Burning. Everywhere, everything, burning. Dying. The sky was dying, blue being swallowed up by black smoke. The grass was dying, being replaced by the flames themselves. Bilbo was dying, though whether by being cooked or by being melted, he wasn’t sure.
The smoke that pervaded his lungs tasted like ash and felt like flame. The fire that licked at his feet was so blinding to his senses that he couldn’t tell what it felt like at all. All he knew is that unless he could escape, this was the end of him. And Bilbo was positive he couldn’t escape.
Even as his mind fled from the strain, sirens blazed in it. He’d gotten carried away again. None of this was real. It was a simulation, forcing him to face his fears. This wasn’t real. Wasn’t real.
A lot of good knowing that did him. Even if he knew in his head that it wasn’t real, his body couldn’t seem to get the memo.
The fire raged on and the blaze grew higher around him. Bilbo’s eyes were forced shut and he wheezed and coughed trying to just get a little more air. The flames all around him were nothing compared to the buring on his insides, like he was a bomb just waiting to explode.
Calm down, calm down, calm down, calm down! As Bilbo focused on lowering his heart rate and regulating his breathing, the adrenaline associated with the very act raised instead of lowered it. He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do it.
Calm down, Bilbo told himself. It’s not a choice. You don’t get to not do it. You have to calm down. Against all that his body screamed at him to do, Bilbo crouched down to the buring ground and curled into a tight ball. His face muscles relaxed and he worked to keep his breaths steady.
Soon he wouldn’t be able to breathe at all. And if he wasn’t through with the landscape by then, well, he wouldn’t be getting through the landscape. Bilbo relaxed.
And woke up in the dark. Slowly uncurling, Bilbo tested his eyes and his lungs. The fire was gone, as if it had never been. It wasn’t real. It had never been real.
But he wasn’t done yet. Bilbo stood and looked silently around. This was a forest. A dark, damp forest. And was that a… spider web? Yes, yes it was. A very large spider web. Which could only mean one thing. A spider.
Click, click. Bilbo’s hair stood on end. Click, click. The sound came from behind him. He had to act. Before it did.
Bilbo had only fought a spider once before, and he had been terrified. The only thing keeping him alive had been Sting. And he didn’t have Sting with him now. Or did he? Bilbo had control of the simulation. He could make Sting.
As the spider lept for him, Bilbo drew Sting from its sheathe, spun around, and ran the beast through.
The spider dropped to the ground, and the landscape changed. So fast that Bilbo couldn’t even follow the images, the forest morphed into a ledge. A tall, small ledge in the middle of nowhere with nothing around.
The fear of heights. Yes, Bilbo knew of this one. He knew this one was coming. And this time, that helped him prepare for it. He had control of the landscape.
Apparently the landscape didn’t like one of its fears not having an effect. While the land itself didn’t change, this time, the focus of the area shifted. The fear of heights had been easily conquered.
An unknown force threw Bilbo over the edge of the ledge and hurling down to the darkness below. Not knowing how far down the chasm went, Bilbo fell.
He closed his eyes. How far down was it? And… what was at the bottom? Water? Dirt? Rock? Lava? He had no way of knowing. No way of knowing what to expect or prepare for, no way of knowing how he would die.
The fear that gripped Bilbo suddenly was a different fear than most. The terror he’d experienced during the fire and the adrenaline during the spider was different from this. This was dread. This was the freezing up of his senses. This was a cold fist clutching his heart and pulling it down.
More than fire, more than spiders, more than being up high, Bilbo feared what he didn’t know. And he didn’t know a lot of things.
It didn’t matter, Bilbo reminded himself. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t even real. Not real. Not real. All he had to do to confront this fear was face it. Calm down. Breathe. What was the worst the unknown could throw at him?
Some really bad things, Bilbo argued.
But it didn’t have to be that way. Bilbo drew Sting again and clenched his teeth in determination. This he could take. Bilbo the Burglar would get through it. And with that decision, he was set free.
The blackness below him faded and the speed of his fall slowed. “What next,” Bilbo muttered, shutting his eyes.
Squinting one eye open, Bilbo took a peek at his new surroundings. Hobbiton? Yes, he was back in Hobbiton. It was a summer evening festival. What was he doing here? He wasn’t afraid of Hobbiton.
As long as the landscape was giving him a reprieve, Bilbo decided to enjoy the party. Recognizing one of the hobbits, he walked closer to the center. This would be easy. This would be fun.
“Hello, Tigerlily, Daisy,” Bilbo said with a slight bow. “Good evening, Till and Dimple.” Things weren’t going as Bilbo was expecting. None of these people were speaking to him. In fact, they all simply raised an eyebrow in disgust and moved awkwardly away. Didn’t he know them?
Bilbo didn’t understand. Wasn’t he one of the more respectable hobbits in the Shire? Why the sudden change of attitude? Now a hobbit he didn’t know approached him, and Bilbo got the impression this wasn’t going to be pleasant.
“Good evening, Bilbo Baggins,” stated the man. “If you would please find the white picket fence to your right, you will discover an exit. Very sorry, but as you have been known to conspire against the peace of Hobbiton, we have had to label you an official ‘disturber of the peace.’ Thank you for understanding. Have a good evening, sir.” With that, the man walked away.
