Nature & Nurture

BY : Cody_Thomas
Category: +Third Age > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 661
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.

Summary: Bilbo recovers, returns to his travels and of course manages to run into some more trouble along the way.

Chapter Warnings: Angst, Injury, Near Death Experiences.




Bilbo stayed in Rivendell to recover, even though all of his relatives were more than encouraging him to come home. It nearly qualified as hounding him, with the flood of letters he received from them. He found it hard to tell them what had really happened, beyond ‘I was captured by orcs, the elves helped me escape.’ He knew his relatives, most couldn’t take the truth of what he had been through, and the ones who could… well, he didn’t much care to be pitied and patronized, which he undoubtedly would be if he returned home in anything less than manageable condition. He loved his kin, he did, but right now, they would be overwhelming when he had such a tenuous hold on his sanity, and some days he still dropped the thread entirely. As much as he longed to see the green and rolling hills of the Shire again, Bilbo knew that if he went back there right now, his fears would get the better of him, he wouldn’t have the courage or the strength to leave it on his own again. So he decided to stay where he was, at least until he was fully healed, physically if not mentally, though both would be welcome.

He might have been healing far better than he had been, but there were still days and weeks that he lapsed into a fog, into complete despair, or a deep depression. A few times after a nightmare he had slipped back into the raging and near mindless slave of the balrog for a bit, and that had terrified him, because he didn’t feel like he was the slightest bit in control of himself. There were still bits of the balrog in his mind, not just in his magic, and he was so angry about it he was determined to purge the beast entirely no matter what it took. However, wanting something and making it happen were two different things entirely. Every time he conquered one demon, sometimes there seemed to be two bigger ones waiting right behind it, and sometimes the ones he thought he had already felled, still managed to take another stab at him, making him feel like he had made no progress whatsoever. It was very frustrating.


Magic might be easier to wield the more you practiced using it, but his dragon magic was still finite and rather weakened at the moment. Ember’s power had once filled the entire cottage sized room which was the seat of his magic, like the huge piles of dust and broken chunks of the Balrogs’ dark and foul magic now did, but that was no longer the case. After everything that the dragon’s magic had done to keep him alive over the past several years, the orcs hadn’t just weakened it, they had used it up. The little spark inside his heart was all he had left. He couldn't kindle it, he wasn't a Dragon. There were only two ways to replace it, get more from a dragon, preferably his dragon, or replenish it with magic from the hoard, and the fact he was nowhere near either one, meant that healing, and especially magical use, was still a very slow process.

He had debated going to some remote place and purging every mote of the dark magic that now dwelled inside of himself, it would certainly be cathartic, and oh how much of the world could he burn until it would all be gone? But loathe as Bilbo was to admit it, the tiny spark of Ember’s magic that he still possessed was not enough to help him survive anymore, and the wide world was a far more dangerous place than Bilbo had ever thought it was. If he was going to eventually continue his journey, he needed every advantage, every trick that could possibly help him to survive, and right now that meant the dark fire magic of the balrog, even though he hated it. His enemies would not be expecting him to be able to have anything of the sort, and the fact he could change it to dragon’s fire within moments of creating it was a great comfort to him. The only full advantage of it was that he no longer needed a pre-existing spark, he could create his own fire now, which would undoubtedly prove useful.

So he practiced with it, he learned how to use the balrog’s magic without actually wielding it. Though he couldn’t control it, he could transform it, until with a single thought, the balrog fire stopped being balrog fire and became dragon’s flame barely after leaving his hand if he wanted it to. There were differences between the two types of fire magic and how they responded as well. The balrog’s magic was just a pure blast of raw fire. It was powerful, and could be shot out for over twenty feet if Bilbo envisioned throwing the chunk of it through its channel hard enough, instead of just flicking it out. If he blew balrog dust through the channel, the fire could be slight enough that it only surrounded his hands. He then could use his hands to heat the tea kettle or cook a pot of soup, much to Glorfindel’s slight disapproval, who was all for Bilbo purging the lot of the dark power and being done with it for good.

Being able to change the raw fire to dragon’s fire made all the difference to Bilbo though, and why he eventually decided to keep it. Dragon’s fire he knew like breathing. Unlike Balrog magic, he could wield dragon’s fire. He could shape it to his will, he could dance with it, form it into shapes or give it direction. It had a will and an intent behind it and he could even make it change consistencies. He could make it into a shower of sparks, a steady stream pf flame, or a giant all engulfing blast. It could surround him like a shield, or a fiery whirlpool. He could make it pour like a liquid, or cling and creep like lava. Once it became dragon’s fire there was nothing he couldn’t do with it, and changing the flames to dragon’s fire, he eventually noticed, had absolutely no draw on the spark of his dragon magic, unlike any other time he used magic. It wasn’t too much of a surprise really, Ember had tempered him with fire and magic long before he had granted Bilbo the dragon’s blood which had given him the other abilities. He had the feeling that making any fire into dragon’s fire was what the very stones of the seat of his magic were made of. It might very well be the one power he couldn’t lose.


Once his hands and arm had healed as much as he could manage them, Bilbo began re-learning how to hold a weapon again. Five years of inactivity and torture, and another year and a half of healing, had severely atrophied his skills. He started by carrying thick wooden dowels everywhere, in order to walk himself through the basic movements again. When he got used to that, he began adding strips of clay around the dowel and securing it with oil cloth, in order to get himself used to constantly holding the weight of a sword again, and began going through the basic movements and steps that had once been muscle memory. Once he felt secure in the weight of a sword, and felt confident that he could at least keep hold of a weapon for awhile, he began seeking out someone willing to spar with him and reteach him how to use the weapons.

While the twins were a bit hesitant to begin practicing with Bilbo again after their third time of trying, since they had learned that if they landed a blow they very well could set him off into a raging fire attack, as Elrohir’s singed eyebrows could now attest to, Glorfindel, surprisingly, had no such reservations. Day after day Bilbo sparred with the elf that was more than twice his size until he was exhausted and aching (which was far sooner than he was happy admitting to anyone). Even though Glorfindel was barely even toying with him, it was letting Bilbo remember the movements and the footwork, the holds and the steps, things he had once known how to do even half asleep and injured. Glorfindel was gentle with his corrections, his strikes hardly even taps, but even those could set Bilbo off on a bad day. And on the bad days, was when Glorfindel was the most insistent that they practice, and where he didn’t hold back as much, determined to make Bilbo work through the dark places his mind had wandered in order to help him regain control.

