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We Must Awake

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Bilbo wakes with a gasp.

The ground is cold. The air is cold. His head hurts and he can still hear the war horns and the shouts-bellows-screams of battle.

He’d been at the gate, the remaining members of the Company had been bidding him farewell, he’d turned, heavy of heart, to follow Gandalf—

He sits up with a start. He’s still on the battlefield. He’s still on the battlefield.

It was a dream. Just a dream—

Heart pounding, he’s on his feet. He sees the body of Azog the Defiler, lying dead on the ice. He can see Thorin, exactly where he’d lain in the dream and Bilbo is running, running to his side.

Thorin’s bleeding, breath shallow, skin pallid—

It’s so like the dream that Bilbo falters for a moment.

“Bilbo…”

Thorin’s voice rallies him, because no, no, no, he can’t die, he can’t. It was only a dream. He’s still breathing, still alive.

“Shh, shh,” Bilbo says, seeking the wound. He applies pressure: must stop the bleeding. Because Thorin cannot die, not again. What was the purpose of the dream, if not a premonition, a warning, a chance to stop this—

“You aren’t going anywhere Thorin,” he bites out. “You’re going to live.” He puts Thorin’s hand, weak and bloody, on his wound, pressing down. “Hold there. The Eagles are here, Thorin, they’re here.” They are here and they can help, they must help. If he'd thought of them sooner in his dream, perhaps if they come now—

Thorin tries to speak again, but Bilbo shushes him, because if he doesn’t speak his last words, if he doesn’t give Bilbo his blessing—

“Save your strength.” He presses Thorin’s hand firmly, then leaps to his feet, scanning the sky. And then he sees one, a giant Eagle, swooping over Ravenhill and he waves madly, jumping up and down. He shouts, he screams.

The great bird swoops low and Bilbo points urgently at Thorin then drops back down to crouch over his body and to press again against the wound.

“Bilbo…My burglar...” Thorin’s eyes flutter closed. Heart in his throat, Bilbo presses his ear to his chest. Thorin’s heart beats, quick and weak, and his chest rises and falls with each breath. Bilbo hears the thunder of great wings, feels the sudden rush of air, and presses closer, shielding Thorin’s body with his own. He clutches his shoulder and clings tightly, hand on his belly, cheek on his broad chest. Then gently, so gently, the Eagle’s claws close around them both: Bilbo Baggins, curled protectively over Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain.

 


 

Thorin opens his eyes and gasps as pain, throbbing, constant pain pulses through his body. He’s on the icy ground, he’s—

He’s still on the battlefield.

He’s alone.

The feasting and merriment of Mahal’s hall linger in his thoughts, and he grasps at the memory of his nephews as their hearty embrace, their welcoming laughter, slips away to be replaced by a sudden, sharp loss.

“Thorin!”

Bilbo. Hands, grabbing him, searching him for injuries. Finds his wound. Pain flares hot and bright. Thorin groans, grabbing at his sleeve – but Bilbo’s already been here, Thorin has already said his farewell, made his peace—

No. A dream. A dream then. Had he lost consciousness? He struggles to think. He’d said goodbye. Did that not happen? He must — the words he’d said in his dream— He’d spoken words of friendship to Bilbo, they were good, he must speak them again. He cannot die without making amends, he cannot die without taking back the words he’d spoken in anger. He cannot forget Bilbo’s shocked expression, the dismay and fear, as Thorin thrust him over the rampart. Shame sweeps over him, mind painfully clear now of the red, covetous mist that had cloaked his thoughts. That cannot be the way his burglar remembers him.

But Bilbo shushes him. “You aren’t going anywhere, Thorin, you’re going to live.” Thorin could weep at the certainty and determination in Bilbo’s voice as he takes Thorin’s hand and presses it onto his wound. Pain shoots through Thorin but he obeys, holds himself in, tries to stop the blood, and Bilbo is talking. “Hold that there. The Eagles are here, Thorin, they’re here.”

Thorin wishes it were true, but he feels weaker by the moment. The pain is dulling but so too are his senses, and everything is fuzzy and his heart beats too swiftly. The Halls of Mahal, Fili, Kili, await him.

“Bilbo,” he tries again, but Bilbo does not listen and jumps to his feet, waving and shouting, and maybe the hobbit is right, maybe the Eagles will come. Hope flares even as the warmth and peace of the Halls of Waiting slip further away. He thinks of his nephews’ welcoming grins, his father, his father was there, at peace, at last, his grandfather waiting to greet him, and sorrow sweeps over him at the loss.

Then Bilbo ducks down, falling upon him, the weight of his small frame covering his body, his soft, square hand a firm dull ache against his wound. His head is tucked under Thorin’s chin and pressed to his heart, his other hand clutches Thorin’s shoulder. Thorin rests his cheek to Bilbo’s hair. He closes one hand, fisting it weakly in Bilbo’s coat, but his other fingers, wet and slick and weak, slip from under Bilbo’s and fail to hold. Eagle claws close about him, but he’s safe in the arms of his burglar, his Bilbo Baggins, small, brave and unswervingly loyal. Bilbo who’d come to warn him. After everything, still his true friend. One loss he does not yet have to bear—

Soft, warm words find his ears, steady and true. “You’re all right now, Thorin, you’ll be all right. Hold on, Thorin. Hold on.”

 


 

Thorin lives.

 

Biblo is left standing breathless and dizzy, bumped this way and that as Thorin is whisked to a healing tent. Healers, able-bodied soldiers and Lake-town people hurry past to bring in the wounded. The Eagles have turned the tide and there is now a rush to aid the injured. Bilbo discovers where Thorin has been taken, but cannot go inside without hindering the elven healers at work. He finds a water pump and washes and washes Thorin’s blood from his hands, his coat.

The next few hours are a whirl. Bilbo would like to simply sit and wait for news of Thorin, but he is helping no one by doing so. The parade of dying and injured coming into the healers’ tents seems to never end and Bilbo puts himself to use, fetching and carrying for the elven and dwarven healers who had followed their armies, as well as the few wise-women and barbers from Lake-town who’d survived both fire and the army of orcs. The air is full of the screams and groans of the injured. There’s a sick, coppery smell that Bilbo doesn’t think he’ll ever get out of his nose.

He returns to Thorin’s tent whenever he has a spare moment but the flap is still closed. One of Ironfoot’s dwarves is guarding the door and all Bilbo can learn from him is that Thorin still lives.

He keeps looking for familiar faces, be it elf, dwarf, man or a certain wizard. He catches himself searching for Fili along with the others before it hits him that the dwarf prince is dead and he has to stop where he’s standing for a moment to catch his breath.

He’s running to fetch some clean water when he spies a familiar hat among the sea of strangers. He jumps over a barrel and nearly runs into a hand-cart in his haste to catch up to Bofur.

Bofur’s smile nearly splits his face in two. “Bilbo!” he cries, and Bilbo is engulfed in a generous embrace. He indulges in it for a moment, the warmth and friendship so good after everything that’s happened, after thinking his actions had cast him from his dwarven friends forever.

“Bofur,” he says, grinning, when he’s finally set back down on the ground. “I am so, so glad to see you. Have you any news? How did the Company fare?”

“I was about to ask you the same,” says Bofur with a grin. “Bombur and Bifur have a few dents but they’re well. I left them at the Lonely Mountain with Balin and Dain Ironfoot. I saw Gloin with some of the Iron Hills dwarves after the orcs were routed, but I’ve not seen any of the others. What news do you have?”

Bilbo’s joy at the safety of Bofur, Bifur, Bombur, Balin and Gloin is instantly dampened. Bofur must see his expression change because his face falls before Bilbo even begins speaking.

“Thorin is alive,” he says, starting with the good news. “He’s with the healers but he took a sword thrust from Azog. I was just at the tent and there’s still no news.” He takes a deep breath, unwilling to tell Bofur the rest. It doesn’t even seem real, he’s half expecting it to have just been part of his dream even as he says it: “I saw Fili die, slain by Azog.”

Bofur says something low in the language of the dwarves and looks away, wiping his eyes. “Ah no, not Fili,” he says and Bilbo hates to see the look of grief on his sunny friend’s face. “And Kili, did he survive?”

Bilbo realises he hasn’t seen Kili either, or Dwalin. He remembers his dream. “I don’t know, I was knocked out not long after Fili was killed, I woke up in time to wave down an Eagle to bring Thorin here. I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Bofur nods. “I’ll see what I can find out.” He claps Bilbo on the arm with a squeeze and they part company with Bofur extracting a promise from Bilbo to come to their camp in the mountain as soon as he is able.

 It is not very much later that he sees Oin.

“Oin!” he yells, running to catch the dwarf ahead of him. Oin, of course, doesn’t hear him and startles when Bilbo touches him on the shoulder.

“Mr Baggins!” Oin exclaims, lifting his ear trumpet. “You’re not dead! I thought you’d been lost, a wee lad like you!”

“Nope, can’t get rid of me that easily.” He attempts a smile, still uncertain how his friends will react after the scene on the gate.

Oin lifts his chin and glares down at Bilbo for a moment. “I won’t say I approve of the way you went about matters with the Arkenstone, lad, but dragon sickness is a terrible thing.” Then with a huff he folds Bilbo into another bone-crunching embrace.

Bilbo smiles in relief. “It is good to see you,” he murmurs as Oin releases him.

“And you, lad,” Oin tells him. “I heard our King is among the wounded. I’m on my way to tend to him.”

“Yes, of course, I’ll take you to him,” Bilbo says, leading the way. “I saw Bofur. He says Bifur, Bombur and Balin are unhurt save for a few dents, and that he saw your brother with some of Ironfoot’s dwarves.” He stops, and grips Oin’s arm, facing him so his words are clear. Oin draws back waiting for him to speak. “Fili was killed,” Bilbo tells him. “I don’t, I don’t know about Kili, or Dwalin.”

The dwarf sighs and shakes his head sadly, silent for a long moment before he exhales and wipes at his eyes. “Let us hope Thorin recovers.”

Bilbo nods and starts leading him to the tents again. “Have you seen any of the others?” he asks over his shoulder.

Oin nods. “Gandalf’s still bothering the Elvenking and Bard. Dain Ironfoot has retreated to Erebor to have some peace.”

Bilbo manages a grin at that.

“And Gloin saw Ori, Nori and Dori. Dori had a sword wound to attend to, but he’ll live.”

This is good news too. They have reached the mass of tents set up to treat the wounded and Bilbo leads him to the one where Thorin is lying.

Bilbo’s heart leaps to see Dwalin standing by the tent talking to the Iron Hills dwarf. Dwalin and Oin embrace fiercely and then the warrior turns his stern gaze towards Bilbo.

Bilbo lifts his chin, ready to face any recriminations Dwalin has to offer.

“Burglar,” he begins, then he grips Bilbo’s shoulders tightly. “You brought Thorin to safety,” he declares in a voice throbbing with emotion. “You have my gratitude.” Bilbo stares at him, at a loss for words, until Dwalin pulls Bilbo to him in another fierce embrace.

When he releases Bilbo, he turns to Oin, drawing himself up with a deep, heavy breath. “The princes, Kili and Fili, are both dead. Their bodies have been taken to Erebor for burial when the King has recovered.”

Oin shakes his head again in sorrow, but Bilbo sways, the news that Kili has died is so much like his dream that it leaves him even more shaken.

Before he can ask after Thorin, Oin is being ushered into the tent and Dwalin strides away with a final clap on Bilbo’s shoulder. The guard returns to his position in front of the door, and Bilbo hesitates for a moment, before returning to his duties around the camp.

 

The day becomes night, and the business of existing takes hold of the survivors of the battle. There are still many wounded to tend to, and now hungry mouths to feed as well. A mess has been set up and Bilbo helps cook the food that’s been recovered from the elven supplies. He hears that more wagons are due to arrive the next day but for tonight this is all there is. The wounded, the ill, children, and elderly are fed first.

“There’ll be more tomorrow,” Bilbo tells each person he serves or turns away with his best reassuring smile. After so many months on the quest, he’s long since learned to ignore the complaints of his own hungry belly.

He waits anxiously for news that Thorin is past the worst. When he can, he slips away to the healers’ tents. The Iron Hills dwarf guarding Thorin’s tent is familiar with Bilbo by now, and tells him without any prompting that Thorin has not yet woken, that the healers have been coming and going every quarter hour and Oin is still with him. Bilbo hovers, twisting the edge of his coat in his fingers, it has been so long since he saw Thorin--

The guard takes pity on him.

“Poke your head in then, if you must, hobbit.”

Bilbo doesn’t need to be told twice, and he ducks inside the tent flap. The room is a haze of medicinal smoke, and the shimmer of the charms and healing spells cloaking the bed. Oin dozes on a chair, and on the bed, Thorin lies, pale and still, his dark hair fanned out around him on the pillow. A sheet covers him to his bare shoulders, his chest rising and falling lightly.

Bilbo watches him for a long moment. He can still feel Thorin’s body under his, life clinging by a fragile thread, his breath laboured, his heartbeat weak and rapid under his ear, blood soaking his hand and Thorin’s clothes, soaking him. He exhales, ducking out of the tent again.

The guard gives him a nod and Bilbo nods back, not quite trusting himself to speak.

