Bilbo liked Erebor.
Honestly, he liked it a lot more than he had even expected: he had perhaps been a little put off by his initial experience of the mountain kingdom, stinking of dragon, full of skeletons and dust, and besieged by armies (and who, really, could blame him for that?) but once all of that was over, and the great clean-up and repair work had begun, he had found himself liking it a lot more.
The corridors were not dark and cold as he had expected; the lit forges in the heart of the mountain spread warmth throughout, from the lowest hallway to the highest room, and all the great and caverous halls in-between. An ingenious system of pipework diverted the hot air pumped through the forges by the bellows to all parts of the Mountain, leaving the stone floors and walls warm to the touch, a similar warmth that might have been found had he pressed his hands to the wooden panelling of Bag End after a long, slow summer day.
The smell passed after several weeks of airing, and thank Eru for that.
As for the dark, the oil lamps were kept lit throughout the day and night (for all that the difference was still hard for Bilbo to realise most of the time when he hadn't been able to reach a window that day); the wicks were kept trimmed and the oil wells refilled by a host of younger dwarves whose duty it was to ensure the place remained bright and fair. In the main halls and larger chambers, great mirrored devices buried deep in the rock reflected the daylight back into the heart of the mountain, lighting them with the brightness of noon or the shadowy golden light of sunset.
Even in the lower reaches of the mountain, were the majority of the population of the re-claimed Erebor lived, it was rare that Bilbo found himself struggling to see, for all that he lacked the canny dark-vision of the dwarves.
And of course, the company of his friends and newly found family made it a great deal more cheerful than it had been on his initial arrival: the great battle that the men were referring to as the Battle of Five Armies had shocked Thorin from the gold-sickness that had cast the shadow of its fear over them all, the horror of the bloodshed, the extent of his injuries and the knowledge that he had nearly killed them all enough to make him realise what he had done.
Bilbo had still not been entirely sure that he was going to stay in Erebor, unsure if the ache in his chest would ever ease being around the dwarf he had found himself caring deeply, perhaps too deeply, for, but he had promised Bofur and Fili and Kili that he would remain a little while. He had thought to find passage back to the Shire after a few months, but then Thorin, on the eve of his coronation, had found him, still leaning heavily on his left leg to spare the brunt of his injuries (but refusing to use a cane, for all that Oin and his nephews called him a fool) and had pressed his ring into Bilbo's hands, begging for another chance, for them to start over, for something more than they had been before.
It had been unexpected, but hardly unwanted.
Rather, in hindsight, like the entire adventure had been.
He had been unable to refuse: the leap in his chest had had him drawing Thorin's mouth to his, pressing their bodies close together, for all that it meant they were disregarding the usual rules of dwarven courtship – and it at least explained why Fili had kept leaving great tomes on that particular subject in Bilbo’s rooms.
The way that Thorin had surged closer, pressing them back against the wall, his breathing ragged as Bilbo murmured his own feelings against the press of their kiss, Thorin’s hand tangling in his hair, had made it quite clear that the King wasn't too offended at the disregard for his culture's traditions.
And so some long months later, Bilbo Baggins, a gentlehobbit from the Shire, had somehow found himself being crowned as the Consort to a mountain that he had still not been sure that he had even liked, secure enough in the knowledge that he loved Thorin enough to be willing to stay regardless of the state of the kingdom.
Things had, of course, improved as the repairs had gone underway, and now, over a year after the dragon had fallen, he would be quite willing to admit that his initial response to Erebor had been wrong.
However, that still did not meant that it was perfect: far from it.
Erebor was grand, but it lacked the greenery of the Shire, and some days he found himself longing for the rolling hills of his homeland, for the stretches of wheat fields that ran to the horizon, for flower beds spilling with colour and the hum of bees in the sunshine; he missed the orchards he had scrumped from as a faunt, and had read in as an adult, and he missed the herbs that grew in neat squares below his kitchen window, the original plants grown from seed by his father.
He missed the feeling of autumn sunshine on his face and spring rain soaking his shoulders as he dashed home from market and warm summer breezes as he smoked pipe-weed on his bench; some days he longed for a more natural warmth than the mountain was able to offer, as beautiful as it was.
He was a busy fellow, now, with responsibilities that he had not quite imagined: Thorin had not explained the duties of a Consort for quite some time, as he had been trying not to let Bilbo take any of them up, shouldering most of them himself and delegating others to Balin, or Fili and Kili, who had quite enough to do themselves in this new kingdom as it was, though they had not complained at the burden – in fact, it seemed that they quite agreed with Thorin, that Bilbo should not have to labour in even the most political and non-physical sense.
Bilbo had at first been offended by this, when it had been drawn to his attention, thinking that Thorin had not trusted him or had not believed him suitable, but the pain etched in the stern frown that had grown across Thorin's face when Bilbo had confronted him and accused him of such things had eased his anger, somewhat.
It was far too obvious that that was not what he had meant at all.
It seemed that Thorin had merely been trying to spare Bilbo the drudgeries of rule, the long days sat arguing with emissaries and lords, out of some fear that it might make Bilbo change his mind.
Which was ridiculous, Bilbo told him as he had settled himself down on the long couch beside Thorin after the King (though his crown had, as always, been left in the receiving room of their quarters, alongside Bilbo's much-disliked coronet, never worn in their private rooms) had admitted all of this to him.
“I wanted to stay so that I could stand with you, not because it was an easy thing to do; I would love you if I had to take on the whole of Middle Earth to be with you, or if there was nothing more needed of me than to make sure you ate breakfast every day.”
He had paused then, because Thorin had been staring at him with the disbelieving look of awe that he wore whenever Bilbo admitted his love so easily and so freely, such a thing being much harder for him; whenever he looked at him like that, Bilbo always found himself stopping, and shifting a little closer, as if physical contact would help to cement the truth of his words, as if might help Thorin believe.
He had taken Thorin's hand in his, pressing a kiss to the inside of his wrist before resting their clasped hand in his own lap.
“Being your Consort in more than name lies somewhere in the middle of that, don't you think? It can't be any harder than talking to a dragon. Besides,” and Bilbo had shrugged, stroking his thumb along the top of Thorin's palm. “It's been a little dull, to tell you the truth, with nothing to do. Let me learn.”
And so Thorin had, though he still on occasion tried to do more than his due of work, but since that involved trying to take the worst of work from Fili and Kili as well as from himself, Bilbo was hard pressed to take it personally.
Bilbo had thrived, to his own delight and to that of his company: he had a natural knack for diplomacy coupled with a spine, Thorin occasionally told him as he pressed kisses up the length of it, made of mithril; he took no nonsense from the heads of the trade guilds that came to him with their disputes, but had endless patience when dealing with dwarves who petitioned him with more personal problems. He might have limited tolerance when it came to unwanted visitors raiding his pantry, but when it came to housing the families arriving in the Mountain, and to organising the trade routes between Erebor and the Greenwood, his seemed to be endless.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Kili said, his voice plaintive. “Five minutes of listening to Lord Gror and I want to throw myself from the battlements. Even Uncle looks like he’s contemplating resurrecting Smaug to feed him to the beast. You just sit there with a smile.”
“Lord Gror,” Bilbo would assure him with a wry little smile, “is quite nothing compared to some of my more unpleasant relations.”
That sort of answer always got him a grin and one-shouldered hug from the younger Crown Prince, the sort of which made him feel truly like one of the family.
But in spite of the fact that Erebor was far more comfortable than he had imagined, regardless of how he found himself enjoying much of what he spent his time doing, even despite the way that Thorin's arms felt like a home he had never known he was missing, he still found himself slipping on his ring and padding silently out of the secret exits to the surface of the mountain (he had found the routes on an old guards map, buried deep in a bureau in the rooms that had once belonged to Lord Fundin, making him wonder a little about quite what role Balin and Dwalin's father had played in the former Erebor), or else out of the main gates and down to the newly restored Dale.
