Nature & Nurture

BY : Cody_Thomas
Category: +Third Age > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 271
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from the Tolkien universe, this is written purely for fun and I make no money off of this work.

Chapter summary: Bilbo didn't care what Mister Proudfoot said, he was sure that he had a baby dragon. This belief only grew when the dragon began to hoard things. Shiny things. A glass bead, a shiny silver spoon, his father's spectacles were an obsessive favorite. Ember would always take them straight back to the fireplace and lay on them in the fire, but Bilbo scolded him harshly and told him that stealing things was bad, and he shouldn't take things that didn't belong to him, then made the dragon give them back. The little dragon was so sad about this that Bilbo gave him his bag of marbles, which Ember examined happily in great detail. Since shiny objects were apparently something his dragon needed in order to be happy, and he didn't want the little one stealing, Bilbo went around to the neighbors, collecting old bottles, and beads and brass and silver buttons, bits of copper and slivers of tin and steel and anything else shiny that they didn't want anymore, broken brooches, rusted old tools, chipped teacups, jewelry chains that were broken and tangled beyond recovery, an earring that had long ago lost its pair, a silver ring that no one wanted, and six pairs of broken spectacles that Ember hoarded fiercely.

Chapter Tags: Warm and Fuzzy Feelings, Angst, Mind Control, Injuries
 


A/N: I realized that I hadn't been posting this story here, so I decided to rectify that. Enjoy.



Bilbo was just turned six years old when he'd found the egg deep in the woods, it was the biggest egg he'd ever seen, off-white, strangely soft and leathery. It wasn't in a nest like it should have been, it was just laying in the dirt, forgotten, abandoned, a trail of dried blood leading from it off into the woods. Something bad had happened to it's mama, eggs like this were usually in a clutch, but there were no others. It didn't feel right, just leaving it there, though it had probably been too cold for too long to hatch, Bilbo wanted to help it. The egg was huge, he had to mark the path back to it and go get a satchel to even get the egg home safely. He knew eggs needed to stay warm, he'd helped Farmer Chubb hatch chickens before, and a leathery shell meant it was a reptile, either a turtle or a snake or a lizard. There was no way his mama would let him keep a huge mysterious reptile egg in his bedroom, but there was a garden shed in back that was nearly empty because Gardener Gamgee always used his own tools, and his parents didn't have much of a green thumb.

 

He cleaned it up, and packed it in a wooden crate that he filled with straw and blankets and kept near the southern window of the shed so it would get a lot of nice warm sunlight. He cradled the egg to keep it warm and he talked to it and read it stories and sang it songs. Every once in awhile he'd tap the egg to let the little one inside know he was there and that things were going to get better and that everything would be alright.

 

He found out purely by accident from Diggle Proudfoot who raised corn and grass snakes to keep away mice and rats from the fields and stores, that soft eggs shouldn't be moved much at all, and kept quite warm at all times, because he watched the man take care of a clutch of eggs, and he felt sad that his egg wouldn't have any brothers or sisters, and also caught the man saying soft eggs needed to be kept moist, and how the man did it for his snakes, so he got some sawdust from the wood mill, and soaked it just right and put that in the nest to help it.

 

After a really bad thunderstorm that had kept him inside all day he knew the egg had been getting cold for too long, so after his parents went to bed, he brought the egg into the bathroom and let it get warm again in the steam as he took a bath. He didn't want to put the egg back out in the shed, so he became very sneaky. There was a chest in the smoking room near the fireplace that was big enough for the egg, the room also had the sunniest window in the smial and was always nice and warm, and was very close to the desk where he did his lessons. Best part was it only had a few mathoms in it. He put them in one of the spare rooms and tucked his egg into the chest after he lined it with the blankets, straw and sawdust. It was easier to tend his egg without having to try and sneak out to the shed, and at night, after his parents had gone to bed, he made sure everything was just right before going back to bed himself.

 

But mothers of course know everything. It was the third night of having the egg in the house and he was just opening the chest and cooing to the egg that everything was alright, and letting it know what had happened during the day, and deciding which lullaby to sing it, when his mother walked straight in and asked him what he was up to. He was caught egg handed and he started to cry, the egg had become very special to him, he couldn't bear to give it away now.

 

His mother held him and hushed him as he sobbed out the whole story, and she kissed his hair and called him a silly little dear. She didn't chastise him for wanting to help a little one in need, and she took some hot coals from the fire and put them into an old iron pot with a little hole worn into the side that she had never gotten around to having fixed. But it had a lid and she tucked it in the chest to keep the egg warm as he checked the dampness of the sawdust. When everything was right, she put him back in bed. The next day she took him back to the Proudfoots to make sure he was doing everything he was supposed to.

 

Mister Proudfoot even came over to see the egg Bilbo had found, and was impressed with its size and quite curious what it was as well, and told them to keep the pot in the chest filled with hot or even live coals at all times, because bigger eggs needed more heat, but to keep the lid of the chest cracked just a bit so it wouldn't get too hot or damp. Then showed him how to candle an egg to see if it even had a baby inside, and from what they saw, it was either a snake or a lizard. And Bilbo even saw it move, so he knew that it was alive.

 

Bilbo's father merely smiled and shook his head when he learned what Bilbo's secret was, and chuckled and said he definitely took after his mother most times, but that this was a good experience to learn responsibility, however, whatever it turned out to be, Bilbo had to know it wasn't a pet, it was a wild animal and had to be set free when it was old enough. Bilbo agreed.

 

Days turned to weeks, turned to months, and Bilbo still watched over his egg religiously. Mister Proudfoot came by to check on things about once a week, since they didn't know what they were dealing with, they didn't know how long it could take the egg to hatch. But Bilbo never gave up. It was almost a year after he found the egg, when he noticed that the egg was getting dimples, as if it were drying out. He rushed to Mister Proudfoot's because the added water to the sawdust wasn't helping. Mister Proudfoot just smiled and said this was supposed to happen right before it hatched.

 

Three days later a sharp little spike on the end of a little reptilian nose poked through the shell and just sat there breathing for hours. Bilbo was delighted and encouraging, letting the little one know it was safe to come out, practically bouncing with excitement to see the baby. He had insects and mice and even a frog all ready for whatever the baby might want to eat, and he told the little one that there was food out here, ready and waiting.

 

It was late at night, when the little one finally crawled out of it's shell, and Bilbo was shocked. It was a black lizard... with wings. The little one went straight for the food, ate all of it, then curled around the ember pot so tightly Bilbo was sure it would get burned, but it just started with this rumbling sound, nearly a purr, and lowered its head in contentment as Bilbo bravely stroked the crest of its head, delighted when the lizard leaned into his touch as if it enjoyed it.

 

The little one had a voracious appetite, chirp hissing for more food at least twice a day, mice and rats disappeared down its gullet almost as fast as Bilbo could get more, within a week he was just giving him pieces of raw chicken and rabbits instead. Mister Proudfoot had never seen anything like it, had no idea what it was, and said if he didn't know that dragons were just a myth, he'd swear that this was one.

