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A Took's Job

Chapter Text

“Sold!”

Bilbo felt his stomach lurch, and bile well up in his throat. He couldn't believe what he had just done, he had just bought another living being. Trembling and feeling sick the hobbit paid the man and took the chain, the was connected to the shackles that held his new slave.

Bilbo didn't allow himself to look at the dwarf too carefully, he feared that if he looked into the eyes of the poor creature than he would fall apart. It was only his mother’s words echoing through his head that had allowed him to get so far already. So very carefully Bilbo led the dwarf away from the crowds and away from the other hobbits, the looks of glee on the faces of the hobbits around him made Bilbo feel ill.

Slavery had long been a common practice in the Shire, hobbit’s tended to be well off with their resource rich land and over time it had changed the kind and gentle people into something twisted and foul. Not all hobbits had fallen into the dark trap of course, Bilbo’s own mother had worked hard to smuggle out those who she and Bungo ‘bought’ and after their death some months ago Bilbo had finally taken up the family business. So that was why just a few short months after their deaths, Belladonna and Bungo Baggins’ son of barely thirty and three years was buying a slave.

Bilbo waited, his heart pounding in his chest for the rest of the auction to end. He knew how it worked having went with his mother and Took cousins several times as a tween. As he watched the other slaves be pulled across the stage and auctioned off as if they were not truly sentient beings, Bilbo felt his skin crawl. It was like this every he attended one of these twice yearly gatherings, one in the spring and the last during fall.

Eventually the auction ended and Bilbo was pleased to note that all six of the slaves had been bought by those with the Took name or someone of close relation. That meant six more freed slaves. Slaves. Bilbo placed a hand on his rolling stomach as he thought the word, the idea that he owned another being was disgusting.

The young hobbit walked up to the auction block where he traded quick glances with his cousin and the man who ran the whole thing explained the no returns policy and so forth, but Bilbo paid little attention, instead focusing on the dwarf he had bought. He, Bilbo thought the dwarf was male but that’s what his mother had thought years ago when she had freed a dwarf that turned out to be dwarrowdam, was thin and form the way he favored one leg Bilbo knew getting home was going to be a long journey.

Bilbo cared little as the man pressed the keys to the dwarf’s shackles into his hand and took the money greedily, instead Bilbo only cared for the dwarf that he was to protect. Belladonna Baggins had made sure to impress upon her son that that’s what they were to do, protect and heal.

“Can you walk?” Bilbo asked softly watching as the man walked away much richer and the other Tooks began speaking to their own slaves.

The dwarf nodded and stared at the ground and Bilbo nodded even though it couldn't be seen. “Well let’s go then, I wont be tugging you along so please let me know if I’m walking to fast or slow for you.” Still no reply. Bilbo placed a gentle hand on the dwarf’s elbow and began leading him away from the auction block. The hobbit wanted to get somewhere so he could remove the shackles so he began heading toward a soft patch of grass.

The dwarf stumbled and Bilbo moved quickly to help steady him. “Here lets rest in grass for a moment.” Bilbo helped to guide the dwarf into the soft grass. The auction stage was in the Northfarthing as it had fewer hobbits living in the area Bilbo knew it would be a long trek back to the Hobbiton and to Bag End so he was truly in no rush.

The hobbit and dwarf sat in silence as the sounds of the auction house began to fade and the loud crunch of hobbit feet faded away. Each Took had their own way, and Bilbo’s was very similar to his mothers, though she tended to fill the silence with songs or humming. Bilbo was a very patient hobbit and preferred to wait, there was nothing wrong with silence. The dwarf had calmed his heavy breathing and Bilbo fiddled with the keys that one of the men had pressed into his hand, for the past few minutes Bilbo had been determining which keys went to which lock.

Bilbo’s dwarf was chained at the wrists, ankles and the throat all connected to a lead, as all of the slaves were. There had only been six today, two down on their luck hobbits, four men and one lone dwarf. Belladonna had normally purchased more than one of the poor souls at once, so she could help more people but Bilbo felt he wasn’t ready. It was the Shire’s worst kept secret that the Took clan despised slavery and many times would buy slaves just to free them. It was only fair after all.

“Can I see your wrists?” Bilbo asked softly, the dwarf without hesitation offered the hobbit his shackled wrists and Bilbo made quick work of the lock and tossed them to the side, easily un-threading them from the lead. He ignored the look the dwarf gave him and switched keys. “Throat or ankles next?”

More alert this time the dwarf carefully and from the look of it, rather painfully swung bare footed feet toward the hobbit. Bilbo frowned at the state of the dwarf’s feet and spoke absentmindedly as he worked at the lock, this one appeared to be stuck. “We will have to see you properly outfitted with boots. Hobbits tend to forget that not everyone has feet like ours.” He wiggled his own bare toes as he spoke.

The click of the lock made him grin. “Goodness that one was tough. Last one now, but I’ll let you do it if you're able, I doubt you want a stranger so close to your neck.” The look the dwarf offered Bilbo made the hobbit’s stomach tighten with shame. Bilbo pressed the final key into the dwarf’s hands and he wanted to cry, the dwarf’s fingers were curled inwards and they bore the look being broken once too often. “And a doctor we will need a doctor.” Bilbo whispered as he watched as the key undo the harsh metal that wrapped around the dwarf’s neck.

Bilbo pretended not to notice the tears that fell from the dwarf’s eyes when he was finally free of the shackles that had once bound him so horribly. Instead he began to speak, rambling almost. “You’re free you know? I would never buy someone to enslave them, my mother would have my hide. You see she did this before me, her whole family does it in fact. The Tooks are rather looked down upon on for it, but there is little anyone can do, so we continue to buy as many as we can heal them and as soon as they desire send them off. You won't be the first dwarf to grace the halls of Bag End, and sadly enough I doubt you’ll be the last.” Bilbo’s eyes suddenly widened and he gasped. “Oh dear me! I haven’t even introduced myself, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End at your service Master Dwarf.”

For a moment neither said anything, Bilbo looked nervously at the dwarf and the dwarf looked rather confused at the hobbit and finally a soft laugh broke the silence. “You are something else.” The dwarf rasped, “I have never seen someone like you.” Bilbo flushed making the dwarf laugh a bit more. “My name is Frerin son of Thrain, and I am eternally at your service.”

Chapter Text

It took much longer than Bilbo would have liked to get Frerin back to Bag End, the dwarf was hurt quite a bit, but they were both rather patient and made it before it got too dark. Bilbo could see that Frerin was exhausted and Bilbo himself was more than tired, the entire day being far too heavy for the young hobbit but Bilbo knew what he had to do.

Growing up he had learned how to care for these injured beings at his mother’s knee and she would sooner throw herself into the Brandywine River than not do what she could to help them. “Come now, I know you are tired but we need to get you cleaned up a bit before I can let you sleep.” Bilbo said settling Frerin into a chair. The dwarf grumbled something about dirt not killing him but the hobbit easily ignored him.

It took no time at all to gather his supplies, earlier in the week he had been preparing his tools as he was sure all of his Took relatives had done. With practiced ease the young hobbit put the kettle on and laid out his tools, a small kit of herbs and other healing tools, a rather strange looking knife, a large bowl and a brush were all that Bilbo felt he would need right now.

Bilbo looked Frerin over with a critical eye and decided. “Alright then, clothes off if you please.”

With little care the dwarf shed his clothing that rather resembled rags leaving only scared, dirty skin behind. Bilbo had to turn away at the horror before he was able to face the dwarf again. “Thank you, now any breaks? Gashes? Injuries?” The hobbit and the dwarf ignored the cracking in his voice.

Frerin seemed to take stock of his body, as hard and scarred as it was Bilbo couldn't help but watch the skin and muscle roll with every moment. “Nothing broken, I think, except maybe my hands,” Frerin rasped. “I do have a few gashes, one of my back, a few on my arms and one on my thigh.” Bilbo’s eyes flicked to those places as the dwarf spoke and Bilbo frowned, it looked like the one on his thigh would need stitches.

Before the hobbit could reply the kettle whistled and Bilbo rushed to get it leaving the nude dwarf in his kitchen. Bilbo giggled a little hysterically at the thought, but he returned quickly and poured the water into the basin. “We will get you cleaned off a bit before I start on those gashes.” Bilbo picked up a soft cloth and handed another to Frerin. The hobbit moved behind the dwarf to work on his back and spoke again. “Can we tie your hair up so it doesn't get in the way?” Bilbo knew that dwarf hair was special and he didn't want to offend the dwarf, he didn't deserve any more humiliation.

Frerin scoffed and shifted in the chair, “Might as well cut the stuff off for all the honor I've got left.” He said darkly but Bilbo pushed forward.

“How about we tie it up and after we get you cleaned properly we can see about cutting it if you still want too?” His voice was mild even as he began to gather the dirty, greasy hair and tying it off with a ribbon. The last dwarf Belladonna had brought into Bag End reacted much the same way and had actually cut it off when he was well enough.

Frerin didn't reply but set out washing his front in silence. Bilbo did the same and was thankful for the silence. He couldn't even imagine what the dwarf was thinking at the moment, after being being bought and sold and taken into a strange place it, the anger and bitterness wasn't surprising. Bungo had feared for his wife’s safety more than once because of her bringing home of broken people. Thinking of his parents, Bilbo hoped that they were proud of him for continuing what they had started. Bungo hadn't always been on board of course, being a Baggins he had grown up around slaves and while the Baggins were a kind bunch and had treated them well, they were still slaves. It was one of reasons that his parents marriage had been such a surprise.

A young Belladonna Took had punched many lads and lasses that had asked for her hand and owned slaves, including a young Bungo Baggins. From the stories his mother had told it had taken a long time for Belladonna to warm up to the stuffy Baggins boy, but his willingness to help and his kind heart eventually won her over. Bag End had been carefully crafted with his mother in mind. The hobbit hole was perfect for tending to injured or runaway slaves. Everyone knew that if a slave went missing in the Shire a Took had probably smuggled them out. Bag End had many hidey holes for that reason, to hide entire families if needed.

Bilbo wondered if Frerin had a family somewhere, as he washed the dirty away from the damaged skin. He wondered that about everyone that his mother had brought home and he knew he would wonder the same about the ones he brought home but Belladonna’s own words rang in his mind. “They are hurting, Bilbo. Our jobs are not to make it worse. We bring them in, we heal what we can and we make sure they get wherever they need to safely. We don’t ask questions and we do not judge.”