To call it an escape seemed unfair; a holiday, if only for a moment, seemed more accurate. He didn’t want to escape the Mountain – he just needed a break every now and again.
On the mountain side he would prop himself down against a rock, running hands lightly over the mosses and heather that grew in the shelters behind boulders, watching the ravens wheel overhead; he preferred to take his ring off, so that he might properly taste the daylight and the breeze, but made sure to tuck himself out of sight – he had learnt early on that eventually any dwarf looking for him might end up asking a raven if they had spotted him.
He liked it up there, even if it was cold or there was a light rain; on sunny and warm days it was singularly blissful to be out in the open once more.
If he left the gates, he would wander down to Dale, where early on he had been able to lose himself in the bustle of men, peacefully walking through the markets and the crowds of people, sometimes almost managing to believe he was back in the Shire; since the one-year anniversary of the death of the dragon, and the spotlight that had been shone on him not only by Thorin, but by Bard too in their rather unnecessary speeches, that had been quite impossible.
Now he ended up more often in the slowly re-growing fields around Erebor and Dale, wandering through the thin striplings of trees that had been plated in the dark gashes where their burnt predecessors had been pulled up to make way for the new; he found quiet shadows cast by the stone walls in land that was once more green and fair, if not quite so verdant as his own homeland, and was content enough to wind the tiny wildflowers around his fingers and stare up at the sky above him.
Most of the time that was quite enough to make him feel much better, to let him collect himself once more, and he would return to the Mountain in a much better mood.
And if sometimes he grew so frustrated with stone-hewed splendour and cavernous archways that he even considered taking the Greenwood elves' invitation to visit their Kingdom up, if only for a change of scenery, then he was never daft enough to mention it to the dwarves (least of all to Thorin).
He had at first at least tried to keep his quiet trips out of the Mountain secret, but that hadn't lasted too long: unlike his quiet life in Bag End, he was always being sought out here, either by a dignitary searching for his advice, or a member of the Company looking for his own company in turn; Ori might have some Sindarin he needed help translating, or Fili and Kili might have been after a break from the duties of heirs that they had perhaps underestimated living in Ered Luin, or Bofur after sharing a merry song with him.
And then, of course, there was Thorin.
Thorin searched him out for many things; for a word of advice, for a moment of comfort, for a break from his long day – or else perhaps just to press his nose into the curve of Bilbo's throat. Sometimes he did that without a word, coming upon Bilbo in his studies or their rooms or in a council chamber, pulling him close and breathing deep against his skin, before pressing a quick and gentle kiss against his forehead and leaving with a small smile and without a word, apparently that brief moment enough to ease at least a little the stress and anxiety of the crown.
And when Thorin couldn't find him, when none of the dwarves could... well.
To say that all hell broke loose might have been putting it mildly.
He had slipped back into the Mountain the first time to an unexpected out-roar; the guards were searching through every hallway of the kingdom, the gates were on lockdown (he had only managed to sneak back in with the help of his ring), as they had feared him kidnapped, though by who or for what cause none of the panicked dwarves were quite able to explain; Thorin had crushed him to his chest when he had returned to their rooms, quite confused by all the bustle, the tremors that Bilbo could feel through his torso betraying Thorin's genuine fear despite the unshakable mask he wore.
After that he did his best to be more careful; he tried to leave a note when he was leaving, or passed a message on to someone within the Company. The dwarves may not have liked his vagueness when it came to explaining where he was going (the few times he did that he ended up with the entire Company, complete with King Under the Mountain, following him down to Dale at what they had thought was a discreet distance) but at least they knew not to panic.
That didn't stop his dwarves (and he wasn't sure at what point along the road they had become his, but now they most certainly were) from being distinctly unhappy about the situation. They distrusted, it seemed, everyone, particularly when it came to their resident Hobbit. Whilst Bilbo understood that they simply worried for him, much in the same way that he also worried for them, there was something stifling about that, as well, something that made him long to run for the hills.
Thorin, with his own single-minded approach to life, didn't quite understand; it left him irritable and distant, convinced that there was something lacking in Erebor, or perhaps himself, that made Bilbo want to leave, which led in turn to more than a few frustrated words being shot across their quarters after Bilbo returned to them.
“Why are you not content with Erebor?” With all that I can give and all that I am?
“I cannot live with no glimpse of sunlight or grass, Thorin.” I love you with all that I am, but all that I am is also a Hobbit, and there is no way to change that.
“The mirrors bring in the sunlight, and I would craft you a thousand mithril leaves, more flowers made of jewels than you could count in a lifetime.” Why is it not enough for you?
“It is not the same, Thorin.” But do not doubt me.
It was good that they were both able to read between the lines, these days, or their arguments might have descended into something more bitter, less controlled; Thorin was certainly been prone to that sort of thing. But Bilbo always crossed the room before he could, unable to watch the pained lines furrowing Thorin's brow, pushing the pacing dwarf down into a chair and nudging his way to stand between his legs, stroking those lines with his thumbs until they eased and Thorin wrapped his strong arms around Bilbo's waist, resting his head against the ridge of Bilbo's sternum, whispering words Bilbo could not quite hear into his skin.
So they continued; and though Bilbo was happy in Erebor, and felt undeniably right by Thorin's side, it still was not quite the same.
... but his dwarves it seemed, did not understand that.
“He is not happy,” Thorin told the collection of dwarves sat around the table, causing a flurry of concerned looks to be shot from one to another. His hands rested palms down on the table, his face serious, and though some might have called this a ridiculous reason to summon his Company and family with such urgency, the group around the table clearly did not agree:
“That's not true, Uncle.”
Thorin shot a fond glance at his younger nephew; Kili remained a continued source of optimism in all situations, and he was glad of it, for all that it spoke occasionally of his naivety.
“He's got a point,” Bofur commented, leaning back in his chair, and Thorin was willing to listen to Bofur, who was a particularly close friend of Bilbo’s. “I don't think Bilbo is unhappy here, but I don't think it is his own hole in the ground, either.”
Balin nodded in agreement.
“Dwarves and Hobbits are very different creatures, after all.”
Nori nodded, picking at his teeth with a long, fine blade; Dori watched him out of the corner of his eye, clearly trying very hard not to jump in and snatch it out of his hands.
“He doesn't understand the risk he puts himself at, wandering off like that.”
Dwalin grunted an agreement.
“The guards can't follow him when he turns bloody invisible.”
Nori snorted, and put down the knife, to Dori's visible relief.
“We've been lucky so far that there has been no serious discontent towards the throne, but all it takes is one dwarf or man or tree-shagger to want to make a point, and he's out there wandering and vulnerable.”
Ori put down his knitting needles with a quiet huff.
“It's not just that though, is it? We need Bilbo to feel like this place truly is his home.”
Fili nudged him gently.
“We need both; I certainly don't want to have to learn to live without Bilbo, either because he's gotten himself in trouble or because he gets too homesick.”
“My Gimli loves Bilbo, you know he tells the wee lad stories about trees that can walk? Gimli keeps talking about damn talking bushes now, he'd be devastated if Bilbo ever decided to leave.”
Dis, who had been sitting quietly at the far end of the table, caught sight of the stricken look on not only her brother's face, but those of her sons, as well: she put down the eyeglass that she had been using to apply the delicate filigree to a cloak-pin she was making, and scowled at her cousin.
“Shut up, Gloin; he's not leaving us.”
Gloin muttered a little and sat back in his chair, but his words had clearly struck something around the table.
“He's told me about the talking trees, too,” commented Ori, staring up at the ceiling in the absent-minded way he did whenever he was thinking. “And about the meanings of all different plants. Hobbits use them to send messages, you know.”
Bofur nodded his agreement. “And about that great big tree in the field where they have their parties in the Shire; he said it was like the great mineral column in Durin's Hall, somethin' communal an’ important.”
Dori hummed a little. “He's quite knowledgeable on plants used for brewing teas, as well.”
