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"They never smile," he often hears, disbelief colouring the tone of whomever he is speaking to. "How can you stand it?"

This is usually the point of the conversation where his current visitor has stopped by for a chat, and asked the inevitable question; some variation of cautious inquiry, varying from 'How are you these days' to 'How are you holding up'- as if his current situation is some great burden to bear. 'Is everybody... treating you well?' grates on his nerves, he can hear the implication in 'everybody', knows they don't mean the occupants of this colossal mountain in general, but in the two that share his bed, his home, his life. Knows they are looking for signs that the small, fragile looking Hobbit is not alright, looking for a down-turned gaze, a subdued uncertain response, and knows they never quite believe his calm smile and standard answer.

"I couldn't be happier."

That is usually when it happens.

"But they're such grumps! They never smile."

Bilbo does understand, he really does. Thorin and Dwalin are not the most... approachable of people. It is true, that it is rare to see any expression other than 'glare of fury' or 'sternly unimpressed' at any point when interacting with the King and his azaghâl yâsithûn, his warrior consort. Even satisfaction is expressed with solemnity and dignity.

And he knows his friends, these people that are his closest family now, simply worry for him, want more for him, and what they see he is. "You deserve more," Bofur had told him, deep in his cups one night. "You're too joyful for them, too bright for their darkness."

He'd had no response to that.

"It is not usually done," Balin told him carefully, after the battle, after the hard slog towards washing the stain of blood away.

After the madness.

"One does not normally consent to a courtship with those that have done great dishonour to them." Really, dwarves were so dramatic.

"Forgiveness is in a Hobbit's nature," he'd told Balin calmly.

"Not to Dwarrows," Balin had said grimly. He'd worried, for a while, whether Balin had meant Dwalin, and Thorin, and their forgiveness for Bilbo.

Apparently, he had meant the Company, and their feelings towards his intended.

"They hurt you, Bilbo," Ori said with a frown one night. "They turned on the one they claimed as sannâb to their sankhadar, the one that completes their ufkham âzyungaz. I don't know how you can move past that."

"We were all mad, Ori," Bilbo tells his friend flatly, helpless to anything but to walk away after that. They'd all been mad, slavering slaves to cursed dragon gold.

They had come back from that.

His heart wants to rage at the injustice of blaming his lovers, but his mind understands. It is far easier, for a person of any race, to find peace by ignoring the faults of their own soul by pointing out the faults in others. It is far easier to glare at those that seemed the least contrite, far easier to examine how they do not seem to feel guilt for what was done, than to torture themselves with an examination of their own moral choices.

That doesn't make it right, or fair.

As time wears on, and hurts heal, the days of mistrust in his lovers dim, the visitors to his garden, his kitchen and his beloved study stop their unsubtle glances for bruises on his 'frail' Hobbit form, they stop peering around corners for signs of chains and shackles. That doesn't mean they aren't still puzzled.

"I couldn't be happier," he always says, and he can see their perplexity.

He doesn't quite know how to explain. He doesn't understand how others can interpret their lack of smiles as proof of his happiness. How do they not see?

He walks in a room and their eyes fix on him, a bright burn of interest, a quirk of an eyebrow, a tense anticipation to posture, an ever so slight softening of a glower into something else, something equally fierce, but in completely different ways.

In the evenings, they gather for a meal, and he hums as he cooks, and they sit at first, smoking pipes and humming with him, but sometimes they don't, sometimes, he is handing them vegetables to chop, spoons to stir pots, and there is still humming, a gentle harmony of sound and moving about each other, and they are at peace.

Thorin sings for them sometimes, expression calm and far away, by the fire, sings melodies of his childhood and lullabies of his past, and when memories overwhelm him, or Dwalin, or Bilbo, they crowd close and ground each other with touch, and there are no words needed to express to how much they love each other just as they are, regardless of the scars of fire on their souls. Most nights are peaceful, though, Thorin's voice a background to whatever activity they are engaged in for the night: Bilbo sitting with his yarn, or his parchment, sorting seeds into parchment packets, or simply sitting with his pipe and letting Dwalin fiddle with his curls. Thorin will rustle with great musty scrolls and grumble, Dwalin will sigh over his latest book find: some fictional romance that Bilbo has smuggled in for him. Some nights he helps Dwalin with cleaning all his hefty assortment of weapons and armour and assorted oddities, handing things across for Thorin to oil, a little production line of calm contentment. There is joy in the little things, from spending quiet moments together in small tasks, or in idleness brought on by the lazy happiness of simply being together.

They do not smile often, most will say. And it is true; not many have ever seen them smile.

Bilbo has. They are generous with their smallest third.

That, though, is incidental, Bilbo feels. Why do others judge his happiness based on the smiles of his beloved? It makes no sense. No, they may not smile for the crowds, but the thousand little things they do to bring a smile to Bilbo's face are the things that matter.

If Bilbo is entirely honest with himself, he doesn't particularly want to share their smiles. Their smiles are for him, precious and shining with more brilliance than any gem of their great-again mountain. They are his, and the memory of every single one of those hoarded is what matters. Every day, Bilbo smiles and he smiles, and all his smiles are for them, for the joy in their bond and the smiles that he can bring them, tucked away in their haven.

"They never smile."

They do. But it is all for Bilbo. And he couldn't be happier.