“I feel like I’m dreaming.” Frerin said suddenly as he dipped the cloth into the water again wetting it. “This was not what I expected when I awoke this morning.”

Bilbo felt his eyes burn with tears as he continued his work letting the dwarf talk.

“I haven’t had a proper bath in years, and even this is more than I've had in months.” Frerin said shakily but insistently. “I was captured by Orcs as a young lad and I thought I’d die in a hole, my body left to rot in disgrace. Then after I escaped from the Orcs, I was snatched up by slavers, but you should know.” The dwarf continued to scrub at his skin. “Even if I never return to my home, even if I were die in this very moment I am happy.” A broken harsh laugh escaped the dwarf and Bilbo felt a sob build in his chest. The idea that this dwarf was so happy just by being in his home where he had been treated with a small amount of kindness, Bilbo ignored the shaking of his hands.

“I am so very happy.”

The two managed to clean Frerin’s skin enough for Bilbo to begin patching him up, but the hobbit knew he needed to feed the dwarf first. The hobbit wrapped the dwarf in a soft clean blanket before making something soft and warm for his guest to eat. The cool water and the warm bland oatmeal left the dwarf in tears again that Bilbo soothed as best he could.

Exhaustion tugged at them both, Frerin’s head dipped forward dangerously as the hobbit finished sewing the gashing in Frerin’s thigh and Bilbo felt dizziness beginning to overcome him, but he still did not stop. “Nearly done,” Bilbo said mostly to himself, Frerin was dozing upright in the chair his head swaying. Belladonna had always insisted that she take care of any wounds first, that she fed the guest and finally broke the rune that bound their will before she allowed them to sleep.

Bilbo refused to do any less than she did, so carefully the hobbit nudged the dwarf and spoke softly. “Frerin, I’m going to break the rune now, are you ready?”

The dwarf blinked confused but he moved as Bilbo asked and shrugged the blanket off of his shoulders, showing Bilbo the sickly green rune between his shoulders. Bilbo had seen many like it, on the backs of the many who called Bag End sanctuary and he had seen it as he washed Frerin’s back but now he was going to break it. The hobbit picked up the special knife, one that his own mother had made by the elves and blessed by a wizard. It was created to break the magic the rune by literally cutting the victim free of it’s twisted magic. “This will hurt,” Bilbo said unnecessarily. He tapped Frerin’s back to let him know where to expect the pain and then quickly and as cleanly as possibly he brought the knife across the rune and watched as red blood and some sickly green substance mingled as it ran down Frerin’s back.

A soft cloth stopped the bleeding while Bilbo worked to bandage the cut he had made Frerin didn't make a sound and Bilbo simply pulled the blanket back up around the dwarf’s shoulders and placed the knife with his other tools.

The sun was beginning to rise as the inhabitants of Bag End found their beds. Frerin tucked into a large fluffy bed that Bilbo just barely managed to get him into. Bilbo carefully tucked the blankets around the dwarf and smiled down at his sleeping face and repeated the promise his mother had made to every man, elf, dwarf or hobbit that stayed in this same room.

“Sleep and heal. I will guard you as you sleep. You have nothing to fear in my home, here you are welcome and I will do everything in my power to see you home.”

Chapter Text

Frerin’s bladder was the only reason he was even considering waking up. The dwarf wondered if he could possibly ignore it, for a few hours more, as his whole body ached. For a few moments Frerin thought that maybe he could manage before another painful twinge prompted him to stand up, or rather attempt too. Sitting up was easy enough, but standing was another matter entirely. The room spun and Frerin’s legs felt as weak and wobbly as a newborn pony’s legs.

The bed was where Frerin soon found himself, still upright but shaking terribly. The dwarf laughed at his own weakness. Before when he had been in the hands of the orcs or even with the first group of slavers the men, this weakness would have frightened him. Weakness wasn't something he could allow himself but here in this Bag End, if he remembered correctly, he was safe. It was strange to think about, being safe but how could he be anything else after what the hobbit had done for him. Being released from his shackles and being helped back to the warm hobbit hole had been a shock. Being fed, cleaned and healed? That had been unthinkable. The final and most surprising thing had been the breaking of the rune, as far Frerin knew only elf magic could break the rune but somehow Bilbo Baggins had broken it.

It was beyond what Frerin could fathom. It ended up taking two more tries and a wrong door to find the bathroom but Frerin managed with all the stubbornness of his line. The nude dwarf, he had only barely remembered to grab his blanket before he left the room, was left tired and breathless outside of the bathroom for the hobbit to find.

“Oh dear, you should have called!” Bilbo scolded helping the dwarf back to his room, uncaring of his barely clothed form. Frerin grumbled a bit as he was settled back onto the soft bed by the fussy hobbit. It was then that the dwarf took a moment to truly look at his host, soft skin, golden curls and something that looked like flour on his nose, Frerin resisted the urge to coo, he was smitten, the little hobbit was adorable.

“I’m fine, I’m fine just a bit tired.” Frerin said attempting to to set up but a soft hand pressed on his shoulder gently.

“I think not, Master Dwarf. You are staying in this bed until I return with some food then you may sit up,” Bilbo wagged a finger at the prone dwarf, much to Frerin amusement, “And if you are lucky I will permit a bath after I have looked at your hands and other injuries.” Frerin had noticed that they hobbit had set his hands while he slept.

“You were out for nearly two days, I suppose that is why mother always insisted on getting those few things done first.” Bilbo said with a smile, staring at the dwarf that was tucked in all nice and tight into the soft bed. “I’ll return shortly. Do not move!” The hobbit said pointing his finger at the dwarf sternly.

Frerin watched amused as the hobbit disappeared out the door and let himself doze a bit. A comfy bed was not something to be wasted. He was sure that Bilbo would wake him when he came back with food, his host didn't seemed the type to let someone miss a meal.

--

Bilbo returned to Frerin’s room with a tray of food. Nothing heavy, he had been able to count the dwarf’s ribs before and he knew that too much too soon would not be good for healing. A glass of cool sugar water and a warm soup would have to work until he was sure Frerin could handle anything else.

The sight of a softly snoring dwarf was not a surprise but Bilbo carefully set the tray to the side and bit his lip. How to best do this? Not only did he feel bad for waking the dwarf who was in a much needed healing sleep but also he was worried about Frerin’s reaction to being woken up.He could remember his mother always being weary of waking the guests in the past, sometimes they would become angry or frightened and lash out.

Luckily the smell of the food did the work for him and Frerin stirred blinking sleepily. Bilbo smiled and helped the dwarf sit up, propping him up with pillows and placing the tray on his lap.

“Let me know if the spoon is too difficult to use, I can pour it in a mug as I noticed you had no trouble with glasses before.” Bilbo said seating himself on the edge of the bed, he wasn't sure if Frerin wanted company but Bilbo wanted to make sure that Frerin was able to eat everything/

Frerin carefully picked up the glass of water and took a long drink, wetting his lips and throat. “It’s sweet.” Frerin remarked setting the glass back down, to try and work the spoon.

Bilbo nodded tracing the pattern of the blanket with his fingertips, “Yes, my mother insisted. I’m not sure why, honestly, it contains fruit sugars, but it helps.”

Frerin hummed and sighed the spoon was not working as he hoped it would with his fingers splinted and clumsy. Without a word, Bilbo retreated to the kitchen and returned with a large mug and easily poured the soup into it and set it carefully on the tray. “Many thanks.” Frerin muttered as he sipped the soup carefully.

“It’s not a problem, Master Dwarf.” The two settled into another long silence, Frerin lost in his soup and Bilbo lost in his thoughts.

“You can call me Frerin if you’d like, I haven’t been a Master anything in many, many years.” Frerin said setting his mug down empty.

Bilbo blinked in surprise, “Ah, of course if you’d like.” Bilbo removed the tray and set it to the side, “I insist that you call be Bilbo, though.”

“If you insist, Bilbo” Frerin teased slightly his eyes drooping. Already the dwarf felt himself getting tired, he couldn't believe it.

Bilbo laughed softly, “I do, thank you. How are you feeling? Ready to check your stitches?”

With a wiggle and some tugging Frerin freed himself of the warm blanket cocoon and lay bare on the bed. “Proceed as you wish, Bilbo.”

Blushing ever so slightly the young Baggins began looking over the wounds. “Would you care for a bath? We will have to be creative so as not to get your stitches wet but I think we could manage.”

“That would be nice.” Frerin admitted, the thought of being free of the dirt and grime that had caked him for many years it sounded like the best thing in the world.

--

Frerin in the bath was a very interesting sight. The dwarf’s hair was still pulled up on the top of his head and his beard was covered in bubbles. The dwarf had insisted on bubbles and Bilbo couldn't deny him. Bilbo sat a little ways away his nose in a book, mostly to ensure Frerin didn't doze off and drown.

“Care to help me with my hair?” Frerin asked sleepily, brushing a few bubbles off his chin.

Bilbo snapped his book shut and pushed up his sleeves. “Of course.”

As had become commonplace Frerin and Bilbo worked in silence. Bilbo carefully worked the hair free of the ribbon and did his best to untangle the thick hair with his fingers. It took two pitchers of warm water to fully wet the hair but Bilbo didn't mind, he remembered helping his mother with her hair when he was young.

“I didn't know your hair was blond.” Bilbo remarked fingering a few blond strands as he rinsed the soap from the now blond hair.

Frerin looked at the blond hair in shock, “I had actually forgotten.” Bilbo politely ignored the tears that snaked their way down the dwarf’s face until Frerin had been fed again and tucked back into his bed, now with fresh sheets in soft worn clothing.

Bilbo held his own tears until he was safely locked in his own room.

Chapter Text

Bilbo sat up quickly as another scream echoed through the halls of Bag End. The hobbit flung back his blankets and rushed toward Frerin’s room. Bilbo pushed open the door and gasped, Frerin the rather gentle dwarf was covered in blood.

The vase that had held a few fresh cut flowers now lay on the ground in pieces and the heavy wooden bed was several feet from where it once sat.

“Frerin, are you alright?” Bilbo shouted, his eyes flickering over the form of the dwarf.

The dwarf snarled and turned away from the hobbit.