Dwalin was staring at them all like they had gone a little mad, but Balin was nodding thoughtfully. “He had a big garden back home, didn't he? And a bench to sit and smoke on. It must have been a peaceful enough place for him.”
Bifur, normally silent even in the company of just this small, tightly knit group, chipped in.
“He liked the flowers at the skin-changers place, didn't he?”
Oin, whose ear-horn was of a much higher quality these days, nodded thoughtfully.
“Lad's got a fine eye for medicinal herbs, too.”
“And cooking ones, for that matter,” came Bombur's low, quiet voice, barely audible above the murmurs of agreement that were coming from around the table.
Fili and Kili were leaning forwards in their chairs now, looking younger than they were in their enthusiasm.
“D'you think he'd like that?” Fili asked at the same time as his brother said “Bilbo needs a garden!”
There was a spark of something, deep in Thorin's gaze, the same kind of single-minded purpose and passion that had led him to reclaim Erebor, that had dragged him across Middle Earth to find a home for his people.
“A garden,” he said, his voice low and powerful, and the group fell silent, simply nodding in agreement. “A garden.”
Bofur leant over the arm of the sofa, reaching for the small bouquet of wildflowers that Bilbo had picked the day before, held now in a prettily painted blue-and-white jug that he had picked up some months before in Dale (it had reminded him of his mother’s china, far away in the Shire now).
Bilbo watched him with some confusion.
Bofur rubbed the petal of one large, yellow bloom between his fingertips.
“Bofur…” Bilbo began, not entirely sure what he was doing. Dwarves, as he well knew, were not as a whole particularly attached to flowers, and Bofur was no exception, for all that his cousin occasionally ate them. “What on earth are you doing?”
Bofur grinned at him.
“Just admiring, that’s all.”
Bilbo quirked an eyebrow.
“Alright…” he trailed off, not sure why his closest friend suddenly looked so excited, as if he were a faunt with some secret he could barely hold in. “Any reason?”
“Do we have to have a reason to take an interest in your things?”
“Well…” Bilbo’s head turned slightly to one side. “Well, no, but it isn’t as if any of you have ever shown much of an interest in my flowers before now.”
Bofur’s grin, if anything, grew wider.
“Really? How terrible of us, lad. We’ll be sure to fix that, soon enough.”
Bilbo frowned, and turned back to his tea, his mind whirring.
“You know, it is quite odd,” he said, a little carefully. “But Kili said almost exactly the same thing to me only the other day.”
Bofur’s grin froze, for just a moment, before turning suddenly sheepish. “… Oh?"
“Hmmm,” countered Bilbo, his eyes bright. “Indeed.”
It began as a simple plan; these things always did.
Bombur, as the royal architect, was put in charge of the plans, both initial and as they grew more complex – though he had never worked on gardens before, he viewed it as a new and refreshing challenge: never before had he had a chance to delve into something so different and, truth be told, exciting.
Though he said little on the matter, he threw himself into the preparation with great feeling, sketching out flowerbeds in great angular designs that quite mirrored the decoration on the throne of Erebor, as would be befitting the private gardens of the Royal Consort.
He brought each stage of the plans to the King, who stared at them (in truth a little baffled) with great intensity before nodding his approval.
“It looks… fine.”
Bombur had nodded, knowing praise from the taciturn dwarf when he heard it.
Balin, who knew Erebor better than anyone else, had been the one to suggest a location: he had studied both the interior and the exterior of the mountain extensively under his father, and his mind had been drawn immediately to a wide ledge on the surface near to the upper level-quarters when he had sat and thought about it.
It was sheltered on either side by wide ridges of rock, not too dissimilar to the location of the secret door that had let them into Erebor to begin with, so that several bushes of heather grew there already; it would be easy enough to cut a door through to the outside, to level and extend it and make it suitable for growing things (although they were all a little confused about how, exactly, they might go about doing that).
Thorin had agreed to Balin's choice immediately, and when Bombur had been shown the exterior plan of the mountain he had nodded silently, a small smile curving across his pleasantly rotund face.
Ori had already begun his research, and several scrolls of lists of plants and flowers that would grow in the lands around Erebor had already found their way to the King's desk, though to him one plant looked much the same – Ori had quite helpfully made note of that fact, and had included useful notations about which ones smelt pleasant, which ones would grow up trellises, ones that grew in the lands surrounding the Shire, and so might be familiar to Bilbo; he’d also been handed rather informative lists of herbs from both Bombur and Oin, though all the names seemed much the same to him – he wouldn’t know which to blend into a paste for wounds or which to put in a stew had they been in front of him, but Thorin trusted that they would please Bilbo.
It was Nori who came to him next, flopping down in the chair in the corner with the customary lax limbs that gave no indication of just how purposeful his every motion was.
“I’ve asked around Dale, and they say that tomatoes won’t grow here. It is too cold.”
Thorin sat back in his own chair, and the disappointment must have been visible on his face, because Nori put his hands up as if in surrender.
“But in the north, in the towns of men, they grow plants in buildings made of glass: it keeps the heat in, and lets the light in at the same time. They call them green houses.”
Thorin nodded, slowly, clearly thinking.
“Glass is fragile.”
Nori blinked at him.
"Well, yes, of course, but..."
Nori could see the sudden horror in the King’s eyes, the no doubt overdramatic and unnecessary vision running through his head of the glass shattering around Bilbo’s head, cutting him to complete ribbons. The dwarf resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his King, because such things were probably considered treason, but couldn’t stop the small quirk of a grin that pulled at the corner of his eyes. Honestly. Thorin was a fool in love, sometimes.
“Diamond,” Thorin said eventually. “Small plates of diamond, set in lead.”
Nori raised a perfectly braided eyebrow.
“My King, I doubt there is enough diamond in all the world to cover the entirety of a greenhouse as large as one you'd build.”
Thorin pulled a face, looking a little disgruntled, and Nori remembered the priceless mithril shirt that Bilbo shucked on for formal occasions as if it was a cotton shirt. He rather suspected that Thorin would give Bilbo ever jewel in Erebor, if only the Hobbit asked for it (and had any interest in that kind of thing, at all).
“Other gems, then.”
Nori nodded, and rose, trying to hide his smile.
"There are plenty of clear crystals in the Treasury," he said, and the laughter was evident in his tone, even if he didn't let it out.
And of course, from there, the plans only escalated: the space on the mountainside was soon deemed by Bombur to be too small for all the additions that the Company kept proposing and Thorin kept agreeing to, and it was certainly not big enough to have both the tree and the greenhouse that the King had set his mind upon. So soon enough Bofur and a series of other dwarves sworn to secrecy cut through a door and began extending the shelter of the rock, which fortunately was deep enough to allow the soon-to-be garden to be at least doubled in size.
Even Bombur’s extensive patience was wearing a little thin by the time that Thorin sought him out with a wild gleam in his eye that should, in hindsight, have left him more cautious to begin with.
“Terraces,” Thorin had said, almost gleefully. “Terraces.”
Bombur had buried his head in his hands, but within a week the plans had been extended once again.
Bilbo heard all the rumours not long after a month after the first meeting between Thorin and the Company, although Erebor’s resident Hobbit of course had not known about that.
It wasn’t the growing number of dwarves involved in the project (although the nature of the project was not entirely clear to him) that tipped him off, nor the nudges that Fili and Kili were sharing every time they thought that their new Uncle was not watching; no, it was Thorin who truly gave the game away.
“You… like flowers.” Thorin said one night, not quite a statement or a question, but something in between. Bilbo was curled, naked and still panting a little from their previous activities, half-across Thorin’s chest, and he’d pushed himself up to look down at the dwarf.
“Well, yes,” he’d said after a moment of puzzled staring, and Thorin had reached up to push the sweat-soaked curls from his temples back. “Why on earth do you ask?”
Thorin’s eyes had shot to the ceiling, away from Bilbo, which was enough of a hint in itself that something was up.
