "Maya, you know something I don't."

"Like usual."

"Stop that and tell me."

"You're going to think I'm mad."

"But you're not," he repeats her comforting words. When the woman smiles just a little, just enough, he begins to shake her shoulders. Her breath rattles like an empty can, even as her face suggests otherwise. Bilbo's heart misses a beat, dropping fearfully into his stomach. "Maya, what are you so adamant about not telling me?"

It is her turn to search for acceptance in his countenance. When she finds nothing but willingness, Maya stands from her seat, away from the Hobbit's warmth and towards the cold windowsill. He watches as the woman folds her arms and leans into the glass, smaller than he's ever seen her before. In fear of her suddenly disappearing through the reflection, more spirit than person, he joins her.

The grass just outside the transparent barrier whistles and thrums in the evening autumn wind. How long they stay like that, staring down the season of reluctant change, neither person keeps track.

"I know who you are, Bilbo Baggins," Maya finally says, listing off the timeline before he can reply. "I know you didn't want to go on the quest for Erebor, but against your better judgment, saw something in those dwarves. I know that you faced down a bully of an orc, met a shapeshifter with a lumberjack accent, travelled through pointy-ear territory, climbed out of excretion in Lake-town, tried to negotiate with a giant lizard… and almost died for the people you love. I've known from the very beginning that you've been reborn, because no matter how much you've wanted to run away, you would give everything to fix the past."

The meaningful look she sends him at the end of her spiel sends a chill down Bilbo's spine. He thinks of his dearest nephew then, saving the world because of his shortcomings, because destiny had been set into motion before any of them could walk and talk and avoid it.

"You knew, and yet you told me nothing?" he blurts.

"I was sent here to guide you, not reveal the entire master plan. No spoilers here."

"Who sent you?"

"I think you know her best by 'Green Mother.'"

Yavanna. Bare feet stumble slightly back, steadying their little person. He racks his mind for some kind of explanation, coming up short on why any god would have given him another chance, and for that matter, how Maya fit into this picture. Where had she come from? Why did it feel like she'd always been there? Why was the Valor so concerned with the two of them?

"If this isn't a dream," he starts, "and if I'm really reliving my youth, then… who are you? You were never in the picture before. Why now?"

"Twenty-six." The woman traces a lone finger across her palm to the pace of a lullaby that plays in her head from far, far away.

"Twenty-six?"

"The lives I've lived, including this one," she breathes. "You see, I'm just like you, except a thousand years older and much smarter."

The Hobbit can't help the twitch at his lips. "You're bluffing."

At last, Maya seems indignant; Bilbo feels a little better about his disorientation now.

"You think the woman who's changed your diapers all these years would make this shit up? Do you see machines happen anywhere else but here in the Shire? Huh?"

He opens his mouth to protest, immediately quieting when a loud bang resounds, followed by a shower of sparks crisscrossing along the night sky. The pair still in mild awe at Gandalf's fireworks, fiddles and lutes beginning the festivities as the smell of cheeses and meats sneaks into the bedroom, urging two undead friends to postpone their dilemma. Maya grabs one of Bilbo's favorite scarves from the nearby rack, winding the beige fabric securely around her neck.

For a moment, she feels a noose in its place and a corn sack thrown over her head, the world coming undone under her feet, but Bilbo jolts her back to reality, having remembered himself what it was like to be held over a wall, suspended and peering into a betrayed face.

"I need some time to think," he says, hand stopping at the door knob.

"I'm not sure people like us have any," Maya replies. "This might be my last chance, Bilbo."

To live a life worth living.

As if seeing her for the first time, the Hobbit shakes himself free of the cloud hanging over his head and straightens, a sardonic lilt to his mouth. The festival seems miles away from them, bright and happy and untouched by tragedy.

"For once, I wish you were bluffing."


24 September, 2920.

Two days after Bilbo's "second birthday" and he stays… in bed.

I did too the second time I "woke" up, Maya amusedly thinks. Nothing like a good 48-hour nap to run away from your responsibilities.

She is curled up on the floor again, right by the forbidden bedroom, repairing the neighbor's foot massage and rejecting a tea party invitation from a random Brandybuck she bumped into in Bree. The antsty youth—elder?—hasn't even come out for food, which frankly blows the minds of his parents.

But as concerned as the Bagginses are, Belladonna making routine rounds to knock on her wayward son's door and Bungo sliding motivational notes through the crack, they soon give up at Maya's prompting to spend a day in town as a couple. Everyone needs a break, honestly.