 

Bilbo is very, very weary. He spies some familiar faces by a fire not far from the healers’ tents; people from Lake-town who’d been helping feed and care for the wounded. They nod to him in greeting as he approaches and he finds a place for the night, tucked beside a small family group, huddled in his coat. He hears the people speaking of lost loved ones and sharing news they’ve heard. He overhears that the Iron Hills dwarves have taken charge of the Lonely Mountain and the elven-host has set up camp behind Dale, which in turn, has been left to the survivors of Lake-town. Beorn and the Eagles had departed and Bilbo was saddened to not have had a chance to speak to his friends and thank them. It seems that Bard has been elected the unofficial new leader of the refugees from Lake-town. Bilbo lies still, ears pricked as talk turns to the gold under the mountain, and there are grumblings about the greed of dwarves, no matter how bravely they fought the orcs, but word has also spread that Bard has met with Ironfoot after the battle and the dwarf has promised that gold will be given to rebuild Dale.

The thought that Bilbo’s nursing but does not wish to consider is voiced by one of the men. “Thorin Oakenshield may yet live, I wonder what he’ll think of that.”

Bilbo realises that it is not orcs that the dwarf in front of Thorin’s tent is guarding against.

Eventually Bilbo falls into a fitful sleep. Relief washes over him when he wakes, that he’s here, now, and things are still as they were when he lay down to sleep.

He makes his way quickly to Thorin’s tent. A different dwarf is on duty and he glares at Bilbo suspiciously, but he tells him that Thorin still hasn’t woken.

The day passes, and Bilbo keeps himself busy. Supplies arrive from the Woodland elves and from nearby towns of men and Bilbo helps the healers who work tirelessly to heal the stream of wounded. The stench in the air has grown worse, the scent of smoke and burning flesh permeates the air as the dead of the enemy are disposed of. A convoy of wagons bearing the elven dead rolls out of the encampment. Everywhere Bilbo goes he hears the sounds of mourning and loss.

 

Gandalf finds him, rather than the other way around.

Bilbo had finally procured a cup of tea and he’s just sat down when a shadow is cast over him.

Well I never!” Gandalf says, looming over Bilbo, eyes twinkling. “Alive after all. I am glad! I began to wonder if even your luck would see you through!”

“Gandalf!" cries Bilbo, seizing the wizard about the middle in an embrace, glad of heart and far more pleased to see the wizard than he cares to admit. “You are a sight for sore eyes,” he says smiling as he steps back, but then sobers immediately. “I suppose you’ve heard about Kili and Fili?”

“Yes, a terrible business, and it was nearly disastrous." Gandalf is momentarily lost in thought. "But other news can wait. Come! You are called for!”

“Called for?” Bilbo asks, thinking Gandalf has an errand for him.

“Yes. The King under the Mountain is awake.”

Relief and joy surges through Bilbo. He abandons his tea, scrambling to obey the summons.

 

As they approach the tent however, trepidation wars with hope.

The dream of Thorin’s death has faded, until a dream is all it ever was, not a foretelling or a glimpse of an unhappy future. All the same, the memory of aching grief, the empty hollowness of loss still clings to him like a shroud, but Bilbo also wraps himself in the warmer cloak of Thorin’s words of reconciliation and friendship. No such words have actually passed between them, however, Bilbo shushed Thorin’s attempts to speak on the ice, and he wonders now what he was actually intending to say.

It’s therefore with hesitation that he steps into the tent, uncertain of his welcome, now that the King no longer has one foot in the Halls of Waiting.

Thorin’s eyes are open and Bilbo’s heart clenches in a rush of relief.

“Bilbo…” Thorin says, voice low. He shifts slightly, clearing his throat. “Mr Baggins,” he says more firmly.

Bilbo steps closer. “How are you feeling?” He would like more than anything to give into the unruly urge to pull Thorin into an embrace, clasp him tightly to his chest and hear his heart beat one more time, but his uncertainty about his welcome, as much as concern for Thorin’s injury, holds him back.

Thorin grunts in discomfort. “I have been better.” He looks up, serious blue gaze resting on Bilbo’s face. “I believe I owe you my life again, Mr Baggins.”

Bilbo shakes his head. He cannot take his eyes from the blue of Thorin’s, unquenched, undimmed. “No, no, I did nothing. The wound was not as bad as it appeared.” As he’d dreamt.

“You do yourself a disservice, Mr Baggins.” Thorin’s gaze softens. “I would take back my words and my deeds at the Gate. You did what only a true friend would do. Forgive me. I was too blind to see.”

Bilbo crosses to the bed in an instant, the words echoing from his dream. His heart pounds, and this time he can answer. “Of course, of course I do—”

Thorin reaches for him and clasps his hand tightly. “I hope that we may once more call each other friend.” He sighs. “I am sorry that I made you a part of my perils.”

“No!” Bilbo says fiercely, squeezing Thorin’s hand in return. “I am glad to have shared in your perils. That is more than any Baggins deserves.” The words ring in his memory as well as his ears, and terror seizes him at the irrational thought that perhaps this has only been a stay of sentence and once the words have been spoken— But, no, Thorin’s grip is strong, his eyes bright, his wound is healing, it is not fatal.

Thorin smiles and gives a fond chuckle, albeit still weak and only a shadow of his usual laugh. “Master Burglar.”

Bilbo sits down heavily on the stool by his bed, throat tight. How is it possible that they have been given this reprieve? He thinks of those who haven’t been so fortunate.

“Your nephews— I am sorry, so sorry, Thorin.”

Thorin looks away, a shadow crossing his features. “Would that I could have taken their place.”

Bilbo looks at their joined hands and rubs his thumb against Thorin’s. He can wish no such thing. His own meagre life on the other hand—

Perhaps his dream was nothing but fevered imaginings from the blow to his head, making sense of the words his ears heard whilst he lay unconscious, but, well, here they are and Thorin is healing and there will be one of Durin’s line under the Mountain. He cannot be sorry for that.

Thorin remains silent.

Bilbo finding remembers himself, sitting here, holding the King’s hand no less. “I should leave you to your rest,” he says self-consciously.

Thorin turns back to him, hand tightening over Bilbo’s. “Stay. Talk to me. Tell me news of Dale and Erebor.”

Bilbo squeezes Thorin’s hand once more and then releases it. “Very well,” he says, and he cannot help the smile that tugs at his lips nor the skip of his heart as an answering smile dawns in return on Thorin’s sombre features.

Chapter Text

Bilbo realises Thorin has fallen asleep. He watches him for a little while, safe from the scrutiny of his piercing blue gaze. He looks younger like this, relieved of his troubles, relaxed and at peace for once, but suddenly his stillness chills Bilbo and he focuses on the steady rise and fall of Thorin’s chest and gently slips his fingers to his wrist to feel the steady beat of his pulse. Finally he draws himself together and leaves him to his rest. A second dwarven guard has joined the first and Bilbo cannot help but notice the elven guards ringed around the healers’ encampment.

Now that Thorin is past the worst, there’s room in Bilbo’s mind for other worries to crowd. He spends the evening troubled by Thorin’s plea for forgiveness, once again mulling over his decision to give the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil. He wonders if things would have turned out for the better if he had not tried to force Thorin’s hand, if he’d given Thorin the stone instead. The thought that arrives unbidden, just after he’s curled up in his cloak for the night, that perhaps Fili and Kili would not have died after all, keeps him awake for a long time.

For the first time in days his fingers slip to the pocket of his waistcoat and touch the cold metal of the ring and he’s suddenly tempted to slip it on. He could go to Thorin’s tent unseen, just to check one more time that he is actually alive, to watch him sleep, or even better, curl up at his feet, and fall asleep to the comforting sound of his breathing. He’s dismayed and tempted in equal measure but he resists; it seems dishonest to visit Thorin without his say-so, and Bilbo is finished lying to Thorin.

 


 

 

Thorin falls asleep listening to Bilbo’s voice, the meaning of his words slipping from his grasp almost immediately, but his presence is a comfort to Thorin’s tired mind, the peace of Bilbo’s forgiveness settling over him. When he awakes Bilbo is gone and Thorin drifts back to sleep, in and out of a haze of the medicine and magic used to heal him. Oin is often there when he drifts into consciousness, once Dwalin. He dreams vivid dreams of the halls of Mahal, of his departed kin, the mighty line of Durin, and wakes feeling aching and lost. He relives again the terrible moment when Fili dies, and then when Kili is slain. He fights Azog in an endless circle until he is knee-deep in gore. He dreams of Erebor and searching, endlessly searching, scrabbling through mountains of gold, or running through a maze of once familiar tunnels and corridors. Other times he’s standing on the ramparts, burning with white hot anger and raging in frustration as everything he’s striven for, fought for, nearly died for, is held in the palm of a human hand, and, laid over it all, is bitter hurt, betrayal and loss—

Bilbo…

He dreams of the clink of gold coins, tumbling against each other. A sharp, possessive urgency fills his heart and his innards, and Bilbo’s there, with him, in the gold. He’s close, warm and real, his small, sturdy hobbit frame flush against him, underneath him, between his legs, under his hands. He takes Bilbo’s mouth, the want overwhelming, and pushes him into the gold, tugging at his shirt, tearing the fastenings on this trousers. Too many clothes. Soft brown curls seem gold in the reflected light, pink flushed skin, golden coins. Bilbo, is saying his name, over and over. Thorin’s knees slide in the gold as he shoves himself between Bilbo’s thighs, catches his mouth, seeking, needing. Bilbo kisses him hard and clutches at him in return. For a moment Thorin sinks into the kiss, into his willing mouth, his soft, pliant body moulded to his—

Lies. A lie. Bitter desperation seizes his heart. Thorin knows it’s a lie because Bilbo has the Arkenstone and Thorin will have it, have him, have both of them, here, now. They both belong to him. He’s— He needs. Bilbo struggles to move from under him, argues with accusing words, strikes at Thorin with the truth, and he shuts Bilbo’s mouth with his own and Thorin can’t let him go, won’t, he is his. All of this is his. The doors of the treasury are locked tight, he needs every coin, every trinket, there won’t be enough, there isn’t enough, this is his — theirs, doesn’t Bilbo understand? He is to be his fine consort, his to keep under the mountain, to stand at his side, can’t he see? Thorin’s doing this for them. Thorin won’t let him go, not to the Men and Elves and wizard. He belongs to Thorin. He crushes Bilbo beneath him, sliding in the gold—

He wakes with a jerk, bile rising in his throat and disgust roiling in his guts. He’s repelled by himself. He lies still, breathing heavily. Morning light filters through the canvas of the tent. Oin is snoring on the chair in the corner.

He clenches and unclenches his hand, and can still feel Bilbo beneath his fingers, against his body. The lingering tang of disconcerting arousal still quickens his pulse. The worst of it is, this wanting is not a dream. He remembers all too clearly the fleeting thoughts, secret and wretched, along with a growing, possessive yearning. There in the mountain, with his triumph in sight, his unspoken plan: that when he had found the stone and reclaimed Erebor, Bilbo might be, would be his.

With awful shame he knows that if he’d not been shaken from the dragon sickness, he might have treated Bilbo as no better than a trinket to be coveted, another conquered spoil. Bilbo, good, loyal, brave Bilbo, his friend, his companion, is worthy of so much more.

Thorin squeezes his eyes shut. His wound has started to ache again and he focuses on the pain, his just punishment. If only he had listened to Bilbo, to Balin, to Dwalin, sooner, earlier… What should he have done, if he hadn’t been so consumed with fear and the red-tinged jealousy? What could he have done, if he’d had time to prepare, to work with Dain, the Men and the Elves. Anything… something… His head aches and he goes around in circles. He doesn’t know.

If only he had not sent Kili and Fili to scout on Ravenhill. If only they had retreated sooner.

Ah, he should have joined them in the Halls of Waiting, both of them. What is he now but a wounded old ruin of a dwarf, a parody of a king? He feels…empty. He has reclaimed Erebor but ahead lies not the glorious restoration of his kingdom, working hand in hand with Fili, his golden haired heir, and his bright eyed younger brother, but years ahead of thankless, endless work. Instead of sending to their mother, Dis, with triumphant news, he must needs give her grief and sorrow.

Thorin has to return to Erebor. To sit on the throne with the crown heavy on his brow. He fears it, the weight of his ancestry, the madness in his heritage. He has shaken off the dragon sickness once. He fears he will not be able to do so again.

He suddenly longs for Bilbo’s presence, his cheerful practicality, to ground his swirling thoughts. The warmth of his very best smile. He remembers Bilbo’s acorn; how for a single moment, seeing the small seed in Bilbo’s hand, the red mist had receded and it was just the two of them, he and Bilbo again. The Arkenstone hadn’t seemed so very important after all, and the dark thoughts nothing but fancies, because all Bilbo had wanted was to go home and plant his tree and Thorin would do all in his power to give him that.

He thinks of Bilbo on Ravenhill, come to warn him, and then - when all was mist and shadow, when the Halls of Waiting and his dead kin beckoned - urging him to live. He thinks of Bilbo sitting by his bedside, small, capable hand clasped in his own. A wearier Hobbit, harder, stronger than the one who left Bag End, tested and never found wanting, tempered and polished by the trials they had weathered, his true value and worth revealed for all to see. As brave and loyal a companion as ever stood at Thorin’s side, and few cleverer. Bilbo’s given Thorin his forgiveness, gladly given it. Thorin feels humbled. By Mahal, he hopes he can be worthy of it.

It’s almost a reprieve from his thoughts when Dwalin pokes his head into the tent. Thorin had only just awoken from his charm-induced sleep when he’d seen Dwalin the previous day and the moment had been full of emotion as they’d grasped each other’s forearms and Dwalin had touched his brow to Thorin’s, words of relief and sorrow on his lips. Thorin been far too groggy, too overcome with emotion himself, to discuss anything of import with his friend.