Bilbo was shocked. A disturber of the peace? Him? But how could that be? Embarrassed, confused, and angry, Bilbo walked home. About halfway there, he stopped in his tracks.
He’d almost entirely forgotten. The simulation. This wasn’t real either. But why would the simulation go and make him a disturber of the… Wait. The simulation confronted you with your worst fears. What did that mean Bilbo feared? He hung his head in frustration with himself.
Social disgrace. He legitamately feared social disgrace. A few months ago maybe he wouldn’t have scoffed at that, but now, after meeting Thorin and Company and sleeping under the stars and seeing more of the world than he’d ever seen before, maybe things were different. Maybe he shouldn’t fear social awkwardness anymore.
With a smile on his face, Bilbo walked the rest of the way home, only to be filled with shock as he approached. The lights were on. And there were people inside. Who dared enter Bag End without his permission? Bilbo decided to do what a burglar does best… and not be seen.
Instead of walking right to the front door, Bilbo snuck around to the left side, the side with all the windows, and peeked into his sitting room. Was that—no, it couldn’t be! Surely they wouldn’t—yes, they would. With a sneaking suspicion that he knew what he was about to see, Bilbo took a peek at his large, newly painted green door. Yes, it was as he had feared.
The Sackville Bagginses had moved in. And as Bilbo had always thought they might do if they ever got hold of his house, they’d taken a large piece of wood and painted it with their name to hang on the door. It read, “Bag End, property of Lolebelia and Otho Sackville-Baggins.”
This was an outrage. An outrage! Under what authority had the Sackville-Bagginses take Bag End out from under him? If he hadn’t already been a disturber of the peace, Bilbo might have knocked on that large green door, with its new nail holes stuck over the fresh green paint.
As Bilbo stood in the dark on what should have been his own house, he noticed for the first time how much this all was affecting him. With good reason, of course, but he hadn’t expected his heart to rush off quite that quickly. Was he truly this scared of losing a house? Bilbo had never thought of it that way before, but he was. Scared of losing a house. What a thought.
Of course, this wasn’t just any house. This was Bag End, his family legacy! In the hands of the Sackville-Bagginses!
If this was only a simulation then he could do anything he wanted. Whether that door was locked or not, Bilbo could open it and face the Sackville-Bagginses. So he did.
Unlike what he’d envisioned–Otho getting up to deal with the intruder, Lolebelia screaming at the top of her lungs, there was nothing. No candles lit, no lanterns on. The house was just as Bilbo himself always kept it.
He smiled again. So the very act of opening the door had made the situation vanish. If only real life were the same.
But he wasn’t out of the simulation yet. Which meant that one more was going to take place in his very home. But his home he was surely not afraid of, surely! What did the simulation mean by it?
Even as he thought these things, time sped up. Through the window, the sun rose and set and rose and set over and over again, days, months, years passing by in only a second. Other hobbits were again coming uninvited to Bag End. But this time, for a very different reason.
An old hobbit, an old Bilbo, had been found lying dead in his bed that night, and the funeral preparations had to be done. Bilbo—the real, living Bilbo, apparently invisible in this time—was shocked. He didn’t look forward to death, this much it true, but he wasn’t really afraid of it either. Death was a natural part of life, and death in your own home, peacefully in your sleep, seemed like a good way to go.
So why was he breathing fast?
He was dropped off at the cemetery as the people of Hobbiton came to pay their respects. Of course one of his closer relatives would have to say something as well, about whatever he’d done in this version of his life. However, when a hobbit Bilbo had never seen before in his life stepped up and remained silent for a few awkwardly long seconds, Bilbo worried even more.
“Bilbo Baggins was a good, respectable hobbit. And like a good, respectable hobbit, Bilbo never had any adventures. Everyone knew exactly what he liked and how he thought.”
The hobbit continued on, but Bilbo had stopped following along. No adventures? Done nothing with his whole life? Gone nowhere, seen nothing? Just… nothing?
But it was true, wasn’t it, Bilbo thought, resting his thumb and forefinger on his nose. In all his pursuit of respectable hobbit behavior, Bilbo had forgotten to do anything. To live. He’d thought that the thirst for adventure that was close to his heart when we was a young hobbit lad had petered off and given way to respectable hobbit values, but apparently the thirst lay deeper in him than he’d feared.
And this version of Bilbo had conquered it, as the real Bilbo was always trying to do himself. Except, now that he saw it in living color, all said and done, Bilbo wasn’t so sure this really was what he wanted. Maybe he didn’t want to be respectable if it meant not seeing the world. He’d already conquered social disgrace. And how bad had it been, really?
Bilbo turned away from the solemn gathering, and walked out of the cemetery, and into the real world. Ori and Nori were on watch and Dwalin snored loudly next to him. Yep. This one was real, all right. He was on an adventure, a real adventure with a company of dwarves. He was already doing things with his life.
Bilbo had passed the simulation. Or had it all been just a simple dream?
A/N—I’m so sorry. I know this is about an hour and a half after it was supposed to be up, and it know it’s not at all the quality I would have wanted. I relied on being able to finish it last night, but when family of mine had problems, I ended up completely filling the day (and most of the night) with the unexpected. I’m very sorry.