“Frerin,” Bilbo tried again.

The blond dwarf didn’t move or speak.

“Frerin, please you’ve hurt yourself.” Bilbo pleaded taking a step forward.

With a roar of rage the dwarf was suddenly upon the hobbit. Bilbo landed on the floor with a grunt of pain, Frerin mad with rage above him fist drawn back. “Frerin, please!”

Frerin froze, “ Bilbo?”

Bilbo swallowed frightfully, “Yes, Frerin.”

“What happened?” The dwarf asked confused, not moving from his place over the hobbit.

“I think you had a nightmare, is all and you were a bit confused when you woke up.” Bilbo explained not trying to move the dwarf or make any sudden movements.

“Oh. Why are we in the floor?” Bilbo’s heart felt as if someone had squeezed it at the young, vulnerable look Frerin gave him.

“You fell down, how about we get up now?” Bilbo asked hopefully.

“Okay.” Ferrin stood up carefully, and Bilbo followed suit. For a long moment Frerin and Bilbo stared at each other until Bilbo coughed.

“Alright then, let’s get you cleaned.” With shaking hands Bilbo cautiously reached out and took Frerin’s bandaged hand and let the silent dwarf to the kitchen. With all the same gentleness of the first night Bilbo carefully cleaned the cuts on the dwarf’s arms and hands from the vase before moving to the opened cuts on the dwarf’s feet.

“Luckily you didn’t rip the stitches in your thigh,” Bilbo said softly checking the wound. “I think you’re ready to get back to bed.

The still silent dwarf was meekly lead to Bilbo’s own room and tucked into Bilbo’s own bed for the rest of the night. “I’ll just nap in one the guest rooms.” Bilbo muttered to himself pulling the blanket up to Frerin’s shoulders.

Just as Bilbo went to close the door, he heard a whispered, “Sorry.”

--

The next morning neither mentioned the mess that was the night before, Bilbo because he understood that anger and nightmares were a part of healing and Frerin out of shame and just a bit of fear.

The dwarf knew that Bilbo was unlikely to hurt him, but after years of torture his mind obviously expected some kind of punishment. Instead, the dwarf was treated to a rather large and luxurious breakfast and an exhausted hobbit.

“Did you sleep at all?” Frerin asked, spearing a sausage with his fork. He stealthily stole a look at the disheveled hobbit.

“Not as much as I’d like but yes.” Bilbo said softly, not looking up from his own breakfast.

Frerin bit back his response and continued his eating.

--

They continued the theme breakfast began, second breakfast and elevensies were just as tense and awkward as the first meal but Bilbo was never anything but polite to the shamed dwarf. Frerin quickly retreated to the back door of the hobbit hole and fell the ground as soon as he was able.

The dirt and grass as where the dwarf felt he belonged at the moment. After attacking the hobbit that had saved him, Frerin remembered listening to the two hobbits that had been at auction with him. They had been from outside of Bree, the Tooks they whispered, the Tooks would save them. Frerin had thought little of the whispers until he found self being lead off by a hobbit and healed in his kitchen.

“And this is how you treat him, wonderful job.” Frerin muttered to himself. The dwarf closed his eyes and sighed, he had rarely had nightmares before, his daily life was enough of a nightmare as it was so to be free of the literal hell he was once in and to now be reliving it in his sleep was rather disconcerting. Frerin didn’t understand why he had just a horrible dream and why he had reacted like he did.

Frustration welled up in the dwarf, anger at himself and a little at his hobbit host festered just beneath his skin. The dwarf wanted to yell and scream but that wasn’t his way, it wasn’t what his people did, the pull of his craft called him.

Frerin was a jewel smith by trade, the tiny intricate details were beautiful and when he lost himself to his trade the world melted away. That was what he needed. The feel of metal under his fingers and the knowledge that when he finished something beautiful would exist.

“Frerin?” The dwarf twisted carefully to see his hobbit host staring at him worried. “Are you alright?”

Frerin sighed and pushed himself up just enough to speak comfortably,“Not really.”

“Oh.” Bilbo ducked his head.

“It’s not your fault.” Frerin told the hobbit. “I imagine I wont be alright for a long while.”

Frerin watched as Bilbo wrung his hands and stared rather intently at ground. Guilt tugged at his heart, and he wished that the right thing to say would come to him. Lucky for him Bilbo decided to take a turn to speak.

“You don’t have to be alright.” Bilbo said softly, not looking at the dwarf. “My mother, she had been doing this for years. I had seen my mother and my father both attacked after flashbacks and bad dreams. You went through awful, dreadful things. Things I shan't ever be able to understand and I honestly never hope to.” Frerin watched as the hobbit seemed to gain strength from his words and push onward.

“It’s only been a few days, Frerin. You are allowed to have bad days, and you are likely to have even more bad days in the future.” Bilbo carefully dropped to his knees and slowly reached for Frerin’s bandaged hands, giving the dwarf plenty of notice and time to pull away.

The blond dwarf let the hobbit take his hands and Bilbo smiled his eyes shining and Frerin felt as if the warmth of the sun had been concentrated into that one smile. “But, Frerin, for every bad day there will be a good day and then later, possibly even years from now you’ll wake up and realize that the good days long since eclipsed the bad days.”

Frerin stared at the smile on the face of his savior and then at their joined hands, finally breathing easier than he had since his nightmare Frerin leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Bilbo’s.

Chapter Text

It had been nearly three days since Frerin and Bilbo had their conversation in Bad End’s backyard. Things hadn’t been perfect since then, often Frerin would find himself waking up screaming or find his temper flaring before he could control it but Bilbo was more than understanding.

Often times Frerin wanted nothing more than for his hobbit host to yell and scream back at him. Instead Bilbo would offer soft words, warm food and a kind smile. Something that Frerin found both irritating and comforting.

Bilbo was well aware of his guest’s feelings, because as closed mouthed as Frerin was the dwarf had a very expressive face. Unfortunately there was nothing Bilbo could do about it. He refused to yell at the dwarf and he wasn’t going to stop caring for him either.

The two were at an impasse.

“Afternoon tea will be ready soon,” Bilbo said poking his head into Frerin’s bedroom. The blond dwarf had retreated to his bedroom after a fit of anger some hours ago.

Frerin noded and turned back to the spot on the wall that he had been staring at moments before. Life in Bag End was nothing like he had experienced before. Not even his time in his homeland of Erebor had been similar.

There were few visitors. Some of Bilbo’s Took cousins would stop by every so often. Each one just as polite to Frerin as Bilbo was. Only once had a non-Took knocked on the bright green door of Bilbo’s hobbit hole and his little host had not tolerated the attitude his neighbor had taken with Frerin.

The fat stranger had tried to order Frerin to prepare tea. Shocked but not surprised at finally being treated like the slaver he had been for so long, Frerin had actually moved to do as he had been told before Bilbo reacted.

Frerin would never forget the venom his little host had spat at the stranger. Bilbo explained in no uncertain terms that Frerin was a guest in his home the same as the other hobbit. Bilbo went on to tear into his guest bringing up every ‘infraction’ of the unwritten social code the folks of the Shire lived by. All the while Bilbo had served up a delicious luncheon and never once raised his voice and never allowed the other hobbit to even speak a word.

When it was all over Bilbo had apologized profusely to Frerin for fighting with his neighbor with him in the room. Frerin just shook his head and tried to explain how that situation would have been handled in a dwarf home.

Bilbo was scandalized even before Frerin got to the part about axes being drawn.

It was quiet as well. The loudest noise that came from Bag End was from Frerin in his fits of anger. Bilbo was rather soft spoken, and the both were often quiet for hours of the day. For the most part Frerin appreciated the quiet. It allowed him to work through some of the details of life after being captured during the Battle of Azanulbizar and the trials he had faced since then.

He wasn’t well by any means, but the silence allowed him to being to heal.

--

Bilbo exhaled shakily leaning against the hall of his kitchen trying not to cry. He had thought he was ready for this, for taking up the mantle of saving people. Frerin had only been with him for a few short weeks and already Bilbo felt as if he were going to shake apart.

Before, when his parents were alive, he had seen the healing of the beings brought into Bag End from a distance. He had helped, of course, but doing it himself was a different matter. Bilbo would often be up all night reading through his mother’s journals, going over the accounts she had recorded and the stories of the people she had helped, searching for ways to help Frerin.

Bilbo took the dwarf’s fits of anger in stride, never truly fearing the dwarf he had welcomed into his home but he cautious of triggering a memory or long forgotten reflex.

Bilbo had always been a bit of a loner, but after the death of his parents the hobbit found himself distanced from his kin and the sudden inclusion of another person in his space was slowly wearing on the hobbit.

More than anything Bilbo wished he had someone to lean on. He wished his mother was there to help him. To fend off the nosy neighbors who thought they had a right to order Frerin around or the hobbits in the market that liked to make snide and hurtful remarks about Bilbo and his family.

Unfortunately it was just Bilbo.

Bilbo inhaled shakily and exhaled after a moment. He needed to get tea on the table, he had told Frerin that it was ready and the dwarf was sure to appear any second ready to eat.

“Bilbo?”

The hobbit shook his head and pushed himself from the wall. “Frerin,” he acknowledged looking from the dwarf in the doorway to the meal ready to be laid out. “My apologies, I was lost in thought.”

The dwarf frowned and looked at Bilbo, really looked at his host for the first time in days. “Are you alright?”

Bilbo opened his mouth to reply, because of course he was alright. It wasn’t as if he was the one who had been sold into slavery and torn from his people. He wasn’t the one who had been beaten and abused for years. Bilbo was just fine, thank you very much.

 

But to his shock, Bilbo found himself saying no.

For a moment neither moved and Frerin looked at his host and nodded. “Alright then, come on let’s get tea served.”

Bilbo just blinked in surprise and Frerin offered a sympathetic grin. “Everyone is entitled to bad days, Bilbo.”

“But, I don’t have a reason to be so upset. I’m not hurt and, and…” Bilbo trailed off and closed his eyes tightly as tears pooled in his eyes.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” the hobbit admitted pushing his palms into his eyes in an attempt to stop the tears.

“Hey, none of that.” Frerin said sternly. The dwarf reached his still bandaged hands out to his host and gently took Bilbo’s hands into his own. “If you have to cry then cry, you tell me that often enough.”