“No reason,” he said, before wrapping his arms around Bilbo’s waist and rolling them back over, pinning the Hobbit down with his stronger build, and kissing him with a slowness and surety that left him quite breathless.
“No reason at all,” he repeated as he moved to press fervent, reverent open-mouthed kisses to Bilbo’s throat, sucking the skin and worrying it between his teeth just a little.
And though Bilbo had been quite successfully distracted, he had not been convinced: it was rare that Thorin said anything for no just cause, least of all on the topic of flowers, and once he had caught his breath back he had begun to ponder.
He knew better than simply to ask, because trying to find out directly would only lead to closed doors down his roads of inquiry: instead, he did as Hobbit’s did best, and remained quiet and unobtrusive, and listened.
Ori was suddenly taking a rather unexpected interest in seasoning: every time he ate with the Company Bilbo found himself noticing the way that the young dwarf would pick out various bits of herbs and question Bombur about what they were.
He went to Oin’s room one afternoon, to drop off the cheese scones he had baked for the older dwarf, only to find him digging through old medical textbooks for ointment pastes that Bilbo was sure that Oin had memorized decades ago.
He overheard Dwalin talking about rearranging the guard rota to include a hallway in the royal quarters that needed no watching; Bofur was suddenly far too interested in which were his favourite vegetables.
And soon enough other things began to crop up, things that he couldn’t ignore; dwarves might suddenly silence themselves when he passed them in the corridor, of almost bodily throw themselves over their work on tables in the library to hide from him what they were doing; he caught odd words, here and there, in passing and on paper, and that was enough.
Thorin was building him a garden. The thought was a warm and comforting ache of pleasure.
And dwarves, he concluded, were simply awful at keeping secrets.
There was a quiet knock on the door to Thorin’s studies, and after he called out a greeting a familiar, perfectly coiffed head poked its head around the doorway.
“You Highness, if I might have a moment of your time?”
Thorin offered the small, warm quirk of a smile that was reserved for those close to his heart.
“Always, Dori. What do you need?”
His Master of Ceremonies padded quietly into the room, shutting the door with a firm but politely quiet click, and nodded to Balin, who was sat alongside the King, helping him with the work of the day. Thorin had long ago stopped trying to convince Dori that it was alright for him to act more familiar to him than he did: whilst the members of his Company were allowed to act with him as his family might (belaying, of course, the fact that most of them actually were related to him in one way or another anyway), Dori always acted with a formality and properness that was actually rather endearing.
He might have been more annoyed with it, had he not been so sure of Dori’s fondness for the entire line of Durin. As it was, he simply accepted that any Dwarf proper enough to be in charge of ceremonial activities would never be able to act in any other way.
He put down his quill as Dori took a seat opposite him, fussing at the line of his tunic.
“I have taken the liberty, my King, of inquiring with the merchants in Dale which tea leaves the Royal Consort regularly purchases, and which of those we might be able to procure.”
Thorin raised an eyebrow.
“Tea grows on plants?”
Dori stared at him, horror shining through his expression for just a moment before he managed to school it away. Thorin glanced over at Balin, who was shaking his head in disbelief.
“Well… yes, my King.”
Thorin cleared his throat.
Dori averted his gaze to the ceiling for a moment, clearly despairing at the general way of Dwarves, which was not to pay much attention to the actual procuring of any item that could not be smithed or mined from the ground.
“My feeling was that Bilbo would quite enjoy growing his own. Or in the least, trying to. On the same vein, I have also taken the liberty of writing to some cousins of mine who live near to the Shire, asking them to acquire and send to us the tobacco plant of the Longbottom Leaf that he so often enjoys.”
Thorin sat back in his chair a little. At least he had known that pipe-weed grew on trees. Or something similar, anyway. All plants looked much the same to him.
“My grandmother used to grow and dry her own pipe-weed,” Dori continued. “She had a simple enough contraption that dried out the leaf, and I can recall how it worked: with your permission, I can commission another one be created for him.”
Thorin reached over his desk, and squeezed Dori’s arm.
Balin smiled, a warm and genuine smile.
“You, my friend, are truly one of the greatest treasures of Erebor.”
Thorin pretended not to see the flush that grew on Dori’s cheeks, and returned to his own work.
“The dwarves of Erebor sent for a huge amount of soil to be delivered to the Mountain, you know,” Bard remarked with poorly disguised interest over the latest set of grain dividends from the lands around Dale. Admittedly, they were rather dull, but that was still no excuse for his obvious nosiness.
Bilbo hummed in response, a nice and ambiguous noise that he had picked up from Gandalf that had proved very useful in awkward political situations in the past, and turned a page.
Bard’s fingers tapped against the wooden surface of the table.
“The King has asked me to send some of my leading agricultural experts up to the Kingdom at the end of the month.”
“Indeed,” Bilbo said, his voice bland and giving nothing away.
He turned another page, trying very hard not to smile.
Bard stared at him, his gaze heavy and dark, clearly trying to convey just how much he wanted to know what was going on to Bilbo without having to resort to simply asking; Bilbo, however, had sat through years of his cousins doing the exact same thing, and so merely noted a small annotation in a margin and carried on.
Outside the window, the bustle of Dale continued onwards; Bilbo dearly loved the days when it was his official duties that drew him out of the Kingdom, rather than his own longing, as it meant he could enjoy the outside without having to feel guilty at abandoning his own dwarves. The sound of the marketplace outside of the city hall was a comfortable backdrop to their proceedings, much more relaxed than any of his dealings with the Greenwood: Bard insisted still on keeping a much more informal court, still wearing tanned leathers and sturdy boots most of the time, the constant pleasing noise of the outside never letting him forget just how far he had climbed, and to whom he owed his Lordship: his people.
Bard sank down, finally, giving in.
“Just tell me, would you?”
Bilbo rolled his eyes, putting down one scroll only to pick up another.
“I have no idea what you are talking about, Bard.”
Bard stared at him disbelievingly.
“They’re up to something in the Mountain, you can’t convince me otherwise. Just let me know if I’m going to be losing one of my trade partners – if Erebor is going to begin growing its own grains then I have the right to know.”
That did cause Bilbo to pay proper attention, abandoning the dull scrolls in his hands and letting them fall back to the table, not caring at all that they might crumple or crease. He stared across at Bard in horror; he had assumed that Bard had gotten wind of the plans that Thorin had underway, and had been trying to tease him; quite clearly, that was not the case.
“Bard, no,” he began, wincing as Bard’s shoulders visibly slumped in relief. “That’s not it at all, I swear to you – Erebor would never do that to Dale, never. Our Kingdoms owe each other too much as it is.”
Bard nodded, slowly, and for the first time Bilbo realised just how much Bard had aged in the last year and a half. Where once his face had been creased from hard living and the fear of where the next meal was coming from, now his shoulders seemed slumped by the weight of his people.
There was a certain similarity in Kings, Bilbo couldn’t help but think, and most of it was to do with the lines around their eyes.
“That’s something of a relief,” Bard admitted, sitting back in his chair.
Bilbo resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands. Only his dwarves could attempt to make him some sort of secret garden only to send their neighbouring rulers into a panic. Only Thorin could plan a present for his partner and nearly cause an international incident. As soon as this secret was let out, and he had to stop pretending not to know what was going on, he was going to have so many words with the King about properly thinking through his actions.
“No, it’s…” Bilbo sighed, and would have quite vehemently denied the fact that he was blushing. “Well, that is, the King is building a garden, but it is more of recreational one, rather than one for production.”
There was something of a gleam in Bard’s eye now, something amused, and Bilbo rather regretting admitting anything whatsoever.
“And why would a dwarf have an interest in a garden?” he asked.
Bilbo stuck his nose in the air, feigning indifference.
“Many dwarves have an agricultural interest, you know. The healers are versed in herbs, as are the cooks, and many dwarves might like to rest in the shade of a tree to relax.”
“Indeed,” replied Bard, his tone amused. “Because it is often the King of Erebor, and his Crown Princes, that are spotted smoking their pipes in our wheat fields, isn’t it?”
