Thorin’s steps slowed closer to the Shire they got. He’d left his retinue to wait in Bree, arguing that his business with their erstwhile burglar was his and his alone. At least until he could convincingly say Bilbo would consent to having any kind of business with him or his again. They hadn’t exactly parted in best of terms. Or, Bilbo had parted, leaving Thorin seething in his sick bed. Now, walking the familiar path to Bilbo’s door – his feet dragging and suddenly as heavy as mountains – Thorin bitterly regretted each angry word he could not unsay.
But a real ruler knew when he was wrong. And so did any dwarf with honour. It had taken Thorin some time to relearn the lesson that the gold madness had erased. He’d sent letters but when all of them went unanswered there was only one thing left to do.
Taking a deep breath Thorin lifted the heavy knocker on the round door and let the deep thud of it drown out the drum of his own heart.
Bilbo muttered to himself as the doorknocker sounded again, the boom echoing through the hall of his home. He’d been enjoying a quiet day, spending time writing out more of his story of travelling to the misty mountain and what happened there. It had been raining all morning and he couldn’t imagine who had come out in the rain and was stood on his doorstep. Knowing his luck, it would be somebody he didn’t want to see.
Still muttering, he threw the door open only to stand still in shock. The last person he’d expected to see was standing on his doorstep. Thorin. The dwarf king stood silently, no doubt waiting for Bilbo to say something, to welcome him in perhaps, but Bilbo could only stare at him.
Thorin was drenched, his cloak hanging heavily on his broad shoulders. Water glistened in his hair and Bilbo opened his mouth to speak when Thorin beat him to it.
“Too long.” Thorin breathed, his gaze finally resting on the one person that had filled his thoughts ever since he departed Thorin’s company and, if he was honest with himself, for quite a while before that too.
“What?” Bilbo frowned in confusion, self-consciously brushing at his hair that had grown longer and was falling over his yes. “What do you mean?” he asked and then shook his head in irritation. “I mean: What are you doing here?” he corrected himself, crossing his arms and glaring at his unexpected visitor.
Thorin, Durin help him, found the whole thing utterly charming. “It’s been too long since I have seen you,” he clarified, wanting there to be no mistaking of his intentions now. “And I’m here to rectify that. If you let me.”
“Humpf,” Bilbo huffed. He really didn’t know how to respond to that. Oh, he’d received Thorin’s letters – every last one of them had been read and reread – but it was easy to deal with the dwarf so far away, to forget how Thorin made him feel. But with Thorin standing in front of him it was much more difficult.
Brushing his hands down over his waistcoat in agitation, Bilbo remembered his manners. “You’d better come in,” he said, gesturing for Thorin to enter his home. “Is it just you?” Bilbo asked, peering behind his guest and expecting to see more dwarves suddenly appear.
“Just me,” Thorin answered “I left the others in Bree.”
“Oh well… that’s fine,” Bilbo said. “Come in, come in, you look like you need to dry off.” He turned inside, shoulders tensing as he heard Thorin’s heavy tread behind him.
Bilbo’s home was must as Thorin remembered it, except this time, not distracted by an impending quest, he paid attention to all the details: the fine workmanship of the furniture, the well-loved knick-knacks on the shelves, the carefully places oil lamps.
Bilbo led him to what was obviously the guest bedroom. It cheered up Thorin immensely. Sure, it might have just been good manners but Bilbo obviously wasn’t about to boot him out straightaway. At the very least that gave him more time make his case.
A moment later, Bilbo bustled back in with a pile of towels and a jug of steaming water.
“Thank you,” Thorin said quietly. He’d only had a chance to remove his cloak and was looking forward to changing into dry clothes.
“There’s food when you’re finished,” Bilbo said, closing the door after himself.
It only took Thorin a few minutes to wash himself and dig out a mostly clean tunic from the bottom of his pack.
The smell of cooking beckoned him down the corridor toward the kitchen. However, a flickering light through a doorway directly opposite his caught Thorin’s attention and he could not resist pushing the door all the way open and sticking his head in. The room was obviously Bilbo’s study, shelves of books circling the walls, framed maps covering what space was left. Under the now dark window sat a large writing desk with an unfinished manuscript spread over it.
Irresistibly drawn, Thorin crossed the floor in three quick strides, his eyes fliting over the lines on the page, corner of his mouth quirking up when he realised what he was reading. It seemed he wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been able to forget their time together.