Bilbo shook his head and forced out, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

The slightly taller dwarf gave Bilbo’s hands a squeeze, “That’s alright, we will figure it out.” Looking at the small meal the hobbit had prepared Frerin frowned in thought. “We’ll have tea by the fireplace, today. That way we can be comfortable and you and I can talk for a bit.”

Bilbo just nodded and gave a soft sniff as the tears began to stop. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

After being taken care of for so long Frerin found being on the other side interesting. Long buried instincts came forward and the blond dwarf easily shepherded his hobbit host into a squishy chair in front of the fire. It took only a minute and several trips to transport the small meal that Bilbo had prepared for afternoon tea in the room with them.

Soon enough Frerin had a hot cup of tea in Bilbo’s hands and a plate of sandwiches and cakes ready for the hobbit to eat in front of him. Frerin had his own plate a cup in front of him.

“Why do you do this Bilbo?” Frerin asked as the hobbit took a long drink of his tea. “Why do you take strangers into your home, and heal them like you did with me?”

Bilbo delicately sat his tea cup on its saucer. “It’s what Tooks do, my mother was a Took before she married. It’s what I was raised doing.” His answer was stiff but correct. It didn’t touch upon Bilbo’s own feelings toward the slave trade or his own feelings of helping people but it was the truth.

Frerin seemed to know there was more to the story. “But why do you do it?”

Bilbo frowned into his tea. “I want to help people. I hate that someone can take you from your home and try to make you less than you are.”

Frerin didn’t say anything, he could sense that Bilbo had more to say as the hobbit sat his teacup down.

“There are other effort to stop the slavers, you know,” Bilbo explained. “Men, dwarrow and elves that seek out the slavers at their bases, folk who go to leaders and attempt to get slavery made illegal in the various kingdoms.”

Frerin nodded to show that he followed Bilbo’s words and the hobbit pushed onward. “This is the only way I can help,” Bilbo said impassioned. “I’m not strong, I can’t fight this head on but I can help in this way.”

The dwarf nodded. He could not and did not want to imagine his hobbit host braving the wilderness for any reason. The wild was no place for a gentle hobbit, especially not one was soft and young as his hobbit.

“I wish I could do more, but even this is so hard,” Bilbo said his words spilling out of him like a waterfall. “I never expected this to be so difficult. I don’t know why it is, I’m not hurt. I haven’t been ripped from my family and forced into-into…”

Frerin gently removed the teacup from the hobbit’s hands and set it aside. He had moved the moment Bilbo’s speech became rushed and the tears began to pool in his hobbit’s eyes. “You are so very strong Bilbo Baggins. I haven’t been entirely idle in my time here, I’ve raided your library more than once as you know and I’ve learned a little about hobbits from the books.”

Bilbo just gave Frerin a confused look but the dwarf continued. “I understand that you young, having just reached your majority.”

Bilbo nodded.

“You have done so well by me, you’ve taken me into your home and healed wounds I thought would kill me,” Frerin said meeting Bilbo’s eyes. “I owe you so much, and this is how I’m going to help you. When things become to much, I can make dinner. When you need to step back you need not coddle me, take a break. When you need a shoulder, while I can’t always promise to strong and steadfast I will try to be here. I’m far more damaged than I would like to admit, but I will not allow you to damage yourself to try and heal me.”

Bilbo felt the tears from before slide down his cheeks but he managed a watery smile for his dwarf. “Quite a pair we are,” he said with a small laugh.

Frerin smiled back and once again threaded his bandaged fingers through Bilbo’s. “Yes we are.”

--

“Frerin, I have a surprise for you!” Bilbo said with a smile. The blond dwarf looked away from his book, since his admission that he routinely took books from Bilbo’s study the hobbit had began making recommendations, and smiled brightly at his hobbit. It was a good day for Frerin. Ever since the tea time discussion both hobbit and dwarf had found themselves having more good days.

“A surprise? For me? Is it pie?” The dwarf asked hopefully.

Bilbo grinned and shook his head. “Not today, I can make one tomorrow though if you would like, but for now come here I want to show you!”

Frerin laughed a little and moved to stand near his hobbit host. “Well, lead away!”

“It’s a two-part surprise, the first is here and the second it a bit further away, if you are up for it after you see the first part we can go look at the second part,” Bilbo said leading Frerin to what the hobbit knew to be an empty guest room in Bag End.

“I have a bedroom Bilbo,” Frerin said a little confused. “Unless you are moving me, to this room.”

Bilbo shook his head, “No your room is still the same but I’ve giving you this room as well. It’s so you can, well, go ahead take a look.”

Still confused the dwarf pushed open the door and found it mostly empty. There was a desk a chair and what look like tools. Frerin tried to see what it was his hobbit was giving him but he gave up and turned to Bilbo. “I still don’t understand, I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, it’s a bit empty, as I wasn’t sure what you needed,” Bilbo explained. “It’s just I figured you would be getting a bit bored. You are healing wonderfully, your hands are almost completely healed and I thought you might want a space to work.”

Bilbo pushed onward seeing the realization come over Frerin’s face. “I thought you might want to begin pursuing your craft again. I don’t know what it is, but you have the space now if you want and I’ve reserved a time for you every week at smithy.”

Frerin felt his jaw drop as the realization of just what his hobbit had done hit him. Swiftly the dwarf gently engulfed Bilbo in a hug. “Thank you, thank you so much.”

Chapter Text

Frerin and Bilbo barely made it back to Bag End before falling asleep. Much to Bilbo’s joy and Frerin’s unease, the occupants of Bag End were extended an invitation to spend the weekend at the Great Smials with his Took family.

It took much convincing on Bilbo’s part insisting that no one in his family would treat Frerin as lesser. The dwarf was rightfully concerning but thankfully in the end both Frerin and Bilbo were treated like favored guests/naughty grandchildren by Old Took and his wife.

At first Frerin was overwhelmed by the Took family’s sheer numbers. He stumbled over names and confused Bilbo’s uncles Isengrim, Isumbras, Isembold, Isembard (Something Bilbo confided happened often).

What really shocked Frerin was the presence of three dwarrow that lived with the Took family. He didn’t know them and they didn’t recognize him but just the knowledge that more of his people weren’t suffering lightened his heart.

The hobbit and dwarf pair spend the entire weekend being fed and teased, Frerin was introduced to more hobbits than he could count and Bilbo had been coddled within an inch of his life. It was the perfect weekend.

That was why when the two arrived back at Bag End Frerin retreated to his room and passed out cold on top of the covers. Bilbo followed a similar pattern falling into his bed and just having enough time to wiggle under the blankets before drifting off to sleep.

--

Bilbo awoke slowly, he was warm and despite having fallen asleep in his walking clothes from the night before was incredibly comfortable. Reluctantly the young hobbit peeled himself from his warm cozy bed and stumbled toward the bathroom. He paused long enough to listen at Frerin’s door but didn’t hear anything. Either his housemate was still sleeping or Frerin had already risen for the day.

Sleepily Bilbo ducked into the bathroom did his business and stumbled toward the kitchen. Trips to Tuckborough always tired him out, or maybe it was his Took cousins that caused the exhaustion.

“Morning,” Frerin greeted cheerfully.

“Good morning Frerin,” Bilbo greeted in return. “What are you doing up? Wait whats this?”

It took a moment but Bilbo finally noticed the spread in front of him. Eggs, thin cut pork chops, toast, sausages and other breakfast treats covered the table.

The blond dwarf smiled sunnily at Bilbo. “I made breakfast!”

Bilbo gave a little laugh before joining Frerin at the table. “I see that and it looks delicious. What brought this on?”

“I just wanted to do something nice for you!” Frerin said passing Bilbo the pitcher of milk. “You’ve taken wonderful care of me since I arrived and I wanted to return the favor.”

Frerin wasn’t lying, he did want to repay his hobbit host but more than that he had seen how Bilbo had melted into the attention his cousins had smothered him with. Frerin was older than Bilbo not by much when you factored in the difference between dwarf and hobbit aging. Frerin had been young when he had been captured, very young. But there was something else driving this meal.

Bilbo smiled brightly. “It’s delicious. I never knew you were such a talented cook!”

Frerin grinned, “I am a dwarf of many talents. After elevenses, I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk? Not far, we did plenty of walking this weekend but I’d love to spend some time outdoors.”

“Of course,” Bilbo agreed, he would never dissuade Frerin from exploring the Hobbiton. After after how reluctant he had been to leave Bag End. “Shall we pack a lunch and make a day out of it!”

“Wonderful!”

--

Bilbo and Frerin spent the morning relaxing and unpacking from their adventure the day before. As soon as he was done Bilbo watched Frerin disappear into his workroom and didn’t see his friend until it was time to leave.

For their lunch picnic Bilbo packed a variety of sandwiches, and other finger foods. He even snuck a few tasty cakes for an early dessert. “Frerin are you ready to go?” Bilbo called through the door.

Instead of answering Frerin pushed open the door and gave Bilbo a wide smile. “Yes I am.”

“Let's go!”

Since Frerin wasn’t familiar with the Hobbiton Bilbo was in charge of the destination. He needed to find a place that was sunny and beautiful but also not very crowded. Frerin didn’t do well in large groups, unless the group was Bilbo’s Took family. That was why Bilbo decided to lead the dwarf to the Party Tree. At this time of day the Tree would be mostly deserted, as everyone was swarming the markets and working the fields.

“Oh no! I forgot a blanket!” Bilbo cried when they reached the Party Tree.

“It’s alright, we can sit on the grass,” Frerin said with a smothered laugh. Bilbo acted like they had run off without the food.

“But I’ll get my new trousers dirty,” the gentle hobbit fussed.

The dwarf coughed smothering another laugh. Bilbo was something else. He had seen the younger hobbit drop to his knees, never mind getting his dressier clothing dirty, when his prized tomatoes produced their first ripe fruit just a few days ago. Furthermore, Frerin very clearly remembered a hobbit that didn’t care one bit that a filthy dwarf invaded his home and dirtied everything he touched.

Without a care Frerin shrugged off the overcoat Bilbo had reminded him to wear. “Here, sit on this. I don’t care if it gets a little grass on it,” Frerin said cutting off Bilbo’s protests

Seeing that Bilbo wasn’t going to take his coat Frerin laid it out under the tree, took the picnic basket from Bilbo’s hands and flopping himself onto the ground. “Well are you going to join me?”