Bilbo flushed, and had the good sense not to reply.
“Are you sure there is nothing you want me to help you with?” Bilbo tried, not or the first time that evening, as Thorin threw yet another abandoned piece of parchment onto the fire. He watched the fire lick its way through the parchment, the ink bleeding through as the heat reached it, and resisted the urge to snatch the papers from the fire to see what had been written on them.
“Nothing,” Thorin replied, quite clearly through gritted teeth; luckily Bilbo knew Thorin quite well enough not to take his tone to heart.
Bilbo sat silently for some time, curled up in the over-sized armchair in their room, pointing his toes towards the heat of the fireplace.
“Elves?” he ventured after a while, because that was always a good guess, for all that diplomacy with the Greenwood was usually his domain. Thorin shook his head, his frown deepening. Bilbo sighed, glancing up at the water-clock above the mantelpiece: it had been a courting gift from Thorin, and was ridiculously ostentatious, and it read that it was far past the time they would usually retire.
“Men?” he asked next, trying not to smile as Thorin shot him a glance, clearly unimpressed by the amusement in his tone.
Bilbo got to his feet. “Hobbits, then?”
“Hobbits rarely cause me problems,” Thorin said with a slight huff as Bilbo slipped around the back of his chair, his hands running over the line of his shoulders, searching for knots and quickly beginning to massage them out. Thorin sighed, shifting scrolls and parchments over his desk in what could have been a casual manner, and his head fell back to rest against Bilbo’s chest, so that he was staring up at him.
“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Bilbo told Thorin, smiling. “But that leaves only Dwarves, unless there is some incursion of Goblins or Orcs that you haven’t told me about.”
Thorin’s eyes flicked shut, just as the corner of his mouth quirked ever so slightly. Bilbo took that as a victory.
“Or another dragon, perhaps,” Bilbo continued, his voice teasing still. “Have you been keeping Smaug junior in the lower halls without telling me?”
One eye cracked open to glare half-heartedly up at the Hobbit.
“That,” he told Bilbo, “Isn’t even slightly funny.”
Bilbo leant forward, kissing his forehead.
“If you would just tell me what’s wrong, rather than sitting there getting all worked up, then I wouldn’t have to guess, would I?”
He thought for a moment that Thorin might huff some more, but after a moment he deflated, his eyes closed again, leaning back against Bilbo’s touch.
“It is nothing you should be worried with.”
“You see, it is always a little counter-productive when you do that, you know.”
Thorin’s shoulders jerked under his hands as he pulled himself forward, and away from the warmth of Bilbo’s body. Bilbo sighed, and pulled him right back, quite used to Thorin’s habit of misinterpretation by now.
“I mean, that I can tell when you’re hiding things to stop me worrying, and that just makes me worry all the more.”
Thorin’s shoulders slumped under his touch, and his hands came up to rest over Bilbo’s.
“It is nothing, honestly.”
He was about to protest – his mouth was already opening, refute on the tip of his tongue, in fact – but then his eyes were drawn to a visible corner of the paperwork that Thorin had covered when he had come over. It wasn’t a reference to trade, or arms, or the treasury; nor did it mention another Kingdom, or military tactics, or the Guilds.
There was definitely no way to misinterpret what looked exceedingly like lists of colours that different flowers grew in.
Bilbo sighed, and wondered if he should just admit to Thorin that he already knew all about the ‘secret’ garden.
“Bard was a little worried, when I saw him last week, he remarked, before straightening himself out and removing himself from Thorin’s back.
He stepped around to the front of the chair instead, wedging one leg between Thorin and the desk, and tugging at his arms until the dwarf rose to his feet. “Come on you, I’m sure whatever it is will wait for the morning.”
Thorin hummed in response, letting Bilbo tow him gently away from the desk.
“He seemed concerned that Erebor might be growing its own crops soon? He’d heard rumours. I assured him that we had no intention of doing any such thing, but I don’t think he will be thoroughly convinced until you tell him yourself.”
Thorin stopped, in the middle of their rooms, and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands.
“You’re right, we have no such plans. I have to go down to Dale next week, I’ll convince him then.”
Bilbo nodded, and decided not to ask why on earth Thorin would need to go down to Dale. Thorin glanced at him as he lowered his hands, and he opened his arms, just a little, as close to asking for reassurance as he would ever get. Bilbo was quite willing to comply, and wrapped himself around Thorin’s chest, smiling against the scruff of beard as Thorin pressed close.
“What would I do if not for you?”
The words were close and quiet, pressed against the skin of his cheek with as much softness and love as a kiss might have been.
Bilbo huffed a dry little laugh, reaching up to grab a hold of one of Thorin’s braids, pulling on it lightly.
“Oh, you’d fall apart in an instant if I left, I am sure.”
He had meant it in jest, a teasing jibe to try and lift Thorin’s spirits, but the dwarf pulled back a little, looking down at him with a heavy solemnity that, for a moment, quite stole Bilbo’s words.
“I would, you know.”
The admittance quite took Bilbo aback, and he blinked up at Thorin for a long moment before his face softened, hands reaching upwards to cradle the back of the dwarf’s head, to pull it down so that their foreheads might press against each other.
“Ridiculous dwarf,” he managed, between pressing quite thorough kisses to the King’s mouth. “Then it rather is a good job that I am not going anywhere, isn’t it?”
“Y’know,” Dwalin commented, a little awkwardly, from behind Thorin. “The green stuff Bilbo always eats at meals-”
“Lettuce,” Thorin supplied, who had been lectured on these matters quite extensively over the last few months. “And spinach, and cucumber, and-”
Dwalin wrinkled his nose.
“Yeah, those things. Maybe… Bilbo might like to grow those, too.”
Thorin stared at him, in disbelief.
“You sap,” he said, after a long moment, sounding all of sudden like a twenty-year old again, willing to tease and to act the fool now and again. Dwalin stared at him in surprise for just a moment, before scowling.
“You’re the idiot building a sodding garden because you’re so in love.”
Thorin shrugged, and smiled, just a little.
He didn’t bother denying it.
Dwalin stared back at him for a long moment, before shaking his head.
“Yer bloody hopeless.”
“Uncle,” Fili began one day, as they watched a number of dwarves hollowing out great channels running along and inside the various beds that had already been walled in, and were ready to be filled with soil once the irrigation channels were complete.
“Everything looks wonderful.”
Thorin nodded with a certain grim satisfaction. Admittedly, gardens were not his forte – he couldn’t remember spending more than the odd few minutes in any in all of his life, and his time spent in nature normally involved him walking through it, normally to get from one mountain to another, but he was damn well sure that if he was going to make one, it would be an impressive one. If fact, he was quite convinced that there would be no greater garden in all of Middle Earth, including any of those poncy green spaces that the Elves glided through, with their artistically draped ivy and dew that seemed made to catch the morning light. Clearly not a natural occurrence.
No, Bilbo’s gardens were going to be as magnificent as was befitting a Royal Consort, but also as comfortable and homely as a Hobbit would like, and most importantly, it wouldn’t look a thing like anything those tree-shaggers would make for themselves.
From the terraces, you could look down and admire the geometric patterns of the flowerbeds, the design of which had a noticeably dwarvish feel about them; the beds centered around one deep, square well that would soon hold a small tree, with plenty of space for its roots to grow deep and strong. Though it was open to the rain, it could not be counted on to feed this many plants, particularly not in the long summer months, and so a naturally occurring spring was being supplemented by the water systems inside, the pool extended and deepened to form a cool, clear pool, from which the various irrigation channels were fed.
Built into the rock beside the pool, angled so that it would catch the sunshine all afternoon, was a long bench. Thorin had already had cushions commissioned to fit it; Bilbo would be able to recline on there for long, lazy days, stretched out and absorbing the sun.
Perhaps, he thought, he might be able to join Bilbo, too.
