The first thing Thorin did once Óin finally allowed him out of bed, was to find his sister-sons. He’d been told they were mending, just as he was, but he wanted to see them with his own eyes. Needed to see that his blindness and greed had not killed the sons of his heart. He paused before entering their chambers, desperate to see them, but afraid as well. Even if they lived would they forgive him? He’d seen the rest of the company and they bore no ill feelings, not even Bilbo who had more cause to hate him than any other.
But his boys, his precious sister-sons, they were his family; he had sworn to their mother to protect them and he had failed. How could they possibly forgive him? How could he ever forgive himself when he would never forget the sight of them laying bloodless and motionless. He had not truly believed Bilbo when he said they still lived. They had looked empty, lifeless. How could anything else be true?
But as long as he stood here, he would never know. He would have to walk through the door to see, to truly believe that he had not lost them. He took one last breath, grabbed the doorknob, and prayed to Mahal for mercy as the door swung open.
He didn’t see anyone immediately but he could hear Kíli's loud bray of a laugh coming through an open doorway. The relief was so intense that only his grip on the door kept him standing. Kíli was alive. Alive! And Fíli must be as well if Kíli could still laugh so freely. He had to close his eyes to hold back the tears.
“Thorin. Are you alright?” He opened his eyes to see Bilbo walking towards him, brow creased in concern. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Peace, Burglar, I am well. Óin cleared me for short walks.”
“I’m not sure I’d consider the walk from the infirmary to here to be short,” he replied, stopping in front of Thorin.
“That’s only because you have such a short...stride,” Thorin murmured. He couldn’t help but smile as Bilbo huffed at him.
“I’m not that much shorter than you,” Bilbo crossed his arms as he considered Thorin. “And I’ll have you know that I’m tall for a hobbit.”
“So you’ve said,” Thorin said placatingly. He couldn’t stop his smile as Bilbo’s frown increased. Bilbo finally huffed and smiled back, as if he could not help himself.
“Well come on, you obviously came all this way to see the boys.” He stepped forward and wedged himself under Thorin’s shoulder, arm wrapped around his waist; the perfect height to serve as a crutch. Thorin would have complained that he could walk just fine on his own, had walked all this way on his own, but Bilbo was warm and soft and fit perfectly. Thorin savored the feeling as they made their slow way towards the door Bilbo had exited earlier.
“The boys are going to be so happy to see you.” Thorin glanced down to find Bilbo smiling up at him. “They’ve been trying to convince Óin to move them into your room for ages, but he kept insisting that you needed rest and not two loud children constantly disturbing you.
“They pouted so much when they were moved here. I’ve never seen anyone so reluctant to leave the infirmary before. Though I must say, they are going to be so jealous that you’re up and around before them considering how much longer your stay there was.”
Thorin let the words roll over him, reassured by Bilbo’s chatter but too focused on seeing his boys to do more than hmm in response. It seemed an eternity, and far too soon, when they finally passed through the door. The room beyond was clean but bare excepting a large bed and a few chairs. Dwalin stood up and helped Bilbo usher Thorin into the seat he had just vacated.
And there, in the bed, were Fíli and Kíli; alive and whole if not yet hale. He returned their greetings and well wishes by rote, drinking in the sight of them. Kíli was propped up against the headboard, looking much the same as ever. The only evidence of his near brush with death a few new scars and the heavy cast nearly covering the entirety of his right leg. Though he knew it strange to be glad for such an injury, he was glad, for if some harm had befallen the lad’s hands or arms it would have affected his archery in a way the leg would not.
Fíli though. Fíli was still laying prone and paler than usual, making the flush of his fever that much more noticeable. Thorin could not see any bandages, but the blankets were pulled nearly to his neck. Fíli smiled though, the same cocky smile as ever. And if his eyes were a bit more solemn than they once were, well, that was the price of battle. Thorin wished he could remove the shadows from their eyes but he would be thankful for them all the same because his boys were still alive.
It wasn’t until Dwalin gripped his shoulder that he realized he’d been silent too long, too caught up in his own thoughts to follow the conversation properly. Thankfully Bilbo stepped up and saved him, as was his wont.
“Well, now that the three of you are firmly on the mend I suppose I should really start getting myself together,” he said.
“What d’ye mean, laddie?” Dwalin inquired.
“Well, I need to start packing. Though that won’t take long as I don’t have much beyond my clothes, and getting food and supplies.”
“Supplies? For what?” Kíli asked looking adorably confused. Thorin never understood why so many thought Kíli resembled him so strongly. The same expression on his own face made Thorin appear angry.
“For the trip home, of course.” Bilbo’s words snapped Thorin’s mind firmly back to the conversation at hand.
“Trip home?” Thorin couldn’t help but repeat weakly. From the stunned looks on his sister-sons’ faces, the possibility of their burglar leaving had not entered into their minds either. He absently noted that Dwalin did not seem surprised.
“Yes,” Bilbo replied not seeming to notice their reactions, busy as he was making a cup of tea. “I’ve already stayed much longer than I meant too. If I don’t leave soon I’ll miss the spring planting!”
The way he smiled as he spoke of leaving wrenched something in Thorin’s chest. He tried to come up with some response, something that would make Bilbo stay, to want to stay, but there was nothing. There was only a feeling of loss, as if the hobbit was already gone beyond his reach.
“I’m afraid ye’ve already waited too long,” Dwalin said. “By the time ye get through Mirkwood, the passes’ll already be closed.”
“What?” Bilbo’s brow furrowed. “But it hasn’t snowed at all yet!”
“Not at the foot of the mountain no, but the upper reaches? Aye. It’s not much yet, but even if ye make all haste and don’t encounter any of the problems we had on the way here, it’ll still be too late. If’n ye mean to leave soon, ye’ll have ta take the southern route, through Rohan, and that’ll add enough time ta yer journey ye might as well just wait ‘til the passes clear in spring.”
“Oh my, oh my,” Bilbo wrung his hands. “If I don’t return soon they’ll give me up for dead! And I have no doubt the Sackville-Bagginses will move into my home the second I am.”
“You can send a raven,” Thorin struggled not to seem happy in the face of Bilbo’s distress. “It won’t take long for one to deliver the news that you are alive and well and merely delayed from returning.”
“A raven? Yes, I suppose that will have to do.” Bilbo nodded and headed to the door. “I best go take care of that now, else I’ll find my smial full of greedy relatives when I get home. Harder to get rid of than dragons.”
Thorin tried not to let his relief show but it was difficult. Still the hobbit didn’t seem to notice as he left, mumbling to himself. There was a moment of silence before Dwalin spoke.
“I’m off as well. Can’t leave the guards alone fer five minutes or they start dicing.” He gave Thorin’s shoulder another squeeze. “The two of ye behave fer yer uncle. I don’t want ta hear he’s back in the infirmary ‘cause he was tryin’ ta deal with yer foolishness.”
“Yes, Dwalin,” they both chanted.
Dwalin stared at their innocent faces suspiciously before he snorted and turned to go. “And ye had better not land yerself back in the infirmary tryin’ ta do too much too soon.”
“Dwalin,” Thorin would be annoyed but he was too cheered by the way his sister-sons were laughing.
“Don’t give me that look, I know exactly where they get it from,” Dwalin said as he walked away.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he called after him. The room was too silent with Dwalin gone. What could he say to his precious boys that could possibly make up for what he had done?
And what was he to do about Bilbo? He was ashamed that it took nearly dying for him to see what the hobbit meant to him. If he told him how he felt, would he stay? Or was it already too late?
Well, there was time now to try. It would be months before Bilbo could leave, Thorin would just have to make the most of that time and hope Bilbo returned his feelings. But now, now he had his boys to beg forgiveness of.
As Bilbo set the plates on the small table serving as his dining table, he studied Thorin covertly. The dwarf was still remarkably pale, but appeared to be moving easier than he had been the first day of his escape from the infirmary. Even if Óin did technically let him go Bilbo thought it might have been more out of exasperation from listening to His Majesty whining. Surely he couldn’t be healed of such grievous wounds in such a short time.
Bilbo forcefully expelled such thoughts from his mind. Thorin was alive and here and no longer pale and bloody and so still. Bilbo set the final dish on the table, perhaps with slightly too much force judging by the concerned look on Thorin’s face.
“So,” Bilbo smiled brightly, he was happy, truly. “You seem to be moving about much better today.”
“I’m feeling much better today,” Thorin said. “Nothing works the kinks out like a little time in the forge.”