With a sigh Bilbo gingerly settled himself on Frerin’s coat. “I can’t believe I forgot the blanket.”

“It’s not a big deal Bilbo, I almost prefer this. It’s more natural. Sandwich?” Frerin asked while passing the hobbit three of the sandwiches.

“Dessert first Frerin? Really” Bilbo asked amused, watching the dwarf forgo the actual food and zero in on the cakes Bilbo had packed.

Frerin just poked his tongue out at Bilbo before stuffing a honey cake in his mouth. “Live a little!” He teased with his mouth full of cake.

Bilbo wrinkled his nose, “I have no desire to see your food while you eat it.”

“My most sincere apologies, Bilbo,” Frerin said laughing.

Bilbo watched Frerin as he snacked. The dwarf consistently went for the cakes and sweets Bilbo had packed, he had a sandwich but it was obvious what would not make it back to Bag End. The scene was almost portrait worthy. The sun was high in the sky, but Bilbo and Frerin were offered shade by the Party Tree. Even without the picnic blanket the hobbit and dwarf lounge comfortably on the soft grass laughing and chatting.

The only problem was, “Frerin you have a leaf in your hair,” Bilbo said gesturing to Frerin’s head.

“Oh! Will you get it, please? I have honey on my hands.” Frerin said wiggling his sticky fingers to prove his point.

“Of course!” Setting his sandwich aside Bilbo leaned forward and plucked the green leaf from Frerin’s blond hair. “Got-” Bilbo had been leaning across Frerin to retrieve the leaf when he suddenly found himself leaning too far.

Frerin grunted as ended up with a hobbit on his lap. “Are you alright?” Frerin asked going to steady Bilbo.

“I am so sorry!” Bilbo said trying to wiggle out of Frerin’s lap.

“Hey calm down, it’s alright, Bilbo,” the blond dwarf said trying to sooth the hobbit, pressing his honey covered hands to Bilbo’s face. “It’s alright.”

Bilbo stopped trying to scramble away and just stared at Frerin’s face. They weren’t in the most comfortable position. Bilbo mostly leaning into Frerin his legs stretch out on the grass, Frerin’s sticky hands on his face,but still Bilbo couldn’t look away from Frerin’s eyes.

The blond dwarf had the most beautiful brown eyes. They sparkled like the gems that Frerin was so fond of, but what Bilbo found most appealing was the joy and compassion he could see within them.

“I had an ulterior motive in asking you to come out here with me,” Frerin said softly.

“Oh?” Bilbo asked.

“I would like it very much if you would agree to be courted by me,” Frerin said nervously.

Chapter Text

Bilbo froze in shock. “Courting?” He whispered.

Frerin nodded biting at his bottom lip.

Bilbo hadn’t ever really considered courting, sure as a tween he might have made fawn eyes at a few lads and lasses but nothing serious. After taking up the Took family’s cause he had thought courting was out of the question. He had something more important to do.

“I-” Bilbo began, “Why me?”

Frerin smiled brightly, “Because you made honey cakes for our picnic. Because you leave books everywhere, and will stay up all night reading if you can. Because you helped me wash my hair and you will braid flowers in my beard when I’m not paying attention. Because you make me ginger tea when I’m sad and you gave me back my craft.”

Bilbo’s mouth fell open just a tiny bit. Some of those things were small, tiny gestures, something that he couldn’t imagine having an impact on Frerin.

“Because you have spent the night sitting outside of my door when I was upset but couldn’t handle someone being in the same room as I was,” Frerin continued. “Because when you are upset you lean on me and we cry together. And because you are the most beautiful, compassionate, and kind being I have ever had the opportunity to meet.”

Bilbo felt his face turn bright red, he was sure that Frerin could feel the heat radiating from his face.

The dwarf rubbed at Bilbo’s cheek with his thumb. “I was taken from my family during a battle. I was too young to fight but we needed everyone. I fought side by side with my brother before the orcs took me, and somehow I ended up with those vile men but you saved me. I don’t know what happened to my brother and I don’t know what happened to my people but I know that no matter what I belong here, with you.”

“Oh Frerin…” Bilbo whispered unwilling to break the mood. “Yes. Yes. I would be honored to be courted by you.”

Frerin’s face lit up like the sun. His eyes glittered and his smile stretched across his until Bilbo was sure it hurt. “You don’t know how happy you’ve made me Bilbo,” Frerin said pressing his forehead to Bilbo’s.

“I think I have an idea,” Bilbo whispered closing his eyes.

--

“You have honey on your face,” Frerin told Bilbo playfully. After the seriousness of the previous conversation the lighter tone was very much needed, no matter the happy conclusion.

“Because you wiped your honey covered hands all over my face!” Bilbo shot back rubbing at his face with a napkin.

Frerin just grinned and leaned back on his arms. Bilbo rolled his eyes and tossed the dirty napkin at his dwarf. “Pass me a bit of seed cake would you?” Bilbo knew that there were no honey cakes left, his dwarf had eaten all of them.

“Of course!” Frerin agreed digging in the basket. “Here you go” He said, but instead of the cake, which Frerin held in his other hand, he dropped a small blue gem in the hobbit’s hand.

Bilbo blinked at what was in his hand. “Frerin, I realize that you are dwarf but jewels are not cakes.”

The blond dwarf snorted giving Bilbo the cake finally, “Yes Bilbo I am aware, but since you agreed to court me I was hoping you would agree to do some of it to according to dwarf customs” His voice had turned nervous as he continued but Bilbo nodded.

“Of course, it would be unfair to expect you to ignore the customs of your people!” Bilbo said popping a piece of the cake in his mouth. “So what is this?”

“It’s a bead,” Frerin explained taking the tiny jewel from Bilbo’s hand. “In my culture when a couple agrees to court they will braid in their hair a special courting braid. It often includes a bead, like this one.”

“Oh, but I don’t have one for you!” Bilbo said fretfully.

“I, uh, made one for myself too. I knew you wouldn’t know the tradition but here.” Frerin handed Bilbo another bead. Unlike jeweled one Frerin had first handed him, the second one was metal, it had an engraved pattern that resembled twisting vines like the ones that grew on and around Bag End.

“What do we do with them?” Bilbo asked rolling the cylindrical bead between his fingers.

“The courting braid is like this,” Frerin said pulling a section of his own hair to the side and deftly created the plait. “It goes, here,” Frerin brushed the side of his head, “You can actually do it on both sides, if you prefer, only one is necessary but dwarrow often will if only for symmetry.”

“Is my hair long enough for this?” Bilbo asked worried.

“Just barely, but we will make it work,” Frerin promised, “One braid or two?”

“Two please.”

--

After much hair braiding, it took several attempts for Bilbo to be able to master the complicated style, Bilbo and Frerin packed up the picnic and returned to Bag End. As they walked, hand in hand, Bilbo couldn’t help but smile. This had been the best day he had ever had.

An amazing breakfast, followed by a perfect lunch and a surprise so amazing Bilbo would have never imagined. It was a nearly perfect day and Bilbo couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Chapter Text

Bilbo should have been expecting it. He could vividly remember this happening several times during his youth. Each time his mother had sighed and shaken her head and his father would rant about propriety and having a firm word with the neighbors. Each time Bilbo would feel like someone had given him a swift kick to the stomach. This time was no different.

After the amazing morning and afternoon he and Frerin had coming home to see his front garden destroyed was horrible. Bilbo gasped and tightened his grip on his dwarf’s hand. He could feel Frerin’s anger it was almost tangible.

For a long while the couple just stood there in shock. Eventually Bilbo found himself moving. Frerin moved with him as their hands were still clasped together.

The hobbit and his dwarf took in the damage, Bilbo making soft sounds of sorrow when he founds different plants crushed or uprooted. Frerin looked as if he were carved out of stone as he watched his hobbit mourn his once beautiful garden.

“Oh dear,” Bilbo whispered looking toward the front door of his smial. Frerin made a noise of anger under his breath when he saw the cruel words that had been painted on the bright green door.

Frerin tightened his grip on Bilbo’s hand but didn’t speak. He knew why this had happened. He knew why Bilbo’s neighbors, the ones that gave him nasty looks and the ones that refused to do business with Bilbo in the markets, had taken it upon themselves to wreck his front garden. Because Bilbo didn’t treat Frerin like a slave.

Bilbo sighed heavily and rubbed at his face with his free hand. His stomach still churned unpleasantly but Bilbo decided not to let it bother him. “This has happened before,” the hobbit said softly rubbing his thumb against the rough skin of Frerin’s hand. “I was very young the first time I saw it. My mother explained it was because we were choosing to be different.”

Frerin grunted to show he was listening to Bilbo’s tale and the hobbit continued.

“Only once did they dare to enter our home, my father was furious but my mother was apocalyptic,” Bilbo explained. “Not only is this our safe place but it also the only safe place for those that we rescue. My father went to the mayor and the Thain. My mother went to neighbors. After that they’ve never had the guts to enter the house but this was standard fare.”

They stood in silence for a few minutes more. “Would you like to help me clean up?” Bilbo asked giving Frerin’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“Of course,” the dwarf said softly. “I’ll fetch some paint for the door.”

Together it look until the sun was just beginning to sink below the sky to clear the front garden. Bilbo replanted what he could and sorrowfully added what he couldn’t to the compost pile. Frerin painted over the awful words that had been painted onto the door and then fixed the gate latch that someone had broken.

They had worked in silence for the most part, only Bilbo speaking every so often to share a story of planting and replanting with his mother and father. Frerin had retreated to his stone like visage and apart from several soft looks at Bilbo was stoic the entire time.

Once they had salvaged what they could the two retreated into the still pristine Bag End and Bilbo descended upon the kitchen to prepare tea while Frerin retreated to his work room.

The hobbit poured himself a cup of hot tea and cupped it in his hands. The heat felt wonderful after a few hours of emergency gardening. Bilbo, who was still upset, was worried about Frerin. He hadn’t seen his dwarf in that condition is quite a while. The stone mask, as Bilbo referred to it, was a wall that the dwarf hid behind when he was angry and didn’t want to show it. It was too bad because, the homecoming aside, the day and his time with Frerin had been the best day Bilbo had experienced in a long time.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Frerin’s voice said from the door to the kitchen.