Finally, when the coast is clear, the Hobbit emerges from his man-cave, frazzled and fresh out of self-imposed quarantine. His bloodshot eyes and disheveled, slept-in clothes compel Maya to hug him, pushing the worries affectionately behind them. From the way he leans into her touch, like a sack of flour spilling from the seams, the immortal can tell he's had a rough couple of nights mulling over his memories.

"They are gone?" he mumbles into her shoulder.

"Y'know, you're making them worry."

His button nose crinkles. "I have never managed to distract them so efficiently. How did you manage?"

"I found them some discounts on bread," the woman replies. "They can never get enough whole wheat. I'm telling you, my little man, carbs will always be in. Are you ready to talk now?"

"Not yet."

"Denial gets no one far in life."

"And I can barely keep my eyes open, let alone go anywhere."

"That's all right, I'm developing this thing called a 'bath bomb,' which will knock—"

"Just shut up and hold me."

"Aw, I thought you weren't a people-person."

"You don't count," Bilbo says. "You're Maya."

Not sure whether complimented or not, she agrees with a deep hum, patting the space between his shoulder blade and spine, smoothing out the wrinkles in his dress shirt. The Hobbit can feel his breath even out as his tormented conscious drifts into a warm dreamscape, where no voice reminds him that he failed once and could fail all over again.

Someone knocks on the front door; are the parents back already? Maya carefully lifts Bilbo from her lap and tucks him into bed. There are lines forming along his forehead and mouth that weren't there before, the stress shadowing an otherwise smooth, rounded face. The woman takes one last glance at her charge before checking on the mysterious arrival.

Gandalf's tall appearance, pleasant smile and bushy eyebrows, leaves Maya gawking for a moment.

"Greetings, Miss Maya. Despite all these years, I do not believe we have properly met."

Promptly, she slams the door in his face without another word, throwing her back against it and swearing under her breath.

Nope nope nope.

Contrary to original intention, she hadn't looked forward to actually facing the guy, because despite his good reputation, the last time she tried playing with anything remotely hocus-pocus caused instant death.

She isn't about to open that can of worms again, and certainly not with the cooler, original version of Dumbledore. On top of that, if Gandalf McGreybeard knows what she and Bilbo do about the future of Middle-Earth, it doesn't seem very likely that he'll sit still and let things be—not that Maya, and the Hobbit for that matter, are very keen on letting anyone die again either.

But the wizard isn't having her avoidance, especially given that he departs today and hasn't gotten in a word since seeing the time traveller run away from his shadow at the festival. The door begins to open of its own accord, pushing the disgruntled woman closer and closer to doom.

"Are you well?" the magical version of Sir Ian McKellen asks. He enters the abode without resistance, head and hat hitting the roof instantly. Maya would laugh, had she not been breaking out into an uncharacteristic, cold sweat. "Have I offended you in some way?"

"Nooo, you?" She gestures mechanically to the living room, where they sit in respective rocking chairs. "Least offensive person I know."

"Is that so? And do you know me, or do you mean that you know of me? Or perhaps you mean that you want to know me, or that you know nothing about my character but feel that we are old friends already?"

The woman pulls a face, recalling distantly that this type of screening happened to Bilbo once upon a time. What a wisecrack senior citizen, tsk tsk.

"Do you do that to everyone?"

The wizard blinks a couple of times, batting his nonexistent lashes, and then lets out a gruff, yet melodic chuckle. "Whatever do you mean?"

Dramatic pause, an exasperated hand clap. "No no, forget I asked. So, what can I do for you, good sir? Would you like some tea?"

"Since learning that the great Belladonna Took has been the most generous of hostesses, I wanted to become acquainted with the latest talk of the town."

Quick, deflect! Deflect!

"Who, our Bilbo? He has been terrorizing the squirrels as of late, the twat, but I'm not sure he is what I would call gossip material."

"My dear, you have quite the sense of humor!" Gandalf pats down his beard, revealing his mischievous smile further beneath the withering locks. "Unfortunately, he is not of whom I speak."

Can't weasel her way out of this one. He already seems to know too much.

"Do people say good things about me?" Maya returns the smile, easing into the conversation. Maybe, just maybe, this can be completely cordial and not blow up in her face. "Actually, wait, how exactly do you wizards get your information?"