“The forge?” Bilbo repeated. “Don’t you think that’s a bit too strenuous for your wounds? You only just got out of the infirmary a week ago.”
Thorin smiled - indulgently Bilbo thought. “There is little that can long keep a dwarf from his craft.” Bilbo made a small distressed noise. He couldn’t help but imagine the great swaths of stitches he’d seen while he changed Thorin’s bandages pulling open and the great King Under the Mountain’s blood flowing free again.
“Peace, Burglar,” Thorin’s words snapped his mind back to the here and now. “Óin cleared me for light work and I’m not so eager to return to his clutches that I’d risk doing more.”
“Hmph,” Bilbo replied, finally dishing food onto his plate. Thorin followed suit. “I don’t think anything you could do in a forge could be considered ‘light.’”
“Perhaps not for a hobbit, but we dwarrows are made from stone.”
“Rocks for brains would explain a lot of things,” Bilbo looked up at Thorin from under his lashes as he spoke and was rewarded with a brilliant smile before the King threw his head back and guffawed. Bilbo returned the smile and tucked into his food. It was good to see Thorin laughing; for so long he had feared it would never happen again.
The rest of lunch passed with good food and good company. They spoke lightly of the Company and the repairs and the antics the boys tried to pull even while bedridden.
But as they finished up and Bilbo began to straighten up, Thorin’s face grew serious again. “Burglar.” Thorin stopped, took a deep breath. “Bilbo. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done, the way you have stood by us, by me, despite what I have done. I -”
“Thorin,” Bilbo interrupted. “Please, I have already forgiven you, you don’t need to drag this up again.”
“But I do,” Thorin looked so serious and earnest. He continued before Bilbo could respond. “I hurt you, and yes, you forgave me but we both believed I was dying at the time. It is one thing to absolve someone when there will be no other chance and quite another to live will someone who treated you so callously.”
“I didn’t forgive you because you were dying!” Bilbo put the dishes down so he could grip Thorin’s arm. “I forgave you even before that. I forgave you right away because I knew it wasn’t your fault. It was the dragon sickness that made you do that. And.” Bilbo took a deep breath. “And I had hurt you terribly. I never actually apologized for that. I’m so sorry Thorin.”
“You do not need to apologize, you did the right thing. In my madness I could not see that but I do now.” Thorin looked so sincere but that only made Bilbo more determined.
“It doesn’t matter if it was the right thing. I hurt you and I did it knowing it would hurt you. I should have found another way.” Bilbo stared at Thorin in resolve as the dwarf opened his mouth to reply. Bilbo was sure he was going to deny Bilbo’s words, but instead he closed his mouth without saying anything. They stared at each for a long moment before Thorin spoke again.
“I will not lie and say it did not hurt but it was the right thing to do and I cannot think of what other action you could have taken at that point. I understand now why you did what you did and I forgive you.” Thorin grasped the hand still on his arm and brought it to his chest. “And I thank you. For saving my life and my sister-sons’ lives and preserving my kingdom at great risk to yourself.”
Bilbo choked up as he clenched his fist and swore to himself he would not cry. Thorin never once took his eyes off of Bilbo’s as he reached into his tunic with his free hand and pulled something out. He turned Bilbo’s hand over and pried it open, depositing the item he had retrieved.
It wasn’t until Thorin looked down at their hands that Bilbo was finally able to tear his gaze away. There, nestled in the palm of his hand, was a bead. Bilbo picked it up with his free hand to take a closer look. It shined silver, brighter than almost anything he’d seen, just like the mithril shirt Thorin had gifted him, back before everything had gone wrong.
Bilbo’s eyes flew to Thorin’s. He hadn’t understood at the time, but he knew now what mithril was worth; what the bead he was holding was worth.
“What?” Bilbo’s breath caught at the intensity of Thorin’s gaze. “What is this for?” He returned his attention to the bead, unable to hold Thorin’s eyes any longer. The bead was engraved with a dragon - that looked remarkably like Smaug - on one side, and a flower Bilbo didn’t recognize picked out with tiny blue gems surrounding a single white glowing gem on the other. Bilbo swallowed hard when he realized the gem must be a chip of the Arkenstone.
“It is the only way I can express all the feelings I am unable to put into words. To commemorate your strength and all you have done for me and my kingdom.” Bilbo did not dare look up to see the expression that matched Thorin’s husky voice. He would not be able to control himself if he did.
“The dragon is so all will know of your bravery and cunning in facing Smaug and finding his weakness. The flower is glory-of-the-snow which blooms on the slopes of Erebor, pushing through the snow and into the light, so all will know of your strength in the face of adversity.”
Thorin paused, curling Bilbo’s fingers around the bead and tipping his face up so their eyes could meet. “And the chip of the Arkenstone is my promise to you, that I will never again value a lifeless stone above those I care for.”
Bilbo threw himself at Thorin, no longer able to control himself. Thorin returned the hug as fiercely. It was a long time before Bilbo could bring himself to pull back and if how slowly Thorin loosened his grip was any way to judge, he was just as reluctant to part. Bilbo sat back in his seat, the fist curled around the bead clutched to his chest.
“I guess it’s a good thing everyone’s been hiding the scissors from me,” Bilbo was embarrassed to hear his voice so strained by emotion. He cleared his throat before continuing. “Otherwise, my hair wouldn’t be long enough to braid. Not that it does me much good, of course. I don’t know the first thing about braiding. Would. Would you do it for me?”
Bilbo glanced up at Thorin through his lashes and was rewarded with a blindingly brilliant smile. “Of course, Burglar. Of course.”
He sat patiently as Thorin first combed his hair - all dwarrows seemed to carry a comb with them at all times - then separated a hank behind his left ear. Bilbo held back a shiver as Thorin’s fingers brushed his scalp and the sensitive tip of his ear. He’d never had anyone do this before and it was unexpectedly lovely.
Bilbo closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling and the sound of Thorin’s voice as he began explaining how braiding worked. He felt warm and peaceful, the feeling a balm against the waning ache of homesickness.
It wouldn’t be such a hardship, really, to spend one more season with his dwarrows.
Nori slipped into the kitchens to join a few of the Company for Bilbo’s Tea as had become their custom once the kitchens had been repaired enough for use. He was careful to stay clear of those working to prepare dinner, not relishing a knock to the head from a rolling pin. Once was once too many. He settled between Bifur and Bofur and as far away from Dori and his fussing as possible.
While he’d never been fond of tea, some of the strange fruity blends Bilbo had introduced to him were surprisingly tasty. The chance to take a break from the tiring work of rebuilding the mountain and keep in contact with the members of the Company was well worth forcing down even the more bland brews Bilbo sometimes made. To say nothing of the little treats Bilbo made to go with it. It took weeks of this routine to get him to stop apologizing for what he deemed meager offerings and what everyone else called a small meal of delicious pastries. Nori couldn’t wait to see what a ‘proper’ tea would be like once they no longer had to ration food.
Assuming, of course, that the hobbit was still here then. Nori rather thought yes - he hadn’t put up much of a fight about staying the winter - and had put his money on it. All of the Company had actually. The bet was less of whether he’d stay than for how long. Nori figured that as soon as the kingdom, and it’s King, were well enough that he no longer felt needed he’d soon be gone. Bombur was the only one who had bet he’d make Erebor his permanent home. Nori almost felt bad taking his money but that’s just what happened to hopeless romantics.
“Good afternoon!” The hobbit in question finally appeared with Bombur close behind. Everyone exchanged boisterous greetings as the food and tea were placed on the table. Nori breathed deep, smelled like it was going to be a good tea today, the one that tasted kinda spicy.
“What’s that?” Ori was the first to notice but it wasn’t long before all those gathered picked out the braid and bead in Bilbo’s hair. It was mostly hidden by the hobbit’s ear and almost lost amongst the curls but once spotted it was impossible to miss.
A courting braid sporting a shiny new mithril bead!
“Oh,” Bilbo exclaimed. “Thorin gave it to me. Isn’t it lovely?”
“Thorin!” exclaimed half the table. Nori just smirked. The only surprise there was that the stubborn dwarf had finally pulled his head out of his ares and acted. Nori would’ve given long odds on that one, had there been any takers.
“Yes, at lunch today.” Bilbo seemed confused by their reactions. After a moment he shrugged and continued. “He said it was to commemorate all I’ve done for Erebor.”
