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The Pale Enchanted Gold

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Summary: The Hobbit. The battle is done, and Bilbo waits.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Lord of the Rings > Buffy-CenteredThethuthinnangFR1313,35816273,54916 Dec 1216 Dec 12Yes
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Hobbit belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Notes: This is primarily movieverse.

For three long days and nights entire, Bilbo sat at Buttercup's bedside, her hand in his.

There was no sleep, or even the want of it. He had a hard crust of bread in his pocket, from where he didn't know, and it stayed in his pocket and grew harder. Though his coat was burnt and his shirt of rings black with soot, he took no notice. Down one side he was dirty and down the other he was bloody, but he sat there and got that mess all over the stool and he did not mind or even see. Sting lay on the floor at his feet, but if he had stepped on it he would not have looked down.

To Bilbo, the world was that dear little head lying on the pillow. All else was darkness.

It seemed to him that people spoke to him sometimes. Gandalf was there, talking to him in a low voice, but Bilbo could hear nothing of the words and shook his head until the wizard went out again. The Dwarves came, beginning with Balin and ending with Bombur, or would have come if Bilbo had not closed the door in their faces, beginning with Balin and ending with Bombur. Then Gandalf came again and knocked, and when Bilbo still would not open the door, Gandalf's shadow stretched into the room and his voice became thunder in a cave. But Bilbo found that somehow none of that wizardry was very frightening to him anymore, and he sat by the bed and held Buttercup's hand until the shadows retreated and Gandalf went away again.

Thorin came last. Bilbo did not see him come in, only discerned after a time that the King of Erebor was standing on the other side of the bed. The wounds on Thorin's face were still bleeding. The Dwarf Lord looked at Bilbo, a look that Bilbo had never seen on Thorin's face before, and then he looked at Buttercup and reached out to take her hand.

Bilbo was shouting before he knew he'd opened his mouth. Don't you touch her! Don't you do it! Don't you come near her! Leave her alone! Go away! Oh, my sister, my Buttercup! You've got your kingdom, Thorin Oakenshield, but I'm the one who paid for it! Oh, be gone from here, be gone! If only I had never heard of Thorin Oakenshield! Don't you dare touch her!

The King of Erebor did not answer. He stood there with his face all gray and his eyes of iron, so cold that it seemed the life had gone out of them, and then he drew back his hand from hers and he went out of the room.

I never thought you so cruel, Bilbo Baggins, said Gandalf, though Bilbo had not heard him come in. Bilbo did not turn around to face him and then after a while he did not know if Gandalf was there or not.

She lay limply on the straw-stuffed mattress, her head lolling back against the pillow filled with rags. That wasn't like her. She always slept so lightly, so neatly, like a cat on a windowsill, prepared to spring up at a moment's notice. Since she was a babe she'd slept like that. Not like this, all slack, as if she were a doll some child had abandoned in the midst of a game. Her hair, her golden hair, had been singed half away, and the rest was a tangle.

Cruel, the wizard called him, yet it was not Bilbo who had brought her here, to some rundown house in Laketown. It was not Bilbo who had drawn all his kin and some who were not his kin into a hopeless quest for stolen gold. It was not Bilbo who had then brought war down upon their heads, war where they might have had peace and home and friends. Home, they'd said, we have no home, and Bilbo had felt sorry for them and wanted to help them, but if Bilbo had been a wiser hobbit he could have asked them how it was that they set such value on where their gold was stored and so much less on where they had their kin, because it seemed to Bilbo that he would put the torch to Bag End himself with his own hand if it would bring his Buttercup back.

If Bilbo had been a wiser hobbit, he would have asked them straight, right at the beginning, how they planned to deal with the dragon. For when he'd first laid his eyes on Smaug, when he'd seen the size and malice of him, he'd known in his heart that the quest had been doomed from the beginning, that no band of thirteen Dwarves could ever have hoped to slay the creature, and his heart had been seized with a fear that had nothing to do with his own fate. If Bilbo had been a wiser hobbit, he would have asked not what Thorin Oakenshield was king of, but what sort of king he would be. For when Gandalf had come, warning of Goblins and Wargs and armies, and Thorin had kept his gates shut, Bilbo had seen the worth of a king in Buttercup's eyes.

So it was that Thorin Oakenshield came into his kingdom, over a dead dragon and a host of Goblins and Wargs, and for everything he'd gained he'd lost nothing but one hobbit, who was not even the hobbit of his company. Doubtless the rest of the world would call that a low price indeed.

Fifty was too old for new things, but this year had been full of new things, and now Bilbo did not know what to call this new and unfamiliar feeling in his heart. Not hate, no, nor even meaning harm, but only the feeling that he could not bear to ever see any of them again. He wished he had never met these Dwarves, or any Dwarves at all. He wished he'd never named Balin his friend, or learned such fondness for the others of the company. He wished he'd never heard the name of Thorin, King Under the Mountain, and he wished that Gandalf had never scratched on his door.

