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And Back Again

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            They made good time the first month, for the roads were good and the nights not yet bitterly cold.

            On the first night, Dwalin dubiously eyed the tent Bofur had bought.  “On the quest, not even the king had a tent,” he grumbled.

            Bofur gestured to the sea of people putting up tents around them.  “We’ve got to keep up appearances,” he said lightly.

            Dwalin looked even more dubious when he saw the size and complexity of the tent.  “It’s bigger than everyone else’s,” he pointed out.  “Even the ones for families.”

            “Yes,” Bofur sighed.  “We’re leaders here, Dwalin.”

            He knew his friend well enough to interpret the mulish look combined with the quirked eyebrow as I think you’re being daft but I’m willing to hear you out.  Working together, the tent had begun to take form.

            “It’s the same as in a war,” Bofur said, holding the canvas up so that Dwalin could get the right angle for the support beam.  “You follow the fellow with the best armor and the firmest voice.”  He could see Dwalin about to protest that he followed the best warrior, and went on, “I’m not saying there aren’t others who lead just as well, but they aren’t the ones people look to first.”

            Dwalin scowled as he mulled this over.  Finally he snorted, looking disgusted.  “And here I thought that in battle at least I could escape from politics.”  He sighed.  “I suppose we’ll never be private citizens, not properly.  Not after the quest.”

            “Not after the Battle of Five Armies,” Bofur agreed.  He hadn’t known that Dwalin wanted that, to stop being a hero and just be a dwarf.  Bofur’s own job in Erebor was highly political; the King was indulgent of his reforms, but there were a lot of hoops to jump through and meetings with the King’s advisors, regardless.  Bofur was always polite and then arranged things the way he’d planned to anyways, but he knew the King’s advisors would rather have a less troublesome dwarf in charge of the western mines.  They’d like someone who spoke their language, the language of finance rather than the language of toil and sweat and safety and long hours.  They’d like a noble.

            It didn’t matter, so long as Bofur kept the King’s favor.

            Bofur wondered if Dwalin saw his appointment to the King’s bodyguard as political.  Bifur certainly did; <They’re keeping us close to keep an eye on us,> he’d said once.

            “Onna!”

            A blur dashed by them, giggling wildly.  Bofur turned toward the source of the shout and saw a harried-looking Enna pelting after his younger brother.  “Come back here, by Durin!”  When he saw Bofur, he slowed just enough to wave and give a flirtatious wink.  Then he was gone, running after the shrieking boy.  Bofur grinned and admired the rear view as he ran into the distance.

            A moment later, he noticed Dwalin watching his reaction.  Bofur ducked his head, blushing.  He was grateful to have the work of putting up the tent to hide his confusion.

            I’m allowed to look, part of him protested defensively.

            Dwalin doesn’t know you’re just looking, another part said.  You shouldn’t give him any reason to believe you want anyone other than him.

            Bofur groaned inwardly.  This was all new to him.  He didn’t know how to court Dwalin.  He didn’t know how to seduce a dwarf who wasn’t interested in sex.  He didn’t know how to tell Dwalin he loved him.  Why couldn’t it be easy, like it was in the legends and ballads?

            “Will you patronize him, in Erebor?”  Dwalin’s voice was a monotone and he seemed to be concentrating all his attention on tying the last fastenings on the tent.

            “No, of course not,” Bofur said.  Then he frowned and wished he hadn’t said no so readily.  It would be a solution, if Dwalin wasn’t able to do anything sexual.  But no – Dwalin needed to be his priority; anyone else would muddy the waters.

            Dwalin untensed visibly.  Bofur felt warmed by his jealousy.  So long as it did not become demanding, he was pleased that it spoke to the depth of feeling on Dwalin’s side.  Perhaps this seduction wouldn’t be as difficult as he feared.

            They moved on to help a family of Stiffbeards nearby who were struggling to both control the little ones and erect their tent.  Bofur watched Dwalin, unable to keep the pleased smile off his face.  He knew that Dwalin would say yes eventually; it would just take some persuasion.

            Dwalin swung one of the toddlers up onto his shoulders and lent a hand bracing the framing beam of the tent while the child’s parents tied the canvas to it.  Bofur distracted the boy’s older sister with magic tricks and then with his flute, which he lent to her.  Other children drifted his way, and soon he found himself surrounded.  Without quite knowing how it had happened, he found himself on informal babysitting duty while the parents busily set up camp, racing to have everything in place before the twilight faded.

            Bofur had always liked children, but he’d never spent much time with them, and he felt a bit at a loss now.  Was he supposed to keep them entertained until supper?  What if they lost interest and wandered off?

            They liked stories, as it turned out.  Even more, they liked acting out stories, and for an hour the camp rang with the great deeds of heroes and warriors.  Dwalin, who had actual experience with children, had disappeared, and Bofur was exhausted by the time supper was ready and he could give the horde of little ones back to their parents.

            Taelin smiled at him from the serving line, and joined him with her bowl once all the caravan had been served.  “You looked happy, playing with the dwarflings,” she said.

            “Did I?  Mostly I just felt anxious.”  But yes – it had been fun, too.

            Taelin had a lightness to her demeanor that Bofur had never seen before.  Usually reserved, she chatted happily with him until the bell sounded for cleanup.  Bofur offered to lend a hand, only to be told that he wasn’t in the rotation until week two.

            “Mistress Miril’s put Dwalin down for week three.  She says that’s when the real complaining will begin.”

            Bofur nonetheless helped her gather the plates dwarves had abandoned around the mess tent, listening to her prattle about “Mistress Miril this” and “Mistress Miril that.”  That was definitely hero worship in Taelin’s eyes.  Bofur grinned.

            Miril herself put in an appearance and shooed Bofur out of the mess tent, grumbling that he’d already upset her rotation by taking charge of the little ones.  She clapped him on the shoulder and called him a “good lad,” though, so he was pretty sure she wasn’t upset.

 


 

            There were only so many tents Dwalin could help put up before the camp was ready for the night.  Worse, dwarves kept trying to talk to him, and his silence in the face of their chattering didn’t seem to deter them in the least.

            He watched Bofur chasing laughing, shrieking dwarflings around for a bit.  The sight should have brought a smile to his lips but instead he just felt sad.

            What had Bofur meant when he said “of course not” when Dwalin asked if he would patronize Enna?  His brain picked at it, spinning out suggestions that Dwalin knew were unfounded, but he couldn’t make himself stop.  Was Bofur planning to look for a partner when they got back to Erebor?  Now that he’d gotten some closure with Havlin, it made sense.  And Bofur did want children so very much…

            When Dwalin saw him smiling at Taelin over their supper, he had to leave.  The jealousy was irrational, he knew that, but at the same time he couldn’t help picturing Bofur happily married with dwarflings.  He headed into the woods to be alone.

            Dwalin was a dwarf; it was natural for dwarves to covet their loved ones just as jealously as they did their gold.  His every instinct was to steal his jewel away and hide him deep in the heart of the mountain, where firelight and deep dwarven greed would adorn him.  He would clothe Bofur in gold and gems, and –

            But the memory of the gold sickness was never far away, and this craving felt altogether too similar.  Bofur would hate being hoarded away from friends and kin.

            Out here in the wilderness, Dwalin could expend his energy throwing his axes.  Several trees would never recover, but that was better than losing his temper with Bofur.

            It was quite dark when he returned to camp, and the fires had been banked.  Snores emerged from tents, wagons, and bedrolls.  Dwarves had perfect night vision, so he had no trouble finding the – overlarge – tent he would share with Bofur.  He hesitated, seeing a lamp still lit inside, but entered.

            Bofur lay on his cot, his flute in his hands, fingering the notes to a song with his good hand.  The other was splinted and bandaged in white, and it still hurt to look at.  Dwalin knew Bofur was fretting, terrified he’d never have full use of his fingers again, but his friend tried to put a good face on it.  It was only because Dwalin had made a careful study of Bofur that he could see the notes that rang false.  The surgeon had said there was no way to know until the bones mended.

            Bofur nodded a greeting to Dwalin; Dwalin nodded back.  He undressed quickly for bed, but when he approached his cot he frowned.

            “What’s this?” he asked, picking up the tin lying atop his blanket.

            “Open it,” Bofur told him, smiling.

            He unscrewed the lid and peeked inside.  The tin was full of his favorite oat biscuits, the kind with currants in.

            “You missed dinner,” Bofur said.

            Dwalin stared at the biscuits, then sat down on the bed abruptly.  Already off-balance, he realized he was becoming emotional.  Over biscuits!  When he was quite sure his voice wouldn’t waver, he said, “Thank you.”

            When he reached for the lamp to blow out the flame, Bofur stopped him.  His friend’s face was pensive.  “Dwalin,” he said seriously, “why did my uncle choose not to come to Erebor?”

            Ah.  Well, it had been too much to hope that Bofur wouldn’t suss it out.

            Dwalin had visited Balur in his terrible little hovel.  After looking around, he declared that he’d buy Balur a proper house.

            The broken old man eyed him with suspicion.  What, he asked, did Dwalin son of Fundin care about where an impoverished warrior was living?

            “You fought at Azanulbizar,” Dwalin said.

            Balur snorted.  “That was ninety years ago, lad.  You haven’t decided to care now.”

            “All the Broadbeam contingent died that day.”

            Balur glared.  “Except for me.  Aye, you think I haven’t heard it muttered that I must have turned tail?  Well, I didn’t.  Not that it gained me anything.  We won, and the dead were uncountable, and what did we get?  The King wouldn’t even take possession of Moria after our sacrifice.”

            “Half the survivors would have died securing Moria,” Dwalin said.  But he’d always shared Balur’s frustration: they’d lost half their army in the war to regain their homeland, and in the end they were left with hundreds dead and no homeland.  It was a bitter victory.  To have driven the evil completely out of Khazad-dûm would have taken the lives of almost every fighting dwarf in Middle Earth.  Dwalin knew it was the right decision, not to pursue it, but even almost a century later it still rankled.  It had rankled Thorin, too – not least because it had been Dain’s wisdom that prevailed that day.

            “We fought for your King,” Balur said bitterly.  “For your King, not ours, for we have no king over us.  We fought for glory and gold and because our brothers had lost their home, and what did we get?  My clan will never recover, and the dead were not long buried before the Longbeards forgot all their pretty promises.”

            Dwalin had no idea if this were true or not; he’d been off burying his grief in a dozen campaigns spread far across Middle Earth.  It had been many years before he’d returned to the Blue Mountains.

            Whatever Broadbeam had been promised, Dwalin was wealthy enough to grant it.  “Longbeard will honor its promises now,” he grunted.  “What does Broadbeam ask of me?”

            For a moment, Balur’s eyes glittered with a familiar dwarvish avarice, and Dwalin wondered with a sinking heart just how much he’d regret the offer.

            But instead, Balur’s face settled into long-held lines of grief and anger.  “Can you give me my clan back?” he demanded.  “A dozen Broadbeam warriors, cut down in their prime!  Their widows returned to their own clans because I couldn’t provide for them!  Will you give me them back?”  He was trembling with righteous fury.  “My little brother, who took the death blow meant for me – his wife never forgave me for it.  Will you give me Balfur back?”

            Dwalin had not realized, and should have done, that Bofur’s father had died at Azanulbizar.

            The white-haired old warrior glared daggers at Dwalin.  “And now, the house of Durin has taken even my son from me.”  He narrowed his eyes.  “I’ll take nothing from any Longbeard ever again!  All you’ve let me keep is my own life, and I’ll reserve that to make sure that your accursed family is never without a thorn in its side.”  Face twisted with hatred, he spat at Dwalin, missing him by inches.  “That’s what I think of your offer, and that’s what I think of you.”

            If any other dwarf had offered him such insult, Dwalin would likely have torn off his head with his bare hands.  Nobody had ever dared try.  It was the incongruity of this emaciated, broken-down greybeard saying it that tripped up his flash of temper just long enough for him not to lose it completely.

            He took deep, deep breaths and reached for the memory of focused calm that came every morning with his axe forms.  To his surprise, what came instead was a memory of Bofur’s happy laughter, and it soothed the gnawing anger in his chest enough for him to resheathe the blades he’d drawn at Balur’s insult.

            The old warrior was wide-eyed, still and silent as a mouse, sensing he’d crossed a very dangerous line.  The silence stretched into long minutes as Dwalin talked himself down from his rage, gradually releasing the tension in different parts of his body until he was left with only a pounding headache.  Then he managed to say, carefully: “You won’t be able to be a thorn in Longbeard’s side in Erebor.”

            “Your King is in Erebor.”

            “Aye.  But the punishment for insulting the King is death,” Dwalin lied.  “Here, you have much more freedom.”

            Balur narrowed his eyes.  “You want to steal my nephew from me,” he accused.

            “He isn’t yours,” Dwalin returned, though as head of the clan Balur did have a right to Bofur’s obedience.  “Yes, I want to take him away from here.”  Away from you, he didn’t say.

            Balur fiddled with the end of his ragged scarf, looking pensive.  The movement was so exactly like Bofur’s nervous fidgeting with his own clothing that Dwalin wanted to slap the gnarled hand away and shout at him for stealing something from Bofur.  But it must be one of those family things, like how both Oin and Gloin couldn’t stand to have dirt under their fingernails for long, or how Dori and Nori curled in on themselves when they sneezed.  “He’ll break your heart, you know,” Balur said after a long moment.  “Bofur’s just like his father; he never could take anything seriously.  He’ll do something kind and stupid and get himself killed.  Sometimes I think he’s trying to, when he goes down after those cursed miners.”

            Dwalin concentrated very hard on not hitting Balur, and at the same time on not suspecting he was right.  “His father thought you were worth dying for,” he snapped, and regretted it immediately.  He needed to stay on Balur’s good side if he were going to convince him not to come to Erebor.

            Balur just nodded, though.  “More fool he.”

            Dwalin reached for his last weapon.  “Your son – ” he began, and stopped.

            He meant to say, “Your son doesn’t want you in Erebor.”  But he realized he couldn’t be so cruel.  Not to a fellow warrior.  And not to someone Bofur still, after everything, cared for enough to make his own life miserable.

            It didn’t matter that he’d stopped; Balur looked stricken at the mention of Bifur.  “My son is ashamed of me,” he whispered, as if to himself.  Then his eyes snapped up to meet Dwalin’s.  “I pray you never have a son, my lord,” he said.  “You love them more than life itself, and they only break your heart.”  He glared at the oil portrait on the wall of Bifur as a dwarfling with his parents.  “It would have been better if he’d died in that skirmish.  My son was a great warrior once, and now he’s half-mad and a burden on his family.”

            Dwalin scowled and had to force himself not to reach for his weapons again.  Bifur was as much kin to him as Bofur was, and anyone else impugning such a dear friend would have gotten a fist to the face.  Yes, it had been hard to understand Bifur until Dwalin learned iglishmêk, and it was difficult to follow his thought processes sometimes, but you couldn’t find a better dwarf than Bifur.  “If your son had died in that skirmish,” he snapped, “Erebor would never have been retaken.”  It was true: it had taken every last one of them to come through the journey alive, together.

            Balur snorted, disbelieving.  But he said nothing more, so Dwalin wasn’t obliged to thump him for further insult.

            “Why do you want to come to Erebor, if not for your son?” he asked.  He could already picture how it would be: Bofur’s face tight and pale, getting progressively more miserable by the day.  The old man was poisonous.  Dwalin couldn’t let that happen to Bofur.

            Balur’s eyes flashed.  “So that my kin cannot continue to ignore me!”

            And what Dwalin wanted was for Bofur to be able to ignore him.  It seemed they were at an impasse.

            “And your son?” he demanded, even though he knew it was cruel to remind Balur he’d been forgotten by the person he loved most.

            Balur turned away.  Dwalin felt dreadful to see the hunched shoulders, so like Bofur when he was upset.  “He must be mad,” Balur murmured.  “Why else would he forget his own father?”

            Dwalin swallowed.  This was a family matter, and no business of his.  What right did he have to meddle in it?

            He hadn’t consulted Bofur, because he knew his friend would protest.  Bofur was a better dwarf than Dwalin; Dwalin was struggling to hold on to his temper after a quarter hour, and Bofur had lived his whole life with Balur.

            He should honor his friend’s choice in the matter.  Balur should be reunited with his family.  That was the way things were supposed to work, wasn’t it?

            “We leave tomorrow after dawn,” Dwalin said, voice gruff.  “Don’t be late; we won’t wait.”

            When he turned to leave, though, the old man stopped him.  “Mister Dwalin.”

            “Aye?”

            “You offered me a proper house.”

            Dwalin turned back and eyed Balur.  The gleam of greed was back in the old warrior’s eye.

            “I did,” Dwalin said, not daring to hope.

            “Any house?”

            “Any that’s for sale.”

            An unpleasant smile spread across Balur’s face.  Dwalin hoped that the bargain wouldn’t cost him too dear.  Money was no object, but if it came to something political…

            But Balur was no politician to think in long-term strategy.  He was much more simpleminded in his hatred.

            “There’s a fine house on Emerald Way that’s been for sale.  The Longbeards there left for Erebor.”

            Emerald Way was where Feron Firebeard kept his manor.  It was within sight of Dis’s house, as well.

            “And I’ll need funds to keep up the house, of course,” Balur said.  He narrowed his eyes at Dwalin.  “My son has kept me on a pittance.”

            “How much do you require?”  If Dwalin could buy his way out of this hole, he’d pay anything.

            Balur looked startled.  He evidently hadn’t expected Dwalin to agree.  “I…”  He faltered, looking unsure.

            “Forty gold pieces a month?” Dwalin suggested, and watched the greybeard’s eyes go wide with astonishment.

            “Fifty,” he demanded, his voice breaking in a squeak.  He looked horrified by his own temerity.

            “I’ll draw up the paperwork this evening,” Dwalin said.  He hesitated, then offered his hand.  Dazed, Balur shook it.

            “Mister Dwalin,” Balur said faintly when he was preparing to leave.  Dwalin tensed and turned back; he’d not be easy until he had Balur’s signature on the paperwork.

            “Yes?”

            “Will you – would you be so kind as to give my regards to my son?”

            Dwalin stopped himself from heaving a sigh of relief.  “Aye, of course.”

            Balur bit his lip, and nodded.  “Thank you,” he said.  “Fair travels, Mister Dwalin.”

 


 

 

            Now, looking at Bofur, Dwalin wasn’t sure what to say.  “I think he was afraid to see his son again,” Dwalin said after a long silence.  “I think he couldn’t imagine what place he would have in Erebor.”  Sometimes the known, even if it were as terrible as Balur’s dank, miserable life, was preferable to the unknown.

            Bofur was watching him, face held completely neutral.  “Did you give him money to stay?” he asked.  “Or did you just loom menacingly at him?”

            It had not occurred to Dwalin to try threatening Balur.  He couldn’t threaten Bofur’s kin.  “I gave him gold.”  He wished he knew how to lie to Bofur.

            Bofur sighed, and Dwalin felt the tension lessen a little.  At least Bofur didn’t seem angry.  “Broadbeam will reimburse you, of course,” his friend said heavily.  “And then, if all goes well, we’ll never have to see him or even think about him again.”  He gave Dwalin a small smile.  “Thank you, my friend.  My heart is lighter for it.”

            Dwalin’s was, too.  He sat on the little cot next to Bofur’s, munching on an oat biscuit and listening to the comforting sound of Bofur’s voice.  If he could look forward to this every night, he would pray that the journey never ended.

 


 

 

            The caravan quickly fell into a routine.  At dawn, the dwarves assigned to mess duty built up the fires and started breakfast.  Dwalin led the guards and any interested dwarves in sparring practice.  After breakfast, the caravan would break camp and get underway.

            Fortunately the roads were decent, thought there was no direct road to the Lonely Mountain.  With thirty wagons, they had to move slowly and stay on established paths.  They were ever on the outlook for Orcs, but the real danger would be bandits.  A slow-moving wagon train, almost a mile long when traveling, would be easy pickings.

            Their progress felt almost glacial to Dwalin, even used as he was to moving with armies.  When the dragon first came, the resulting diaspora had wandered for more than a year, he reminded himself.  The caravan would cross the same distance in three months.  Things were not as slow as they seemed.

            Mistress Miril chased Bofur out of the mess tent the first day he reported for duty, telling him that he couldn’t cook with a broken hand.  He was assigned to minding the dwarflings instead.

            “They’re exhausting,” he told Dwalin one night after supper.  “How can anything that small have so much energy?”

            Dwalin chuckled, remembering the hellions Kili and Fili had been when they were young – and even as they grew older.  “You like children, though,” he said.

            “Yes,” Bofur moaned, flopping back onto his cot, “but not so many at once!”

            Whenever it was Bofur’s turn to drive their wagon, at least one or two little ones would visit.  Dwalin told his heart sternly to behave, and tried to enjoy Bofur’s laughter and storytelling.

            Bofur was happier than Dwalin had ever seen him.  On good days – days when Bofur woke before Dwalin left for early morning training, and gave him that gentle smile reserved just for him – on those days, Dwalin could convince himself it was because Bofur had laid the memories of Ered Luin and his uncle to rest.  On other days, he was convinced it was because of the dwarflings.

            Two weeks after they’d left Ered Luin, Dwalin woke in the middle of the night with a dull, throbbing pain in his belly.  He felt ill.  Shifting restlessly on the cot, he made an awful discovery: his inner thighs were slick with what could only be blood.

            He lay stock-still on the cot for some time, the twin urges of relief and panic duking it out in his mind.  He was relieved that his menses had shown up at last, however late – but the timing was terrible.  He always tried to time his traveling in the months between bleeding, and it would have worked if it hadn’t come so late.

            He would have to risk a visit to the communal latrines, and hope that no one else needed them while he was cleaning up.  Or there was a stream nearby – perhaps he could bathe?  But if someone saw him…

            The pain in his belly gnawed at him, unceasing.  Sometimes he got a dull ache, but it had never been like this before.  How on earth was he going to sit a horse tomorrow?

            And what if he’d already bled all over the cot?  Then Bofur would find out, and Bofur couldn’t know about this.

            Every nerve in him was tense as he got out of bed.  He waited until he was outside to light the lamp, not wanting to wake Bofur.

            Fortunately, his supplies were in his pack in the wagon.  Unfortunately, he was dismayed to realize that he’d bled through his trousers.  He had another pair, but he wasn’t exactly in a place where he could find a tailor easily to replace the ruined ones.  Worse, he’d probably bled on the cot.

            He hadn’t had such a mishap since he first got his menses.  The bleeding was regular enough that he just had to wait for the waxing of every fourth moon.  And it had never been like this, a lot of blood all at once.

            He couldn’t risk the latrines, he decided.  He’d bathe in the stream, and hope that the night guards posted didn’t try to spy on him.  He’d stick to the shadows.

            The stream was icy cold, but at least it washed away the damning evidence.  Dwalin kept his axes close at hand; with his present luck, he was likely to run into an Orc!

            The next two weeks, he knew from experience, would be a miserable dance of trying to find enough privacy to change out the blood-soaked bandages and find an adequate place to dispose of them.  At home he usually burned them, but that would attract notice here.

            He scrubbed at the stain on his trousers, washing it enough that it could plausibly be something other than blood, but he didn’t dare try and wear them.  Nobody could be allowed to suspect.

            Even when he was safely dressed again, Dwalin couldn’t bring himself to return to the tent.  Bofur might be awake – he might ask.  Dwalin’s face burned with rage and frustration.  He’d always hated his menses, but he’d had it under control.  Now, he didn’t know if the heavy bleeding would soak through the bandages before the end of the day, wrecking his second pair of trousers.  He didn’t know if the throbbing pain would go away.  And he didn’t know if the bleeding would last the customary two weeks or if it would go on longer, since it had been so late in coming.

            Sometimes, Dwalin really hated his body.

            Mahal, how he longed for a proper mountain!  He missed the stone like nothing else; a dwarf could breathe easier underground.  And in the Lonely Mountain, he had his own quarters where his secret was not in danger of exposure.

            He curled up at the base of a tree, axes in hand, trying to find a position that made the throbbing through his belly just a little less intense.  There he stayed until just before dawn, when he made himself rise to go lead morning training.  If he was more sluggish and stiff than usual today, there were few expert enough to notice.

            To his alarm, when he returned to the tent after breakfast, he found that Bofur had already stowed their luggage and cots and taken the tent down.  Dwalin prayed his friend hadn’t seen anything suspicious.  He looked around for Bofur himself, who was helping others break camp.

            He caught Bofur’s eye, and he knew immediately that the other dwarf knew.  Bofur only paused very slightly, and his smile didn’t dim, but there was no doubt.

            Dwalin wanted very badly to be able to hit something.  He’d love to be able to have a tantrum like the dwarfling Taelin was comforting.  He’d especially love it if Mahal would just take pity on him and open up the ground and swallow him.

            Dwalin was still frozen when Bofur returned to the wagon.  “Good morning,” Bofur said, as if nothing whatsoever had happened.

            Dwalin could not have replied if his life depended on it.

            “You didn’t get much sleep last night, so I made up a bed in the wagon if you want it,” Bofur said.  He reached in his pocket and brought out two of Beorn’s honey candies, which he’d been hoarding.  He gave them both to Dwalin.

            Dwalin blinked at him, as much off guard from the candies – Bofur seemed to have brought a lot of sweets with him for the journey, for he offered Dwalin something almost every day – as by the casual offer.

            “I’ll tie your pony behind the wagon if you’re not riding,” Bofur said.

            Numb, Dwalin nodded.

            The wagon was still quite full so there wasn’t much room for the bedding, but Dwalin was able to lie down and pull the blanket over his head.  He didn’t think he’d be able to sleep with the pain, but the rocking of the wagon once they got underway was soothing enough that he dozed fitfully.

            “Are you in pain?” Bofur asked when they stopped briefly at midday to refill their water stocks.

            Dwalin, who had decided that the world was too horrible a place to waste any energy talking, nodded.

            Bofur bit his lip, looking uncertain.  It made Dwalin feel a little bit better to see his friend at a loss; at least he wasn’t the only one.  “There’s a crate under the tent,” Bofur muttered, pointing.  “You might find something in there that would help.”  He scowled and grabbed their waterskins, heading toward the waterfall to fill them.

            Dwalin understood Bofur’s unusually grim expression when he pried open the crate.  It was filled with carefully-packed bottles of liquor.  Bofur must have bought it for his uncle, and he must have agonized about it.

            The alcohol did indeed numb the pain, and Dwalin slept all afternoon.  In the evening, he felt enough better that he didn’t balk at cleanup duty in the mess tent.  Some of the dwarves assigned to the shift had been muttering before Dwalin joined them, but it seemed that if the job was not beneath the son of Fundin, it was not beneath them either.

            He inspected his cot when he returned to the tent.  There were no bloodstains on the bedding.  How had Bofur known, then?

            Bofur entered the tent and tossed him a bundle.  Dwalin caught it automatically.  “Good thing Balur didn’t end up coming,” Bofur said cheerfully.  It was a bundle of clean sheets, evidently meant originally for Bofur’s uncle.

            Dwalin wished he could curl up and die of embarrassment.

            Just before Bofur blew out the lamp, he said, “Be careful if you go out tonight.  One of the night guards asked me this morning where you’d gone.”

            Dwalin wondered if this day could get any worse.  He decided that today’s trend of not talking would serve him well.  Trying to keep from shaking, he left the tent.

            They were camped by a river this time, and the bend in the river was some distance away.  One of the guards saw him and ran over.

            “We’d like everyone to stay close, my lord,” he said.  “Surely you’ve heard the wolves howling?”

            Dwalin glared at him and stalked right by.

            In deference to the warning, he chose a place where he could keep his axes at hand.

            The blood flow was much less today, thank Mahal.  Heavier than normal, but not so heavy that it had saturated the bandages.  He might be able to sit a horse tomorrow.

            The cold of the water was unexpectedly comforting, cooling his heated cheeks and reminding him that Bofur was only trying to be kind.

            It was just that he never wanted Bofur to see him like this.  He wanted Bofur to see him as a man, always, and yet again his body had betrayed him.  Bofur shouldn’t have to be kind to him about this.  This shouldn’t even be happening.

            Lord Elrond had given him half of what he craved, but there was no Elven magic that could give him the rest.  Dwalin wished he could come to some sort of peace with it – he’d thought he had – but this was a reminder that his body was wrong, always.  And it always would be.

            Dwalin was used to being self-sufficient.  Having to ask help from anyone, even Bofur, would have been difficult under any circumstances.  But this

             When his toes began to feel numb, he knew he couldn’t continue to avoid Bofur.  So he dressed and made his way back to camp.

            He looked immediately for the guard, and found that the dwarf was not alone.  Bofur sat next to him, evidently telling him funny stories, for the guard was laughing.  Affection and annoyance warred in Dwalin’s heart.

            Bofur had a piece of wood in his hands, and was trying to carve it left-handed while clutching it in the bandage-wrapped right hand.  He wasn’t using his new tools, but instead held one of the iron knives he’d made in Rivendell.  Dwalin was surprised to see it; he’d thought Bofur had gotten rid of it long ago.

            Anger and worry, he’d dubbed the two knives.  Dwalin still felt guilty when he saw them.  They were artifacts of the assault.  He wished Bofur had gotten rid of them.

            At his questioning glance, Bofur held up the carving.  Dwalin decided it must be a horse, though it was nowhere near as good as Bofur’s usual work.

            His friend grimaced.  “Hopefully, the hand will mend true,” he said.  Then he added, “Clumsy as I am, I’d be liable to slice off a finger if I used the tools you gave me.”

            Dwalin felt a bit better for this explanation.  He offered his hand and pulled Bofur to his feet.

            The next night there was no bathing, for they camped several miles from the river.  After supper, Bofur headed for the campfire to add his voice to the singing.  Right before he left, he popped his head back in the tent to say, “I won’t return for an hour or so.”  Dwalin tied the tent door closed with knots that later took hours to unpick.

            He bled for two and a half weeks, and the pain faded after the first week.  On nights when Dwalin couldn’t bathe, Bofur stayed at the campfire.  Dwalin eventually relaxed a little when he realized that Bofur wasn’t going to try to talk about it.  At the same time it bothered him, Bofur being so blasé about something that was clearly wrong.  Still, he could not have borne it if Bofur said something, so he was grateful for the silence.

 


 

 

            When the bleeding stopped, Dwalin noted the date and the waning of the moon.  If all went well, he wouldn’t have to think about this again for at least four months.

            Now that the mental weight of struggling against the wrongness was gone, Dwalin’s mood lifted considerably.  He was able to enjoy morning training, rather than clinging to it as a crutch to regulate his temper.  Bofur’s jokes were funny again.  He even found himself sharing song and drink around the campfire, something he’d avoided since Thorin’s death.

            For two glorious weeks, there was peace.  Bofur continued to surprise him with little gifts: once the biscuits ran out, he seemed to have a neverending supply of sweets to share with Dwalin and the little ones.  Bofur was as happy as Dwalin had ever seen him.  There was something right about greeting Bofur’s irrepressible grin every morning.

            Cautiously, he began to let himself enjoy the journey.

 

Chapter Text

            At the six week mark, the caravan’s medic unwrapped Bofur’s hand.

            Bofur, predictably, hadn’t told Dwalin it was going to happen.  The warrior dragged it out of him after several days of watching Bofur get progressively more tense.

            “What if I’m never able to carve again?” Bofur fretted, almost in tears, when he’d explained.  He looked ill.  “What if I can’t write?  I can’t do my job without writing!”

            “You’ll get a scribe to help you,” Dwalin soothed.  “No one’s going to take your mines away from you just because you broke your hand.”  He hoped it was true.

            Bofur paced the tent, which had not been designed for such a purpose.  “I had hoped to have finished Lord Elrond’s gift before we passed through his lands.”

            “We likely won’t see him,” Dwalin pointed out.  “We can’t take the whole caravan to Rivendell.”

            Bofur looked frustrated.  “I know,” he admitted.  “But – what if I can’t ever finish it?  I don’t mind the rest so much, but it was going to be beautiful.”

            “What is it?” Dwalin asked, for Bofur had never said.

            Bofur brought out the box that housed the mallorn carving and handed it over to him silently.

            Inside was a bust, the head and shoulder of an Elf intricately carved.  It was perhaps two-thirds finished, to Dwalin’s inexpert eye.  The Elf was not Elrond, nor anyone Dwalin had met in Rivendell.  Bofur had finished most of the detail work on the regal face.  Dwalin looked at the handsome lines of cheek and nose, almost alien in their smoothness.  The expression on the Elf’s face spoke of undaunted determination and will, but the eyes were kinder.  There was deep wisdom there, such as Dwalin had rarely seen.

            He recognized the face, though he had never met its owner.  Frozen in the grasp of herbal numbness during his surgery, he had been able to see two things: Bofur, and the far wall of Elrond’s study, where a painting hung.  He had wondered, but never asked, about the Elf in the painting.