 

He was able to tell that the lizard was a male though, the lizard nearly bit him when Mister Proudfoot checked, Bilbo didn't blame him, he would have been upset about it too. He named him Ember, because he loved fire, in fact, the second he was big enough to escape the chest, he dashed straight into the fireplace and curled up happily on the still burning grate. It was soon apparent that heat was essential, the fireplace was lit night and day and Ember played in the flames as if they were no more dangerous than feathers. Bilbo didn't care what Mister Proudfoot said, he was sure that he had a baby dragon.

 

This belief only grew when the dragon began to hoard things. Shiny things. A glass bead, a shiny silver spoon, his father's spectacles were an obsessive favorite. Ember would always take them straight back to the fireplace and lay on them in the fire, but Bilbo scolded him harshly and told him that stealing things was bad, and he shouldn't take things that didn't belong to him, then made the dragon give them back. The little dragon was so sad about this that Bilbo gave him his bag of marbles, which Ember examined happily in great detail. Since shiny objects were apparently something his dragon needed in order to be happy, and he didn't want the little one stealing, Bilbo went around to the neighbors, collecting old bottles, and beads and brass and silver buttons, bits of copper and slivers of tin and steel and anything else shiny that they didn't want anymore, broken brooches, rusted old tools, chipped teacups, jewelry chains that were broken and tangled beyond recovery, an earring that had long ago lost its pair, a silver ring that no one wanted, and six pairs of broken spectacles that Ember hoarded fiercely.

 

Whenever Ember needed a distraction or had been particularly well behaved, he gave him another new shiny 'treasure'. Bilbo soon found that Ember's nimble claws could undo the most stubbornly knotted chain, could somehow get the tarnish off any piece of silver no matter how blackened, his fire could burn the rust off a tool no matter how long it had lain forgotten. Anything put in his dragon's claws and fire gleamed brighter and shinier than anyone could think possible. Nothing got the least bit sooty or singed, everything gleamed and glowed and caught the eye irresistibly. No one but Bilbo could put their hand anywhere near Ember's 'treasures' without getting a hiss, a snap, and possibly teeth in their hand for their trouble.

 

Bilbo however was given things to look at and admire before they were returned to the pile, and his praise and attention was hoarded almost as much as Ember's treasures. He loved curling around Bilbo's neck and shoulders, curling up in his lap when he was reading, sneaking into his bed when he was sleeping. As much as his father was now concerned about the circumstances, he didn't think he would be able to get Ember to go anywhere unless Ember wanted to leave. Whether Belladonna and Bungo liked it or not, Bilbo had a pet dragon.

 

Ember was about the size of a full grown house cat when he started to change colors, Mister Proudfoot said that several species of reptiles changed colors as they grew, and it was nothing to be concerned about.

 

Ember first got little spots that became paler and paler and grew larger with time. They turned from white to pale yellow that darkened and darkened, first to orange and then finally to a bright, vibrant red. Mister Proudfoot warned that bright colors usually were a warning to beware of danger, and that Ember could be poisonous, but when Bilbo asked Ember to let Mister Proudfoot see his teeth to check, they were sharp, no doubt, but there were no fangs like venomous snakes had.

 

Ember's pile of treasures was soon too large for them, the fire, and the dragon to all fit in the fireplace at the same time, and Bungo put his foot down. He turned the garden shed into a proper nest for Ember, complete with a fire pit. Bilbo helped Ember move his treasures to the new nest, and made sun catchers to hang in the windows with broken bottles and shiny pieces of quartz and brass and copper. The dragon was up to eating a whole rabbit or chicken once a day. Ember still snuck in Bilbo's window at night and slept curled up with him, and after awhile Bungo stopped fighting it and just let Ember in at night. Bella was quite fond of Ember, and treated him as part of the family, picking him up treats or trinkets at the market when she went out, and scratching his head just right when she was reading a book.

 

It was nearing Ember's birthday and they decided to have a special dinner for him. Bilbo saw a group of tinkers set up at the market and bought a special, especially shiny present for Ember. When the day came his father spent the afternoon roasting a pig, and his mother strung up decorations in the back garden. Ember was given a new bag of marbles, a ring of old keys, and Bilbo gave Ember his gift last, a golden bracelet with blood red garnet cabochons in it. Ember just stared at the gift, could barely turn his eyes away from it, and looked at Bilbo as if he hung the moon and stars in the sky. He would show it to anyone who would look, but absolutely wouldn't let anyone touch. Except Bilbo. By now Bilbo knew how Ember cherished praise and compliments and being told he was pretty and his treasures amazing. His vanity knew no bounds, but Bilbo didn't mind, especially since it made Ember so happy and proud.

 

Bilbo's was twelve and Ember was five when Bilbo's great aunt Belina Baggins died. She hadn't had any children, and had the most hideously tacky taste the shire had ever seen. No one wanted her stuff because it was so garishly ugly, not even what had been left to her relatives in her will. In the end, it all went to Belladonna, who whimpered at the very idea of forcing her eyes to go through it, so Bilbo asked to help, to see if he could find anything shiny Ember might like. His mother told him the dragon could have anything he wanted. Anything. At all. In fact he could have all of it, and just throw out or burn whatever he didn't want, including the dead woman's house.

 

Bilbo took the keys from his mother and explored the Smial that was on the other side of Hobbiton. Everything was ugly, but a lot of it was also SHINY. There was a lot of potential if he modified some things, took things apart, and remade them into others. She had more jewelry than he'd ever known twelve rich and vain hobbits to own, and it was real jewelry, gold and silver, platinum and mithril, with actual jewels and precious stones. Ember would love them no matter how ugly, but Bilbo wanted to give Ember pretty things.

 

There were Tinkers in town who were willing to teach him, and though jewelry wasn't a popular item in the Shire, he was determined to learn. He learned how to disassemble everything, sorting the jewels and metals, and then reforge the metals into what he wanted and setting the stones the way he liked. It was a long arduous process, and his fingers were constantly burned and pinched and sore at first, but he enjoyed it.

 

When he presented the first piece he was quite proud of to Ember, a cascade necklace made of gold with topaz, ruby, garnets and little tiny brightly winking diamonds on the strands, Ember purred so loudly as he tackled Bilbo to the ground and loved all over him, that it tickled. As much as Ember loved his treasures, there were only two pieces he ever wore, the bracelet Bilbo had given him, and now the necklace. He wore the necklace everywhere, showing it off to anyone who would look, preening and cooing to passersby. Ember was the size of a sheep now, and had taken to following Bilbo anywhere he went. He was friendly with anyone Bilbo liked or who was kind to him, but held a near vicious grudge against anyone who hadn't earned his approval of them.

