The fire was nearly out and the air had a chill that was almost pleasant, especially when it blew across skin as flushed as Bilbo's. He lay in his bedroll, the blanket tucked underneath his chin, his cloak shoved under his head for a pillow. Outside of the blanket was a temperate forest cool in the darkness of the early summer night; inside of the blanket was a tropical rainforest, as with a carefully placid face and immobile body Bilbo sweated and tensed until he thought that kicking the covers off and cooling off would be a much a pleasure as completion. Within arms-reach of his nearest companion--Bofur, who seemed to be as asleep as Bilbo himself was pretending to be--Bilbo grasped himself with maddeningly discreet strokes.
Bilbo had lived alone many years now, with an empty bed built for sprawling. He had no desire to marry, to entangle his life, but that was the only desire he lacked. So he took care of himself. The same way one ought to eat the occasional vegetable and exert themselves on the occasional walk, Bilbo indulged in the occasional wank, with something less hungry than gusto. When he was younger, he'd treat himself to luxurious excess, teasing his own body to pleasure again and again until he was sweat-soaked and sore, his muscles limp with exertion. He'd pant and shiver and ache so much from the completion he wrung from himself that he couldn't dress for an hour. When he was younger. As he got older and his life muted itself into the limp watercolor Gandalf had snatched him from, Bilbo could grasp himself, have the matter done within a matter of minutes, and return to his book before the tea got cold. One could make even pleasure dull, if one set their mind to it.
Camping on the quest had been, much to Bilbo's surprise, a revolution in his masturbation technique. The vim and vigor required at home for his rapid completion was simply unsustainable on the road; Bilbo had once thought to himself, after one particularly spirited and efficient session, that while pleasure was always an inherently undignified act, Bilbo in his frenzy looked like nothing so much as a desperate dairymaid who simply had to get this butter churned before she could take lunch. As far as procedures go, it was as effective as it was highly obvious. Bilbo was traveling with thirteen dwarves and a wizard under rugged circumstances that made him unusually in need of some bodily pleasure, some release of tension. Ergo, he needed a return to more leisurely technique. Hence the languid strokes so slow that you couldn't even tell Bilbo was moving. Hence the frequent breaks when minute trembles threatened to transform into suspicious shudders. And sometimes when Bilbo was ready at last, at blessed last, to finish, a twig would snap or a dwarf would snort or the watch would change, and Bilbo would freeze until the night was still again.
The result was an exercise in frustration that made Bilbo at last understand why the euphemism "self-abuse" existed. For the first weeks, too highly strung from the dangerous novelty of adventure and dwarves, Bilbo had abandoned the task after a few minutes, resigned himself to falling asleep half hard and unsatisfied. His body had learned habits it was not eager to forget, trenches it was not yet able to escape.
But time passed and so did novelty, until Bilbo could wake in the morning and remember without a moment's panic why he was not in Bag End. And Bilbo could lay down at night in his neat little bedroll, could close his eyes and under the covers and under his layers slide his hand silently downwards. And inch by inch, minute by minute, pause by pause, he exhausted old habits to death.
Which brought him to the night he’d eventually dub the first night, his face slack with feigned sleep, his back slick with sweat, as his thumb slid across a very different slickness. He was close. He could fPeel his closeness from the feverish tips of his ears to the agonized curling of his toes. He was close in the same way that an ocean pressed against your house may be said to be close to your wall, and he was close in the same way that made you stupid enough to want to open your front door and let the ocean in. It made one stupid, that kind of closeness, so when Bofur grumbled in his sleep and shifted, Bilbo didn't stop. He merely turned his head away, his eyes not closed now but screwed shut until stars burst behind into the darkness. But still the door would not open. His body wanted more, more speed and more power and less caution, and it begged Bilbo with such wordless eloquence that he did not have it in him to refuse. His leg twitched as his hips rose, a shift in position that cracked Bilbo's lips open. Nothing came out, not even breathe. Bilbo could not breathe without gasping, and so Bilbo would not breathe at all, and he hardly noticed. The air in his lungs became just one more pressure straining to be released. He wanted to thrash and sublimated the movement as best as he could, buried the side of his face into the pack serving as his pillow instead. He was so hard, so hard and so close that the world shrunk until it was nothing except his hardness, his hardness and his hand.