            “Who is it?” he asked when he found his voice again.  The carving was beautiful.  It would be a crime if Bofur couldn’t finish it.

            “Gil-galad,” Bofur said softly.

            Dwalin swallowed.  “His King,” he said, hoarse.

            Bofur nodded.  “He has only two portraits in his study.”

            Dwalin dimly remembered the painting of a blonde Elf on another wall.  “His Lady and his King,” he said.  The two people Elrond loved most in all the world.  Of course Bofur would notice something like that.  “Mahal will not let such work remain unfinished,” he declared.

            Bofur offered him a tentative smile.

            Now Dwalin tried not to fidget as the medic manipulated each of Bofur’s fingers.  He watched as his friend’s face tightened with pain.

            “There’s no way to know how badly the tendons are damaged until you build up the muscles in the fingers,” the medic said.  “Can you make a fist?  Gently, now.”

            Sweat stood on Bofur’s forehead as he curled his hand halfway into a fist.

            The medic grunted.  “It could be worse, I suppose.  You’ll need to build up flexibility – but slowly, now!  You can’t overdo it or you’ll injure yourself permanently.”

            “Will I ever be able to write again?” Bofur asked.

            Dwalin wanted to punch something.  He knew the reason Bofur wasn’t asking about carving was that he wouldn’t be able to bear hearing no.

            “It’s possible,” the medic said.  “You’ll likely need to relearn it, and your hand will never be as strong as it was, but it’s possible.”

            More waiting.  Dwalin hated waiting.

            “When can I…” Bofur began.

            “Not until we’re in Erebor and you’ve consulted with the surgeons there,” the medic said sternly.  “For now, concentrate on flexibility.”

            That night, Bofur was absent from the communal campfire.  When Dwalin went to look for him, he was lying on his cot fully dressed.  He had his flute and was fingering the notes to the song being sung around the fire, but only one hand was cooperating.

            He sat up and tried to put on a cheerful mask when Dwalin entered, but Dwalin ignored it.  He sat next to his friend and pulled him into half a hug, then bent his forehead to offer kin-comfort.  Bofur let out a shuddery breath and leaned his forehead again Dwalin’s, nestling close.

            Dwalin wanted suddenly, very badly, to kiss the red lips just inches from his own.  He stifled the impulse and said instead, “Let’s go out by the fire.  You like the singing even if you can’t play just now.”

            Bofur seemed reluctant to pull away, and Dwalin’s heart skipped a beat.

            What felt like a long time later – but was probably only seconds – Bofur agreed.  He followed Dwalin out to the campfire where people made room for them.

            A sleepy-looking dwarfling wandered over to say hello to his favorite playmate.  Bofur smiled at him, but he looked so tired at that moment that Dwalin distracted the boy first with questions and then with a game of sticks and pebbles.  When his parents, wide-eyed that Dwalin son of Fundin was playing with their little one, came to collect the boy, Bofur smiled gratefully at Dwalin.

            Bofur didn’t join the singing, but he relaxed in the atmosphere of warm camaraderie, and Dwalin was comforted by the quiet smile on his friend’s face.  Greatly daring, he put an arm around Bofur, and the other dwarf nestled in closer, smile spreading wider.  Dwalin added his voice to the ballad of Tìr and Thisbe, relishing the warmth of Bofur at his side.

 


 

 

            In the mornings when Dwalin was leading much of the camp in training, Bofur lay in his cot and worked on the exercises the medic had given him for his hand.  It was painful and progress was slow, but he could bend his fingers a bit more every day.

            Learning how to write had been miserable enough the first time around, when he inevitably infuriated his uncle by reversing his letters.  Writing had always been long, painstaking work for him, and his reports for the King were never in the flowing script they ought to be.  Now, he suspected he’d have to deal with pain on top of an inexpert hand.

            It would be a decent excuse to hire a scribe, at least.  Still, he couldn’t escape relearning it.

            And he’d have to relearn carving.  He’d thought he’d have ample time to work on his masterpiece for Lord Elrond, and perhaps gift it in the next few years when every detail was perfect.  Now, it might take decades to relearn the skill.

            It was no use crying over fallen rock, though, so he did his exercises and focused instead on daydreaming about Dwalin.

            Some mornings, Bofur left the warmth of his cot and joined the morning weapons training.  Fortunately, he’d been trained to wield his mattock in either hand, and so long as he didn’t forget and try to grasp the haft with both hands he would be fine.  The sword was another matter.  He’d never been good with it, and in his left hand he was abysmal.  Dwalin paired him with a dwarf of only eighty who was clearly frustrated by Bofur’s clumsiness.

            He ought to go every day, but it made him feel so terrible that he often didn’t.  What were the chances he would be called upon to fight on this journey, anyway?  The Battle of Five Armies had decimated the Orcs and Goblins.  They would have to be mad to attack a party so large.

            When they did attack, Bofur remembered thinking this, and felt terribly guilty for tempting fate.

            After two months of travel, they had reached the foothills of the Misty Mountains.  The pass was still open, but even though it was still early autumn snow was a definite possibility.  As they climbed higher, everyone broke out down-quilted coats and thick knitted sweaters.  A dwarf could endure any hardship – but no one particularly wanted to.

            The attack came at dusk.  They’d stopped later that day than usual, for the road was difficult and they moved slower now.  Everyone was rushing to get their tents up before the last glow of sunlight disappeared completely in the west.  Perhaps it was because of this inattention that the raiding party was able to get as far into the camp as they did.

            Bofur and Dwalin had the tent erected but not staked into the ground yet.  Bofur heard the shrieking of terrified children before he heard the horns sounding for the guards.  Dwalin reacted immediately, pelting toward the howling of battle cries while loosing his axes from their harness.  Bofur grabbed his mattock and ran after him.

            The Orcs had attacked the mess tent, and later Mistress Miril would say that they must have been in a bad way if they were choosing to go for food rather than the rich plunder offered by the caravan.  Following Dwalin’s war bellow, Bofur’s heart leapt into his throat when he caught sight of Taelin being menaced by an Orc with a wicked-looking scimitar.  Why in Mahal’s name was she armed only with a dagger?  What had they been thinking?

            A moment later, Taelin grabbed the heavy skillet full of onions frying over the cookfire and swung it in the Orc’s face.  He fell shrieking, blinded by the hot oil.  She swung again, and took out an Orc half again her size.  Dwalin and Miril reached her moments later.

            Then Bofur was in the fray, mattock swinging.  It wasn’t until the heavy weapon collided with an Orc that he felt the excruciating pain in his right hand.  He had forgotten and swung with the wrong arm.

            Tears sprang in his eyes at the pain, but he dashed them away quickly.  He shifted the mattock to his left hand; he’d have to be careful.  But he couldn’t worry about such things now.

            He fought as best he could one-handed, but he had to be cautious in such close battle.  Normally he’d have switched to a sword by now; there was little room to swing a mattock.  He took the opportunities offered, but the fight was frustratingly slow for him.

            He had to be much more aware of what was going on around him as he looked for an opening.  There was Miril, dancing death through the Orc party with two long flashing knives.  There was Dwalin, in his element, moving almost faster than Bofur could comprehend.  A fierce glee lit the warrior’s face as he swung his axes.

            And there was Enna, looking terrified.  Behind him, Onna cowered against a pile of food stores, watching with wide eyes as his older brother swung his axe in a wide, desperate arc to fend off the two Orcs menacing him.

            Bofur took out one of the Orcs with his mattock.  Now that he only had to concentrate on one enemy, Enna’s axe bit deeply into the second.  The dwarf looked sick and had to try several times to remove his axe from the Orc’s thick hide.  This must be his first kill.

            Bofur spared a glance at Onna, who had finally remembered the dagger he carried.  Tears streamed down the boy’s face.  In the well-fortified walls of Ered Luin, he’d likely never even seen an Orc before.  “Take him to safety,” Bofur commanded Enna, turning back to the skirmish.

            “But – ”

            Bofur didn’t have time to convince him.  A group of guards had finally gotten into a semicircular formation to beat the raiding party back to the edge of camp.  Bofur ran to get into position.

            All around them, bodies lay scattered on the ground.  Bofur couldn’t tell if they were Orc or dwarf, and didn’t have attention to spare to find out.  The eight Orcs that hadn’t already fled were caught in the arms of the half-circle, which quickly surrounded them completely.  Dwalin, eyes glittering with battle lust, ducked into the circle and dealt the first blow.  Immediately the guards followed suit.

            The fighting was close-in, and Bofur’s mattock was useless; he was as liable to strike a friend as he was to strike a foe.  Instead he guarded the perimeter, driving the Orcs that broke out of the circle back towards death.

            Again, he was allowed more time to see the whole fight rather than just his little part of it.  Dwalin was gorgeous in battle, all smooth controlled motion and brutal strength.  The slaughter of the Orcs was not pretty and poetic as it would be in the songs composed a few days from now, but the bards would never do justice to the big warrior’s skill.  Bofur was so engrossed that he almost missed an Orc that broke through the circle and made a dash for safety.

            When he looked again, Dwalin was locked in a deadly struggle with a huge Orc.

            The two circled each other warily, ignoring all the commotion around then.  When axes and blades were neatly evaded and parried, they moved in closer for a deadlier game.  Dwalin drew a long dagger from its sheath, and the Orc brought out a serrated knife, more a torture implement than a weapon.

            Bofur couldn’t see the next few moments of the battle, and when he could see again his heart stood still.  Dwalin and the Orc were grappling face to face, fists and glaives and knuckledusters their weapons.  To Bofur’s horror, the Orc was struggling to reach Dwalin’s neck with his wicked-looking knife.

            In that moment, Bofur would have given anything for a working right hand and Kili’s bow and arrows.

            Finally, with a mighty roar, Dwalin broke free of the grappling Orc.  He flung the foul creature to the ground and leapt on him, weapons flashing.  In three bloody swipes, the Orc was no more.

            And then it was over, the inevitable sudden letdown of being full of adrenaline with no more enemies to slay.  Bofur had had three kills tonight, and Dwalin had no doubt had at least three times that many.

            In the abrupt silence that followed, Bofur looked up.  The sky to the west was crimson in the light of the setting sun.

            It had seemed like hours, but the skirmish had lasted no more than twenty minutes.

            Bofur could still feel the battle fever burning in his veins, making him jittery now that there was nothing to fight.  To distract himself from the rapidly sinking sensation in his belly, he looked around at the suddenly peaceful camp, strewn with corpses.

            He was afraid he would be ill.

            It wasn’t uncommon, even for seasoned warriors.  He’d retched and retched after his first kill.  But now he was a hero and a leader, and dwarves looked to him for guidance.  He couldn’t let them down with such a cowardly act now.

            He looked for Dwalin, and found instead Taelin.  She was crouched over one of the corpses, weeping.

            It had been too much to hope that all the dead were Orcs.

            Bofur helped her turn the dwarf over.  It was one of the guards.  He’d been opened from neck to sternum, his viscera spilling obscenely from his body.

            Mechanically, Bofur comforted Taelin, who’d never seen such violence firsthand.  He turned her face away from the dead dwarf and tried not to shudder.

            It could have been Dwalin.  That last Orc had had a knife at Dwalin’s throat.  Yes, Dwalin was beautiful in battle, but he’d almost died.  He might die in the next attack, or the one after that.  There was no guarantee that if Bofur waited until Erebor to start the courtship, Dwalin would even be alive.

            Bofur might be a patient dwarf, but he wasn’t a martyr.

            All this waiting, the careful teasing with gifts of sweets and smiles – it was just another, more subtle way of telling himself he didn’t deserve to be happy with Dwalin.

            Well, he was done waiting.  He’d take that insidious little voice that told him he wasn’t good enough for Dwalin and shove it up the Maker’s backside.  He was going to tell Dwalin how he felt, and he was going to do it now.

            A different, almost gleeful adrenaline filled him.  Dwalin was across the fray from him, helping drag the Orc corpses out of the camp.  Determination filling him, Bofur sprinted after him.

            The corpses were being piled in a copse of trees on the far side of the mess tent.  Dwalin tossed a body onto the pile.  Not letting himself think too far ahead, Bofur ran up to him, grabbing him by the sleeve.  He pulled Dwalin into the relative privacy of the empty mess tent.

            Something in him was gibbering, demanding who do you think you are, to proposition Dwalin son of Fundin?  Now that he had Dwalin looking down at him in confusion, every pretty speech he’d ever rehearsed fled his mind.

            In desperation, Bofur tugged Dwalin’s head down and brought their mouths violently together.

            He felt Dwalin stiffen in surprise, and his heart broke when his friend went rigid and then pulled away.  Stupid, stupid Bofur, his mind chanted.  How could he ever love you?

            Bofur went utterly still, like a startled deer trying not to be seen.  It took every ounce of his small store of courage to peek up at Dwalin’s face.

            Dwalin was staring at him, eyes wide with shock.  Bofur felt the last shred of hope seep out of his body.  He closed his eyes in defeat.  He had messed it all up – of course he had messed it up; he should have stuck with his careful planning.  Dwalin would be disgusted with him.  Honestly, what sort of an idiot would be stupid enough to try and kiss someone while they were both still covered in Orc blood?

            Bofur felt tears of frustration prick behind his closed eyes.  He’d ruined everything, and –

            Something soft brushed against his lips.

            Startled, Bofur’s eyes flew open.

            He looked up into Dwalin’s. A thousand emotions were crossing the usually stoic face.  Bofur was amazed to realize that his friend was panicking.  Dwalin was always so steady and solid; it seemed incredible.

            Dwalin’s eyes skittered away, but not before Bofur caught another emotion there – hope.

            Oh.  Could it be…?  Did Dwalin –

            Bofur smiled, understanding at last.  Dwalin was as terrified of this as he was – but Dwalin felt it, too.  Bofur knew what he needed to do.

            Gently this time, so as not to scare Dwalin away, Bofur slid his good hand into the big dwarf’s hair and leaned in.  Their lips were only a hair’s breadth apart when he paused, waiting.  He wanted this to be Dwalin’s choice.

            He closed his eyes and prayed, feeling Dwalin’s breath rapid and shallow against his parted lips.

            The moment stretched, agonizingly long and yet all too short to truly relish, because Bofur knew with utter certainty what would come next.

            The breath against his face shifted, and a moment later Dwalin’s lips covered his, tentative.

            Bofur moaned, both in pleasure and relief.

            Dwalin’s kiss was clumsy, inexperienced, and Bofur allowed himself the rush of possessive pride at the thought that in all likelihood, he was the only one who had ever been granted this privilege.  He would not have traded the opportunity to teach Dwalin for anything – no, not for a thousand expert kisses.

            He stepped in even nearer, nestling his body close, and caressed Dwalin’s cheek with his bad hand.  It was worth the twinge of pain to see Dwalin’s eyelids flutter closed.  His lips sought Bofur’s as if by instinct, and Bofur would not leave him wanting.

            Then he was lost in the softness of Dwalin’s mouth, in the prickliness of his wiry beard, in the shy hesitant surprise of Dwalin’s tongue.  When he came back to the present, Bofur didn’t know if it had been five minutes or five hours.  Ever the hedonist, he dove back in for more.

            Every bit of kissing Dwalin was a marvel.  Bofur had kissed a number of dwarves over the years, but never had there been this joy in discovery.  He was delighted to find that Dwalin trembled minutely when Bofur’s hand tangled in his beard; moaned when his fingertips brushed the ragged ear; growled achingly when Bofur sucked on his tongue.

            He could tell when Dwalin gained confidence in what he was doing, for the tables turned and then it was Dwalin wringing sounds out of Bofur, hot needy noises he might have stifled with anyone else but this was Dwalin, and he never wanted to hide anything from Dwalin.

            Then Bofur, distracted by the exquisite slide of Dwalin’s tongue against his, tried to stroke Dwalin’s cheek with his injured hand.  Pain spasmed up his arm and he whimpered.

            Dwalin drew back.  “Did I hurt you?” he demanded.

            Bofur shook his head and held up the injured hand in explanation.  Dwalin caught it by the wrist and Bofur couldn’t help wincing.

            “You used it to fight?” Dwalin asked, frowning.  “The medic should look at it.”

            Bofur hated coming back to reality after such bliss.  But abruptly, he was very much aware of their surroundings – and that Dwalin, one of the most private dwarves he knew, would not appreciate being caught kissing in public.

            A moment later, he remembered the skirmish.  He raised dismayed eyes to Dwalin’s.  “We don’t even know how many casualties we took.”

            He was sure the guilt on Dwalin’s face mirrored his own.  Damn damn damn.  Of all the selfish things…  For all they knew, more dwarves had died!  And yet Bofur couldn’t help feeling frustrated that just when they’d finally begun things, their duties were pulling them apart.

            He wished he had time to smooth the troubled crease between Dwalin’s brows.  He wished he knew what his friend was thinking behind the customary scowl.  He took a guess.  “I promise,” he said, and had to clear his throat when emotion choked him unexpectedly.  “I promise I won’t change my mind.”

            That cleared some of the uncertainty from Dwalin’s eyes, but not all of it.

            By the Maker, it wasn’t fair.  Bofur wanted desperately to have the time to focus on this fragile new beginning, and yet again duty was pulling him away.  It was maddening!

            They emerged from the tent together.  By silent agreement, Dwalin headed for the guards and Bofur toward the civilians.

 


 

 

            There had been three civilian injuries, two minor and one severe.  The medic had rigged a tent for field surgery, but the prognosis seemed cheerful.  A few of the guards had taken injuries, but no more had died, and Bofur sent a private prayer of thanks to Mahal for it.

            Still, it took hours to clean up from the skirmish, bandage up the casualties, reinforce the night guard in case of a second attack, and soothe the frightened immigrants who were used to the safety of living in town.  By the time Bofur returned to their wagon to finish setting up their tent, all he wanted to do was sleep.

            Dwalin, similarly grey-faced, arrived just as Bofur finished setting up the cots one-handed, and marched him right back out to see the medic.

            “Do you want permanent nerve damage?” the medic snapped when Bofur admitted to using his mattock with his injured hand.  He wrapped the hand in bandages again and said he’d take a look at it in a few days when all the more immediate wounds had been treated.  When Dwalin would have argued, Bofur dragged him away.

            And then they were in the privacy of their tent, looking at each other awkwardly across the small space.

            All of Bofur’s doubts came rushing back.  What if Dwalin already regretted what had happened earlier?  What if –

            Dwalin cleared his throat, looking strangely vulnerable in the lamplight.  “Was it just because of the fight?” he asked.

            Bofur was confused.  “What?”

            “When you kissed me – was it because of the skirmish?”  The confusion did not ease, and Dwalin explained, “It’s not unusual; lots of people like to – like to f-fuck after a fight.  It helps – brings them down from the adrenaline high.”  He was so tense he was practically vibrating.

            Bofur relaxed.  He crossed the tent to stand before Dwalin.  “I didn’t kiss you because of adrenaline or because I wanted a fuck.”  He took Dwalin’s massive hand in his own and gently pressed his lips to it, waiting until Dwalin finally met his eyes.  “I kissed you because I’ve wanted to for a long time and I saw today that I might lose the chance if I waited.”

            To his dismay, Dwalin seemed to retreat into himself at hearing this, shaking his head.  That wouldn’t do.  Bofur gripped Dwalin’s hand tightly in his.  “Tell me what you’re thinking,” he commanded.

            Dwalin looked at him, troubled.  “How could you want – after I – ”

            Carefully, Bofur pressed a kiss to the corner of Dwalin’s mouth, but the big dwarf just got more agitated.  “I care deeply for you,” Bofur said, because he couldn’t quite bring himself to say love, not when Dwalin was shaking his head.

            “But I – I hurt you.  How could you want – ”

            “You told me you’d regain my trust, and you did,” Bofur said.

            Dwalin shook his head, clearly upset.  “When we were with Dis – I lost control, I would have hurt you again – ”

            “You did not lose control,” Bofur said sharply, wondering what Dwalin had been telling himself about that night.

            “I did,” Dwalin insisted.

            “You almost did, and you pulled yourself back.”

            Dwalin shook his head helplessly.  “I broke your trust,” he whispered, and Bofur caught sight of the depth of pain behind the words.  “I finally earned it back, and I broke it again.  I saw it on your face.”

            Bofur frowned, trying to think back to the afternoon in Dis’s parlor.  “You were angry with me,” he said slowly.  “I was being stupid, insisting you defy Lady Dis.  I apologized then, and I’m still sorry, I should never have – ”

            Dwalin shook his head.  Bofur could see the agony in his eyes.  “You weren’t listening, and I was so angry – I lost control, I grabbed you – ”

            Bofur put his hands on Dwalin’s shoulders, wishing he could calm the agitation he saw.  “But you didn’t hurt me,” he insisted.  “You may have lost control, but you got it back.  It’s how I know I can trust you.”

            Dwalin shook his head helplessly.  “I saw your eyes; you were afraid of me.”

            Durin’s beard, had Dwalin had been torturing himself ever since?

            Bofur bit his lip, wishing that the memory weren’t blurred with time and emotion.  He was sure he’d not been afraid of Dwalin that day.  He’d seen Dwalin lose control, then regain it moments later –

            “I didn’t understand that I was asking you to risk your life until that moment,” he said, memory dawning.  “I wasn’t afraid of you, Dwalin.  I was afraid you’d hate me.  I was afraid I’d betrayed your trust with my stupidity.”

            Dwalin just looked at him, confused and beseeching.

            Bofur stepped nearer.  He was not going to let a misunderstanding stand in the way of their happiness.  “How could I be afraid of you, Dwalin?” he murmured, taking the big dwarf’s hands in his.  “You’d just shown me that you could keep your control in the face of both me and Lady Dis.”

            Dwalin looked like he might protest further, so Bofur kissed him instead.  “I get to choose whether I trust you,” he whispered.  “And I do.

            He kissed him again, closing his eyes so that Dwalin would not know that he saw the tears standing in his friend’s eyes.  Dwalin was a proud dwarf, and Bofur had only ever seen him weep for his King.

            “I want you,” Bofur whispered against Dwalin’s lips.  “I want this.”  He squeezed Dwalin’s hand and lifted it to rest against Bofur’s chest, over his heart.

            His breath hitching on a sob, Dwalin reached for him blindly, pulling him into a desperate kiss.

            Bofur held him tightly, relief and euphoria rushing through him.  At last, at last, he had Dwalin in his arms, and everything was going to be all right.

Chapter Text

            Bofur didn’t often wake before Dwalin, and when he did he usually took it as a cue to turn over and go back to sleep.  Dwalin was the one who liked mornings; Bofur preferred the warmth and comfort of his bed.  But today he was glad for it.

            Yesterday, he had been able to conceal the effect of Dwalin’s kisses from his friend.  Dwalin either hadn’t noticed his erection or hadn’t understood what it was.  But a night spent held in his love’s strong arms in the nest of blankets they’d made on the floor had done nothing to diminish his body’s eagerness, and Bofur now had an unmistakable bulge poking Dwalin in the thigh.

            The last thing he wanted was to leave the glorious rightness of being snuggled against Dwalin’s chest, but he needed to get up and take care of the problem before Dwalin became aware of it.  He couldn’t scare Dwalin off now, not after he’d finally got him!  Bofur would wander into the woods for a morning stroll and bring himself off, and his body might be willing to behave for the rest of the day.

            When he tried to discreetly worm his way out of Dwalin’s embrace, though, he found a pair of warm grey eyes smiling down at him.

            “Mornin’,” Dwalin rumbled contentedly, pulling Bofur even closer.  Bofur suppressed a moan when his erection shifted against the big dwarf’s body.  He closed his eyes and prayed that Dwalin wouldn’t notice.

            No such luck.  His friend went still for a long moment, breath hitching in surprise.

            “I’m sorry,” Bofur mumbled miserably.  “I’ll take care of it.”  He moved to get up, but Dwalin didn’t release him.

            Bofur hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, not until the two of them had built a solid foundation, but he had never been so delusional as to think it wouldn’t come up.

            “I’ll never ask anything of you that you don’t want to do,” he said.  “I promise, I’ll never bother you with it.”

            Dwalin shot him a bewildered glance.  “What are you going on about?” he asked.

            Bofur swallowed.  He’d have to say this head-on after all.  “I won’t ask for sex,” he said bluntly.  “I don’t need it.  I’d rather have you.”  He hid his face against Dwalin’s shoulder.

            Dwalin was silent for so long at this that Bofur ventured a peek.  He couldn’t read what Dwalin was thinking from his face.

            “You like sex,” Dwalin said at last, voice neutral.

            “Yes,” Bofur said.  He felt inexplicably like weeping.

            Dwalin frowned.  “Do you not want to – ”  He paused, searching for a word.  “Do you not want to fu– to lie with me?”

            “I do,” Bofur confessed.  “But you don’t like it, and I’d never ask – ”

            Dwalin laid a finger across Bofur’s lips, silencing him.  His brow was knit, and Bofur tried not to squirm as Dwalin worked out his next words.  “I don’t know if I’d like it,” he said finally, “but we could try.”

            “You don’t have to feel obliged – ” Bofur began, because how could he let Dwalin try out a sense of duty or guilt?  “I’ve a perfectly serviceable hand.”  He winced, remembering that it wasn’t his customary hand.

            Dwalin’s cheeks flushed ruddy and Bofur wondered if his words had been too crude.  Dwalin gnawed at his lip, looking troubled, and finally said very quietly, “I want to try.”

            Bofur gaped.

            After about fifteen seconds of Bofur’s stunned silence, Dwalin snickered softly.

            “Didn’t know that was all it took to stop your nattering,” he teased.

            Bofur was still wondering if he might be dreaming.  “You want – ” he began.

            Dwalin’s smile was a little rueful.  “It’s worth a try.  Lots of people like it.  How bad can it be?”  His breath hitched a little, and his knuckles were white where his hand gripped the blanket – but his voice was light.

            Bofur’s heart melted.  Brave, beautiful Dwalin.  “Lot of people don’t like it,” he murmured, putting his arms around Dwalin’s neck and nestling closer.  “You didn’t.”

            Dwalin stroked the ends of his braids and down over his back.  “That was a long time ago,” he said.  “And it wasn’t with you.

            Bofur felt tears pricking at his eyes.  He placed a kiss on the smooth skin just under Dwalin’s ear and rested his head on Dwalin’s shoulder.  When he could trust his voice, he said, “We can try it.  But if you don’t like it, we won’t do it.  It’s not – it’s not important.”  He couldn’t allow himself to hope; it was enough that he had Dwalin in his arms.

            In reply, Dwalin nuzzled his cheek and then kissed him softly.

            Bofur knew he would quickly come to crave the soft prickle of Dwalin’s beard against his skin.  He had a sudden sensory fantasy of feeling it against his inner thighs and had to suppress the moan that bubbled up at the thought.

            “That’s settled, then,” Dwalin rumbled, and they kissed languidly for a time.  Bofur relished his exploration, finding the places that made Dwalin’s breath stutter.

            In turn, Dwalin found the places that made Bofur gasp and curse and his cock throb.  When Dwalin’s mouth latched on the side of his neck in a place that made him writhe, Bofur was honestly afraid he might come in his trousers.  Worse, he was afraid that the groan he couldn’t keep in might be audible outside the tent.

            Still, he wasn’t prepared when, without warning, Dwalin rolled them so that Bofur was pinned beneath him.  Bofur couldn’t help his squeak of dismay, and he demanded, “You meant now?”  He couldn’t possibly make this good for Dwalin when he was so close already!  He’d never last.

            Dwalin paused, startled.  Then he laughed, a warm rumble that filled the entire tent and the anxious places in Bofur’s heart.  “Not now,” he assured, rolling off on Bofur’s other side, nearer his pack.  “Now I need to go lead morning exercises.”

            Bofur pouted.

            Dwalin chuckled and bent to kiss him.  “Soon,” he said.

            Bofur went rigid a moment later when a large hand engulfed the bulge of his erection through his trousers.  He tried hard not to gape at Dwalin in astonishment.  He tried even harder not to push up against the hand for friction.  He failed miserably on both counts.

            Dwalin, too, was a little wide-eyed.  He kissed Bofur one last time, grabbed his boots, and left the tent.

            Bofur lay in the nest of blankets on the floor, panting.  What had just happened?  Was it even possible?  Could this possibly be a wonderful and bizarre dream?

            Dwalin had forgotten to take his shirt, and Bofur felt a bit relieved that he was not the only one flustered.

            Soon.  Bofur gnawed his lip.  He’d meant to court Dwalin.  Usually there were years between the declaration of intent and the first time a couple lay together.  Was Dwalin asking to be lovers instead of courting?

            It was useless to speculate; he’d just drive himself mad with doubts.  Instead, Bofur had a rather enjoyable problem to tend to.

            His face flushed at the memory of the look in Dwalin’s eyes when Bofur’s hips had thrust up against the pressure of his hand.  There had been a thousand emotions on Dwalin’s face: surprise, wonder, satisfaction.  But the one that made Body’s body thrill with electric excitement was the edge of a deep dwarvish avarice in Dwalin’s gaze.  It was the closest thing Bofur had ever seen to sexual desire in Dwalin.

            He slid his good hand into his trousers, trying to keep an image of that look in Dwalin’s eyes at the forefront of his mind.  Soon.  He hissed in pleasure as his fingers encircled his cock, and wished that the fingers were Dwalin’s.  Soon.  He hadn’t let himself fantasize about Dwalin for years, and even now he wouldn’t let him mind have free reign – once; he’d promised Dwalin they’d try once, and more only if he liked it – but he was completely unsurprised by how comfortable and right it felt to slip into one of his old fantasies.  More right than it had ever felt before, because now he knew what it felt like to kiss Dwalin.  Now he knew, intimately, Dwalin’s unique scent.  And what was more, now he loved Dwalin, and his fantasy, though no less carnal, was sweeter for it.

            And Dwalin, out there sparring right now – Dwalin knew what he was up to.  The thought was embarrassing and arousing all at once.  Was Dwalin outside, all smooth strength and practiced motion, getting distracted as he imagined what Bofur was doing?

            By the Maker, Bofur hoped so.

            He pushed up into the vice of his fist, too impatient to draw out the pleasure the way he liked.  Instead he worked fast, his breath coming in gasps, imagining Dwalin holding him in his arms.  Oh Mahal, he’d only ever seen Dwalin naked at the baths, and he’d never let himself stare.  But Dwalin was gorgeous, and someday soon Bofur would finally get to look his fill.

            He couldn’t focus on any one fantasy – his mind wanted them all.  One he kept returning to had Dwalin pressed close against Bofur’s back, strong arms holding him safe and secure.  Dwalin, nuzzling his neck, found the place that made Bofur’s knees go weak and his cock throb.  Dwalin reached down and enfolded Bofur’s erection in his massive hand –

            Bofur muffled his cry when he peaked, panting, in the tight grip of his fist.  Dwalin Dwalin Dwalinnnn, his mind chanted as he rode out the pleasure.

            He lay there for a long time, amazed at how good it felt and how happy he felt.  Finally, sated, he pulled the blanket over his head and went back to sleep, a smile on his lips.

 


 

 

            Dwalin was grateful for the crisp morning air on his heated skin.  He couldn’t quite believe he’d had the stones to do that – to flirt with Bofur, then fondle him so blatantly like that.

            He was equally grateful for the morning routine of drills and weapons forms.  Often he supervised paired sparring, but they’d had more than enough sparring during the skirmish yesterday – he’d let them get comfortable with their weapons again today.  He needed the focus of the axe forms to keep the panic at bay.

            If he let himself think about Bofur, he’d be a gibbering mess.

            He managed to only think about Bofur every minute or so during the axe forms, but sword forms didn’t take as much concentration.  A voice that sounded very much like Balin sighed, Why couldn’t you just let yourself enjoy it, lad?  Why are you rushing in when you’re not ready?

            Dwalin firmed his jaw and followed the sweep of the blade in a long circle, then through a slow thrust and parry.  I’ll never be ready, he told his doubts.  If it’s not going to work – if I can’t give him this – I need to know now.  It would be unbearable to lose Bofur just when he’d gotten him – but how much more unbearable would it be to wait, to know how good it was to be loved by Bofur, and then lose it all because of sex?

            Bofur would try and make it work if Dwalin couldn’t be intimate, Dwalin knew – but there were already so many things he couldn’t give Bofur.  Children.  Bofur had tried so hard to be happy with Havlin without the reassurance of marriage, without children, but Dwalin could promise even less.  At least Havlin had given Bofur pleasure.

            Dwalin could not bear the thought of Bofur unhappy – but the idea of being the cause of Bofur’s unhappiness made his very skin crawl.  If Dwalin couldn’t give him this…

            It might not be so bad, he reminded himself, executing the complicated twirl and downward thrust with the blade in the next step of the sword form.  It might even be… nice.  After all, the idea of what Bofur was no doubt up to at this very moment back in the tent sent a shivery flush of pleasure through Dwalin.  He liked the wanting in Bofur’s eyes every bit as much as he feared it.