“Well, you certainly deserve that and more besides,” Bofur pulled Bilbo into an one armed hug making him blush adorably. Everyone expressed their agreement - even Óin once Glóin repeated the conversation loud enough to be heard in Dale. Bilbo got so red it couldn’t possibly be healthy.
“So lets see it,” Glóin demanded.
“Oh, yes,” Bilbo fumbled with the bead a moment before unclasping it and handing it over. Bilbo clung to the end of his braid as the bead was passed around and admired. Nori let out a low whistle as a tiny chip of the bloody Arkenstone itself winked up at him. Thorin really went all out!
Course, their Burglar deserved it.
Bilbo took a moment to admire the bead once it was finally passed back to him, before carefully replacing it in his hair. He seemed relieved to have it safely back, though Nori wasn’t sure if that was because of the bead itself, or if he was more worried about his braid unraveling. Either way, it boded well for the Thorin’s courtship that he was so attached already.
Bifur began to speak and sign and Bofur nodded along as he translated. “The dragon makes sense, what with ya facin’ Smaug and all. But what’s the flower mean?”
“It’s a glory-of-the-snow. I’ve heard of them before but I’ve never seen one. Thorin says they grow here, before the snow even melts sometimes. He said it was to symbolize strength in the face of adversity.” Bilbo blushed again and Nori couldn’t help grinning wickedly and winking at him. Bilbo had learned long ago to ignore him and just continued with his explanation. “He didn’t say what the blue stones are and I didn’t think to ask but the center stone is a chip of the Arkenstone.”
Nori thought there was probably more it than that - you don’t break bits off a bloody priceless heirloom to cheer on someone’s stubbornness, no matter how much you wanted in their pants - but he didn’t push sensing it was a private thing between the two.
And Dori said he didn’t have any decency. He thought maybe Dori agreed with his assessment judging by the look on his face. That was his thinking hard about something serious face. Not that it was truly appropriate now. At least, it didn’t seem to be. But Dori was surprisingly adept at noticing things others missed sometimes. It drove Nori spare as he was supposed to be the one that did that.
“And did he say anything else about the bead? Or the braid?” Dori asked, though Nori couldn’t see why.
“Hmm,” Bilbo frowned in thought as he sipped his tea. “No, that was it.”
“Are you sure he didn’t say anything about the braid?” Dori pressed. Given how confused their dear little hobbit looked, Nori was starting to see his concern.
“No. He didn’t say anything about the braid. He did say he’d help me learn how to braid it myself, but that’s all.” Bilbo was still confused but didn’t seem overly concerned, just finished off his tea and pastries. “Why?”
“Ah, no matter. Just curious,” Dori demurred, too flustered to enlighten him. Bilbo turned back to his tea and didn’t seem to notice the way everyone was now staring at him. Bilbo had no idea.
Bilbo had no idea!
Oh, that was fantastic! Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain was courting their precious Burglar and Bilbo had no idea!
Nori struggled to get through the rest of tea without laughing himself sick. Dori’s repeated glares and attempts to kick him under the table really didn’t help at all. But finally they all bid Bilbo farewell as he left.
As soon as the hobbit was out of sight, Nori sat forward and pulled out his bet book. “Alright boys, I’ll be taking bets on how long it takes Bilbo to realize they’re courtin’, how long it takes Thorin to realize Bilbo has no idea they’re courtin’, which happens first, and whether they’ll keep courtin’ after.”
Dori might look disapproving, but it didn’t stop him from putting money on the hobbit figuring it out first, now did it?
Thorin walked towards the library, humming to himself. Óin had finally declared him fit with no restrictions and he was enjoying finally being able to join the rebuilding efforts. His muscles ached pleasantly in the way they only did after hours of honest work. It was something he hadn’t experienced since before the journey and he was rather enjoying it. He doubted he’d feel the same in the morning, but for now he was just going to revel in it.
It didn’t take long for him to reach the library. It hadn’t suffered as much damage as other parts of the mountain - the halls too narrow and with far too few treasures to tempt a dragon, leaving it free of Smaug's’ attention. But time had wreaked it’s own wrath and many books had deteriorated due to lack of care. Bilbo, Ori and Balin had taken charge of cleaning and restoring Erebor’s precious history and knowledge.
Thorin entered the library, surprised at how many dwarrows were bustling about. Balin must have terrified some of Dáin's men into helping out. Or maybe they’d volunteered to get out from under Dori. He was heading up the rebuilding of the Guild Halls and was an ironfisted taskmaster. Most of the dwarrows would choose Guard training with Dwalin over being on Dori’s work details.
One of the many helpers helpfully pointed Thorin towards one of the small nooks at the back of the library. He had no idea what they were once used for, bare of shelves as they were; now they were used for restoration. Thank Mahal most of the books had only a little damage, just needing a new binding or a few pages replaced. Others were more heavily damaged, though, and needed to be completely recopied. And some were unsalvageable.
When Thorin finally found the correct nook, Bilbo was carefully making a copy of a damaged book. Thorin studied the hunched form silently. Though Bilbo’s hair was in disarray - and a fair bit dusty - the courting braid Thorin had redone just that morning was still neat and tidy, tucked carefully behind one pointed ear. His clothes were clean but slightly disheveled and his face had finally regained most of the roundness it had sported upon their first meeting, so long ago in the Shire. Bilbo’s hands were stained with ink and he hummed to himself quietly as he worked.
He looked happy.
It was a good look on him and one Thorin had rarely seen while on their journey. He was quite pleased that he had been seeing it more and more frequently since they had made their amends after the battle. It warmed his heart to know that his precious Burglar could be happy here, surround by stone and far from the gentle green hills of his home. He could never continue his courtship if he thought staying in Erebor would pain Bilbo.
Thinking of their courtship reminded him of why he had come. It was perhaps a little soon after giving Bilbo a bead but he had finished the next gift for his hobbit and was too eager to give it to him to wait.
“Burglar,” he announced himself.
Bilbo started, nearly spilling ink across his freshly copied pages. He frowned as he righted the inkwell and opened his mouth to deliver what would no doubt be a scathing diatribe about the dangers of interrupting a scribe at work.
“Oh! Thorin,” Bilbo exclaimed. His frown was replaced by a smile so fast it might never have existed at all.
“My apologizes Master Baggins. I did not mean to startle you,” Thorin said sheepishly.
“That’s okay, no harm done. I just wasn’t expecting you,” Bilbo stood and gestured Thorin to take a seat at a small table free of any detritus. He sat and watched as Bilbo prepared them both a cup of tea.
“How are you feeling today?” Bilbo asked as he set two teacups down. “You’re looking much better.”
“Good. Very good.” Thorin sipped the tea. It was a strange blend to him but rather tasty. “I’m finally free of Óin's ministrations so I feel much better.”
“That’s great!” Bilbo beamed at him. Thorin couldn’t help but return the smile. “So what are you doing with your newfound freedom? I’ve no idea what a king actually does now that I think about it.”
“Mostly paperwork and diplomacy, I’m afraid,” Thorin answered.
“Oh dear, that does sound dreadful,” the hobbit was laughing at him, though he was doing a good job of hiding it. Thorin mock frowned at him; Bilbo finally let go and giggled. Thorin couldn’t help but share his laughter.
“Though, in all truth, it will be some time before I truly return to such duties.” Thorin sighed and sipped his tea. “For now I must oversee the rebuilding of our home and ensure we do not starve or freeze this winter.”
Bilbo made a sympathetic noise. “But things will improve after the passes clear so my sister and the others in Ered Luin may join us. And there should be at least one more caravan from the Iron Hills before it is too cold to travel. The work will go faster with more hands and we will be much more comfortable with the supplies they will be bringing with them.”
“Do you know when they’ll get here?”
“Those from the Iron Hills should arrive within the month. It will be closer to summer before my sister arrives, I should think. Such a large group will not be able to travel the same paths we did nor move as quickly. Though they, at least, won’t waste weeks in that blasted elf’s dungeons.”
“Thorin,” Bilbo leveled his disappointed face at him. Thorin made a show of drinking his tea. Bilbo huffed. “I would think you would be more worried about orcs and goblins.”
“I do worry about that but after our victory here there are unlikely to be enough still banded together to threaten such a large group. And my sister is quite capable of leading dwarrows in battle if necessary.”
“She sounds a remarkable dwarrowdam.” Bilbo offered more tea and Thorin gratefully accepted.
“She is,” Thorin smiled fondly. “Sometimes I think she’d make a much better ruler than I, then I remember she has even less patience for politics than I and shudder at the thought.”