Bilbo, said Gandalf's voice, and Bilbo thought that Gandalf must be in the room again. Bilbo, you must rest. Let another keep watch. Let Thorin come in.

Bilbo shook his head, again and again and again. Never Thorin. Never Thorin again.

Let him come in. Gandalf's voice came closer. His pride has cost him more than he ever thought he had to lose. Let him be by her side. It may be that his fea will call to hers.

Again that shake of his head. No and no and no.

Then for pity's sake, Bilbo Baggins. The wizard's voice was weary. For pity's sake, and for love's.

Pity, said the wizard, pity and love. But these were not the things Thorin had asked of him before. No, those had been loyalty, honor, and a willing heart. Those were what the king-in-exile had said he'd wanted, until he'd become king-returned-from-exile. Then he'd wanted only obedience, and he'd had little use for love either.

Pity and love were not in the contract, said Bilbo, and after a while the wizard was gone from the room.

The room shadowed and then became darker than dark at night, as dark as the caves under the mountains, with only a faint, muted light from the one window and from under the door. Bilbo did not mind, for he could hold her hand and listen to her breathing. Buttercup had never feared the dark. Buttercup never feared anything that other folk might call dangerous. She laughed at things that consternated even Dwarves and Elves and wizards. She'd been a fearless child, too, so fearless that others feared on her behalf. His own mother had said that she was growing up backward, not having the sense to fear what needed fearing and instead fearing things that others never even thought about. So she laughed at things like Goblins and Wargs and caverns full of the gibbering hordes, at dragons as large as the mountain and crueler than fire, but she shrank back from the thought that not all cruelty came from dragons.

Bilbo remembered the look on her face when they'd left Laketown for the Lonely Mountain, and he remembered her in the tunnel with him, holding his hand, and her face when she'd looked at him and said Doesn't he see that the dragon's going to attack Laketown?

Bilbo remembered the look on her face, the look of someone who did not want to believe the truth put in front of them. He'd stood there in that tunnel, her hand in his, wondering how long she'd been in love and why he hadn't seen it before. Or perhaps the case was that he hadn't wanted to believe what was in front of him either, and they were both like children with their hands over their eyes.

Then later, after Thorin himself had removed her hands from her eyes, had she been afraid when she came between Thorin and the blow meant for him?

Bilbo did not remember much of the battle after that. When he came back to himself, he was a mile away, Buttercup in his arms, running toward the walls of Laketown. He'd been shouting, though he didn't later know what, and she was bleeding all down one side of him.

This had been the first room pointed at, and he'd taken it, a shabby room in a shabby house with a small shuttered window. A Man of Laketown had come with his knives and needles, but he'd looked at Buttercup and shook his head and left again. Then Gandalf was there, and with him an Elf, and then she was lying there, swaddled in bandages, smelling of herbs and blood, but the Elf was shaking his head too.

No, Thorin could keep his pride. He could go and sit on his throne in Erebor and feel himself a mighty king. He could shut his gates to Men and Elves and he could count his gold and keep his grudges, because he couldn't have Buttercup. Not Buttercup. He would have no part of her.

Not his Buttercup. Not his baby sister, who'd been chasing after him since she'd been so very little, always needing to know where he was, was he safe, was he in some trouble. Others said that she was peculiar, perhaps even a bit touched in the head, but he'd never minded as much as he sometimes thought he ought to.

He'd done her a monstrous disservice, he saw now, by not curbing that habit in her when she was young, because once she'd become a woman there'd been no curbing her then. If he'd been harsher with her, if he'd complained and pushed her away and insisted that she stop hanging from him so, then perhaps he could have ordered her to stay at home when he went off with the Dwarves, and perhaps she would have listened. Perhaps when Thorin had first been wroth and commanded that the girl should go home, Bilbo would have been able to agree and she would have been in the habit of obeying, so she should never have seen a dragon or known its teeth, she would never have known Thorin except as some angry Dwarf who barged rudely in for supper one night.

But he hadn't done any of those things, had he, because since she'd been a baby he'd found it impossible to deny her much at all. The little golden-haired child, sweet and joyful and bold and spoiled and needy and lonely, so lonely.

“You were always like that,” Bilbo told Buttercup. His voice was cracked and rasping, dry as dust, and louder than it ought to have been in the dark of that room. “Even when you were just a baby. Do you remember? Whenever I left the house, you'd toddle after me, your little arms outstretched. You could have climbed right through the garden gate, you were so small, or you could have pushed it open because it was never locked, but you didn't. You'd stand there and cry, wailing after me as if the world was ending. I was so embarrassed. My friends all made fun of me, and Adalgrim the most. But I couldn't ever leave you there, could I, I always came back.”

Buttercup's hand in his was colder than it had been before. Fear filled his heart, an icy dread that was somehow worse than even dragonfear, and he swallowed hard and kept talking. “I spoiled you too much. I let you have your way in everything, didn't I, even when I really knew I shouldn't. Mother would have been stricter, but then she died and you were so lost. You probably don't remember, but you had nightmares for such a long while after that. You didn't cry and you weren't noisy, but I'd wake up in the morning and there you'd be, bundled up next to me.