Bilbo pulled his eyes away from his tea cup and furrowed his eyebrows in thought. Frerin couldn’t be talking about what Bilbo thought he was talking about, could he?

“Oh?” Bilbo said mildly.

“I didn’t take into consideration this,” Frerin said stonily. “I forgot for a moment, what I am here.”

Bilbo felt his stomach clench painfully at the dwarf’s words. “You know it isn’t true, Frerin. Not in any way.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter to them,” The dwarf said harshly. “I won't have them hurting you over this.”

Bilbo snorted, he couldn’t help it. Hid dwarf was awfully self-centered. “Frerin, this has been happening to my family for much longer than you have been inhabiting Bag End,” Bilbo explained again.

“But surely the courting braid in your hair will make it worse,” Frerin said.

“If you wish to cancel our courtship, simply say so, Frerin,” Bilbo said growing irritated. “This is simply a setback, it in no way should affect our relationship!”

“That is the opposite of what I want!” Frerin said loudly. “My concern is that you will end up hurt! I saw what they did to the front garden and you said they have broken into your home before! What if they do worse because you have found it within you to date a ‘lowly slave.”

Bilbo set his cup down gently, trying to take a moment to calm himself. “They will not hurt me, Frerin. Trust me on this. It isn’t the hobbit way. While my people are not wholly innocent we do not resort to violence unless absolutely necessary. My mother and father were never-”

“I’m concerned about you! Not about what happened to your parents!” Frerin yelled stomping into the kitchen. Ever so gently Frerin placed his hand against Bilbo’s cheek. “What if they hurt you because of these,” He asked stroking the lovingly crafted braids looking into Bilbo’s eyes.

“They won't,” Bilbo said softly covering Frerin’s hands with his own. “Today was the happiest day I have had in a very long time, but if it is your wish I will take out the braids and return the beads. It will hurt my heart and I know it would hurt yours as well, but if you truly believe that we should not court I will do it for you.”

Frerin just stared into Bilbo’s eyes and finally closed them tightly and sighed. Gently he again pressed his forehead to Bilbo’s own. “I should. Mahal knows I should to keep you safe but I am a selfish dwarf and I couldn’t bare to see you without my beads in your hair now that I have been you with them.”

Bilbo smiled and ever so softly pressed his closed lips to Frerin’s own for just a moment. “Thank you for being selfish.”

Chapter Text

Frerin healed remarkably well with time. Bilbo watched as the blond dwarf gained his strength back in increments, his hands and fingers healed swiftly and soon the gashes were soon but thin angry lines on Frerin’s skin. An abundance of food quickly filled out the dwarf’s once gaunt frame. As the spring melted into summer and then into autumn Bilbo fell deeper in love with the dwarf he saved. Their courtship progressed ever so slowly and sweetly.

Bilbo’s words had indeed proved true, Frerin had many bad days but recently he had been blessed by many good days to balance out the days when the memories of his captivity hung heavy in his mind.

More than one morning, Bilbo had awoken to breakfast in bed. Just as many times Bilbo had tugged his dwarf into the kitchen where they baked Frerin’s favorite honey cakes together. One special night Bilbo had gently woken the dwarf during the middle of the night and they shared tea and a smoke under a canopy of shooting stars.

“Mail!” Frerin said as he entered the smial, it was a good day. It wasn’t unusual for Frerin to gather the mail or do other little tasks to get him out of the house when he wasn’t crafting or working at the smithy. The dwarf wasn’t very comfortable going into the Hobbiton alone but he did enjoy the safety of Bilbo’s garden.

Bilbo looked up from his paper and took the letters unhappily. Mail only ever meant bills, letters from relatives or bad news. Bilbo began sorting them as Frerin made himself comfortable in the nearby chair he had claimed as his own.

“One of my cousins on the Baggins side is getting married,” Bilbo remarked tossing the letter aside. Frerin grinned, he knew Bilbo cared little for many of his cousins because of how they had treated Bungo when he married Belladonna. “A thank you card from Old Took for attending his birthday, here this one is for you.” Bilbo handed Frerin the card and returned to his mail. “Oh.”

Frerin looked up from his card and his smile fell from his face when he saw how pale his husband to be had become. “Bilbo?”

The hobbit shook his head and turned the letter over so Frerin could see the front, Frerin recognized the seals and writing at once. “The auction house,” Frerin said pretending to be calm. While his physical wounds had healed, his mental ones were still very fresh.

Bilbo nodded grimly. Bilbo would never regret meeting Frerin, the dwarf was the light of his life and Bilbo could not imagine loving anyone more, but Bilbo would always regret the circumstances under which they met. “It will be opening again in a few weeks time,” Bilbo said managing to keep his voice from shaking.

“Will you go?” Frerin asked after a moment of silence.

“I-I don’t know,” Bilbo said. “I want to go, to help but …”

Bilbo met Frerin’s eyes and the dwarf felt his heart soften at the look. Bilbo was such an amazing creature.

“You once told me this was your calling, saving beings from this taint,” Frerin said softly. “I would not ask you stop for my sake.”

“Bag End is your home too,” Bilbo said. “Bringing in someone else, someone who is hurting, it will not be an easy task.”

Frerin quirked a golden eyebrow. “Do you think I do not remember my first few days here?” Frerin asked. “I remember how hard it was for the both of us, taking in someone new will likely be the same.”

“That is why I will not bring anyone in unless you agree,” Bilbo said gaining strength. “This is your home and as much strength and health as you have regained, you are not at 100% yet, love.”

Frerin made a noise of reluctant agreement.

“Also, you are a bit possessive,” Bilbo added with a hint of teasing in his eyes. “Remember that Brandybuck lass who made fawn eyes at me in the market last week?”

Frerin chuckled and nodded but didn’t say anything. Bilbo had been quite scandalized when Frerin’s hand dropped from his back to his bum within the tween’s eyesight. Both hobbit’s involved turned bright red and Frerin was left was left with a ridiculously smug smile.

“I can see it in your eyes Bilbo Baggins, you want to help another poor lost soul,” Frerin said. “We both know how hard it will be, but -” Frerin reached out and took Bilbo’s hand in his own and laced their fingers together. “-I will always be here for you, we will do this together.”

“Thank you,” the hobbit whispered.

Chapter Text

The wind was bitingly cold. Bilbo shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around himself. The trek to the Auction House was long and lonely. Frerin had wisely chosen to wait back at Bag End, he had promised to have everything ready for the newest guest. Bilbo was thankful that his beloved had stayed behind. Being this that place and then seeing Frerin’s troubled eyes would have been too much for the hobbit.

Bilbo nodded solemnly to several of his Took cousins when they passed and scowled when he saw one or two of his Hobbiton neighbors waiting eagerly for the bidding to begin. Thankfully there were more than enough Tooks to make any other attempting to buy a slave have a difficult time. That was probably one of the hardest things, Bilbo had to admit to himself, seeing a poor soul purchased by someone who he knew would not treat them well and knowing that he could do nothing about it.

The loud ringing of a bell shook Bilbo out of his thoughts and turned his attention to the large stage where a man stood and a line of slave stood. Bilbo peered up at them, he saw a handful of big-folk, two older hobbit women and at the very end of the line, Bilbo felt his heart jump.

A dwarf, and had Bilbo not been absolutely certain that Frerin was home, safe and sound Bilbo would have sworn the young dwarf standing on the stage was his beloved.

The auctioneer began with one of the men but Bilbo could barely pay any attention as his eyes were stuck on the dwarf. He was younger, perhaps just out of tweenhood, with long, tangled and matted hair that in the bitter wind whipped around his head. It was the hair that caught Bilbo’s eye because just under the grime and snarls Bilbo could see the same blond shine that his own beloved’s hair had.

Bilbo watched the dwarf throughout the entire auction. The line became shorter and short as the auctioneer continued to babble and shout “sold” with every being that was bought. At some point, the dwarf noticed Bilbo’s intense gaze and returned it. Bilbo could see the exhaustion in every line of his face and the hobbit could easily read the heartbreak and defeat in his eyes. The dwarf and hobbit maintained eye contact even as the auctioneer drug him front and center and starting bidding.

Bilbo had learned his trade at his mother’s knee. He had learned the ways of the auctions and how to bid so as to win. Belladonna had told him, “If you come to this place and you decide to help someone, do not dare to falter.” That’s why even as the price rose and the bidding continued Bilbo refused to fail, he would save this dwarf no matter what.

Finally after a quarter of an hour of bidding Bilbo heard the shout of “Sold!” that had started his journey with Frerin all those months ago.

He felt the same sickness inside him, but when he met the tired eyes of the dwarf he had just saved Bilbo tried very hard to reassure him with his eyes that he was safe.

Bilbo’s hands did not shake as he paid the auction staff and they did not shake as he took the lead-chain that bound the dwarf and he did not shake when looked at the newest soon-to-be resident of Bag End and saw that he had no boots on his feet despite the cold and the cruel way his beard had been hacked at, likely when it had at some point became tangled in the chains.

“Can you walk?” Bilbo asked softly so not as to draw attention to them. The dwarf nodded sharply his body and features stiff and Bilbo nodded. Ignoring the lead chain Bilbo carefully placed a hand on the dwarf’s elbow. “This way, just a bit, we’ll get you settled for travel home,” Bilbo said trying to remember how he had explained it to Frerin.

Bilbo led the dwarf away from the slowly dispersing crowds and tugged the rucksack that Frerin had packed that morning off his back. The hobbit busied himself by pulling out a worn pair of boots and took the key to the shackles into his hand. With the gentleness he had honed in working with Frerin Bilbo reached out and politely asked to see the dwarf’s wrists. Suspiciously the dwarf did as he was asked and presented his wrists for Bilbo to unlock. The hobbit politely ignored the way he shook with fear.

Bilbo pulled the chains away and let them drop to the ground, taking care not to drop them on the poor dwarf’s feet. He then pressed the keys into the dwarf’s hands, noting that they were in much better shape than Frerin’s had been. In general, this dwarf seemed to be in much better shape than Frerin had been, but that wasn’t to say that he was unharmed.
“For your feet and the one around your neck,” Bilbo explained. “And when you are done, the boots. They likely won’t fit correctly, but in this weather better that than nothing,” Bilbo said, babbling as nerves overtook him.