He was distantly aware that no one looking at him now would think that he was simply sleeping. He was acutely aware how little he at this moment cared. Embarrassment was a decidedly post orgasm emotion. And speaking of--
Bilbo bucked, once, twice, and then, arching, froze as the door did not so burst as the ocean swept the house away. Rapture drew itself for a second from all parts of his body, as though he were a vessel being emptied from toes to the tips of his ears, and when the second was done, the aftershocks rolled over him like ripples in a quiet pond that was, for one terribly exciting moment, tremendously distressed. The world, which had for long moments been too sharp and focused entirely on the delicate ministrations of his right hand, sighed gently with him. Bilbo turned once more from an exclamation point into a languid comma.
Bofur snored beside him exactly as awake people do not. Bilbo smiled to himself. Orgasm achieved and dignity preserved. A pleasant turn for the night.
Then Bilbo opened his eyes.
And his eyes met Thorin's.
Thorin who was sitting against a tree, holding a pipe that looked like it had been quite forgotten. His eyes were not quite wide; his mouth was not quite agape. But he sat with the posture of a man who had, while thinking quietly to himself before sleep, had glanced up at one moment and frozen in whatever position he'd been it. Bilbo had seen Thorin aim a great many emotions at him--anger, frustration, worry, exasperation, and an expression difficult to describe but would be something like, "the look you give the person at your birthday party who was your cousin's plus one, and their presence has made a disaster of the seating chart"--but Bilbo had never seen Thorin shocked.
Which was only fair, Bilbo supposed. Before this moment, Thorin had never seen Bilbo mortified.
Well, he wasn't talking to you before, reasoned the Baggins part of him, so it'll be no different now that you can never speak or look at him ever again. Maybe as long as you never make eye contact again for the rest of your life, he won't mention this to anyone.
And another part of Bilbo, the part that had been growing steadily louder the longer this mad journey continued, said, look how red his nose is. I think he's blushing.
Bilbo was blushing too. Or else he was flushed, and that could mean anything.
Well, there's nothing for it, he thought to himself with a mental shrug. He can't respect me any less. And I think I've came too hard to spare the energy I normally would for terror.
And then, just because he so dearly wanted to look away but couldn't stand the idea of being the first to do so, Bilbo keep his eyes on Thorin as he raised his hand and deliberately wiped it clean on the grass next to him. Thorin's body didn't so much as quiver as he watched.
Then Bilbo rearranged his bed roll, turned his back to Thorin, and nestled his head into his pack. Within a few minutes, much to his drowsy amazement, he was asleep.
His blasé acceptance lasted all the way until morning. The sun hit him and brought a firestorm of mortification with it. Mortification really was the best word for it; as Bilbo squeezed his eyes shut and resisted through heroic might the urge to burrow so deeply into his bedroll that he could never be found again, it did seem like he could quite happily at this moment die. Alas, Bofur had other plans for him that morning, waving a wholly unappetizing slice of travel bread in Bilbo’s beet-red face with grin that had no place this close to dawn. Bilbo shoved breakfast into his mouth and set about undoing his camp with a speed and diligence he'd never managed before. When it was time to move out, Thorin would have no reason to look to Bilbo.
And Thorin didn't. All through the morning, Thorin assiduously did not look at him at all.
In the afternoon, they passed into the Misty Mountains, to Bilbo's surprised relief. You'd think it would be difficult to put out of your mind that you had just inadvertently pleasured yourself to completion in front of someone who, by all evidence, hated you, but if anything will put that particular horror to the back of your mind, it was nearly dying in a thunderstorm as rock giants pounded each other above you. And if Thorin at least had no hesitation about saving Bilbo from falling to his death, his prompt denunciation of Bilbo's presence altogether proved that their relationship was more or less the same as it had been the day before. Bilbo supposed he could count himself lucky that Thorin hadn't finished his diatribe by going, "And the hobbit can't stop wanking in camp!"
Still. Bilbo thought that he'd made quite enough of an ass of himself on this journey thus far, thank you. This never would have happened in the Shire, he could promise you that. Of course, if it had, everyone would have heard about it. Possibly at the moment it was happening. But in the Shire, he had a house, a door, a lock. Back in the Shire, he could do as he pleased when he pleased and in whatever manner he pleased, and if that had until recently meant a few tugs of necessity when he couldn't sleep and as he thought about what he'd make for dinner tomorrow--well, that was Bilbo's business, wasn't it?
He felt very firm in this plan up until the moment the goblins attacked. Bilbo's personal embarrassment over every aspect of his presence on this journey took a rapid backseat to mortal terror. Which, it turned out, was nearly as good at postponing angst as a good orgasm was.
Beorn was a man who turned into a bear--or a bear that turned into a man, Gandalf was being very mysterious on that front--and the animals in his land loved him as much as his enemies feared him, so when Bilbo asked if it was safe to take a short walk, Beorn smiled with all his many teeth and said, "If you behave yourself, little bunny."