“It seems to me that you grew up very fast. One day you were still a baby, crawling underfoot and climbing things and putting nearly anything in your mouth, and then you were a little girl, tripping after me and drawing in my books and on the walls. You were so unusual, even then. Do you remember that time you were playing in the hall, and I stepped on your wooden pony? The head broke clean off. I ought to have apologized, but you looked so pitiful I laughed instead, and forgot to tell you I was sorry. When I came back that evening, you'd torn all the pictures out of my favorite book, and you shook your little fist at me and peeped Vengeance is mine! I was cross with you for such a long time, even though I'd started it.

“The neighbors are right, you know, I did let you get away with far too much. I see now that it would have been much better if I'd been sterner with you. But at the time, at the time it seemed like something I could not help. People said it was queer how you'd cleave to me, but I know you were just afraid. You were always so lonely, Buttercup, so friendless and alone and different. I know you heard them when they talked behind your back, the things they said about your natural parents and how you'd been left. You always felt like such a stranger among us, a wanderer in an foreign land, set apart from everyone else. You never felt that the Shire was really home, but then you couldn't think of any place that seemed like home, could you? Because you were a baby when we found you, so weak with hunger and exposure that Mother despaired. You've never been able to forget the hurt of being left.

“Gandalf is right. I'm not such a fellow for family. I never thought of marrying, or filling up Bag End with children, and it seemed to me that it was quite enough for you and me to live quietly together, as we'd always done. You never gave me any sign that you wanted to marry, and no hobbit ever came around who seemed right for you. It seemed to me that we would go on like we were for always, two bachelors at Bag End. Sisters leave, they told me, to become wives and mothers, but I couldn't see you as either. Not you, so contrary to everything.

“So whenever it seemed to me that you might go off, I'd get so disagreeable. I didn't think of it that way at the time, but looking back now I see that this is how it was. I know you wanted to go with those Rangers. I know you wanted that constable's band that the Bree-folk offered you. I know you wanted to go when that merchant was hiring bows and swords for the road to Gondor. Gandalf asked for the wrong hobbit when he came looking for a burglar. I know all that, and I know that I'm the one who stopped you, even if I never told you not to go. I became so used to having you with me, I couldn't think of a time when you might not be there. I wasn't thinking of your happiness. I was thinking of mine.”

Then Bilbo stopped, his throat burning with the lack of water. Buttercup was the same as she had been when he'd begun to speak, cold and still in the morning light edging through the shuttered windows. He thought she probably hadn't heard anything he'd said.

Slowly, with such reluctance that he felt almost ill with it, Bilbo took his hands off of hers.

When Bilbo opened the door, there was Thorin. There were others in the room, Bilbo thought, but the only one he saw was the Oakenshield. Thorin alone, his face gray and drawn. He still wore the armor in which he'd charged to battle, with the huge rent in the chest that the Pale Orc had given him. The wounds on his face had clotted shut, and his hair and braids and beard were matted with dirt. He looked like a small mountain himself, immovable and rooted. He stood there as if he were prepared to stand there until the end of time.

Thorin looked at Bilbo, and the expression on his face made Bilbo's heart wring with pity.

“You ought to come in,” said Bilbo.

The King of Erebor stood on the other side of Buttercup's bed and for a while he only looked at her. He looked at her long and thoroughly, looked at her the way a man dying of thirst would drink his last sip of water, trying to make it last and last. Then he reached out his hand and took hers in it.

Buttercup's breath caught.

Bilbo felt so faint he swayed on his feet. He didn't know whether he would shout or weep.

Thorin bent down, lowering his head over hers. His deep voice, that rumbling echo of some bottomless chasm, shook and trembled as it had never done before when he told her, “Come back, my love. Come back, or I swear that I will follow you.”

The stubbornness of Dwarves, thought Bilbo, and he did not doubt that Thorin was speaking the truth, this fell-eyed Dwarf King, for Thorin Oakenshield never said a thing that he did not mean or made an oath he did not intend to keep.

Then Buttercup's eyelashes shivered, and she opened her green, green eyes and looked up into Thorin's face.

This was what he would remember, Bilbo knew, knew from the stomach and in his bones, this moment now, when Buttercup in her confusion looked up at Thorin and Thorin looked down at her, such a look of tenderness in his eyes that surely no one else had ever seen from the son of Thrain and perhaps that Thorin had never known how to make before. This was the moment, when Buttercup passed from his keeping and into Thorin's, so that though they were still brother and sister, though he still loved her with all his heart and grieved to think of how large and empty Bag End would seem now, Bilbo knew that things were not the same as they had been, and would never be again. For he had learned something of Dwarves, of their purposefulness and their constancy, and Thorin was not only a Dwarf, but a Lord of Dwarves, who would not be thwarted even by death. So it was that even though he had not yet put her hand in Thorin's, though he had not yet given his blessing, he knew that Buttercup was gone from him, and there was no turning back.

And this no longer seemed quite so terrible to him.

The End

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