            And fears must be faced.  He’d avoided this one for most of a century, thinking it unimportant – but Bofur was important.  Dwalin would face this fear for Bofur, and for their future.

            He just hoped he wouldn’t have to face it today.

 


 

 

            There would be no traveling that day; the dead must be honored and mourned, and the extent of the damage accounted for.

            After breakfast, Dwalin organized a contingent of guards to patrol the area.  The Orc attack had been brazen and, when it came down to it, stupid even by Orcish standards.  The raiders had neither numbers nor weaponry on their side.

            “Desperation,” Mistress Miril grunted.  The Orcs had made away with a wagon of goods and spoiled much of a second.  “The attack was a distraction while they went for the supplies.”

            The Battle of Five Armies had slaughtered most of the northern Orcs; Dwalin would have thought that the rest would be better off with more to divide up between fewer.  He hadn’t expected Orcs to attack just for food.

            Miril gave him a skeptical look.  “The survivors of Moria weren’t better off after their brothers died, were they?”

            Anger blossomed.  “How dare you compare us to Orcs?” he demanded.  “They are animals.

            She narrowed her eyes at him.  “Maybe that true if you’re planning a battle,” she said.  “If it helps to win a war against them, that’s fine.  But out here, journeying, you have to think of them as people or you’ll get caught unawares.”

            “We just got caught unawares!” he snarled.

            “Aye,” she agreed.  “I haven’t journeyed since before the Battle.  They used to have whole towns, and they slaughtered for territory and for fun, not for food.  Now they are bandits, and they’re desperate.  We would have been safer, before.”

            Dwalin wanted to roar at her.  Did the sacrifice of so many lives at Azanulbizar and the Battle of Five Armies mean nothing to her?

            …Probably not, he realized.  Most dwarves didn’t really give a fig who was King Under the Mountain.  It was a faraway story for them.

            “We were supposed to be prepared for bandits,” he ground out instead.

            She nodded.  “You’re right.  We were thinking the bandits would be Men, not starving Orcs.  Orcs are already more ruthless and care less for their own skin, but when you add hunger to the mix…”

            Dwalin didn’t like this conversation, so he said, “I’ll take the patrol out and see if we can find their camp.”

            She narrowed her eyes at him.  “No stupid heroics.”

            He scowled at her, but acquiesced.

 


 

 

            The patrol yielded only the remained of an Orc camp.  Evidently the survivors of the skirmish had fled.  It had been a largish band; despite the deaths of many of their number, they’d not had to abandon any of the stolen stores.

            “They’ll think twice about attacking our party again,” growled one of the guards, a flame-haired Stiffbeard.

            Dwalin wasn’t so sure.  Orcs seemed to hold their lives cheap; it was the reason they were so formidable in battle.  Perhaps they considered their dead companions adequate payment for the food stores that would serve the survivors.

            “We’ll need to buy or forage more food,” another guard added, glumly sifting through the ashes of the Orcs’ cookfire.

            Bofur had explained to Dwalin early on that many of the poorer families had not brought enough stores, counting on being able to hunt.  When dozens of families tried to hunt, though, it became a problem.  It was the reason Bofur had filled his uncle’s wagon with extra food, and the reason Miril had instituted a communal kitchen.  The loss of food would affect everyone.

            “We’ve passed the Shire,” Dwalin mused aloud.  “I suppose we might ask the Elves.”

            The other dwarves gave him strange looks.  Who had ever heard of a dwarf asking for aid from an Elf?  Dwalin chuckled.  Before Bofur took him to Rivendell, he’d felt the same way.

            The burial was held late morning.  The dead dwarf had few clansmen among the caravan, so Dwalin and the guard not assigned to active patrol joined them as official mourners.  They chanted in shifts, commending the dwarf’s soul to his ancestors and to Mahal.

            Dwalin did not have a chance to speak to Bofur until supper, and then they were joined by Mistress Miril and the head of the guard.  Taelin hovered in the background until Miril waved her into a chair as well.

            “There’s scant place to restock, even along the road,” the guardsman was saying to Miril.  “The inns can provide for individual travelers, but not so many as we are.  If we can’t replace the stores, we’ll need to ration once we’re past the Misty Mountains.”

            Dwalin frowned.  “It’s not too late in the year for game.  Surely with break or two for hunting…”  A stationary camp could be a target for further raids, though.

            “Thranduil’s an ally now,” Bofur pointed out.  “It might cost us dear, but he’ll sell us food.  The treaty calls for mutual aid.”

            The treaty also, Dwalin remembered wryly, specifically exempted mutual aid in the case of another dragon.  Dain had put that in, “to avoid misunderstandings.”  It had rattled the ancient Elf to have the results of the last treaty thrown in his face like that so soon after the Battle, but the insult had quieted the muttering on the dwarvish side at least.  Balin had been less than pleased.

            “And there’s Lord Elrond,” Dwalin pointed out.  “There’s a reason they call it the Last Homely House.  We couldn’t take the caravan into the Valley, but he’d send food if we asked.”

            “Green food,” Bofur put in, a smile playing on his lips.

            “Lembas,” Dwalin countered.  He was not too proud to admit a fondness for the sweet Elven waybread.

            Miril and the guardsman wore identical expressions of distaste.  “Better to ration than to rely on treeshaggers,” the guard muttered.

            Miril shuddered.  “We stay away from Elves.  They’re…”  She searched for the word.

            “Animals?” Dwalin suggested, remembering their earlier conversation about the Orcs.

            She raised an eyebrow.  “Are you suggesting I take my own advice and think of them as people?” she sneered.

            “There’s certainly no call to starve just because we don’t like talking to Elves.”  The voice was Taelin’s.  She turned pink when they looked at her, appalled to realize she had spoken aloud.

            Bofur smiled at her.  “Well said.  I say we ask Lord Elrond – he never held us prisoner.  Shall we send someone ahead to the Valley to make the request?”

            Miril scowled.  But she grunted, “Very well.  It’s the best choice of a bad lot.”

            Dwalin rolled his eyes across the table at Bofur, but he remembered being just as distrustful.  The history of Elves and dwarves was littered with bad blood and misunderstandings.

            But if he could come so far as to regard Elves as true allies – even think of Elrond as a friend – maybe it wasn’t impossible that he could bear making love with Bofur?

 

Chapter Text

            Dwalin entered the tent after supper feeling almost shy.  He’d been very brazen this morning, and he wasn’t entirely certain he could keep up the bravado.

            Bofur beamed when he saw him.  “Let’s go for a walk,” he suggested.

            Dwalin agreed readily, relieved.  They armed themselves – it wouldn’t do to be caught unawares – nodded to the guards, and headed out into the forest.

            When they were out of sight of the camp, Bofur reached for Dwalin’s hand, threading their fingers together.  He also reached into the pouch at his belt and brought out something wrapped in a linen napkin.  He offered it to Dwalin almost bashfully.

            Dwalin unwrapped the napkin.  Inside was one of the sweet scones Taelin had made this afternoon for the dwarflings.  Dwalin’s eyes lit up and he munched happily.

            When he caught sight of the smile Bofur was trying to hide, he paused.  Bofur never used to bring him sweets at every opportunity.  Only since the journey began.  “Are you…?” he began.

            Bofur’s eyes danced.  “Hobbits say the way to someone’s heart is through their belly.  I don’t think dwarves are too different.”

            “Are you comparing me to a hobbit?” Dwalin mock-growled, pulling Bofur toward him by the front of his tunic.  He savored the way Bofur’s eyes fluttered closed as he leaned up, lips parted, asking for a kiss.

            Bofur really liked kissing, Dwalin was discovering.  Dwalin decided he would have to take advantage of every opportunity he had to kiss him.  He was growing to crave that look of yearning on Bofur’s face just before their lips met.

            Kisses and sweets; Dwalin would be quite the most spoiled dwarf in Middle Earth.

            He sucked on Bofur’s lower lip, enjoying the way it made his friend’s breath hitch.  They spent a long time lost in the joy of each others’ mouths.  Dwalin wasn’t sure how long; it seemed forever but at the same time much too short when they were interrupted by the howl of a wolf in the distance.  Dwalin tensed and pushed Bofur against the safety of a tree trunk, unleashing Keeper and scanning the woods around them.

            Nothing.  But he had let down his guard unforgivably; there were Orcs out here!  He had put Bofur’s life in danger by kissing him out here when he could have been kissing him in the safety of their tent.

           Their tent, where the cots loomed as a reminder of what Dwalin feared.

           That was no doubt why Bofur had suggested a walk.  As if Dwalin’s fear weren’t bad enough, Bofur knew.  Bofur was trying to help, as if Dwalin were a frightened child who needed reassurance.

           Bofur shouldn’t have to be kind about this.  He shouldn’t have to be patient.  Dwalin should be able to be brave.

           Bofur interrupted his downward spiral by sighing and laying his head on Dwalin’s shoulder.  “I suppose we’d better return to camp,” he said regretfully.  “It’s too dangerous out here, even if I do have Dwalin son of Fundin to protect me.”  He gave Dwalin a teasing grin.

            Dwalin’s stomach tightened.  The legendary son of Fundin was fearless, and what Bofur needed from him was so little.  Why was he so terrified?

            Dwarves called him brave, but Dwalin had only recently begun to understand what courage meant.  Battle had never frightened him.

            Bofur nuzzled his neck, snuggling against his side in apparent utter trust that Dwalin would protect him from any danger.  Dwalin’s breath caught.  How could he ever merit such trust?

            When Bofur spoke next, his words tickled Dwalin’s neck.  Dwalin wondered if Bofur was hiding his eyes on purpose.  “I brought you out here to talk,” Bofur admitted quietly.

            Dwalin couldn’t help tensing again, and Bofur ran soothing hands over his back, then reached up to kiss him again reassuringly.  But when he spoke again, his voice was uncertain.  “This morning – ”

            Dwalin tensed even further, and could have kicked himself for it.

            “We don’t have to,” Bofur said.  “I don’t want you to do anything you don’t like.”

            It wasn’t that Dwalin thought Bofur didn’t mean what he said.  Instead, it was his instinctive horror of how it would play out: Bofur cheerfully denying himself for Dwalin’s comfort, and the way it would wear on him over the years.  Bofur was giving up children by choosing Dwalin.  Dwalin couldn’t ask him to give up sex as well.  “I might like it,” Dwalin said, trying to keep the doubt out of his voice.

            Impossibly, Bofur nestled even closer.  “I was shaking in my boots my first time,” he said.

            “It’s not my first time,” Dwalin said.  Then, “Why did you keep your boots on for it?"

            Bofur laughed.  The sound made something in Dwalin’s chest unclench.  As long as Bofur could laugh, things would be all right.  He was seized by a need to kiss Bofur deeply again, and started pulling him in the direction of the caravan.

            “Wait,” Bofur laughed, catching hold of his sleeve.

            Dwalin turned back.  Bofur’s gaze rested, distracted, on his lips, and he had to make an obvious effort to pull himself together.  “If there’s anything we can do to make it easier…?” Bofur asked.

            Bofur shouldn’t have to ask, but Dwalin was more than aware that regardless of should, the reality of the matter was that if anything could help, he ought to take advantage of it.

            He wanted to ask if Bofur would let Dwalin bring him off without being touched in return, but that was cheating.

            The thing he couldn’t bear to think about was penetration.  Maybe…

            “Could you…” he began, wondering if he had the right to ask.

            Bofur waited, combing his fingers through Dwalin’s beard.  “Could I?” he prompted when Dwalin went silent, unable to find the words to ask.

            “Nothing inside me?” Dwalin finally managed, every muscle in his body tensing against the twin fears of being penetrated by Bofur and of losing Bofur if he didn’t.  “Just the first time,” he added.  “It would make it... easier.”  Bearable.

            “Of course,” Bofur said, looking surprised.  “I didn’t – Dwalin, we can work up to things.  I would never expect that – certainly not when we’re just starting – ”

            Working up to things sounded like a terrible idea.  Dwalin didn’t want to get sidetracked by working up to anything; all during it, he would be dreading the final act.  Better to get it over with and know whether he had a future with Bofur.  “Just the first time,” he repeated; he’d allow himself that much weakness and no more.  “Then I want to try.”

            Bofur looked troubled, so Dwalin kissed him to distract him.  They set out back to camp, carrying their weapons and holding hands.

 


 

            "Dwalin?"

            Dwalin rolled over in the morning light and smiled at Bofur.  When he saw the look on his friend's face, though, he sat up and paid attention.

            Bofur was looking at him with complete seriousness.  There was no laughter or smile anywhere on his face, and Dwalin felt the first pangs of alarm.  Had Bofur changed his mind so soon?

            Bofur's voice was not unfriendly when he spoke again, but it was firm and unyielding.  "There's no way to say this that won't be awkward, so I'm just going to say it and then we'll put it behind us."

            Dwalin's stomach clenched.  He'd fucked up already?  They'd just begun!

            Was it the conversation they'd had about sex?

            "If we're going to do this," Bofur said, his face carefully neutral, "I need to be very clear on one thing."

            Dwalin held his breath.

            "If you ever hurt me again, I will walk away and never speak to you again.  This is your second chance, but I will not forgive again."

            Relief broke over Dwalin like icy water on a hot day.  Bofur was not leaving.

            Bofur's eyes were still deadly serious as they looked into his.  "Tell me you understand, and we will not speak of it again."

            "I understand," Dwalin whispered, and watched the kindness creep back into Bofur's features.  His friend untensed subtly, and Dwalin saw how hard it must have been for Bofur to say his piece.

            And Dwalin didn't think it should be left at that.  "I'm glad," he said.  "I'm glad you won't give me a third chance."  If he needed one, he was not worthy of Bofur.  And knowing that Bofur would take care of himself shifted things, too.  He knew Bofur was no coward, but he was comforted that his friend would not allow his kindness to be exploited.  It meant that Bofur trusted him, didn't fear him - and if that trust proved to be unfounded, Bofur would have the strength to fix things by leaving him.

            Relief showed then on Bofur's face, and he shifted to rest his head on Dwalin's shoulder.  Dwalin put his arms around him and traced blunt fingers over the lines of Bofur's face.  Then he followed his fingers with kisses, until Bofur relaxed completely.

            When Bofur shook back his hair and smiled up at him, Dwalin caught his breath.  All the shadows were gone from Bofur's eyes.  He hadn't seen his friend smile like that since before Rivendell - no, he hadn't ever seen Bofur smile like that.  Perfect happiness.

            Dwalin thought for a moment that he must be dreaming, for surely no one outside of a legend could be so beautiful?  And he let himself rejoice that somehow, incredibly, Bofur had found a way to put the violence between them to rest.

 


 

 

            Bofur wasn’t entirely surprised when Enna approached him later that day.

            “You saved my brother’s life,” the dwarf said almost shyly.  He bowed.  “My clan owes you a debt of gratitude.”

            “Nonsense,” Bofur said.  “Dwalin and the guards saved all of us by beating back the Orcs.  It’s them you ought to be thanking.”

            “Protecting us is their job,” Enna said.  “You – you had no call to risk your life.”  He stepped closer and caught Bofur’s good hand in his.  “I owe you a debt of gratitude.  If there’s anything I can offer…”

            Oh dear.  Bofur recognized that look; that was definitely hero worship in the dwarf’s eyes.

            Flattering as it was to have so attractive a dwarf gazing at him adoringly, he needed to put a stop to it.  Especially when, across the camp, he saw Dwalin glance their way and then freeze.

            Bofur removed his hand hastily.  “M-my thanks,” he stammered.  “But I must ask that you refrain from such an offer.”

            Enna’s gaze followed Bofur’s to take in Dwalin’s narrowed eyes and clenched jaw.  His shoulders sagged just a little.  “My pardon,” he said.  “I didn’t realize.”

            “Didn’t realize what?” Bofur asked, because he was curious to know if the rest of the caravan knew that he and Dwalin had started a… something.

            “That I had competition,” Enna said.  He wilted a little under the power of Dwalin’s scowl, and offered Bofur a wry smile.  “He is a lucky man.”

            “I’m the lucky one,” Bofur murmured, feeling his face heat unexpectedly.  Enna had made no secret of his regard – but Bofur had thought he was just flirting.

            Enna sighed.  Then he sketched a quick bow.  “I remain at your service, as does my clan,” he said, and left.

            Dwalin joined Bofur a few minutes later, clearly trying to untense his shoulders.  “What did he want?” he grumbled.

            “To thank me for saving his life,” Bofur replied absently.

            “I find that if you ignore them, they stop nattering on about gratitude,” Dwalin said.

            That surprised a laugh out of Bofur.  “My plan was more along the lines of staying away from situations where I might have cause to be thanked, later.”  He was a miner, not a warrior.

            “Hmph,” Dwalin grunted, scowling in Enna’s direction, and Bofur made bold enough to take Dwalin’s hand in his own and squeeze it, right there where anyone could see.  He was irrationally pleased when Dwalin didn’t pull away.

 


 

 

            That evening after supper, they made a nest of blankets again on the floor of the tent and curled up in each other’s arms.

            Dwalin liked Bofur’s dreamy smile, the one that came when Bofur immersed himself completely in kissing.  It was as if the other dwarf forgot everything except for Dwalin; the rest of the world ceased to exist.  It was humbling to be the focus of all that attention.

            Already they were learning each other; Dwalin knew the best way to elicit moans that Bofur tried fruitlessly to bite back, and Bofur knew that trailing his fingertips over Dwalin’s wrists and throat made the big dwarf shiver and curse.

            What Bofur didn’t know was that it also made Dwalin’s insides go molten, and set up a dull throbbing between his legs.  Dwalin still didn’t like the feeling of slickness at the juncture of his thighs, but he tried to convince himself that it was for the best.  At least it meant that he could enjoy what was to come.

            He realized, when Bofur seemed determined to keep everything above the waist, that he was going to have to broach the subject himself.

            “Kiss me,” Dwalin growled, hand fisted in Bofur’s messy hair.  Mahal alone knew what had become of the hat during their play.

            Bofur complied enthusiastically, but Dwalin drew away and shook his head.  “Kiss me like you would if you weren’t afraid of scaring me off,” he said.

            Bofur’s eyes widened.  “Dwalin…” he protested.

            Dwalin cut him off.  “Kiss me like you’d kiss a lover.”

            For some reason, Bofur’s smile dimmed a little at this last word, and he looked troubled.  “Dwalin, we’ve got years ahead of us.  We don’t need to rush in.”

            “I don’t want to wait for years,” Dwalin said, trying to keep his voice even and reasonable.  “I want to – ” – get it over with – “ - to see if I’d like it.”  He paused, then added, “Just – nothing inside me, not yet.”

            Bofur still looked worried, so Dwalin pulled him against his chest and ran his tongue over Bofur’s lower lip.  “Kiss me the way you want to kiss me,” he whispered, and prayed Bofur wouldn’t fight it.

            Bofur eyed him sharply, but Dwalin could see the moment he decided to believe him.  The smile that crossed his face was so sweet and happy that Dwalin had to look away lest he be blinded.  It was immensely comforting, to be the cause of that beautiful smile.

            Bofur took Dwalin’s face between his palms and kissed him hard, more intensely than he ever had before.  He licked into Dwalin’s mouth, wrapping his arms more firmly around his neck.  His enthusiasm was contagious; Dwalin felt his own excitement mounting, reflected in Bofur’s eyes.  “Beautiful,” Bofur murmured between kisses.  “…Gorgeous.  Wonderful.  Oh, Dwalin…”

            Dwalin firmly told the panicking voice at the back of his mind to go suck it, and held on and enjoyed the ride.

            The kisses that Bofur gave him were not very different from what they’d already done.  What was different, Dwalin realized through a haze of arousal mixed with the small tinny voice of panic, was where Bofur put his hands.

            Bofur must have been being very proper up til now, Dwalin realized.  He forced himself not to tense when the hand skating over his back moved down to rest on his arse.  No one had ever touched him there before; no one had dared.

            Just when he’d convinced himself to get used to it, that it wasn’t too strange, the hand was gone, and instead Bofur was unbuttoning Dwalin’s tunic.  Dwalin shrugged it off readily; he’d been shirtless last night, too.

            He had a brief moment of instinctive fear – He’ll see my breasts! – before remembering that his body was right now, that it was all right for Bofur to look, that it was all right for Bofur to touch.

            Because this time, Bofur’s hands ranged further than before, not confined to his neck and shoulders.  Bofur’s kisses were insistent, enticing; they invited him to float away on the pleasure Dwalin knew was right there for the taking.  Then Dwalin’s attention was dragged back to the gentle caress across his torso.  He panted to regain his breath.  Bofur’s fingers trailed fire, feeding the unaccountably thick, hot feeling between Dwalin’s legs.  Still Dwalin couldn’t help tensing further and further the lower Bofur’s hand went –

            “Breathe,” Bofur commanded, his hand resting just below Dwalin’s navel.  Dwalin told himself not to be relieved that it went no further.

            His lungs were burning, and he realized that Bofur’s words were more than just metaphor.  He made himself take deep breaths, reaching for the calm deep inside.  The calm that came with morning axe forms or with basking in Bofur’s smile.

            He felt Bofur wrap comforting arms around his neck and curl close.  When Dwalin calmed enough to open his eyes, he saw Bofur’s smile right there.  Something in him unclenched when he didn’t find worry in Bofur’s eyes.

            Bofur smiled and kissed him more gently this time, looking completely serene.  “We’ll make it work,” he said, combing his fingers through Dwalin’s beard.  “I promise.  We’ve all the time in the world.”

            Dwalin didn’t know where Bofur had found such certainty, but he took comfort in it.  Also he was relieved that Bofur had stopped protesting that they didn’t need to do this.  It was bad enough wrestling with his own unruly emotions, let alone trying to talk Bofur into giving him what he needed.

            Bofur shifted so they were lying side by side, facing each other.  His eyes were warm, smiling, and he gazed at Dwalin, then brought their foreheads together.  Dwalin put his arms around Bofur and held on tight, soaking up the comfort offered.  It was all right to accept such comfort, he told the panicky voice, feeling much calmer now.  Bofur hadn’t held him in awe as a hero for years; he already knew that Dwalin was nervous, and thought no less of him for it.  I was shaking in my boots my first time.  Maybe – maybe Dwalin didn’t need to hide his apprehension.

            “Do you trust me?”

            “What?”  Dwalin couldn’t think why Bofur would ask such a question.

            “Do you trust me?” Bofur repeated.

            “Yes, of course,” Dwalin said.  He didn’t even have to think about it.

            Bofur positively beamed at him.  “And I trust you,” he said.  “I trust you to tell me when I do something you don’t like or you’re not ready for, and we’ll decide together what we want to do next.”

            Together.  Dwalin nodded slowly.  It was fair, but it would make his planned fall-back strategy of grit your teeth and bear it rather difficult.  Still, Bofur was right; Dwalin could trust him with his fear.

            “What if I don’t like anything?” he asked quietly against Bofur’s neck so that he wouldn’t have to look him in the eye.  He didn’t like the slick, full sensation at the juncture of his thighs.  He liked the feelings that caused it, but he wasn’t sure he could ever be happy with wetness where there ought to be hardness.

            “Then we’ll find a way to make it work,” Bofur repeated.  He sounded utterly certain.

            Dwalin nodded.  He would let Bofur be sure for both of them for a time.

            “I should like very much to touch you,” Bofur told him.  He sat back, surveying the length of Dwalin’s body.  “Where is it all right to touch?”

            Dwalin felt his heart swell almost painfully at these words.  In that moment, he adored Bofur more than he’d ever thought possible.  He hadn’t known he could ask for such a thing – yes, Bofur had said it, but he hadn’t thought he meant it.  “Not – not between my legs just yet,” he whispered.  Oh, perhaps he could do this, maybe even enjoy it…

            “Shall we leave your trousers on?” Bofur asked, stroking Dwalin’s beard comfortingly.

            He should be able to do this.  Taking his trousers off shouldn’t be so frightening.  Bofur deserved –

            Bofur touched his cheek.  “What’s going on in your head, love?” he asked.

            It was difficult to find words to speak.  Do you trust me? Bofur had asked.  “Keep trousers on,” Dwalin said finally.

            Bofur hummed his agreement.  “There’s lots of fun to be had with trousers on,” he said, grinning widely.  “Let me show you.”

 


 

 

            Over the next hour, Bofur taught him a dizzying number of ways to give and receive pleasure.  Freed from the nervousness of trying to push himself too far, Dwalin enjoyed the veritable feast of sensation.  Who knew that simple touch could feel so good?  Who knew that his heart would swell with pride every time he made Bofur moan?  Dwalin was just building his courage to again touch the bulge in Bofur’s trousers when Bofur’s hand dragged against one of Dwalin’s nipples and he cried out.

            Bofur’s eyes widened, and he ran his thumb experimentally over the pap again.  Dwalin moaned, curling in a bit on himself and moving away; the pleasure was almost – but not quite – painful.

            “Are they sensitive?” Bofur asked, delighted.  “I always wished mine were.”

           This time the caress was gentler, and oh Mahal that felt good, but Dwalin couldn’t help hating that the womanish part of his body had reminded him again that he wasn’t right.

            Bofur wrapped his arms around Dwalin, taking the hint and leaving the nipple alone.  He nibbled on Dwalin’s jaw instead.  “I once had a – ”  But he stopped abruptly, looking confused.

            “You had a what?” Dwalin asked, because listening to Bofur natter was a thousand times better than listening to the recriminations in his own head.

            To his surprise, Bofur blushed.  “I’m not sure I ought to say,” he said quietly.  “It’s poor form to bring up old lovers when you’re in bed with a new one.”

            Dwalin would need to find a better strategy than enraged jealousy at the mention of those who had come before him.  Who had proper bodies, the insidious voice of doubt hissed.

            He had Bofur now, he told himself, and there would be no more lovers.  “Tell me.”

            “Just, I once had a lover who was as sensitive as you.  It was great fun,” Bofur said. 

            “Aye, you’d do best not to talk of others,” Dwalin growled, but in actuality he was relieved.  “Can men be sensitive there too, then?”

            “Of course,” Bofur said, no hint of a lie in his eyes.

            Dwalin reached up and rubbed at one of Bofur’s paps.  “Yours aren’t?”

            “Not a bit,” Bofur said regretfully. “I’m a little jealous.”  He bent his head over Dwalin’s chest, then glanced up for permission.  “May I?”

            Dwalin wasn’t sure what he was agreeing to, but he nodded.  A moment later he found out when Bofur’s mouth latched gently onto the sensitive nub.  A groan was torn from Dwalin’s lips.

            Bofur’s tongue played havoc with Dwalin’s chest for a while until Dwalin couldn’t stand it anymore and pushed him off.  The pressure growing between his legs was disquieting, and the distasteful wetness seemed to grow by the minute.  Still, he could tell that he and Bofur would enjoy that a lot in future.

            There was something Dwalin had been wanting to ask for, something that gave him a queer feeling of excitement and trepidation in the pit of his stomach.  He could only stand so much dithering even in himself, so he steeled himself and finally began, “I’d like – ”

            Bofur hummed happily.  “What would you like, love?”

            Dwalin felt a shiver go through him to hear himself called love.  Did Bofur mean it, or was it just an endearment?

            “Would you… would you show me how you bring yourself off?”

            In spite of his surprise, Bofur didn’t hesitate.  “Of course I will.”

            Dwalin shifted to sit against one of the cots so that he could see better.  Bofur kicked off his trousers, then to Dwalin’s surprise came to sit between Dwalin’s legs, his back to Dwalin’s chest.  Dwalin pulled him closer with one hand on Bofur’s abdomen, a little breathless to see how close his fingers came to touching Bofur’s naked cock.

            He was glad Bofur didn’t start at once; he had time to look at it.  It wasn’t that he’d never seen one, but in the baths it was rude – or an invitation – if he stared, and he’d been doing his best not to look at Bofur in particular for several months.

            He derailed the panicked How is it ever going to fit inside me? with a firm Not now and distracted himself by nuzzling Bofur’s neck, inhaling his comforting scent and nipping at the spot that Bofur seemed to love.  Bofur shuddered in his arms, and his hand dropped to encircle the dusky red shaft with a groan.

            Dwalin watched, mesmerized, as Bofur worked his cock with a tight fist.  Bofur’s head fell back onto Dwalin’s shoulder and his body trembled a little at each stroke.  Dwalin could feel Bofur’s hot breath against his neck, coming in gasps.  He wished he could see better, wished he could touch…

            By the time his mind caught up, his large hand had already curled around Bofur’s smaller one.  He could feel Bofur’s surprise, and relished the gutteral moan torn from his friend’s lips.  But more, he could feel the way Bofur slowed down in response, his hand moving slower, more languidly.  He could feel the shift and squeeze of each finger under his own, and understood that Bofur was teaching him his favorite way to be touched.

            “Mahal,” Bofur gasped a long while later.  Dwalin could feel the tension building in the other dwarf’s body; Bofur’s belly had gone tight and rigid, and his neck arched as if he were straining toward some impossible goal.  Dwalin nibbled again at that spot on his neck that seemed to drive him wild, and the tension in Bofur’s body seemed, impossibly, to increase.  “Oh, Dwalin,” he babbled, “oh Mahal, Dwalin, fuck –

            Dwalin felt the hand under his tighten further, rubbing vigorously at Bofur’s cock, until Bofur cried out and his hand stilled.  And then he was shaking apart in Dwalin’s arms, and Dwalin held him tightly and felt wet heat seep between Bofur’s fingers.

            Dwalin kept holding on, feeling the tremors that wracked his friend’s body gradually slow and fade.  The tension drained from Bofur’s body, and he took a ragged breath, then another.

            When he was breathing easier, Bofur reached for his shirt and wiped off his hand.  Then he turned in Dwalin’s embrace so that they could kiss. 

           Dwalin pulled Bofur’s pliant body against his, shifting so they could lie side by side.  Bofur snuggled up against him immediately, and Dwalin ran his hands over the length of his back.  Bofur’s skin was very warm and still a little damp with perspiration.  Dwalin fitted his hand over the curve of one buttock, and Bofur moaned a little when his oversensitized cock pressed against Dwalin’s body.

           A lassitude stole over both of them, though Dwalin did not feel sleepy in the slightest.  He enjoyed stroking a palm down over Bofur’s back; loved the way Bofur nestled closer.  With his other hand, Dwalin began combing through the end of one braid, gradually loosening it until, after long minutes, he was stroking Bofur’s unbound hair.  He began on the second braid.

           As Dwalin watched, contented, Bofur’s eyes drooped further and further, though he seemed to be fighting sleep.

           “Rest a bit,” Dwalin murmured.  His heart hurt with how much he loved Bofur in that moment.  When they’d started, Dwalin had wanted exactly what he’d just gotten: to bring Bofur off without having to worry about being pleasured himself.  Somehow in the course of the past hour, Dwalin had come to want the pleasure Bofur offered.  But he could wait.  “We can do more later.”

           Just before Bofur gave in and lost himself to slumber, Dwalin heard him murmur his name.  And then he was asleep.

           Outside their tent, dwarves were singing love ballads around the fire.  Dwalin thought that surely some part of him would start to panic any moment now, but for the moment he was just going to enjoy having Bofur in his arms.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

           Bofur stirred soon, blinking out of his gentle doze and treating Dwalin to one of his startlingly brilliant smiles.  “Sorry,” he said, chagrined.  “It’s poor form to fall asleep on your partner, too.”

           Dwalin felt his heart swell with affection again.  Dearest Bofur, apologizing for not being a proper lover when he’d just proven he was the best lover in the world.  It was too soppy to say out loud, though, so he just pulled Bofur into a kiss.

           Bofur hummed happily into the kiss.  He didn’t seem to mind that Dwalin was pawing him all over; seemed, in fact, to enjoy it.  He shivered when Dwalin took his arse in both hands and pulled him flush against his body.

           Dwalin slid his thigh between Bofur’s and shifted to rub it up against the rapidly-hardening shaft.  He wondered how many times he could bring Bofur to peak before he was exhausted.  It would be fun to find out.

           “Oh no you don’t,” Bofur panted, ending on a gasp when Dwalin ran his thumb over the sensitive spot on his neck where a bruise had begun to develop from all the sucking.  “Surely there’s something I can do to make you feel good?”  His hands hovered, uncertain of his welcome.

           Dwalin had been thinking this over.  He didn’t like the wetness between his legs, and he liked even less the thought of Bofur’s cock there.  But there was another option.  “You said once that you had a fantasy about – about pleasuring me with your mouth?”

           Bofur’s cheeks went pink.  “I told you that?” he squeaked.

           “You were a little worse for drink at the time,” Dwalin admitted.

           The blush darkened into a rosy red, and Bofur hid his face against Dwalin’s neck.  “You never said,” he muttered, pouting.