Since Bilbo was the only member of the party who had not yet managed to kill anything for dinner, he assured Beorn that the local wildlife was safe from him.
Beorn's house was not just a bounty of food and shelter (though it provided both in such abundance that Bilbo might have wept over a honey bun): after weeks in the unending company of others, it was a bounty of privacy as well. There were walls, which you could feel free to stand on either side of. There was an outhouse, with a door you could prop shut as you took your time doing whatever you pleased so long as you kept your nose plugged. There were even somewhat partitioned sleeping spaces, and the hay they used as mattresses muffled the snoring. What decadence. What bliss. Bilbo woke up the first morning he was there and spent his time before noon cheerfully ignoring and being ignored by the rest of his party. Deprivation served wonderfully as a whetstone for pleasure. By the time he got Beorn's blessing to wander the nearby fields entirely by himself, with no second person, no nearby scouts, no chattering dwarf at his elbow, Bilbo thought he might have even overindulged himself to the point of loneliness. That was a pleasant thought. He hadn't been lonely since he'd ran out his door.
"Mister Baggins," called a voice from behind him.
So much for loneliness.
Thorin came jogging up, wincing and doing a poor job of concealing it as he did so. Bilbo crossed his arms, which is to say he hugged and covered himself in what he hoped looked like a gruff and strong fashion. They hadn't spoken much since the carrock. They certainly hadn't spoken alone. Now that Bilbo thought about it, he wasn't sure they'd spoken alone ever. The only moment shared by no one but each other was that one, the one Bilbo was trying very hard not to think about. He hoped Thorin was going the same, but with more success: not thinking about it, it turned out, was very much like thinking about it.
"You aren't supposed to be running about," Bilbo said.
"You aren't supposed to be wandering off alone," Thorin replied. "Shall we both misbehave together or will you come back to the house?"
"You'll go back to the house," Bilbo said, his face feeling hot, "and I'll continue on my walk, thank you. Beorn assured me it was perfectly safe."
Thorin scoffed. "Beorn is a wild animal in the skin of a man."
"Exactly. He seems qualified to speak on danger."
"There could still be--there are--goblins swarming the countryside, looking for us. Did Beorn inform them that they weren't allowed in here?"
Bilbo threw up his hands. "We can still see the house! For pity's sake, Thorin, I have spent too long in the unending company of dwarves who are trying to kill me by accident and enemies trying to kill me on purpose. I just want a moment to myself before my life resumes its new state of constant danger."
Thorin glared at him. The bruises around his eyes did nothing to soften the look. "There's nothing in solitude that you can't find in safety of numbers."
Bilbo had to laugh at that. "Of course there is. Good heavens, I can think of a few things I'd prefer to find without an audience."
This was the wrong thing to say. Bilbo realized that about halfway through the sentence and then watched himself with astonishment as he finished the sentence anyway. Thorin's brows furrowed for just a moment and then, much to Bilbo's horror, understanding faced over his face. Understanding, and a slight reddish tint.
"That's not what I meant," Bilbo said quickly, which he realized was also a mistake since it pushed him out of plausible deniability and into preemptively denying that he was sneaking off to Beorn's bee hives to give himself a good tug amongst the clover.
Thorin's eyes fixed somewhere a little above Bilbo's head. "You owe me no explanations, Master Burglar."
"I owe you none, but I'll give you one anyway. I'm just going to a walk for a little peace of mind."
Thorin was silent for a moment, with the look of a man deep in thought. Then he said, "Is that what you call it?"
Bilbo threw up his hands as Thorin--wonder of wonders--actually gave Bilbo a sheepish grin. "You didn't have to watch, you know," he said crossly. Now it was his turn to look somewhere that was close to but pointedly not Thorin's face. "That would have been the polite thing to do."
"You were right in front of me!" Thorin protested.
"You could have moved."
"You could have stopped."
Bilbo sniffed, despite the heat in his cheeks. "I dare say that you were in more of a position on your part to stop what you were doing than I was on my part to stop what I was."
"I--er--I mean--" Thorin ran his hand through his hair. "Yes. That did seem to be true. You were. Yes." He coughed while Bilbo glowered at him and thought very hard how he'd like to crawl into the earth, never to be seen again. "I should have--I was just--it was a. Ah. Sight that compelled witnessing." He gave Bilbo a genuinely contrite look. "I am sorry. I should have at least closed my eyes."
The idea of Thorin sitting with his pipe by the tree, his eyes firmly shut as he tried to gauge whether or not Bilbo had reached completion by the sounds that Bilbo refused to make was such a ridiculous one that Bilbo's mouth quirked despite itself. He shook his head. "It's the risk one takes, I suppose," Bilbo said, thinking of how proper you could sound on any topic so long as you elided most of the topic itself. "I hope you had a good laugh, at any rate."