“Well, I’m glad we won’t have to find out.” While Bilbo still sounded cheerful and teasing, there was a shadow in his eyes. Thorin wished he could remove it but he greatly feared he could not for he was solely responsible for it.
“As am I. Though when she finds out how badly the boys were injured that may yet come to pass.” Thorin sighed as Bilbo’s face fell. He could not seem to speak aright this day.
“And how are the boys today?” Bilbo mustered up a smile. “I’ve been so busy I haven’t visited yet.”
“Better now that Fíli's fever seems to finally be gone.” It was a sobering thought, just how close he had come to losing his sister-sons. He would not have truly needed Dís to end him had they died; the regret and shame would have surely taken him first. Certainly, he’d never have been able to live with himself had he lived while they died. “He was sitting up and eating when last I visited.
“And Kíli is getting around well with the crutches Bofur and Bifur made him. Not that he’s gone far.”
“No, I can’t imagine him leaving Fíli's side for some time to come,” Bilbo murmured.
Thorin sighed. “No, they will drive each other mad long before they will even consent to spend a moment’s time in separate rooms. They have always been thus and I doubt they will ever change.”
“But it must be wonderful, to have such a close relationship. I always wanted siblings as a child.” Bilbo said.
“Did your parents not wish to have more children?” Thorin inquired. For all that Bilbo was open and friendly, he rarely spoke of his parents. The pain of their passing was still too strong Thorin supposed.
“Oh they did but. Well,” Bilbo paused. “Mother had such a hard time birthing me, the midwife told her it would be unwise to have more. I don’t think she ever really stopped mourning for the large family she couldn’t have, nor stop blaming herself. Father did his best to reassure her but there are some things people just can’t be rational about.”
“Ah, well my people know of such sorrow. Our children are rare and precious. My sister is considered blessed to have two so near in age.”
“Truly,” Bilbo gaped, eyes wide. “Our family was unusual by Shire standards. Most families have four or more children. My mother was the ninth of twelve.”
“Twelve?” Thorin could feel his own eyes widening. “So many children in one family!”
“Yes, well that’s a lot even by Shire standards.”
Thorin couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like as part of such a large family. To have so many siblings and cousins and further distant relatives you couldn’t even keep them all straight. He soon shook himself free of such thoughts. There was no benefit in dwelling on such things and he had come to see Bilbo with a purpose.
Bilbo seemed lost in his own thoughts as well. Thorin wondered if he was missing his many relations back in the Shire. “Bilbo.”
“Hmm,” Bilbo blinked a few times before refocusing on Thorin. “Sorry, yes?”
Now that he had Bilbo’s attention, he was unsure how to proceed. He was long out of practice in such matters and never had been that good at them to begin with. Instead of finding the right words to say what Bilbo meant to him, he dug out the gift he had made, hoping that it would speak for him.
He shoved the small package across the table, startling Bilbo.
“What’s this?” he asked, even as he was untying the strings that held it shut.
“A gift. For you,” he managed to choke out. Bilbo shot him a strange look but went back to opening his present. He stilled once it was opened before carefully pulling out the delicate gold and green chain.
“It’s lovely,” Bilbo said. Thorin was unsure but Bilbo seemed to hesitate - just for a moment - between words. “You didn’t need to make me anything else though.”
Thorin had to fight not to frown. “Of course I did.” Bilbo flinched, ever so slightly. Thorin could not understand what had gone wrong. “It is meant to be worn around your ankle. I thought. I thought, since you seem so proud of your feet, perhaps you would like to adorn them.”
“Thank you.” Was it his imagination or was Bilbo’s smile strained. “It is quite beautiful and a very thoughtful gift. What are these stones?”
Thorin focused on explaining to his hobbit but he could not help but remember Bilbo’s hesitation. His flinch. Bilbo did not like his gift. His beloved Burglar did not like his courting gift. But why? Thorin could not understand it. Bilbo had accepted his bead with such enthusiasm and genuine pleasure. What was wrong with this gift?
The only comfort Thorin could find in this mess was the fact that Bilbo had accepted the gift despite whatever it was lacking. Surely he was invested in their courting if he’d praise a gift he had found unworthy. He would not feel the need to accept it out of obligation? Would he?
Thorin left not long after he’d given Bilbo the gift. Bilbo had tried to hide his confusion and dismay but he feared he had failed.
He didn’t know why Thorin would give him another gift but he was afraid that it was another attempt to apologize for that which had already been forgiven. Honestly, Bilbo would feel a bit aggrieved that his forgiveness was so easily doubted if he did not understand why Thorin might have doubts. Were it not for Thorin’s fervent and frequent attempts to apologize, he might doubt that Thorin could have forgiven his own sins. He sipped at his tea then grimaced as he realized it had gone cold while he thought.
A slight creak behind him was the first indication that he was no longer alone. Turning around he found Ori attempting to slowly tiptoe around a bookshelf and out of sight. Bilbo suppressed a sigh, was it too much to ask that his confusion at least be private?
“Ori,” he called. Best to let the poor boy know he was caught before he did himself some harm walking about like that. “I was just about to make some fresh tea. Why don’t you join me?”
Ori did not respond, or even move, long enough that Bilbo grew concerned. “Ah, yes. Um,” he finally said. “That would be nice.”
Bilbo nodded and set about making the tea as Ori moved to Thorin’s recently vacated seat. Bilbo was relieved to note he was walking normally now. As he waited for the kettle to finish boiling he reflected it was a good thing they’d hired him to do the sneaking as dwarrows seemed completely unable to manage. Well, except for Nori, when he put his mind to it. He could nearly be mistaken for a hobbit, if one judged by one’s ability to sneak around.
“So, how much of that did you hear?” Bilbo asked as he brought the tea to the table.
“What?” Ori squeaked. “No-nothing! I wasn’t eavesdropping, I swear!”
“Calm down,” Bilbo couldn’t help but smile at the flustered dwarf. “I’m not mad. I understand these things can happen by accident sometimes. I just need to know how much you heard so I know how much I have to fill you in on.”
Ori’s face scrunched up in thought. “But. What?”
Bilbo enjoyed his spluttering for a moment before sighing. “I’m in need of a bit of advice and since you already heard part of the problem, I may as well ask you.”
“Oh, uh.” Ori shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure how much help I can be but, uh. I saw you opening the gift. Nothing else!”
“Ah,” Bilbo took a moment to gather his thoughts. “I suppose the first thing I need to know is, why would he even give me such a thing?”
“Oh, well, it’s traditional really. Jewelry, I mean. To show what you feel?” Bilbo wished Ori sounded more confident in his answer. “Don’t you do that in the Shire?”
“Yes. Well, not jewelry usually, we tend to give food mostly. But what I don’t understand is why he’s still giving me things. He already gave me a bead. Why would he need to give me anything else?” Bilbo was so confused.
“You don’t want him to give you more?” Now Ori sounded confused. “Don’t you like them?”
“I love my bead and this,” he waved at the chain, lacking a proper name to call it, “is certainly lovely but what am I to do with it? Or anything else he gives me? We hobbits are simple creatures. I don’t need such fancy things. And I certainly don’t need gifts because he’s still feeling guilty. Needlessly, I might add.”
“Guilty?” Ori squeaked again but Bilbo was too full of indignation to pay him much mind.
“Well, if dwarrows need gifts to make themselves understood, I shall just have to make something for Thorin so he truly understands that I’ve forgiven him.”
Bilbo nodded and stood up. “Thank you for all your help Ori.” The young dwarf nodded as well, though he looked somewhat confused. Bilbo wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t have time to find out just now. He already had one confusing dwarf to deal with, any others would have to wait until he was done with the first.
With that thought firmly in mind he bid Ori a good day and headed back to his quarters to begin planning.
Balin sighed as he watched Bilbo wander off muttering to himself. While news of Thorin courting Bilbo had been unsurprising, he hadn’t believed Nori when he claimed Bilbo had no clue he was being courted. Now he’d have to pay up to the dratted thief.
But first he needed to speak to Thorin. A courting could not go well if all parties were not aware of it. And he did want it to go well. There were those who might not be as accepting of a hobbit wearing the Consort’s crown but Balin himself approved.
Bilbo was good for Thorin. He wasn’t afraid to argue and disagree with the stubborn dwarf; more than could be said of any of the dwarrowdams that the Council had tried to saddle Thorin with in the past. Better yet, the hobbit was clever and his opinions and advice would actually be worth listening to.
