Silence stretched between them and Bilbo wasn’t sure exactly how much time passed.
But after a while, when Bilbo was already having his second pipe and Fili finished his first, the dwarf sighed. “I should head back inside. Get some sleep. Uncle will want to depart early tomorrow morn.”
Bilbo nodded, fidgeting nervously at the mention of the dwarves’ journey. He didn’t know why he felt so guilty and slightly disappointed for not joining them.
But Fili did not stand up. Instead, he turned to watch Bilbo with a frown on his face. “Have you decided yet, Master Baggins?”
Bilbo swallowed, lowering his eyes to his lap. “I can’t... I mean, I’m a hobbit!” He shook his head. “I can’t just leave.”
Fili nodded with a sad sigh. “I guessed as much.” He admitted. “And although I am slightly disappointed I cannot say I wholeheartedly disagree.”
When Bilbo looked up at Fili, the other was looking at the sky, longing in his eyes. “You have a home. If I had one, I wouldn’t be so willing to leave it either.”
Bilbo could only smile sadly at the understanding. He was grateful that at least someone seemed to understand but the reason why he was understood pained him. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to not have a home. “I wish I could help you. I really do.” He said, although he wasn’t sure whether he was comforting Fili or himself. “But I am merely not cut out for the job.”
“You won’t know until you try.”
Bilbo gasped softly at those words, eyes widening slightly as he looked up at Fili. “That’s... my mother used to say that.” He stated softly, a sad smile coming to his lips. “Whenever I refused to eat something I had never had or whenever I was afraid to do something because I could get hurt. She would always tell me to try.”
Fili gave him a soft smile. “Your mother was a wise woman, then. Those words are right, you know. You won’t know if you are the right person for us until you have tried. Besides, Gandalf seems adamant that you are. That has to count for something.”
Is. Bilbo wanted to point out. My mother is a wise woman. But memories of his mother stopped him. Memories where she smiled down at him, telling him to try everything new that came his way. Because his life would turn out dull and boring if he didn’t. Without the occasional adventure, life would be life. And, as she had always said, life needed to be lived.
The thing was, Bilbo hadn’t lived for such a long time, that now that he finally got the opportunity to do so, he was afraid. Oh-so afraid to journey out of the Shire and go on the adventures his mother had told him about. Adventures he had been excited about when he was little. Back when his father was still alive and his mother still radiant.
Bilbo shook his head. “Gandalf is wrong. And, I am not saying that my mother is wrong, but I’m quite certain she wasn’t speaking of adventures that might mean my immediate death. I’m still just a hobbit and there’s a reason us hobbits don’t go adventuring.”
“Which is?” Fili asked.
“It’s dangerous and one will most likely not come back.” Bilbo said – repeated words he’d heard over and over again by his father’s relatives – crossing his arms in front of his chest.
“Right,” Fili nodded. “Well, as I said, I do understand. So I bid you a good night, master hobbit.”
“Ah, yes, good night.” Bilbo nodded and watched the dwarf walk away.
But just before he was about to round the corner, Fili turned back to Bilbo. “Just a last piece of advice if I may,” he called.
Bilbo turned too, surprised, and nodded.
“Perhaps you should do what your heart tells you rather than what is to be expected of you.” He said and with a small bow of his head he turned around and walked away once more.
Bilbo turned back, watching his father’s grave. He felt a tightness in his chest at those words.
Because, deep down, he knew couldn’t ignore that Fili was right.
Waking up to an empty house was something that had never failed to give Bilbo mixed feelings.
When he was younger he’d loved waking up alone. At those times it had been a sign of trust in Bilbo’s growing maturity that his parents dared to leave him alone. It was also a huge favour, to leave their child sleeping in their bed while they tracked the three-hour hike to join some distant relatives for Elevensies.
As he had gotten older the times he woke up to an empty house got fewer and fewer for with his age came responsibilities. Responsibilities that didn’t allow him to sleep in, even if he wanted to.
And then his father had passed.
Even with his mother in the house, it had been eerily quiet. He hadn’t liked waking up at all for a time then. He still got up early in the morning but First Breakfast wouldn’t be waiting. Not anymore. His mother was too struck in her grief to properly care for herself, let alone for Bilbo. Most of her days early after Bungo’s passing were spent in bed, Bilbo having to force her to eat or drink anything. After that, she dwelled in the Garden, sitting on the bench and staring at the grave there for hours an end. Those were the worst mornings. When Bilbo would wake up to find the house empty, his mother sitting outside with a pale face and haunted eyes.
One morning, he’d sat next to her. He’d taken her hand in his and sat with her. Even now he couldn’t be sure how long it had taken. But eventually Belladonna had lifted her head, turning to watch her son. “Bilbo?” She had whispered mournfully, brokenly and then she had cried silently on his shoulder.
The day after, when Bilbo had woken up, his mother was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. She wasn’t bustling like she used to, the breakfast wasn’t as great as it used to and they had eaten silently, both refusing to look at the empty chair.
After that things had settled down in something that came close to normalcy. It had never been how it used to be, but that was to be expected.
Except things hadn’t stayed that way, Belladonna had gotten older very quickly after Bungo’s passing and after a while she simply couldn’t force herself to live in the same house she had once shared with him anymore. So she left to live with her family, leaving a heartbroken son the new Master of Bag End.
It had taken him weeks – months – to not wake up feeling empty, to get used to living by himself in such a big house, decorated with things that reminded him of happier times. But he’d settled into a routine, held his head up high and acted – pretended – like his life wasn’t spent miserably alone in misery.
After pretending for years, he had finally convinced himself of that.
Then thirteen dwarves and a blasted wizard had come knocking on his door, making his world of pretence shake on its foundations and the walls came tumbling down.
And so when he woke that fateful morning, with no dwarf in sight and no obvious signs lingering around they’d ever visited him, he felt bothered. Not just bothered, but guilty as well. And lonely.
Lonelier than he’d felt even when his father had died, and after his mother left. Because the night before his house had been bustling. The night before he hadn’t just pretended. No, he had been living.
It had been so long that he’d almost forgotten what that had felt like.
And now that he’d had a taste, all he wanted was more.
He lingered in bed, not quite sure he wanted to face his empty home. And when he stumbled into his study and could imagine the dwarves gathered around the fire-place, singing about a home they’d lost so long ago he swallowed thickly. And when he found himself turning away ruefully he could see Fili’s eyes. The longing they’d possessed when thinking of a home he’d probably never had.
He might’ve refused them at first, claiming it was because he was just a hobbit.
But that wasn’t true, he decided, as he grabbed the contract and rushed out his door, trying to catch up with the dwarves.
It was because he was a hobbit that he was helping them out. Because a hobbit knew what it was to have a home, how important it was. And amongst themselves, hobbits would protect one another. They would protect each other’s homes; for there was nothing more important than home and family.
And if helping out a pack of dwarves getting their home back made him a foolish hobbit, then so be it. Because he might be a Baggins, he was also a Took. And this Took wasn’t pretending anymore. This Took was finally taking the advice his mother had once given him. He was going to live his life like he should’ve done from the beginning.