When Bilbo got angry or lashed out is when Glorfindel got serious, landing harder blows, jeering at him, telling him to use his anger and hatred, not let it bottle up inside or it would eventually control him. Many is the time the elf narrowly dodged a stream of balrog flames loosed in his general direction, only to attack immediately afterwards until Bilbo had worked through the place his mind had gone and was able to focus again even if it was just out of sheer stubbornness. It was a strange way to go about it, but through Glorfindel, he was able to learn some form of control.

Instead of sparring with him, the twins worked with him on remembering his metal craft, the detail work aiding him in recovering some dexterity in his stiff and scarred hands. He often became frustrated with how slow his fingers moved with how quickly his mind remembered, and despised everything he produced. Elladan called it anger work, and told him it didn’t matter how it looked. The elf had him look at it in a different way, encouraged him to create something infused with every ounce of his anger and bad feelings, make it as ugly and twisted and detailed as possible, something that at the end of the day he could happily enjoy destroying by throwing it into a smelting pot. Surprisingly it worked for him. Bilbo’s fingers relearned wire and metal work through anger and stubbornness, and the horrific looking results at the end of the day was tossed into the smelting pot with glee so he could remake the metal into wire, which also aided him in re-honing his skills.


Once he got some semi-steady dexterity back, Bilbo and Arwen worked on building up his strength and endurance. She took him to the archery range and had him practice with the bow in both hands, not just his dominant one. He was nearly ashamed of himself for how low of a draw weight he had to start out with, his arms shaking by the time he had fired three shots. He practiced drawing and holding on practice arrows with blunted tips, and took up his slingshot again. Bilbo was determined to get back up to where he had been before. His determination was based upon the singular goal of reclaiming back every last thing the orcs and balrog had robbed him of.

He was nearly overjoyed when he found his fingers nimble enough to resume their old pastimes of spinning, knitting, and crocheting together at night. Arwen even taught him the new craft she had taken up of loom knitting, which Bilbo took to like a duck to water. He sat near the fire most nights, letting the warmth soothe his aches and pains. Thrain was always near to hand, carding the wool for them, or holding his skeins while Bilbo spun, or even made yarn balls for the two of them since he had no interest or skill in fiber crafts. On good days Thrain might read aloud for awhile if the conversation lagged, and on particularly good days Thrain would take up a bit of wood and start carving near the fireplace, brushing the shavings into the flames, occasionally even singing if he felt up for it.

Bilbo had long since requested copies from his relatives of all of the hobbit songs he had long since forgotten now, and took to singing a few of them whenever the mood struck. Arwen would often sing and tell stories while she worked on a knitting or sewing project, or on rare occasions, would knot lace. Estel would often come in and spend his time on one of the couches and ‘read’ a book as an excuse to spend time with them, though Bilbo suspected the young ranger was mostly interested in spending time with Arwen. He was welcome all the same, and after a while, instead of pretending to read a book, he would tend to his gear, repair tools, kit, and patch up his clothes. If he was done with that he would work on decorative leather tooling. It felt like family and home to Bilbo, and that was a very precious thing to him these days.


From Estel and the twins, Bilbo learned there were multiple ways to make things like your shirt, waistcoat, jacket, and cloak discreetly hide and carry just about everything one would need on a journey, so that if you ever became the target of robbers, it was highly unlikely they would get even a fraction of what you had on you, and if you lost your pack you still had all of your essentials with you, so it wouldn’t matter as much. Estel even helped Bilbo modify his own clothes to do the same and even taught him how to sew a cloak that could not only be turned reversed to become an oilskin, but was also able to be turned into a tent thanks to a few ingenious tucks, folds, and ties that hid all the extra fabric. They also made a thick, braided decorative trim around the whole thing which was actually made of elvish rope if you looked closely, and could be cut away and used quite quickly if needed. He did the same with the hood’s drawstring and even made a good woven belt of it, since one never knew when good elvish rope would come in handy. When Estel told him that he really should get boots, because leaving your feet vulnerable was a warrior’s folly, Bilbo actually listened and had two pairs of boots commissioned with thick rugged soles, one of them lined with fur for cold weather, and both proofed against water. He also commissioned a pair of shoes, so he could start getting used to wearing things on his feet. His relations would have been horrified, but he wasn’t willing to leave himself vulnerable in any way. He might have looked absolutely ridiculous for awhile as he learned to walk, run, jump, and then climb in shoes, and tripped over his own feet quite often, but he got the hang of it eventually.

Over time Bilbo painstakingly relearned every weapon he had once known like breathing, and his fingers gradually regained their former dexterity and nimbleness, and when they did, he started addressing a problem that only he could fix. He was a fire wielder, and while he himself was fireproof, his friends and allies were not, and his outbursts when he lost control were both deadly and unpredictable. The people closest to him needed to be protected from him. He could have probably made them into treasures if he took long enough, tempered each person slowly in dragon’s fire and hope that it would stick like it had with him. However he didn’t have that sort of time or that amount of magic readily available to him unless he returned to the Shire, which he still wasn’t prepared for, or he had to try and find another dragon willing to share its magic, which was unlikely.

He would also have to explain how he could do such things, it couldn’t all be explained away as an after effect of the balrog. So he decided to do what he could, and try to make a charm which would make the wearer alone fireproof. If he remembered all of the things Ember had told him about making things into treasures and the process for it, it should work. He had been so curious after Ember had made him immune to fire, that he had asked about a thousand questions, and his dragon had happily answered each one. Bilbo was quite glad now that he had. With how little dragon’s magic he had left, making such a charm would undoubtedly tire him, but he wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally killing his friends either, which was the far more important thing, and would make it worth the exhaustion.


Luckily any magic he did use didn’t actually leave him, it was more like extending what was already there to recognize something else as him or itself, and therefore, do not destroy or consume it, simply ignore it and move on. It was rather like letting a new puppy sniff and taste and feel something new, then train it to leave it alone. Eventually it just gets used to it. He had a lot of failures. Trial and error was a constant companion for many months as he worked out exactly what could retain the imprint of the magic, (metal and certain types of stone worked best) and then try to work out how it would recognize and only work on specific individuals. The latter proved much MUCH harder to manage, he needed either a piece of the person to meld with the charm, or a blood promise, neither of which would be easy to manage. So for now Bilbo settled on creating something that would protect just the wearer from fire, he could find a way to make it so the charms couldn’t be stolen or used against the ones he intended them for later on. He tested the charms on a dead tree that he found in the woods first, just in case. A good thing too, he would have felt pity if the tree had still been alive with how often the thing was scorched while he was experimenting.