“Ah you’re awake,” Dwalin says, much more chipper this morning, and not bothering to keep his voice low as he comes into the tent. Oin sleeps on regardless.

“I am.”

“How’re you feeling?” Dwalin asks as he takes a seat by the bed.

“As if I’ve been impaled on an Orc’s pig sticker.”

Dwalin chuckles. “At least you gave that bastard better than you got.” He watches him for a long moment. “I’m proud to call you king, Thorin.”

Something of Thorin’s guilt and hurt eases and he shudders out a breath. “I... was wrong, and I should have listened to you, to Bilbo, and Balin sooner. You were right to speak your mind and you were right to worry. I— You’ll not repeat this, you hear me?” Dwalin snorts at the very suggestion that he’d betray a confidence and Thorin continues. “It frightens me, that I could become so unseeing, so overcome by my fears and lusts.”

Dwalin carefully puts his hand on Thorin’s shoulder, capable at times of surprising gentleness. “You are stronger than the sickness, you overcame it, there’s no shame in that. You’ll know it now when you meet it again. And I’ll be by your side as will the rest of the Company, and the Hobbit too, if you’ll have him back. You saw him yesterday?”

“Aye. And I begged his forgiveness and had it granted.”

Dwalin huffs at that and he gives Thorin’s shoulder a final pat. “He can be too clever by half that one, but his heart is in the right place. He brought you to the healers in time and that’s set matters right in my book.”

Thorin is relieved at that, glad that his actions on the ramparts had not caused Bilbo to be ostracised by the Company and that he will not need to argue to repair Bilbo’s reputation.

Dwalin looks around the tent with distaste. “You should be safe in here. I’ve had more of Ironfoot’s dwarves put on guard around the encampment and I’ll have another posted out the front here. The elves are looking after you well enough but we’ll have you back in Erebor as soon as we can.”

“The sooner the better. I dislike being beholden to Thranduil.” He shuts his eyes, tiring again. “Tell me what’s been happening.”

“Mostly cleaning up after the battle. You’ve never smelt a stench ‘til you’ve been near a rotting troll. They’re burning the enemy dead. Thranduil and Dain have sent their dead back to their own kingdoms for burial. The Men are being cremated in funeral pyres by the lake.” Dwalin pauses. “We’ve laid out Fili and Kili. We’ll bury them under the Mountain when you are well.”

“I have to tell Dis,” Thorin says quietly.

Dwalin sighs. “Aye.”

“How can I tell her that both her sons are dead?” Thorin asks. Dwalin meets his gaze but shakes his head, he has no answer. “I need to send word, before the passes close in the winter. It cannot wait until spring.”

“I’ll talk to the lads, one of us should take her the news.”

Thorin nods and sucks in a breath then winces as the movement sends a sharp throb through his belly.

Dwalin glowers. “You’re hurting.”

Thorin glares at him. “Leave it.” He has things he needs to ask Dwalin and he’s spent long enough with his mind in a fog of charms and medicines. “Has Dain secured Erebor or is my treasury being ransacked by Men and Elves as we speak.”

“Aye, Dain locked it up nice and tight. None’s going in there save Gloin to fetch enough to pay wages and buy food.”

“Good. And the Bargeman and the Elvenking, what of them? Have they agreed to recognise my claim to Erebor?”

“Pay them no mind,” Dwalin growls. “They’ll keep until you’re hale again.”

Thorin grunts, dissatisfied. “Have there been talks between them with Dain, or Gandalf?”

“If there have been I’ve not been told. Balin is up in Erebor with Dain keeping an eye on things. Let the akhrûbabâl zurm and the bargeman cool their heels and wait upon your leisure.”

Thorin glares at him. “I must attend to my duties.”

“No,” says Dwalin. “You don’t.” He glares back at Thorin. “Not ‘til you can do more than lie abed and have an elf hold your prick while you piss.”

Dwalin holds his gaze and finally Thorin deflates. “Send a message to Balin and Dain, tell them I would speak with them.”

“Aye,” says Dwalin agreeably. “The others would like to see you too.”

Thorin nods. “And I them. If you see the wizard, send his sorry arse in here as well.” He gives Dwalin a sidelong glance. “He’s been as forthcoming as you.”

Dwalin smirks. “I’ll pass that message on.”

Thorin tries to grin but it turns into a grimace of pain as his wound throbs. Dwalin notices and before Thorin can stop him, strides over to Oin and wakes him.

“I’ll be back later,” he says leaving Thorin to Oin’s fussing.

 


 

 

Bilbo does not wait for a summons to visit Thorin the next morning. He knows it’s foolish, but he needs to reassure himself that Thorin is well, and after last night’s ruminations, there is also something he is determined to say. As soon as he has a spare moment he slips off to Thorin’s tent. One of the dwarves on guard duty sticks his head inside the tent flap for a moment before granting him entrance with no more than a nod.

Thorin is awake, and alive, and Bilbo can’t help the tingle of happiness that runs from his toes to the tips of his ears. He is still lying supine on the bed but he gives Bilbo a smile that reaches his eyes. Bilbo’s heart warms and for a silly moment he can do nothing but gaze at Thorin before he remembers himself. Flustered, he makes his way over the bed and pulls up a chair to sit beside him. He must take better command of himself or Thorin will wonder whatever is the matter with him.

“I had the foolish thought I may have dreamt my visit yesterday. I had to come back to make sure you really are awake,” he explains and then looks away in chagrin. Did he really have to confess his foolishness to Thorin?

“I am glad you are here,” Thorin says, however, deep voice muted.

Bilbo’s heart swells all over again. Oh dear, he thinks, dismayed at himself. Oh dear. He clears his throat. “How are you feeling?” Since yesterday Thorin’s been dressed in a light cotton shirt, which Bilbo takes as a good sign, but he’s still flat on his back, his breath is still shallow and there’s something strained in his expression.

Thorin exhales, his lips crease into a smile that shows more in his eyes. “I believe I am improving. Or at least that’s what my fine physicians tell me. I would feel far better if Dwalin and Gandalf would stop mollycoddling me and tell me what’s going on.”

“You only awoke yesterday. I’m sure they’re mindful to not burst your stitches with talk of Elves and Men,” Bilbo notes dryly but is pleased by the spark of Thorin’s old self.

Thorin huffs. “I am not that unreasonable,” he mutters but has the good grace to cast a rueful glance at Bilbo.

“Nope, completely reasonable,” Bilbo grins, and pats Thorin’s hand companionably.

“Well then, Mr Baggins, you must tell me the news, since no one else sees fit to.”

Bilbo remembers his earlier determination and he gathers his courage. “Thorin, I must…there’s something I should have said, yesterday, when you asked for my forgiveness.”

Thorin freezes. “What is it, Mr Baggins?”

His tone is forbidding, and Bilbo’s mouth is suddenly very dry. “I need to apologise too. I… I am sorry—“

He starts when Thorin’s hand closes over his, rubbing his thumb against Bilbo’s palm. “There is nothing to forgive.”

Bilbo stares at Thorin’s hand about his own, and hopes the heat he feels in his cheeks is not noticeable. “No, Thorin, I betrayed your trust. I thought it would help. I thought… You’ve said you understand but, in the end it didn’t help at all and…well I wish I had found a better way.”

“Bilbo,” whispers Thorin. “You made me pay attention and you gave the others courage to confront me. You…doing that… you woke me. It was what I needed to throw off the dragon sickness.”

Bilbo’s throat is thick. He meets Thorin’s eyes, unsure of what to say.

“Maybe if you hadn’t…If I hadn’t…” Bilbo begins, the lump still firmly in his throat. “Maybe if you’d all stayed safely in your mountain…Fili, Kili—”

“Don’t.” The sudden grief in Thorin’s expression is too much. Bilbo’s mouth presses into a tight line. He looks down at their joined hands again.

“They would have left me to rot there by myself in that case. My nephews were too honourable to let others die for them.” Thorin squeezes his hand again and continues more gently. “Do not blame yourself for the actions of vile orc scum – they have been vanquished and Fili and Kili may rest in peace, rightfully avenged.”

Bilbo nods but does not trust himself to speak.

“And you, I did not ask, were you hurt?”

Bilbo looks up and is trapped by the pain in Thorin’s gaze. He shakes his head quickly. “Only a bump, I am fine.”

Thorin closes his eyes. “Did I hurt you? In my anger?”

Bilbo shakes his head again. “No. No. I… a fright, that’s all. And I am sorry, again Thorin. I… I did not realise until that moment how you might see my actions. That you would feel it—.”

He looks at Bilbo again. “Hush, Master Burglar. I will hear no more of it. I beg you.”

He seems very weary and Bilbo nods and searches about for something, anything else to say. “You would like to hear more news?”

“I would.” The lines around Thorin’s blue eyes crinkles. Biblo licks his lips and smiles lightly, a lump still lodged in his throat.

“Well, let me see. A new shipment of food arrived today,” he begins. “Mainly salt pork, admittedly, but after all the greens from the Elves a bit of meat will be a nice change. Salted fish too. Some potatoes and cabbages. Not the nicest cabbages, I suspect they were enroute to feed pigs somewhere, but beggars can’t be choosers. I expect we’ll be able to pick the outer leaves off and they’ll be fine with a bit of washing. And there’s plenty you can do with potatoes. Why during the Fell Winter, that’s all a lot of us were left with by the end. You can make a rather potent liquor from them if you’ve a mind to it. Oh, and a cart load of corn. Wheat would have been nice, but apparently that’s a few days away. We’ll have to hope the flour holds out a little longer. Still you can make a nice porridge from corn so we’ll have that to serve for breakfast.” He pauses. “Did I ever tell you about the Fell Winter?”

Thorin shakes his head lightly. “You have not, Mr Baggins.”

“Well,” says Bilbo. “It’s a far more interesting story than the state of the camp’s larder.”

“I find that hard to believe,” murmurs Thorin with amusement in his tone. “But do go on.”

“No, no, I couldn’t possibly. Why, I haven’t told you about my mother’s fifteen recipes for cooking cabbage—”

“Bilbo, the Fell Winter, if you please.”

Bilbo smiles and rubs Thorin’s hand. “It was in the winter of 2911, I was very young, barely in my tweens—”

It is the arrival of Balin, Gloin, Nori, Ori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur that stops Bilbo’s rambling monologue this time, rather than Thorin falling asleep. Bilbo hears their familiar voices even before the guard sticks his head inside the door to announce their arrival.

“Send them in,” Thorin says.

The eight of them edge in with wary expressions and creep to the bed, Bofur twisting his hat in his hands.

“By Durin’s hairy beard, I’m not dead!” Thorin growls and their moods instantly lighten.

“And for that we are very glad, laddie!” Balin says beaming at him. “You are a sight for sore eyes.”

It’s at that moment that Bilbo realises he’s still holding Thorin’s hand. He goes to quietly slip it free, assuming Thorin might not want to be seen engaged in such a display of affection, but Thorin does not seem of a mind to let him go, his fingers tightening. Bilbo stares at him but Thorin is focused on his friends, returning their greetings, and does not meet his eyes.

Bilbo gives up, greeting the dwarves, pleased to see Gloin, Balin, Nori, Ori, Dori, Bifur and Bombur alive and hale for himself and Thorin squeezes his hand ever so lightly. They seem just as pleased to see him, and greet him joyfully in return. Bofur nods at him and Bilbo smiles back, relaxing.

“You gave us quite a turn,” Bombur says to Thorin once they’re crowded around the bed.

“Aye,” agrees Gloin. “We were told your condition was dire and you might not wake.”

“Ahh, we all know the truth, he’s just wanted a bit of a lie in,” jokes Nori. “There’s nothing amiss a good brisk walk across the Misty Mountains couldn’t cure.”

“No, it’s not that at all,” declares Bofur. “Have you seen all the Elves around here?” He nods slyly and gives a wink.

The dwarves all roar with laughter and Thorin chuckles lightly. “Untrue. I’ve been enjoying the way Oin braids my hair that’s all.”

There’s more laughter, especially from Gloin. “Aye, he’s handy with the hairbrush is our Oin.”

“And all of you, are you all well?” Thorin asks. “I heard Dori was also wounded.”

Dori looks proud. “A mere scratch, Thorin. I’ll wager the Orc who inflicted it did not fare so well.”

“Good, good.”

Ori whispers to Nori, who nudges Dori. He clears his throat. “Thorin,” he says. “We, all of us, are sorrowful indeed at the loss of Fili and Kili. They were brave, honourable lads. They will be sorely missed.” There is a general rumble of agreement.

Thorin inclines his head. “Yes. There were none better. They are in the Halls of Waiting and we will give them the burial they deserve in the kingdom of their ancestors.”

Balin, who is nearest on the other side of the bed, gives Thorin a pat on the shoulder. “Of course laddie, of course we will.”

The dwarves all nod solemnly and there’s a few suspiciously bright eyes and quiet sniffs. For his part Bilbo has to look away. The loss is still raw and painful.

Bifur says something and Bofur nods sadly. “Quite right, quite right.”

“Tell me then,” says Thorin, shifting slightly in bed, and Bilbo wonders if his wound is paining him. “How are you faring?”

Talk turns to what has happened since the battle, goings on in the camps and Erebor and then back to tales of the battle itself. The good-natured mockery continues but for all that, no one mentions the hand holding at all.

Thorin grows quiet after a while, simply watching his friends talk and Bilbo can see he’s growing tired.

“Do you wish to sleep?” he murmurs, but Thorin shakes his head.

“I am content listening to them, Mr Baggins. At one moment I thought I would not see any of them again.”