The dwarf took the key and slowly undid the shackles on his ankles and neck and Bilbo knew he wanted nothing more than to run, but the blasted rune on his back would not let him. The hobbit wished he could reassure him that they would take care of that soon, but the breaking of the rune was a Took secret that Bilbo was not going to share, lest the auction staff were to overhear.

Bilbo waited patiently for the dwarf to free himself and pull on the pair of Frerin’s old boots. He took the time to look the dwarf over. He noticed several cuts on his face, many of which looked deep enough to require stitches. Further, Bilbo could see that one of the dwarf’s shoulders looked ...wrong. Bilbo then pulled a heavier travel cloak from his rucksack and presented it to the dwarf. The threadbare clothing he wore did nothing to block the late autumn wind or protect him from the hateful glances of the other hobbits.

When the dwarf was bundled up and looking as well as he could Bilbo nodded. “I’m sure,” he began. “That you have many questions for me.” Bilbo pulled down the hood that he had worn since he arrived at the auction block. The dwarf gasped when he caught sight of Bilbo’s courting braids. “And now I’m sure you have even more,” Bilbo said with a shake of his head. “However, we have a long walk ahead of us, and something would be better discussed at home. I do not, however, mean to imply that you must be silent on our journey back to my home but understand that if I do not answer something it is not because I am ignoring you or being cruel.”

The dwarf was wide-eyed and confused and Bilbo’s heart hurt for him. Up close this new dwarf looked incredibly young but thankfully he appeared to have been spared some of the horrors that Frerin had faced. “Oh, dear me, I fear I have been incredibly rude, my name is Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, at your service,” Bilbo said introducing himself with a bow. “May I inquire as to your name?”

It was the traditional dwarvish greeting that did it, Bilbo could tell because the young dwarf straightened as best he was able and bowed shallow bow. His voice was rough with disuse and shook ever so slightly, “I am Fili, son of Dis, at your service. ”

Chapter Text

Getting Fili back to Bag End was easier than when Bilbo made the same journey with Frerin. It still took hours but because Fili was willing to make small talk the journey appeared to be shorter than it really was. They spoke of trivial things. Bilbo described his home, both the Hobbiton and Bag End.

Bilbo didn’t mention Frerin and Fili didn’t talk about himself. Bilbo did notice how Fili’s eyes were continuously drawn to his courting braids.

When Bag End came into view Bilbo felt himself relax. “I did not mention before, but I’m sure you are aware of my braids,” Bilbo said softly. “My beloved, who gave me these.” Bilbo’s gently brushed his braids that Frerin had so carefully weaved into his hair that morning before breakfast. “He’s waiting there for us,” Bilbo explained as he pushed open the gate. “So please do not be startled should he meet us at the door.”

--

Fili was so tired. Everything about himself ached and burned. His muscles twinged with each step and his head was swimming with exhaustion and what was likely fever. The hobbit hole looked like every other hobbit hole that he had seen since they entered the Hobbiton. The only remarkable thing about it was the vivid green door.

The Hobbit led Fili through a gate and right in front of the green door. Bilbo turned the handle and pulled it open, not having bothered with a lock when he left and led the dwarf inside.

“Please, go ahead and remove the boots,” Bilbo told Fili. “You can toss the cloak down there as well unless you are still chilled.”

Fili kicked off the boots but kept the cloak. This was nothing how he expected his life to be this morning. He had woken up to his shoulder aching where the men had drawn the rune that marked him a slave. His pride burned at the thought. The heir to the Lonely Mountain a slave, Fili hoped his uncle never learned the fate that befallen his oldest sister-son, the shame would be too great.

Fili had trudged along with the other poor souls who were destined for the auction block, never again to breathe free air and to work and toil for their soon to be masters for the rest of their days. His soul had cried out for the mountains of his home, for the sound of his mother’s voice and the presence of his brother beside him.

There had been whispers of their luck. Being sold in the Shire was the best thing that could happen to them, the whispers said. Fili had half-heartedly listened to stories of the halflings who bought slaves and freed them, but Fili couldn’t believe it. His family was never that lucky.

Bilbo led Fili into what appeared to be a warm and welcome kitchen. There was no sign of the being that had so carefully weaved the braids into the hobbit’s hair. The hobbit ushered Fili into a chair, speaking of unimportant things, but Fili did catch the request that he remove his clothing (he was permitted to keep the cloak for decency if he liked) but Bilbo really needed access to his back.

“I know this must be difficult but, please rest assured,” Bilbo said earnestly. “I’m going to break the rune binding your will and then tend to your injuries.” Frerin had told Bilbo when the hobbit asked what he could have done better the first night in Bag End and his Beloved had suggested breaking the rune first.

The rune was an insidious thing. It harnessed the will of those it rested upon and the sooner the newest dwarf was free of it the better. “Do you mind if we pull your hair up,” Bilbo asked Fili carefully. Bilbo could see now that unlike Frerin, whose hair had been untouched and remained longer than any hobbit’s hair Fili’s hair was heartbreakingly short. It was still long, longer than Bilbo’s own hair and longer than anyone would find on a male hobbit but Frerin had explained just what that meant to dwarrow and Bilbo saw Fili stiffen.

The dwarf’s hair rested just brushing his shoulder blades, it was tangled and matted but Bilbo got the idea that perhaps some time again someone had chopped several inches off the young dwarf’s hair and his beard was shorter than Frerin’s as well.

“I won’t cut it,” Bilbo promised. His voice was shakier than he’d like but he could see the pain in the young dwarf’s eyes at the mention of his hair. “No one will touch your hair without your permission ever again.”

Fili shook and finally after days and days his stoic mask cracked down the middle. The nude dwarf covered only by the cloak raised his hands to his face and sobbed. “Don’t, don’t,” he forced out shaking his head. Bilbo guessed he meant about his hair and Bilbo exhaled shakily.

--

Frerin watched from the kitchen doorway as the younger dwarf sobbed into his hands. He was much younger than Frerin, likely just passed his majority. The short hair spoke more about his time in captivity then Frerin would like. Thankfully, the beard was likely natural for such a young dwarf. Slowly Frerin entered the kitchen and urged Bilbo to ready the kettle and prepared for tending the dwarf’s wounds. “I’ve got this, love,” Frerin said softly so not as to alarm the still sobbing dwarf.

Slowly, and carefully Frerin came to stand in front of the young dwarf and quietly cleared his throat. Frerin withheld a gasp because he found himself staring into his siblings’ steel blue-grey eyes. Frerin shook off the old memories and focused on the dwarf in front of him.

He murmured a traditional greeting in Khuzdul and smiled when the newest guest of Bag End muttered it back at him. “My name is Frein, son of Thrain,” Frerin introduced himself in Westron. “You are in the house of my One, my intended, and no harm will come to you here. You are safe, I swear this to you.” Frerin placed a fist over his heart and bowed slightly sealing the vow.

--

Fili gaped at the dwarf who was his dead uncle. He felt as if the entire world was spinning and it left him unable to focus or even react. He felt the rune be broken on his back and he watched as the hobbit and Frerin tend to his wounds. Frerin handled Fili’s hair and pulled it up so Bilbo could tend a deep gouge on the back of his neck.

A warm mug was put in his hands and Fili drank everything inside without tasting any of it. His eyes stayed glued to Frerin, son of Thrain.

The odd couple carefully steered him into the bath. Where Frerin stipped down to help Fili clean himself. Communal bathing was common in dwarvish culture and despite Bilbo’s slightly pink face, the hobbit made no comment.

Fili sank into the water gratefully. None of his injuries required stitching and only the deep gouge at the back of his neck needed to be kept dry. Fili watched as the dwarf who was his mother’s dead brother lather up a mildly scented soap and pass it to Fili.

“It is medicinal properties,” Frerin explained. “It’s good for wounds so don’t be shy about washing them.”

The hobbit puttered around in the background preparing clothing for the two dwarfs for after their baths and handing Frerin other items like a sturdy comb.

Fili shook at the thought of anyone getting near his hair and shook his head wildly when Frerin looked at him. The gouge on the back of his neck hurt but Fili would not let them touch his hair. Frerin, seeing the look, quickly passed the comb back to Bilbo and shook his head.

“I have an idea,” Bilbo said and ducked from the room. Leaving the two dwarrow alone.

Frerin babbled aimlessly while scrubbing at himself. He spoke of meaningless things but didn’t pay much attention to Fili as he cleaned himself. Never once did Frerin comment on Fili’s refusal to speak or on the fact that Fili had yet to give his name. It was comforting.

By the time Bilbo had returned Fili was half asleep in the ever cooling water. Frerin had stepped out of the large bath and pulled on dry clothing and was running viciously at his hair to rid it of the excess water.

“Where did you run off to?” Frerin asked quietly so as not to disturb the younger dwarf.

“I went to get this,” Bilbo said holding up a scarf. “During the winter my other would wrap it around her hair to keep the snow and rain off of it, but it also keeps anything to touching it and it might stop his hair from matting and tangling more,” Bilbo explained.

“If he wants to brush it out later it will be easier if we can keep it from getting any worse,” Bilbo said. Frerin nodded and took the scarf and set it to the side. He would try and talk the younger dwarf into wearing it before they tucked him into bed.

Frerin felt as exhausted as the younger dwarf looked. Frerin had been fighting flashbacks since he had walked in on his hobbit helping the dwarf in the kitchen, the dwarf whose name he still did not know. He couldn’t bear to ask and his worst fears realized.

Carefully the pair managed to coax the young dwarf from the cooling water and into dry warm clothing. Frerin had even managed to get him to wrap his hair using the scarf Bilbo had found. The younger dwarf looked incredibly sad standing in front of the tub. He swayed with exhaustion so Frerin and Bilbo took care to brace him on both sides and led him to the room where Frerin had stayed when he first arrived in Bag End.

Frerin gently helped the dwarf into the bed and even as he pulled up the covers the younger blond dwarf was fast asleep.

Just before they left the room Bilbo paused and spoke. “Sleep and heal. I will guard you as you sleep. You have nothing to fear in my home, here you are welcome and I will do everything in my power to see you home.”

--

“What is his name?” Frerin asked Bilbo. The two had retired to Bilbo’s room where the courting couple crawled into Bilbo’s bed and desperately sought comfort from each other. Frerin left tears inch down his face and dampen his beard. “Please, what is his name?”