"Why, the birds of course," he replies. "If more of us tuned into our surroundings, we would surely understand all the world has to offer."

The woman busies her hands with another one of Donny's doilies, taken from the nearby shelf, poking holes through the holes of the holes of some other holes. "Not sure I'm worth understanding."

His eyebrows recede into his hairline.

"Nonsense, Bungo tells me you have travelled a fair distance, and like any well-versed wanderer, know a thing or two about storytelling."

"Did he now?"

"From whence do you originally hail?"

"I like to think that I am a... world citizen of sorts."

"A fine sentiment." From his sleeve, Gandalf produces a long pipe, already filled with weed, and ventures further as he lights it. Oddly, he seems more at home here than Maya ever has, blowing a ring of sweet smoke towards the open window. Boy, does she wish she had some of that stuff right now. "Hobbits are a pleasant folk to live amongst. What made you decide to stay in the Shire?"

This is sounding more like an interview than a friendly conversation.

"The Bagginses are old friends and asked me to help develop their land. After Bag End finally found its footing, I chose to say for… sentimentality. It was difficult to find employment in the beginning, but I guess you could say I've revolutionized the market."

You mean you fucked it up, Maya corrects. No matter how poor you are, you don't just introduce technology to a medieval fantasy. How I blame Walter Whitefor putting all of these ideas into my head.

"Given your manner of speech, I am sure you have quite the education backing your success."

No one's ever said that before. Did she have an accent or something?

"I read quite a bit, yes," she dumbly responds.

"If you don't mind me asking," she very much minds, thanks for the consideration, "how old are you, Miss Maya?"

Cue the internal screaming. "You know what, I haven't the faintest idea!"

"You don't know your own age?"

"Yes, well, I happen to be an exceptional case of forgetfulness," Maya explains.

"There is something curious about your appearance. It seems to clash with your sou—"

"Age is just a number anyway, and you know what they say, 'Asian don't raisin.'"

"Fascinating." Gandalf leans forward, a twinkle in his eye. "I have heard neither of this 'Asian' nor the 'raisin.' Do elaborate."

"Are you supposed to be somewhere right now, Mr. Gandalf?"

Translation: please please please leave. She stares at the ground for courage.

"Ah, now that you mention it, I do! Primrose Langard has a delivery of apples ready for me." With just as much energy as he had coming in, Gandalf rises from his seat, maneuvering to the door faster than Maya can piece back together her sanity. "I better get going before she decides to sell them to the next hungry Hobbit."

"I fully support you achieving your fruity dreams," Maya announces. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Gandalf. Safe travels."

"Good day to you, my dear. We will have plenty of time in the future for understanding."

"I'm positively beaming."

Hours later, when Maya has snuck into Bilbo's bed to heal from the traumatizing exchange and the wizard has hit the road, they have two completely different thoughts at the same time.

I must avoid one-on-ones with main characters, period.

I like a good mystery.


05 November, 2920.

"Ready to talk?"

"No."


12 February, 2921.

"Now?"

"I am bathing, you creaton!"

"Eh, not much to see anyway."

"MAYA I SWEAR—"


16 October, 2923.

"Bilbooo."

"The door is to your left."

"You're right, so I left."

He is only one month into Hobbit adulthood—again, he might add—and nothing has really changed. With Maya's incessant demands for him to talk about his feelings, he hits the wrong button in face-palming and effectively breaks their newest shoeshiner.

"You will be the end of me, Maya." Bilbo puts his face in his hands. "At this rate, I would rather die by dragonfire!"

"I can't help but bring the heat."


31 August, 2925.

"Bungo, your son is a basketcase," Maya announces over a glass of lemonade. "There, I said it. You can burn me at the stake now."

"Now why would I do that?" The old Hobbit gathers his handkerchiefs in one swoop and joins her on the other side of the bench. He and his tenant had been counting the collection for an hour as they enjoyed the last rays of the fall sun, Belladonna and Bilbo visiting the Sackville-Baggins for the day.

"Because Donny always tries to roast me with her eyes," the woman says. "I just assumed her husband would finish the job."

"If it makes you feel any better, I can have a word with her."

"Please, you are as efficient at taming the big-Took as I am at getting through to the mini-Took."

Bungo guffaws at that. In the comfortable silence that follows, he lets a smile crease his face up while his company pouts.

"My dear, you must share your secret someday."

"And what would that be?"

"Your face," he states. "You look the same as you did the day we officially took you in as part of the household."