So Bilbo holds his peace, but after a little while Oin arrives and orders everyone out. This time Thorin does release his hand and Bilbo takes this as a sign that it is time for him to go.

“Balin, stay a moment,” Thorin says and Balin inclines his head.

“Of course, laddie.”

Bilbo leaves them to their talks.

 


 

Balin gives Thorin a brief report of how things stand in Erebor. Dain’s dwarves are guarding the mountain and essential repairs are already underway to make Erebor secure and habitable for the winter — the first and foremost consideration being, of course, the gates. Balin does hesitantly mention that there has been some talk of providing assistance to the Men of Lake-town but hurries to add that nothing will be agreed upon until Thorin is ready to attend negotiations.

“Dwalin mentioned someone will need to take word to Dis,” Balin says. “I know Gloin will be wanting to leave for home sooner rather than later, but have you thought of sending Dwalin. He and Dis are friends of old. He cares for the lass and will be kind when he tells her what’s happened.”

Thorin looks away. “I should be the one to go.”

“You can’t go, laddie, you know you can’t. You’re needed here. There’s much work to do, restoring Erebor to glory. Let Gloin and Dwalin go, and by the time your namad arrives she’ll be welcomed like a princess deserves.”

Thorin reluctantly agrees. He ought to face Dis himself, tell her that he’d lost her sons. The idea of separating the Company doesn’t sit well either. The quest is over though, they must disband and go their separate ways. “We’ll send them after the funeral. Then at least they can tell Dis we did her sons proud.”

After Balin leaves with a promise to return with Dain, Thorin allows Oin to check his wounds and give him more of the medicine that lulls him off to sleep. His dreams are once more an uncomfortable muddle of events and fears and he wakes with a start, the memory of Bilbo’s throat in his hands, terror in his expression, still painfully clear in his mind’s eye.

It’s almost evening. One of the Elves who has been tending him enters the tent without a word and Thorin looks away as she checks his wound and weaves more healing chants. He has yet to speak with the Elvenking and knows Balin was keeping back the full truth of the current political landscape. He wishes he were well enough to face Thranduil; it galls Thorin to take his charity and aid. Still, the elf, Tauriel, and Thranduil’s son had acquitted themselves nobly, had avenged Kili— Thorin respects that and owes them a debt of gratitude, even if Thranduil’s treachery still sticks in his craw.

Balin did not speak of the Arkenstone and neither has Dwalin, Gandalf nor Bilbo. He cannot bring himself to ask, for fear of being accused of relapsing into the dragon sickness, but he knows Bard and Thranduil must still hold the stone, are planning on using it in leverage for negotiations, and the others won’t tell him for fear of his health. Negotiations. He has that vexatious task ahead of him and the mere thought of scraping and bowing, paying reparations to the smug Elvenking and the sanctimonious bargeman crawls along his spine with a bilious itch, despite a flinch of shame for his own recent behaviour. All the same he finds himself reluctant to demand the stone’s return, part of him relieved that it’s held in the keep of Men, Elves and a troublesome wizard for now – he’s not afraid – of course he’s not… He’s weak though, still recovering…

He will not succumb again. He cannot.

He refuses to speak as his elven healer gives him water, feeds him broth, and slips a ceramic bed pan under the sheets so he can relieve himself. In turn, the elf does not say a word either. When she indicates the comb for his hair, Thorin shakes his head brusquely, he’ll bear a lot of indignities but now he’s awake he will not have an elf combing his hair. Oin will do it when he comes. A treacherous little thought, of Bilbo gently combing out each tangled knot and refastening his braids, dances through his thoughts.

When she is gone, Thorin is left alone with his thoughts and heartily wishes it were the morrow when Bilbo would be by his side again. If he calls the guard, he could send for him, and he knows the Halfling would come. It tempts him, but he cannot impose his will upon Bilbo, not after all that has happened. If Bilbo comes to him it must be of his own volition.

Bilbo has yet to speak of returning to the Shire, and Thorin cannot bring himself to ask. His burglar’s contract is complete, he is free to leave whenever he wishes. Perhaps he is waiting only for his share of the treasure – Thorin dismisses outright the very idea that he had really considered the Arkenstone his part – but he suspects, with a soft glow of warmth, that Bilbo is really waiting until he is well, or perhaps until he is settled back in Erebor. A small kernel of hope burns deep within, perhaps, once there, Bilbo might stay longer, perhaps he might find a reason. Then the memory of his dreams, of his dark desire to possess and keep Bilbo douses the small spark. No, if Bilbo wishes to go, then he must let him leave.

 


 

Thorin is in a dark mood when Bilbo returns to see him the next morning.

“My duties weigh heavily upon me Mr Baggins, but I am cooped up in here, when there’s work to be done.” He shuts his eyes, obviously languishing. Bilbo cannot bring himself to be sorry, because it makes his heart glad to see Thorin already well enough to be bored of his confinement.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Bilbo asks, sitting next to him.

Thorin grunts, then shifts uncomfortably where he lies, huffing in irritation. His eyes crack open and slide towards Bilbo. “Speak to me of your Shire, Mr Baggins. I… it will distract me from my thoughts.”

Bilbo resists the urge to smooth his discontented brow, or hold his hand. “Uh, all right. Yes. Well.” He ponders the question for a moment; it is surprising to realise he hasn’t thought longingly of home in some time, and he starts to muse aloud to Thorin, describing the Shire at this time of year, of what must be happening now, what might have happened in his absence (would his cousin Primula have had her baby?). He misses it, he does, but thoughts of the Shire have taken on an unreal quality - a distant place, another time - and it is surprising to realise it no longer sets his heart aching to think of home.

Thorin is quiet and listens without prompting or offering any comment aside from an occasional huff of laughter that pleases Bilbo far too much, but his blue gaze never wavers from Bilbo’s face and at some point his hand has taken Bilbo’s again. Bilbo doesn’t mind, he appreciates the warmth, the tangible evidence of Thorin’s vitality and friendship.

Finally Bilbo runs out of things to say and he shrugs ruefully. “But you, soon you will be returning to your home.”

“There is much to be done before we may call it home again, and it will be a long time before we are rid of the stink of dragon.”

Bilbo smiles and squeezes his hand reassuringly. “You will restore your kingdom to its glory. I am sure of it. I hear they’ve already started to air the place out. It will be like it was in no time.”

Thorin’s expression however dims and he looks away. “There is much I would like to show you,” he says quietly.

Bilbo’s wayward heart swells and he tries not to show how much Thorin’s solicitude affects him. “I think there is much I would like to see.” He looks down at their hands, Thorin’s larger one, calloused and strong closed over his own hand, no longer soft and unmarked either. “You’ve shown me so much already and I will always remember you for that.”

Thorin doesn’t reply and when Bilbo finally looks up he has turned his face away.

“I’ll leave you to your rest,” he says and gently unclasps their hands.

Thorin looks back towards him, and there’s something unreadable in his expression.

“Bilbo…” but then the tent flap opens and Gandalf is announced. Thorin is instantly alert.

“At last!” he declares as the wizard crouches to enter the tent, and he nods shortly to Bilbo who leaves them to their discussion.

 


 

Gandalf surveys him for a long moment, in that manner he has, that itches under Thorin’s skin, as if he’s examining Thorin’s secrets and finding them wanting. Finally he huffs and pulls up the chair next to the bed that had only recently contained one smallish, rather dear hobbit. It had a been an exercise in self-mortification to listen to Bilbo talk so fondly of his home in the Shire, and yet, when Thorin had spoken of Erebor, of sharing the secret places of his once glorious home, Bilbo had reacted favourably even as he spoke of remembering Thorin, as if he and the quest were nothing more than another interesting anecdote. For a bright and terrible moment Thorin had almost weakened and asked him if he’d stay, would he stay. Stay, he’d almost said. When he didn’t know why he was asking, if he had any right to do so, when he hadn’t even returned to Erebor and had no idea if the dragon sickness would return when he did. How can he ask Bilbo to stay when for all he knows he might have nothing to offer except recriminations and a sick, paranoid obsession?

He feels now that Gandalf knows all this and judges him for it. He bristles accordingly.

“You are healing,” Gandalf notes, peering at him. “And I see you have resolved your differences with Bilbo Baggins. Is it possible you’ve learned something from your misadventures, Thorin Oakenshield?”

Thorin clenches his teeth and turns his face away. “He has forgiven me and I know it’s more than I deserve.”

Gandalf makes a noncommittal sound. “Of course he forgives you, hobbits are good natured creatures. Bilbo is a kindly little soul and he’s grown very fond of you, you stubborn dwarf. He would grant you forgiveness a thousand times over. Take care you do not ask it once too many.”

The accusation and warning hits home, and Thorin feels the guilt rise like bile in his throat. “You do not need to tell me so.”

“Don’t I? Good. Good. Well then, I am glad you are feeling better. Your cousin is more stubborn than you are, and we need to talk. Bard and Thranduil are growing restless. For appearances, they will meet with you before they make their next move, and, obviously they have no say over whether or not you are recognised by the dwarves as King under the Mountain or even ruler of the seven armies. But it will be very hard to rebuild your kingdom if you are waging war on the the Men and Elves who border your mountain.”

“I am not unaware, but I will not bow and scrape to those—”

“No one is asking you to bow and scrape!” Gandalf snaps. “The Men need homes, the Elves need stability and a token of good faith. If you can keep your temper on a leash I believe we can reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement and no one needs to lose face. The Elves are completely under Thranduil’s command, it’s the Men you need to worry about. The people of Lake-town follow Bard by loose agreement alone, and they’ve starving babes and injured families with no roof over their heads. They’ll not take kindly to being asked to wait for upon your tender mercies. Word has spread that Dain has promised gold to rebuild Dale—” he holds his hand up as Thorin draws breath to protest. “I might add that Dain made no such promise, he guards your hoard for you like Smaug himself. I said word has spread. It has bought you time. May I remind you that you are lying here defenceless and at the mercy of the Elves? What good would your principles do if you were taken hostage by an angry mob, hm?”

Thorin is under no illusions as to who spread said ‘word.’ Still it doesn’t stop him from muttering sourly, “I will not give them an equal share.”

“No, I suppose that is too much to ask, but you have a choice; you may hand them a fixed sum of gold and they will use it as they see fit for Dale or Esgaroth, or pay to rebuild Dale yourself and watch the money bleed out of your coffers with a never ending project and a never satisfied client. It is your choice, but you will rebuild Dale, Thorin, mark my words.”

“And what am I expected to give Thranduil as a ‘token’ of my ‘good faith’?”

“Give him his white jewels and be done with it,” says Gandalf with a hard look. “You of all people should know your grandfather was not himself when he refused to return them to Thranduil.”

Thorin shuts his eyes. Shame and guilt creeping under his skin once more. “And in return? They will leave us in peace? Give us back—” he stops, he cannot bring himself to say it.

“You do not need the Arkenstone, Thorin. Not now.” Gandalf’s tone softens. “You only needed it to raise the army to drive off Smaug and yet you have accomplished that with a mere company of eight dwarves and a hobbit, with a well aimed arrow from a bowman.”

He looks sharply at Gandalf. “You expect me to let that Bowman keep it? And claim sovereignty over Erebor? Or that canting elf--”

“You are alive because of assistance from that canting elf, so mind your manners. No. I do not expect them to keep it, but you do not need it. I do not even know if you should have it. Perhaps it would be better if it were to be... lost.”

Thorin turns his face away. “Give it to Bilbo, to do with as he sees fit.”

He starts when Gandalf pats his shoulder with a deep chuckle. “No, Thorin, I think you shall keep it. It will act as a reminder of the danger of pride and the corrupting influence of power. When you look at it, you will remember how it brought you so low. I trust it will not do so again.”

 


 

 

 

Thorin mends. The elven healers have wrought their magic, or perhaps it is Oin’s poultices and creams, and his recovery, now that the worst is over, is speedy. Every morning Bilbo still wakes relieved to know that the events of the dream are no more, and eager to see Thorin again, to reassure his unreasonable mind that he is whole and hale. Now that Thorin is improving in health, Bilbo must fit in his visits around those from Dwalin, Balin, Dain and Gandalf with their important business to discuss. He calls several times only to slip away again when he finds Thorin is with someone.

By the fifth day since he awoke, Thorin is sitting up on his bed when Bilbo arrives. Once again Thorin’s welcoming smile fills Bilbo’s heart with a surge of warmth.

“Master Burglar,” Thorin greets him, and Bilbo cannot help the light flush that heats his face, or the bubble of delight in the pit of his belly, at the fond way Thorin forms the appellation, as if it’s a term of endearment.

“Yes. Well.” He drinks in the sight of Thorin well enough to finally sit in bed, the colour returned to his skin, an energy in his bearing that had not been there the day before. “Sitting up at last, I see. How are you today, King under the Mountain?”

“Tolerable, save for the itching of this wretched wound. I am glad you have come, Mr Baggins, your chatter is a much needed distraction.”

Bilbo chuckles at that. “Chatter is it? Well I have not much to tell you, except that the gates of Erebor have been finished but Dwalin probably told you that already.”

Thorin waves the news away with a grunt. “And what of you, my burglar, what has kept you from me all morning?”

Bilbo flushes, pleased. He had actually kept himself busy on purpose, not wanting to appear too eager to return to Thorin’s bedside, expecting that the dwarf’s morning would be preoccupied with visits from more illustrious personages.