Thorin frowned suddenly, a dark look that startled Bilbo out of what little comfort he'd found in this bizarre conversation. "I was not laughing at you."
"That's nice of you to say."
"I say it because it's true." This he said with none of the teasing that had slid in early, with none of the lightheartedness Bilbo was learning Thorin could possess. There was nothing light at all about the way he spoke now, and he looked Bilbo in the eyes as he did. "I was--struck. And I assure you, master burglar. The desire that struck me was not to laugh."
So there was that said aloud, Bilbo thought as something deep inside him that he had thought had gone to sleep long ago stirred at Thorin's words said with Thorin's quiet certainty and punctuated by Thorin's dark eyes.
"I--" Bilbo started to stammer, and as he always did when he found himself at a loss, he reached for the etiquette his parents had lovingly drilled into him. What did he want to express? Too many things, none of which Bilbo fully in this moment understood. Well, which sentiment do you have the firmest grasp on (perhaps the wrong image for this conversation)? Gratitude. "Thank you," he said. He clasped his hands behind him, and tried to look nonplussed and unflustered and unaffected and all those adjectives that were the negatives of the emotions he was in fact feeling. "I'm glad you were, ah, not inconvenienced by my, er, late night relaxation exercises," (Thorin's eyebrows shot up at that; Bilbo persevered bravely) "and should you ever find yourself in need of relaxation yourself," Bilbo said, "I would be happy to share my technique."
Dwarves were very lucky with the beard situation, compared to hobbits who could hide absolutely nothing on their faces behind facial hair. Bilbo’s face felt as if he’d stuck his head in the fire, and he knew he had to be as bright red as the embers. Thorin, damn him, all hair and ruddy skin, could at least try to conceal his thoughts. He was failing, as evidenced by the wordless stutter Thorin started and then choked off, but he could have looked composed if he’d put his mind to it.
“Quite so,” Thorin said eventually.
“Indeed,” Bilbo replied.
They regarded each other for a moment. More accurately, they regarded all the space around each other. They did not step towards each other. Bilbo did not reach out. His hands were shoved in his pockets and clenched so hard that surely they’d be too aching late to be good for—anything. Hypothetically. Could be anything. Didn’t even need hands for a lot of things. There were loads of other body parts.
Bilbo caught Thorin’s eye by accident as they both tried to look away at the same time and in the same direction. Thorin looked like he was considering the existence of other body parts as well.
But Thorin didn’t step forward. He took a step back, and looked like he regretted it instantly. But he’d stepped back nonetheless. And Bilbo, with a stubborn churn of pleasure in his stomach that came as a surprise, did not chase him. Bilbo reasoned—and in his opinion, justifiable—that Bilbo had already brought enough to—to—to whatever the hell this was just by not flinging himself in mortal embarrassment off every cliff they’d passed that first morning after.
Thorin coughed. "In any case. I'll let you return to your...." He made a vague gesture towards the rest of the gardens.
"Private contemplations," Bilbo said.
Thorin smiled like his own smile surprised him. "So you say." He took another step back and another, like he wanted to leave but didn’t want to look away. Or didn’t want to show his back to Bilbo. There was a trepidation in his walk that was almost indistinguishable from fear. Good heavens, Bilbo thought blearily, when Thorin finally turned and properly fled. I’ve never been fearsome before.
To some men, there’s nothing more terrifying than what they want, said that new part of Bilbo. And then, Is that what Gandalf would say? That sounds like something Gandalf would say. Is this voice Gandalf’s?
“Oh, I don’t like that,” Bilbo murmured to himself, but without much vitriol. It was a beautiful day with soft grass and a convenient knoll he could hide behind and he was, not to be crude, so hard that if another sweet breeze blew against him, he’d be rutting the air. He truly hadn’t been planning anything indecent in Beorn’s gardens—the bees seemed too…intelligent for that to be a good idea—but there seemed no avoiding it now. He laughed a little and rubbed his face, his skin still hot underneath his fingers. “What a disaster,” Bilbo said to see if the words sounded true. They didn’t, and they did, and the way Thorin looked at him and didn’t laugh shouldn’t make him shiver the way it did, but he couldn’t work up the proper embarrassment at the moment. That was, after all, a post-orgasmic emotion, and Bilbo was still decidedly pre. So he ducked behind that convenient knoll and left embarrassment behind. Bilbo could always decide if he wished to pick it up once more when he was done making a blissful mess of himself.