           “I didn’t think it would ever come up,” Dwalin told him.  He trailed the back of his hand up the shaft of Bofur’s cock, and grinned when Bofur burst into a fit of giggles at the double entendre.

           After a bit of heavy kissing, Bofur sobered.  “You want my mouth?” he asked seriously, pulling back to search Dwalin’s eyes with his own.

           “Y-yes,” Dwalin said, totally failing to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

           “You said earlier you wanted to keep your trousers on.”

           “Can’t I change my mind?” Dwalin asked, annoyed.

           Bofur’s fingers combed through his beard again in a soothing motion that was becoming almost familiar.  “Of course you can,” Bofur said, leaning his forehead against Dwalin’s.  “If it’s what you want…”

           Dwalin shivered.  He didn’t know what he wanted.  The hot feeling between his legs was becoming insistent, and he hoped that Bofur would know how to soothe it.  “Nothing inside me,” he said.  “Just your mouth on me.”  When Bofur looked uncertain, he added, “Please don’t ask me if I’m sure.”

           “You’ll tell me if you don’t like it?” Bofur asked.

           Dwalin rolled his eyes.  “Yes.”  Why couldn’t Bofur get on with it?

           Bofur’s lips caught his and Dwalin found himself thoroughly kissed.  “Whatever you desire,” Bofur told him, voice deep with promise, as Dwalin tried to regain his bearings.

           Dwalin shivered again.  He wasn’t entirely sure he was ready for whatever he desired.

           “Lie back,” Bofur told him, rearranging the blankets so that Dwalin could lie more comfortably.

           Dwalin was certain that he didn’t like the feeling of vulnerability, being laid out and watched with hot eyes, and he would have protested except that a moment later, Bofur’s mouth was on his and the feeling had disappeared.  There was no end of wonders in Bofur’s kisses, and he was lost in the wave of sensation.

           Bofur’s mouth moved next to his throat, and if Dwalin wasn’t quite as sensitive here as Bofur was, it still felt wonderful.  And then those talented lips moved down to suck gently at Dwalin’s paps, and he had to stuff his knuckles in his mouth to keep from roaring aloud.

           If anything, it felt better this time.  Bofur sucked and nibbled and soothed and sucked again, switching between nipples every time Dwalin felt he just couldn’t bear another moment of it.  The heat between his legs began to throb insistently.

           “Bofur…” he whined.  He wasn’t sure what it was that he wanted; just that he wasn’t getting it and Bofur could change that.

           Bofur gave him a positively wicked smile.  “Shall I take off your trousers, then?” he asked, his voice husky.

           Dwalin caught his breath at the sight of him there, his head hovering just above Dwalin’s chest.  Bofur looked absolutely gorgeous in the warm lamplight, his dark hair unbound and spilling down over his bare shoulders.  It was a shame he kept it hidden in braids under that beloved, ridiculous hat most of the time.  Though perhaps it was just as well; Dwalin would have to fight off more suitors than just the courtesan if Bofur went out in public with all that lovely hair…  Dwalin buried his fingers in it happily.  He had always had a weakness for hair.

           A few moments later he became aware that Bofur was smiling bemusedly at him.  Dwalin carded his fingers through the thick locks one more time and tilted his head inquiringly.  Bofur laughed softly.  “Trousers?” he prompted.  “Yes or no?”

           “Yes!” Dwalin said, brought back to the matter at hand.  There would be time to fully appreciate Bofur’s hair later.

           “I am,” Bofur informed him with a recurrence of the wicked smile, “entirely at your service.”  A moment later, Dwalin felt Bofur’s hands unlacing his trousers.

           Don’t panic.  Don’t panic.  Don’t panic.

           Somehow, Dwalin kept breathing.

           Bofur got distracted kissing him again, which helped.  Kissing, he could do.  Dwalin loved kissing.  But then Bofur was tugging gently at his trousers, and without thinking Dwalin shifted cooperatively so they could come off…

           Bofur was kissing down his torso, and then Dwalin could feel his breath against his thighs as Bofur removed the trousers entirely.  Dwalin couldn’t help it; he curled up protectively a little, jostling Bofur away.

           Bofur balled up the trousers and tossed them away, coming back up to kiss Dwalin as if nothing had happened.  “Too fast?” he asked.

           Dwalin’s ears burned.  He couldn’t meet Bofur’s eyes as he nodded.

           Of course, Bofur wouldn’t let him weasel out of it like that.  “We’ve all the time in the world,” he reminded Dwalin, settling into the blankets next to Dwalin’s shoulder as if he intended to stay there – as if he wasn’t going to go further down anytime soon.

           “I want you to now,” Dwalin insisted, frustrated just as much with himself as he was with Bofur.

           “Do you?” Bofur asked gently.  “What is it you want me to do?”

           Dwalin stared at him, helpless, because in all honesty he had very little idea what Bofur had in mind once he got down there.

           Bofur stroked Dwalin’s beard again, and curse it, it was soothing, but Dwalin didn’t want to be soothed.  “Have you ever brought yourself off?” Bofur asked quietly.

           Dwalin shook his head.

           “Do you know what I’ll be doing?” Bofur asked.

           “I have done this before,” Dwalin reminded him.  The Woman, so long ago, had used her mouth too, but he hadn’t much liked it.  And he couldn’t remember much of what she’d done.

           A slow smile stole across Bofur’s face.  “Then you know,” he said, suddenly very close, “that I’ll do something like this,” and he laved Dwalin’s right nipple with his tongue, surprising a shudder out of him.  “And then I’ll probably do this for a bit…”  His tongue traced circles around the nipple, teasing it until he pulled off with a bit of suction just at the end.  Dwalin moaned softly.  “And then…”  He continued to demonstrate on the nipple what he was planning to do between Dwalin’s legs, until Dwalin thought he’d run mad with the sensation.  He tugged Bofur away by the hair and tried to suggest with a wiggle of his hips that his mouth might be put to better uses, but Bofur just smirked at him.  “And then,” he continued, because he was evil, “when your – ”

           And then, unexpectedly, he stopped, a look of confusion crossing his face.  “Dwalin,” he said, “what do you call it?”

           Dwalin was slow to respond.  He’d lost that wonderful tongue against his chest, and Bofur was asking him questions when he was finally feeling ready.  There was no justice in this world.  “Call it?” he echoed when his mind finally caught up.

           Bofur gestured vaguely toward Dwalin’s crotch.  His cheeks went a bit pink.  Dwalin would have laughed, but he was turning rather red himself.

           “Is it – do you call it your cock?” Bofur asked.  “Because that’s fine, I just want to know the right thing to say…”

           Oh for Mahal’s sake.  “Now?” Dwalin demanded.  “You want to talk about this now?”  When Bofur could have his mouth right now on his…

           Bofur looked mortified.  “I just don’t want to call it the wrong thing!” he insisted.

           Dwalin did not want to admit that he had never had a name for the parts of him that didn’t belong, but there was nothing for it.  “I don’t know,” he said heavily.  “I never found a good word.”

           Bofur must have heard the strain in his voice, for almost immediately he had his arms around Dwalin and his hand in his beard.  Dwalin let himself be held and tried not to feel disappointed that yet again his body had gotten in the way of what he wanted.

           “We could call it your cock?” Bofur asked.

           “No.”  He wouldn’t be able to stand calling it that.  “It’s not a cock, that’s the whole problem.

           He felt Bofur’s distress, and wished at that moment that he were a thousand miles away.  Bofur was as wonderful as they came, but even he couldn’t fix that Dwalin’s body would never be what he needed to it be.

           “I’m sorry,” Bofur said, soothing hands stroking Dwalin’s hair and beard.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to – ”  His shoulders sagged.  “Have I ruined the moment?  Should we stop?”

           In that moment, Dwalin came as close to tears as he ever did.  It wasn’t fair.  He was so close to conquering this fear, and it had felt so good, and they’d been tripped up because of a word.

           He was not going to let something so small get in the way of this.  “Tell me what words people use,” he said.

           Bofur blinked at him.  “I – all right?” he said, uncertain.

           “Kiss me first.”  Bofur was at his most confident when he’d been kissing Dwalin.  Dwalin needed that confidence back, and also his friend’s happy laughter.

           Fortunately, a nice long kiss – and a little groping on Dwalin’s part – did wonders to restore Bofur’s usual cheerfulness.  Before long, Bofur was doing a bit of groping of his own.  Dwalin broke the kiss with some regret.  “Tell me,” he said.

           “Now?”  Bofur’s voice was plaintive.  They both laughed.  “Oh very well, if you insist.”  Bofur rolled onto his side and propped his head up with one hand.  “Dwarf words or Human words?  Or… hmm, Hobbit words?  Don’t know Elf ones, I’m afraid.  Don’t even know if they have… parts.”

           “They do.”  Dwalin had seen sketches of Elves in the books and scrolls Elrond had gathered before his surgery.  He bit his lip.  “Dwarf words first.”  He didn’t know what words dwarf women used.  Not that he wanted to use them, but it would be good to know.

           “Well, the sensitive nub is usually called a ruby,” Bofur said, his voice matter-of-fact.  “What we were about to do would be called polishing the ruby.”

           All at once, a lifetime of dirty jokes that Dwalin had never quite understood became clear.  “I see.”  He’d always wondered why rubies needed so much polishing when other gems were rarely mentioned.

           “And the inside bit, most call the mineshaft.  For the… hammer, if you see what I mean.”

           “I see what you mean,” Dwalin said, struggling to keep a straight face.

           “I’ve heard it called a forge as well; hot enough to temper steel.”  Bofur gave up on trying to keep a straight face.  “Hobbits are no better – their lasses have furrows for their husbands’ plows.”  He laughed.  “And they also call it a honeypot, or a pudding.  They’re Hobbits; they had to bring food into it somehow.”

           Dwalin snickered.  “How on earth do you know such things about Hobbits?”

           Bofur tapped the side of his nose and grinned.  “Bilbo’s very talkative when he’s had too much to drink,” he said, and winked.

           Good grief.  Dwalin was beginning to get the picture.  No doubt the Elves spoke of quivers and arrows.  “And Humans?” he asked.

           Bofur hummed.  “The inside is the cunt.  They call the sensitive bit their button, or their clit.”

           “Clit,” Dwalin repeated.  It might do.  Except… all of those words were words women used.

           “We could think of our own words,” Bofur suggested.  “We could be dreadfully wicked and say them right out there in public, and no one would have any idea what we meant.”

           Dwalin grinned at the mischievous look on his face.  “Is that something you’d like?” he asked.  “You’d like to proposition me in front of other people?”

           Blushing, Bofur nodded hesitantly.

           Dwalin laughed and kissed him, feeling comforted now that the matter didn’t seem to be a barrier between them.  “We’ll think of a good word, then,” he said.  “But later.  I was promised some polishing first.”

 


 

 

           Bofur, Dwalin quickly learned, was not to be hurried.  He would spend as long as he felt was necessary to get Dwalin hot, no matter how often Dwalin told him he was ready.

           In some ways, that was reassuring.  Just now, it was incredibly frustrating.

           Dwalin didn’t like the vulnerability of lying on his back, especially not when his legs would soon need to be parted, so Bofur rolled him on his side and teased his chest until Dwalin felt as if his entire body was just nerve endings and his legs had turned to jelly.  To his dismay, the wetness between his thighs seemed to be increasing.  He tried to concentrate on how good Bofur was making him feel, but he kept getting distracted by the throbbing.

           “Now,” he told Bofur.  He didn’t want to beg, but he would if it meant that something could be done about the wetness.  “Need you now.

           Bofur’s eyes were almost black, the pupils blown with pleasure.  Dwalin could feel the evidence of his arousal against his side, and had another moment of dread – There’s no way that’s going to fit inside me – but he was distracted by Bofur’s hands tracing patterns over his skin, and the hot mouth at his throat.

           Bofur twined one of his hands around his, and he was saying something that Dwalin was too preoccupied to comprehend.  Bofur had to repeat himself before Dwalin understood.  “Show me where you want me to touch.”

           Mahal take it, couldn’t Bofur make this easy for him?  He wished that Bofur would just do it, and if Dwalin didn’t like it he could just tell him so – or maybe just let him do it and see if it got better.  Dwalin wasn’t entirely sure he had the courage for this: to let Bofur touch the places where Dwalin was wrong.

           He couldn’t let himself hesitate or he’d be lost.  Quickly, so that he wouldn’t think about it, he tugged Bofur’s hand so that it was resting over his sex.  Then he closed his eyes and tried to breathe.

           He can’t pretend anymore.  He can’t pretend I’m not – different.  There were more words he could call himself, but he couldn’t let himself think them because if he did, he’d never be able to enjoy this, and he wanted so badly for this to be good for Bofur.

           Bofur didn’t move.  His hand lay warm and almost heavy at the juncture of Dwalin’s thighs, and he kissed Dwalin and petted his beard with the other hand.

           Dwalin breathed.

           Bofur had to be able to feel the terrible wetness against his fingers.  Part of Dwalin expected him to snatch his hand away and recoil, faced with the evidence that Dwalin didn’t have a cock.

           But that was silly.  Bofur had known for years that he didn’t have a cock.  And he’d told Dwalin, the night he was so drunk that he might have admitted to anything, that he had fantasies both before and after he found out.

           Bofur’s forehead nudged his, and Dwalin leaned in, breathing easier.  No, he did not need to fear Bofur’s reaction.  It was only his own that would be a challenge.

           It’s just a hand, he tried to tell himself.  Just a hand, touching him where no one else ever had.  He was grateful that Bofur was keeping still, and at the same time wished that he would do something.

           “Bofur, please,” he said.  He didn’t know enough to know what to ask for, but Bofur caught his frustrated look and kissed him.

           The hand between his legs started moving, slow lazy circles, and Bofur lowered his head and took one of his nipples in his mouth again, imitating the motion.  Dwalin hissed at the pleasure and Bofur tried to stop, thinking he didn’t like it, but Dwalin yanked his head back down to his chest.  He felt Bofur’s smile against his skin, and the hand grinding against something sweet and sharp between his legs, and then one of Bofur’s fingers slid against the sensitive nub and Dwalin shouted.

           A moment later Bofur’s lips were on his, silencing him, and then Dwalin rolled onto his back so he could enjoy the grinding without having to brace himself.  Vulnerability be damned; this was Bofur.  Bofur would take care of him.

           Bofur alternated between kissing his lips and kissing his paps, and Dwalin wished briefly that there were two of him so he could do both at once.  Both felt so good, and as long as he was feeling good he didn’t have to think about the wetness or how much he wished his body was different.

           Something about the pressure of Bofur’s hand between his legs and the feeling of his mouth on Dwalin’s nipples set up a feedback loop of pleasure that was almost frightening in its intensity.  Dwalin realized he was clutching Bofur’s shoulders much too hard and had to make a conscious effort to stop.  Then he felt Bofur’s finger against that unbearably tender place again, and thought of Bofur’s mouth there, and thought his heart might stand still.

           “Want your mouth,” he gasped, and Bofur kissed him, misunderstanding.  Dwalin shook his head.  “Want your mouth there,” he said.

           Bofur gave him a startled, happy smile, as if he had been granted a rare pleasure, and started kissing down Dwalin’s body, getting distracted here to nibble at his neck, there to suck at a pap.  By the time he reached Dwalin’s belly, Dwalin was tense again.

           But thank Mahal, this time Bofur didn’t ask if he was sure.  This time, he flicked his tongue over the nub and Dwalin relaxed.  It felt good.  Oh thank Mahal, it felt good.

           After teasing it a bit, Bofur left to kiss and nip and suck at his inner thighs, which also felt good, but brought back the feeling of vulnerability.  Dwalin frowned and whined, “Bofur…”

           Bofur huffed a small laugh against his thighs, but readily returned his mouth to where Dwalin wanted it.  Dwalin moaned, contented.

           His hips surged up against the questing tongue, inadvertently knocking Bofur in the face when he didn’t manage to pull back in time.  Bofur gave a muffled yelp, and Dwalin whined at the loss of the hot mouth on his sex.  Bofur met his eyes, rubbing his nose ruefully.

            “Sorry,” Dwalin managed.  “Wasn’t expecting that.”

            “I thought you said you’d done this before?”

            Dwalin hissed as Bofur lowered his tongue again to lap delicately at sensitive flesh, and tried to keep his hips still.  “I have.  But it wasn’t – she wasn’t – ”  He choked off a cry when Bofur leaned his full weight onto his forearms, holding Dwalin pinned to the blankets beneath and flicking his tongue just so across the sensitive nub before opening his mouth to suck it in.  Dwalin heard a keening whine and realized it came from his own mouth.  She wasn’t nearly so nice.

            Dwalin panted, his body wracked with soft shudders as Bofur’s talented tongue brought him nearer and nearer the breaking point.  Big hands tangled in Bofur’s messy braids, he couldn’t help trying to tug that mouth just where he wanted it, even after Bofur gave him a warning nip on his thigh.  Dwalin wanted – he wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he was so close.  Bofur pressed a thumb to the side of the nub, anchoring the pleasure, and Dwalin tensed because he wasn’t sure if Bofur was planning to move the fingers inside, but instead Bofur sucked hard, and with the next swipe of the tongue Dwalin was there.  His hips stuttered upward in spite of the powerful forearms holding him down, and he let out a roar as the flickering tongue drew another wave of pleasure from him, and a third.  After the fourth, Dwalin collapsed back on the bed, letting out a whimper as Bofur’s tongue slowed and gentled and then finally drew away.

            Mahal.  He hadn’t even known it was possible to feel that good.

            Bofur’s lips were on his a moment later, desperate hungry kisses that cut through the languor Dwalin felt stealing over his body.  Bofur tasted different than he had earlier, and his mustache and beard were slick.  Dwalin felt his face heat and his insides throb when he realized what he was tasting.

            “Please,” Bofur murmured, pressing his whole body desperately against Dwalin’s, and by Mahal, Bofur was hurting and that was wrong.  Dwalin pushed him off and onto his side, still kissing hungrily.  Bofur pushed his erection into Dwalin’s hand, his eyes dark with desire.  “Please,” he begged, and closed his eyes when Dwalin closed his hand over his cock.

            Bofur writhed, a sound almost like pain falling from his lips, and Dwalin wished he had the first idea of what to do with the cock in his hand.  He squeezed and Bofur whimpered, so he did it again.  After his brief panic, he remembered that Bofur had shown him earlier how he liked to be touched.  “Dwalin…” Bofur hissed when Dwalin tightened his grip and slid his hand down the shaft.

           Earlier, Bofur had slowed down when he showed Dwalin how to touch him, so Dwalin’s strokes were slow, almost teasing in the face of Bofur’s urgency.  Bofur whimpered, trying to thrust against Dwalin’s hand.  Even though he’d just come, Dwalin felt a current of desire run through him at the sound.  Bofur was so beautiful like this, with his head thrown back and his jaw clenched, making little needy sounds with every stroke.

           Dwalin’s fingers quested lower, exploring.  Bofur, like all dwarves, had a liberal sprinkling of hair all over his body, and it was thicker here between his legs.  It completely covered Bofur’s stones.  Dwalin fondled them, fascinated, and Bofur barely suppressed a flinch.

           “No?” Dwalin asked, snatching his hand away.

           “Gently,” Bofur said.  He caught Dwalin’s hand and brought it back.  “It feels good, but not if you squeeze.”

           Dwalin was careful to keep his touch light this time, and he ran them softly over the plump stones.  He frowned when his fingers found something unexpected.  He shifted closer to look.  “Are you… pierced there?”

           Two thick gold rings adorned the sac holding Bofur’s stones.  Mahal above, that must have hurt to get done, if they were so tender!

           “At my coming of age,” Bofur explained.  “It’s traditional, in the mining clans.”

           Dwalin bit back the next question, which was how on earth the Broadbeams had been able to afford such a thing when gold was so tight that they were going hungry.  Somehow, people often valued tradition over even the necessities.

           “Emergency gold?” he teased instead.

           Bofur laughed.  “Never have to remember to sew it into the lining of your coat,” he said.  He put his hand in Dwalin’s beard and gently tugged him up for a kiss.  Dwalin’s fingers closed around his cock again and Bofur moaned, his hips thrusting up against the heat of Dwalin’s hand.

           Dwalin kissed him again, the musky scent of his sex still on Bofur’s lips, and that gave him an idea.

            Bofur whined when Dwalin’s hand left him, so Dwalin tried to distract him by running his tongue along the shell of Bofur’s ear.  A whole-body shudder went through his friend.  Meanwhile, Dwalin reached between his own legs, got his hand good and slick, and brought it back to envelop Bofur’s cock.  It got rid of the some of the disagreeable wetness, at least, and Bofur would enjoy it much more than Dwalin did.

            He swallowed Bofur’s shout, moving his slick hand over the engorged phallus. Bofur thrust against his fingers, eyes squeezed tightly closed.  “Oh Mahal, fuck, Dwalinnnn…” he keened, and tensed, and then Dwalin’s hand was slick with more than just his own pleasure.

            Dwalin held Bofur tight against him as his friend shuddered through the pleasure, thrusting again and again into Dwalin’s fist as he spent.

            They lay in silence then, listening to each other breathe, while Bofur’s heartbeat slowed and the tension ebbed from his body.

            Just when Dwalin was wondering how he could reach the blanket on the floor without letting go of the dwarf in his arms, his friend opened his eyes.

            “Well, that was at least a dozen times better than all of my fantasies,” he said, a gentle smile lighting his face.

            Dwalin looked into eyes sated, content, and completely free of the shadows that had lurked there since Rivendell.  “Mine too,” he rumbled.  He looked around the tent then, suddenly self-conscious.  “Half the camp must have heard us.”

            Bofur tensed and half sat up.  “Mahal, Dwalin, I didn’t think…”  He looked stricken.  “I didn’t – I meant to do this properly, when we got home to Erebor.  I should never have lost control like that – ”

            “Properly?” Dwalin teased, dragging him back down and trying to soothe the tension from Bofur’s shoulders.  “Was this improper, then?”

            Bofur ducked his head against Dwalin’s chest to hide a grin.  “Terribly improper,” he laughed.  “There are accepted ways to conduct a courtship, and ending up in bed together is never the first step.”

            Dwalin ran a thick finger over Bofur’s mustache, still slightly slick.  He liked the thought that Bofur would still be able to smell him, for days maybe if they didn’t find a good place to bathe along the road.  “That wasn’t the first step.  The first step was when you found someone to give me my body back.  I doubt that’s part of a proper courtship, either…”

            “Then you don’t mind?”

            “Mind what?”  Did Bofur think he minded that it turned out all his fears about sex were for naught?

            “That I’d like to court you?”  Bofur wriggled so that they were lying side by side, facing each other.  His eyes were uncharacteristically sober.  “A proper courtship should begin with gifts, gold and crafts, not with bedding each other practically in public.”

            Dwalin turned bright red as it finally sunk in that everybody within hearing distance now knew what Bofur was to him.  But – what did it matter?  “You have already given me a gift,” he said, and nuzzled Bofur’s neck.

            Bofur raised a suspicious eyebrow.  “What gift?” he demanded.  “And if you dare say ‘your cock’ I swear I will never speak to you again.”

            Dwalin chuckled.  He took Bofur’s good hand in his and brought it to his chest, guiding the fingers to the scars left from the surgery.  “You could never give me a gift more precious than this,” he said seriously.  Then he quirked an eyebrow at Bofur and grinned, showing his teeth.  “Which is not to say that your cock isn’t quite the gift as well,” he teased, and rolled out of range just in time to avoid being smacked.

 


 

 

            It occurred to Dwalin rather belatedly, later in the evening after all the singers outside had gone to bed and they’d put their clothes back on against the cold, that he should be angry.  “You were going to make me wait until Erebor?” he demanded.

            “Yes.”  Bofur looked up from where he was painstakingly making a list of goods to request from Elrond, the pen clutched awkwardly in his left hand.  “It seemed in poor taste to use Oin and Gloin’s gold to buy courtship gifts in Ered Luin, and there’s higher quality to be had in Erebor anyway.”

            Dwalin noted that Bofur avoided meeting his eyes, and tried to think why.  “I told you, you already gave me a gift – ” he began, but suddenly he understood.  Courtship implied, though it certainly did not promise, a proposition of marriage at the end of it.

            Dwalin tried not to gape at his friend.  Aye, he’d thought long and hard about taking Bofur as a lover.  And sometimes such things did lead to marriage down the line.  But Dwalin had never entertained such a notion.

            “You can say no, you know,” Bofur said quietly.  “We could be just lovers.  I’d be very happy with that.”

            Marriage – marriage was for kin and for children and to signify to dwarves everywhere that you and your loved were linked for all eternity.  Dwalin thought of Havlin, so worried that Bofur wanted dwarflings of his own that he managed to sabotage his own happiness, and abruptly understood how such a thing could have happened.

            Still, a courtship lasted years.  Plenty of time to hammer out details.  They’d already overcome so many hurdles; surely whether or not Bofur wanted children was another one they could surmount?

            “We’ll discuss it when we return to Erebor,” Dwalin said.  His voice sounded harsh in his own ears.

            When Bofur said goodnight and curled up on his cot, Dwalin was left in the darkness feeling as if he’d tripped and fallen before he even began the race.

            He looked at his own cot; the four feet across to Bofur’s bed might as well have been four miles.  Dwalin cursed himself roundly for saying anything.  He was not going to lose Bofur now, not after such a long journey to get him.

            He picked up the cot and settled it next to Bofur’s.  Undressing quickly, he got into bed and pressed himself tightly to Bofur’s back.  One arm went around his friend, almost exactly the way they had been back at Bag End.  Only the slight stiffening in Bofur’s shoulders let Dwalin know he was awake.

            “We’ll discuss it in Erebor,” Dwalin whispered.  “I promise.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

            When Bofur woke, the first thing he was aware of was the massive arm across his torso, embracing him.  Dwalin lay flush against his back; Bofur could hear the big dwarf’s steady breathing near his ear.  Bofur had hoped to take a walk in the predawn light to clear his head, but there was no way to slip out without waking Dwalin.

            Since Dwalin showed no signs of stirring, Bofur thought over what had happened last night.  Now that he’d calmed, he cringed at the memory of his own behavior before bed last night.  He’d worried that Dwalin was rushing into the things – but it turned out that instead it was Bofur rushing, with his talk of marriage where it clearly wasn’t welcome.

            Bofurs mind settled into a well-worn groove, replaying the familiar litany of recriminations: Why can’t you be content with what you have?  He’s so good to you; why can’t you be happy with that?  Why must you always ask for more?

            He knew this game well from when he played it with Havlin, and he did not want to repeat it with Dwalin.  It had undermined his happiness then, and it would undermine it now.

            He couldn’t let that happen, not again.

            He knew rationally that Dwalin hadn’t meant what he said as a rejection, but he was having trouble convincing his heart of that.

            Dwalin had probably never thought about marriage in his life, since he’d never been interested in lovers.

            You have Dwalin son of Fundin as your lover.  Who are you to ask for more?

            Dwalin had been surprised by the talk of marriage, taken off guard.  Perhaps with time, he’d –

            No.  No, Bofur couldn’t go down that road again.  He couldn’t bear to hope so deeply.  Surely his heart would shatter if Dwalin said no again.

            Bifur and even Bombur always said he a romantic’s view of marriage.  <Marriage doesn’t fix things the way you think,> Bifur had said once, and Bombur had agreed: “It makes things more complicated, in some ways.”

            But Bofur had seen the way Balur fell apart when his wife died, and he’d seen how much happier Bombur was with Merced, and he’d watched Alís and Rae each be rocks for the other in the face of hard times.  He wanted that.  Down to his bones, he wanted that solidity, that reassurance that at last someone loved him enough to want to spend their whole life with him.  It was a hunger in him, one he’d always feared would never be sated.

            He wanted that with Dwalin, so badly he could taste it.  He wanted Dwalin to love him that much.  He wanted to finally feel safe, secure in the knowledge that if they made mistakes there was a contract in place that said that they had to work it out.  He knew it would be difficult, but he was willing to put in the work.

            Nobody rushed into marriage.  Courting usually took ten years, for a dwarf’s lifespan was long and marriage could not be easily undone.  And unless the marriage was political, it was never undertaken unless both parties were completely sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were willing to spend their entire lives together.

            Bofur was completely sure.  Dwalin was the only dwarf he could ever love from here on out.  But it seemed that Dwalin didn’t feel the same.

            Give him time.  He’s never had to think about marriage before, his better sense told him.

            But the scars Havlin had left were deep.  Bofur couldn’t do that again – couldn’t wait, hoping, for the other to make a move.

            He’d thought he could abide a relationship with Dwalin without sex.  Could he abide a relationship without marriage?

            The insecurity of it troubled him.  They’d have fights, and what would keep Dwalin from walking away?  Bofur would be alone again, and this time his heart would never recover.

            When it came down to it, he didn’t even know if what Dwalin felt for him was love.  He hadn’t said the words…

            No.  That way lay madness.

            At least if it all fell apart, Bofur was in a better position now.  He didn’t need to think of marriage as a way to feed his family, as he had with Havlin.  Bofur had work he enjoyed in the mines and his family was provided for.  If Dwalin left him, it would kill him – but it wouldn’t ruin him.

            Bofur looked down at the tattooed hand splayed across his chest.  Did he have the courage to love Dwalin without the reassurance of marriage?  Could he face each day knowing it could all fall apart?

            What choice did he have?  His heart was lost.  The only way forward was to take that leap of faith.

            Yes, he decided.  Dwalin was worth it.  If this was what Dwalin could give him, he would make it work.  When he’d thought Dwalin couldn’t give him sex, he’d been willing to work with that.  It turned out that Dwalin could give him sex but not marriage.  Bofur would just have to work with that.

            But he could not let himself hope.  He’d speak no more of marriage to Dwalin.  He’d give him the courting gifts he’d always dreamed of giving, but they would be gifts from one lover to another.  If he didn’t let himself hope for more, having Dwalin’s love would be enough.

            He knew the moment Dwalin’s breathing changed that he was awake.  When Dwalin loosened his hold, Bofur turned in his arms, put a smile on face, and reached up to ask for a kiss.  He wasn’t going to ruin the best thing he’d ever had by being greedy for more.

            He felt Dwalin’s hesitation.  Bofur kissed him softly in an effort to distract him, but something he’d always loved about Dwalin was his persistence.

            Dwalin’s hand cupped Bofur’s cheek.  “You were unhappy last night,” he said, cautious.

            Bofur knew how to hide from almost everyone.  Only a few could see through him – Bifur, Bombur, Havlin… and Dwalin.  He couldn’t lie.  But he could stretch the truth.

            “I’m sorry,” he said, caressing the beloved face.  “You’re right; we can discuss it in Erebor.  It’s much too early to think of such things.”  If Dwalin brought it up later, Bofur would tell him the truth: that he realized Dwalin wasn’t interested in marriage, and that Bofur had made peace with that.

            Dwalin’s face was set in an expression that anyone else would call a scowl, but Bofur knew was worry.  “I upset you,” he said.

            “A bit, but I’m all right now,” Bofur said as lightly as he could manage.  “No harm done.”

            Dwalin’s frown deepened.  Bofur was relieved when instead of pressing further, he was instead pulled into an embrace, and Dwalin pressed their foreheads together, offering kin-comfort.

            A rush of affection choked Bofur’s throat.  Dwalin was his best friend and his lover, and Bofur wouldn’t trade that for anything.  He would learn how to love without a net.

            At the end of the day, he had Dwalin son of Fundin in his heart and in his bed.  And if that didn’t make him the luckiest dwarf in Middle Earth, he didn’t know what would.

            Mahal had been good to him, he told himself.  He had his kin.  He had a whole vault full of treasure, and he had the best dwarf in the world at his side.  He was not Thorin, to ask for the Arkenstone on top of literal rivers of gold.

            He burrowed into Dwalin’s embrace and held on tight.

 


 

 

            When the sun was fully up, Dwalin kissed him and left to lead morning training.  Restless and wanting to distract himself from thoughts of marriage and love, Bofur dressed and wandered over to the mess tent to lend a hand.  Taelin shooed him away, though, claiming she had too many cooks already, so he took a seat on a nearby stump and brought out the block of wood he was working on.

            Carving lefthanded was so difficult as to feel useless, but he reminded himself that it had taken him most of a century to get really good with his right hand.  If he started now, he could get good again before he hit old age.

            But it was frustrating.  Animals generally were the easiest to make, and they pleased the children well, but his hand just wouldn’t cooperate with where his head told it to go.  He’d meant to carve a dog, but it was looking more like a sheep.

            At this rate, it would be a full century before he could resume work on Elrond’s gift.

            Ah, well.  A hundred years was a mere blink in the life of an Elf, he reminded himself.

            When breakfast started, Taelin brought him a bowl of porridge and sat next to him to eat her own.

            “That’s a queer knife,” she said, looking at the one he was using to carve.  “Did you make it yourself?”