Then Thorin’s gaze landed on the pile of opened letters on the edge of the desk and all signs of smile vanished from his face. Part of him had hoped that Bilbo simply hadn’t received his messages but…
Thorin swiped the bundle of letters and went in search of the kitchen and his infuriating host.
“There you are,” Bilbo said, glancing up as Thorin entered. He was setting the table, the spread having grown more lavish with every minute he’d had to wait for Thorin’s return. Now the kitchen table near groaned under meats, cheeses, pickles, cakes, breads, jams and a steaming pot of stew. “Food is ready, please have a se—”
Thorin pushed dishes aside and put the letters in the middle of the table. He didn’t not sit down but remained standing, regarding Bilbo in silence.
The colour left Bilbo’s face as he looked at the angry and bristling dwarf in front of him. The last thing he’d expected was for Thorin to bring up the letters but then, he thought angrily, Thorin shouldn’t have been snooping in his study. He pushed his shoulders back and stared up at the dwarf.
“You’ve been snooping,” he said accusingly. “What right have you to go to into my study?”
“What right?” Thorin spluttered surprised at Bilbo’s ire. “It doesn’t matter, does it?” he said. “What matters is you received them. You obviously read them but you didn’t have the courtesy… The friendship to respond.” He picked the letters up and waved them in front of Bilbo.
“Just what were you thinking Bilbo? Why didn’t you respond to them? To me?” The last was said softly and Bilbo shifted on his feet, not really knowing how to respond. He sighed and sat down, hoping Thorin would do the same.
A moment later, the dwarf followed suit, although the letters were still gripped tightly in his hand.
“I couldn’t,” Bilbo said falteringly. “At first it was too soon after the battle, after the deaths, and then… Well I didn’t know how to answer. I never meant to hurt you Thorin, it just become more difficult to respond as time went on. Don’t you understand?” His voice cracked as it rose in pitch. “I didn’t know what you wanted. I still don’t.” His fists clenched, suddenly short of breath at the emotion coursing through his veins.
Thorin sighed, his shoulders slumping as all the misplaced anger left him. He hadn’t come here to fight, quite the opposite. And he had no right to accuse Bilbo of anything.
“What I would like is an answer,” Thorin said quietly, “even if it is not the one I want to hear.” He looked at Bilbo across the table, the distance between them suddenly unacceptable; having been apart for so long, now even the trivial obstacles of jam jars and butter dishes and loaves of bread seemed more than he could bear.
“I would have your forgiveness,” Thorin continued, getting up and rounding the table. “If you will grant it. Your friendship back,” he reached Bilbo’s side and knelt by his chair, which put him at the same height as the sitting hobbit, perfect to see the surprise his gesture evoked, “but that is perhaps more than I deserve.”
Thorin hesitated then, but he had come this far and to back out now would make mockery of his trip, and newly found courage.
“Anything beyond friendship…” He touched two fingers to the side of Bilbo’s face, waiting, waiting, until the soft gasp and widening of eyes told Thorin that the hobbit had understood his meaning, and that this too came as a surprise. Thorin felt his hear sink, and let his hand drop down. “Well, that is not something I can ask.”
Bilbo stilled at the touch of Thorin’s callused fingers. And then it was gone and he felt bereft, already missing the feel. It was Thorin’s silence though that made him lean forward and touch Thorin’s hand in return, noting how small his own hand looked against Thorin’s.
“I’m sorry,” he said again and this time it was heartfelt, “but I didn’t realise, didn’t know what you really wanted. And now…” Bilbo bravely slid his fingers up Thorin’s wrist, smiling a little as Thorin shuddered under his touch. “You came all this way,” he said incredulously “just to get an answer to your letters. How do you think that makes me feel? No don’t.” He moved his hands and pressed two fingers against Thorin’s warm lips.
“Don’t answer, you don’t need to.” Bilbo didn’t need any more words, he already had Thorin’s actions and they spoke volumes. He paused for a few seconds trying to think of what to say in return but there really was only one possible answer, one that would change his life forever.
“Yours,” Bilbo said, moving his hand over Thorin’s heart. “I’m yours,” he said. “If you’ll have me.”
For a moment, Thorin looked incredulous and then, as shock and happiness spread across his face, he surged upwards and pulled Bilbo into his embrace.
“Mine,” he whispered against Bilbo’s ear. “Mine.”
The kiss that followed was all the sweeter for the bitterness that had preceded, regrets and missed chances melting away with every slow brush of lips, leaving nothing but joy in their wake.