 

Lobelia Bracegirdle was one such person that the dragon absolutely despised. He hadn't even met her for five minutes before he was the surliest Bilbo had ever seen him, hissing, snarling, snapping, no matter the compliments she gave his necklace. Perhaps because she seemed a bit too interested in the necklace. Ember watched her relentlessly, tracking her every movement, tail thrashing in wary agitation. He also wouldn't let her anywhere near Bilbo's back garden. The shed had been enlarged, and it was an ever hot magpie's nest full of shiny treasures. The children in town often came by to admire Ember's treasures, knowing better than to try and touch, and if he was especially fond of a child, he might give them a shiny bead or marble or piece of glass, or a sliver of tin twisted and melted into an interesting shape, or a chunk of quartz or shiny stone. Belladonna was often gifted with shinies that she hung up on strings or put in lace, and Ember was always so pleased about it. So for him not to let Lobelia even near the back garden spoke volumes about how he felt about her.

 

When Ember was seven, he spoke. He rumble purred to Bilbo as he was curled up on Bilbo's lap 'Billllllllbooooooo. Miiiiiiine.” Bilbo was so thrilled to be speaking to his friend that he spent hours a day coaching and praising the dragon learning new words. Within a year he could speak quite clearly, and was able to voice his needs, and talk with Bilbo, and loved singing songs with him. When Bilbo asked him why he hated Lobelia so much he replied curtly, 'She has the smell of a thief.' and that was all that needed to be said on the matter.

 

The people of Hobbiton were quite used to Bilbo and Ember, so much so, that when Bilbo was invited to birthday parties, Ember was usually given an invitation too, and quite often a shiny gift. The farmers gifted the Baggins family with chickens and piglets, lambs and vegetables if they were allowed to keep Ember for a bit to get rid of any pest problem they had. Moles, gophers, voles, rats, mice, prairie dogs, rabbits, even destructive birds, Ember spending a week on their farm got rid of them most effectively.

 

All of Hobbiton was fond of Ember, and with such an effective pest control dragon, Hobbiton was producing the best crops in the Shire, which made business increase. Most anyone could earn Ember's momentary attention and favor with the right shiny or bit of food, but Bilbo held the dragon's unwavering adoration. And the dragon continued to grow, and the people continued to care for him. Outsiders were mostly kept unaware of Ember, he was Hobbiton's special secret, unless of course someone caught a glimpse of a young hobbit riding on the back of a bright red dragon that was larger than a sheep right through the middle of the market, a beautiful necklace that grew larger over the years shining smartly around his neck.

 

When Ember was ten, he breathed fire. It startled both of them, but Bilbo knew that Dragons were well known for being able to do all sorts of amazing things. As Bilbo grew and got better at jewelry making, he started having Ember help him. Ember could melt the impurities out of anything, it's what he did with his treasures, why they always shined so brightly, he was revealing their true potential. Ember gave up almost all of the old tools and broken useless mathoms to Bilbo to make into even better treasures, and Bilbo did, he crafted Ember rings and bracelets and shining caps for his claws, made him necklaces and circlets, and shiny things to hang from his head until he was the shiniest, prettiest thing in the Shire.

 

Ember was a very happy dragon, now the size of a pony, and helping farmers in other towns of the Shire burn chafe faster than ever before. The ashes mixed with his droppings and a bit of compost made some of the best fertilizer Hobbits had discovered so far. Ember more than earned his well fed keep in the Shire, and no one ever got tired of seeing Bilbo ride into town with his dragon.

 

He had long outgrown the garden shed, so Hobbiton got together and built Ember his own smial hill behind Bag End, completely hollow for all his treasures, with a great domed roof and a huge fire pit in the middle. The Hobbits made it bigger than man sized to hold all of Ember's treasures, digging down into the earth so that on the surface it looked like any other hobbit hole. It had several windows to let in the light, but none of them opened, he was adamant about that. Once it was done Bilbo spent months helping him hang shinies, put his favorite pieces on display where he could see them best, and pile up the things he liked to lay on in a great big bed of treasures. Ember named the place Adroushan.

 

Once his fire started it had seemed to be the trigger of a growth spurt, horns growing out on top of his head and under his chin, itching him horribly, until Bilbo's hands were tired from scratching them for him, and Ember took the itch out on one particular tree whose branches were just right instead. That tree never did fully recover. Ember's tail grew longer, and longer, until it nearly tipped his balance. His skin was completely vivid crimson, the undersides of his wings a bright golden yellow, his horns a deep black at first and gradually turning red like the rest of him, his claws grew at a near alarming rate, and he scratched them down on boulders to keep them from getting bothersome, and his muscles grew stronger. Then something quite horrifying happened, His teeth began falling out one by one. Bilbo was worried until he saw that they were growing back in, larger, sharper and far more vicious looking. Ember let him keep the baby teeth, told him Dragon teeth were rare and special. Bilbo kept them in a beautifully carved wooden box, each tooth bigger than his hand.

 

Not long afterwards, Ember was finally old enough to fly. For years now Ember had been wanting to fly, and Bilbo had been nothing but encouraging, but Ember simply hadn't been able to. But the flying started not too long afterwards, and once he was up, it was nearly impossible to keep him on the ground. Within a month he was strong enough to carry Bilbo, and they winged over the Shire in great sweeping arches for as long as Ember's strength held out. Bilbo had been very iffy about going too high at first, hobbits were creatures of the earth and liked it that way. But Ember's joy was infectious, and Bilbo was an adventuresome young hobbit, and soon couldn't go fast enough or high enough either.

 

One day, after they landed and Bilbo had tucked Ember in for the night, and was about to start hiking back up the hill, Ember's tail wrapped around him and pulled him back. The dragon had a very confused look on his face.

 

“You're- special, My Bilbo. My best treasure.”

 

Bilbo smiled. “You're my best treasure too Ember.”

 

But the dragon didn't seem satisfied with that, and shook his head. “Word's not right, I don't know it. Better than best treasure. My Bilbo. Trade all treasures to keep you. twenty silver is one gold, twenty gold is one platinum, five platinum for ten diamonds, these are treasures, but you- you are treasure but not a treasure. All diamonds, all gold, all jewels and shining metals in the world not equal one Bilbo, nothing's worth you.”

 

“I love you too Ember.” Bilbo said smiling and hugged Ember tight, planting a kiss on Ember's nose.

 

“Love? Explain.”

 

A twenty year old hobbit had a very hard time describing what the concept of love was to a thirteen year old dragon, but he did his best. At the end of it he didn't think he had done a very good job of it, but Ember was nodding. 'Yes, that's a better meaning, love. I love Bilbo.”

 

“I love you too Ember. Goodnight.”

 

“Stay? Sleep here with me. Treasures are guarded best here.”

 

“I'll stay tomorrow night, Mom's already gone to bed, she'd worry.”

 

Ember huffed but agreed and rumbled strong enough to feel it through the ground as he settled down curled around the firepit, lit these days with his own flame that burned much hotter, and Bilbo smiled and left. That winter was the first one that Ember hibernated, at least a bit. It was much colder than normal, and he didn't leave his home much, because the cold made him sluggish. Bilbo was a bit lonely some days, but he was also the only one who didn't have to fear rousing a sleeping dragon, he was perfectly welcome to come and go in Adroushan as he pleased, since Ember considered him one of his treasures. Several evenings he could be found curled up with Ember, fast asleep, and everyone knew better than to rouse a sleeping dragon or try to take anything from his hoard. When Ember emerged in the spring he was thirty hands high at the shoulder, his neck alone was seventeen hands long, and he was nine and a half meters long from snout to tail tip. The Shire agreed he must now be a full grown dragon, and celebrated his coming of age. There was a grand party and feast that lasted two days.