            Bofur nodded, and laughed.  It was the iron knife he’d made in Rivendell when he’d been so angry with Dwalin.  “It’s many years since my Da had me in the forges,” he said.  In the better years of his childhood, his father had been an ironsmith.  In the years that money was tight and he couldn’t afford the ore, Balfur returned to the mines.  “I’m afraid he’d be sore disappointed in me if he were to see it.”

            Taelin picked it up and inspected it.  “Seems to work well enough for carving, at least,” she said.

            “Aye,” he sighed, “but my hands don’t.”  This was too morose, though, so he said, “I made another that Dwalin says is good for throwing.”  He took it from his pouch, and showed her how to hold it and bend her arm back to throw true.

            He hadn’t looked at in weeks.  Both knives, though not bad, were amateur work and should be melted down for scrap metal and reforged.  He wasn’t sure why he held on to them, even.  Perhaps it was because Dwalin had told him he had some talent for smithing. 

           Perhaps it was because when he’d been poor, he never threw anything away that might be the slightest bit useful someday.

           He’d been so angry with Dwalin when he made the knives in Rivendell.  It was a relief to let go of that anger; it had weighed him down for a long time before he forgave.  Worse, the anger had festered, much like his resentment with Havlin had.  Bofur did not want to repeat that mistake now that he had Dwalin.

            “A copper for your thoughts?” Taelin asked, and Bofur was dragged back to the present moment.

            “Sorry,” he mumbled.  “Nothing important.”  They were quiet for a time, both eating their porridge.

            “Taelin,” he said finally, having worked out the right words to ask a question that had long been on his mind, “what is it about marriage that you object to?”

            She looked surprised and a little wary.  Bofur could hardly blame her for that, he supposed.  But she answered, though he hadn’t really expected her to.

            “It’s never been something I wanted, to… to belong to someone,” she said.  “Even if I were to fall in love with someone my father would permit me to marry…”  She shook her head.  “I just never saw the appeal.  I’ve never felt the urge to lie with someone, even if I can see they’re quite handsome.”  She looked down at her hands.  “I wouldn’t mind having little ones, but I’ve never longed for them the way some do.  And – it’s something I didn’t understand for the longest time, seeing you and my brother – you needed each other.  You felt some hunger that I’ve never felt.  Krevlin’s like me, he doesn’t feel it either, so I never felt it was something wrong with me – but it made my father very unhappy.”

            Dwalin had been like that all his life, as far as Bofur could tell.  Balin, Oin, Thorin too.  It wasn’t unusual; fully half the dwarven population was unmarried.  But Bofur had never understood it.

            He knew Dwalin had enjoyed what they’d done last night.  Dwalin had no reason to pretend.  But…

            “Do you think you could fall in love?” he asked.

            “Oh, yes,” she said promptly.  “I’m sure I could.  I’d rather not, though – for then I’d be obliged to lie with him and bear his children, and he probably wouldn’t like me to spend so much time in the archives with dusty manuscripts.”  She sighed.

            It was dreadfully inappropriate thing to ask, but he had to understand.  “But… if you did fall in love…”  Bofur swallowed.  “Do you think you could… enjoy it?”

            She pursed her lips.  “It would depend a lot on the dwarf I fell in love with,” she said.  “I like children; I wouldn’t mind having some of my own.  As for lovemaking…”  She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I suspect I could enjoy it.”

            “Really?” Bofur blurted, surprised.

            “I don’t see why not.  There are dwarves who don’t like it, of course, and some of them have to marry, which is dreadful.  But I think with a good dwarf it might be… nice.”

            “Nice,” Bofur repeated, dumbfounded.

            Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so surprised.  After all, it had been Taelin’s idea to marry him.

            She looked up at him, her brow furrowed.  “But you see, Bofur, the trouble is that I would never need it the same way he did.  I could enjoy it, but I’d never crave it.  So I hope that if I ever do fall in love, it will be with a dwarf like me.  Otherwise it might get too complicated.”

            Complicated, indeed.

            “Mostly, though, I hope I never fall in love,” she confessed.  “Ori’s told me so much about the archives of Erebor, and there’s lifetimes of work to be done there!  I wouldn’t want the distraction.”

            Bofur laughed.  “You’re probably safe from falling in love while in the archives.  Mostly it’s only Ori and Balin who go there.  Ori keeps talking of taking on apprentices.”  He’d thought perhaps she and Ori would be a good match, but from what she said they wouldn’t suit.  He patted her hand.  “Ori will be lucky to have you.”

            She smiled at him.  There was something of Havlin’s eager joy in the smile, and he loved her for it.

 


 

 

            Mistress Miril came to see them as they were packing up their tent.  She wore her usual grim expression, but Dwalin had come to expect it by now.

            “We are nearing the Elflord’s lands,” she said gruffly.  “I’d like to send you two ahead to arrange the purchase of food, as you know him best.”

            That sounded wise to Dwalin.  The least amount of time the dwarves spent with the Elves, the better.  One side or the other would provoke a quarrel – and Dwalin would lay money on it being the dwarves.

            Bofur took the map from Miril and frowned at it.  “Two days’ ride?”  he hazarded.

            Dwalin glanced at it.  “Three.  We’ll need to leave the wagon with the caravan.  Is there an extra pony we can borrow?”

            “It’s all arranged,” Miril told him.  “You two will bring the supplies to the main road and wait for the caravan to catch up.  That’ll give my lord treeshagger several days to get the goods together.  Will that be enough?”

            “I’m sure it will,” Bofur said.  “When do we leave?”

            “Tomorrow morning,” she said crisply.  “Shall I send one of the guards with you, or would you prefer some privacy?”

            Dwalin felt his cheeks heat and hoped she wouldn’t notice.  “If an Orc party attacks, they’ll slaughter three as easily as two,” he said gruffly, ignoring his discomfort with what she must have heard last night.

            Bofur grimaced.  “A pleasant thought.”

            Dwalin shrugged.  It was the truth; they would be easy prey.  “Two can go more quietly than three, at least,” he offered.  He did not expect to encounter any Orcs on Elrond’s lands, though, not after so many died in the Battle of Five Armies.

            Not that they wouldn’t be careful.  They’d need to switch off keeping watch, which meant no time for loveplay.  It was a shame, but there was no help for it.

            “Very well,” he said to Miril.  “We set out in the morning.”

 


 

 

            That evening after supper when Bofur would have gone to sing and joke around the fire, Dwalin snagged his arm and tugged him in the direction of the tent.  Bofur was startled, but followed him without question.

            Dwalin had been thinking about it all day, what he was going to ask.  He’d made up his mind after Miril left them.  Tonight was their last opportunity for intimacy until they rejoined the caravan, and Dwalin had had all day to talk himself out of his fear.

            He was much less afraid, after last night.  Everything Bofur had done had felt good, so Dwalin’s nervousness over what remained seemed almost… silly.

            He kissed Bofur deeply as soon as he had him alone, because there were priorities to keep in mind.  But after he’d recovered a bit from the way Bofur always turned his legs to jelly, Dwalin came to the point.

            “I want you to fuck me,” he said.

            Bofur froze, the shock on his face almost comical.  For just a moment, Dwalin thought he was going to say no.  Instead, Bofur said, sounding slightly strangled, “Why?

            The question baffled Dwalin.  It was the next step.  It was a fear to conquer. 

            “Because I think you’d like it?” he said, wondering why Bofur seemed to feel the need to always protect him when it came to sex.

            Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say.  Bofur’s face took on that expressionlessness it did when he was upset and didn’t want it to be seen.  He seemed to physically retreat, even though he didn’t move.  “I told you I don’t want that.”  All the way back at the beginning, he’d said so.

            “Well, I can’t very well fuck you, can I?” Dwalin demanded, temper flaring.

            Bofur seemed to draw in even further, and Dwalin cursed silently.  They’d been doing so well!  Why was Bofur still second-guessing him?

            But Bofur would never be convinced this way.  Dwalin drew him into his arms and kissed him gently until Bofur untensed.  When he thawed enough to return the kisses, Dwalin murmured, “Why won’t you give me this?  Do you not like it?”  Then he realized he was making an assumption, and asked, “You have done it before?”

            “Yes,” said Bofur crossly.  “I’ve done it and I’ve liked it.  But I don’t want to do it with you.

            Dwalin couldn’t suppress his flinch at this.  It hurt in a way he wasn’t used to – as if someone had stabbed a sharp blade into an underbelly he hadn’t even known he possessed.

            Bofur’s face went instantly apologetic.  “Dwalin, wait – ” when Dwalin pulled away to leave, “that came out wrong.”  He caught hold of Dwalin’s arm.  “Don’t go.  Please.”

            Dwalin stayed, looking at him warily.  Bofur sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.  “If there’s something you don’t want to do in bed, I’ll honor that,” he said quietly.  “I need you to do me the same courtesy.”

            Dwalin flinched against the reproach, not least because Bofur had the right of it.  “But – why don’t you want me?” he asked.  It was still a stabbing pain, and pain made him angry.  He had to struggle to modulate his breathing.  He couldn’t get angry with Bofur; that way lay doom.

            Bofur softened a little.  “It’s not that I don’t want you,” he said, which dulled the knife in Dwalin’s stomach a little.

            “Then why?” he asked, pleased when his voice came out gruff instead of plaintive.  He’d never expected to have to beg Bofur for this.

            Bofur took one of Dwalin’s hands between his own.  “I don’t think we’re ready.  Either of us,” when Dwalin began to protest.  “It’s not something everybody likes, and we should know each others’ bodies a lot better before we try something that might not turn out well.”  He placed his good hand against the side of Dwalin’s face and stroked his cheek with the thumb.  “If it isn’t good, I want us to have a lot of nice things to do to fall back on.”

            Dwalin peered at him.  “You think I won’t like it,” he said.

            Bofur frowned, unhappy, then sighed deeply.  “Yes.  I think you won’t like it,” he agreed.

            Dwalin put his arms around him and pulled him against his chest.  Beautiful Bofur, always trying to make him happy.

            “I think I’d like it,” he rumbled.  “Giving you pleasure, that’s the best part.”  He tried to think of words to explain; words were important to Bofur, so he’d have to do his best.  Seeing Bofur turned on gave him a peculiar feeling his nether regions.  It was different than when Bofur touched him.  For one thing, it didn’t make him wet.  But it was a slow-burning flame, pride and power and love and lust all mixed up in it.  “It makes me feel good too.”

            “It can’t just be because I’d like it,” Bofur said, frustration evident in his brown eyes.  “Neither of us has to be self-sacrificing!”

            But Bofur was being self-sacrificing, just by being with Dwalin.  He was giving up children and marriage, and, and – and people with proper bodies.  This was the least Dwalin could do for him.

            “But I would like it.  Really,” when Bofur gave him the fisheye.

            “We’ve got years –

            Dwalin shook his head, and Bofur’s mouth shut abruptly with an audible click.  “I can’t wait years, Bofur,” he said.  He needed to change tack, and maybe if he trusted Bofur with his fear, he would understand why this was so important.  “I can’t wait years, with this standing at the end of it.  I can’t be afraid of this for years.”

            “Afraid?”  Bofur’s voice held no mockery, only inquiry, but still Dwalin tensed.  “You’re the bravest dwarf I know.”

            Dwalin remembered Bofur calling himself a coward, and then thought of the terrible night he’d gone down a collapsed mineshaft to rescue the survivors.  Bofur was the brave one, and he’d never see it.

            Dwalin cradled Bofur’s face in one hand, stroking his thumb over the dwarf’s lower lip.  “You mistake impatience for courage,” he told Bofur.  “The longer I wait to do something, the more time there is to spend being afraid.”

            Bofur smiled.  “Are you telling me the reason you run into battle is to avoid being afraid?”  He laughed.

            “Yes,” said Dwalin seriously.

            The smile disappeared.  “And this… this is a battle?”

            “Yes.  – No!  Not a battle.”  The words Dwalin used in his head would hurt Bofur if he wasn’t careful.  “A fear.  A fear I must face.”  He caressed Bofur’s cheek and smoothed the mustaches.  “I can’t stand to carry this fear for so long.  I need to do this so I can know that even if I don’t enjoy it, it isn’t as terrible as it is in my head.”

            Bofur looked at him, helpless.

            It wasn’t fair, but Dwalin did it anyway.  He knew himself; he knew he couldn’t last long in this state of indecision.  “Please,” he said.  “I need to know I can do this.  Help me.”

            Bofur’s face had gone still and blank again, so Dwalin knew he was upset.  “I don’t even want it,” he said.

            “But you will someday.  And I’ll run mad if I have to wait for that day.”

            “Then we won’t do it on that day,” Bofur snapped, almost in tears.  “You’ve already given me more than I ever thought you would.  I don’t need it!”

            “But I do!” Dwalin insisted.  He was having trouble keeping his frustration from turning to anger.  He couldn’t let his temper get the better of him, but he didn’t understand why Bofur was being so stubborn!  Still, butting heads never worked to convince Bofur.  “Please, Bofur.  I’ll beg if I must.”  He hated the pleading tone in his own voice, but if it worked…

            He could tell it was working, because Bofur’s expression dissolved into worried indecision.  “If I hurt you – Dwalin, I can’t stay hard if it hurts you.  I don’t enjoy hurting people.”

            “You would never hurt me.”  Dwalin knew that in his bones.  He might not think he’d enjoy this, but Bofur would not hurt him.

            Bofur reached for him and hugged him close, almost clinging.  “All right,” he said, and Dwalin began to worry, for Bofur’s eyes were all wrong.  “All right, we’ll try it.  But we stop if I’m hurting you.  That’s not up for negotiation.”

            It was as much as Dwalin was going to get, so he nodded.

            It was odd, tense, the moments that followed.  Dwalin knew Bofur wasn’t convinced, and did his best to convince him.  Surely when Bofur saw that Dwalin wasn’t hurt, things would be all right?

            He distracted himself from the worrying thought that things might not be all right by trying to lose himself in Bofur’s kiss.  But he couldn’t seem to lose himself this time.  The dread curling at the bottom of his stomach had set up an inexorable chant of wrong wrong wrong.  And Bofur would stop if he gave any sign of discomfort.

            Again, it wasn’t fair to ask, and Dwalin knew he should feel guilty for manipulating Bofur.  When all this was over, he would feel guilty.  But he did it anyway.  He buried his head against Bofur’s shoulder and whispered, “Please.  Help.”

            And Bofur, who was the best dwarf and refused Dwalin nothing, relented completely at last.

            Dwalin could feel the difference, now that Bofur was trying to turn him on, instead of waiting to see if he would be.  Bofur’s kisses were insistent now, not cautious.  And Dwalin was strangely delighted to feel the curl of heat through his core that would soon result in the unpleasant wetness – wetness that just now was so necessary.

           “How do you want it?” Bofur asked a while later.  “Front or back?”

           Dwalin didn’t understand at first.

            “Do you want me to fuck your arse or your…”  Bofur gestured, and Dwalin remember their discussion about words the night before.  He still didn’t have a word for his parts.

            “Front,” he whispered, because getting his arse fucked was frightening but not in a way that made his whole mind cringe away from it.  Getting fucked like a woman was the thing he was dreading, the thing he needed to know he could survive.

            He couldn’t help the bone-deep flinch when Bofur laid a hand on his abdomen, only inches from his groin.

            Bofur didn’t hurry him, though, and made no effort to remove Dwalin’s clothes.  In fact, he made no movement even toward lying down, just continued to kiss him and caress all the places that they’d discovered were pleasure points.  At any other time, Dwalin would have liked to enjoy the way Bofur’s tongue tracing over his wrists elicited fire throughout his body – but now, impatient, he tugged Bofur down and started unbuttoning his tunic.  He was grateful Bofur was giving him the space to be comfortable, but at the same him the muted dread was making its presence felt.

            Even once they were naked, Bofur didn’t touch him below the waist, concentrating instead on kissing alternately his lips and his paps.  When Dwalin was wet enough not to worry about pain, he took Bofur’s hand and guided it between his legs.

            “Tell me what you want,” Bofur gasped, panting, and Dwalin remembered belatedly that he should have been making sure Bofur too was enjoying things.  He reached for Bofur’s cock, only to stop when the sight of it triggered a cascade of Too big, never going to fit inside me, oh Mahal what was I thinking?

            “Inside me,” Dwalin made himself say, and tried not to be grateful when Bofur thought he meant his hand instead of his cock.

            Bofur rubbed instead at the sensitive nub, making Dwalin hiss.  “One finger to start?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Dwalin gasped.

            Eyes full of worry, Bofur pressed a finger inside.

            They both froze.  The drumbeat of dread in Dwalin’s gut increased to a scream: WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG reverberated through his head.

            “Talk to me.”  Bofur’s voice was tense.

            Black panic was turning Dwalin’s blood alkaline, and he squeezed his eyes closed in an attempt to give himself just a smidgen of relief.

            “Out,” he rasped, and he could hear his voice break.  “Out out out!”

            He held very still, because he knew that if he let himself move, he’d lash out instinctively and hurt Bofur.  The utter wrongness of having something inside him was too much to bear, but he would not hurt Bofur.

            Bofur instantly slid his finger out.  “Dwalin – ”

            “Don’t.”  Dwalin’s voice broke again.  He curled in around himself, hating his nakedness.  He squeezed his eyes closed again.

            He had failed.

            He felt Bofur moving, and a moment later the warmth of a blanket covered his naked body.  He’d feel a lot better fully dressed, but it helped.

            Then he felt Bofur’s arms come tentatively around him, and he clenched his jaw so he wouldn’t flinch away.  He would not hurt Bofur, either physically or emotionally.

            But he was shaking hard, and he couldn’t make himself stop.  Bofur shouldn’t see him like this, shouldn’t see him weak and helpless and fearful and defeated.

            “Shh,” Bofur murmured, combing his fingers through Dwalin’s beard.  Dwalin shuddered and clutched at him, hating the betraying tears that were rolling down his face.  He never cried, not at pain.  Not at anything so small and stupid.

            “It’s all right,” Bofur told him, holding on just as hard.  “I promise, it will be all right.”

            It would never be all right, Dwalin knew.  But he clung to Bofur and clung to the thin thread of hope that his friend was right, and that he had not destroyed everything.

 


 

            A few hours later, Dwalin was finally calm enough to stir.  He did not want to let go of Bofur, but he wouldn’t feel easy until he was dressed again.

            “I’m sorry,” he offered when he saw the worried look on Bofur’s face.  The words were so small and could never make up for the mistake he’d made.  Bofur had been right; they should have waited.  Worse, Dwalin had lied to him to get what he wanted.

            “That was a spectacularly bad idea,” Bofur said, matter of fact.  “We’re not trying that again.”

            Never?  Dwalin tried to keep the dismay out of his voice.  “But – ”

            “No.”  Bofur’s voce brooked no argument.  “I can’t, Dwalin.  Don’t ask me to.”

            Dwalin nodded.  To be honest, he didn’t think he could, either.  He wasn’t even sure he’d be up for anything sexual anytime soon.

            But he couldn’t let it go at that.  Bofur deserved everything, and if Dwalin couldn’t give him everything, where did that leave them?  “I do want to,” he tried.

            Bofur’s eyes, as they regarded him, held love – but they also held anger.  Dwalin felt miserable.  Bofur had said earlier that Dwalin shouldn’t push, and he’d pushed.  Now Bofur had every reason to leave.  Dwalin would never be enough.

            Bofur’s eyes gentled at little at the look on Dwalin’s face, and he took one of his hands in his own.  “In a year,” he said hoarsely.  “In a year, if you really want to try it again, we’ll talk about it.  But not before.  I can’t.”

            Dwalin stared.  Did that mean – ?

            Bofur wrapped his arms around himself, looking unhappy.  “Unless you want to stop altogether,” he added, very quietly.

            “No!” Dwalin pulled Bofur back into his arms.  “No, I don’t want to stop.”  It would be difficult, after what had just happened, but he already knew he could do it.

            Bofur’s arms came around Dwalin’s neck and he brought their foreheads together for kin comfort.  Dwalin held on, counting Bofur’s breaths, trying to calm his own breathing and somehow escape from the sense that his entire world was about to spin out of control and shatter into a million pieces.

 


 

 

            Bofur was grateful for the silence.  He couldn’t help feeling that the fragile new understanding they’d been building had been stretched to the breaking point in the past few hours.  Words wouldn’t help; Dwalin trusted deeds more than words, so after they got in bed Bofur wrapped his arms around him and held on tight.

            He should have known better.  He should have insisted on waiting.  The fact that he could deny Dwalin nothing had just ended up hurting his newfound lover.

            He’d never slept with a virgin before – and for all practical purposes, that’s what Dwalin was.  Bofur had never appreciated how lucky he’d been that all his previous lovers had some idea of what they liked and didn’t like in bed.  But for Dwalin, even thinking about sex was very new.

            Bofur had had lovers who asked for what they wanted and others who were more reticent, but he’d always been able to trust that they knew their own bodies and their own limits.

            He didn’t know why Dwalin felt that he had to offer intercourse.  Was it something Bofur had said or done to make him think…?  Or was it just a mistake, one they could get past with time and patience?

            Bofur had been so taken aback by Dwalin’s insistence that he even wanted such a thing that he hadn’t had time to work out a good response.  And curse it, he’d asked Dwalin for more time.  He’d been so careful trying not to ask Dwalin for more than he could give that he’d been sideswiped by Dwalin asking for more.

            When Dwalin asked, “Why don’t you want me?”, Bofur had thought his heart would break.  He never wanted Dwalin to feel unloved or unwanted.

            Until that moment, he’d never even considered intercourse with Dwalin.  Everything they’d done had been a surprise, a gift; but surely Dwalin would balk at an act that put the parts of his body he hated at center stage.  And it felt so wrong to Bofur, in a way; Dwalin was male so the sex they had should be male sex.

            But that was wrong too, wasn’t it?  Because Dwalin was the one who hated his body, not Bofur.  Bofur had fallen in love with Dwalin, and found Dwalin desirable.  All of him, not just the parts that matched expectations.  Bofur should have been prepared for Dwalin to ask.

            And if, in a year, Dwalin brought it up again…  Bofur suppressed a shudder.  He knew that he’d not forced Dwalin into anything, but still it would be difficult to forget the way Dwalin had frozen, clench-jawed and horrified, in his arms.  It wasn’t Dwalin’s fault, and Bofur couldn’t take it as a personal rejection – but it felt like one and he would need to work through those emotions.

            For the first time in his life, Bofur wished he had more experience with dwarrowdams.  If Dwalin did ask again – and he was a stubborn bastard; he probably would – Bofur wished he knew more about what was likely to be pleasurable.

            Though it was probably just as individual as it was for dwarves with cocks, Bofur thought glumly.

            He’d only done it the one time, with Havlin and the widow – Tirís; he’d thought her name as beautiful as she was.  And his attention had been more on Havlin, who was trying to prove some sort of point with the encounter, a point Bofur was determined not to let him prove.  He couldn’t deny it had been wonderful to slide deep into her slick warmth, after first ascertaining that she’d taken precautions against –

            He sat bolt upright in the blankets, his heart pounding in his ears.  He clutched at Dwalin’s arm until the big dwarf opened his eyes, looking annoyed at being dragged out of his doze.  “Dwalin,” Bofur breathed.  “Dwalin, we’ve been idiots.

            Dwalin raised a baleful eyebrow, but apparently decided not to take offense just yet.

            “I didn’t think – oh Mahal, Dwalin, we neither of us thought!”  By Durin, how could they have been so stupid?

            Dwalin still looked mystified, and Bofur realized that he hadn’t actually said yet what he meant.

            “I could have gotten you with child!” he explained, and saw Dwalin’s eyes go wide and blank.  He took Dwalin’s hands in his own, counting backward in his head.  “The second month between cycles is your fertile month.  Durin’s beard, Dwalin, we’re not trying that anytime when there’s even the possibility...”  He trailed off, seeing the quizzical look on his lover’s face.  Was it possible that Dwalin didn’t know?  Possibly not; Bofur himself only knew about fertility cycles because Merced and Bombur hadn’t waited until marriage, and Alís had informed them of their stupidity at great volume.

            Dwalin’s hands were gripping his rather too tightly.  Bofur had never thought to see fear in the warrior’s face, but it was there, and some sort of great internal battle must be going on because Dwalin was taking great gulps of air and holding himself absolutely rigid, as if he were afraid he’d shatter apart if he moved.  The pressure of the massive hands in Bofur’s slowly increased, until Bofur couldn’t suppress a whimper when the pressure squeezed his injured fingers.  Dwalin snatched his hand away, looking frantic, but Bofur wouldn’t let him pull away completely.  He waited until Dwalin calmed before he said seriously, “I will never do anything that would risk getting you with child.”  It was wrong, the very thought of Dwalin becoming pregnant.

            Much of the tension leaked out of the set expression on Dwalin’s face.  Bofur began to breathe easier.

            To his surprise, Dwalin gathered him close and buried his face in the front of Bofur’s tunic.  Unused to Dwalin turning to him for such comfort, Bofur was momentarily at a loss.  But then his instincts kicked in and he ran a comforting hand over the big dwarf’s back, the other going to stroke Dwalin’s beard.

            When Dwalin emerged, he appeared calmer, but he wouldn’t meet Bofur’s eyes at first.

             “I could – I could give you children,” Dwalin said.  He swallowed with great difficulty, and his eyes showed his terror clearly.  “I could – ”

            “No.”  Bofur folded Dwalin in his arms and held him close to take away the string of refusing so great an offer.  “No.  Thank you, Dwalin, but I will never ask that of you.”

            He felt Dwalin tremble under his hands, then felt him go tense in an effort to stop the trembling.  Dwalin raised his head to look into Bofur’s eyes.  “But you want children,” he said, voice rising just a bit on the end in a question.

            “Yes,” Bofur said, forcing himself by strength of mind alone not to go tense as well.  “But I want you more.”

            Dwalin gnawed his lips, still not meeting his eyes.  “You could have both,” he said very quietly.

            “Not without hurting you immensely,” Bofur said.  “You would hate being pregnant.”  And Bofur would hate it too.  Even if Dwalin had really wanted to, Bofur would have trouble coming to terms with the thought of it.  He was relieved that he didn’t have to.

            Still, he felt a small pang of sorrow when Dwalin nodded reluctantly.  He had always known that choosing Dwalin would mean giving up that dream, and Dwalin was worth it.  But Bofur still needed to grieve the loss of his hopes of being a father.  Not now, not when it would hurt Dwalin – but it needed to be done someday soon.

            Perhaps Dwalin saw something in his eyes, for he said, “You said neither one of us needed to be self-sacrificing.”

            “It’s not being self-sacrificing!” Bofur snapped, annoyed that yet again he was faced with a lover telling him his desire to be a father was a stumbling block for the relationship.

            Dwalin is not Havlin, he told himself sternly, trying to reign in his reaction.  “There are wants and there are needs, Dwalin.  I want dwarflings of my own – but I don’t need them.  I want – I need – you.”

            It wasn’t fair, when Dwalin hadn’t even said if he loved him, that Bofur had to lay his heart bare like this.

            And why did Dwalin keep trying to give him things tonight that Bofur had never asked for?

            Bofur looked at the set of Dwalin’s jaw and knew he was going to be difficult about this.

            “You shouldn’t have to choose.”

            There were times Bofur wished that he hadn’t fallen in love with the most hard-headed, stubborn idiot east of the Misty Mountains.

            “And yet I chose,” he said, trying to gentle his tone from the growl that wanted to come out.

            “We could – ”

            It was too much.  “No!” Bofur shouted, and Mahal take it, he’d probably just woken the entire camp for the second night in a row.  Why wouldn’t Dwalin listen?  The big dwarf was reaching for him, but Bofur didn’t want to be soothed.  “No, you listen to me, you great stubborn bastard,” he said, still too loudly, but at least he kept himself from yelling.  “This is my choice, not yours.  I knew when I fell in love with you that it meant I’d never have children.  I chose you over them.  Yes, I wanted little ones, but there’s no way to have them without hurting you, and when you hurt, I hurt!  Is that so difficult to understand?”  Bright, angry tears smarted in his eyes.

            Dwalin spoke, almost tentative: “We can put it off – talk again in a few years?”  It was fair, after what Bofur had insisted about intercourse earlier.

           He ought to be able to be more generous, he ought to be able to be more patient – but Dwalin had hit him in a deep wound.  If Havlin had been able to let this go, they would have been married years ago.

           “I won’t do this again,” Bofur said, feeling desperate.  “I can’t.  I never asked, Dwalin.  Why are you trying to give me something I never asked for?”

           Dwalin looked bewildered.  “Because you deserve everything,” he said, sounding almost childlike in his confusion.  “I want you to be happy.”

            “I AM happy!” Bofur shouted.  He couldn’t do this, not again.  He couldn’t lose everything because of children again.  “I’m happy with you.  Plenty of dwarves get married and don’t have little ones.  I have you – that’s enoughYou’re enough for me.”  He was trembling, and for a moment he wasn’t entirely sure if he was speaking to Dwalin or to Havlin.

            Dwalin.  He was here with Dwalin, and he was going to put an end to this nonsense once and for all.  His desire for children was obviously a threat to Dwalin if he was reacting so, and Bofur was determined to put to rest any demons that would disturb Dwalin’s certainty about his love.

            “It’s my choice,” he growled, fisting a handful of Dwalin’s shirt and dragging him closer to glare at him.  “Mine.  You can’t choose for me.  I made this choice, and I will never regret it.  I love you a thousand times more than I love the fantasies I had of being a father.  You’re more important.”

            Dwalin stared at him.  And no wonder; Bofur rarely lost his temper like this.

            “I refuse to lose another person I love because they think they know me better than I know myself.”  As usual, his anger burned itself out quickly, and tears set in in the aftermath.  Bofur blinked them away.  He couldn’t remove Dwalin’s insecurities with words; he would just have to hope that as Dwalin came to trust his love, he’d come to trust that Bofur was speaking the truth.  It hadn’t worked with Havlin – but he’d also never been explicit about it with Havlin; he’s been too afraid to bare his heart and risk rejection.

            “Please,” he begged, “trust me.”  And he couldn’t say any more, because he kept telling Dwalin that he loved him, and Dwalin kept saying nothing, and hadn’t he already learned his lesson about trying to rush things?  But still it hurt, no matter how much he told himself it shouldn’t.

            He wept into Dwalin’s shirt, cradled in strong arms that rocked him like a babe.  Dwalin murmured soothing nonsense in his gravelly voice, but Bofur couldn’t stop his tears.  He wept for losing Havlin, and he wept for the impossibility of Dwalin ever loving him as deeply as Bofur loved him, and he wept because giving up his lifelong dream of becoming a father hurt, and he couldn’t share that hurt with the dwarf he loved more than anything else in the world.

 

Chapter Text

            They set out the next morning.  Before they left, Dwalin kissed Bofur tenderly, knowing it was the last time until they returned that they’d be able to let their guard down for such things.

            He could see the tension around Bofur’s eyes, the way his smile came just a fraction of a second too late.  Nobody else would have noticed – Bofur still laughed and joked over breakfast – but Dwalin did.  Joking would help him regain his equilibrium, so Dwalin said nothing.

            When they got on the road, though, Bofur was quiet.  That worried Dwalin more than anything.

            He’d made a dreadful mistake.  He’d hurt Bofur and accomplished nothing.

            Somewhere in him, he’d thought that if he ever got Bofur in his bed, all the fears would melt away.  And it had worked at first.  Until he’d pushed Bofur too far –

            And somewhere in him, he’d thought that starting things with Bofur would be the hard part, and the hard part would be over. Yet here he was, still unsure how to make Bofur happy.

            Elrond’s domain was beautiful, as these things went.  Like any dwarf, Dwalin preferred the underground, but he had to admit that Elves and Men would call the scenery picturesque.

            They made no fire when they camped that night, and Dwalin set alarms along the periphery of their camp to give them warning of an attack.  Bofur slept the first shift, and Dwalin looked at the stars.

            Faraway, glittering diamonds, he’d always thought them.  He wanted to shower Bofur with diamonds and gold. It was a shame Bofur wasn’t a noble; Dwalin would have loved to braid mithril and gems into his love’s hair.  Thorin had looked so regal it hurt, when Fili had braided jewels into his hair after the dragon’s death.

            Thorin.  Dwalin had been trying not to think of him.  He’d been trying not to think at all, but what else was there to do on watch?

            Bofur and Thorin were so very different.  Thorin, all grim resolve and unbendable will; Bofur, laughter and cheer and a core of iron.

            Perhaps not so different, when it came down to it.  They’d both earned Dwalin’s love.

            Would it ever stop hurting?

            Looking up at the star-studded blackness, he remembered trying to explain to Thorin – who was only at ease underground – how to navigate by the dancing constellations.

            “Elvish nonsense,” Thorin had grumbled, frustrated that he couldn’t catch the knack of it as Dwalin had, and Dwalin had given him a friendly cuff. He remembered Thorin’s slow smile and the soft, “I suppose that’s why I need you at my side, old friend.”