“I was commandeered by one of the healers to fetch fresh linens from the washer women…” he says and embarks on a wildly exaggerated tale of a mildly amusing mishap involving a herd of goats and the refuse cart, with Bilbo’s clean linen in between. Thorin’s chuckles and smiles of amusement spur Bilbo’s story-telling onto greater heights of exaggeration.

“And so now I am here,” he finishes with a grin, and Thorin is smiling broadly in return, and for a long moment they simply smile at each other until Bilbo feels quite overcome by the warmth in his chest and he looks away, clearing his throat.

“Mr Baggins, I—“ begins Thorin, and Bilbo lifts his head at his tone, but then the tent flap opens and Dain marches in.

“That bloody wizard will be the death of me!” Ironfoot declares.

Bilbo smiles lightly at Thorin. “I will visit tomorrow,” he promises.

“Bilbo…” begins Thorin, then nods, short and sharp. “Yes. Good day, Mr Baggins.” Bilbo inclines his head in farewell but Thorin has already turned to Dain. “Tell me, cousin; what has Gandalf done now?”

 

The next day Bilbo arrives at the tent sooner rather than later, and is granted entry only to find Balin and Dwalin there as well as Oin, and the King sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in a light tunic and leggings. His long hair has been brushed to a shine and his braids have both been refastened. He beams at Bilbo, all straight white teeth and blazing blue eyes.

“Come, Mr Baggins,” he says before Bilbo can offer to come back later. “I am to be released from this captivity. I am returning to Erebor.”

“Yes, well, you’re to stay in bed once you get there,” Balin warns. “Don’t think I won’t bring you straight back here if you don’t, laddie.”

"He'll be careful if he knows what's good for him," Oin agrees as he goes outside to inspect the litter arranged to carry his patient.

Thorin takes their fussing in good stead and winks at Bilbo.

Bilbo coughs lightly to hide both his grin and flush at Thorin’s familiarity. “Well, that is good news indeed,” he says but he feels an odd sense of trepidation. He’s come to enjoy these visits with Thorin, these warm, quiet moments where Thorin is just Thorin and not King under the Mountain. Selfishly he wants to stay in this place indefinitely, to wrap up this brief period of time and keep it someplace safe to forever revisit. He hasn’t been to Erebor since… well… since he escaped with his life.

Dwalin is helping Thorin to his feet to take him to the litter waiting outside, and Bilbo’s reticence goes unnoticed.

Thorin leans heavily against Dwalin. “Well come along then, Burglar, will you not bear witness to my triumphant return?”

This is said wryly and Bilbo shakes himself and bows ironically. “Gladly, my King under the Mountain.”

Thorin’s blue eyes rests upon him, the wry gaze gone and something unreadable in its place that slides along Bilbo’s shoulders and down his spine before Thorin breaks eye contact, ordering Dwalin to stop fussing like his 'amad and hurry along.

Dwalin and Balin suddenly freeze, glancing first at Bilbo, then at each other, and then at Thorin who lifts his chin and gives them a mulish glare. Dwalin gives a put upon growl but Balin seems amused. Bilbo looks askance at all three of them, but no explanation is given and Thorin is helped to the litter waiting outside.

Bilbo follows after them, all his present possessions on his back, and his feeling of unease grows greater the closer they get to the massive gates of Erebor, newly restored and imposing in their grandness.

Balin falls back to walk beside him. He claps Bilbo on the shoulder.

“I never had a chance to tell you lad,” he says. “What you did with the Arkenstone took great courage, and I know you did it for the best. Himself knows it too and I hope he’s said as much to you directly.”

Bilbo looks down, touched by Balin’s sentiment. “He has, yes, he’s said.”

“Good. He’s better now, I think, but I’m glad you’re here too. Dragon sickness is a funny thing. I’m glad the stone is still with Gandalf for the time being.”

Bilbo nods. He’s heard talk of discussion about the return of the stone in return for a share of the gold and the rebuilding of Dale, but also that the leaders have been waiting for Thorin’s recovery. He’s wondered during disquieting moments how Thorin will react once asked again to bargain for the stone.

“I’m forever in your debt, lad,” Balin continues. “For what you did up there for him, bringing him safely home to us.”

Bilbo cannot manage a smile, he nods, and Balin claps him on the shoulder once more and trots forward to speak with Dwalin, leaving Bilbo with his thoughts.

The battlefield has been cleared of its dead: two great pyres to the north and south of the slain enemy still smoke, there’s an unpleasant scent still heavy in the air, and discarded weapons still litter the field. Their small caravan of Thorin’s litter, Balin, Dwalin, Oin and a contingent of guards draw to a halt. Bilbo walks up to the litter. Thorin is staring at the gates.

“I confess it is a bittersweet moment,” he says. “It is not the return of which I once dreamt, but perhaps it is more fitting.”

Bilbo looks up at the towering edifice. He thinks of two who are not here to see this day. He thinks of the last time he was in Erebor. He thinks of those who had perished here on the battlefield, on Ravenhill, in Dale and Lake-town. He looks at the small band of soldiers, the few members of the Company and Thorin Oakenshield, weak and wounded, not marching in a parade of triumphant return, but slipping in through the doors, more thief than conquering monarch. He thinks of that same King, of his years of wandering, years of grief and struggle, the past trials, the perils of which he gladly shared some small part. He thinks of Thorin, vibrant and mighty, leading them against Smaug, facing Azog the Defiler, flawed, yes but all the more magnificent for it. He thinks of those worrying times when he watched the dragon sickness creeping over Thorin, that terrible moment when that sickness had been turned on him, only to see Thorin, his Thorin, charge in ferocious triumph from the mountain. He cannot think of any who has better earned the crown that awaits.

“I am glad to be here for it, nonetheless,” Bilbo says, fragments of a poem he’s heard spoken by the Lake-town people rising to his lips. “To see the lord of silver fountains come into his own.”

“And I could not ask for a better companion to stand by my side,” murmurs Thorin. “I would not be here, were it not for you, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End.”

Bilbo looks up and returns Thorin’s smile. “Well, shall we then?” he asks and Thorin gives the order and they march onwards towards the gates.

 

Chapter Text

The guards on the walls of Erebor spy their approach and despite the lack of grandeur to their procession, the gates open for them.

Bilbo squares his shoulders and lifts his chin, but he does fall back to walk behind the litter bearing Thorin. A shiver runs down his spine as he looks up and up at the ramparts and sees how very far it is to the rocks below, before he passes under the towering edifice of the entrance to Erebor.

It is a very different entrance to the one he made previously, creeping into a dragon’s lair. As Bilbo walks through the gates he looks up at the vaulted halls, the chiselled walkways and pillars of the mountain kingdom. He sees a multitude of Dain’s dwarves going about their business, hears the life in the mountain, and for the first time he has an inkling of how impressive the kingdom must have been before its destruction. The entrance hall has been cleared of debris, gutted and reinforced, it looks so very different from how he last saw it, the oppressive atmosphere banished with the vibrancy of the reconstruction. He still can’t quite quell a sense of trepidation and he stares for a long moment until Balin claps him on the shoulder and he keeps moving.

Twin rows of six guards aside stand at attention and as Thorin passes between them they salute. Suddenly a horn sounds, then another, and then the dwarves – climbing scaffolding, hurrying about their work, moving heavy carts full of materials – all stop and run to line the walkways above them and the hall that leads to the throne room. A mighty cheer goes up that is carried onwards and echoed through the mountain.

Bilbo glances at Balin and sees tears glistening in the old dwarf’s eyes and his own heart swells because this is what Thorin needs and deserves, has earned. Bilbo thinks of all Thorin has overcome and he’s filled with a fierce admiration. His throat feels tight because there’s relief too, he cannot forget his glimpse of what might have been: no triumphant return, only a solemn funeral procession, grief and farewells.

He spies his friends, Bofur, Ori, Bifur, Bombur, Nori, Dori and Gloin standing among the dwarves lining the entrance hall and as Thorin beckons to them they fall in behind the litter, beaming and slapping each other on the back and greeting Bilbo, Balin, Dwalin and Oin. Without word or warning, Bilbo is swept up off his feet and hoisted up onto Dwalin’s shoulders. There’s a cheer from the Company that’s echoed by Ironfoot’s dwarves and Bilbo grabs at Dwalin’s bald head to steady himself, the dwarf’s huge hands clamped like vices on his shins to hold him in place. Bilbo laughs, heart thudding and a silly lump in his throat, because he’s not the hero here and all he did was want Thorin not to die. Thorin looks back and beams at him, with a flash of white teeth, and Bilbo thinks that of all things he’s experienced so far on this adventure, this is the most ridiculous and splendid all at once.

They enter the Gallery of the Kings, which is still coated in solid gold, the pillars splashed with gilt and Bilbo can’t suppress a shiver as he remembers that last confrontation with Smaug. Thorin had burned with an incandescent triumph – but it had only lasted a moment and Smaug had risen to wreak vengeance on Lake-town and Thorin had plummeted to the depths of paranoia.

Dain Ironfoot stands at the doors of the throne room, and when Thorin’s litter approaches, he inclines his head and steps aside, ceding the kingdom to its rightful ruler. The procession follows along the narrow causeway to the dais. The throne itself has not been repaired and Bilbo can see the crack where the Arkenstone once glowed. It seems a fitting testament to the destruction the dwarves have overcome.

The horns sound again as Thorin’s litter draws to a halt. Bilbo is lowered to the ground and Dwalin and Balin help Thorin walk the last few steps to the throne. The dwarves line the walkways and galleries around the dais, and as Thorin claims his throne, another mighty cheer goes up that echoes through the vast hall and the mountain itself. The Company cheers and claps, Bilbo no less than any other.

Thorin sits tall, stoic and proud on the seat of his grandfather, chest rising and falling with deep breathes, hands clutching the arms of the throne. There’s a look of wonder in his expression as he gazes at the assembled dwarves and for a moment he seems simply overcome before he lifts his chin and he’s as noble and proud as Bilbo’s ever seen him and all softness is gone from Thorin’s expression.

Bilbo falters, his cry catching in his throat. Around him the cheering carries on, and no one, certainly not the King under the Mountain, notices and he quickly recovers himself. It means nothing, this cold blankness he sees in Thorin’s gaze, this perfect nobility; it is not the dragon sickness, is it just Thorin taking his rightful place, King under the Mountain, the leader of a people. The King on the throne is no longer the dwarf Bilbo’s spent the last week with, relaxed and at ease. Bilbo had known at the time that it was a fleeting moment. He knows it now. It hurts all the same, to see that version of Thorin so easily put aside.

Then Dain steps onto the dais and the crowd grows quiet and, with a nod to Thorin, turns to address his people.

“Welcome Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thror, son of Thrain, King under the Mountain!”

The sound that rolls forth from the dwarves is like thunder and Bilbo can feel it vibrating through his chest. It shakes him and his throat is thick with something that should be joy but in truth might not be, and it bursts forth, weeks of pent up emotion, grief, fear, worry, and he’s shouting Thorin’s name too but he’s no longer sure why. Thorin’s expression doesn’t waver, he sits so still, so majestically, it’s as if he’s carved from marble: a statue of a mighty king.

Dain waits until the cheering lulls a few decibels and then lifts his arms up for silence. The clapping and yelling dies down a little. Bilbo is panting, his heart still racing, a hollowness left after the release of emotion.

Dain inclines his head towards Thorin, who inhales, sitting even straighter.

“I Thorin, son of Thror, son of Thrain, take my place on the throne of Erebor as the King of Durin’s folk,” he intones, voice steady and firm. He speaks nowhere near as loudly as Dain but the crowd grows quieter, and the acoustics of the vast throne room carry his voice. “But first we must see to those lost and tend to our dead. My nephews and heirs, Fili and Kili, sons of my sister, died in battle and must be honoured. The dead of Erebor, those who perished in the wicked flames of the fire-drake must also be given proper burial. Tonight we will bury them, we will drink to their honour, their courage, and mourn their loss. We will lift our tankards and know they will answer in kind from the halls of Mahal!”

The crowd roars its assent but Bilbo watches as Thorin sags, sucking in heavy breaths and suddenly the mask is cracked and all of Bilbo’s trepidation is gone in an instant, overtaken by concern as he realises that the journey and the drama of the procession have been too much for Thorin. Bilbo looks quickly at Dwalin, Balin and Oin and they too are watching Thorin closely.

Dain steps forward again.

“There you have it, tonight we honour the dead. In three days we’ll celebrate the coronation of a King!” There’s another cheer from the crowd and Dain nods and lifts his hand again for some relative quiet. “Right, now bugger off back to work, you lot! The King’s returned and he needs a bloody kingdom built.”

There’s a roar of laughter this time but the crowd does disperse, save for Thorin’s contingent of guards and the Company. Dawlin is on the dais in a moment, carefully helping Thorin to his feet and onto the waiting litter, even as Bilbo is trying to push his way forward.

“Come along laddie, let’s get you to your bed,” says Balin and Thorin groans as he lies back on the litter. Bilbo moves to his side.

“Are you all right?” He cannot keep the concern from his tone.

“I told you that you’d overdo it,” growls Dwalin.

“It needed to be done,” says Thorin, not looking at either of them.

“Aye,” agrees Dain. “But you’ll need your rest or it’ll be you we’ll be burying tonight instead.”

Bilbo knows it’s a joke but his stomach still drops like a stone.

“Don’t even jest about it,” snaps Balin and he beckons the litter bearers to follow him.