 

Bilbo was twenty-one during the Fell Winter, and though it was the coldest winter on record, what saved them was the fact there was very little snow, which meant Ember stayed awake. It had been a hot, dry summer, an equally dry autumn, and the winter wasn't much different. But the cold biting winds turned all the rivers and ponds to ice, and froze the ground solid. Even the Brandywine River froze solid, and wolves and goblins crossed over into the lands of the Shire in search of easy prey. It was a horrible mistake on their part.

 

Ember did not take kindly to invaders, and despite the cold, the fire he breathed and his anger kept him more than warm enough. He told all the hobbits to stay inside and bar their doors and shutter their windows, and they obeyed. For the first time, Ember spilled real blood. The roar of the dragon could be heard echoing all over the gentle hills, but the hobbits didn't fear it, they welcomed the sound, even though the sounds which followed it were anything but comforting, the sounds of battle, the screams of the dying, the vicious ripping, tearing, squelching shrieks as all manner of Fell things became victim to Ember's claws, fangs, and fire. The dragon feasted well that winter, even if he didn't care for the taste of warg or goblin much, and even though the land was scorched and stained red, it was hobbit land, and hobbits know very well how to recover fallow fields from a bit of fire.

 

Ember had also been very careful, no home was burned or ransacked, and the only hobbits who died that winter were from old age or illness, because when the snows did come heavier than ever, and the stores of food ran out, Ember gave Bilbo some of his treasures, ones he wasn't very fond of, and they sold them in the towns of men for enough food to feed the whole Shire. The dragon they had protected and cared for for so long, had done the same for them, and the Shire was very grateful. In the spring his smial was dug twice as deep into the earth, because it was obvious he was still growing. Rooms and doorways were connected and expanded, until everything was open, the fire pit made large and deep enough for him to sleep in, and the Thain told him that he was a blessing to these lands and would always be welcome here no matter how big he grew.

 

They also commissioned a breastplate made of brass, polished to a mirror shine for him, of dwarven make, the finest craftsmanship around, but in keeping with having Ember as the Shire's secret, no one who worked on the breastplate was allowed to know what or who it was for. They had it engraved, 'Our Protector' and presented it to him at midsummer. It was so well received Ember didn't stop preening the whole night, and couldn't stop admiring the exquisite craftsmanship. Bilbo also made him brass horn tips, set with diamonds, so that the points of his horns gleamed and shone in the light.

 

Two months later, Bungo caught a late summer cold, that only grew worse and worse. When winter's chill came, it was too much for his lungs, it turned into pneumonia, and he died before Yule. Bilbo was heartbroken, and Bella walked around in a bit of a daze. Ember tore the frozen ground up with his claws so they could bury him properly instead of packing him in snow until spring. It was the first time Ember experienced real loss, and he became aware of the fact that His Bilbo, was not just fragile, but mortal, and that one day, no matter what he did, Bilbo would die.

 

This put Ember into a terrible temper. He flew for days, away from the Shire, away from everything, to the north, where he rained down fire and anger and raged against feeling helpless against the one thing he couldn't kill no matter how sharp his claws, or vicious his teeth, or strong his hide. No matter what he did, he couldn't kill Death.

 

When Ember flew off without him, Bilbo was worried, scared even. He had always known Ember might decide to leave some day, and he never wanted to try and keep the dragon somewhere he didn't want to be, not like he'd be able to overpower Ember anyway, but still, he had thought that Ember would at least have said good bye, or promise to visit. He worried the whole time Ember was gone. He busied himself taking care of his mother, and made sure to lock up Adroushan nice and tight, though he let the fire die, leaving it lit with no one home was just a waste of fuel.

 

Ember had been gone three days when a stranger in grey rode into town. Bilbo's mother managed a watery smile and received a very comforting hug from him. “My dear Bella, I'm so sorry for your loss.”

 

Gandalf stayed for a week, and Belladonna cheered up greatly with his company, but something about the wizard set Bilbo on high alert, perhaps it was because his father was dead and his best friend had flown off, maybe he was just feeling alone and vulnerable, but something about the man set his nerves on edge. He seemed to know too much, be hiding some secret, and just felt... off to him. He missed Ember, and he didn't sleep well with the wizard in the house.

 

Bilbo spent most of his time outside, returning long after dark, covered in mud, and twigs snagged in his hair after climbing trees searching the skies for red and golden wings. When Gandalf asked whatever was he searching for, he replied back 'Elves' and asked Gandalf to tell him stories of them, all the time though his thoughts were on warm fires and the smell of metal, and the deep contented rumble of a well fed and happy dragon, or the feeling of the wind whipping around them as they dove through the clouds, strong spikes and horns clenched tight in his hands.

 

Gandalf was still there when Ember returned, it was the middle of the night when a Bounder tapped Bilbo's window to let him know Ember was spotted coming back. Bilbo leapt out of bed and barely managed to get his clothes on before he was ducking out his window with Ember's key in hand. He unlocked the door and got the fire going only minutes before the sound of wings landed out front. Bilbo rushed out to his friend and hugged him tight, then urged him inside before potentially suspicious wizards poked their overly large noses into his business.

 

Ember didn't understand why Bilbo was crying but tried his best to soothe him, and felt bad about worrying his Best Treasure. When the story of the wizard staying at Bag End finally came out, the strange presence he'd been feeling made sense, and he got an uneasy feeling. He told Bilbo not to mention him, he was going to sleep anyway, and he apologized for worrying him. Instead of returning home, Bilbo curled up with Ember that night. As much as it would look strange for him to not be in his bed the next morning, Bilbo's mother would surely understand. Besides, he didn't want the wizard to smell the dragon's smoke on him.

 

He bathed there the next morning before heading to the little shop he had set up and working most of the day. His mother showed up at lunch time, a knowing look in her eyes, and Gandalf trailing behind. Bilbo made it seem as if he'd simply gotten an idea in the middle of the night, needed the distraction, and had come here to work, and his mother, absolutely aware that his workshop was in Adroushan, and this was a place solely for repairs and assembling things that people could watch him make while they shopped, because it drew people in, just sighed and shook her head, but smiled fondly and made him eat.

 

A messenger came for Gandalf not an hour later, that a fire drake had been sighted in the north and was last seen flying south, a few leagues north of Bree. A hard set look came over Gandalf's face, and he left with barely another word, his eyes raking the sky, and his ears listening to the birds for any hint of trouble.