Once he got the general concept down he began working on making sure it wasn’t just keyed to his fire, but all fire, which took a bit more working. His efforts evolved slowly, until he finally had it perfected in the form of a small disk that could be worn on a necklace, bracelet, or even as an earring, which was made out of either brass, bronze, copper, or iron, and engraved onto it was the shape of the mark Ember had left on his chest when he had been claimed, as a holding sigil for the magic. He made the item a treasure first so that it couldn’t be destroyed without his express permission, and then keyed it so that whatever the charm was on, made the wearer entirely fireproof from dragon’s flame, balrog fire, and even a regular fire.

Once he had it working well on the poor scorched tree, he moved up to animal carcasses that were due to be cooked for dinner anyway, and then finally, once he was absolutely certain, he tried it on one of the horses in the stables, whose eyes were covered so that it wouldn’t startle or panic at the flames. It worked perfectly. Then and only then did he ask Glorfindel to put one on, and then place his hand in the fire. The elf looked at him like he was mad, but by then they had enough trust between them that the elf did as bid, and as he was marveling at the fact the flames weren’t harming him, Bilbo grabbed a chunk of Balrog flame and threw it at his back before he had a chance to react. Glorfindel was too anticipatory of his movements these days to let the flames hit him if he saw it coming, so it had to be by surprise. Sure enough, the blast caught Glorfindel smack between the shoulder blades, and as soon as it had dispersed there wasn’t as much as a hair singed on his gloriously golden head. Glorfindel put him through his paces for it, but afterwards he helped Bilbo distribute the charms to Thrain, Elrond, Elladan, Elrohir, Arwen, Estel, Lindir, and a few of the other elves of Lord Elrond’s household that he had become quite fond of, or that he saw often. Bilbo put a few around the library as well, and even sent two off to Lady Galadriel for her and her husband to wear, with a letter explaining what it was for.

Now that he knew that his friends were safe, he relaxed greatly and threw himself wholeheartedly into training. Now it didn’t matter if he lost control for a moment, though he also had to relearn how to pull it back and extinguish it with his will as well. That took some practice.


Bilbo’s water phobia did not lessen, he avoided anything deep or running, avoided anything that had a bridge attached to it at all costs, and bathed only with a single bucket twice a month while locked up alone in his room, so that no one could come behind him and force his head into it. Not that he thought that someone would , it just was one of the ways the phobia manifested itself, and he couldn’t get away from the thought. Otherwise he took daily purifying fire baths to get rid of anything else and to keep from smelling. It wasn’t ideal, and even though he kept promising himself it was something he was going to work on, there always seemed to be something else to work on first.

Thrain, aside from a rather prominent limp he had developed from a badly set and healed bone about halfway through their capture, physically, he healed just fine, dwarves are resilient like that. But mentally, once Bilbo’s magical interference wore off, he had his days worse than Bilbo ever did. It wasn’t just the orcs, their tortures, the methodical slaughtering of his kin, and the balrog that haunted him. Though those things were a good portion of it, it was the battle that had happened before Bilbo had been captured that did the most lasting damage to the dwarf’s mind. It was the watching of his father being beheaded and so many of his people lost. Dwarves he had known his whole life, friends, kin, his own youngest son, he had watched them all die horrible deaths. It was the possibility of his entire family now dead and he the lone survivor, and therefore in charge of his people, and at the same time knowing he was not up to the task. This was only compounded by not knowing what had happened to his other son and his daughter, her two sons, his wife, or his multitude of cousins. Grief and the unknown was a far more vicious foe than pain would ever prove to be.

Lord Elrond offered to send out messengers, but Thrain said he wasn’t ready to know the truth yet. Not until he was a bit more recovered, a bit less scared, in case someone was alive. To allow his heart to hope, only to give it nothing but more grief, he didn’t think he could bear it. Lord Elrond, who was ever the gracious host, agreed to Thrain’s request.


Bilbo and Thrain were still inseparable. On the good days Thrain taught him the dwarven way of fighting, and gave him a far greater challenge, being nearest to Bilbo’s own height, but far outpacing him in skill. The bad days still easily outnumbered the good for Thrain, and Bilbo refused to use more magic on Thrain’s mind when he really didn’t know how to fix it, no more than he could fix his own. Their demons were their own to work through, and in many ways, they had to do so on their own.

As long as the five years in the hands of orcs had dragged on, the three years since their rescue seemed to all but fly by, prolonged healing and all. Bilbo and Thrain still shared one room, one bed, on bad days one closet, though they were using the bed far more often these days. At mealtimes they even tended to share a plate just so Thrain could press closer to him. It was comfortable and familiar to have a friend so close to hand, one who truly understood him, and Bilbo was loathe to give it up. But with every skill he regained, every day and week and month he had gotten better, the urge to leave grew stronger. Part of him thought the wanderlust had gotten into his blood now, the rest of himself knew that he couldn't really rest until he had his Dragon back, and he couldn't do that in Rivendell.

Bilbo had once loved Rivendell, and still did, but not as much as he once had. It didn’t afford him the kind of peace it used to thanks to his new phobia, and his need to seek out his dragon kept growing ever stronger.


He hadn’t even realized that he was making preparations to leave, until he noticed that his bags were packed, his new clothes were set with tools, food, and even a couple of weapons, all tucked away and hidden inside. His travelling armor of padded cloth, leather, and scale mail meticulously tended and oiled.

Another clue was that he was writing a letter to each of his kin telling them that he was hale and sound and was leaving Rivendell to continue his journey, and would be in touch when he could. He even made sure Thrain was having a good day when he explained several times that he would be heading out to find his dragon. He felt safe about telling him, since when the balrog had taken him, he had mentioned Ember to the dwarf, and Thrain had seemed to have no problem of knowing who that was. He must have told him about his dragon at some point, and obviously his friend had taken it better than he had thought he would.

Thrain nodded in understanding and for some reason reached into his inner coat pocket for a moment, then handed over a large folded map and a key Bilbo had seen Thrain fiddle with before when they were in Moria. The left upper corner of the map was a detail of Erebor and the paths one could take to it, as well as townships, landmarks, and rivers. The rest was of the interior, showing all the important paths, and where the treasury would be. The paper was of Lord Elrond’s stock, and must have taken the dwarf ages to make if he only worked on it on his steady days.