“It’s just…” Fili trailed off, and perhaps normally Thorin would have picked up on the concern in his heir’s tone quicker, but he was currently a little distracted by a rather pleasant mental image of Bilbo picking raspberries and feeding them to Thorin, sticky juice running down the soft, fragile skin of Bilbo’s wrists that he, of course, would be obligated to clean up, preferably with his mouth.
And if his mouth happened to wander elsewhere, well.
It was to be a private garden for a reason.
Thorin shook himself quite suddenly, gaining him an odd look from his nephew, and turned away from staring at the stone pillars of what would soon become a rather impressive fruit cage, once they had finished making the silver-and-steel-wire net.
The advisors from Dale had tried to convince them that a normal net would do, that it was only to keep birds away from the fruit, but one made of silver wire braided together with steel and fixed deep into the stone would also double as some form of protection, from intruders as well as birds. It had been tested extensively, and would hold up against most blades and arrows on initial contact; though prolonged sawing would break it, it would afford Bilbo enough time to slip on his ring and escape were he ever attacked in the gardens.
Thorin was unable to justify why anyone might attack Bilbo, but he didn’t let something as mundane as reason stop him from building it anyway.
Fili waved a hand about them.
“The beds are large enough to satisfy even the most green-fingered of Hobbits. The greenhouse is underway, and the fruit-cage looks fine. Bombur did a great job designing the beds, and the trellises look strong enough to last for centuries. No doubt it will be an outstanding garden when it is all finished.”
Thorin tried not to preen, just a little, at the praise.
“And I know that the soil and fertilisers that Dale is providing us with will be excellent. And without them we never would have figured out all the waterways for all the different beds…”
The King nodded, half-turning towards his nephew: figuring out what exactly plants needed had not been going that well until Balin had convinced him to send to Bard to borrow a pair of Dale’s agricultural experts. The man and woman, though bemused by the summons, had been immensely helpful, aiding not only in the question of soil and irrigation but also in suggesting how the rocks might be shaped to better shelter the plants, and going over Thorin and Ori’s lists of flowers to advise which were hardier and which might need to grow in the greenhouse.
When they had been told why, exactly, they were building a garden, they had seemed surprised – apparently outside of the Mountain Thorin came across as stern and a little unfeeling, and the idea that this entire, lavish garden was little more than a gift to his partner seemed to overwhelm them a little.
“Even Mother and Dwalin agree, you’ve done very well at keeping it a secret, Bilbo is going to be so surprised. We even managed to keep Kili quiet, and that really is saying something…”
Thorin winced, just as Fili reached over to brush a hand against the great steel trellises that ran up the face of the natural stone walls that enclosed the garden. They had been polished to a bright shine, running around and underneath the curves of the two semi-circular terraces, so that one day plants might grow underneath them, creating almost a cave of greenery (or so Bombur planned, at any rate).
“And the lists of flowers that you and Ori have agreed with all sound great, you know, for flowers, and I’m sure the herbs that Oin and Bombur picked out are exactly what Bilbo would want. And you know, we showed Bifur the lists of plants, and he seemed really excited by the choices you’d made, which really is saying something.”
They made their way back to the door back into the mountain, the two staircases leading up to the terraces on either side of it; they faced each other, across the garden. Water was pumped up to each by a miniature version of the pump that directed water throughout the various parts of the Mountain, and came down the other side in matching indents carved into the rock like steep little streams. Thorin was particularly proud of those.
“The thing is, Uncle…”
Fili was shaping up to be a remarkably astute dwarf in his own right, and he did not simply offer his opinion for no good reason. Thorin was beginning to worry now; Fili would not sound this serious if it was not a matter of vital import.
His nephew’s frown was deeply furrowed, making the family resemblance between himself and his Uncle all the more pronounced.
“I just, I don’t think you have considered…”
Thorin cast one last look around the garden, such a wonderful combination of dwarvish ingenuity, the skill of men, and the comfort of Hobbits, wondering what could be missing.
“How are we getting the plants?”
Well. That really was a question, wasn’t it?
And there was only one Kingdom nearby with free and easy access to plants, flowers and trees.
Thorin glared at the fruit cage as if it had personally betrayed him.
He was going to have to talk to the elves.
“Ah, Master Baggins! A pleasure to see you again, and so soon!”
Bilbo bowed respectfully to the young prince, who had finished formally greeting the King and Crown Princes, and though the action was formal the smile that crept across his face was genuine, and not quite what one might expect from the Consort of a Dwarven Kingdom. But, for all that he was an honorary Dwarf now, he had been a Hobbit first and would remain so foremost, and Hobbits, as a rule, could not quite manage to dislike Elves, regardless of what their partners might have to say on the matter.
“My Prince, it is an honour to entertain you in our halls once more.”
Legolas was beaming at them all, in that way that was both affectionate and amused, because he was quite aware how much his good humour annoyed the King Under the Mountain.
Speaking of Thorin, Legolas turned back to the King, nodding his head once more.
“We were interested by your request, my Lord, never before have the dwarves asked for-”
Kili almost jumped in front of the throne, as if protecting his Uncle from a physical attack.
“PRINCE LEGOLAS,” he bellowed, his hands out in front of him as if warding something away. “It has been too long since we saw you here last. Why don’t I show you to your chambers?”
Legolas’ eyebrows were almost in his impeccable hairline, Fili looked like he was about to either laugh or cry, and Thorin’s face had set into that terrifying cut of stone that only appeared when he was either very scared or very angry. Honestly, Bilbo wasn’t sure which one this would be, and he hid his smile behind his hand as he pretended to rub his nose.
“That would be very kind of you, Kili,” he assured the young Prince.
Horrified realisation spilled across his face as he realised that he would now have to escort an elf somewhere by himself, and after a long moment Bilbo decided to put him out of his misery.
“But don’t worry, there are things I would like to discuss with the Prince about the Greenwood.” Dis caught his eye from the other side of the throne, characteristically inquisitive. “About… trees, you know. I do so miss trees, living in Erebor,” he finished, a little lamely, feeling a little guilty for the flash of upset that cut across Thorin’s features.
“It is a shame,” he carried on hurriedly, “that I have to leave to go to Dale to see greenery. If only there were some in the Mountain! Now,” he stepped down from the dais of the throne quickly, flapping Legolas towards the door. “Off we go, my Prince.”
Fili and Kili burst into excited mutters before the doors to the throne room even shut behind them, and Bilbo levelled the elf a glare as they strode towards the royal quarters. He dismissed the guards as them reached the King’s reception rooms, ushering Legolas into their formal sitting room and shutting the door behind them.
“That,” he told the elf, spinning on his heel to point an accusatory finger in the direction of his mid-section (damn elves and their damnable height) “Was very mean.”
Legolas threw himself down in a chair, all flailing of limbs and awkward adolescence that betrayed his youth in a way that his fighting style never did.
“C’mon, Bilbo, dwarves are too much fun not to tease.”
Bilbo raised a rather unimpressed eyebrow.
“That may be, but I would remind you that they are my dwarves, and as such, only I am at liberty to tease them. You, my young princeling, are not. And do not think that I wouldn’t tell your father if you don’t stop.”
Legolas rolled his eyes.
“As if my father would care that I tease some dwarves!”
Bilbo folded his arms.
“The King, might I remind you, is not some dwarf. And I wouldn’t tell him that, anyway. I’d simply mention that you’d been behaving inappropriately, with a certain emphasis on romantic intentions, and-”
“You wouldn’t!” Legolas looked aghast, and Bilbo nodded. “Bilbo, it’d be a century before he let me out of the palace again, let alone the Greenwood!”
“Then mind yourself,” said Bilbo meaningfully, sliding into an armchair himself. “No more mentions of the gardens, none at all. You know full well that it is supposed to be a surprise.”
Legolas nodded, adequately chastised. “Can you show me them, when they’re done? They ordered so many different trees and plants, and we’ve been transporting seeds from over the Misty Mountains for months, now. The whole Kingdom is abuzz with it.”
