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(Written for the May 2014 LOTR GFIC Challenge, Character Study.)
Bilbo was quite glad that they'd thought to load several faggots of firewood on the packhorse before they had attempted the High Pass. The horse had been given them by the Elf-king, Thranduil, before they had parted company with the Elves, and he'd proven an amiable and useful companion. Bilbo had named him Cheesey for the yellow colour of his coat. Gandalf had been amused, but did not gainsay him. Now Cheesey stood at one side of the cave, eating the oats they had for feeding him when there was no grazing available. Outside the long narrow entrance to their shelter, the rain poured down like a waterfall.
In the center of their small haven the darkness was dispelled by the fire, where over the past day and a half they'd heated water for tea, and made soup from dried vegetables to go with the twice-baked honeycakes and the dried fruit given them by Beorn before they had left his home and lands.
Bilbo stood by the fire for a moment, using a bit of kindling to light his pipe, and then he went to sit looking out of the cave entrance. He was on watch after all.
He blew a few smoke rings, and shook his head. Back in the Shire he would have been very proud of them, but now that he'd seen what Gandalf could do, they seemed quite ordinary to him now. Bilbo glanced over at his companion, who was lying upon his side, his eyes wide open.
He'd learned a lot about Gandalf the Grey since he'd gone dashing out of his house nearly a year ago, hatless and handkerchief-less! They'd spent several nights on the road before Bilbo realised the wizard slept with his eyes open. The Company had been camped for the night, and Bilbo had gone over to where he lay and asked him a question; there was no response, as if Gandalf had not even heard him--then Balin had come over with a chuckle to tell him that the wizard was asleep. That had been quite embarrassing, to say the least. Yet the Dwarves had yet to learn that since he slept with his eyes open, that meant that he might not actually be asleep--one night Bilbo had innocently asked them how long they had known Gandalf. There followed a spate of tales, many of which had been less than flattering. Of course, by that time Bilbo had come to understand that among Dwarves telling unflattering stories of their friends had come to be an art form. Just as Bofur was describing how the wizard had looked after losing his footing and sliding into a mud-filled ditch, Gandalf spoke and said sternly: "And shall I describe how you and your companions looked afterwards, since none of us escaped that particular ditch?"
Only Thorin and Bilbo had laughed at the abashed faces of the rest of the Dwarves. Bilbo had noticed the twinkle in Gandalf's eyes long before he spoke; he assumed Thorin had done so as well.
Bilbo had known Gandalf since as long as he could recall. The wizard had been a fixture at the Old Took's Midsummer celebrations since the Old Took had been the Young Took. Yet at some point during his tweens, he'd put Gandalf out of his mind. He supposed it had been dealing with his parents' ill health since the Fell Winter. The last time he recalled seeing him had been shortly before his grandfather's death. And then he had shown up out of the blue at his doorstep last year--and Bilbo had not at once known who he was. Now that he thought about it, that seemed very peculiar.
He'd known a lot about Gandalf's appearances in the Shire, how he had shown up with much needed help in both the Long Winter nearly two hundred years ago, and more recently during the Fell Winter. Yet Bilbo (along with nearly everyone else in the Shire) had always simply thought of him as a wandering conjuror and purveyor of fireworks and teller of tales. Like most with Tookish connections he had thought of the old man as benign and harmless; but many others in the Shire looked up him as a vagabond at best, or a fraud at worst.
Now Bilbo had begun to wonder just who his companion was. Clearly he was a being of far more power than he'd ever displayed in the Shire. Bilbo recalled how he'd used his power to rescue them all from the goblins, and the fire which had driven off the wolves. The Elves all seemed to know him; Master Elrond and King Thranduil had all treated him with high honour. Yet no one knew how old he was or whence he came; there were no tales of his youth. No one wished to even discuss what a wizard was. Bilbo had even asked him directly how he became a wizard. Gandalf had muttered something about the insatiable curiosity of Tooks, and then said, "Never you mind, Bilbo Baggins! You are a hobbit, not a wizard. Wizards do not 'become'; they simply are. Now mind where you are going lest you fall off the side of this mountain!"
What did he know of Gandalf? Well, he knew that for some reason he really liked hobbits, and most especially he liked Tooks. Bilbo had sensed the wizard's affection and good will from the start, yet had never realised until he went out into the wide world how unusual that familiarity with his race was. Some of the people he'd encountered had never even heard of hobbits, and many had simply thought him some odd kind of Dwarf.
And for some reason, Gandalf had always had faith in him. He had insisted that Bilbo was the right hobbit for the job, and had never doubted him once, frequently speaking up on Bilbo's behalf to the Dwarves, who'd not cared for Bilbo much to begin with.
Bilbo recalled how he had felt when finding the Dwarves again after escaping the goblins and Gollum. His relief on learning he was not alone had been tempered by hurt when he heard what some of them had said about him. But his heart had been lifted to hear Gandalf's sharp defense of him:
"After all, he is my friend, and not a bad little chap. I feel responsible for him." and then when they had called Bilbo useless, Gandalf had been quite sharp with them: "I brought him, and I don't bring things that are of no use. Either you help me to look for him, or I go and leave you here to get out of the mess as best you can yourselves. If we can only find him again you will thank me before all is over."*
But the thing Bilbo knew best about Gandalf was that when he was with the wizard, he felt brave and clever and safe. Even when Gandalf had left them all behind at the eaves of Mirkwood, it was Bilbo's wish not to let Gandalf down that had kept him going through spiders and dungeons and barrels and the Dragon. He remembered again his delighted astonishment after he had brought the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elf-king, to see Gandalf once more, and the pride he'd felt in that "Well done! Mr.Baggins!"
Now he'd travelled alone with the wizard for many a long mile towards home, and he knew with certainty that Gandalf was his friend, perhaps even his best friend...wait! Something was different...
Oh! The water still poured down the mountain in front of the cave opening, but Bilbo could tell that this was run-off, not rain. It was slowing to mere drips. The sky shone a clear blue beyond.
"Gandalf!" he called cheerfully, "the rain seems to be stopped!"
Gandalf sat up, drawing his knees up to his chin and peering out. "So I see, Bilbo Baggins! Perhaps in a few hours the trail will be dry enough to resume our homeward journey."
Bilbo went over to the fire. "How about a cup of tea and a few smoke-rings while we wait?"
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