 

Bilbo sees Thorin settled in a large bedchamber, sparsely furnished but decorated with the best of what’s survived from the old royal chambers. Dori has been the one responsible for organising Thorin’s apartments and he flaps about, pointing out all the features. A fire burns in the hearth, and the large oak bed is made up with new Elven bed linen and piled high with furs. Thorin plucks at the sheets between thumb and forefinger but if he minds their provenance he doesn’t say nor does he let it show in his expression.

“It is very good,” Thorin approves once he’s sitting up against the pillows. Dori beams with pride.

And then it seems Thorin is all business, asking for reports on this and that, and confirming plans for Fili and Kili’s funeral and the coronation to follow. Balin tuts about resting, but Thorin waves him off after allowing Oin to conduct only a very cursory examination. Bilbo, feeling quite superfluous, wanders out with Bofur and Ori. Thorin had barely acknowledged him, and even though Bilbo knows things will be different from the way they were in the healers’ tent, it still stings.

“Come along Bilbo, let’s find you some sleeping quarters, yes?” says Bofur amiably, and Bilbo follows him gladly, pleased that the dwarves have accepted him so willingly back into their company.

The city under the mountain is more army camp than palace. Dain’s dwarves have been hard at work since the battle. All of them, aside for a few of the permanent guards, have a craft or trade and the engineers have been checking and securing the structural integrity of the city under the mountains. Smaug’s rage as well as over one hundred and seventy years of disuse have destroyed or ruined nearly everything that isn’t made of metal, stone or mineral, and the first step has been to gut the city, section by section, leaving only the salvageable structures behind. Any furnishings or goods that have withstood fire-drake and time have been moved to a central location for later reuse.

Bofur and Ori give Bilbo a tour on the way to his new sleeping quarters, one of the rooms repurposed and rebuilt in what is the Company’s section of the construction zone. The Company have their rooms on an upper level above the throne room, next to the royal apartments which consist of Thorin’s personal quarters, a dining hall, and a meeting room, as well as two planning offices filled with survey and city maps and plans for the reconstruction, all awaiting the King’s approval. Ori shows Bilbo where they are on a plan, and where the Company’s residences will be, once completed, in the royal quarter.

“The good part of town,” Bofur grins.

“There’ll be one for you too, if you wish to stay,” Ori says looking at Bilbo keenly. “Will you be staying? Only Gloin and Dwalin are going to Ered Luin after the funeral to give news to Lady Dis and they’ll travel by the Shire if you wished to go with them.” It’s the first time anyone has actually mentioned the possibility. Bilbo had pushed away the idea of going back home, back to the Shire, leaving his dwarven friends…leaving Thorin, and had decided to wait and see, wait and see.

“I…” he swallows. It’s sudden and he feels oddly overwhelmed by the thought, when he ought to be excited and pleased to be finally able to go home.

Bofur is watching him carefully but then plasters on a broad smile. “Plenty of time to think about it yet. No need to rush off.” He claps him on the shoulder. “Come on, I’ll show you where the kitchens are, it must be time for your fifth breakfast or something by now, isn’t it?”

Bilbo lets himself grin at the good natured teasing. “Fifth breakfast was fifteen minutes ago, thank you very much. I’ll have you know it’s time for third luncheon.”

“You’re in luck, I have it under good authority that there’s chicken stew for all seven of the luncheons.”

There is indeed chicken stew. Bilbo sits with Bofur and Ori and eats his fill. The mess is huge, and dwarves arrive in shifts for their midday meal. Bilbo feels very small and suddenly misses the intimacy of the small company. He wonders at himself that a group of thirteen dwarves could be considered intimate but he does indeed count them all as the closest of friends. Then he remembers it’s no longer thirteen at all, only eleven and he’s lucky to have even that.

Afterwards Bofur shows him to his room. Inside, there are no windows except for an ornamental aperture, with light provided by a candelabra hanging from the high ceiling. It’s furnished simply with a few items that have been salvaged from the desolation: a chair, a table, a chest of drawers and a wooden bedframe with a bedroll in the place of a mattress. There’s a small fireplace – one Bofur says is more decorative than functional, but will have to do until they get the heating working again from the huge furnaces under the city.

“It’s not much but it’s only until the rebuilding gets under way. Beats sleeping in a tent at any rate,” Bofur offers. “I thought it might suit you well enough, what with you used to living under ground and everything.”

Bilbo looks about the room. It’s not at all homely and it’s far from welcoming, and the similarities only serve to remind him of what he prefers about Bag End, but he knows he’s lucky to have a room, four walls of his own and a roof over his head. There is a fire and what with the bed and the table, it’s all that a hobbit really needs, unless he’s being too grand for his own breeches and ungrateful besides. “It will suit me splendidly. I might not be here much longer anyway.”

Bofur’s smile doesn’t slip but it does stick in place. “Well. Better have a chat with Thorin first before you go running off.”

Bilbo is taken aback. “Of course I’ll tell him before I go. Of course I’ll tell him goodbye.”

Bofur gives him an odd look but he doesn’t elaborate. “Well, if there’s anything you want from the salvage pile, help yourself. It’s all a bit moth-eaten and smoked but you’re as welcome to it as any.” He nods at Bilbo. “We’ll be down at the drafting offices, we’re planning out the new guild halls. Best to have it sorted before the folk from Ered Luin turn up. You probably won’t believe this,” Bofur says with a wink, “But dwarves tend towards the argumentative.”

“I’d never have thought it,” says Bilbo with a grin.

Bilbo is left alone. He sits on the small chair and he looks at the quiet room, feeling adrift. He has no possessions to add to the room, nothing to unpack. He inspects the fireplace, the bed, the chest of drawers. His hand falls to his waist to the pommel of Sting but he does not feel confident yet going about unarmed. He looks up at the ceiling, then dusts his hands and wanders out into the mountain.

It is not far to Thorin’s rooms from here. He can see two dwarves standing guard on the door. He hesitates for a moment but decides Thorin is in need of his rest before the burial tonight.

He wanders through the secured zone, full of scaffolding and dwarves at work, so different in the few weeks since the Company had first entered, but there still sits a chill in his spine. He can’t quite shake off the sense of claustrophobia and dread he’d felt as he’d watched the Thorin he thought he knew slip away, to be replaced by a creature of single-minded obsession.

Is it different now? He hopes it is, he wants to believe it is. But what will stop the influence of the treasure hoard, the call of the Arkenstone, dripping its venom into Thorin’s mind again?

He remembers Thorin giving him the mithril shirt, and unconsciously his fingers creep beneath the neck of his tunic and finger the fine links of the silver-steel mail collar. He still wears it, hidden under the layers of his clothes, easier to keep it safe and he’s survived enough scrapes to be grateful of its protection. Thorin’s gaze that day, as he’d graced Bilbo with the gift of mail, had pinned him with something that had heated his blood and chilled his bones in equal measure. He’d been caught, unable to look away, even as a growing dread, a sense of foreboding had solidified and he’d seen, as if spelt out on paper, that the path the dwarves had chosen could lead nowhere good.

He’d never felt so alone. Gandalf had been far away. Only Balin had seemed to understand and even then Bilbo could not confide in him, not honestly.

That sense of loneliness washes over him again and he looks up and up into the vaulted heights of the city of Erebor and feels so very small.

 


 

Thorin tries to sleep. His room is too much like his bedchamber of long ago and not close enough at all to what once was. His memories of the Erebor of old are just that, memories, and what lies before him weighs heavily indeed. He can feel the creeping lure of the gold, the oppressive weight of the crown he will wear. Somewhere underneath his skin he can still feel the memory of the dragon sickness, can still taste it. He longs for the tent again, the sunlight warming through canvas, and Bilbo’s hand, with hidden strength, closed about his own.

It is done. It is finally done. He has reclaimed Erebor. The satisfaction and jubilation is fleeting however and in its wake is an emptiness. He’s unused to this – success, triumph. His whole life seems to be a litany of defeats, and even now he numbers his failings; losing Fili and Kili, being forced to treaty with the Elves and Lake-men, his actions under the dragon sickness towards his friends, towards Bilbo. Especially Bilbo.

He is on the ramparts again, filled with rage and the bitter grief of betrayal. Bilbo is beneath his hands— Mahal... Thorin groans, burying his face in his hands. He would have thrown him from the ramparts, blinded as he was by his ambition, the weight of his quest and the gnawing desire that curled through his veins, taunting him—

No. He will not let it claim him again. He will not let it taint what he has with Bilbo, what has grown between them, both healed and anew.

Bilbo, who was at his side at the gates of Erebor and stood with him on his return.

He thinks of his Halfling, astride Dwalin’s shoulders, face alight with delight as he shared in his triumph and that thought alone is enough to distract Thorin from his worries. Just for a little while, he lets himself hope.

Bilbo had called him ‘my king.’

He has hope.

 


 

Kili and Fili are buried that evening. With Dwalin’s aid, Thorin steps up to lead the funeral procession. Along with the Company, also in attendance are Dain, the dwarves from the Iron Hills, Gandalf, Bard, Thranduil and the two elves who’d fought alongside Thorin, Tauriel and Legolas. Bilbo is surprised to hear from Bofur that Tauriel had an understanding with Kili and from the pained sorrow on her face, he thinks it must be true. It is a sad affair and Bilbo sheds many a tear himself, regret and grief mingling with a guilty sense of relief that there isn’t another tomb under the mountain.

Thorin takes the presence of the Elves and Man remarkably well, inclining his head graciously as they pay their respects, but Bilbo supposes now is not the time for petty grievances. Thorin seems very regal as he stands on the raised dais before the twin tombs, uncompromising and unyielding in his grief. Bilbo is struck forcefully by his magnificence. He is truly kingly, has always seemed so, but never before today, not even at the height of Thorin’s sickness, has Bilbo felt so far removed, has Thorin felt so very far above him. What is Bilbo but just a hobbit of the Shire? The time spent in the tent and his secret daydreams are no more than mere fancies.

The dwarves give their all in their grief as they do with any emotion. There is much weeping, and then once wept, they feast to celebrate and honour the lives of the two princes. The Elves and Bard do not stay but Gandalf does, so Bilbo thinks it must be all right for him to be here as well.

Later, once everything has shifted from sorrow to something determinedly raucous, Bilbo notices Thorin sitting silently in the middle of the royal table. He seems oddly alone, the seat to the left of him now empty, Dain on his right is in the middle of a loud conversation with the dwarf on his other side. Thorin's features are drawn and he stares soberly into the middle distance. The funeral, so close on the heels of his return to Erebor must have been taxing. And just like that he’s simply Thorin again, Bilbo’s friend, tired and grieving, in need of comfort and friendship. He must feel Bilbo’s eyes upon him for he turns and meets Bilbo's gaze with a solemnity that stabs through Bilbo's heart and he’s just decided to go to him when Dwalin appears at Thorin’s side, murmuring in his ear. Thorin nods and then with Dwalin’s help, rises to his feet and quietly leaves the banquet hall. Bilbo does not follow.

He watches the dwarves feasting and drinking, sharing in maudlin joy. Someone bumps him, then ale sloshes from a jug into his tankard. He nods his thanks and nurses his drink, remembering other feasts, and two who are not with them now.

Bofur stands and sings a sad song about a lass who went wandering and was lost to her kin. When he’s finished there’s not a dry eye at the table and the ale is quickly replenished to help drown everyone’s sorrows. Bilbo thinks of Fili and Kili and their bright smiles, their gales of laughter, and before he can think better of it, he jumps to his feet, clambering onto his chair. He raises his tankard.

“Ohh...Blunt the knives and bend the forks!” he begins, and there’s a little catch in his voice, even as he does so, because he can picture the pair of them so clearly, flinging his best plates around as they’d begun this song. The others around him stare up at him for a moment, then with a roar, burst into song with him. Bilbo sings a few more lines but then it all becomes too much. He remembers Kili and Fili singing along as they’d done in Bag End and so many times after that as well. He sits down, with a lump in his throat, wiping at his eyes, while his friends carry on the song around him.

Nori starts a song after that, and then further down the tables, another is picked up, and after a while the feast returns to the dull roar of hundreds of dwarves feasting.

Gloin, several seats down, is talking to Bofur and Dori about the trip to the Blue Mountains, to Ered Luin, and it catches Bilbo’s attention, distracting him for a moment from maudlin thoughts.

“I’ll leave after the coronation,” he declares. “I’ve not got this far only to wander off at the last moment. I’ll see Thorin crowned before I leave.”

It gives Bilbo a burst of relief, a reprieve of a few more days before he’ll have to face his decision.

As he looks around at the dwarves however, he wonders if maybe it is time for him to return home. Thorin is no longer at risk, Fili and Kili have been laid to rest. After he sees Thorin crowned, what more is there for him to do here? He has no place here in Erebor, a solitary hobbit amongst a kingdom of dwarves. He looks back at Gloin, making up his mind to speak with him, but then his throat closes up at the thought of telling Thorin goodbye.

He wishes he’d gone with Thorin now, back to his apartments, to spend a few moments by his side. Bilbo feels oddly bereft. It’s only been a day since they sat together in the tent outside of Dale but he misses him, or rather, misses spending time with him, just the two of them. He hopes Thorin is all right, he’d looked so tired and pale. His fingers slip to the ring in his waistcoat pocket. Perhaps... he could just slip into Thorin’s chambers, check that he’s well—

“Bilbo,” Gandalf says, sitting down next to him before he can turn thought into action.

Bilbo jerks his hand away from his pocket. He gives Gandalf a sad smile. “It was a good funeral, wasn’t it?”