Maya touches the skin at her temple, cheekbone, and chin, trying to garner the same awe as her landowner, but she only feels uneasy at the prospect of eternal youth; for only gods could tamper with her aging process, molding it into a figure fit for a guardian rather than a Man.

She surveys the wrinkles and blemishes dotting Bungo's plump face almost enviously, but with all the sadness in the world as he gets through a nasty coughing spell. He isn't going to be here very long and she knows it. Tears prickle the backs of her eyelids one sting at a time.

"You're a good soul," Maya says.

"You say that as if you weren't one yourself."

"I think I've been a terrible influence to your son, so yes."

"Bilbo is lost," the father emphasizes, "but full of life. And where there's life, there's hope: you. For better or for worse, you will have each other."

As the pearls fall from her stormy gaze, rivers carving the promise into her heart, Maya laughs like she's never laughed before.

"If I am hope, we might as well all pack our bags and catch the next boat to the Undying Lands!"


12 November, 2925.

The snow begins early this year as a jaded, pint-sized person finds a nearly drunk Maya carving profanities under the wooden counter of a tavern in Staddle, within the county of Bree. Mother dearest refused to let him come home without a certain somebody, but he's come of his own volition as well. He whispers a couple of words to the innkeeper, who clears a space out in the back for them and takes the liquor away.

"Leave me to die, Bag-outs." Maya giggles to herself. "See what I did there?"

"Yes, very funny." Bilbo takes the leather seat to her right, slapping her hand when it tries to reach for the pipe in his pocket. "How many this time?"

"Just three… tanks."

"If I pushed you down the stairs and kept you bedridden for a month, I am sure it would look like an accident."

"Did you raise Frodo to be a hard-ass like you?"

"I raised him to be a respectable Hobbit, unlike myself."

"You're fine just the way you are, potential murderer and all," she tells him. "As the great Terry Crews* once said, you are—"

"Teaching people how to treat you," he finishes, "and you should not be shamed for that."

"Wow, I never thought I'd hear someone from Middle-Earth recite my favorite actor's quote." Maya folds her arms on the table, watching the candlelight dance across Bilbo's rosy complexion, his light brown eyes lost in thought. Sometimes, he still looks like the boy she raised on gears and rainy days and stargazing, and not the bitter grown-up with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"I never know what you mean by such phrases," he says. "You've said strange things since I was a child, but they never become any less so."

"You understand engineering at least, and that's not a native thing to the Shire. Well, it might have been one day without my meddling, but you know I'm not very good at waiting."

"I believe you."

The Hobbit brings out his pipe, shoving a good amount of brittle Longbottom Leaf inside before lighting it with the tabletop candle. He takes one, two puffs before handing it to Maya.

"What a cool kid." She blows a near heart-shape into his tired face. "When did you start smoking?"

"Every time I start remembering," Bilbo explains.

"Denial gets no one far in life," goes the same warning.

"I am ready to talk," comes a different response.

"Pfft, Donny and I messed up somewhere," Maya cackles. "Raising such a high-maintenance Hobbit. Six years of sitting on destiny! Who does that?"

"What can I say? I am just not about that heroic life."

He gives her a simultaneously charming and tragic smile, the kind boys throw around before they even know what suffering means. Except this one knows it inside and out, and like the woman in front of him, grabs onto that second chance and plans to never let go again.

"I hate it when you quote me." Maya ruffles his curls and brings an arm around him, black hair falling against his forehead. She smiles fondly now, already sobered from the fog of alcohol, and pulls her ward so close that all of their worries become one and the same. "What changed your mind?"

"I had a dream about Frodo," Bilbo says. "He was an empty shell of the sunshine boy I raised alone, even after the ring had long been dealt with. That is the kind of world I left behind. Even if it costs me my life, I cannot let that happen again."

"Well, I'm not here to tell you that it's gonna be okay, because you know things have never been okay, but I am here to help you be the change you want to see. If that messes up the timeline we're both used to, then so be it."

"Where do we even begin?" he asks.

"Bilbo Baggins!" Maya mock-admonishes. "Why, you do what you do best: write. Write about your travels, your relationships, all of the tender moments. Write until your hands can no longer hold the weight of your words. Write until they come back to life, because they are alive and we are going to save them."

"And then what?" The beginnings of a chuckle start in his revived heart. "We wing it?"

She snags the pipe back to her lips. "We wing it."