“It’s a map, of Erebor, as good as I can remember it anyway. You said you had been having trouble finding the dwarven cities, well there it is. Easiest one to find in all of Middle Earth. There had been another one, but my father gave it to Gandalf, and who knows when he might show up again. There’s a hidden door, to the upper halls, up the stairs on the side of one of the statues and in this little nook on a bit of flat space. It will be invisible, but it is there, shows up during one of the moons, can’t remember which one, but if anyone is clever enough to find it, it’s you, that’s why I marked it. The front gates had been all but destroyed, even though the dwarves swore that they sealed them, I’m not sure how they could have, they were nearly ripped in twain. So maybe you could find a way in that way.”

“Thank you Thrain.”

“You are my friend, and I want to help you. When you get your dragon back, I hope you will let me meet him, properly this time.”

“Of course. Thank you Thrain, truly.”

Thrain merely nodded and Bilbo kissed his brow and embraced his friend before they settled in for the night. He was ready to leave two days later. He woke up extremely early, tidied his room and left a note for Lord Elrond informing him that he had decided to continue his journey, thanking them for their extended hospitality and patience, that he was extremely grateful for everything, but was actually rather terrible at goodbyes and couldn’t face doing so. With that set on Lord Elrond’s chair where he was certain to find it, and a satchel stuffed with travelling food, Bilbo made his way to the stables.


Bilbo startled when he opened the door only to find Glorfindel, Elladan, Elrohir, and Estel already inside, tacking up their horses. Bilbo was about to turn around and bolt, when Glorfindel spoke.

“You might as well come in Bilbo, Marigold is already groomed and saddled, and I checked her hooves myself. Lord Elrond has known for a week that you were going to try and sneak away. And you’re a fool if you think we’re going to let you go on alone after what happened the last time.”

“You don’t ALL need to come! I don’t even really know where I’m going!” Bilbo protested. He was not about to lead four of the greatest hunters in middle earth anywhere near his dragon when he hadn’t even explained about Ember to them in the first place!

“I’ve been on two journeys with you now where that was the case, and I don’t mind going on another in the slightest.” Estel said with a pointed look. “You’re our family Bilbo, and we care about you. Our hearts would break if something happened to you.”

Bilbo looked down at the ground. “Don’t you think it’s the same for me, for all of you? After what I watched happen to Dungrim and Holber, and never knowing what happened to Filus, who we thought had gotten away, when I had been the one to ask to go to Moria in the first place… I-I just could never bear to see the same thing happen to any of you. I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you because of me. Please don’t ask me to. I’d rather stay than to ever put any of you in danger like that.”

Elladan and Elrohir led their horses out, tacked and bridled. “We’ll be in danger anyways Bilbo. It’s either going with you, or we go off into the wilds hunting orcs, goblins, trolls, and any other fell things we can find.” Elladan said.

Elrohir nodded. “Wouldn’t you rather the company and the protection, instead of wondering and worrying about us as you tend to do?”

“You aren’t being fair.” Bilbo grumbled. And the boys didn’t deny it, the imps, merely smiled at him.

“As if you were being fair trying to dissuade us. You would rather have our company than not, and you know it.” Glorfindel said. “Besides, how else are you going to improve your sparring? And your archery is still weak, do you want to engage every enemy in close combat without aide or backup, or were you really planning to rely on a power that you know you cannot trust?”

Bilbo knew he was outmaneuvered and finally agreed to his self appointed guards “I’m telling your father how you bullied me.” He tried in desperation.

The twins laughed. “Good! Then he can’t be cross at us, since it was his idea!” Elladan laughed, and led the other two horses who were carrying their gear out.

Estel chuckled and held Marigold steady as Bilbo mounted. “So Bilbo, where to this time? Dwarves, or Dragons?”

“Dragons. Now that I’m immune to fire, I’ve decided that I’m going to raise one from infancy and train it to burn holes in the seat of all of your pants and trousers, steal all of your shiny things, and chew on your boots. It’s going to be my best friend, since the lot of you are ganging up on me.”

Estel just laughed and announced that they had best stick to dwarves then, just to be safe. Bilbo smirked, and then they were heading North out of the valley and through the Misties on paths that only an elf or one particular Ranger would know existed. Over the next few months they found several small dwarven settlements, nothing very large or grand, most hadn’t ever left these places, and had no information of the outside world whatsoever. There was the occasional small group of mountain men making their way through the mountains or on trade routes. Thrice they were besieged by bandits, but the bandits had no idea the kind of fight they were in for and fell quickly and easily to their united front, moving together seamlessly and as a single well trained unit that covered each other’s weaknesses.


Only once was there a very close call of one of the bandits getting a lucky hit on Estel, but before the thief could land the fatal stroke Bilbo sent a stream of flames arching into the bandit, not needing to be careful with Estel, who was protected. Unlike regular fire which either lit or blew past immediately, dragon’s fire could also be thick and nearly sticky, like a liquid if Bilbo was feeling particularly vicious and lethal. Those flames clung to whatever they touched, were hard to extinguish, and slow to die. Estel turned away from the gruesome and painful death. The one remaining bandit made to flee, but Bilbo struck him too, not giving a chance for anyone to escape their fate who intended them harm and might be able to return with more help.

Estel was quiet that night and sat at a distance from Bilbo, as if wary of him, and Bilbo left him to his thoughts. He was able to speak when he was ready. It was several days before Estel managed to figure out the root of what was bothering him.

“Those were not honorable kills.” The Ranger mentioned quietly while the two of them tended the horses and the elves set up camp.

“Neither was what they were wanting to do to us.” Bilbo stated clearly without a hint of remorse.

“He was running away.” The Ranger defended stubbornly, but with very little will behind it.

“And if they had others they could have contacted, greater numbers to return with in the night to ambush us with, would you really be willing to risk our kinsman’s lives on that chance? I’m not. I’ve seen too much of the dark places in monster’s hearts to show them any mercy or pity. I think what really disturbs you Estel is that it was me who landed the blow, and that I used an unpredictable dark power to do it.”