“As noble and solemn as befits two worthy princes,” Gandalf agrees dryly with a pointed look, and Bilbo clears his throat, thinking of his impromptu chorus leading. Gandalf pulls out his pipe and fluffs around filling and lighting it. Bilbo waits, he’s long since learned there’s no point in trying to rush a wizard and besides he is in a solemn mood and not inclined towards talking.

“I hear you are thinking of accompanying Gloin and Dwalin on their trip to Ered Luin,” Gandalf says in the end after several puffs on his pipe. It has been a little while since Bilbo has had a pipe or any leaf to smoke in it, for that matter, and he looks on somewhat enviously. Gandalf notices and hands him the pipe, which Bilbo sucks on with relish as he considers his question.

“I am thinking about it,” he says in the end as he hands back the pipe.

“I would ask that you consider not going with them,” murmurs Gandalf around his pipe stem and Bilbo stares at him, wondering if he had heard aright. Gandalf regards him steadily and suddenly Bilbo is annoyed, no, enraged, at half-truths and hidden plans.

“May I ask why? If it’s not too much trouble to be given a straight answer for once.” He holds Gandalf’s gaze for a long moment then sighs and looks away. “I am tired, Gandalf. I feel – I’ve been kept in the dark about much of this entire journey, used when needed and moved about like a gaming piece. If you have need of me, then tell me why, I am in no mood for guessing games.”

Gandalf sighs and then chuckles. “My dear Bilbo.” He puffs on his pipe a moment longer. “Thorin is not yet well, he is still weak. His new role as King places many heavy burdens upon his shoulders. I fear… I fear should those burdens become too heavy—“ He looks steadily at Bilbo. “I fear, in the company of none but stubborn-headed dwarves, our Durin prince may find himself upon the wrong path yet again.”

“What can I do?” Bilbo asks. “You’re assuming I have any influence, any say—“

“Bilbo Baggins, you are his friend.” Gandalf eyes him narrowly and hands him the pipe again. “Stay. Stay until he’s strong, until we can be certain that the dragon sickness has lost its hold. Be his friend, that’s all I’m asking. I will take you back to the Shire myself, when you are ready.”

Bilbo smokes the pipe. He thinks. He exhales, a purpling plume of smoke. “Only if you get me a pipe and some of this leaf,” he says.

Gandalf chuckles. “It will be my pleasure, Bilbo, my pleasure.”

Bilbo excuses himself, pleading tiredness. He makes his way upstairs to the royal quarter and stops in the hall, his fingertips in his waistcoat pocket, resting against the familiar weight of his ring. The door to Thorin’s room is shut and the guards stand in front of it. It would seem very odd indeed if that door were to appear to open by itself. He reaches deeper into his pocket all the same and his fingertips brush against the rough cupule of the acorn, nestled next to the ring. Bilbo is suddenly ashamed of himself and his fingers slip from his pocket. He turns and goes to his own room instead.

Earlier, for want of something better to do, he had visited the salvage pile and had found a wash basin and jug, a pot for under the bed, as well as a kettle, which he’d used to warm some water to wash with before the burial. He discovers now that one of the dwarves serving in the royal quarters must have filled the jug for him. A little fire is burning in the hearth, the candelabra has been snuffed and, along with the fire, two smaller candles light the room.

“Oh, this is very nice indeed,” Bilbo murmurs and he sets the kettle over the fire to heat before stripping off his clothes, hanging the mithril mail over the end of the bed.

He has another wash and then considers his clothing. They are filthy, blood-stained, marked with dirt and soot but though Bilbo had wiped at some spots earlier there hadn’t been much he could do. He doubts there’s much hope of new garments materialising any time soon, given the state of Dale and the needs of the refugees. He rinses out his undergarments and has a better attempt at scrubbing at the more obvious stains on his trousers and tunic. He hangs his clothes over the chair in front of the fire to dry then, bare-skinned, snuffs the candles and slips between the covers of the bedroll on the high dwarven bed.

It is a bit of decadent luxury to lie naked between clean bedclothes, and the slightly coarse fabric (no Elven linen here) slides against his bare skin. He's full of good food and the ale has given him a pleasant buzz. He lets his concerns and fears ebb away and allows himself to enjoy this moment of comfort and contentment. His thoughts drift to his brief moment with Thorin before they entered Erebor, to how very fine Thorin looked as he sat upon the throne, and then to the way Thorin’s eyes had met his across the feast table this night.

Bilbo’s hand slips between the covers and he gives himself a little stroke before he can think better of it, and then laughs at his boldness: here he is, in Thorin’s very halls, buck naked, touching himself – thinking of long dark hair, a stern visage and piercing blue eyes, no less. It’s not at all proper. Bilbo shuts his eyes but doesn’t remove his hand. Ah, he should be ashamed, having such thoughts about a King, but the more he tells himself he shouldn’t, the more he decides he should. He’s had dreams sometimes, on the road, in Beorn’s stables, but never allowed himself to indulge his fancies so shamelessly. He wonders if Thorin ever succumbs to such base urges and can hardly credit it, but then he has seen Thorin in the height of passion, albeit in fury and triumph, and he wonders what it would be like to affect him so in another manner, to break through his steely, stoic resolve with gentle touches and heated words. Would he become soft and pliant, similar to those drowsy days in the healers’ tent, or would he rouse with a fierce passion? He remembers the heat of Thorin’s gaze when he’d bidden him to wear the mithril shirt. The thought of Thorin laying strong hands upon him, gripping his shoulders, lifting him up and pushing him down, in desire this time, not betrayal and rage, quickens his pulse and he thrusts wantonly into his own hand.

He spends himself into his palm, imagining deep groans by his ear, a ragged voice, and a solid body crushed against his own. He slips from the bed and washes his hands, it wouldn’t do, after all, to muss his nice clean bed.

When Bilbo wakes the next morning his first impulse is to go to Thorin before he remembers that they are in Erebor now. He would dearly love a bath, it’s been some time since he’s felt truly clean, but makes do with another scrub with the flannel, wishing for a comb for his feet and his head. His clothes are dry and smell somewhat less offensive, so he dresses and then pads down to the mess to find something for breakfast, lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Thus fortified, he returns to the halls of the royal quarters. The guards still stand at attention outside Thorin’s door.

He hesitates. It’s different now, of course it is. While before he’d been at ease poking his head inside the healers’ tent to see if Thorin were awake and wishing to have his company, now he is faced with a solid door of iron and wood. It’s all terribly formal, the guarded door, the royal apartments. Those long quiet moments in the healers’ tent hadn’t been real, just a moment stolen in time between battle and the weight of kingly duty.

He decides to come back later; it is probably too early for Thorin to be receiving visitors, especially after the taxing day yesterday.

He wanders through Erebor, the dust and noise of the dwarves at work echoing through the mountain. Already it has changed; no longer a tomb with a curse souring the air, now it is prosaic, a building under construction. It’s all sweat and shouts and the clang of metal and thud of stone. Bilbo trails down the halls, nothing to fear but poor foundations and instability. He can almost picture Erebor now, the way it could be, the way it was, and there’s a sense of optimism in the work underway. How can you not have hope when you are building new walls and causeways, resurrecting a mighty city?

Finally he decides he could be forgiven for paying a call to Thorin and he marches back to the royal apartments. The guards pay him no attention so Bilbo knocks on the door but before he can open it himself, a young dwarf who Bilbo vaguely recalls seeing with Dain, opens it, looking him up and down.

“I’m here to see the King,” Bilbo whispers. He looks around the dwarf and sees Thorin propped up on a settee in his sitting room, deep in conversation with Dain Ironfoot and Balin. Bilbo exhales and steps away. “I’ll come back later.” The dwarf nods and shuts the door behind him.

Bilbo straightens his shoulders and wanders off. It’s not so easy finding something to keep him occupied, the apparent chaos of the construction work is actually very organised and there’s really no place for a little hobbit with no trade to speak of. The dwarves all look at him suspiciously and some stop speaking as soon as he comes within earshot. He eventually finds Ori and Nori and makes himself as useful as he can, which is not very much.

 


 

The only way Thorin can tell the time is by the meals that sit half-forgotten at his elbow. It’s sometime after the midday meal, on the second day since he returned to Erebor, and aside from a few hours fitful sleep, he’s been working continuously since the funeral two nights before.

There is much to do. Every decision leads to half a dozen more. He must keep the projects and plans moving and that means more decisions, discussions and meetings. There’s not enough of anything and negotiations must take place with the Elves and Men so that new supplies will not be interrupted. The tedious nature of these duties, as much as the dull ache of his wound, leave him struggling to find the necessary patience to deal with the countless frustrations. He cannot show his irritation, however, knows he cannot, for fear that the others will think the dragon sickness is upon him again. So he bites his tongue and grits his teeth, cursing in his head with his best Khuzdul.

He’s busy poring over the plans for the marketplace with the chief engineer when there’s a light rap at the door. He knows that knock by now, and his heart leaps even as he feels another burst of frustration that he must put his own desires aside for the time being. He misses his quiet talks with Bilbo. Soon, maybe he will have some free moments to spend with his burglar. It doesn’t help that he has a lurking sense that the quiet understanding he and Bilbo had in Dale is slipping though his fingers, that if he tarries too long he will miss his chance.

He tells himself that this is only a temporary situation. He knows matters will improve. Once everything is settled, negotiated, once trusted advisors and ministers are in place it will run as smoothly as Ered Luin, only better because here they’ll have wealth and work to support their kingdom. Until that time he works until the point of exhaustion and then is too consumed by decisions and duties…fears… to sleep. He would like it if Bilbo came to see him then, to sit by his bedside. He would gladly give up some moments of rest to finally spend some time in Bilbo's company. He thinks perhaps it would calm him, distract him. He thinks he would sleep quite comfortably with a small hobbit to watch over him. But Bilbo doesn’t come then and Thorin will not summon him, as if he’s simply another subject at Thorin’s beck and call.

It is indeed Bilbo at the door, come to him now instead.

“Mr Baggins,” Thorin says, his smile quelled by discontent at yet again not being able to put his duties aside for even this short moment. Bilbo glances at the engineer.

“Hard at work?” he asks lightly, stepping into the room.

Thorin wishes he could send the engineer away, ask Bilbo to sit and talk to him for a while, but instead he answers in the affirmative, but as Bilbo turns to go, unbearably polite acceptance in his expression, an unfamiliar rebellion seizes Thorin and he calls after him.

Bilbo waits, hand on the door. He looks well, more rested than in Dale, certainly more than when they were last in Erebor (a thought which gives Thorin a twinge of guilt). He is still wearing the same clothes he’s been in since Lake-town. Clothing, cloth, more things that are lacking and sorely needed in Erebor, Thorin thinks with chagrin.

“You are comfortable?”

“Yes, of course. My room is more than fine. I have my very own bed, I feel quite decadent.” Bilbo gives a quick smile and then clears his throat, glancing away.

Thorin’s pulse responds indecorously to the mention of Bilbo, a bed, and decadence all in the same sentence. He looks away, certain his thoughts must be displayed on his face for all to see. “Is there anything you need?”

Bilbo shakes his head. “No. I’m well provided for, thank you.”

“Gloin says you will not be going with their party when they journey to Ered Luin.” He had not meant to say that. He had been quietly pleased when Dwalin told him Bilbo wouldn’t be travelling with them after the coronation. He has hopes regarding Bilbo’s decision, but he’d promised himself he let Bilbo be the one to speak of it, if at all. Here he is, though, with no control over his own cursed tongue.

Bilbo looks surprised as well. “No… No I, uh, I’ll go with Gandalf, later.” He fiddles with the frayed cuffs on his jacket. “He’s quite elderly you know, needs someone to keep an eye on him.” This last is said with a quirk of lips and Thorin huffs his amusement, knowing it is said in jest, but hoping all the same that it is not truly the reason Bilbo has decided to stay behind. Bilbo’s smile falters. “That is, if you don’t object?”

Bilbo thinks he would object? Although, truth be told, Thorin thinks Gloin and Dwalin more trustworthy travelling companions than Gandalf the Grey. “No,” he says and it comes out more sternly than he intends. He gentles his tone but the words sound stiff to his ears. “Stay, as long as you wish. You are always welcome in Erebor—“ He could bite his tongue in two, because by his own hand he has made that a lie and from Bilbo’s suddenly guarded expression, he knows it did not go unnoticed. “Will always be welcome here,” he amends weakly.

“Thank you,” says Bilbo but there is reservation in his tone, and Thorin curses himself.

The engineer shuffles the papers he’s holding and Thorin remembers himself. “I must continue.”

“Yes, of course. You – you are well?” Bilbo’s careful expression warms with concern and Thorin imagines he wants to linger. He wants Bilbo to linger.

“I improve every day,” he answers.

Bilbo smiles at that, warm and bright and it warms Thorin too. It’s almost on the tip of his tongue to ask if he might return later, but the engineer’s quill scratches loudly as he jots a note, and Thorin remembers there is company.

“I’ll leave you in peace,” says Bilbo. “Good day, Thorin.”

“Good day, Mr Baggins. Bilbo.”

Bilbo smiles lightly at that and Thorin has to look away, frowning at his own flush. He hears, rather than sees, Bilbo shutting the door behind him.

The engineer clears his throat. “Staying then, is he, your hobbit?”

Thorin glares at him and turns back to the plans. “Show me where you are putting the food stalls.”

Chapter Text

If asked, Thorin would be hard pressed to remember exactly what had been discussed by the time the engineer takes his leave. His mind is taken up with thoughts of Bilbo. From the engineer’s comment it must be becoming obvious to the rest of the dwarves that Thorin has a partiality for the hobbit, and he must make honourable his intentions, for Bilbo’s sake.