 

Once Gandalf was long gone, Bilbo returned to Adroushan, unwilling to be away from Ember any longer. Ember was feeling similarly, unwilling to let Bilbo out of his sight now that the wizard was gone, feeling quite protective of his fragile mortal hobbit, and kept him in Adroushan for three days. For once Bilbo didn't fight Ember wanting to hoard him, and let himself be shined up and examined and tucked where the light apparently struck him just right, and Ember curled around him, and lay his head in his lap, though by now Ember's head was nearly as big as Bilbo was.

 

“I wish to keep you safe forever, to never let you die, to make you as immortal as an elf so you can always be with me. No matter how long it takes, I'll find a way. You are too good for such a fate, you are my Best Treasure, I won't ever share you with Death.”

 

“That would be a very clever thing to pull off, I look forward to it.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes. To make something mortal into an immortal or quite close to it, that's quite the feat indeed. Because I don't want to leave you alone without a true friend. No one as wonderful and special as you should ever be left alone and lonely. I don't ever want that to happen, because you're precious to me Ember.” And he leaned over and planted a soft kiss on the tip of Ember's nose, the same as he had done a thousand times before, before curling up and falling asleep.

 

Neither of them knew it, but it was in that moment that Ember fell utterly in love with Bilbo Baggins. All Ember knew was that Bilbo was worthy of... something, but it was important, and he was intent on doing it. Bilbo was unaware that anything had changed.

 

Ember started small, taking certain pieces of his treasures and giving them to Bilbo, but unlike before, Ember insisted he wear them, directly against his skin. Bilbo didn't understand why Ember had suddenly become the fussiest dragon ever born when it came to him and making him shiny, but he did as he always did and adapted.

 

Nowadays Ember slid rings on his fingers and toes throughout the morning, bracelets at elevensies, necklaces at afternoon tea, a belt at dinner, and while the rest could be removed long before bed, he could only remove the lightweight head decoration of thin chains and jewels in the few moments before he went to sleep, passing it back out the window to Ember with the rest, even though Ember always put it right back on his head as soon as he woke up, and he once more started his project of making sure Bilbo Baggins shone and chimed everywhere he went and got prettier throughout the day. It took months, before Ember just told him to put everything on in the mornings, and wear it throughout the day, and Ember looked so pleased about how he looked it never even occurred to him to try and refuse.

 

Bilbo often caught himself daydreaming when he was at Adroushan these days, and would find himself playing with one of the pieces, usually a ring or necklace. He also began taking naps there in the afternoon, the warmth making him drowsy and inclined towards curling up with his dragon, and Ember didn't mind at all, it was why Bilbo had a bed there after all. Though Bilbo often found that the amount of treasures he was wearing had doubled while he was sleeping. Ember was always purr rumbling these days, happy and content.

 

Their routines had changed a bit after the passing of Bungo Baggins, but they weathered things together, and took time to make sure that Belladonna kept moving as well and didn't dwell on her grief. The three of them were still together, and even though they missed Bungo greatly, they still had each other. Bilbo grew and matured, and was now only a couple of months from being thirty-two years of age, and was currently napping after luncheon, determined not to do anything until afternoon tea.

 

Ember breathed fire on a ring that just wasn't shiny enough for his tastes, and then slid it back on Bilbo's finger. Bilbo continued to nap on soft cushions, halfway buried in a nest of blankets. Ember may have preferred metals and bits of shine, but comfort for Bilbo was warmth, overstuffed armchairs, and soft fabrics, and Ember was determined to provide. Anything Bilbo ever needed, Ember was determined to give him.

 

It was a lazy summer day, Belladonna had gone to visit her sisters in Tookborough. And Bilbo was staying with Ember until she got back. They had crafted their best pieces yet in preparation for the faire that was coming to Bywater next month, and Bilbo and Ember would be going there to sell his wares. But with the last of the pieces done, Bilbo was taking a well earned nap, and Ember was meticulously taking off each of Bilbo's pieces and adding more magic to them before putting them back on his sleeping hobbit. Bilbo wore most of them constantly now, so Ember had to make sure they kept their shine, and the best way to do that was to tend them while Bilbo slept. His forked tongue licked at the tip of Bilbo's adorable little nose before he too, curled up to nap atop his pile of treasures, Bilbo Baggins the best one of them all.

 

When Bilbo woke up, he was well and truly pinned to his bed with a dragon's head atop him using him for a pillow. This was nothing new. He trailed his fingers over the patterns of scales across Ember's nose and up his head, then traced the chin spikes one by one, until his fingers wandered to Ember's jaw and he scratched lightly until Ember turned his head as he always did, wanting chin scratches, even while asleep. Bilbo was happy to oblige, and scooted free while he did, planting a kiss against Ember's nose like he always did before moving to add more wood to the hearth fire, which his dragon liked to keep at a certain height.

 

As the wood instantly caught and flared up strong, Bilbo stared at the fire, and out of the blue he finally realized, most others couldn't even bear to set foot in Ember's smial these days because it was too hot for them. It hadn't even occurred to Bilbo until now that even in the height of summer like now, he was always comfortable in Ember's smial no matter how long he stayed. It's not that he didn't feel the heat of the fire, he did, it just didn't make him uncomfortable, merely warm and happy. A strange thought occurred to him, a notion that couldn't possibly be true.

 

The edge of the fire pit was glowing white hot with Ember's impossible to quench flames that were as usual dancing nearly to Bilbo's height, and Bilbo was only a few feet away from it. The heat should be suffocating, stifling, unbearable, his clothes should be singed, his hair either plastered to his head with sweat or burned away and yet... How many times had he crouched on the very edge of that fire pit and added more wood, how often had he slept just here, only a few feet from the edge and never even broken a sweat? A loose piece of straw was near to hand in his pocket, and he took it out, and he let it drop. It curled and burned to white ash before it ever hit the ground. It was unbelievable that he had never noticed, and just out of sheer perverse curiosity, he set his foot forward, to touch that burning hot whiteness, to test what couldn't possibly be true... It was hot, but not too hot, and it did not burn him.

 

“Ember, your fire, it- it doesn't burn me, that metal is white hot, but I touched it and I'm fine. How is that- how is that even possible?”

 

A golden eye cracked open a bit and a rumble of confusion preceded the nudge he gave Bilbo.

 

“My fire? Burn you? Impossible. It would never dare, no flame would ever dare, not even the dark fire in the south-east would dare. You are the friend of fire, beloved by it, you have been forged of my fire, you are my Best Treasure. My fire protects my treasure, it could never destroy it. You have been tempered by my flames for almost ten years now, since you first accepted and started wearing my rings. You shine more brightly than any of my treasures. My fire can only enhance you now, there is nothing left in you to burn, so how could it possibly hurt you?”

 

Bilbo wanted to argue that that wasn't how it worked, but he knew better. It was a wonderful thing Ember had unknowingly done, and he wouldn't make him feel like he had done something wrong. Though exactly how he had done it, he wasn't sure either.

 

“Clever, magical Dragon. I just didn't know you could do that with me as well as your shinies. You're so incredible, and it's amazing what you can do. Thank you for protecting me, I'm very glad that I'm one of your treasures.”

 

“You're my Best Treasure. Nothing is better protected than you.”