“No, let me finish. You still remember what I was like before, you know how much I’ve changed, and how far that is from the way I had originally started out. How hard I have grown concerns you. You’re worried that I will fall to darkness, for you know well the weakness of men’s hearts to stand against it. I won’t say it will never happen, because I don’t know the future, but I don’t think it will as long as the light in my heart stays kindled. As long as I remember how good and bright life can be when surrounded by love, darkness has no room to grow. There’s still Hope in me Estel, you don’t need to worry that I am lost to it just yet. Yes, I am changed greatly. I may change even more yet, but I am still Bilbo Baggins, and as long as that remains truth, that is no bad thing to be.”

Estel took a minute but then nodded afterwards and let the matter drop.

The group made the ir way ever more northward along the western ridge of the Misties, through the Ettenmoors and then towards Carn Dum. They met up with plenty of orcs, and cut a large swath through their numbers with both sword and flame. But no matter how many orcs they killed, it was not doing anything to help ease that nervous energy insisting he needed to go off and find his Ember. They crossed the ridge and began heading south along the eastern slopes this time, and while they found more dwarves, and Bilbo collected more stories, he found out nothing more about dragons, and he knew he wouldn’t as long as they were all together, for an elf’s hearing was far too keen, and he was with three elves. Three of the greatest elven hunters known, and a Dunedain Ranger who was a rather deft hand at it as well.


But Bilbo’s restlessness wouldn’t ease up. He found himself wandering off on his own after they would set up camp, not trying to escape or anything, he just needed some time to himself. He was debating trying to leave on his own, but he couldn’t sneak away from the group, and he wouldn’t go so far as to try and do something devious like drug their food so he could slip away, they were his friends, and he wouldn’t leave them unprotected just so he could go off on his own. He even debated with himself for long hours about just telling them the truth about Ember and letting the dice fall as they may, but he was terrified about doing so for nameless reasons he couldn’t even understand. Not even Lord Elrond knew, or maybe he suspected something and had just never said anything, Bilbo had no way of knowing. But historically Elves and Dragons did NOT have any good relations between them. Either way the urge to leave just kept growing, and it was true, that he was far safer with them than not. He just wished that he wasn’t so torn. If he could tell them honestly and have them accept it and continue with him, that would be ideal, however it was the most unlikely reaction as well.

Bilbo had thought that he was being rather subtle about his little bouts of personal solitude, but no one should ever doubt the watchfulness of an elf. One night he had gotten lost in thought and stayed out a little longer than he had meant to as he once more tried to figure out how to truly continue his search without feeling like he would be betraying or disappointing those he was closest with. As he stared at the moon and kept hoping that it would provide him with some kind of an answer, he all but missed Glorfindel’s approach until the elf sat beside him with a bowl of rich and delicious smelling rabbit stew, a large mug of water, and a whole triangle of lembas bread. Glorfindel knew well the appetites of hobbits. Unfortunately Bilbo wasn’t very hungry. He managed a few bites of the stew while it was still hot, and sipped on the water, but handed the lembas back, knowing he didn’t have the stomach for it at the moment. He slowly picked at the remainder of his bowl, in hopes that he could convince his belly that he really did want it, but the heavy, melancholy feeling in his heart stole away his appetite.

“It must be a dark thought indeed that would keep a hobbit from his food. We cannot ease your troubles if you do not tell them to us Bilbo.”

Bilbo was quite tired of making excuses. He was tired of hiding and deflecting, honestly he was utterly sick of the whole business. “I have a secret, Glorfindel, a great, wonderful, and terrifying secret. I have never told it to anyone outside of the Shire, and while the people of the Shire may know parts of it, or most of it, only one or two others know the full truth, but it is something I fear that no one in the outside world would understand. I may have told Thrain, I don’t remember, but the Lady Galadriel I think has come the closest to knowing and understanding my secret. I didn’t tell her, but she knew the inner truth anyway when she looked into my soul and helped me after the Balrog. And yet, I still fear that no one would ever believe me, or if they did, they would come to hate or fear me, or seek to destroy my secret, thinking that I am mad or deceived, or because they simply want it for themselves. So I can’t tell anyone, even those I love most in this world. It was once such a happy secret, but now it has become weighted and filled with sorrow the longer my search goes on without finding what I am looking for, and it leaves me grasping at fading memories which were once as bright as the dawn not so long ago. I knew what pure and perfect happiness was at one point, I felt it every single day, I was filled with it to the very brim of my being. Now I struggle to recall even the slightest warmth of those memories. Moria took so much from me Glorfindel, so much, but killing orcs and goblins isn’t going to help me get any of it back.”

“I may not have known you before your ordeal, but I have gotten glimpses of the person you used to be, Bilbo Baggins, and that person wouldn’t want to worry his friends. They miss you Bilbo, they miss your warm and easy laughter, and your companionship, and your trust in them. I know why you are guarded, but if you cannot trust even your friends and kin, it is a lonely path to try and walk alone, and you will never know if they can understand and accept your secret if you don’t even try.”

“Very well. I will tell you part of it, and if you can’t accept it, or if it causes fear to grow in your heart for me or towards me, then you have to let me go. You must let me continue on my journey alone and unaccompanied, without protest, and you will stop the others from pursuing or following after me. Do we have a deal?”

“That is a strange request. This has something to do with why you are always seeking out stories about dwarves and dragons doesn’t it?”

“Your word Glorfindel, or I’ll not speak another.”

“You have my word, Bilbo. If I cannot handle your secret I will let you go off on your own without letting the others stop or follow you. And what if I can accept your secret?”

“Then… then I will tell you the whole of it, you and the others, and perhaps, I will have better luck with my quest than I have been having so far.”

“Very well.”


Bilbo sat there a moment, not really knowing how exactly to word it without just blurting everything out. He knew Glorfindel’s legend, the fall of Gondolin, had read about it in Lord Elrond’s library. He could think of no living elf who would have more cause to hate any beast of flame, let alone a dragon.

“My fire-, well yes, I suppose that is as good a place to start as any. You’ve distrusted it ever since you found out about it. You think it is a terrible evil that should be destroyed and disposed of as fast as possible, right?”

“Power that dark can only destroy, Bilbo, I’ve seen it.” Glorfindel said severely, his brows knitted tight. It was an old disagreement between them by now.