Bilbo didn’t understand Frerin’s desperation but still knew his Beloved was hurting wrapped his arms around Frerin and pulled him close. “Fili, son of Dis,” Bilbo whispered in the dark.

Frerin took a deep shuddering breath and moved closer to the hobbit. He pressed his face into Bilbo’s soft chest and fell to pieces. “He is my nephew,” Frerin forced out breathlessly. “He is my sister’s son.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo was the first one awake and Frerin didn’t rouse even when the hobbit pulled away and slipped out of the room. Frerin had tossed and turned all night, clearly upset with what he had learned last night. Bilbo could not imagine the horror of finding a family member in slavery. Bilbo knew Frerin felt awful enough about his own situation and the horrors of his past still haunted him a great deal.

Frerin had only just felt comfortable enough talking to Bilbo about his family. Frerin had painted a picture of three siblings. An older brother, a middle brother, and a treasured younger sister. Haltingly Bilbo had learned just who his Beloved was, an heir to a kingdom far away lost to dragon’s fire. When Frerin had raged against what his people had lost time and time again he had managed to explain his fears of looking for his brother and his sister and finding them long dead or worse enslaved like he, himself was.

That was where Bilbo’s head was as he prepared breakfast. Young Fili was likely to wake starving and confused, the younger dwarf, while obviously injured and suffering hadn’t been in as bad a physical condition as his uncle had been when Bilbo brought Frerin into Bag End. Bilbo prepared a hearty broth, the dwarf was rather thin, and left it on the stove to simmer while he plated something for Frerin.

Hesitant footsteps made Bilbo pause. Frerin would have just barged in and if Bilbo was correct his dwarf beloved wouldn’t wake for a while still. Bilbo slowly turned and like he thought, he saw the younger dwarf standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He had obviously found the clothing Bilbo had set out that morning, they were some of Frerin’s so they fit better than if Bilbo had offered his own clothing, but they still hung off the youngster’s frame.,

“Good morning,” Bilbo said softly. “Breakfast is almost ready if you’re hungry.”

Bilbo knew that Fili was hungry but he tried very hard to make everything sound like an option. The young dwarf likely would react to commands well for a while. “You’re welcome to take a seat or I can bring the food back to your room,” Bilbo said pouring the broth into a thick mug and adding two pieces of toasted bread to a plate with some of the lighter fruit jams.

Fili carefully stepped up and took a seat at Bilbo’s table and the hobbit felt a familiar warmth build in his chest. “Here you go,” Bilbo said setting the plate and mug on in front of Fili. “There is plenty more where this came from and another meal in a few hours, so don’t worry if you are still hungry or if you can’t eat it all.”

Bilbo continued to cook as Fili ate his meal in silence. Bilbo didn’t want to break the silence and up his newest guest but he wished there was something he could tell the youngster to help ease his mind. Fili, for all that he was eating, was tense and drawn tight like a harp string. Bilbo could see the tension in his shoulders and the hard look in his eyes when the dwarf shot Bilbo looks that he thought Bilbo couldn’t see.

“Frerin should be up soon,” Bilbo said filling a plate for himself. Frerin’s plate had been made and was resting in the still warm oven for the dwarf to get it. “He had an amazing sense for food and always wakes up right when the food is ready. I think he does it to get out of cooking.”

Bilbo took a spot at the table. Fili didn’t react except to grab another piece of bread and cover it with honey. The two sat in silence for a time until louder footsteps signaled the arrival of Frerin. Bilbo and Fili both turned to watch the older dwarf retrieve his plate and settle himself at the table. Frerin was dressed for the day, his braids in place, including the courting braid that he wore proudly.

Fili watched his uncle with obvious interest and more than a little distrust. Frerin easily ignored it and dug into his meal happily. “It’s amazing as always, beloved,” Frerin praised Bilbo’s cooking.

Bilbo flushed a delicate pink and waved off the praise. “When we’ve finished this meal, would you help me with my beard?” Frerin asked casually.

Bilbo saw Fili jerk in surprise. Frerin had explained how intimate helping a lover with their hair was and much trust it showed. Bilbo got the idea that Frerin was trying to show Fili that Bilbo was safe and trustworthy. “Afterward we can redress Fili’s wounds,” Frerin said using Fili’s name for the first time.

The younger blond gave his uncle a look, trying to decide how he knew his name. “Bilbo told me last night your name,” Frerin explained. “I am not surprised, I should have know when I saw your eyes and nose. You have the baring of the line of Durin. You and I can talk at length later this afternoon, nephew.”

Fili nodded hesitantly and Bilbo beamed, things were finally looking up.

--

Later after Frerin’s beard had been tended too and Fili’s wounds redressed Frerin went to put in a few hours work at the smithy leaving Bilbo and Fili alone in Bag End. Bilbo had told his guest that he was going to be working in his study until Frerin returned, but if Fili needed anything he was welcome to it. Bilbo showed him where the pantry was and explained that he was leaving the door to his study open if Fili needed assistance.

Frerin had suggested that Bilbo give Fili some space to collect his thoughts and settle himself. Bilbo reluctantly agreed and found himself some work to do in the running of Bag End and left Fili to himself.

It was nearly an hour later when Bilbo emerged to get a glass of water when he heard loud, quick breathing coming from the bathroom. Bilbo knocked once and the sound of crashing inside made him worry. “Fili? Fili are you alright?” Bilbo called through the door. “Please answer me!”

There was no reply.

“Fili, please answer me or I will have to enter,” Bilbo said firmly. “On three. One. Two.”

Bilbo pushed the door open and found the bathroom an utter mess. Fili stood by the tub, Bilbo’s heavy wooden comb stuck in hair. Bilbo could see the silk scarf off to the side and understood that Fili had been attempting to fix his hair.

“Oh dear boy,” Bilbo said softly. Fili was sobbing into his arms, heartbreakingly quiet and Bilbo silently moved closer. “Fili, would you like some assistance? I promise I will not take a blade to your hair.”

Fili peeked up at Bilbo with tears in his eyes and Bilbo melted. The hobbit gently lowered himself to his knees and placed a soft hand on Fili’s arm. “Please let me help you,” Bilbo said. “I will do everything I can to smooth your hair, I swear.”

After a long painful silence, Fili nodded and Bilbo smiled. “Okay, please come with me, the kitchen has better lighting and I can boil some water to help,” Bilbo said soothingly. The hobbit led the upset dwarf and settled him in a chair. Bilbo put a kettle of water on to boil and told Fili he would return in a moment.

Bilbo ducked back into his bathroom and grabbed a large thick towel and two smaller ones. He also paused and took the creams and elixirs that his mother had used on her hair that Bilbo had been able to throw away after her passing. Bilbo put his haul on the kitchen table and disappeared once more and grabbed what Bilbo knew Frerin used on his own hair. Finally done Bilbo returned to the kitchen and started to work.

It was a long process. Fili’s hair was filthy and matted, Bilbo easily recognized that it would be easier and faster to chop the hair and let it regrow but having become so familiar with dwarrow culture Bilbo knew just what that suggestion would imply.

Bilbo worked silently, every so often Fili would sniffle or sob softly as Bilbo carefully worked tangles from the thick blond tresses. The duo did not move when Frerin returned home and found them in the kitchen. The older dwarf stopped at the doorway to the kitchen where Fili had stood some hours ago before breakfast. Without a word, Frerin disappeared and did not return.

Bilbo worked for hours, he did not take a break but instead pause and put on a second kettle for tea from time to time. The morning melted away into the afternoon and finally, in late afternoon Bilbo finished.

Fili’s hair was longer than Bilbo had thought. It was uneven but Bilbo knew better than to suggest evening it out. Fili actually looked younger with his hair clean and brushed. He did not have the braids that Frerin did and he looked impossibly small wrapped in the towel with his damp hair plastered to his skin.

Bilbo groaned and stretched his shoulders painfully. Watching Fili carefully run his fingers through his, clean, untangled hair made it worth it.,

“Thank you,” Fili said finally. It was the first thing the dwarf had said all day.

“You are welcome,” Bilbo honestly.

“You look better,” Frerin said. Bilbo could see the tension in his beloved’s eyes. Seeing Fili’s hair like that had triggered something in the dwarf. Bilbo wasn’t sure when Frerin had come back or what he had in his hand.

Frerin moved closer to his nephew and gently shooed Bilbo out of the way. Bilbo went without complaint. “What is your birth order?” Frerin asked. He opened his hand and Bilbo could see a handful of beads and clasps. Fili gaped at his uncle and Frerin smiled gently until Fili told him he was the oldest of two.

Bilbo watched as Frerin began adding intricate and beautiful braids into Fili’s newly cleaned hair. Frerin explained each one as he did it. A family braid that signified Fili’s status as the eldest son of two. An heir’s braid after Fili told him, Frerin’s brother Thorin had named him an heir. Frerin asked about Fili’s craft and congratulated Fili on his journeyman status and added a braid and bead for that as well. Finally, Bilbo could see that Frerin had two beads left.

“Now Fili,” Frerin said almost nervously. “As your mother’s brother and being an heir to the Line of Durin I present to you one of our people’s highest honors.”

“What?” Fili demand. Bilbo got the idea that this was something important.

“Oh the road after Erebor fell to dragon’s fire, my brother, the heir to the Kingdom Under the Mountain made a declaration,” Frerin explained, likely for Bilbo’s benefit. “He declared that they were more than worthy of this honor that I am bestowing on you because they had survived.”

Bilbo could see the king in his beloved. He could the dwarf he was supposed to be standing beside his sibling commanding armies and ruling kingdoms.

“It’s symbolized by a braid,” Frerin said starting the braid. “It mixes our mourning braids, our war braids, and braids received after a great feat of strength or courage.”

It was incredibly complex and almost delicate looking to Bilbo’s eyes, but Frerin never fumbled. “An entire generation wears this braid and since it had been given out three times in my memory,” Frerin continued.

“Once more since you were taken,” Fili said hoarsely. “My father received it before his death.”

“Four times since we lost our ancestral home,” Frerin amended. “This braid marks you as a warrior, as a survivor. Remember that, Fili son of Dis. You are a survivor.”

Fili broke down crying when Frerin finished and the older dwarf carefully wrapped his arms around his sobbing sister-son and Bilbo watched with tears in his own eyes. This was a step toward healing, for both of them.