 

“You're my best treasure too Ember, there's no one I care about more than you.”

 

And he curled into his dragon's warmth and let his dragon love him as best he knew how. In the morning as Ember curled into his fire pit and took a fire bath, Bilbo was actually persuaded to join him, allowing the flames to tickle and tease his flesh with soothing warmth, and he finally understood how Ember viewed the flames. It really was incredible.

 

It was late summer again, two years later, and Bilbo was days away from his coming of age, when his mother suddenly passed quietly in her sleep with no known reason or cause. With his father they at least had gotten some warning and had the time to say goodbye, but his mother seemed perfectly healthy, and that was what hurt the most. His only comfort was at least he had said 'Goodnight Mom, I love you, pleasant dreams.'

 

Ember, out of everyone, was the only one able to give him some kind of comfort. It was a week before he could even bear to stay in the Smial by himself. Instead he lived in Adroushan, and only ate when prompted.

 

Ember was very worried about him, he fussed and primped Bilbo up, brought Bilbo his favorite things, near buried him in shining quartz and semi precious stones, bumped Bilbo with his head, trying to comfort, but being unused to needing to do it. Bilbo eventually just clung to him, and cried, and curled up in the fire pit with him, until the heat had dried all of his tears, and the warmth had reached that cold, painful, empty place in his heart.

 

Ember just wanted him happy, he had never turned down a gift or rejected a bit of his magic, and the only way he could think of to make Bilbo happy was to give him a connection that couldn't be broken. He had been wanting to wait until Bilbo's coming of age, as was proper to do, though he had also hoped that Belladonna would be there too. But this would have to be enough, that is, if Bilbo said yes. Ember curled around him, looked him straight in the eye and said

 

“I'm still here to love you Bilbo, I won't ever leave you all alone, I promise. You are so precious to me, I want to keep you for always. Can I claim you for my own? Please?”

 

Bilbo, emotionally drained, heart full of sorrow, feeling lost and alone, but having this incredible dragon want to keep him for himself... he was okay with that, and Ember had asked properly like he was supposed to when he really wanted something.

 

“Yes, you can keep me. I'll be yours, I know how well you take care of your treasures.”

 

“Not just a treasure, my claim, my own, mine. Completely, utterly, totally MINE. You will never belong to another the way you belong to me.”

 

“There's no one who could ever take your place Ember, I'd be lost without you.”

 

“So, you will be mine? My claimed?”

 

“Yes, I'd be honored to be claimed by you.”

 

This clearly delighted Ember and he rushed around gathering things. A goblet, a knife, and he set the huge copper kettle up to start tea. “Do hobbits have secret names?” He asked conversationally, and Bilbo startled, how had he known that?

 

“Y-yes.”

 

“Oh good that makes this much easier, I'll need to know it to claim you properly, I'll give you mine in turn of course.”

 

“Dragons have secret names? I never knew that.”

 

“It's something I was born knowing. As you know, certain words can hold Power. For dragons, that is our true name. We are born knowing our true name and the name we would go by among our kin, but I have never used it, because you named me Ember. To let another hold my Name, to give someone that level of Power over me, it is a great showing of trust.”

 

“And one I would never betray. Do- do you not wish to be called Ember any longer?”

 

“Oh no, I like being called Ember, it's a name I cherish, because it is the name that you gave me, and I cherish you. I shall always be Ember, but I am also Smaug, as I would be known to the world and my kin, and I am also Orinda Cindrillion, Fire Serpent Of The Ashes, for it is all I will leave in the wake of my enemies.”

 

Bilbo felt the Power of Ember's True Name wash over him and it made him tremble. It was very strong, special beyond compare. “Oh Ember, that's a beautiful name.”

 

“Yes it is! You can say it if you like. You alone in all the world are allowed to use it, though only where no other may hear you.”

 

“Orinda Cindrillion” Bilbo said with awe and great affection. “My dearest and truest friend.” Ember closed his eyes and rumble purred loud enough that the entire Smial vibrated. Bilbo scratched him under the jaw just the way he liked. “My Hidden Name is The-Tree-That-Bends-But-Does-Not-Fall.”

 

“Truly a strong and fortuitous blessing. Your parents named you well. This will hurt a bit, but I will not cause you harm.” Ember bit hard into his own forearm, just enough that six drops of blood fell into the goblet. He then took Bilbo's wrist and held his arm over the cup, allowing the blade to cut swiftly and shallowly, adding six more drops to the goblet before Ember gently licked the wound clean, soothing the hurt he'd caused Bilbo, no matter how slight. He added a handful of herbs to the steeping tea, and then poured it in to mix with their joined blood. Placing the goblet into the heart of his fire, Ember Spoke. “Blade, Flame, and Wind, Earth and Sea, heed me. My strength to him, and his to me. By strength and might, wings of flight, quenchless fires in the night, hone the magic, burn ever bright. By Ember's Spark and all of thee, I claim what has been given me.

 

Ember took the goblet from the fire, drank half and then handed it to Bilbo, who did the same. The drink made him light headed, his vision blurred and his head was spinning, but warm arms were around him, laying him down gently in the fire. Ember was above him, but he didn't seem right, he almost looked like... like a person, with wings, horns, claws, and a tail, but there was pale skin, and dark curly hair, and those eyes, those eyes were right, and perfect, and Bilbo felt like he was falling so far down into them that he would never surface again. But that was fine, he didn't mind.

 

Ember was still speaking, chanting something, but he couldn't hear the words. He knew when Ember said his true name though, he could feel the tug of it, the dragon wielding that power like it was second nature, the feeling of that soul deep connection binding them together. His whole body felt like it was floating, or like he was floating above it, and he could actually see the fire Ember was breathing going straight down his own throat, but it didn't hurt. Nothing hurt, everything felt fine, better than fine, it felt wonderful. He felt warm and safe, cared for and claimed. There was a strange almost tickling sensation, right in the center of his chest. Ember's fingers deftly undid Bilbo's shirt, and what looked like a tongue of fire etched in the deepest black unfurled there. A mark, a claim, a bond. It was beautiful and warm. He could feel Ember's heart beating alongside his own. This was more than he had been expecting, but he didn't fear it. He adored it. He knew things now, things he hadn't known before, like that Ember would live for centuries, millennia, and Bilbo would never have to worry about being alone again, because Ember had claimed him as his own. He felt the singing of the treasures around them, each of them unique yet lovely to listen to. It was the most beautiful gift he could imagine. He fell asleep in that safety, with strong arms, golden eyes, warm fire, and what felt like a kiss upon his brow.

 

Ember tucked the unconscious hobbit onto his bed, and Ember curled around him, tucking Bilbo against him, resting Bilbo's head on his chest, so he could listen to his heart, a heart he now realized that Bilbo owned and cared for beyond measure. For the first time ever, He stole something from Bilbo Baggins, since Bilbo did it all the time to him, he didn't think he'd mind, since for a few moments he had lips as well. He stole a gentle, sweet kiss, enjoying the feeling of it as he brushed a curl off of Bilbo's forehead, and breathed magic straight into him, igniting the potion he had drank until the hobbit was positively glowing from the inside.