“I know, and that would be true, if I was wielding it as the Balrog probably intended. You see it as me picking up the weapon of the enemy and trying to use it for my own gains, when I am not. I either pick up the Balrog’s weapon and throw it whole and sundry at the bad guy, or I reforge it into something I can use, something that would never consider harming me. My fire is not new Glorfindel, the balrog didn’t give me the immunity to being burned, or the ability to control flames. I have had those since I was a lad. All it gave me was the raw fire so that I didn’t need an existing spark or source to use it. The balrog carved a new channel into the seat of my magic and dumped his power into me, trying to control me with it, but my first magic fought it back. I have two fires, not one. The first I can wield without any issue or harm to me, whereas the second, Lady Galadriel taught me how to use it without wielding it. My first flame is what is protecting you from being burned by me or any flame, because I convinced it that any amulet was actually a part of myself. It was why the balrog saved me in the first place, because I was begging the fire for help. I was dying, Glorfindel, truly dying, and it was the only option nearby that had enough fire that could heal me.”

“And where did this 'first fire' of yours come from Bilbo?”

“It’s dragon’s fire, and there is only one way to obtain and wield a dragons’ fire, it has to be willingly given to you as a gift. You can’t steal it, or force it to be handed over. It can only ever be offered, and then accepted if it is to survive. ‘ No flame will ever dare burn you, not even the dark fire in the south-east would dare. You are the friend of fire, beloved by it. You are forged of my flames, so there is nothing left inside of you to burn. ’ That was the promise I was given out of purest love and care to me before I understood even a fraction of what it meant.”

“How did a Hobbit of the Shire come to know a dragon , especially well enough to survive the experience and be granted a gift?”

Glorfindel was curious, if wary, and Bilbo decided to go ahead and just tell Glorfindel the whole story. They were there well past first watch and halfway through the second when Bilbo finally got it all out. The elf had never interrupted or raised a single question. When Bilbo finally stopped speaking, Glorfindel just sat there quietly. He felt worlds lighter and yet had a tight knot in his belly at the same time.

“That is an unimaginable burden for you to carry Bilbo. And while your story doesn’t make me wish to pull away from you in any way, it has given me a lot to think on. However, I wouldn’t tell the others if I were you. Elladan and Elrohir particularly would not grant any clemency where a ‘dark creature’ is concerned. I am surprised that you confided in me, knowing my own history as you do.”

Bilbo breathed out in relief. “I figured if there was one person able to believe me, it would be someone who has been granted wisdom, life, and power from the Valar and literally remade. If that is possible, why not finding a dragon that is able to share friendship and love? But now you know why we kept it to ourselves. I don’t know if it is every dragon that can be made to love and live in harmony with others. I don’t know, that’s beyond my ken. But one dragon, MY dragon, he is filled with love and compassion, and he protects the ones he cares for. He’s worth everything in the world to me, and I won’t stop searching until I get him back.”

Glorfindel chuckled. “I know you well enough to know that is very true of you Bilbo. If there is one thing you are, it is persistent and stubborn. As much as I would like to go with you and help you to save your friend, I am afraid I must allow you to go on alone and prevent the others from following you instead. If we came along, it would not end well. I will begin to sway their minds if I can, or at least lead them away from tracking you. If I were you I would start in the Erid Mithrim and the Withered Heath, and then head south and search the Erid Nimrais which serve as the border between Rohan and Gondor. Most of the fire drakes I have known nested in the north, while the cold drakes nested more in the south. Please take great care Bilbo, the visions I have had of you were fraught with dangers and perils, and you have suffered enough already. I do not want your death on my hands by allowing you to go off on your own, so please, watch yourself. Be extra sneaky and clever, and if any fell thing gets within your striking range, promise me that you will burn it with merciless fury.”

“I promise Glorfindel, and thank you.”

 Glorfindel placed a huge, warm, and comforting hand on Bilbo's shoulder for a moment after he gracefully stood, then walked back to camp without reply. It was as close to a farewell as Bilbo was going to get from the elf. The elf was obviously uncomfortable with Bilbo’s decision, but at least he wouldn’t try and hold Bilbo back. When Bilbo finally got the gumption to walk back towards the fire himself, Bilbo found his travel pack not only packed with his bedroll securely on top, but it looked fuller and felt suspiciously heavier than earlier. Marigold was tacked and saddled, with curiously full saddle bags as well, and even a bundle of firewood they had gathered. She was also tied up several yards away from the others who were all soundly asleep, and it didn’t seem as though Glorfindel had any intention of waking one of them up to take watch any time soon. The meaning was clear; ‘Escaping now is your best bet. If you are here by morning I cannot stop them.”

Today had been a rest day, so Bilbo didn’t feel too badly about making Marigold walk gently away under the light of the brilliant full moon that nearly made the smooth mountain peaks shine as if in muted daylight. They weren’t on a well worn path, it was all flat sheets of stone, gravel, scrub brush, scattered conifers, and large rocks for the most part, very hard to track anything over. Keeping his pace to the pony’s steps meant that it didn’t sound like an escape attempt, or like riding was occurring at all.

He was several miles away by daybreak, following the southern star, and not a trail in sight. It was more than mid afternoon when he found the sheltered nook of rock and its overhang, big enough for him and Marigold to rest in for the day. The others might be pursuing, but they would not stop him, he was determined.


What Bilbo was not aware of, was that Glorfindel was not the only one who had heard his tale that night. Estel had also heard it, having woken up wondering why he had not been roused for second watch. He had arrived just as Bilbo was telling how Ember had lived in the garden shed until the whole town had built him a huge smial of his own, and how many of Bilbo’s happiest memories had been curling up in it with his dragon. He listened to the entire rest of the tale, finally knowing and understanding the thing which drove Bilbo to seek out dragons without a true destination in mind. And the fact they didn’t know, meant they were unintentionally hindering him from his goal.

Glorfindel was right about the twins, but before Glorfindel stood, Estel turned around and went back to the camp. He hurriedly packed Bilbo’s saddle bags with food and supplies. Hobbits ate far more frequently than elves needed to, and he wanted to make sure that his friend wouldn’t go hungry. Estel then hurriedly went back to his bedroll and feigned sleep. Glorfindel of course wasn’t fooled for a minute, if the amused snort he heard when he went to pick up Bilbo’s saddlebags was any indication. He heard Glorfindel put things in Bilbo’s pack and roll up his bedroll before leaving the fire and heading to the ponies. Glorfindel either didn’t come back, or ignored Bilbo’s presence when he returned, and then left moments later. In the morning, he’d follow Glorfindel’s lead, and do his best to make sure that the other two did not hunt down their friend.