But most importantly, he made Thorin happy.
Balin hadn’t seen Thorin smile so much in more years than he cared to remember. True, some of that could be attributed to reclaiming their home. But even before they’d succeed, while still traveling towards an uncertain future, their Burglar had been able to wring a smile or a laugh out of the dower king. That alone had earned Bilbo his share of the treasure in Balin’s mind.
So it was imperative that their courtship go well. If the hobbit turned Thorin down he would be crushed. And the last thing they needed was a depressed king. Or worse, one who covered his pain with anger as Thorin was wont to do. Especially as Balin would be the one who had to deal with him. Dís would refuse to and Mahal knew Dwalin’s solution would be to get him drunk. Which meant Balin had best fix this now, before it started causing him problems.
Thank Mahal it didn’t take him long to find Thorin. True to form he was sulking in his quarters, pacing in front of the unlit fireplace and mumbling to himself. Balin didn’t bother knocking or waiting to be acknowledged. Instead he helped himself to Thorin’s stash of ale and sat down in the one chair the room boasted.
“You seem quite agitated. Might it have something to do with our wee Burglar?” Balin broached the topic as delicately as he could. While Balin might be better at diplomacy than his brother or Thorin, that wasn’t really saying much. A bear with a toothache was better at diplomacy than those two.
Thorin’s only response was an inarticulate growl and a rather articulate hand gesture. Balin laughed and pulled out his pipe. He took his time pack and lighting it, letting Thorin wind himself up to the point where he had to speak or risk exploding.
“He hated it!” Thorin finally stopped pacing but would not look at him.
“I highly doubt that. The laddie doesn’t have it in him to hate,” Balin couldn’t help but point out.
“Well he certainly didn’t like it,” Thorin told the mantle. “He tried to hide it, but it was plain to see.”
“Perhaps you’re just lookin’ at this the wrong way -”
“What other way is there to look at it!” Thorin interrupted. Balin huffed, sucking on the stem of his pipe in annoyance.
“Has it occurred to you that perhaps he simply doesn’t understand what you meant by the gift?”
“What’s not to understand?” Thorin finally looked at him, face a mask of despair. “I gave him a courting bead, he asked me to braid his hair. It was going so well but then I gave him a gift and he hated it!”
“Don’t get yerself all wound up!” Balin barked. “He’s a hobbit, not a dwarf. His courtin’ traditions are like as not as different from ours as those of the Elves and Men.”
Thorin abruptly stopped pacing, staring at Balin blindly. “Of course. Of course!”
“Do you see, now?” Thorin nodded. “Good, now that we’ve - ”
“I can’t believe I was so blind. Of course, Bilbo didn’t like the gift. He’s a hobbit, why would he want jewelry. Hobbits don’t wear any, not that I’ve seen, and Bilbo certainly doesn’t. But what would he like?”
Balin stared in disbelief as Thorin started pacing and muttering to himself again. “That wasn’t precisely what I was getting at, though you’re probably right about that. I just meant, hobbits are bound to have different customs, you see. Different ways to initi-”
“Yes, yes. Thank you Balin. You’ve been a tremendous help.” Thorin called over his shoulder as he head for the door. “I need to find some things, but I’ll take to you later about. About whatever it is you needed to talk about.”
Then he was gone. Balin sat and finished his pipe. No need to hurry, he had no place to be right now. He pondered the best way to get through Thorin’s thick skull the idea that Bilbo didn’t know they were courting but gave it up as a bad lot. Clearly Thorin wasn’t ready to listen to sense, so the only thing left to do was to find Nori and put his money on Thorin never figuring it out.
Thorin sat with his sister-sons, patiently listening to Kíli's rambling story about the prank he’d pulled on Dwalin that morning. It was the most animated he’d seen him since he had been released from the infirmary. He strongly suspected it was entirely due to his brother’s improved health. Fíli was looking much better and had even been allowed a short walk around their rooms. Thorin felt rather excited about it himself.
“And there are still stains on the ceiling!” Kíli crowed. Thorin dutifully laughed along with them and mentally promised Dwalin a new knife for not killing his heirs.
“It’s good to see you in such fine spirits again,” Thorin said. Kíli ducked his head but Fíli just smiled gently.
“I wish the same could be said of you,” Fíli replied. “You seemed much happier the last time you visited.”
It was a question, even if Fíli was kind enough to leave him room to ignore it. But he had already made so many errors with them, he did not wish to shut them out now. No matter how embarrassing it was to admit this to them.
“My suit with Bilbo does not fare well,” he sighed.
The boys shared a look before Fíli carefully asked, “How so? He seems very happy and clearly loves his courting bead.”
“I thought so as well. But he did not react so favorable to my next gift.”
“He rejected it?” Kíli blurted incredulously. Fíli shot him a glare, but both he and Thorin ignored it.
“No. Thankfully, no.” Thorin shuddered at the thought and quickly banished it from his mind. “He accepted it, even praised it, but I could see his heart was not in it.”
“What did you give him?” Fíli asked. Thorin ignored the faintly accusing tone. Fíli was hardly out of line given many of Thorin’s past actions involving the hobbit.
“A bracelet meant to adorn the ankle. I made it with the purest gold and the most beautiful emeralds.”
“Ah,” both boys said. A brief glance at each other and Fíli continued. “You know, Uncle, I don’t think I remember ever seeing Bilbo wear jewelry before. And I don’t remember any of the hobbits we saw in the Shire or Bree wearing any either.”
“Yes, I know, Balin has already pointed out that Bilbo is a hobbit and not a dwarf.” Thorin glowered. Neither looked terribly repentant. “That doesn’t really help me figure out what he would like.”
“Oh, you could get him a mûmak!” Kíli exclaimed. Thorin was relieved to see that Fíli was also giving his brother an incredulous look. “What? Hobbits like animals. At least, Bilbo seemed to like Beorn’s animals.”
Thorin growled at the reminder of the skin changer. He still was unhappy about how grabby he’d been with Thorin’s hobbit. “How exactly does liking sheep and dogs translate to wanting an animal that could easily crush the entire company? To say nothing of where we’d keep it or how we’d keep it fed.”
“Or how you’d get one in the first place,” Fíli added.
“Well, I don’t see either of you coming up with any brilliant ideas,” Kíli crossed his arms and pouted. Thorin was glad he’d had enough exposure to it to be immune by this point. Fíli merely rolled his eyes.
“As far as I can tell, what hobbits seem to like are food, plants and sleeping. And outside of brightly colored clothes, they don’t seem to go in for decorative stuff much. Something more practical would probably be a better bet.”
Thorin considered Fíli's words. “I can’t really do much with food, we’re still on rations and will be for a while. Besides, I can’t cook to save my life.”
Thorin ignored his sister-sons’ vigorous agreement.
“Plants are likewise out until winter is over. And sleeping.” Thorin blushed. “It’s much too intimate this soon.”
“What about pots and pans?” Kíli asked. “They’re practical and then he could make food with them.”
“That’s a good idea,” Kíli beamed. Thorin tried not to wince; clearly he did not praise them enough if that was the reaction to such a simple compliment. “It seems so simple though. Hobbits may not like gold and jewels but what will other dwarrows think if he is not adorned properly?”
“Maybe there’s a way you can do both?” Fíli ventured hesitantly. “Something that is both pretty and practical. I mean, you can’t exactly put jewels on a skillet, but maybe something else. Like jeweled buttons for his waistcoat?”
“Mithril pants to go with the shirt you gave him,” Kíli suggested.
“And a matching mithril coat!” Both boys were laughing now but Thorin couldn’t even be annoyed. It had been far too long since they had been so carefree.
“Oh, then you should make him a matching traveling cloak,” Kíli wheezed between words. “Trimmed in jewels.”
“Hmm,” Thorin rolled his eyes at their antics but it did give him an idea. “Thank you for your help boys.”
They stared at with wide eyes and slack jaws as he rose to leave. “What! You’re not really going to give him a mithril and jewel cloak are you?” Fíli's eyebrows rose along with his voice.
“No, but a jeweled cloak pin might be just the thing. Useful and beautiful.”
Bilbo sighed as he stared down at the meager feast before him. True, it was much more food than he’d had at one meal in ages and more than he should really have made given the rationing - which he did feel guilty about - but it was a far cry from the kind of meal Bilbo had envisioned making.