 

“My fire burns inside you now, and nothing will ever harm you as long as I live. There is nothing more to fear, you are MINE Bilbo Baggins.”

 

When Bilbo woke up he received a great shock, he could understand everything. The birds singing, the wind in the trees, the buzz of insects, there even seemed to be whispers in the wind and a delicate song just beyond his hearing. When he asked Ember about it, his dragon grinned and nudged him.

 

“It was something I wondered, if anyone else could hear things the way I did. There's a myth among men that whoever tastes the heart of a dragon and survives the poison of its blood would thereafter know all tongues of Gods, Men, birds, beasts, and even catch whispers of the Valar and Melkor. My flesh wouldn't do anything of the sort no matter which part you ate, but my blood, that's another matter. The blood of a dragon is extremely powerful, and holds our magic, which is why we can make pacts with it, and also why it will poison if stolen. But since it was given freely and accepted willingly, there was no risk to you. You have a part of me inside you now, it makes sense that you would gain some of my powers. The understanding of languages is just one of them. You drank about three drops, it wouldn't surprise me if you had gained three of my abilities, though it doesn't look like you have grown wings. I can give you more, to see if you might.”

 

“I'd much rather fly with you, than have wings of my own.”

 

“Well you can understand languages, can you breathe fire?”

 

It took most of the morning before they figured out that Bilbo could now understand all languages, and while he couldn't actually control fire, he could coax it closer to him from a very short distance away and make it burn brighter and hotter until it became dragon's fire, but he could not create actual dragon flame from nothing. And if he tried very hard he could use a mild form of Ember's magic, the strongest was the hypnotizing voice and gaze Ember was very good at using, but which Bilbo had been all but immune to for years now after Ember had tried using it to get absolutely everything shiny he wanted.

 

Ember was still insistent they try giving Bilbo more of his blood again to see what else developed, he was quite fond of the idea of making Bilbo more dragon like, and Bilbo kissed his nose and told him “Maybe later, let me get used to all of these changes first.”

 

But it wasn't to happen.

 

Their happiness together lasted a year, and Bilbo was thirty-four when things began going wrong. It was a gradual thing at first, Ember's mood would shift, he'd look pensive or be lost in thought with an uneasy look on his face. It wasn't hard to see that something was bothering him, but Ember couldn't determine what exactly was wrong.

 

'It feels like I hear someone calling my name, but when I turn there's no one there. It's like a tugging feeling, I don't like it, it feels sharp, and cold.”

 

For nearly a year it grew worse and worse, Ember would have to fight to pay attention to someone right in front of him, His head was constantly being pulled towards the East, then he'd shudder and grimace as he fought to regain control. He outright refused to fly, and it was with trepidation that he admitted that if he started flying and he felt that pull, he was unsure if he could fight it and not just fly off.

 

At first Bilbo questioned whether maybe Ember was feeling the call of a mate, but Ember shook his head. “That's simply not possible, and even if it was, such a thing would feel right. This does not, it feels very wrong, and unnatural.”

 

Bilbo was worried, but there was also a nauseating feeling building up inside him, a feeling of wrongness and desperation, it often made him shudder head to toe and feel ill. Ember apologized and said that he was feeling a slight bit of the pull that he himself was, because of their connection and the bit of his power and magic that he had sealed inside of Bilbo. If that was the barest hint of what Ember was feeling, he dreaded to think of what his friend was truly going through. As much as he didn't like feeling it though, he was glad that Ember had done it, because he said that Bilbo's strength was what allowed him to fight off the pull and voice that was calling to him.

 

It was early spring when the pain happened the first time, the pain in Bilbo's own head was almost unbearable, and Ember was in agony, roaring and rolling uncontrollably through his piles of treasures, trying to scrape his claws into his own head if it would just make it stop. For hours, Ember just screamed in pain, and there was nothing Bilbo could do to help. He couldn't even stay in Adroushan, because of Ember's flailing about.

 

And still Ember fought what they had started calling 'The Pull' tooth and claw. The more it hurt the more he fought it, until he was snarling at that unknown, unseen force in the crudest language imaginable, hurling insults at the air, cursing and promising pain and destruction to whatever the source of this was. Bilbo was desperate to help, and asked why couldn't they go together to see what it was, maybe destroy it, get it to stop hurting them. Ember flat out refused.

 

“It's dangerous, too dangerous, and too strong. It seeks to control me, possess me, own me, like some pet on a leash.”

 

Bilbo didn't argue the point, because the last thing Bilbo could ever stand was for anyone or anything to treat Ember like a pet.

 

After six months of fighting the pain, the fear, the nightmares, and The Pull, Ember couldn't even leave Adroushan, for fear of The Pull dragging him off against his will. Because The Pull had found a weakness. Treasure. Gold, and mithril and precious gems, things a dragon covets but that except for the few pieces that were already in Adroushan, the Shire could never provide. He'd begin losing bits of time, muttering about gold and gems even in his sleep, and The Pull was somehow making sure that it was growing larger.

 

Ember burrowed deep down into his smial, until he reached stone, and he dug his claws in and wrapped his body and tail around the foundation, the supports, and anything that could help hold him in place, buried himself in his beloved hoard, and refused to move, snarling at the east windows until Bilbo had them painted over and covered in an attempt to help. Bilbo brought him food and water, and Ember had countless visitors who missed him and were worried about him, and brought him food and more shiny things that now he was too distracted to even enjoy properly.

 

He would let his head rest at the front door and talk to people, but never emerge any further than that. Eventually he couldn't even do that, because he couldn't focus his attention on whoever was talking to him, and was constantly fighting just to keep from once again turning towards the East. Many could often find him with his head on his front porch staring at the green of the Shire, with silent tears running down his face. Even though it was self imposed, no one could stand Ember being caged, especially not Ember.

 

What was most worrying was the fact that Ember's fire pit had gone out and he dared not re-light it. “I don't trust my fire, The Pull wants me to use my fire, which is enough reason for me to never use it again.” Bilbo came in and tended to it instead, making it Dragon's Fire. It still wasn't as warm as Ember's flames, but it seemed to help ease and soothe some of the fear and the pain. No one mentioned that The Pull was obviously getting worse and more frequent.

 

It was early summer when it happened. Bilbo felt the shaking all the way in Bag End and could hear the roaring reverberating through the ground. He rushed to Adroushan, and Ember was snarling and writhing, everything was in disarray, and Ember was all but screaming “He's gone mad! He's gone mad! Kill, maim, burn, fly! Stain the stones with blood, burn everything to the ground, leave not a soul alive, and the gold, so much gold, enough to bury the whole of the shire in!”