For weeks Bilbo traveled south along unfamiliar paths, until he was forced to descend the mountains towards a settlement in order to resupply. The path was rocky and the going was slow, especially with a pony along. What he hadn’t been expecting was to be walking beside Marigold one day, and suddenly have the rock which had seemed steady beneath his foot, give out and just drop out from under him. He had tumbled down right after the rock, and fell into a steep canyon without even the chance to catch himself or halt the fall.

The fall should have killed him, Bilbo was honestly shocked that it hadn’t. It was over a hundred foot drop. But he had slid and tumbled down the steep slope of the canyon wall for most of the way. He would count his blessings that he was no more than achingly bruised with a sprained wrist that thankfully was not severe enough to trigger his dragon magic to try and heal him. However he was now also trapped down there in the ravine, the sides were either too steep or too loose to climb them, so he had to wander through the narrow canyon in hopes of finding a way out. By the fifth day of being trapped down there, he had run out of water and hadn’t come across another fresh source. His food was holding steady, but without water it was very hard to make himself eat, since it only made him thirsty, and half of his food needed water to be cooked anyway. Come the third day without water he was extremely weak, and barely making any progress through the sharp and stony ground. By the fourth day he was hallucinating and might have spent what little energy he had wandering around in a circle. When the sky lightened on the fifth day Bilbo couldn’t even really move, he lay there in the morning shade of the canyon wall, having gone as high as the loose gravel would let him climb, his tongue parched, his lips cracked, his muscles screaming, and his head pounding. At some point or another, he passed out.


Bilbo dreamed of The Shire, of his comfortable armchair by the huge fire pit in Adroushan. He dreamed there was a familiar and beloved dragon curled up inside of it, except for his head, which was resting squarely on Bilbo’s lap as usual, pinning him to his chair. Bilbo had thought it only fair to use some of Ember’s spikes to help prop open his book since he was currently playing pillow, while he idly used his free hand to trace over the patterns of scales, and every so often lean forward to place a gentle kiss above his dragon’s eye, causing his dragon to rumble purr in that great deep voice he had. Outside, the spring rains had come and were pouring over The Shire, turning the fallow fields to mud, readying them for planting, and Ember would soon be hunting the fields for rodents, clawing up the fallow fields, and burning the chafe. It was warm and peaceful, and he had his dragon with him, he was at peace.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and Bilbo scratched Ember’s head so his dragon would roll off of him and he could go and answer it. It was definitely not a hobbit who was waiting behind the door, and it wasn’t raining at all, the sun was shining bright.

“Lady Galadriel!”

“Hello Bilbo.” She peeked over his head, to where Ember was now pretending he was napping, one eye slit open just a touch, watching them. She smiled. “A fine dream to be sure. A time you were happiest, a dream to put yourself at ease so you do not fight the final breath, so that your last thoughts are of the one you love most. Many have dreamed the same so near to passing, seeing lost loved ones. But the Bilbo I know doesn’t stop fighting, the Bilbo I know cannot be swayed from the course of his heart’s true desire by pain, or fear, or the threat of death, and does not accept failure. The Bilbo I know resisted possession by a Balrog all for love of his friend’s gift, and would never be satisfied with a mere memory of him, especially when that friend is still lost to him. You have to go now Bilbo, you must climb, then go due south, the way the water is flowing. You will reach a valley, and there you will find aide.”

He didn’t want to go, it was so peaceful here, and his friend, his beloved Ember… already the dragon was fading away like mist, along with the armchair and the fire, now that he knew the truth. No, the Lady was right, Bilbo could never be content with a dream, no matter how beautiful and fond it was. His eyes began to sting with tears though, because he knew that meant willingly going back to so much pain, which was all the harder now when he had been so happy for just a brief moment.

“How long have I slept?”

“Only a few hours. You were near to death Bilbo. You must reach the water, it is very close to you now. Drink Bilbo. Drink and recover, and climb!”


Bilbo’s eyes opened and he promptly shut them as the deluge of rain cascaded straight into his face, leaving him coughing and sputtering since it had also been falling straight into his opened mouth for who knows how long, letting him swallow enough to finally revive him. He was drenched to the bone, cold and shivering, and the rushing sounds of water were all around him.

As he cracked a bleary eye open again, this time with a hand raised to shield his face, Bilbo saw that the rain was bucketing down so hard he could barely even see, and nearly every crack and crevice of the ravine walls seemed to be shooting out a torrential waterfall. The bottom of the canyon was filling quickly with the runoff, and had become a deep, swiftly rushing river, white capped with rapids and muddy, hiding the perilous stones beneath them. The water was only a couple of yards away from his toes. The old and deep dread of water gripped him, but now, it didn’t have the same effect on him. Bilbo was too weak, too injured to also experience fear at the same time, his body just didn’t have the strength to feel more than one thing at a time, and right now what he was mostly feeling, was thirst.

Weak and sore, every muscle screaming from lack of water, Bilbo managed to roll over and crawl to the nearest gushing waterfall and drink and drink and drink. He didn’t care about the grit it contained, he was grateful it wasn’t mostly mud. He was so thirsty he didn’t care about anything but drinking his fill. He got sick, and didn’t care, just rinsed out his mouth and drank his fill again, moments later he lost control of his bladder and didn’t care, because it didn’t matter with the waterfall washing it away immediately anyway. He filled his waterskins, and once the desperate thirst was gone and his head was slightly clearer, the next item of immediate self preservation allowed him to realize just how dangerous of a spot he was in.


The ravine was a flood channel, or a seasonal river, and the water had already risen so high that it had covered the juts of stone that had been much taller than himself, and the gravel he was on was obviously still part of the riverbed… but that was not nearly as high as it could go. Bilbo spotted the water marks on the stones a good thirty feet above his head, and felt himself go pale, seeing just how much water was pouring into the ravine, the water was going to rise fast. The Lady’s words were still ringing in his ears. ‘Climb! Climb!’ He had to get to higher ground, NOW.

His muscles were still screaming at him, and his head was throbbing and lightheaded, but Bilbo ignored all of it, picked up his bag, and started climbing. It took far longer than it would have had he not been so close to dying half an hour earlier, but as long as he climbed faster than the water could rise, and didn’t fall off of the wet and slippery rocks as he made his way up, it didn’t matter. He finally climbed high enough that he passed the waterline and found a narrow jut of rock that was enclosed in the front and back so he couldn’t fall in. He immediately felt his strength leave him and he all but collapsed to the ground. It was about ten feet above the watermark, which should be well out of the way of the flood waters, and he could still climb higher if he had to, but knew he couldn’t safely go any further at the moment with what little strength he had right then, just that forty foot climb alone had taken nearly an hour, and had exhausted him down to the bone.