When he had realized Thorin still felt guilty for his actions before the battle Bilbo was determined to show him he needn't be. He wasn’t sure how dwarrows did these things but in the Shire it called for a feast. And given how bland and small their meals had been of late, he figured Thorin would get the idea.
Sadly, even for the King, the stores could only be stretched so far. If it weren’t for Bombur’s kindness in sharing his personal stores of spices - that had somehow survived their adventure - and Bofur’s willingness to catch him a brace of rabbits, it would be more meager still.
Bilbo sighed again but forced himself to smile. This was still a fine meal for a dwarf and he’d been able to make several dishes he knew Thorin especially liked. Everything was prepared and set out, the only thing missing was Thorin. Drat that dwarf’s inability to be on time! The feast, such as it was, would be cold if he didn’t arrive soon.
Bilbo paced the floor and fretted as he waited. What could be keeping Thorin? He’d never once been late since they started lunching together. Had something happened to delay him? Had he reinjured himself helping move rubble. Thorin didn’t think Bilbo knew about that but if he had hurt himself they were going to have words.
Or was it the boys? Kíli was well but what if Fíli's fever had returned?
Bilbo spun on his heel to race down to the boys’ room only to stop short. Thorin stood in the doorway, watching him with an unreadable expression.
“Thorin!” Bilbo took a deep breath and forced himself to sound less frantic. “I was beginning to worry. Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine.” Thorin strode inside. “I apologize for worrying you, I was finishing up a project in the forge and lost track of time.”
“Oh, okay.” Bilbo wrung his hands uselessly. “Lunch is ready. We should eat before it goes cold.”
Thorin nodded and turned to the table before freezing. He stared at it for a long moment before turning back to Bilbo. “Bilbo,” he breathed. “What is all this? Where did it come from?”
“Oh, it’s nothing really.” Bilbo fought not to blush but knew it was a losing battle. “You’ve just been working so hard lately, I thought you deserved a little treat.” Bilbo didn’t mention he had foregone dinner the previous evening so he could pull this together. He could survive missing a meal here and there.
“Nothing? This not nothing. This is magnificent!” Thorin finally turned back to the table, completely missing Bilbo’s frown of confusion. He had hoped the meal would make Thorin happy but magnificent seemed a bit drastic.
“Is that blackberry jam? That’s my favorite. How did you get any?” Thorin was seated at the table, taking everything in with a wide grin.
“I traded some biscuits to one of the dwarrows from the Iron Hills.” Bilbo finally roused himself and set opposite Thorin.
“Thank you Bilbo.” Thorin’s smile was a thing of beauty, it made him look years younger. “Truly, this is the kindest thing anyone has done for me in quite a while.”
“Oh, well.” Bilbo cursed his fair complex as heat rushed to his face. “You’re very welcome. You deserve it.”
Thorin took a deep breath, eyes closed as if he was trying to compose himself, before helping himself to the food. Bilbo was pleased with his response if a bit perplexed. You’d think no one had ever cooked him a meal before the way he’d reacted. Though maybe he had finally realized Bilbo truly did forgive him and was merely overwhelmed by the relief.
Bilbo smiled at him and dug in. Now that that was settled there was no reason to let good food go to waste. Especially as it was in such short supply.
“Mhmm,” Thorin moaned, and Bilbo blushed again. “This stew is delicious! My compliments to the chef.”
“Thank you,” Bilbo squeaked. He cleared his throat. “Bombur and Bofur were very helpful getting all this together.”
“Then I shall have to remember to thank them as well.” Thorin’s eyes shone so brightly Bilbo couldn’t look away. He’d never seen the dwarf smile like that before and Bilbo couldn’t help but smile back. Even knowing his own expression was likely giving far too much away, Bilbo couldn’t look away.
It wasn’t until his spoon clattered against the table, missing his bowl completely, that he was able to tear his gaze away. He cleared his throat then grabbed his tea and took a hasty gulp. Thank the Valar it had been sitting long enough that he did not scald himself.
The rest of the meal passed in comfortable silence, broken only be requests to pass various dishes. Bilbo stole glances at the king from under his fringe. Never would he have thought he’d be happy the others refused to let him cut his hair but it made itself useful that day. Thorin looked genuinely happy, completely without reserve or worry. It was a good look on him.
Despite his protests, Thorin helped him clean up, then lingered at the table as Bilbo made another pot of tea. Bilbo had just returned to his seat when Thorin spoke again.
“I apologize again for being late and almost ruining this fine meal you put together.”
“It’s quite alright.” Bilbo said. “I know you’re very busy. It’s completely understandable.”
“I am still sorry nonetheless. Perhaps you would like to see the project that made me late?”
“Oh, yes. That would. That would be very nice.” Bilbo smiled, curiosity piqued.
Thorin reached into his tunic and removed a small black bag. He handed it over to Bilbo without the slightest hesitation and Bilbo marveled at the trust Thorin still had in him. He opened the pouch and tipped out the contents, thankful his actions had not utterly destroyed their friendship.
It took only a glance at the item in his hand to see it was a cloak pin and a mighty fine one at that. It took a little longer to realize the small clear stones - diamonds, maybe? - set in a delicate filigree of mithril were meant to be clusters of tiny flowers. The pin was nearly as large around as his palm and sparkled beautifully in the torch light.
And Bilbo would never, ever tell Thorin the flowers he had based the design on were weeds.
“It’s beautiful, Thorin.” Bilbo said, turning it this way and that to watch it flash in the light. “I’ve never seen a more lovely cloak pin. Who is it for?”
Bilbo didn’t tear his gaze away from the pin to look at Thorin until he hmphed. “For you, of course.” Bilbo was surprised at how hopeful and wary Thorin looked. “Who else would it be for?”
Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Bilbo made sure his smile never wavered, even as his stomach dropped. “Thank you so much Thorin. I shall treasure it, always.” Maybe Thorin didn’t understand after all. Bilbo glanced back down at the pin, no less lovely for the dread Bilbo felt. What reason could Thorin have to gift him with such extravagance unless he was still trying to win Bilbo’s forgiveness? Obviously, the lunch had not relayed his feelings as clearly as he’d hoped.
Maybe he needed something a little less Hobbitish, and a little more Dwarfish to get his point across.
Dwalin stopped working for a moment. He could’ve sworn someone had called his name but he could see no one close by paying him any attention. He shrugged and bent back to shifting rubble. It was mindless work and certainly not how he had imagined spending his time once the mountain was reclaimed. But dragons weren’t delicate creatures so he’d only himself to blame for not anticipating what that would mean for the state of their home.
“Dwalin.” There it was again. He was sure this time that someone had called his name. He straightened up and used the shirt slung around his shoulders to wipe the sweat from his face and head, carefully looking around him again.
There. Just as his gaze passed the nearest corridor there was a flash of movement. Bilbo appeared briefly before sinking back into shadow. Dwalin pulled his shirt back on and stretched out sore muscles before he headed in the hobbit’s direction.
He stepped out in the corridor to see Bilbo pacing fitfully and wringing his hands. Dwalin tried not to smirk as he wondered if their little Burglar had finally clued into what was going on. He couldn’t think of any other reason Bilbo would have sought him out.
They were friends now, brothers really, but the hobbit made a point to steer clear of the areas still being cleared or rubble. He must need to talk something fierce to come down here and risk being put on a work detail. Dwalin folded his arms and leaned against the wall, waiting patiently for the hobbit to speak.
He didn’t have to wait long. “Dwalin, I need your help with something. Something to do with Thorin.”
“Aye, and what would that be?” Dwalin watched as Bilbo never stopped moving. If anything his pacing got more energetic, wringing hands replaced by sweeping gestures.
“It’s about these - these gifts Thorin keeps giving me.” Dwalin made an encouraging sound, though it was hardly necessary as worked up as the hobbit was. “I just don’t understand why he keeps giving them to me. I already forgave him, he doesn’t need to do anything to prove it. But I don’t know how make him see that without upsetting him!
“I’ve already tried making him a feast like I would for a hobbit and he completely missed the point!” He’s not the only one apparently. If Dwalin didn’t already have such experience schooling his expression no doubt he’d be laughing himself sick right now. “I don’t know what to do.”
Bilbo finally stopped and turned pleading eyes up to him. Dwalin sighed, the things he did for his cousin and king. “Mayhap he’d better understand yer meanin’ if ye went about it in a more dwarfish way.”