Bilbo laughed, wondering once more about Thorin’s ability to make everything a drama – even outside his own Kingdom.
“Providing, of course, that I don’t die myself before they are bloody well satisfied with it, then yes, I will. And mind you act surprised.”
Legolas grinned at that, looking no older than a fauntling promised a treat before bed, and Bilbo shook his head.
“Honestly,” he muttered. “If it isn’t dwarves, its elves. What I wouldn’t give for some sensible Hobbits around the place.”
Legolas was still beaming at him.
“Perhaps, my friend,” he answered, voice full of mirth. “But think how dull your life would be?”
Bilbo rolled his eyes, and deigned not to answer, but he couldn’t quite stop himself from smiling.
Bifur shook his head venomously at the plans laid out before him.
Thorin stared back at him, blinking in surprise; it was odd to see Bifur acting aggressively towards anything that wasn’t the mention of orcs or goblins.
“No?” he asked, and Bifur shook his head once more, picking up a pencil.
Thorin watched as the older dwarf began scribbling over the plans for the garden, circling some sections of flowerbeds and crossing out others, directing them to different places with thick, wonky arrows, muttering all the while as he did so. He left the herb gardens, for both medicinal and cooking, untouched, and the vegetable and fruit vines in and outside the greenhouse were promptly ignored.
The pencil paused for a moment over the ivy and the climbing roses, over the honeysuckle, the morning glory and the clematis flowers, before leaving them where they were on the plans. Thorin supposed that they were stuck around the periphery, needing the trellises to grow up, and his eye continued to follow the pencil as it dissected and rearranged the rest of the garden and its two terraces on the plans.
Bifur’s interest seemed focused solely on the flowers that Thorin and Ori had picked out, and nothing more.
“Flowers,” he said emphatically, the khuzdul rolling from his tongue in deep, rich syllables that several of the younger dwarves seemed to find particularly relaxing to listen to. “Flowers have meanings.”
“Well yes,” Thorin answered. “Ori told me. But that seems fancif-”
Bifur shook his head, jabbing at the plans once again.
“Hobbit, not dwarf. We don’t listen to the flowers. Hobbits do. Like iglishmek.”
“You mean… Hobbits can send messages with flowers?”
Bifur nodded, forcefully, his eyes rolling back into his head in a slightly alarming manner as if completely exasperated by how slow Thorin was being.
Thorin tried again.
“And… this way, this way will send a message to him?”
Bifur grinned, a wide barring of teeth that might have been slightly alarming had Thorin not been entirely used to him.
“What kind of message?”
Bifur’s grin, if possible, grew even wider.
“You know, don’t you?”
Bilbo glanced up from his afternoon tea, and upon seeing that it was Dis in the doorway, kicked out another chair from under the table rather than bothering to deny anything.
Dis stared at him for a long moment, before taking the seat.
“It was hard,” said Bilbo, after swallowing a bite of his scone, “not to notice, you know.”
Dis rolled her eyes.
“My family are not known for their subtlety.”
The fact that she had barged in on his meal to announce this seemed lost on her, and Bilbo simply quirked a smile, not bothering to point out that this familial flaw did not seem limited simply to the male line of Durin.
“Thank you, though, for keeping it quiet.”
Bilbo smiled properly, then.
“Honestly, as if I would ruin their fun, Dis.”
She grinned back.
“I don’t think I have seen my brother so singularly devoted to any task that did not involve Erebor, you know.”
“Well,” said Bilbo, “I suppose gardens for Erebor does technically count as something for the Kingdom, don’t you think?”
She raised a thick, perfectly formed eyebrow at him, regarding him with such disbelief that Bilbo, for a moment, was almost uncomfortably reminded of her brother.
“If you think for even a moment that this has anything to do with anyone other than you, then you are markedly more stupid than I thought you were. And since you agreed to stay here with Thorin, then you must know that my belief in your rationality was already rather low.”
Bilbo felt something warm and tender light in his chest, and turned back to pouring a second cup of tea for the Princess of Erebor.
“Well,” he said after a moment, not knowing exactly how he was going to argue against that. “Well.”
She accepted the cup, sipping from the delicate bone china with an elegance that betrayed her skill as a master jeweller.
“It is a little ridiculous, don’t you think? For him to build something like that, all for me. I’ll have him name them public gardens, for everyone to enjoy. That way, they’ll benefit everyone.”
He had thought it a fair and rational thing to say, but the look of anger that cut across Dis’ face took him by surprise.
“It’s all for you, you do understand that, don’t you?” she said, after a long moment of silence. “From all of them. From all of us. It isn’t just Thorin who worries you aren’t happy here.”
Bilbo replaced his cup on its saucer with a sigh.
“I love you all, quite dearly,” he told her firmly, “but you must all stop believing that I am about to drop everything and run off just because I miss my tomato plants. And I really don’t know how many times I can tell you that before you believe me.”
Dis smiled, staring down at the table.
“You know,” she said eventually. “Some wonder at the strength of Hobbits. They think that because you were not carved from stone, as we are, that you might break as a blade of grass might.”
Bilbo huffed a quiet laugh.
“The thing about grass,” he commented, “is that it doesn't break, it bends. And afterwards, it always springs back. Have you ever noticed that?”
She shook her head.
“Dis,” Bilbo began, reaching for her hand. “Garden or no garden, homesickness or no homesickness, I am not leaving you. Not any of you.”
She met his eyes again, a sudden flash of something close to fear flickering through them.
“I have lost enough family, you know. One brother was quite enough.” She seized his hand in return, holding it tight enough that it almost hurt.
“I could not lose you too, not now we have become such dear friends, now we have become family. Let us build this garden, just for you, Bilbo. Don’t act as if it is too much, don’t try and make Thorin declare it a public one; if this is what it takes to make us believe that you are happy here, that you will stay with us, then let us have this.”
Dwarves, he thought, but it was with fondness, and he sighed. If accepting it would make the creatures of his heart believe in him, then so be it; he would do as Dis asked.
Bilbo sat back in his chair, and nodded.
Following the conversation with Dis, the rest of Bilbo’s day was spent feeling a little forlorn, though he could not quite put his finger on exactly why that was the case. Thorin had to work through dinner, and he shut himself in their private rooms, rather than sitting in rooms where Dis, or Fili or Kili, or anyone else might come upon him.
He was sat with his feet tucked up under him, staring deep into the fire, when Thorin eventually found him.
“Dis said she had not seen you since mid-afternoon,” he said as he shrugged out of his heavy over-tunic, embroidered with stiff gold and silver thread. “Are you alright?”
Bilbo nodded, a little tired, and tried for a smile; it must not have entirely worked, because Thorin frowned at him. However, when he offered nothing else, Thorin padded off to their bathroom, and Bilbo sighed as he heard the water channels opening to fill the great tub with steaming water, heated by the same forge air that warmed the rooms.
But if he thought he was being left alone, then he was sorely mistaken: several minutes later the water shut off and Thorin was back, drawing him up from his seat without a word, ignoring his half-hearted protests, and towing him gently towards the bathroom.
“Hush,” Thorin told him gently, and pulled at Bilbo’s clothes until he huffed a small laugh, and pulled them off. Thorin gave him a small, warm smile when he did, and tugged his own tunic off over his head, shucking out of the rest of his clothes and his jewellery as Bilbo stepped into the wide, deep tub.
“C’mon then,” Bilbo said, shoulder deep in the water. “Hurry up.”
Thorin splashed him half-heartedly as he clambered in beside him, sitting on the wide ledge that ran the periphery of the rectangular bath, before pulling Bilbo quite firmly into his lap. He huffed a little in protest at the treatment, but didn’t try to escape the warm lock of Thorin’s arms.
“Dis thought she had upset you.”
Bilbo shook his head, before tucking himself under Thorin’s chin, settling himself close. Thorin was rubbing gentle circles against his hip and thigh with his thumbs, his breath a steady rhythm to Bilbo’s ears.