            “I will be at your side wherever you may lead, my King,” Dwalin had told him, and he had kept that promise.  The only place he hadn’t followed Thorin was into death.

            I did love you, he thought now, gazing at the diamond lights above and thinking of Thorin’s blue eyes peaceful for once in the firelight of a long-ago night.  And you – you loved me as best you were able, in your way.

            Maybe it would always hurt, thinking of Thorin, missing him like a missing limb. But Dwalin had learned to adapt to the phantom pain over the past three and a half years.  He no longer waited an extra beat after speaking for Thorin’s rumble of agreement or permission; he no longer woke up with the first thought of the day being what his King would ask of him that day.

            Now he looked to Bofur when he spoke, and his first thoughts in the morning were of his love.  And it felt a little like a betrayal – but it also felt like the right thing to do.

            Seventy years ago, Dwalin had wanted to die.  He was a murderer, haunted by ghosts; he would never wholly fit in with dwarves, not with his body; he was tired of wandering and killing and the endless Orc armies.  So he’d gone to the only home he had left and pledged himself to the royal family, and found a purpose in helping raise the young princes.  When city life drove him crazy, he went out adventuring again, but having Thorin as his best friend and focal point had quite literally saved his life in those years.

            And it wasn’t that Bofur could fill the hole left by Thorin and the princes’ death.  Nothing could do that. But Bofur had filled a hole in his life that Dwalin hadn’t even known existed, not until Bofur was there to occupy it.  Dwalin’s life had a purpose again.

            He wanted to make Bofur happy, but he wasn’t sure that he knew how. He didn’t know what would happen when life under the Mountain drove him to adventuring again. He’d been able to ignore the political machinations up til now; the unpleasantness that came with people jockeying for the limited power around the King had not really been his business until Dis showed him how important it was.  Dwalin had always been able to tell himself that he could leave anytime.  He’d always had a pack stowed in a safe place a few miles from any place he settled, lest his secret be discovered and he have to make a quick escape.  Thorin had not protested his leaving when he got restless. Bofur would.

            Or… would he?  They hadn’t talked about how things would be once they returned to the Mountain. Would they live together? Bofur hadn’t said anything –

            No, that wasn’t true.  Bofur had brought up marriage, and then had stopped talking about it as soon as Dwalin protested, and that meant it was important.

            Making Bofur happy was Dwalin’s purpose now.  He’d screwed that up royally last night with his assumption that Bofur wanted to have children with him.  And he’d ignored the thing that Bofur had asked for…

            Dwalin swallowed, looking up at the tough old ancient stars for guidance. Marriage terrified him.

            Not the bit about staying with Bofur forever.  He definitely wanted that.  But it was easier to promise to lay down your life for someone, which was all Thorin had ever asked of him, than to promise to live your life with someone.  Dying was always the easier option, and the only reason Dwalin had never let himself die in battle was because it was the coward’s way out.  He had let himself be cowardly about only a few things in his life – such as how he felt about Thorin – but not on the battlefield.

            There was a part of him that would much rather go through another desperate quest for a lost homeland than face the possibility of marriage to Bofur – and the possibility of letting Bofur down when Dwalin turned out not to be everything he’d thought.

            But that too was nonsense.  Bofur knew all of Dwalin’s secrets.  So where was the fear really coming from?

            Fears had to be faced – but Dwalin was afraid of a whole lifetime to spend together.  He couldn’t conquer that all in one fell swoop; that fear would be a continual battle for the rest of his life.

            He wondered why Bofur felt so strongly about marriage.  Dwalin had no intention of doing anything other than spending the rest of his life with Bofur, fear and all.  Why did a ceremony and a marriage price make a difference to him?

            For that matter, would he be expected to join the Broadbeam clan?  Bofur had been the one to ask, more or less, so by custom that would be so, unless Dwalin asked him instead and Bofur joined Longbeard.  Dis would have something to say about the political advantages of one way over the other, and if they did get married Balin would want to have formal marriage negotiations and the whole thing would be a nightmare.

            But it was important to Bofur, perhaps for the same reason that it terrified Dwalin.

            It was important to Bofur, and that meant Dwalin had to at least consider it. If it wasn’t a good thing to do, they didn’t have to do it – but was he letting fear speak too loudly to be able to tell if it was the right thing?

            Dwalin looked at the stars, and wished with all his heart that Thorin were here and could give him the wise counsel that every once in a while he was able to pull out as if from thin air.

            And then he stowed the worries away for the next starlit night, and reminded himself that he was still the luckiest dwarf in Middle Earth no matter how terrified that made him, and woke Bofur for his shift.

 


 

            The following morning, Dwalin took a calculated risk and pulled Bofur into his arms.  They kissed for longer than was wise when there were Orcs about, but not nearly long enough to satisfy either of them.  Bofur looked pleased and slightly dazed when Dwalin pulled away, and he was not silent today as they traveled; the comforting chatter had returned, at least in part. Knowing that Bofur was fretting during the long silences that remained, Dwalin tried to engage rather than just listening.  He got Bofur talking about some of the improvements he was hoping to institute in the western mines, and found himself wondering why Bofur never talked about them. Clearly it was a subject he enjoyed, so why was this the first time he’d heard that passion in Bofur’s voice as he talked about grappling cables and emergency safety harnesses?

            Maybe it was because Dwalin had never been interested before and had tuned it out.  But he didn’t think that was it.  Bofur rarely talked about his work.  And with Bofur, Dwalin had learned, often the things he didn’t talk about were the most important.

            Bofur had lapsed into silence, humming an idle tune under his breath, and Dwalin realized that he hadn’t asked a question for a while.  Was that it?  Was it that simple?  Bofur would only be willing to share the things that were important to him if Dwalin expressed interest?

            “Bofur?”

            “Yes, love?” Bofur said absently, his gaze on the far horizon.

            “You were talking about your mines.”

            Bofur smiled, a self-deprecating smile that Dwalin wanted to smack from his face.  “I’m sorry. I know you find mining boring.”

            “No,” Dwalin protested.  Or, well, yes – but he didn’t find Bofur boring. “No, I like to hear about the mines.”  Talking about his mines made Bofur happy, and Dwalin liked to see Bofur happy.

            Bofur looked skeptical, but with some prodding he started talking about different qualities of track rails and which were the best for moving different types of ore.

            It was very like Bofur, to prattle all day about nothing at all, and clam up about the few things he was passionate about.

            And indeed, Bofur fell silent again soon.

            “Dwalin?” he asked after a few more miles’ ride.

            “Aye?”

            “Does it… does it bother you when I call you ‘love’?”

            Dwalin was taken aback by the question.  “No, of course not,” he said gruffly.

            But Bofur persisted.  “You would tell me if you… didn’t want me to use that word?”

            Was Bofur asking if Dwalin didn’t want him to say that he loved him? Why on earth –

            “I would tell you,” he said, wondering what Bofur really meant.

            Bofur relaxed a little, so it must have been the right answer.

            Dwalin frowned.  He loved it when Bofur used that word.  It meant that when Bofur thought of him, he thought of love.  Should Dwalin start using it as well?  Was that what Bofur was asking?

            “What would you like me to call you?” he asked, because direct was best.

            Bofur’s eyes were unreadable.  “It’s very individual, what names dwarves use for their lovers,” he said, which wasn’t an answer.

            Dwalin thought about endearments for the next hour or so.  Gloin called Nirma ‘my jewel,’ and it wasn’t unusual for parents to call their son or daughter their ‘gem.’  ‘Dear,’ or ‘dearest’ or ‘diamond’ or half a dozen other precious stones.  And Dwalin’s mother had called Fundin her…

            “There’s a name my mother had, for my father,” he said slowly.  “He called her his one and only, and she called him her own.”

            He studied Bofur’s impassive face.  It was a lot to ask, and maybe he shouldn’t.  Dwalin knew he tended to be too possessive, and surely Bofur would object to the implication that he could be owned.

            But instead, Bofur’s eyes softened and he smiled at Dwalin. “You want to call me your own?”

            “Yes,” Dwalin said.  “If you like it,” he added, for it was a great favor to ask.

            “I’d like that,” Bofur said simply, and then he laughed at the gobsmacked expression of Dwalin’s face.  He reached out to squeeze his hand.  “I am, you know,” he said, eyes shining.

            “What?”

            “Yours,” Bofur told him simply, and kicked the pony into a trot.

            Mahal preserve him.  Bofur had barely touched him but with one word had managed to inflame him.  Dwalin trotted after Bofur, marveling at his good fortune.

 


 

            They made a fire that night, for it was chilly and they’d crossed into Elrond’s territory.  Dwalin tried to coax Bofur to unbraid his hair, but Bofur teased that it never did to distract a dwarf on watch duty.

            They rose early the following morning, for that evening should bring them to Rivendell.

            They were both glad of it, and perhaps that was why they let down their guard just a bit while they packed up their meager camp.  Dwalin was laughing at something Bofur had said.

            He hadn’t taken down the perimeter alarms yet, which gave them the only warning they had.  Seconds after the clanging of metal reached them, they heard a roar and three Orcs exploded out of the trees into the clearing.  Dwalin reacted instinctively, throwing himself in front of Bofur, who had frozen. His axes lay, useless, some fifteen feet away behind Bofur.  Worse, Bofur’s mattock was out of reach too, and Bofur was useless with sword or knife in his left hand.

            Fortunately, Dwalin had his sword and three knives.

            He ignored the Orc going for his throat and instead jumped on the one going for Bofur’s.  Dimly, he was aware that Bofur had unfrozen and drawn his sword; that was good. Dwalin had a knife inches from Bofur’s attacker’s throat when his own attacker leapt on him from behind. He knew he should turn and face his foe, but instead he kept his forward momentum and buried his knife in the throat of the Orc facing Bofur.

            He was dragged backward by his hair, and got a reprieve only when Bofur jabbed inexpertly with his sword at the Orc attacking Dwalin. Dwalin rolled free, on his feet with his two remaining knives in his hands.

            Numbers; it all came down to numbers. Three weapons left to take out two foes.  An Orc each, in theory, but Bofur at a quarter of his usual ability without his right hand. If Dwalin could distract the two Orcs, perhaps Bofur could get across the clearing to his mattock.

            Easier said than done.  Dwalin bobbed and weaved in the face of the Orc’s scimitar, trying to find an opening in his enemy’s body armor to plunge in a knife.  He lost one of them, kicked out of his hand, and he thought longingly of the beautiful little set of throwing stilettos he’d left back with the caravan.

            Sword out now, he engaged the two foes in earnest.  Bofur seemed to divine his aim, for he turned and ran toward their weapons.  But while Dwalin was grappling with one Orc, the other broke away and raced after him. Dwalin eviscerated his adversary, trying to stay out of the splatter of guts, and turned just in time to see the other Orc catch Bofur.

            “No!” he screamed, because he couldn’t watch this again: he couldn’t watch another man he loved gutted before him by Mordor’s scum.

            Bofur swung his sword with all his might, but the Orc was half again his size and with a flick of his scimitar sent the weapon flying.

            Dwalin didn’t want to look.  Even as he ran he knew he could never get there in time.

            The Orc smiled down at the dwarf before him.  He raised his sword.  Then he howled, for quick as lightening Bofur had swiped a long stain of black blood across his front.  Bofur had another knife!

            The Orc bellowed his rage, picking Bofur up by the shoulders and shaking him. Then with a sneer he kicked Bofur squarely between the legs and hurled him away.

            All Dwalin could see was Bofur, crumpled, lying motionless on the ground. Then Dwalin was upon his foe, and he didn’t have time to see if Bofur was still breathing.

            The Orc would die, if it was the last thing Dwalin did in this world.

            They circled each other warily.  Dwalin had his sword and one knife left.  The Orc had his scimitar and several daggers, and the advantages of height and body armor.

            But there was one thing he didn’t have, Dwalin thought, feeling the battle calm descend over him at last.  The Orc didn’t have a reason to live.  And Dwalin did, for in a quick glance back at Bofur, he had seen the dwarf’s eyes open, hazy with pain but alive.

            Bofur was out for the count, body curled around his abused genitals, and Dwalin knew it could be a long time before the pain lessened enough for Bofur to even be aware of his surroundings.

            But he was alive.

            Dwalin’s battle roar echoed through the trees. He smiled, locked eyes with the enemy, and ran straight at him.

 


 

            An interminable time later, both he and the Orc had lost their swords. Dwalin was down to one knife, and a second he’d recovered by maneuvering their combat in that direction; the Orc had his daggers and one of Dwalin’s knives that he’d picked up at the same time.

            Unfortunately, this Orc was smart enough not to let Dwalin repeat his trick. No matter how he tried to steer the fight toward his axes, the Orc beat him back.

            Dwarves did not tire easily, so Dwalin’s fallback plan was to fight until the Orc wearied enough to start making mistakes.  But he did not know if there were more Orcs out there. There shouldn’t be, not on Elrond’s lands, not now that the Goblin King was dead and most of their population fallen – but it was impossible to know.

            He left his smaller knife buried in his enemy’s haunch, but it didn’t slow the Orc down at all.  Now he had one blade to the Orc’s two.

            If he failed, Bofur would die.

            It was odd, he thought as he battled grimly, that so far on this trip he had met two Orcs who were better warriors than most he’d ever faced. The Orcs’ advantage had always been numbers and lack of fear.  But no doubt the Battle of Five Armies, which had slain the vast majority of the Orc population, had thinned out the weaker fighters.  The ones who fought with the most skill – and were intelligent enough to flee the wholesale slaughter the Battle had become – were the ones who survived, along with any cowards.

            Did Orcs have women and children? Dwalin wondered, ducking to escape a killing blow.  Or did their women and children fight as well? For all he knew, he might be fighting a female now.  Like dwarves, it was difficult for outsiders to know.

            Block. Parry.  Thrust.  That strike drew blood, but also gained Dwalin a long, shallow gash down one leg.

            He couldn’t spare a glance in Bofur’s direction.  It laid a man out flat to be so squarely kicked in the genitals.  It was a strange vulnerability; Dwalin had learned early that few dwarves were willing to take advantage of it, as if they feared a similar retribution in turn. And though he knew it would hurt like hell for Bofur, Dwalin hoped that that was all it was. If Bofur were crumpled to the ground like that because of a grievous wound…  No; Dwalin would much rather a day of pain and few more of bruising and discomfort.

            With a hand-to-hand movement Nori had taught him, Dwalin won away the Orc’s knife.  He grinned up at the huge Orc, a blade in each of his hands.  The Orc had his sword still, but Dwalin was reaching that point in the fight where levelheaded thinking was no longer possible; he had to go by instinct alone.

            The Orc narrowed his eyes as they faced each other, wary of the reckless grin on his opponent’s face.  Dwalin bared his teeth.

            He had long since realized that a life with Bofur meant giving up adventuring.  It meant giving up the thrill of the fight, the glorious adrenaline burn and the dance of blades.

            This Orc would die, and Dwalin might die with him.  But if this were to be his last battle, Dwalin was going to enjoy it.

            His smile widened.  “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!” he bellowed.  The only outsiders who ever heard Khuzdul were those who would die with the dwarven battlecry ringing in their ears.

            The Orc’s pupils narrowed to tiny points.  Then he sprang at Dwalin, and at last their battle began in earnest.

            Dwalin gave himself over to it, and his rational mind had no more time for thought.  It was all the combat, now: grappling, stabling, kicking, biting.  Fire streaking up his left forearm. Weapon flung away and regained.

            The Orc screamed in rage when a well-placed thrust opened a gash in his midsection, but a moment later Dwalin was stumbling back, just barely missing the swipe of the Orc’s scimitar across his chest.  He’d forgotten he no longer had the protection of a steel-boned corset!

            Again and again, they threw themselves against each other.  They were slick with blood when they grappled, and Dwalin knew that soon it would be in his eyes.  He had to end this.

            He didn’t know how. He’d never faced such a formidable enemy, not alone.  Not without his axes.

            Between one moment and the next, he made the decision to break away toward the axes.  On instinct, he waited until the Orc had made another abortive sword thrust, then turned and ran.

            He didn’t make it.

            The Orc landed on his back like a ton of falling rock.  Dwalin was down – grappling – trying to throw the creature from his back – his knives useless at this angle.  The Orc picked him up by the back of his shirt, and the scimitar hissed up to kiss Dwalin’s throat.

            In the long seconds that followed, Dwalin would have snarled at him to end it, but behind the Orc he caught sight of something that brought his heart to his mouth.

            Bofur was stirring.  Bofur was most definitely alive.

            Dwalin dropped his blades without hesitation.  If there were even a chance the Orc might spare him, he would take it.  He would defend Bofur with his body if need be – but he couldn’t do that dead.

            It wasn’t that he’d never surrendered before.  It was just that he’d never been beaten by an Orc before, or at least not for long.

            The Orc spun him around, looking him over for more weapons. Brains and brawn; what on earth was an Orc like this doing in Elrond’s domains?

            As if he were brushing off a fly, the Orc aimed his kick right at Dwalin’s crotch, sending him flying.

            It was instinct to curl around the hurt when he landed, and that gave Dwalin precious seconds to think.

            The Orc thought he was a man; that he could be taken out with a kick to the stones as Bofur had been.  Dwalin groaned loudly, curling up even further, suddenly aware he’d been given an advantage in the fight.  His enemy thought he was down for the count.

            The Orc, no fool, picked up Dwalin’s sword and knives.  He went to peruse their supplies.

            Time was running out.  Bofur’s mattock lay too far away for Dwalin to grab without being seen, and no doubt the Orc would return momentarily to finish them off.  Dwalin looked around frantically for a weapon, at a loss.

            Movement caught his eye.  Not twenty feet away, Bofur was trying to signal to him.

            Dwalin couldn’t understand at first; Bofur’s broken fingers couldn’t twist into the right configurations for iglishmêk.  But when he did understand, Dwalin had never been so grateful to Bifur for demanding that all the king’s bodymen learn the mining sign language.

            Knife. Pouch.

            Even one knife was better than going up against that beast unarmed. But where did Bofur see a knife?

            Knife, Bofur insisted. Pouch.

            Any moment now, the Orc would turn and see them.  Dwalin shook his head at Bofur, at a loss.

            Bofur indicated something at his side.  Even though he was still curled up in pain, he made an effort and held it up.  It was his workpouch, where he kept the carvings he was working on.  One of his woodworking tools, perhaps?

            With a soft moan of pain, Bofur tore the bindings of the pouch and flung it toward Dwalin.  It landed about ten feet away, and the Orc was turning at the sound –

            Dwalin was on his feet and racing hell for leather for the bag.  The Orc yelled, drawing his bloody sword again, and ran straight at him.  With no idea what he would find inside, Dwalin tore open the bag.  His hand closed on a rough iron knife.

            That one I made when I was worried about you, Bofur had said.  A knife that didn’t have the right balance for carving, but was beautifully balanced for –

            Dwalin spun to face the charging Orc, the throwing blade leaving his fingers like a bird released to freedom.  End over end it flew, and with a soft thwump embedded itself in the center of the Orc’s chest.

            As Dwalin ran for his axes, he heard a familiar sound in the distance: an Elven battle trumpet.

Chapter Text

            Dwalin let the Elves dispose of the Orc carcasses, preferring instead to wrap himself around Bofur and reassure himself that his beloved was alive and well. In a lot of pain, yes, but alive.

            A grimfaced Elf with dark hair and a scowl approached them. “When did they come upon you?” he demanded.

            Dwalin would have bridled at his haughty manner, but Bofur’s welfare was more important just now. He settled for glaring up at the Elf as he recounted the tale. At the end, he snarled, “I’ve been to Lord Elrond’s domains three times, and of those we’ve been twice set upon by Orcs. Do you keep them as guard dogs?”

            The look on the Elf’s face took him aback; he was used to Elves pretending to be coolly superior, at least until someone (Thorin) badgered them into losing their tempers. Post-battle restlessness and sheer helplessness in the face of Bofur’s pain fueled Dwalin’s words; better to pick a fight with an Elf than sit useless, watching the dwarf he loved grimace every time he moved.

            He should have known, though, that being impolite to their hosts would bring the same grimace to Bofur’s face. Too late, Dwalin remembered that they were supplicants here.

            “Perhaps if you dwarves would stop leading them here,” the Elf growled, “we’d be rid of both – ”

            “Elrohir.” The voice was deep and melodic, but held reproof enough that the dark Elf’s mouth snapped closed. Glorfindel bowed to Dwalin and Bofur. “Master dwarves. We were not expecting such a visit.” His eyes flickered to the corpse of the huge Orc. “I must offer our apologies for our tardiness. We did not know there were such foes about.”

            Dwalin still glared, but in his arms Bofur shifted and moaned a little, and Dwalin was distracted enough not to say the words on the tip of his tongue.

            “Elrohir, may I present Mister Bofur and Mister Dwalin, companions of King Thorin Under the Mountain. Mister Bofur, Mister Dwalin, you have no doubt heard tell of my Lord Elrond’s sons, Elrohir and Elladan.”

            Dwalin looked up at the dark Elf in surprise. The half-Elven brothers were legendary amongst all those who fought Orcs. There were as many songs about the twin warriors as there were about Dwalin himself – more, probably, as they’d lived centuries longer.

            What was it Elrond had said? My sons are too caught in revenge to realize their lives have become as nightmares. Dwalin decided he might try to reserve judgement for the moment.

            For his part, Elrohir was looking at him with new eyes as well. “Master Dwalin,” he said at last with a reluctant bow. “I have heard much of you.” His eyes flicked to the axes Dwalin still held, even with his arms around Bofur. “It is always an honor to meet such a renowned warrior. I have heard much about your excellent axes.”

            Dwalin took in the obvious quality of the blades the Elf carried. An Elven prince, and a warrior for centuries: Dwalin shared his itch to inspect the other’s weapons. But Bofur came first.

            “We will speak of weapons presently,” he said gruffly. “My kinsman is injured.”

            He felt Bofur’s small start of surprise, but didn’t understand it. He had always claimed Bofur as kin, ever since the quest to retake Erebor. And it was Bofur who had brought up marriage…

            Glorfindel knelt, heedless of the mud, a frown of concern clouding his regal face. “Where are you injured, Mister Bofur?” he asked.

            Dwalin choked back a snarl. He had no reason to be jealous of Glorfindel, just because a lifetime ago Bofur had sought his company over Dwalin’s when he was angry and frightened.

            Bofur looked up at the Elf and tried heroically to smile. “Nothing but time will mend the hurt, I’m afraid,” he said. “Got me right in the bollocks. A coward’s ploy, but very effective.” He shifted, then winced in pain. “I can’t sit a horse, not for a few days,” he added quietly.

            Glorfindel stood. “You were here to see my Lord Elrond, I presume? I will bear him a message if you’d like to make camp here.”

            “We’d rather not make camp in a place we already know is full of Orcs,” Dwalin said sharply.

            “We’ll leave a guard,” Glorfindel told him.

            Somehow, almost before he’d had time to protest, Elves were erecting a tent. Bofur was installed inside with minimal fuss, and given an Elven draught that made his eyes go unfocussed but seemed to numb the pain.

            Bofur brought up the subject of the caravan and supplies, and Dwalin decided to leave him alone in Glorfindel’s care before he himself lost his temper and began shouting at the golden Elf. Glorfindel hadn’t done anything except put a smile on Bofur’s face, but still Dwalin couldn’t be easy with him. He hadn’t realized how much being in Elrond’s domain would bring up all the memories of the last time he was here.

            Was it cruel to ask Bofur to revisit the scene of his assault? At least they could delay it for a few days.

            To distract himself, he found Elrohir and took the opportunity to admire his weaponry. A dwarf had only a few centuries to work on his craft; Elven metalmasters had millennia. It didn’t mean that the Elves’ metalcraft was better, but a Dwarf had to be focused on his craft for many years to be able to compete. The Elves were hampered, too, by their distaste for war; as a race that had seen persecution even by their own creator, the dwarves knew the value of thick armor and a sharp axe.

            But Elrohir did not seem afflicted by his kin’s antipathy to combat; indeed, as he and Dwalin traded stories, the dwarf realized that the dark-haired Elf rather regretted the dwindled number of Orcs left to fight.

            Dwalin himself might have felt that way, he reflected as he started cleaning each blade and handing it to the Elf for inspection. Elrohir was properly admiring of the blades' craft, and tried a few of them for himself, though he was rather outsized for all but the sword.

            Dwalin too might have felt lost without Orcs to battle, if he were still an adventurer. The time of heroes was past; there were no more armies of Orcs to campaign against. The last dragon was slain, and the Orcs would never regain their former numbers.

            If Dwalin didn’t have his kin and the Company – and Bofur, most of all – he’d likely feel he had no place, no role. Might he, like this Elf, spend his days chasing after the remnants of his foes?

            Perhaps it was the half-Elven princes Balin should be trying to convince of his mad plan to retake Moria, instead of Dain.

            Elrohir was particularly complimentary about his axes, his eyes full of frank curiosity. “Elves don’t use battleaxes anymore,” he murmured, tracing the engraved names with his thumb, “not since our people quarreled so many years ago.”

            With a generosity that surprised both of them, Dwalin offered him one and demonstrated the first axe form. Elrohir took to it with the enthusiasm of a boy, and for the first time Dwalin saw an expression on his face that was not grim.

            He looked very much like Elrond when he smiled.

            Because Dwalin was still unsettled by his jealousy of Glorfindel, he spent the next hour showing Elrohir more axe forms, and learning some of the Elven sword exercises. The wounds he’d received in the struggle reopened and began seeping, so he wasn’t surprised to hear Bofur calling him.

            “Your pardon, master dwarf,” the Elf prince said, bowing. “It was inconsiderate of me, after your battle.”

            “Think nothing of it,” Dwalin said gruffly. It had been the very thing for him to regain his equilibrium.

            Bofur fussed over him, so he must be feeling better. Dwalin tolerated it when he saw the worry in his friend’s eyes. “I’ve had much worse,” he muttered.

            Elrohir brought his weaponry over, fingers lingering enviously on several of Dwalin’s best blades. Before he left he bowed and held out something wrapped in a bloody handkerchief. “We found this as well, but we weren’t sure if you wanted to keep it.”

            It was the iron throwing knife.

            Dwalin took it with a smile, already reaching for his cleaning kit. “This is the blade that brought down the strongest Orc I ever met in battle,” he said. His eyes met Bofur’s. “I definitely want to keep it.”

            Elrohir looked doubtful, but shrugged.

            When the Elf had left the tent, Dwalin wrapped his arms around Bofur and offered him the iron knife. “It’s not mine to claim,” he said.

            Bofur gnawed his lower lip. “Keep it if you’d like,” he said, ducking his head to hide the pink that had come to his cheeks. “I’ve no use for it.”

            Suddenly Bofur’s arms were tight around his neck and Dwalin could feel him trembling. “I thought you were going to die,” Bofur said, voice hoarse. “I thought you were going to die and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move!”

            There were angry, frustrated tears in his eyes.

            Dwalin held on just as tight, wishing he could weep as well. He’d been avoiding the horror of it, trying not to think about how close he’d come to losing everything.

            “You saved us,” he reminded Bofur, holding up the throwing knife. He had lost to the Orc; if Bofur hadn’t had this knife in his pouch, they would both of them be dead.

            Bofur shook his head and nestled closer, even though it couldn’t be comfortable for him to move at all. “You saved us,” he said. “The Orc thought he’d taken us both out.”

            It would be the only time in life, Dwalin thought grimly, that he’d be grateful he didn’t have bollocks.

            He felt Bofur trembling again, but a moment later realized it was laughter. Bofur was giggling, wild hysterical giggles that spoke to too much tension and worry. Dwalin looked at the knife forged in worry as well, and tucked it into his belt for safekeeping.

            “What?” he murmured, stroking Bofur’s hair. “Tell me.”

            Bofur hiccupped a little and beamed up at him. His eyes were still dilated with pain and with the potion that Glorfindel had given him, but they also held so much love that Dwalin was tempted to look away, overwhelmed.

            “Only us,” Bofur said, choking off a last giggle. “Only the two of us, in all the world, could have defeated that Orc.”

            “What are you on about?” Dwalin grumbled, absurdly pleased at the open affection in Bofur’s eyes, even if he did keep on giggling like a madman.

            “Any other dwarf but you, he could have taken out the way he took me out, a kick to the bollocks,” Bofur said. “And I…”

            Dwalin suddenly saw what Bofur was driving at. He cupped the beloved face between his palms and kissed Bofur soundly. “And other dwarf but you would have melted down the blade long since.” He kissed his lover again. “I’m keeping it. It’ll go on the wall with my axes; it took down my greatest foe.” It was not the end he would have expected for a weapon forged in such fraught circumstances – but then, given how he and Bofur had begun, it was just as unlikely that they should end up here, together.

            I love you, my Own, he thought, and pulled Bofur back into his arms. One day, he might even be brave enough to speak the words aloud.

 


 

 

            The Elves left them a guard and promised to return two days hence with supplies and a healer to see to Bofur’s hand. Elrond, it was explained, was hosting the White Council, and from subtext Dwalin picked up that the presence of dwarves would complicate things. Not that Elrohir hadn’t invited them, but Dwalin saw the wisdom in refusing. Bofur couldn’t sit a horse for at least another day, and it would be better to spare him the turmoil of emotions that must come with returning to the scene of his assault.

            They were both sorry they’d not see Lord Elrond, but Dwalin found himself a bit relieved as well. Elrond knew both the secrets Dwalin had carried – his own body and the three dead dwarves he’d murdered – and it was difficult to feel easy about that. Still he had hoped that Elrond could do something for Bofur’s hand, and over Bofur’s objections that it was hardly a lifethreatening matter, he’d pulled Glorfindel aside and requested a healer.

            “Of course,” Glorfindel had replied, and Dwalin told himself yet again that he had no reason to be jealous of the Elf. He’d never like him, though.

            After talking with the Elves left on guard – of course the bloody things didn’t need sleep; it wasn’t fair – he went into the tent and settled down with Bofur.

            “You’re scowling,” Bofur observed.

            “Bloody Elves,” Dwalin growled by way of explanation.

            They shared Bofur’s pipe and some Hobbitish pipeweed, and Dwalin reflected on the improbability of love and war, and that he was quite possibly the luckiest dwarf in all of Middle Earth.

 


 

 

            The next day, Bofur could move without much pain, though his groin was all over bruises. He rolled his eyes at Dwalin’s worrying, bounding out of the tent with all his usual enthusiasm and good will.

            Over the course of the day, Dwalin came to appreciate that one of the primary reasons Bofur had taken up carving was because he was quite easily bored.

            Without something to keep his hands busy, Bofur was restless all day. He quickly tired of trying to converse with the Elves left on guard. He consented to try some of the left-handed knife form exercises with Dwalin, but he wasn’t the sort to be able to lose himself in weapons practice. When they tried fishing in the nearby stream, Bofur couldn’t settle. He kept up a steady stream of one-sided conversation, and it was beginning to wear on Dwalin’s nerves.

            “I could give you a better use to put your mouth to than chattering,” he said, giving up on fish and taking a seat next to Bofur so he could kiss him.

            Bofur turned bright pink at his words. He looked up at Dwalin, uncertain. “I thought maybe you… didn’t want to anymore?”

            Dwalin frowned. What was Bofur going on about? Then he turned bright red as well, realizing what Bofur thought he’d meant.

            Dwalin had meant kissing, but the thought of Bofur’s mouth on his sex sent a throb of arousal straight through him.

            Bofur laughed delightedly, and for the first time today Dwalin knew it wasn’t forced. “I’m still too tender to touch,” he said softly, “but I’d like to make you feel good.”

            Dwalin looked at the heat in Bofur’s eyes and gulped. Their last foray into this territory had been a disaster. And he was more comfortable giving pleasure than receiving it – giving did not trigger the clash of bodily pleasure with the hatred of the body parts experiencing that pleasure.

            Dwalin wondered, suddenly, if the fact that Bofur liked his body would eventually be enough to shift his own dislike. He didn’t think so – but it did wake some long-held doubts.

            “You were attracted to me as a man at first,” he said, trying to work out the questions even as he spoke.

            “Yes,” Bofur agreed, raising an eyebrow. “I still am.”

            Dwalin gnawed on his lower lip. “You said it ruined your fantasies when you found out about – ” He gestured to his body.

            Bofur’s face cleared of confusion. “Oh! Well, yes. I’d never thought that a man could have a different kind of body, so it took awhile to work out.”

            “You… you like my body the way it is?” Dwalin asked, his throat thick with emotion. Why was he asking this, when any answer Bofur gave would upset him?

            The crease was back between Bofur’s brows. “I do,” he said softly, taking one of Dwalin’s hands in his. “I know you don’t like it, and I wish you could. But if your question is whether I was attracted to you before and after I found out – the answer is yes.”