 

Bilbo was terrified. Because Ember had let go of the stones and unwound from the supports, he had freed himself, and Bilbo didn't believe for one second that he had done it of his own free will, because Ember's eyes were dull grey and lifeless. Fire suddenly filled the smial, an arching stream of smoke and flames that clung to the walls as if it were liquid, the hottest flame Ember had. But the hobbits had known better than to build a Dragon's home with any wood, everything was made of stone and mortar, otherwise Ember would have undoubtedly burned down Adroushan with himself inside it and would have killed Bilbo had he not been immune to Ember's flames.

 

Faster than a viper striking, Ember made for the door. It was all Bilbo could do to grab on to him and cling to his neck, realizing as he and Ember took to the air that the dragon had tried to cover himself in the things Bilbo had made for him in an attempt to resist the pull of the gold, wherever it was. He was even wearing his breastplate, which had always been on the wall in a place of prominence where the setting sun could strike it through the window.

 

They rose fast into the air, until Bilbo's voice finally reached him and Ember halted, trying to fly back down, it was a battle fierce and violent, the pain for suddenly trying to go against the will of The Pull was enough to make both of them scream and all but fall to the earth like a stone. Even as they hit the ground and the wind was knocked out of Bilbo, Ember's eyes were locked on the East with a madness that made Bilbo tremble head to toe.

 

Ember had lost the fight, there was no question of it, he was going to be dragged off to wherever The Pull wished him to be and Ember was scared to death.

 

“Take me with you! I'll go with you! You won't be alone, you'll have your Best Treasure with you! We can face anything together! Please Ember!”

 

“No, I can't, it's not safe. There is nothing but blood and death waiting for me there, I will not risk you.”

 

“I don't care! You shouldn't be alone Ember!” He grabbed hold of Ember's neck, trying to keep the dragon focused on him and not the East, but The Pull, whatever it was, had had enough of Bilbo's meddling. The pain of the double blow was fierce and swift and completely unexpected. His arm was wrenched harshly and he heard the sickening sound of bone snap in his right arm, and his vision went red and black and spotted from the blow across his face, and the claws that very well might have taken the sight from one of his eyes. Bilbo screamed, but it was from surprise, not pain, the pain would come later, right now he was too scared. He saw Ember's eyes and they were steely grey instead of brilliant gold. And he was snarling.

 

“I am not Ember, I am Smaug! I am Fire, I am Death, all who stand before me shall perish! The world shall burn, they shall pay, I will destroy them all, and nothing shall remain but ashes!”

 

Bilbo tried to grab onto anything as Ember once more took off towards the East, but his hands couldn't hold on tight enough to the shining metal, one hand all but useless, and the other now slick with blood, Ember slid right through his hands.

 

“EMBER!” He screamed towards where the dragon was quickly flying off, but it was useless, he didn't so much as acknowledge hearing the word. Bilbo collapsed to the ground in tears cradling his broken arm. Ember had fought so hard, but now that The Pull had won, and Ember was no longer fighting it, the pain that had been a near constant thing these last months had faded and Bilbo felt numb and boneless. The Pull had been too strong, enough to make Ember break the two promises he held above all others. He had hurt Bilbo, and Bilbo was all alone. Bilbo's sobs couldn't be stopped as the pain and the blood loss overwhelmed him.

 

Someone eventually found him, he was too weak from his wounds to even notice who they were, and his grief blocked out all sounds and colors, all he could hear was a sharp ringing in his ears, like the sound of a hammer on an anvil, except long and unending. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and his mouth couldn't seem to remember really what words even were and anything that was put in his mouth, either medicine or food, he couldn't taste. He vaguely acknowledged somewhere in this haze, that his wounds were being tended, he knows he made some sort of sound as his arm was set, but he was still in his haze and nothing seemed capable of piercing the fog he was in.

 

Bilbo was like that for some time, unable to do anything on his own, and his dreams were filled with fire and death, blood and screaming, until one day, Bilbo knew that Ember must have reached The Pull, and done what it wished, because he was flooded with a mixture of bliss, relief, and a sorrow so great it was unimaginable. He knew Ember had buried himself in a vast collection of gold and gems, and that even though he'd now done what The Pull had wanted, and gotten the reward it had promised, it had no intention of letting him go. Ember was lost to him.

 

Bilbo's arm healed well enough, though it was never as strong as before, and miraculously his sight was spared against the odds. But his face bore the reminder of the event, three jagged scars from the left side of his hairline across his eye and nose and chin, all breaking off at his jawline. There was a fourth one, which had scored under his ear and along his throat that ended on his right collarbone. It was a miracle the claw hadn't torn his throat out completely, though he had very nearly bled to death despite the fact. He was on bed rest for a month, and he didn't remember anything of the first week or so of it he was taking so much poppy milk. The Shire didn't know what to do, several of them wanted to be angry at Ember for hurting Bilbo, but even more understood that Ember had not been himself for quite some time, and would have never intentionally harmed Bilbo in any way. Most of all people seemed to be waiting to see what Bilbo's reaction would be.

 

Once Bilbo was completely well again, he went to Adroushan, and he silently got to work. He cleared out the remaining filth from Ember refusing to leave the smial for so long, had the extra dirt removed that Ember had dug up in an attempt to hide from The Pull. Bilbo fortified the foundation, repaired the support beams, and spent six months polishing every piece of Ember's treasures from dawn til dusk and setting them exactly in the spots Ember had kept them. There were several things missing, the first bracelet Bilbo had given him, which these days the dragon had taken to wearing like a ring, the cascade necklace Ember was rarely ever seen without, The Breastplate, as he had fondly referred to it, a crowning piece of his collection, rings and bracelets and even a circlet Bilbo had crafted. Except for the breastplate, everything missing had been something Bilbo had made for him. And if he hadn't already known that Ember would never intentionally cause him harm, that would have convinced him of the fact his Dragon didn't mean what he had done, in fact Bilbo very much doubted it had been Ember who had done it at all. Ember's eyes were every fire and treasure analogy you could think of, but they were most certainly not the dull grey eyes that had stared at him that day, and even now haunted his nightmares.

 

When the people of Hobbiton saw Bilbo plant an arbor vitae beside Ember's smial, which every Hobbit knew meant Unchanging Friendship, and then in a ring around the entire smial he planted carnations of different colors, ones that meant pride and beauty, ones that signified health and energy, then, I will never forget you, and finally, endearment. Bilbo's true feelings were evident to all, and they finally relaxed and let the matter drop. Bilbo, out of all of them, had the most right to be angry at Ember or to feel betrayed, and he obviously didn't, so it was best to figure out what to do now.

 

Over the next few months new plants would appear nearly overnight. Azaleas for temperance, ivy for friendship and fidelity, alyssum for worth beyond beauty, bluebells for constancy, pansy and clover for think of me, heliotrope for devotion and faithfulness, amaranth for unchangeable feelings, chamomile, forget-me-nots, and rosemary for remembrance, daisies for innocence, honeysuckle for generous and devoted affection, and zinnias for thoughts of absent friends, until the entire hill of Ember's smial and all of the land around it was a riot of colors and scents, and could be seen halfway across Hobbiton. The flower garden atop Adroushan was one of the finest in the shire, and won 'garden with the most meaning' that year, and for several years after.

 

TBC



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