“No, she didn’t. I was just…” he sighed. “I don’t know. Do you ever feel that no one quite believes in you?”
Thorin hummed, the noise reverberating through his chest so that Bilbo could feel it as well as hear it.
“Yes,” he said, eventually. “I do.”
Bilbo pressed a kiss to Thorin’s throat. “Sorry,” he said, “it is just a little frustrating, that is all.”
Thorin held him a little closer, a silent response, a clear message telling him not to worry, not to apologise, that he was here for him even if he did not have the exact words needed to make everything okay.
Bilbo pressed closer, although he had not thought there was any space left between them.
“Thank you,” he mumbled against skin, damp and warm under his mouth.
Thorin's thumbs pressed just a little harder, for a moment, in answer, and curled in against the thick cords of his neck, Bilbo smiled.
The heavy black fabric fell from around his eyes, the knot undone.
“Do you like it?” Thorin’s voice was tense, and it might have sounded almost accusatory to a stranger, but after all this time Bilbo was quite familiar with how the King sounded when he was nervous.
“Oh, Thorin,” he said, staring.
For all that he had known the King was building him a garden, for all that he had heard about flowers and seeds and soil, he had not expected anything like this.
He took a half step away from the dwarf, and then another.
“Oh,” he found himself repeating. “Oh.”
His eyes flickered from one thing to another, running over line of stone and flicker of colour, scarcely being able to take it all in. There was simply so much, too much for him to be able to see it all at once; every time his eyes returned to another section he realised that there was something that he had missed, some detail his gaze had skimmed over before.
There were gardens, and then… there was this.
“You’re outdone yourself,” he told Thorin, and it wasn’t nearly enough to convey how he felt, but it was as close as he could manage.
The garden was…
It was magnificent, and perhaps he should not have expected anything less from Thorin, but honestly, he didn’t know how else he could ever have imagined something like this. Row after row of flowerbeds, the green shoots of flowers bursting through the dark earth, some already in bloom, and already he could feel his face heat at the messages that some of those flowers were sending him. The great stone terraces stretched out above him, begging to be explored, the netting of a fruit cage large enough to produce fruit for a hundred pies glinting in the afternoon sunlight.
He spun, still trying to catch sight of everything.
A greenhouse, made of some thick leaded glass in elegant geometric patterns that seemed to catch the light in a way that no glass should ever have done.
A tree, small now, little more than a sapling, but a tree under which he might grow old, a tree to watch grow and grow with each passing year, that he might delight in every spring with the unfurling of new leaves from their buds, bright pinpricks of green against the grey stone and blue sky.
And the stone itself, of the great walls, pattered across with some shining metal in a trellis – and there, in the corner, one particularly resilient honeysuckle had already latched hold, was already reaching upwards towards the sky.
Thorin reached for his hand.
Let me show you, his eyes told Bilbo. Let me show you so that I might see you, see how you look with sun in your hair, with flowers in your hands, with fruit at your mouth. Let me see how you might look when you feel at home. Let me see how you smile at the taste of the earth and the feel of the day.
And Bilbo let him.
Thorin showed him the herb gardens in the terraces, the fruit in the cage, the winding ivy that was already making its quick-paced home, growing where it would. He laughed as Thorin muttered that the fruit would not appear until the next season, as if nature itself were out to ruin his gift; Thorin simply nudged him in the side and led him further. He took him into the greenhouse, hot and humid in the afternoon sunshine, where already the green globes of fresh tomatoes were swelling on their vines.
“We wanted to make sure that things were already growing, before we showed it to you.”
Bilbo looked up questioningly at him, and tugged Thorin back towards the door out of the greenhouse, eager to see more.
“You said once,” Thorin told him, voice low, “that there was nothing worse than land without growth. When we came to the Mountain, and we crossed the desolation, of the dragon. Do you recall?”
Bilbo didn’t, but it was so like Thorin to have remembered.
The irrigation streams, designed to look like natural ones, delighted him; so too did the cool stone walls already flecking with moss. They still looked a little new, but he knew within a few years they would have acquired that buff of lichens and discolouration that made a stone wall look so charming. Thorin wrinkled his nose a little at that, but did not protest; nor did he when Bilbo pulled them down to sit on the bench by the pool, positioned just close enough that Bilbo could drag his toes through the water, which he did without delay.
Thorin watched the play of ripples across the surface; Bilbo simply watched Thorin, with a small smile on his face.
“You like it then?” Thorin asked, and there was a certain force to his tone still, as if he still feared the answer might not be the one he wanted.
And in that moment Bilbo understood, quite certainly, what Dis had been trying to tell him: it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in him, it was that they didn’t believe in themselves, that they didn't believe they were quite enough. He understood that, to Thorin at least, this was more than simply a garden. This was a way of changing themselves, changing the very face of the Mountain, so that it might include him better, so that they might be good enough for him.
Bilbo wound one of his braids around his hand, pulling at it gently so that Thorin had to turn on the bench, to look him in the eye.
“Not as much as I like you,” he said, his smile soft. “But yes, you ridiculous creature, I like it very, very much.”
And when Thorin’s shoulder’s visibly slumped in relief, what was a Hobbit to do but kiss him, quite mad and frantic with joy and with a promise, a silent and unspoken promise.
Thorin’s kiss in return was desperate, pressing; Bilbo fell back against the bench with Thorin’s weight holding him down, although he was not trying to escape.
“I love it,” Bilbo managed to gasp as Thorin moved to his neck, swift hands reaching for buttons so that he might mouth dark marks against his collarbone. “I love you.”
Thorin moved back to his neck then, with a little more gentleness than before, his nose running along the length of it slowly, gently, as if he were afraid that Bilbo, or perhaps the moment, might break if he did anything too soon.
“You’re sure?” he asked again, and Bilbo laughed, wrapping his arms around Thorin’s back and bringing him fully down on top of him; it hurt his ribs a little, and he exhaled far harder than he had meant to, but the warm weight of him was entirely worth it.
“Ridiculous dwarf!” he exclaimed, for neither the first nor the last time in his long and happy life. “Entirely.”
“I thought I’d find you here,” came the voice from behind him, and Bilbo did not bother to turn; that voice was as familiar to him as breathing was.
“Hello, love,” he answered, lifting his feet without looking up from his book so that the dwarf might sit beside him. “Long day?”
He settled his feet back over the lap, huffing a little as a hand tilted his book so the other could see what he was reading.
“Bah,” Thorin said, letting the book go. “Damn Elves.”
Bilbo smiled, and settled the book down on the floor.
Thorin’s hair was nearly all silver now; his crown sat heavy on a lean and lined face these days, his wrinkles deep but his cares less than they had ever been. Bilbo still thought he was quite the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes on.
“Oh hush,” he replied, just as Thorin began to trace shapes on his ankles with his fingertips. “Or I’ll tell Dis that you let her grandson climb the tree.”
Thorin pulled a face.
“It wasn’t anything to do with me. Vili dared him; you know Frerin will do anything if his cousin tells him he can’t.”
Bilbo huffed a laugh, and nodded, reaching up to brush curls out of his eyes: his own hair had not fared much better than Thorin’s to the decades, and was quite white, these days, though thankfully his body had not quite caught up with him yet.
“At least Thorin isn’t big enough to get involved with their antics,” Bilbo commented idly, eyes slipping shut as his Thorin’s hands moved up his calves, stroking slow and sure.
“Give him time,” came the reply, “Kili was chasing after Fili before he could even walk properly. Young Thorin will catch up to the other two in no time.”
Bilbo yawned. “One of them needs to have a girl, we need some sense in the family. Dis can’t manage it all on her own.”
He yelped as Thorin pinched him behind his knee, gently.
“Are you implying that I am not sensible?”
“Well,” answered Bilbo, sliding a little closer along the bench. “You did once build me a giant garden because you were afraid I was going to leave.”
Thorin pulled a face, and Bilbo laughed, leaning close to kiss it away.
Around them, as it had done for many summers, the garden bloomed.