            All of this, Dwalin had known. Now came the hard question. “If,” he began, but his voice failed him. Angry with himself, he cleared his throat and made himself say it. “If you were the sort who only liked w-women, would you still be attracted to me?”

            For once, he wished that Bofur weren’t so open with him, and that he couldn’t see the myriad emotions on Bofur’s face. Bofur was realizing that no answer he gave would be the right one, because there wasn’t a right answer.

            “I don’t know,” Bofur said at last, choosing honesty over sparing Dwalin’s feelings. “I don’t think so – I’ve always been attracted to you as a man – but I don’t know.” He looked unhappy. “Is it important?”

            Dwalin couldn’t bring himself to speak. It was very important.

            Bofur looked down, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “And if I were the sort who only liked men… I don’t know either. I’m sorry. I wish I had a better answer.”

            Dwalin wasn’t sure what he meant by “the sort who only liked men,” but he made himself nod. He’d known there was no answer that Bofur could give that would satisfy the deep rending wound of the wrongness of his body.

            “If we turned it around…” Bofur said. “You’re only attracted to men. If you found out I didn’t have a cock, would you be attracted to me?”

            Dwalin froze. Had Bofur just said what he thought he’d said? Did Bofur really believe that?

            This had to be put right immediately. “I’m attracted to women,” he growled.

            Bofur paused, surprised. “You are? Who?” But the details must be unimportant, for he shrugged. “The premise still stands – ”

            “I am,” Dwalin insisted. Male dwarves could be attracted to women alone, as Gloin was, or to women and men, as Bofur was, but who had ever heard of a dwarf only attracted to his own kind? Dwalin had only ever been attracted to Bofur and to Thorin, but that was just coincidence. “I’m a man,” he said through gritted teeth. “Of course I’m attracted to women.” If he ever met one like Bofur or Thorin, he would be. He had to be.

            He saw comprehension dawn in Bofur’s eyes. Unfortunately, it did not result in agreement. Bofur looked at him seriously, clearly trying to work out his next words.

            “You do know, don’t you,” he said carefully, “that there are plenty of men who only like other men?”

            That was clearly rubbish. Male-female partnerships were the most highly regarded because they could result in children. Men could fall in love with men or marry for alliances, but it was always the second-best option, at least for the upper classes. As a noble, it had always been made clear to Dwalin by his uncle in the Iron Hills that he was to look first among the opposite sex for mate. Noble women, of course; that went without saying.

            “No,” Dwalin said, feeling a little desperate. Why was Bofur saying these things? “Men are attracted to women. They might be attracted to men too, but the important bit is that they like women.” It was why he had denied his attraction to Thorin to himself for so many years; if he admitted it, would he have to admit he really wasn’t a man?

            Bofur pulled him close, a soothing hand in his beard, reassuring just by his presence. “I know nobody talks about it,” he said. “It’s no wonder you didn’t know. But lots of men only want men. If others say they’re getting second best, what do they care? They got what they wanted.”

            Dwalin stared. Could that possibly be true?

            No, surely not. He’d have heard about it. Was Bofur just repeating gossip?

            “Do you know anybody like that?” he asked.

            Bofur snorted. “Dori will put you to rights if you don’t believe me. He’s never had a taste for women.”

            But Dori was a courtesan; his taste was dictated as much by coin as it was by attraction. “Anyone else?”

            “Several of my former lovers.”

            Dwalin wondered if Havlin were one of them, but he didn’t need the acid jealousy that always came when Bofur spoke of the dwarf. Bofur said it for him, however.

            “Havlin’s father engaged him to an Ironfist dwarrowdam, and it was quite the scandal when he refused to go through with it.”

            In spite of the jealousy, Dwalin felt he could breathe easier. Bofur had loved Havlin, so it must be all right to only be attracted to men.

            And then he thought a step further, and all the air whooshed out of his lungs as a relief so profound it felt unreal stole over him. If what Bofur said were true, the fact that Dwalin had only ever been attracted to men didn’t mean he wasn’t a man.

            It meant he didn’t have to deny his attraction to Thorin. It meant he could desire Bofur with no shadows in the background telling that this was yet another way he was wrong.

            “And dwarrowdams?” he asked, not bothering to repress the smile that came with the lifting of the great weight he’d borne for more than a century. “Do women ever desire each other?”

            Bofur made a face. “Of course not! It wouldn’t be natural.”

            Dwalin didn’t see why not, but the matter was unlikely ever to affect him, so he kept quiet.

            Bofur looked at him then, his face serious. “If I were the type who only liked men, I know I would be attracted to you. It would likely have taken me a longer to work through my feelings about your body being… something I didn’t expect. But I’d like to think I’d have gotten there in the end.”

            It was as close to the answer Dwalin wanted as he was likely to get, and he loved Bofur for it.

 


 

 

            They remained curled in each other’s arms for long enough that Dwalin contemplated dozing off, before Bofur whispered, “Will you want to try it again, someday?”

            Dwalin shook himself to wake up more quickly. “Try what?” he asked.

            “Sex,” Bofur said.

            Dwalin considered. “Yes,” he said. His body wasn’t right, but at least his attraction to Bofur wasn’t wrong.

            Bofur smiled at him, tentative still.

            “Not someday,” Dwalin added. “Now.”

            That surprised a bark of laughter out of Bofur. “You don’t waste time when you make up your mind about something, do you?” he teased.

            “I don’t,” Dwalin agreed, and pulled him to his feet and toward the tent.

 


 

 

            The mouth on Dwalin’s paps felt wonderful, but there was still that cursed wetness that seemed unavoidable. Without that reminder, perhaps Dwalin could have let go and enjoyed himself. But it was a constant disruption. Would it always be like this? Was there anything to be done to make it more bearable?

            Finally, he gave up and tugged at one of Bofur’s braids. Bofur left off sucking and crawled up to kiss Dwalin. His mouth was red and swollen, shiny with saliva, and his eyes were glassy. Another pulse of pleasure ran through Dwalin at the sight. It was a shame that Bofur’s groin was still too bruised for him to enjoy reciprocation; Dwalin loved that unfocussed look on his face.

            “What’s the matter, love?” Bofur asked, but didn’t wait for an answer before pulling him into a kiss and exploring every bit of Dwalin’s mouth with his tongue.

            What was the matter? Dwalin had almost forgotten.

            But he could never forget for long.

            “I don’t like getting…” He considered what word was best. “I don’t like getting wet.”

            Bofur, who had been nuzzling the sensitive places on Dwalin’s neck, stilled. It took Dwalin a moment to realize why.

            “No! I mean, I like that part. I just…”

            Eventually he managed to explain it to Bofur, how the constant reminder of the lack of a proper cock between his legs interrupted his enjoyment.

            He was afraid Bofur would take it badly, but he didn’t. Instead, he wanted to understand. “So the touching is fine, you just don’t like the slick itself?”

            Dwalin squirmed, because he wasn’t altogether comfortable with the touching, but at least that felt good. He would get comfortable with it with practice. This, though…

            Bofur hummed thoughtfully. Then, abruptly, he rolled away. Dwalin blinked at him in surprise. Bofur was pawing through his pack, making a mess as usual, looking for something.

            Dwalin blinked at the pile of neatly-folded pocket handkerchiefs Bofur held out to him. He recognized them; Bilbo had sent them both off with a veritable plethora of the things. But what use did a dwarf have for a pocket handkerchief?

            Realizing what Bofur was thinking, Dwalin felt his face go very red. Surely Bofur couldn’t mean…?

            He did, though.

            “I don’t need – ” Dwalin began, because how humiliating would it be to have Bofur wipe him like a babe in nappies?

            Bofur picked up Dwalin’s hand and deposited the pile of handkerchiefs in it. “We do what’s necessary for both of us to enjoy things,” he said, matter of fact. “I expect you’d rather take care of it yourself, so let me know and I’ll look away if you want me to.”

            Dwalin stared at him. How could Bofur be so blasé about this?

            Bofur shrugged, looking uncertain. “It’s just an idea,” he said. “Worth a try if it makes it better for you, no?”

            Dwalin wasn’t sure whether the slick happened just once at the beginning or would renew if he dried himself, but there was really only way to find out.

            “Turn around,” he told Bofur, his cheeks burning.

            “Any better?” Bofur asked a long time later, and Dwalin realized he had hardly even thought of it again, now the wetness was gone.

            “Didn’t you say something about putting your mouth to a better use?” Dwalin growled.

            Bofur grinned and complied.

 


 

 

            Dwalin didn’t want to sleep, afraid it might all turn out to be a dream. So many things changed in the course of a day – no longer having to struggle against his attraction to Bofur; no longer having to struggle quite so much with his body and sex.

            Bofur, as always, slept deeply, and only stirred a little when Dwalin rose to go out in the moonlight for some solitude. He exchanged a wary nod with the stone-faced Elf on duty and wandered far enough that he could assure himself he wasn’t watched.

            He would keep company with the stars again tonight, for there wouldn’t be much opportunity to do so when they returned home. Home, to his new life with Bofur.

            For the first time, the thought filled him with more joy than trepidation. It wasn’t that he’d thought Bofur would be anything less than wonderful; it was that Dwalin had doubted he himself would be successful at staving off his inner demons.

            Maybe, someday, sex could be just fun the way it was for Bofur.

            Maybe, someday sooner, he’d see about making Bofur’s fantasy involving Dwalin’s fingers come true.

            Dwalin smiled up at the stars, glimmering diamonds in the inky blue. A single dwarf didn’t deserve all this bounty. He breathed a chant of thanks to Mahal.

            At the end of this journey, he would have few opportunities to sit under the stars and think of Thorin.

            Thorin, who hated not being underground, had never understood Dwalin’s fondness for stars. “The Elves say it’s their dead up there,” he had grumbled once when he found Dwalin sitting crosslegged on the roof of Dis’s house in the middle of the night. But he’d sat watch with Dwalin nonetheless, the silence between them full of unsaid words.

            I did love you. He could recognize the emotion now.

            He had promised Thorin that he would follow where the king led. He had never expected to survive if Thorin were to die. In many ways, he’d spent the years since Thorin’s death doing penance for not following him to the Halls of the Fathers.

            He spent the long night watching the stars, knowing what he had to do at the end of it, and not feeling quite ready.

            I’m sorry, my King, Dwalin told the stars just as the sky began to lighten with the dawning of the day. I cannot follow where you lead; not for many years, I hope. I am needed here. If he was to love Bofur properly, he needed all of his heart to be here for him. He couldn’t let the possibilities of a past with Thorin use up the energy he should be spending on loving Bofur.

            Goodbye, old friend. No one saw the tears trickling down the big dwarf’s cheeks.

            He saw the deep blue of Thorin’s eyes in the slowly-lightening sky, and he greeted the dawn with a smile.

Chapter Text

            In the morning, Dwalin decided that he was completely willing to impose upon the Elves’ hospitality, leaving them to keep watch while he took care of Bofur’s morning erection. They wouldn’t get another chance for a few days, and Bofur wasn’t wincing at touch anymore.

            Dwalin had seen Dori take the king’s entire cock in his mouth. Dwalin eyed Bofur’s, wondering if it would fit. One way to find out…

            Bofur pulled his head away by his hair when Dwalin choked on his length and coughed. Blushing, Dwalin glanced up at him. To his relief, Bofur didn’t seem disappointed or scornful. Indeed, he was smiling his sweet, gentle smile, the one that came out when Dwalin had done something that touched him deeply.

            Bofur stroked his cheek fondly. “Save the advanced technique for when you’re advanced, love,” he said. “Anything you do with your mouth is going to feel wonderful, I promise.”

            Dwalin wondered if Bofur realized he had just called him love again. It sent a warmth tingling through him. Of course he knew that Bofur loved him, but he loved to hear the words. He’d not said them to Bofur, and he felt no rush to. Perhaps he’d say them the day he accepted Bofur’s first courting gift.

            He turned his attention back to Bofur’s cock. So, copying Dori was out, though someday he would try that again and do it properly. Affection for Bofur rushed through him, and he nuzzled the erect phallus, pressing kisses to the base of it. He heard Bofur hiss in his breath at the rasp of Dwalin’s beard against his stones. Mindful of what Bofur had said concerning his stones, Dwalin kept his fingers very gentle as he explored them. Bofur liked it when he licked them, if the muffled moaning was any indication. Dwalin glanced up, and saw that Bofur had stuffed his fist in his mouth to try to keep quiet. That wouldn’t do at all; Dwalin wanted to hear. He reached up and tugged Bofur’s hand down to the bed, where it fisted immediately in the blankets. Bofur began to protest, but Dwalin opened his mouth to suck one of his stones gently, and his lover collapsed back against the bed with a whimper. Dwalin laved it with his tongue before shifting to give the other similar treatment.

            When he had finished exploring Bofur’s stones, Dwalin turned his attention to the cock. It was leaking again, and Dwalin dared himself to taste it. Bofur was startled into a sharp exclamation when Dwalin darted out his tongue to catch the drops seeping from the head. The fluid was salty; not bad-tasting, and Dwalin immediately wanted more. He licked the head of Bofur’s cock again, wondering if it would leak continually or if that only happened at the beginning. Then, greatly daring, he took the whole head into his mouth.

            He liked the weight of it against his tongue, liked the way Bofur shuddered when he closed his mouth around it and sucked gently. He cradled Bofur’s stones in the hand that was not wrapped around the base of the cock, and Bofur shuddered again. But when he sucked harder, Bofur yelped a little and tugged on his ear.

            “No teeth, please,” he gasped.

            Dwalin met his eyes, unsure how to keep his teeth out of play if he was using his mouth. Bofur demonstrated how to wrap his lips around his teeth, and let out a long groan when Dwalin captured his cock in his mouth again, this time safely teeth-free.

            Bofur was so responsive to the sucking that Dwalin was taken off-guard when he experimented with using his tongue at the same time. Bofur bucked against his mouth, and Dwalin had to retreat, coughing again.

            “Sorry, sorry,” Bofur murmured, looking guilty, but his eyes were also hazy with pleasure. “Been a long time…”

            Their first time, Bofur had held his hips down as he pleasured Dwalin. Dwalin decided that would probably work here too. He shifted so that his forearms would weight down Bofur’s hips. Oh, but that meant he couldn’t use his hands so well… Dwalin frowned, trying to work out a better position.

            Bofur ran affectionate hands over his hair and beard. “I can behave,” he promised. “You just took me by surprise is all. You’ve no right to be so good at that…”

            Something eased in Dwalin’s chest at the words. So long as Bofur was enjoying it, what did it matter if the positioning wasn’t perfect?

            “Here.” Bofur tugged one of Dwalin’s arms across his lower belly. “I’ll do my best to hold still, and that’ll keep me from hurting you if I forget.” He caressed Dwalin’s cheek. Dwalin smiled up at him from where he’d rested his head against Bofur’s thigh. “Your jaw will probably get tired long before I come,” Bofur told him. “Finish me with your hands.”

            Dwalin pouted at him. He wanted to finish him with his mouth.

            Bofur smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling in that way they did when he was really pleased. “Patience, love,” he teased. “You can’t be perfect at everything the first time you try it.”

            “Can so,” Dwalin grumbled, and cut off Bofur’s reply by licking his way up the shaft in his hand. He was delighted to find a few more drops of precome at the tip, and tongued the hole for more. Bofur actually growled at that, cursing under his breath. Dwalin smiled.

            He soon had Bofur gasping and moaning again, and the satisfaction of it settled bone-deep. He would quite happily do this every day if it meant Bofur would continue to offer up such beautiful, desperate sounds.

            His jaw was getting sore, though. He pulled off, and Bofur stifled a groan of disappointment. Dwalin decided he would bring Bofur close with his hands and finish him with his mouth.

            He worked the cock with one hand and traced down around the stones with the other, keeping his eyes locked with Bofur. He thought he’d like to hold Bofur in his lap sometime and do this, so that he could kiss and nibble at Bofur’s neck in the way that made him squirm and pant so deliciously. Mmmm, and he’d like to bring Bofur off under the table sometime while they were at a meeting or formal dinner, and they both had to look sober and serious. But for now, he concentrated on Bofur’s lust-darkened eyes, the way he whined almost silently when Dwalin rolled the stones in their sack, the audible way his breathing came shorter when Dwalin’s fingers explored lower, behind the stones…

            Bofur had said once that he fantasized about Dwalin’s fingers, but Dwalin hadn’t let himself really think about what that meant until now, when he traced the furry cleft and found the hole. He pressed against it gently.

            “Dwalin!” Bofur lost control of his hips, and he thrust wildly for a moment against Dwalin’s hand. Looking into Bofur’s eyes, Dwalin could see he was close. He lowered his head and took his cock back into his mouth. He didn’t move his hand from the cleft; he kept a finger pressed against the hole, not entering him but still enough to make the dwarf whine.

            If Bofur was this responsive just to the suggestion of being penetrated, how much more would he be when Dwalin worked up the courage to enter him with his fingers? The thought made Dwalin almost dizzy; heat shot through him, pleasure close at its heels. His body throbbed pleasantly, and Dwalin hummed a little.

            The effect on Bofur was electric. His cock jerked in Dwalin’s mouth, and his hips stuttered upward. Dwalin slammed them back down, holding them pinned to the bed with his arm and shoulder, and Bofur wailed. He seemed to have lost control of his body; he was writhing and begging and cursing all at once. Dwalin enjoyed it immensely, satisfaction uncurling in his belly. He had done this to Bofur; he could do this to Bofur again. He could have Bofur like this whenever he wanted, and oh Mahal did he want it.

            Dwalin glanced up to see Bofur panting, his expression almost desperate with need. Dwalin met his eyes, smirked, and began the humming again.

            Bofur came with a shout, coating Dwalin’s tongue with salt. Dwalin hummed through the spasms, trying to swallow it all down, relishing the way Bofur trembled against him. When he was sure he’d gotten the last of it, he released the softening cock and gave it one last kiss before crawling up to pull his sated lover into his arms.

            “Oh,” Bofur said, looking overwhelmed and grateful and blissed out all at once. He was boneless in Dwalin’s arms, and Dwalin took advantage of it to pull Bofur on top of him. Mmmm, he liked that, skin against skin, and the way Bofur’s head fit perfectly tucked under Dwalin’s chin.

            He petted Bofur’s back and down over his arse and thighs. Bofur was, he thought comfortably, the most beautiful dwarf in all of Middle Earth.

            “Wanna… you…” Bofur mumbled against his shoulder, but Dwalin held him imprisoned in his strong arms.

            “Later,” he whispered. Bofur tensed a little as if to argue, then apparently decided not to, for he relaxed completely against Dwalin.

            Outside, he could hear the Elves speaking softly; probably Bofur and Dwalin’s tryst had woken the one not on duty. But Dwalin did not move, relishing the feeling of holding Bofur in his arms. The dwarf’s breathing slowed, and Dwalin knew the moment Bofur drifted into sleep. Part of him was tempted to do the same, but another part was determined to soak up every moment of Bofur that he possibly could.

 


 

 

            Bofur woke to find himself completely engulfed in Dwalin’s arms. He liked that. He really, really liked that. The only thing that might make it better was if they were safe under stone, at home in the Mountain.

            From Dwalin’s rhythmic breathing, he’d drifted off as well. Bofur felt a bit guilty for falling asleep before bringing him off, but he’d make good as soon as Dwalin woke.

            He’d had his head pillowed on Dwalin’s chest, and the lines of the big dwarf’s new tattoo caught his eye. He’d seen before that it was a map, but he’d never had a chance to inspect it up close. The details were obscured by the thick hair on Dwalin’s chest, so Bofur combed his fingers through it to look closer.

            The map was of Middle Earth between Ered Luin and the Lonely Mountain. A few important places were marked in between: the Shire, Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, the Carrock, Mirkwood, and Laketown.

            At first it took Bofur some time to puzzle out what seemed to be a thick, multicolored river flowing between these points. There were a multitude of threads to it: sky blue, dark blue, red, dark green, brown, grey, purple, yellow, and light green. Peering closely, he saw that for much of the river, there were fifteen threads, but over stretches one grey thread and another of dark green faded out and then came back.

            He understood immediately. Dwalin had inscribed the history of the dwarves all over his body, but here he had inscribed a personal history, of the most important journey of their lives.

            Bofur reverently kissed the picture of the Lonely Mountain on Dwalin’s left pectoral, where the three blue lines came to an end just outside, with the other threads – save a green and a grey – disappearing into the Mountain.

            When he looked up, Dwalin’s eyes were open.

            “It’s not finished,” Dwalin said quietly. Bofur felt the low rumble all through his body where he lay pressed against his love. “When we get home, I’ll add our journey to it.”

            Bofur caught his breath. Dwalin couldn’t mean – this trip wasn’t as important as the quest.

            “I’ve been remade twice in the span of three years,” Dwalin explained. “I need it on my skin, so I can never forget. Where I’ve been, who I’ve been. I’m going home, and I don’t know who I’ll be, yet, once we get there.”

            Bofur smiled and kissed him. “You’ll be Dwalin,” he said. “You’ll be my love. You’ll be anything you want to be.”

Chapter Text

            Bofur, ebullient as ever, had decided to befriend the taciturn Elves who were standing guard. He must be succeeding, for Dwalin could hear the rare sound of Elvish laughter. When he came out of their tent, he saw the older Elf doggedly keeping watch while the younger one taught Bofur Elvish drinking songs.

 

At a Middle Earth battle they herded like cattle

But that’ll look good on the screen

The Second Age ending, the Dark Lord ascending

This deficit spending’s obscene

The foes numbered millions or possibly billions

It’s how Silmarillions get penned

Against trolls, Orcs, and giants they stood in defiance

The Last great Alliance of Elves and of Men

 

The hero Elendil all tricked out in mithril

He carried the sword called Narsil

With a warrior’s scowl on he rode to face Sauron

To the foul one he raised up his steel –

 

            “Oy!” Bofur interrupted. “There were dwarves there too, you know!”

            “Where?” the Elf asked.

            “At the battle against Sauron. Why do you call it the Last Alliance of Elves and Men? Five thousand dwarves – mostly Broadbeams, I’ll have you know – stood with your armies.”

            “It’s just a song,” the Elf said.

            Bofur crossed his arms and scowled. “Have you any idea how many dwarves died in that battle?” He was glaring up at the Elf, every inch the bristling, belligerent dwarf.

            Durin’s Beard, Dwalin had never thought Bofur might be the one to provoke a quarrel with the Elves. If it were a quarrel with another dwarf, they’d just thump each other a good one and go home friends, but just now they needed the Elves’ aid! Now was not the time to get up in arms about past history. Dwalin moved forward to intervene.

            Bofur grinned at him, a maniacal glee lurking at the back of his eyes. “Longbeards died there too, you know. Durin IV led the contingent from Moria.”

            Right, then. Clearly this Elf needed to be taught a lesson. Dwalin scowled threateningly up at him, crossing his arms and making sure the morning sunlight glinted off of his axes. He was gratified to see the Elf gulp.

            “Blame the Men,” came a laughing voice. Bofur started in surprise, but Dwalin held himself still. The intruders shouldn’t have been able to sneak up on him like that, but he wasn’t the one on watch duty. “It’s their King and their song.”

            “Glorfindel!” Bofur exclaimed with a smile that made Dwalin’s stomach twist.

            “Feeling better, Mister Bofur?” the Elf asked, reining his horse and jumping lightly to the ground.

            “Much,” said Bofur, throwing such a heated look at Dwalin that the latter found himself blushing.

            “I rejoice to hear it.”

            Another horse entered the clearing, bearing a dark-haired Elf. At first Dwalin took it to be Elrohir, but the figure that jumped down was clearly a woman. “May I present the Lady Arwen?”

            She was lovely. Even Dwalin, who liked neither Elves nor women, could see that. She wore a jewel at her throat that, to his dwarvish eyes, was as beautiful as she was. It looked like starlight.

            “My father wished to come himself,” she said, her voice husky in a way that was unexpected, used as he was to Glorfindel’s bell-like voice. “But he could not leave the White Council just now. I have only a part of his gift for healing, but as the wound is not life-threatening I have no doubt I can resolve it.”

            Dwalin had almost forgotten that he’d insisted on a healer to see to Bofur’s hand.

            “My lady,” Bofur said, bowing. “I am greatly in your debt.” Mechanically, Dwalin bowed as well.

            He wasn’t sure why the Lady Arwen unnerved him so, but Dwalin was relieved when the wagon of foodstores arrived. He edged toward it to escape the woman.

            Behind him, Arwen said, “Come, Mister Bofur,” and the two disappeared into the tent.

            Dwalin was left at loose ends outside. He wandered over to inspect the wagon, piled high with lembas and other foodstuffs, very aware of Glorfindel behind him.

            “Lord Elrond was sorry he was unable to come himself,” the golden Elf offered. “He seems very fond of you dwarves.”

            “He’s fond of Bofur,” Dwalin said. Everyone was fond of Bofur, who was easy with everyone and a friend to all he met. Glorfindel should know that; he was fond of Bofur himself. Possibly too fond; Dwalin was still unable to rein in his jealousy on the matter.

            “Elrond asked after you most especially,” Glorfindel said, his piercing blue eyes giving nothing away. “What shall I tell him when I return?”

            Dwalin eyed the Elf warily. Could Elrond have shared his secret with him? Surely not – but since when had Dwalin trusted Elves?

            Since one of them gave me my heart’s desire, he admitted to himself. Yes, he trusted Elrond, who had no reason to share Dwalin’s secrets – not even with the most famous warrior in Middle Earth.

            “You may tell him that his treatment was successful,” Dwalin said grudgingly. Then: “And that going to Ered Luin seems to have done Bofur good.”

            The Elf surveyed him, unblinking and impossibly tall. Dwalin bit back the childish urge to kick him in the knees. “You are in love with him.”

            Dwalin tensed. “What’s it to you?”

            Glorfindel shrugged. “To me? Little enough. Elrond… Elrond doesn’t like to meddle, but he’s a romantic at heart. He rejoices in such small things.”

            Dwalin glared. His love for Bofur was not a small thing!

            “He has been unsettled, since the Necromancer was cast out of the Greenwood. It weighs on his mind, that such evil could grow so close; that we did not wish to see it. I would give him reason to take his mind from such matters, if only for a moment.”

            “You speak of a Necromancer, but say nothing of the evil Smaugh wrought,” Dwalin snapped.

            Glorfindel gave him a considering look but said nothing. It did not mollify Dwalin, who glowered back.

            After a long, strained silence, Glorfindel said, “Elrond sends his only daughter to heal a minor wound. It speaks to the depth of his regard for you and your kinsman.” There was a faint note of question in his voice.

            Both dwarf and Elf were startled at that moment by throaty laughter from the tent. Somehow, Bofur had gotten the beautiful Elf maiden to laugh. Even Glorfindel looked surprised.

            Dwalin didn’t think Bofur’s mangled hand could be called “minor,” but it was the same as with the dragon: from where Glorfindel stood, it was someone else’s problem. And from where Dwalin stood, the Necromancer had been of no concern as he didn’t affect the dealings of dwarves.

            Dwalin frowned at the thought. It shouldn’t be that way. Something that menaced the Elves would surely menace the dwarves as well. Just as the Elves should have helped root out of the evil of the dragon, the dwarves should stand against evils that threatened their neighbors. Once upon a time, they had – in the Last Alliance against the Dark Lord.

            Perhaps minding their own business and ignoring the Elves and the Men was a mistake. Dwalin would have to talk it over with Balin. They couldn’t just leave management of Middle Earth up to the Elves and the Wizards – they’d muck it up! What if something threatened the Shire, or Ered Luin, or the Orocarni clans in the east, or Far Harad? If just Elves were making decisions, perhaps they’d say there were no Elves in those places and would let them fall.

            He could hear Balin saying there were no dwarves in many of those places, so why bother, but Dwalin would make him understand. The alliance with Dale strengthened both the Mountain and Dale – surely that was true on a larger scale, too. The Necromancer had been cast out of Mirkwood – but where had he gone? He’d not been killed.

            Dwalin was never going to escape politics, was he? Bad enough when it was only dwarves, but add in the other races…

            His reverie was interrupted by a sudden glow of light and a shout of pain from the tent. It was Bofur’s voice.

            Dwalin reacted instantly, sprinting to the tent with his knife out even as his better sense told him that Lady Arwen had no reason to hurt Bofur and much reason not to.

            Both Arwen and Bofur looked up, startled, when Dwalin crashed in. He was followed half a second later by Glorfindel, who was reaching for Dwalin’s blade even as the big dwarf was sheathing it, reassured to see Bofur safe and whole.

            Indeed, although his pain stood in the sweat dewing his brow, Bofur had a smile on his face.

            “My fingers!” he crowed, holding up his hand. “I can move them!”

            Arwen smiled. “It will take some healing, yet. But the damage to the tendons has been undone. You should regain full use of your fingers in a few weeks.”

            Dwalin couldn’t help feeling suspicious. The dwarf healers had said the same thing.

            Arwen nodded as if she could hear his thoughts. “Your people gave him the best care possible without using magic. He would have regained use of his hand, though I doubt he’d have ever been able to write again.”

            Or carve. Dwalin shuddered.

            It didn’t seem fair that the Elves should have such power. But also – it didn’t seem fair that Dwalin and Bofur were drawing on that power when no other dwarves could.

            He regarded Lady Arwen. What reason did she have for such generosity? On the one hand, it was a small thing to ask – and on the other, a great favor.

            Perhaps she could read his mind, for she said: “My father does not often take an interest in mortals who are not his kin. He says that is perhaps a mistake. Naturally I wished to meet those who had earned his regard.” She smiled at Bofur.

            For just a moment, Dwalin let his jealousy get the better of him. In that moment, he wondered if perhaps it wasn’t Glorfindel he should be wary of, but Elrond.

            Just as quickly, he clamped down hard on the thought. It was ridiculous – and if he didn’t get a handle on his jealousy, he was liable to spend the rest of his life glowering at every person who dared to smile at Bofur. Which would be a lot of people; Bofur was very personable.

            And Bofur had chosen him, Dwalin reminded himself. He couldn’t ask for Bofur’s trust if he wasn’t willing to offer his own.

            Still, he’d never be easy around Glorfindel. The Elf rubbed him the wrong way.

            Dwalin bowed to Arwen so as to avoid a reply.

            The Elves did not stay long. Payment was given over for the goods, and formal words of thanks were offered and received.

            Shortly before the Elves left, Glorfindel tapped at the entrance of the dwarves’ tent. He was holding something under one arm.

            “A gift from Lord Elrond, for Mister Bofur,” he explained.

            Dwalin glanced at the plain wooden box – and froze. It was a twin to the one Elrond had given him just before he left Rivendell.

            “For Bofur?” he demanded.

            Glorfindel held the box out to Bofur, who looked rather alarmed. “I believe there is a key in this letter,” the Elf added, laying the letter in question on top of the wooden box. Bofur took both, eyes wide.

            “And now, I will bid you a fair journey,” Glorfindel said, bowing very correctly.

            Bofur returned the courtesy – and after a moment’s bad grace, so did Dwalin. “Fairwell, my friend,” Bofur said. “May peace guide your days.”

            “And yours.” Then Glorfindel was gone.

            Dwalin and Bofur looked uneasily at the box in Bofur’s hands.

            “He wouldn’t,” Bofur said. “Not again.

            “He’s an Elf. Gods alone know what he’d do,” Dwalin said.

            Bofur set down the box and took up the letter, breaking the seal easily. Dwalin read over his shoulder, not even pretending not to be nosy.

            My dearest Mister Bofur, the letter began in careful dwarven runes, I grieve that my obligations prevent me from seeing one whom I hope I may call friend. I can only offer my humblest apologies, and extend an open invitation to you and yours to visit at any time in the future.

            I write this letter with some hesitation, as I find I must seek your advice on a delicate matter. When last we met, I made a gift to our mutual acquaintance, a gift of a purely ornamental nature. I wished at that time to gift him with something rather more functional, but found myself limited by time restraints and an unwillingness to let another craft the gift.

            Having crafted the newest gift, it occurs that I do not know how welcome the last one was.  I send this one to you instead, hoping that if it will be appreciated you will pass it on to our friend, and if it will not, you will endeavor to dispose of it.

            I hope someday to have the pleasure of hosting you both again at Imladris, and that I may again enjoy your singular talent at songcraft.

            In friendship, Elrond Earendilion

            Dwalin and Bofur looked at each other, trepidation showing on both their faces. “Surely not?”  Bofur’s voice ended on a quaver.

            Almost mechanically, Bofur took up the key and fitted it to the lock. They both braced themselves as he raised the lid of the box.

            Dwalin caught a glimpse of thick leather straps and buckles, of –

            It took him a long moment to puzzle it out, how the harness would buckle around his legs and torso so, how the tool nestled innocuously in the white linen would fit through this bit here, how it would hold the flared base so that it would rub against his sex just so when he moved –

            The phallus itself was made of, or at least covered with, tooled leather worked in vine pattern and polished to a shine. It was not so Mahal-cursedly oversized as the prosthesis Elrond had given him, which meant the Elf knew last time around and had given him an outsized cock merely because it amused him

            Dwalin’s mind stuttered to a stop.