“That’s what I thought but I really don’t have any idea how to do that.” If Bilbo’s eyes got any wider, they were liable to pop out of his head. “I mean, I know dwarrows like gold and jewels and stuff.” Dwalin snorted at the vague way he waved his hand at that.
“But I don’t know what would be appropriate. And do I have to make it myself? All the things Thorin’s given me he made himself but I have no idea how to do anything like that. The only things I’m good at making are food and crochet. I already tried food and I don’t think he’d appreciate a doily.”
“Dunno, ye seem pretty good at makin’ up songs, too.” Dwalin said. Bilbo looked hopefully for a moment before dismissing the thought with a sharp jerk of his head.
“A song about how I’ve forgiven him might get the point across but I doubt it would be much appreciated.”
“Nay, likely not.” Dwalin stared into his big sad eyes and decided to take pity on the poor thing. After all, helping Bilbo would help Thorin and that was his job, yeah? To help his king.
“Yer best bet is a bead.” Dwalin couldn’t help but smirk as Bilbo’s hand raised to clutch at his own. “Aye, like that.”
“But I’ve no idea how to make such a thing. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” Poor lad looked downright despairing. Thorin might have a chance after all.
“Not everyone’s good at the same things. Long as ye design somethin’ meaningful to the both of ye there’s no harm in havin’ someone else make it.”
Bilbo considered this for awhile before looking up at Dwalin hopefully. “Now don’t be lookin’ at me like that laddie. I’ve no more talent at makin’ jewelry than ye. Now if ye ever need a knife or axe, I can do that.”
Bilbo’s crestfallen little face would’ve been heartbreaking if Dwalin couldn’t help him. “Yer best bet is Kíli. He’s an accomplished silversmith and I dare say he’d be more than willin’ to help ye as long as ye watch over his brother in his stead.”
“Silver, not gold?” The question was a fair one given the givens.
“Aye, silver and blue be Durin’s colors.”
“Oh, that’s - that’s rather helpful Dwalin.” Bilbo wandered back down the hall muttering to himself. He called over his shoulder as he rounded the corner, “Thank you.”
“Yer welcome,” he told the empty hallway. Clueless, the pair of ‘em.
It had been nearly two weeks since Thorin had gifted Bilbo with the cloak pin and everything had been going so well since then he was starting to get worried. Fíli had recovered by leaps and bounds and was now let out of his rooms for short periods, relations with Dale were improving with each meeting and the damned tree shaggers had kept their pointy ears out of his business.
And then there was Bilbo. He could not help but feel smug every time he saw his hobbit wearing his cloak pin. He’d even worn the bracelet on their last visit to Dale. It had look just as charming as Thorin had imagined, nestled in the thick hair on Bilbo’s foot. Bilbo had even been gracious when Bard complimented him on it. Their lunches were still comfortable and the part of his day he most looked forward to.
But he couldn’t help but dread something destroying it all. It had been a long time since life had been so good, since things had gone so much his way. Dwarrows, and Durin’s line in particular, were not known for their luck and it left him feeling unsettled when nothing went wrong. He’d not so much as stubbed a toe in ages and it left him jittery, expecting the next strike of the hammer.
Bilbo would likely tell him not to borrow trouble but he was reluctant to speak of it to him. Thorin was enjoying the ease of their relationship and was loath to do anything to taint it. He knew that it would happen eventually, they couldn’t have a true partnership if they didn’t share each other’s burdens. But the hobbit had already taken so much on his small shoulders for Thorin. How could he ask him to take on more?
It was with a heavy heart that he approached Bilbo’s door. He lay one hand against it, just breathing. It took a few minutes but he was able to push his worries back into the hole they had crept out of. He managed to find a smile, even if small, and knocked.
Bilbo opened the door almost immediately. Thorin blinked in surprise. Had the hobbit been waiting at the door for him? The thought was thoroughly derailed by the sight of Bilbo’s flushed face. Even the pointed tips of his ears - so much more elegant than any weed eater’s - were a fetching pink.
“Thorin!” The way Bilbo had taken to looking at him from under his bangs was simultaneously endearing and frustrating. “Come in, come in.”
Thorin followed Bilbo into the room, unashamedly watching his shapely bottom. He was so absorbed that he almost didn’t notice that Bilbo’s ankle was once more adorned with his gift. Perhaps he had been wrong, perhaps Bilbo did not find it lacking after all.
When Bilbo turned to face him, Thorin quickly snapped his eyes up to his face. Thank Mahal his beard would hide the evidence of the heat in his own cheeks. Not that it was apparently necessary; Bilbo’s eyes were fixed upon his own hands. He was wringing them fretfully and Thorin’s worries slammed back into him with the force of a warhammer.
This was it, the thing he had been dreading. Bilbo had decided they did not suit and was going to end their courtship. Thorin gripped the table so tightly it creaked. He barely managed to find his seat before he fell on his arse. Bilbo didn’t notice, still staring at his hands.
“Bilbo?” Thorin had to clear his throat twice before he could speak.
“Here,” Bilbo thrust a small box at Thorin, still without looking at him. Thorin frowned, unsure why Bilbo would be giving him something now, of all times. He took the box gingerly, afraid to open it and find out what it was. It was small and light. Just the size for a bead.
Thorin was hard pressed not to drop the box as if it were a poisonous snake. Bilbo was returning his bead. He was truly ending their courtship. Thorin could not look to see where the bead should have rested in his hair, could not stand to see his braid taken out.
“Thorin?” Bilbo sounded so unsure but Thorin could not look at him. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
He did not want to. He did not wish to have that final conformation it was over, they were over. When he opened it there would be no lying to himself.
“Thorin you’re starting to worry me.” Thorin finally dragged his eyes away from the box and nearly dropped it again from shock. There, hanging just below Bilbo’s left ear, was Thorin’s bead, just as it had been since the day Thorin braided it into Bilbo’s thick curly hair.
“Apologies, Burglar,” Thorin finally forced his mouth to work. “I did not sleep well. I did not mean to worry you.”
Bilbo smiled, that bright smile without guile that Thorin would never tire of seeing. “You need to stop working so hard. Even kings need breaks. Now hurry up and open that before lunch is completely ruined.”
“I would say that it couldn’t possibly get worse but you have a way of making even short rations palatable.”
Bilbo blushed and ducked his head again but Thorin could still see his smile and couldn’t help but return it. Bilbo’s glance at his hands reminded him that he had a gift still to open. Thorin finally looked back down at it. He could not shake the dread of earlier though he knew it had no foundation. Still, he opened the box before Bilbo could worry again.
“Bilbo,” Thorin breathed.
“I hope you like it.” Thorin knew he should reassure Bilbo but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the silver bead he held. A bead for him and not his own returned. Bilbo had not decided to end their courtship, quite the contrary. Thorin couldn’t believe that Bilbo was ready to make such a declaration of intent this soon. Though, given all they had been through together to reach this point, perhaps it was not so soon as all that.
He studied the bead carefully, wanting to memorize every detail. Engraved on one side was a beautifully detailed oak branch with a single acorn picked out in gold inlay. He turned it over and could not suppress a snort. There was a single perfectly round emerald with a tiny rune for thief etched along the lower edge. The gem was crowned by seven stars made up of blue diamonds.
“It is beautiful,” Thorin finally tore his eyes away from the bead to look at Bilbo. He beamed at Bilbo, completely unable to contain his joy. Bilbo looked a little stunned but recovered admirably.
“I didn’t make it, of course, I just designed it. Kíli was the one who actually did the forging, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to make such a thing but Dwalin said that was okay.” Bilbo’s smile was just as wide as his own, even as he still shifted foot from foot. “And he’s the one who said it should be silver and blue, I hope that’s okay. I mean, it looks lovely to me but I’m not really a judge of such things. And I wasn’t sure if the design was appropriate, after all what does a hobbit know of such things?”
“Bilbo, calm yourself.” Thorin gripped the hobbit’s - his hobbit’s - hand with his free one. “It is perfect.”
“Oh,” Bilbo’s smile turned bashful. “I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it,” Thorin released Bilbo reluctantly so he could unclasp the braid on his left. “Come, you must put it in for me.”
“What?” Bilbo squeaked like a trodden upon mouse. Thorin resolved to never tell him that, nor that he found it so adorable. He valued his beard after all and hobbits were surprisingly vindictive. At least his was.
“You must put a braid in for me as I did for you.”
“Um, are you sure you want me to do that. I’m not that good yet.” Thorin ignored this and set the chair sideways to make it easier for Bilbo to manage. “Alright, uh. Sorry if I mess it up terribly.”