There was no shelter beyond a slight overhang, which offered a little protection against the constant downpour of rain, and did nothing to stop the rain coming at him sideways when the wind picked up, but there was no waterfall crashing into the spot, which was a plus. There was a large flat rock at the front part, which would keep him away from the river itself. It had a deep groove worn into it on the top, which was filled with fresh clean rain water. After he had rested for awhile he emptied out one of the smaller skins which he had filled with the gritty runoff, and carefully collected the water from the rock instead. It was raining so much that the groove was filled again twenty minutes later, and he emptied another skin and filled it too.

He couldn’t tell how long it had been, but a very short while later he heard a cracking, rumbling sound. At first he thought it had been more thunder, but then Bilbo saw the swelling wall of muddy water moving down the ravine, carrying a ton of debris, including several fully grown trees. It was terrifying to watch the thick trunks snapped like twigs as they got stuck on the rocks and were forced to move anyway as the flood water drove itself along the ravine, entirely burying the side where Bilbo had been laying before and moving up the walls of the ravine, seeming to be reaching for the water line.


Bilbo was cold, and shivering, and he had more water than he could use, which after nearly dying from dehydration was an odd sensation. He drank more when the groove filled up again, then used balrog dust to heat the stone the groove was in and bathed in the warmed water, the pouring rain rinsing him clean. When he got some of his strength back, he washed out his other set of clothes since he’d probably be there awhile, then washed out the groove. He used balrog dust to warm the stones under the overhang so that the clothes that he’d laid out on them would actually dry. He also heated the ground underneath him so he would be comfortable, and warm up a bit. A good hot fire would be worth a lot to him right now. Being cold, wet, and sore, only brought back bad memories.

It took some trial and error to find the right amount since he hadn’t done it in awhile, but when he blew a tiny pinch of dust in a steady stream while holding onto his cooking pot, he could get the water inside the pot to heat and boil so he could cook, since he had no wood or charcoal to burn instead. The hot vegetable pottage was quite satisfying on his empty and unhappy stomach.

As night fell with no sign of the rain letting up, Bilbo peeked over the edge of the ravine and saw that the water was now about halfway to the waterline. His clothes were finally dry enough to wear, and with his cloak and his oilskins on top of that, he was about as dry as he was going to get. He kept the stones warm, and fell asleep tucked as far back under the overhang as he could get, knowing he wouldn’t be able to sleep sitting up for very long, which meant he could check the water level often. Sure enough he woke up four times that night, each time checking the level of the flood waters, drinking more water, relieving himself, and reheating his rocks. When dawn rose it was still raining steadily but it wasn’t bucketing down like it had previously been and it still hadn’t reached the waterline. He could see a pretty steady looking way towards the top from here, but he was still very tired, sore, and the rocks were beyond slippery. He decided to stay put until it let up, no point in risking his neck when he didn’t need to, especially with no shelter promised at the top.


The storm held on for three days total from when Bilbo woke up. The flood waters seemed to mostly be holding steady right at the waterline, which was good, he didn’t want to try and climb a cliff under duress again. Bilbo waited an extra day after the rain stopped in order to let the sun dry the rocks enough that he felt safe climbing them. In the meantime he made sure he was quite recovered from his bout of nearly dying from thirst, and even took some time to reorganize his pack since he had nothing else to do except to rest, which was exactly what he did. He wished that he could dream of Ember again, he missed those dreams.

With three days of being surrounded on all sides by water and the sound of it, the feel of it, and drinking more of it than he really wanted, but needed to after the dehydration, he was quite proud of himself. Aside from that first startled moment of fear, he somehow hadn’t had a single nightmare, reaction, or panic attack over it. He didn’t know why it had happened, what the trigger had been to finally make him let go of that trauma and have the hydrophobia recede, but he was quite proud of himself, all things considered.


Once the rocks were dry enough, Bilbo made his way back to the top of the ravine, and was surprised to find nearby what looked like a rather solid path. He didn’t see any boot prints on it, no wonder with all the rain, but it still was a very steady path that meandered its way south, as he had been told to go. Several days later Bilbo found a small open valley, where a Dwarf man lived with his human wife and their four children. The family welcomed him in and let him resupply when he offered work in trade. The Dwarf’s name was Olor and his wife was Cirra and they were a very kindly and good spirited sort.

Bilbo then got the surprise of his life when he opened their barn door the next day to feed the animals and was enthusiastically greeted by Marigold, who had apparently sought shelter with the family when the rains came, and had even managed to keep all of her tack and the rest of Bilbo’s gear with her after he had fell.  

Bilbo stayed a month with them, since it was near the spring harvest and the summer planting, so his help would be more than welcome. While he worked, Olor told him about the paths that would be safest to take with a pony along, and the places he should avoid. It was a restful time for his mind, which had been sorely needed, and he was almost sad to have to leave so soon. But he needed to press on, and did, with a hug, a handshake, and a promise to stay in touch if possible.



Bilbo wandered further southeast, carefully passing Mount Gundabad and then beginning to head east into the Erid Mithrim. He would search the mountains and he also had the map to Erebor that Thrain had given him. If Ember wasn’t there then he would work his way over to the Iron Hills, and then could head south from there to Rohan and Gondor.

It was a solid plan, and for the first time in a long time, Bilbo felt quite hopeful about something. He whistled a merry little tune as he set up camp that night, lighting the fire with a tiny few sparks of Balrog flame, and before long he had a nice stew of dried mushrooms, beef, and barley going with a bit of portable soup and an herb cube for flavor. Of course, that is just when everything decided to go wrong again.

He didn’t know that he was being watched, that the bandits he had killed HAD had friends, but they hadn't been bandits, they were slavers, and they had been following him for weeks. Now they had finally caught up to him without being noticed and were waiting in the shadows for him to fall asleep.




Author Notes: Trying to figure out a plausible way for Bilbo to get away from an overprotective Elladan, Elrohir, Estel, and freaking GLORFINDEL tied me up for months. Because that is like Final Boss, ultimate level stealth mode requirements if he was trying to sneak away, especially since they set up a watch. I had written myself into a corner, until one day I was venting at a show screaming 'Why can't they just TALK about their problems and work them out like actual mature grownups?!" and then the lightbulb went off, I palmfaced, and finally started writing the end of that scene. So yeah.that was fun.

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