            Beside him, Bofur uttered a small noise of disbelief.

            Dwalin found his voice at last. “I knew it,” he said. “I knew it. The bastard is flirting with you.”

            Bofur’s eyes snapped over to him. “Flirting with me?” he demanded, looking as if he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to scream. “It’s your sex life he seems to be obsessed with.” Laughter was winning out, and Bofur started to grin.

            “He sent it to you,” Dwalin pointed out, and gave in to the laughter bubbling up because that was better than letting the panic inside loose.

            He looked again at the harness and phallus. He’d had no idea such things even existed. Would – would Bofur let him…?  Would Bofur like…?

            “Have you,” he began, and had to whet his lips nervously. “Did you ever…”

            “I was going to make you one of good dwarvish iron as an anniversary gift,” Bofur said, looking peeved. “But then a nosy Elf with an unhealthy interest in your genitals came along.”

            Dwalin peered at him closely to see if Bofur was really annoyed. Bofur’s eyes were still a little wild, a little glassy, and his breathing was just a tad too quick… Dwalin recognized the signs. Bofur was turned on!

            His eyes were drawn inexorably back to the box. Somewhere down deep, his mind was gibbering at him, but he followed the thread away from panic.

            What would it be like to wear this – thing?

            He thought of the way he had to brace himself sometimes against the instinctive flinch when Bofur touched the sensitive place between his legs. Would it help, if Bofur wasn’t touching? He had a sudden, visceral image of Bofur on his back, of Dwalin moving over him and the way the base of the shaft would grind against his sex…

            Forget the Elf. Forget massively inappropriate gifts. Perhaps Dwalin wouldn’t end up liking it – but Mahal, how he longed to try it!

            He was glad to see the heat reflected in Bofur’s eyes when he met his gaze. Dwalin’s mouth went dry. He knew they couldn’t fuck here and now, knew that better sense would prevail and they probably shouldn’t try until they got back to the Mountain – but nothing in the world could have prevented him from grabbing Bofur in his embrace and kissing him until both their knees went weak. He could feel the heat of Bofur’s cock between them, and moaned quietly at the thought that he could have this anytime, that Bofur was his just as much as he was Bofur’s, and it didn’t ever have to stop.

            It was better than a fourteenth share of the wealth of the Mountain. It was better, even, than the Mountain itself. Wherever Bofur was, that would be home.

            He crushed Bofur to him again, holding on tight, and loved that Bofur was clinging to him just as hard. He buried his head in the safety of Bofur’s shoulder.

            I love you, he mouthed against the skin there. I love you, I love you. "My Own.” And finally, it felt like coming home instead of fighting off fear.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

            After rejoining the caravan, it took them another two months to cross the Misty Mountains and the Greenwood. The Old Forest Road had been repaired in places and the forest was not so blighted as it had been. They saw spider webs but no spiders, and when they met with the Elven forest guard there was no confrontation; the two sides watched each other warily but went on their way.

            During the first month, Bofur told Dwalin “I love you” again and again, as if it were the easiest thing in the world to say. Bofur must be braver than he, for the words stuck in Dwalin’s throat when he tried to say them. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Bofur; it was just that saying it aloud was terrifying in a way that Dwalin had never encountered before. The closest he could come was mouthing the words against Bofur’s skin.

            During the second month, Bofur didn’t say it so often, and Dwalin was hit with a new and altogether unexpected sort of fear. What if Bofur stopped loving him?

            He started paying closer attention. There were two ways in which Bofur would say it. The first was when Dwalin did something unexpected and sweet, but the second came when he and Dwalin were disagreeing about something. In the latter case, if felt more like Bofur was reminding himself rather than saying the words to Dwalin.

            Bofur said “I love you” when they had their first fight, after Dwalin asked Bofur to move into his quarters when they returned to the Lonely Mountain.

            He’d been nervous about asking, yes, but he’d never expected Bofur’s eyes to go blank and expressionless. He’d never expected Bofur to say flatly, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

            Bofur walked away from the quarrel before Dwalin’s hurt bloomed into fullblown anger, and later Dwalin would be grateful for Bofur’s instinct to avoid conflict. Dwalin spent the next few hours thinking a lot of unpleasant things about Bofur, and he was glad he’d not said many of them aloud.

            He honestly hadn’t considered the possibility that Bofur would say no. When turning the matter over in his head, it was Dwalin’s own sacrifice that he’d mainly been concerned with: Dwalin liked his solitude, and having Bofur living with him was hardly conducive of peace and quiet. But it was also something Dwalin wanted – deeply – so he asked.

            Bofur, as was typical, was the first to apologize. Maybe the Broadbeams didn’t hold with the Longbeard belief that apologizing was negotiating from a disadvantage. After a few frigid hours and terse remarks, Bofur approached him.

            “I love you,” he said. “I just don’t think it would work out.”

            Why not? Dwalin quelled the instinct to shout – that would just scare Bofur off again – and instead asked, “Maybe it’s something to work up to?”

            Again he had to squash the anger when Bofur shook his head. He did see Bofur’s eyes soften, though, and he said, “It doesn’t mean I won’t stay the night in your quarters, and you can stay the night in mine. It’s just…” But he didn’t finish.

            Dwalin’s mind picked at the matter as they travelled through the Greenwood, because it didn’t make sense. Bofur had said that he wanted to get married, and marriage included living together, didn’t it? Had Bofur changed his mind?

            The thought made Dwalin run cold with panic. He’d been trying to talk himself into considering marriage as an option ever since Bofur asked – had Bofur been talking himself out of it?

            No. Bofur had said they’d talk about it when they were ready. Bofur wouldn’t lie to him…

            Because Dwalin was paying attention now, he realized that the closer they got to the Mountain, the longer between each time he heard Bofur call him “love.” Sometimes it seemed like Bofur was having trouble saying the words “I love you.” But it wasn’t until a few days out from Erebor that he caught the flash of hurt in Bofur’s eyes after he said it.

            Everything became suddenly, horribly clear. Dwalin was listening to the words, but Bofur was listening to the silence that followed, the silence when Dwalin didn’t say the words back.

            After a flash of frustration – why couldn’t Bofur just say what was wrong? – the guilt set in.

            For on the one hand, the solution was very simple: he could make Bofur very happy with three simple words. And on the other hand, Dwalin was terrified at the very thought.

            He’d thought he’d have time. He’d said the words a thousand times in his head, and he knew they were true.

            Over the course of several miserable days, Dwalin tried. He tried to say it out loud. He muttered the words under his breath in rare moments alone, hoping it would make it easier when it came time to say them to Bofur. He gave serious consideration to drinking enough to loosen his tongue, only to realize that Bofur would mistrust any words spoken while not sober.

            Each day, the Lonely Mountain got larger on the horizon, and each day Dwalin felt his anxiety grow. He couldn’t shake the feeling that if he didn’t give Bofur some reassurance, somehow, when they reached the Mountain it would be too late. They would be pulled back into the roles they knew.

            “I love you,” Bofur said, smiling soppily at him in a blissful morning afterglow, and Dwalin tried to say it too, honestly he did. He lay there curled around Bofur as the sun came up and tried to force his traitor mouth to say the thing he knew was truth. But terror sealed it shut.

            He’d never stayed in one place for more than a few years, and the words would bind him to Bofur forever. He’d only ever been able to settle down in the knowledge that he could leave anytime, that if his secret were discovered he could go out adventuring again. And now, adventuring was over and done with, but he still longed for an escape hatch. As long as he didn’t say the words, he had an out.

            He felt dizzy with the competing demands of his conscience: his silence was hurting Bofur – but the fear wasn’t rational – he was already planning to stay for the rest of his life – they were just words.

            If Dwalin had been asked to hazard a guess, he’d have said tht Bofur would let him get away with not speaking, probably for many years. He’d spent years not protesting when Havlin did not love him as well as he ought. Bofur had always avoided a head on conflict; Dwalin told himself he had time to build up the courage.

            But if Dwalin had been changed by this journey, so too had Bofur. Perhaps Dwalin should not have been surprised.

            On the morning of the last day, he woke to find Bofur smoking the last of the Hobbitish pipeweed, blowing smoke rings meditatively at the roof of their tent. He leaned over to drop a kiss on Dwalin’s lips when he saw his eyes open, and passed the pipe over.

            Dwalin loved moments like this, when the world narrowed to just the two of them and they could rest together, sharing space. His eyes travelled over the outline of Bofur’s lips, his mustaches, the dark fan of his eyelashes against his cheeks.

            Bofur reached for Dwalin’s hand and held it in his newly-healed one. He raised their joined hands to his lips and kissed the knuckles. “I love you,” he whispered.

            “I…”

            It was the closest Dwalin had gotten to saying it, and it fell short of the mark.

            Bofur shook his head, a wistful smile on his lips. “You don’t have to say anything. I know I – I always ask for too much.” Dwalin wanted to protest at this, but Bofur continued: “I don’t need words. I do need…” He bit his lip. “I do need you to tell me – if you find you don’t want to continue – I need to know that you’ll say something if you ever want us to stop.”

            Dwalin gripped Bofur’s hand tightly. Where was all this coming from? What fears had whispered in Bofur’s ear in the silence of Dwalin’s cowardice?

            “I…” he began. How could he begin to undo the damage he’d already done? “I don’t want to stop,” he managed. “I won’t want to stop.”

            He could tell that Bofur didn’t believe him, but nevertheless the dwarf nodded. He kissed Dwalin’s cheek and got to his feet, holding out a hand to help Dwalin up.

            “Just a few miles from home,” Bofur said with a smile.

            By the time Dwalin’s mind had unfrozen enough to say that wherever Bofur was, was home for Dwalin, Bofur had disappeared.

 


 

 

            Mistress Miril stage-managed the caravan’s arrival like the professional she was. Runners had been sent ahead, and there was an official delegation to meet the immigrants. Temporary housing had all been arranged. King Dain himself came down to give a speech.

            Dwalin caught sight of his brother near the King, and nodded his thanks for arranging the ceremony. Dwalin couldn’t stand such things himself, but they made people feel better, especially after a long journey when not everyone had made it.

            As soon as the formalities were over, Dwalin pushed through the crowd to crack heads with his brother. Then Balin held him at arm’s length, inspecting him with a paternal eye.

            “You look well, brother,” he said at last. “Very well.”

            “You look exactly the same as always,” Dwalin returned, because he had the tact not to say “You look tired” in public. “How has the Mountain fared in the months we’ve been away?”

            Balin’s eyes were unwontedly sober. “Time enough to go into that later,” he said, though. “We’ve arranged for a celebration after the formal festivities tonight, just the Company. You should rest now, for soon I’ll need to talk with you about Lady Dis…”

            Dwalin found himself dragged away from the hubbub. Looking back, he saw Bofur introducing Enna to Dori. Bofur’s eyes met Dwalin’s briefly and then he looked away, distracted by that miserable little man Cantrell who helped him in the mines.

            Dwalin felt the panic creep into his throat again. Now that they were back in their normal lives, was there even a place for the fragile new understanding between them?

            He fretted about it all through his debrief with Balin and Nori, as they formulated for him what words to say after tomorrow’s formal welcoming ceremony, when Dwalin would need to deliver a report on relations with Ered Luin.

 


 

            Dwalin had been looking forward to coming home: the privacy of his own rooms, Bombur’s delicious cooking, and the chance to finally go to the men’s baths for the first time. He’d been able to enjoy none of these thus far.

            There was to be a party in Gloin’s quarters tonight, welcoming back two of Thorin’s Company who had been away for much of a year. But just now, Dwalin was caught up in the innumerable details that he needed to perform in his role as ambassador to Ered Luin. Though he saw Bofur, they had no chance to say much to each other, as an endless procession of clerks and bureaucrats came for signatures to official-looking documents. These were followed by a slew of dwarves who had come to the Mountain over the past three years but wanted news of their kin back in Ered Luin. Mistress Miril joined them for a time for the official dissolving of the caravan, and scowled Dori into submission when he suggested that payment for services could be taken care of the following day. Then Dwalin was dragged off by his fellow bodyguards to get updated on new schedules and training as well as information about the latest cronies of the King. Dwalin saw the procession of “if I might have just a moment”-ers converge on Bofur, and had to fight off panic. It wasn’t right to leave Bofur all alone, and if it hadn’t been Bifur’s hand on his arm Dwalin would have balked. He knew Bofur would be fine facing them down – but he shouldn’t have to, not on his own.

            In the end, Dwalin was even late to the party, eventually disentangling himself from some irate Firebeards who wanted to know why their investments in the Ered Luin mines had been undermined by the Council cancelling a prosperous contract. He hurried along the corridors of the nobles’ level, for once longing more for company than the solitude of his own disturbed thoughts.

            He was glad to see Bofur coming along another corridor, also running late. All of Dwalin’s distemper disappeared when Bofur greeted him with a kiss and a smile. The world might be a miserable place full of petty bureaucrats and insipid, mindless clerks, but at least Bofur was in it so it couldn’t be all bad.

            Bofur reached for the door, but Dwalin pulled him back into his embrace. He wanted to see his friends, but he also didn’t want to let go of Bofur. “Stay the night in my quarters,” he begged, because after weeks of sleeping in Bofur’s arms he wasn’t sure he would know how to sleep without him. He wanted the assurance of Bofur’s strong arms around him, especially when his head was still spinning from the long talk about politics and assassination attempts that he’d had earlier with Balin and Nori. He wanted tactile contact. “I miss you already,” he whispered; they’d scarcely been parted for months and now just a few hours without Bofur felt wrong. He let his hands drift down to rest on Bofur’s arse. “We could try out Elrond’s gift,” he coaxed. They’d agreed it was better to wait until they got home, and now they were home.

            “No fair,” Bofur whimpered when Dwalin nibbled at the sensitive place on the side of his throat. “Don’t you dare get me hard right before we go see everyone.” It was too late, though: Dwalin could feel Bofur’s half-hard cock pressing against his thigh.

            They kissed fiercely for a few minutes, and when Bofur pulled away his eyes were a little wild and his lips swollen. Dwalin probably looked just as rumpled.

            “Bombur and Bifur are expecting me tonight,” Bofur told him, taking deep breaths to calm himself. “If you want me to disappoint them, you can be the one to tell them about us.”

            Dwalin grinned. He had been a little worried that Bofur would put off telling his family. Even though Bifur would no doubt loom menacingly at him and Bombur would threaten to chop off Dwalin’s fingers with a butcher’s knife if he hurt his brother, Dwalin would much rather put up with that than be Bofur’s secret lover.

            He caught an edge of anxiety in Bofur’s eyes, and wondered if perhaps he had had the same anxiety as Dwalin. He smiled. “I’ll tell Bifur and Bombur,” he agreed. “You get to tell Balin.”

            Bofur grimaced. “I suppose that’s fair. Come, love, let’s go see our friends.” He pressed a final kiss to Dwalin’s lips, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open.

            A roar of welcome greeted them both.

            The entire Company was there, along with Gloin’s wife Nirma and son Gimli. Immediately, Dwalin and Bofur were deluged by bear hugs, head butts, and slaps on the back. Mugs of beer were thrust into their hands, and three cheers went up. There were toasts all around, and much cheerful yelling and stomping.

            Gloin had provided for a proper feast and Bombur had surpassed himself with the food. After months on the road, Dwalin dug in gratefully, content to let Bofur do most of the talking.

            Bofur told them about visiting Bilbo and read a letter from the Hobbit to the Company. He told funny stories of their time in Ered Luin and with the caravan, and gave a highly overblown account of Dwalin’s heroism against the Orcs.

            Determined to give Bofur his due, Dwalin started to tell the Company about how Bofur had bent the Ered Luin Council to his will. In the middle of it, he saw Bofur bite his lip and look worriedly at Balin. Indeed, Balin’s smile had gone slightly fixed. Dwalin had forgotten that his own kin had once been the miners’ political adversaries. Bofur wouldn’t appreciate him digging up the past, so instead Dwalin told of the cave-in and how Bofur had gone down an unstable mineshaft to rescue the sole survivor. That at least wasn’t politically charged, and Dwalin’s kin was properly appreciative of Bofur’s heroism. Bifur and Bombur, however, were looking less than happy with their kinsman for “risking his fool neck again.”

            Most wouldn’t have been able to tell, but Dwalin caught the haunted look at the back of Bofur’s smile. Too late, he remembered that his heroism was not a happy memory for Bofur: it was a memory of helping a man to die.

            “I hope they sacked the idiots who ordered those dwarves into an unstable mine,” Dori said primly, oblivious to the political undercurrents in the room.

            “The Council instituted safety reforms the next day,” Nori said. “Very wise of them.” Dwalin took his bland voice for sarcasm, but Balin, Oin, and Gloin relaxed at the words. The right people had made things right, and that was that. Nothing more to worry about.

            How on earth did Bofur manage, Dwalin wondered. How did he stay friendly with the people who had been his political rivals and still might be?

            Would he expect Dwalin to take sides? Dwalin thought the miners had the right of it, but it would be difficult to go against his own brother if asked to choose.

            Bofur wouldn’t ask him to, Dwalin was sure of it. He hoped that Balin would be wise enough to refrain from asking, as well.

            He’d told Bofur he should be the one to tell Balin about the two of them, but it wasn’t the same as Bofur asking him half in jest to tell his kin. Balin had negotiated many times over the years with the miners of Ered Luin; he had played political games with the lives of Bofur’s friends.

            Dwalin looked at his plate. It should have been empty; he’d devoured Bombur’s apple tarts with the appetite of one who had only had dried fruit for four months on the road. He caught Bofur in the act of absently tipping his plate of tarts onto Dwalin’s empty one.

            Dwalin felt his heart swell almost to bursting, looking at the dwarf he loved. Bofur, who had no taste for sweets, who had wooed him with biscuits and treats. Bofur, who carried more pain than it seemed possible for any dwarf to bear, and met it smiling every morning. Bofur, who was mad enough to join Thorin’s quest, mad enough to ask an Elf for the impossible, mad enough to fall in love with Dwalin…

            He caught up Bofur’s newly-healed hand in his own and kissed it.

            When he looked up, Bofur’s mouth had dropped open in shock. So had those of most of the Company.

            Then Bofur smiled at him, his widest, most brilliant grin: the one Dwalin would spend the rest of his life seeking to elicit time and again. His cheeks turned very pink but he certainly did not look displeased.

            “Late summer,” Bofur said, and thought he spoke to the Company, his eyes were smiling up at Dwalin’s. “Unless there have been new bets, I believe that means that you win the pot, Bombur.”

            Dwalin turned to gape at Bombur. Around the table there were grumbles, but seven bags of gold coins were tossed to the cook, who secreted them away with a wide smile.

            “You all took bets? That Bofur and I would – ” Dwalin demanded.

            “Not if, but when,” Dori told him. “Balin was the only one who thought you never would.”

            Balin made a face. “I am pleased, for once, to be wrong,” he told Bofur.

            “It’s about time!” Oin grumbled. “Ought to have been years ago.” Clearly Oin had wagered on an earlier date.

            <Yes. What took you so long?> Bifur signed.

            Dwalin looked around at his friends, blushing slightly. Their easy acceptance took him off guard, thought he wasn’t sure why when he thought about it.

            He turned back to Bofur. He held Bofur’s hand tightly in his, and locked eyes with him.

            “It took me longer that it should have to realize I’d fallen in love,” he said.

            And looking into Bofur’s shining eyes, somehow it was the easiest thing in the world to say.

Chapter Text

Bofur made his way through the maze of passageways on the nobles’ level. The streets here were broad and ornate, decorated with precious gems on floor and ceiling. Bofur didn’t come here much, as Dwalin and the other bodyguards lived one level up from the King instead. At other times, the beauty of the streets would have been an enthralling sight, but just now Bofur was on a mission that had his stomach in knots.

            It wasn’t that he and Oin avoided each other. How could they, when their work brought them so often together? But when it came to the mines, Bofur was on firmer ground; Oin had never mined a day in his life and saw the wisdom in following Bofur’s lead when it came to managing the eastern mines. He structured his mines a little differently – the biggest difference being that Oin paid his miners a percentage of what they mined, while Bofur paid them for hours worked. It meant Bofur lost his most ambitious and profitable men to Oin’s mines, but the tradeoff was that fewer miners risked their necks trying to get a bigger share of the ore by ignoring safety protocols. Both systems had their advantages and their drawbacks. But other than that key difference, he and Oin were mostly on the same page when it came to mining.

            On a personal level, they were both members of Thorin’s Company and would have died for each other; that was a given. But at the same time, there was a strained quality to their interactions that Bofur knew was a remnant of Ered Luin. The rest of Dwalin’s kin seemed better able to forget the past – even Balin, to Bofur’s amazement, had been nothing but polite and even friendly – but things with Oin were still awkward. Bofur tried not to mind, and most days he didn’t.

            Now, though, he had a personal favor to ask. It was a small one, but he’d rather not owe Oin even so. Still, Dwalin had been fretting about it for months and was never going to do anything, so Bofur found himself here, outside Oin’s door.

            His cousin Bifur had rigged up an ingenious mechanism that dimmed the kerosene lamps inside when someone used the door knocker, after an incident when Nori had to pick Oin’s lock because the old warrior wasn’t answering during an emergency in the mines. Oin kept no servant, preferring solitude. Bofur might have thought the solitude ran in the family – it was a trait shared by Dwalin, Balin, and Thorin – except that Gloin was as loud, boisterous, and sociable as they came.

            Oin opened the door to find Bofur smiling nervously. He inclined his head in greeting. “Mister Bofur,” he said. “Do come in.”

            Oin offered him good ale and some of Bombur’s currant cakes, slightly stale. Bofur knew Bombur had been fretting over how much the old warrior was eating, and made a note to tell him that a sweet tooth was more Dwalin’s vein than Oin’s.

            “What can I do for you, cousin?” Oin asked, ever blunt, and Bofur blinked at him in surprise. He felt his cheeks heat in unexpected pleasure. He and Dwalin were years away from marriage negotiations, but Bofur couldn’t claim not to have fretted about the Longbeards’ reaction to a commoner courting a noble. Not that it was likely to become an issue: Dwalin had made it clear at the beginning that he wasn’t interested in marriage, and while Bofur couldn’t help hoping, he knew it was possible it would never happen. He’d come to a kind of peace with it; when Dwalin hadn’t disappeared after their first major fight, Bofur had realized that a marriage contract wasn’t the only way to believe in the stability of their relationship.

            “I, ah – ” Bofur began, flustered, and fumbled in his pouch for the parchment he’d brought. “I have a medical question for you.”

            Oin raised his bushy eyebrows. After the horror of the Battle of the Five Armies, he had decided he had no interest in ever again practicing his craft. Dain had wanted to give him the Infirmaries and make him Court Physician, but Oin had had enough of blood.

            Bofur unfolded the recipe for tea that Dis had given Dwalin back in Ered Luin and pushed it across the table to Oin. “I got this from someone who… may not be a friend,” he said.

            Dwalin said Dis called it a gift, but Bofur didn’t trust that she-dragon as far as he could throw her. It would be just the kind of irony she would relish, to allow Dwalin to escape her clutches knowing he’d do himself in with a poisoned gift.

            He watched closely as Oin read through the list of ingredients, and caught the sharp glance the old dwarf sent his way. His stomach instantly felt hollow with fear. Dwalin drank this tea every day in Ered Luin for several weeks. Could it be a slow-acting poison? Was it already too late?

            “Who gave this to you?” Oin asked, his normal scowl deepening into a grimace of disgust.

            “Does it matter?”

            “Not to me,” Oin grunted. “To you and Dwalin, it very possibly does matter.”

            “What’s Dwalin got to do with it?” Bofur asked, proud of himself when his voice didn’t shake at all.

            Oin was regarding him over his spectacles. Bofur couldn’t puzzle out his expression. It could have been assessing; it could have been disapproving.

            Oin sighed and pushed the scrap of paper back to Bofur, sitting back in his chair. “No harm will come to Dwalin from such a brew,” he said. “I’d not recommend it for you, but you wouldn’t be able to stomach the taste if you tried.”

            This was not helping the dread creeping through Bofur. “What has Dwalin got to do with it?” Bofur repeated.

            “Somebody has given you the means to ensure that you’ll not get Dwalin with child,” Oin said. “That sounds like a friend, unless they also intend blackmail.”

            Bofur stared at the old greybeard. He knew his mouth was gaping unattractively, but he could not have closed it if Durin himself demanded it.

            “You…” he began, the questions choking thick. “How – when – ”

            “The only person I can think of who might have given you such a recipe is the Lady Dis,” Oin mused. Bofur’s hands clenched into fists at his nonchalance. “I always wondered if she knew.”

            “Knew. What?” Bofur ground out, but he knew it was no use. Indeed, Oin gave him the same skeptical, avuncular look he often used with Gimli, and Bofur felt his temper slipping.

            “Dwalin’s birth was the first one I ever attended,” Oin said. “I was hardly more than a babe myself, but it’s not the sort of thing one forgets.”

            With an effort, Bofur tamped down his anger. It had been a long time since he’d been in a situation where he had to, and he was startled by how difficult it was to do so now, as if he’d gotten out of the habit of subservience.

            He drew a calming breath. When he was sure he wouldn’t shout, he asked, “And what do you mean to do with your knowledge?” Surely Oin wouldn’t bring disgrace on his own family…

            Oin’s heavy brows knitted in confusion, and he frowned. “Why would I do anything with it?” he asked. “What do I care what she gets up to? If I had objections, I’d have made them a century ago.”

            Bofur blinked. The “she” threw him for a moment, but even more was the fact that Oin didn’t seem bothered by a cousin he thought of as female living the sort of life Dwalin had. Bofur was pretty sure that if he himself had any female relations, he would have strong objections to them going off to war or adventuring.

            He had to be sure of where Oin stood. “Am I to understand,” he said, “that you do not object at all?”

            Oin shrugged and harrumphed. “I’ll not see her on the throne if we lose Dain and Balin,” he said. “Aside from that, she’s not harming anyone, and she’s done a great deal for our people.”

            Bofur mind was whirling. He knew that he and Dwalin were incredibly lucky that the two Longbeards who knew Dwalin’s secret were kin. “Does anyone else know?” he asked.

            Oin sniffed. “I believe young Ori knows.”

            Bofur stiffened. Ori was kin, but distant kin. And if he told his brothers…

            “He was restoring the Book of Durin,” Oin said, “and he stopped by to ask my help with some pages that got burned. Very discreet, Mister Ori is,” he added, giving Bofur a significant look.

            The Book of Durin was a massive tome that held the genealogy of the Longbeards all the way back to Durin I. It was almost as sacred a relic as the Arkenstone. Dwalin’s birth and sex would have been recorded in it.

            And Ori was a scholar; he would never dream of being unfaithful to the text. Anyone who looked at the Book of Durin could learn Dwalin’s secret.

            There was no help for it, Bofur decided. He would have to finish the job Smaug started, and burn it. He shuddered at the blasphemy of destroying millennia of work, but he would do whatever it took to protect Dwalin.

            “I took at look at it some months later,” Oin said, interrupting his plans. “He’s completely recopied the tree of the noble houses over the past 1000 years. Smoke damage, he said. Added illustrations, even. Very good likeness of Balin and his brother.”

            Oin waited for this to sink in. Bofur just stared, wide-eyed.

            “Will you tell her?” Oin asked after a long silence.

            Bofur started from his reverie. “What?”

            “Will you tell Dwalin that Ori and I know?”

            “I don’t know,” Bofur said. The knowledge that others held Dwalin’s secret in their hands was deeply unsettling, and would be even more so for Dwalin.

            Oin nodded, and indicated the recipe. “One cup a day keeps the menses away,” he quoted with a wry smile. “Tastes foul, I’m told, but it’s quite effective at preventing pregnancy.”

            Bofur, who had forgotten the recipe, took it up with numb fingers. They didn’t do anything that might risk pregnancy, and they might never – but this opened up the choice, should they ever decide they wanted to try. More importantly, Dwalin didn’t have to endure his menses anymore.

            He was never sure afterward if he’d remembered to thank Oin.

 


 

 

            The Book of Durin was not available to the general public, of course. Fortunately, Bofur was not the general public. The guard bowed low and said, “Of course, Mister Bofur,” and he was shown into the chapel where it was displayed.

            Every child born to the Longbeard clan had the right to be presented to the King Under the Mountain and be blessed by Durin’s heir here. Their names were set down in the elaborate, cross-referenced genealogy charts of the Book. The Book was a continual work in progress, and Ori had set a team of archivists to update it with all the Longbeard clan that had been born or died since Smaug came.

            Bofur trembled to touch some of the ancient pages. He leafed through them, afraid they might crumble to dust under his fingertips. Here, toward the end of the Second Age, the paper was of recent vintage. That must be where Ori had recopied the burned pages. But that was odd – it was only twenty pages or so; the following pages were yellowed with age. Bofur flipped through them, hearing footsteps outside coming closer.

            He whirled when the footsteps entered the chapel, trying not to look guilty. “Bofur!” Ori cried, bounding forward. His face was a happy smile.

            “H-hello, Ori,” Bofur managed. Think of a good lie, think of a good lie…

            “Looking through the Book of Durin?” the archivist chirped. “It’s fascinating, you know, how much history is in here. Do you know how many names there are in the Book? Go on, take a guess.”

            “I was just – Dwalin mentioned his great-grandmother, and I was wondering what clan – ” Bofur stammered.

            “Which side?” Ori asked promptly. “Borin married a Stiffbeard, I remember that, but on his mother’s side…” He flipped through the Book, apparently not at all afraid of tearing any pages.

            A moment later, Bofur was staring at an ink rendering of Dwalin and his brother, under another of their parents. The paper was new. The relevant birth dates and presentation dates were inscribed under each, as well as a paragraph about their noted achievements – but on neither did it say either “son” or “daughter.” Bofur turned to stare at Ori.

            “Of course I’ll redo it to include you, when you’re wed,” Ori said, his eyes lighting up. “I’ve already drafted the portrait!”

            “When we’re wed?” Bofur asked faintly. Dwalin had accepted his first courting gift, a viol Bofur had carved with the help of a master instrument maker, but had not given Bofur one in return. They had spoken no further about marriage, and Bofur couldn’t bring himself to disrupt the tentative happiness he had now by talking about a future Dwalin might not want.

            “I know it would be improper for you two to hurry it, but I am looking forward to it,” Ori told him. “We’ve all got wagers on the day. Gloin’s been insufferable ever since Dwalin asked his help for your courting gift.”

            “My courting gift?” Bofur felt dizzy. All that worry, and Dwalin had apparently been making something at the forges for him?

            “Dori wagered ten years because nobles have to stick to the proprieties, but he says Dwalin will be impatient and not wait a minute longer than he has to. Balin wagered fifteen because he says Dwalin won’t remember that you two aren’t married already.”

            “What did you wager?” Bofur asked, both horrified and fascinated that his private life had yet again become a topic of gossip with his friends.

            “Bifur and I both put our money on eight years, because both you and Dwalin are romantics and won’t care to wait.”

            “I see…”

            “And Nori said you’d never wed because you’re both secretly married to other people, but I think he said it to upset Dori,” Ori continued. He eyed Bofur. “Are you married to other people?”

            “Not that I know of,” Bofur said, wondering when the world would start to make sense again.

            “Good. Then, might you see your way clear to trying for eight years?” Ori asked eagerly, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

            “I’ll… do my best,” Bofur promised.

            Ori turned back to the Book. “When Balin marries, I’ll split the sons of Fundin into two pages. That way there will be room in the Book for any children the two of you adopt, and Balin really does need a son to carry the title, and…”

            He was talking quickly, even for Ori. Bofur realized that he was nervous.

            “Ori,” he said quietly, interrupting the waterfall of words. He raised his eyebrows at the younger dwarf.

            “I won’t tell,” Ori said, looking mulish. “I would never tell!”

            Ori loved history. By removing Dwalin’s gender from the Book of Durin, he had changed history. How could a scribe possibly do that? Bofur searched Ori’s face for an answer.

            “It’s not like Dwalin’s the first dwarf in history to do what he did,” Ori muttered, defensive. “I’m a scribe, I know these things.” He indicated the Book. “There’s precedent, even. Half a dozen dwarves in there aren’t named sons or daughters. King Oropher II of Belegost was discovered to be a woman after his death – great scandal, all the records were burned – shortsighted fools burned whole books with only a mention of him. And if the Ered Luin records can be believed, Dwalin isn’t even the only dwarf in the Mountain today who’s changed since birth.”

            Bofur managed to escape at last, and made his way slowly home. He’d been given a lot to think over today.

            He and Dwalin would have a lot to discuss when he got home.