“Your braid looks fine,” Thorin reassured. “Besides, dwarf hair does not curl as yours does. It will be much easier to manage.”
“If you say so,” Bilbo murmured as he finally put his hands in Thorin’s hair. Thorin closed his eyes and focused on the sensation caused by clever little fingers. Despite Bilbo’s reluctance his movements were swift and sure.
Thorin still couldn’t quite believe they were here already. He shouldn’t be surprised, though, as nothing about their relationship had ever been typical. Perhaps it was time to admit to Bilbo, and himself, that he was sure of his feelings, of what he wanted his future to be, and had been ever since he had given Bilbo his bead.
But how to ask Bilbo to give up the only life and home he’d ever known to build a new one with Thorin?
“How much farther is it?” Bilbo couldn’t help but ask.
“Not far,” Thorin smirked at him over his shoulder. Bilbo ignored the fluttering in his stomach with the ease of practice. Though he would have to admit that in this instance it was only partly because of Thorin. Well, it was all because of Thorin but only a little bit because of his smile and a lot because of his surprise. Bilbo had had enough surprises for one lifetime.
Then again his last surprise had turned out well even if it took Bilbo a long time to see it that way. And included far too much near death for a hobbit’s liking.
“I don’t see why you can’t just tell me where we’re going.” Bilbo muttered and not for the first time. Thorin ignored him that time just as he had all the previous times. Bilbo sighed and resigned himself to his fate. Clearly there was no getting out of it, so he might as well just face it and get it over with.
If they ever got there that is.
“Where are we? I don’t believe I’ve ever been in this part of the mountain before.” Bilbo mostly stayed in the library, his quarters or with one of the Company. Erebor was so big and he was so small. He feared getting lost almost as much as he had the dragon.
“It is not surprising as little work has been done here. The area is far removed from the treasury so it has little damage to be repaired. Plus, it is not as if we have a need for it as of yet.”
“And what is it used for?” Bilbo inquired.
Thorin stopped before a large set of doors, the first of many similar ones in a small hall off the large corridor they had been traveling.
“Quarters for visiting dignitaries, specifically non-dwarrows who are not used to spending so much time underground.”
“Oh,” Thorin threw open the doors and Bilbo gasped in delight. Sunlight! Real sunlight!
The room was flooded in light, the wall directly ahead as well as the one to his left almost entirely made up of windows. They reached from the floor all the way to the ceiling and through them Bilbo could see a balcony curving around the length and breadth of the room.
Bilbo was so entranced with his first sight of the sky in weeks that it took him a long moment to realize there was something decidedly odd about the room.
It was large with an enormous fireplace opposite the windows with a door to either side but there was no furniture in what he presumed to be the suite’s sitting room. Instead there were raised beds of cleverly fitted stone filled with rich dark soil.
They were all different shapes and sizes and covered nearly the entire floor. The space between them created winding paths covered in paver stones set in geometric patterns that Bilbo had come to expect from dwarrows. It was amazing and Bilbo could already imagine how stunning it would look properly planted.
“What?” Bilbo wasn’t sure what he was asking. His heart insisted there was only one thing this could mean but his mind could not except it. “Thorin?”
“It’s a garden. Your garden.” Thorin’s eyes were intense as they stared into his own. He couldn’t look away. “I know it’s not a lot to look at now, but come spring, you can plant whatever you like. Flowers or tomatoes or,” Thorin made a complicated gesture Bilbo couldn’t even begin to decode. “Or whatever you want.
“It is yours, to do with as you will.”
Oh, Bilbo was such a blind fool. Thorin wanted him to stay. Had gone to great lengths to create a place for him where he could be comfortable, even if Thorin himself didn’t understand its appeal.
He had created beautiful gifts and spent time with Bilbo despite his busy schedule. Had praised Bilbo’s cooking and even listened to his rambling on and on about his work in the library.
Thorin had let him braid his hair for Eru’s sake! He knew how important their hair and braids were to dwarrows but he hadn’t thought at all. And now, now Thorin was looking nervous as Bilbo continued to stand there and say nothing.
That would not do at all.
Bilbo took the three steps that separated them with indecent haste and did not stop there. He stepped right into Thorin’s space, chest to chest - more or less - and grabbed two handfuls of hair. He pulled gently even as he raised up on his toes. Thorin obediently meet him in the middle, lips firm and softer than he would have expected.
The kiss was short and chaste and unbearably sweet. “Thank you,” he breathed.
“Bilbo.” Thorin pressed their foreheads together, eyes closed and expression blissful. Bilbo closed his own eyes and basked in the warmth of the sun and his dwarf.
They stayed that way, silently sharing breath, until the whispers drifting through the door became too loud to ignore. Thorin rolled his eyes as he pulled back; Bilbo couldn’t stifle a sigh at the loss of intimacy.
Thorin pulled him in for a quick peck. “Later,” he whispered.
“Later,” Bilbo agreed.
A loud whoop was the only warning before Bilbo was lifted off his feet. “Fíli! Kíli!” he shrieked. “Put me down this instant!”
“But how can we properly cuddle our new Uncle if we let you go?” Kíli asked.
“Boys,” Thorin growled. It took a moment but his feet touched solid ground again. The boys didn’t let go, though. Bilbo fussed at them but he really didn’t mind. He could’ve done without the entire Company barging in on their moment, though. He extracted himself from their embrace only to be ambushed by Bofur.
“Good on ya, Bilbo,” he murmured as he squeezed Bilbo gently.
“Thank you,” he replied gratefully. Then squeaked as he was passed to Bifur. Bilbo didn’t understand a word that came out of his mouth but he got the gist just fine. Then he was passed to Nori. And then Ori.
Óin and Glóin crushed him between them, their congratulations loud enough to leave his ears ringing. Balin merely patted him on the back and nodded respectfully but Dwalin’s hug swept him completely off his feet. He resigned himself to being squashed thoroughly as each member of the Company congratulated him. Well, he supposed such things were to be expected from family.
Thorin had been courting him for weeks and not a single one of his relatives knew! There had been no declaration of intent, no meetings of the families. And all the time he and Thorin had spent together without a chaperone was positively scandalous! If anybody in the Shire ever found out he would completely lose his respectability.
Assuming he had any left after running off on an adventure with a bunch of dwarrows.
Oh and wasn’t that a lovely thought. He could clearly imagine the way his father would be frowning if he could see Bilbo now. He rather thought his mother would be amused though. At least it meant he’d never have to explain what a courting stick was to Thorin.
It was a small price to pay, really, to avoid the hassle of a proper courtship.
“Congratulations,” Bombur patted Bilbo’s shoulder as Balin and Dwalin finally started shooing the Company away from their King and soon to be Consort. They all protested loudly but none actually dawdled. Even Fíli and Kíli understood that Thorin and Bilbo would need some time alone.
As they headed to the kitchens Bombur ignored the conversation around him in favor of figuring out how to stretch their meager stores into an appropriate engagement feast. The prospects weren’t good. Maybe he could convince Thorin to wait for anything formal until the Princess arrived.
Yes, that would do it. Thorin may be their King but everyone knew what a soft spot he had for his little sister. It didn’t hurt that he was terrified of her, either. Thorin was already dreading her reaction to her sons’ injuries. No doubt he wouldn’t want to make anything worse by celebrating something so momentous without her.
That worked out, Bombur turned back to the conversation just in time to for the bets to be settled.
“I still can’t believe you bet against Thorin,” Nori sulked as he tossed a small bag to Balin.
“He may be my king but he is also my cousin. I am well acquainted with just how thick his skull is.” Bombur joined in the raucous laughter that broke out. Money changed hands quickly but even the losers seemed in good spirits.
Bombur collected money from almost everyone and Kíli whistled as Nori passed over the biggest bag yet. “Damn Bombur, how’d you manage to win so much?”
“By being a soppy romantic,” Bombur smirked at Nori whose only answer was a rude gesture. Nori and the others could scoff all they liked but Bombur had been right. Everything had worked out in the end and Thorin and Bilbo were going to get their chance at the happy life they deserved.
Assuming Dís didn’t kill Thorin as soon as she arrived, that is. At least if she did Erebor would be in capable hands. Dís was, after all, the only member of the royal family with more sense than Mahal gave a pebble. And given how long it took Bilbo to realize he and Thorin were courting - nearly long enough to cost Bombur a fair amount of gold - he was definitely lumping their hobbit in with the rest of them.