It is long past time to speak to Bilbo. Thorin’s never known himself to be so craven, but if he doesn’t ask, Bilbo cannot refuse him, and he can continue to have hope.

Balin bustles in with reports on the coronation, preparations for Dwalin and Gloin’s expedition, the infrastructure works, and relations with the Men and Elves. Not much has changed on the situation in Dale since Balin’s last report. Food and supplies are coming through from the Iron Hills, but any supply carts from elsewhere get stopped in Dale and don’t make it to Erebor. Treaty negotiations are scheduled for the day after the coronation. Bard is mainly concerned with feeding and housing his people, but an advance sum of gold paid in good faith has eased some tensions and, Balin hopes, will pave the way for successful negotiations. The Elvenking is still in residence outside Dale, apparently assisting Bard with the rebuilding.

“Those two have been thick as thieves since they met. They have an alliance and will negotiate together against us,” Thorin growls.

“Of course they will. Can you blame the Men? Thranduil will go back to Mirkwood soon enough and Bard will have to live with us, and will need our help and our wealth. He’ll want to get as good a deal as he can while he still has Thranduil’s support.”

Thorin grunts. “And Dain? What are your thoughts there? I love my cousin, but Mahal knows we are at his mercy until our kin arrive from the Blue Mountains.”

Balin nods in agreement. “All fine so far. Dain will hold faith while we have the Elves and Men to deal with. He’d rather eat his own tongue than show dwarven weakness in front of them. He’s more stubborn than you, but thus far he’s been willing to give way to your wishes. He means well, Thorin. He wishes to make amends for refusing to aid your quest. You earned Erebor, he knows it, his dwarves know it, for now. Still, I am glad we have all our contracts and agreements in place before they start forgetting.”

“You are right, old friend. It is best to strike while the iron is hot, and take advantage of the goodwill we have from the Iron Hills before time leads to petty bickering.”

Balin pats his forearm. “You’re doing well laddie,” he says with a warm chuckle. “It can’t be easy slipping from warrior to diplomat so swiftly, especially so close to death as you were.”

Thorin rubs his eyes but it does his heart good to hear Balin’s approval. “There are not enough hours in the day.”

“No, there are not, but you can only do what you can, and the rest must wait. You mustn’t overdo it, laddie.” Balin hesitates. “There is one thing though… we need to talk about Bilbo.”

Thorin’s gaze snaps up. “What of Bilbo?” he says brusquely.

Balin gives him a look. “You’ll want him at your coronation, I assume, standing alongside the Company?”

Thorin flushes, yes he does, and he’d have him standing closer too if he could, crowned as consort by his side, but ah, he is ahead of himself. “You haven’t told him differently?”

“No, but others may. Your coronation, Thorin, spoken entirely in our sacred language?” Balin raises his white eyebrows meaningfully.

“Bilbo is very dear to me,” Thorin grinds out.

“Well that’s stating the bleeding obvious, laddie,” Balin says dryly. “Spouting Khuzdul in front of him like it’s going out of fashion and I’ve seen the way you look at the lad.” Balin sighs at Thorin’s affronted glare. “I am saying he is one of our Company, he has served you well; none of us would question his place among us. But… “ He spreads his hands. “The Iron Hills dwarves are not like us. They’ve not spent the last one hundred and seventy years in exile, they haven’t had their traditions broken down and rebuilt, their society turned upside down and on its head. There are some real sticklers amongst them and they’ll get in a right snit about an outsider being in the same room when you speak your Inner Name, no matter how quietly you whisper.”

Thorin grits his teeth. “It does not matter what they say. I will have Bilbo there.” He catches himself and amends: “If he wishes it.”

Balin has that same insufferably knowing look that Gandalf wears, and it crawls under Thorin’s skin. “What’s Bilbo’s place here, Thorin? The rest of the Company are working to rebuild Erebor and stake their claim. Bilbo’s not under contract to stay but he wanders about adrift like a wee lost ghostie. Now you’re going to present him in front of all of dwarrowdom as what? Your consort, your intended, one of your honoured companions? At the moment he’s none of these.”

Thorin bites back a rebuke. He owes Balin so much and values his opinion more than enough to bear this impertinence. His disgruntlement must still show in his expression though because Balin huffs.

“Calm yourself lad. I mean no disrespect. Bilbo’s only got us to look out for him. If he were my brother or cousin, I’d be asking you about your intentions.”

Thorin exhales, chastened. “It is something that has not been far from my thoughts, and an action I would have pursued with reckless disregard when I was deep in the grip of the madness. I…” He takes a breath, his soul weighed heavy. Under Balin’s kindly, knowing gaze Thorin gives in and finds the worries tumbling out. “I fear he will not have me now. I fear that if I ask, it will drive him from me and he’ll leave us. He should go. He should go back to his home, back to the Shire he loves. I am selfish asking him. And I… I must think of my duty. Yet… I …” The words, flowing so freely, suddenly falter, stick. He swallows around them.

Balin’s expression is gentler than Thorin deserves. “Ah. But your heart yearns for him.”

“Aye. It does.”

Balin gives him sympathetic pat on the shoulder and leaves him to his thoughts.

 

 

Thorin hates the nights most of all. He falls asleep, exhausted, only to awake a few hours later, unable to return to sleep, wishing it was morning and that the light was already starting to sift in through the eastern portals to be refracted throughout the mountain. Instead it is still the middle of the night and he lies in his bed, his tired mind drifting through countless concerns, his wound throbbing with a dull persistent ache. In the silence of the night his mind plays tricks, a slithering, shifting sound intruding on his awareness every time he starts to drift asleep.

Or he sleeps, only to dream and wake bathed in sweat, filled with self-reproach or still shaking with inconsolable grief.

How is it that he spends most hours of his day in the company of too many people, yet he feels more alone here in the mountain than he did on any part of his journey? He had not felt alone even when he had the dragon sickness, in his fevered mind he’d had Bilbo, faithfully by his side up until the last… but no he’s wrong — then he had felt more alone than he’s ever done before in his life.

It is no use. He cannot sleep. He rolls from his bed with a groan, his wound throbbing at the movement, muscles and ribs protesting. He pulls on his trousers and boots and wraps a cloak about his shoulders. The heating — the heating still hasn’t been repaired. That and the sanitation system. The engineers assure him the structural repairs should be completed within the fortnight providing the supplies from the Iron Hills arrive within the week.

The two guards exchange a glance as Thorin steps out of his apartments and he waves them away.

“Dwalin will have our hide if we leave your side, your Majesty,” says one of them, a big red bear of a dwarf, Alfar, Thorin remembers.

Thorin sighs and nods in resignation and Alfar follows after him. He means to go up to the battlements but instead his feet and troubled thoughts find him at the doors of the treasure room. The guards there open the doors for him without a word. Alfar waits outside.

The room is illuminated by torches. Gloin and his assistants have been hard at work, painstakingly counting and crating up the gold and organising the treasures, but there is still a mountain of gold, gems and priceless trinkets. A dragon’s nest.

A shiver prickles along the back of Thorin’s neck and runs down his spine. Gold beyond measure. He could fill his coffers with all the gold in the world and it would mean nothing. He cannot bring his nephews back to life. He cannot buy Bibo’s affection. He cannot have peace.

Far too clearly he can recall the weight of the dragon sickness, the fogging heaviness on his mind. Gold glitters, too sharp, too bright. He sways with sudden biliousness, and pinches the bridge of his nose, then turns, staggering back through the doors.

He shudders, scrubbing at his face with his palms and strides away from the treasure room, away from the crawling sickness of the gold lust.

For that he dishonoured his word, for that he cast out Bilbo.

He is back at the royal quarter before he realises. He stops in the hall. Bilbo is asleep behind one of these doors. He has seen far too little of Bilbo, the brief encounters doing nothing more than taunt him. Thorin pauses, his fingers pressed to the solid wood of one of the doors. He doesn’t know which room belongs to his hobbit. Should have asked, didn’t. To resist temptation or to hide his partiality? He’s not sure now. His throat is tight and he wants— he wants to fold into Bilbo’s warmth, fall at his feet and give himself over.

He hears steps behind him, knows it is his guard. He sucks in a breath and squares his shoulders, then returns to his apartments. He lies in bed, staring at the ceiling. Oddly, he realises he misses the stars.

He thinks of duty, of risks, of loss, of responsibility. He thinks of gold and mistakes. He thinks of travels and companionship. He thinks of the ceremony tomorrow. For so long he has carried a yearning to return to his home, to reclaim Erebor, to restore its wealth and comfort to his people, to right a thousand wrongs. It has been a mighty yearning and has overshadowed all others, all the other small wishes his heart may have held. Now it is finished, this quest, this purpose.

He looks into the secrets of his heart and finds one small yearning there still.

He allows himself to think of Bilbo, not the Bilbo of his nightmares, nor the Bilbo of his guilt-stricken memories, but Bilbo Baggins, his reluctant burglar. He thinks of an embrace, and a warm touch, he thinks of how Bilbo smells (it is a good scent, one that yet eludes comparison), he thinks of Bilbo’s laugh and his smile, he thinks of how Bilbo sometimes looks at him and then away with a slight flush upon his cheeks. His heart swells and he groans burying his face in his pillow. Mahal. He is done for.

He needs to speak, to tell Bilbo of his intentions, to discover if perhaps… perhaps his hopes have not been misplaced.

He sits up, gets out of bed again, and from a wooden box takes the small bead he had found weeks ago now, plucked from the treasure hoard as he’d searched endlessly for the Arkenstone. A small moment of quiet, of respite; Bilbo had brought him food, had told him to sit down, to eat. He’d dozed off for a moment where he’d been sitting and when he’d jerked awake, he’d been resting his head on Bilbo’s shoulder. He’d returned to his search immediately and Bilbo had retreated, but Thorin had found the bead, plain and gold, and kept it, tucked inside a pouch he carried in his pocket.

He rolls the bead between thumb and finger. He is glad he did not engrave it then, and imagines anew how he would carve his mark and entwine through it the name of the one who holds his heart.

He fetches his small roll of delicate carving tools, salvaged by Bifur from Thorin's old belongings, takes out his engraving chisels, and sets to work.

Tomorrow he will ask.

A small comfortable pleasure settles in his belly as he works, painstakingly engraving the bead, thinking on the courting rite that awaits. Ah the gifts he will give. The mithril can no longer count as a first courting gift. His actions on the battlements have voided that gesture. A stab of concern assails him as he remembers Bilbo’s ragged attire, and he’s ashamed that his kingdom is in such disrepair that he cannot provide clothes worthy of his Halfling. He would drape Bilbo in jewels and all the wealth of Erebor if he’d accept it. But that is not Bilbo’s way. Thorin had barely been able to coax him to wear the coat of true-silver mail, so hesitantly received, so tentatively given. Thorin despairs at himself, even then, even under the dragon sickness, he had not had the courage to make his intentions plain.

Tomorrow. Today, in truth.

He determines to speak to Dori and curses himself for not thinking of his request sooner. If anyone would be able to salvage a fine suit of clothes for Bilbo, Dori will.

The first rays of dawn are filtering into the upper chambers of the city when Thorin is finally satisfied with his work. He polishes the bead once more and places it safely back in the pouch, then returns to bed, finally falling asleep.

 


 

Bilbo stands on a walkway watching as several dwarves hang ancient banners in the Gallery of the Kings in preparation for the coronation later that day. He woke early, his conversation with Thorin the day before still swirling around in his thoughts. It is the most he’s spoken to Thorin since they entered Erebor. Bilbo isn’t sure how he can be the friend to Thorin that Gandalf expects him to be. There is no sign of the warm camaraderie they’d enjoyed in the healers’ tent, Thorin had been cool and severe, his stern expression never softening. Bilbo wonders if perhaps Gandalf has overestimated his influence on the mighty Thorin Oakenshield.

He wonders again at his decision to stay rather than leave with the party heading to the Blue Mountains. Thorin’s response had been polite, but then he’d rather obviously remembered Bilbo’s exile from Erebor. In the awkwardness that followed, Bilbo had wondered if his presence somehow pained Thorin, acting as an unfortunate reminder of his weakness. He doesn’t know how many other ways he can tell Thorin that he forgives him. He worries that, despite his words, Thorin has not truly forgiven him for his betrayal.

“Bilbo! There you are!” Dori bustles up to Bilbo, a bundle of richly coloured fabric in his arms. “Come, come, quickly now. I need you to try these on.”

“Try what on?” he asks, following after Dori towards the royal quarter.

Dori lifts his bundle. “Clothes for you to wear at the coronation. We have to have you looking your best.”

Bilbo looks keenly at the pile in Dori’s arms, all brocades and velvets, then down with embarrassment at his own rather tatty clothes. To think, he used to be quite a connoisseur of fashion back when he was in the Shire. He has longed for his wardrobe more than once on this journey, but especially since Balin told him he would be standing right next to the throne during the coronation, along with the rest of the Company. It would not do to shame Thorin by appearing shabby.

In Bilbo’s room, Dori lays the selection of clothing out on Bilbo’s bed. He’s immediately grateful to Dori, a weaver by trade who knows his fabric. Bilbo knows too that Dori is considered the height of dwarvish fashion with his elegantly coiffed beard and hair. His original clothes too had been well-cut and tailored. Even now he has found something to wear other than the clothing they’d borrowed from Lake-town. 

“These are the best I could find,” Dori says. “They’ve kept quite well, all things considered, good quality dwarven linen. They were from the royal household; Prince Frerin’s I shouldn’t wonder, they’re quite small. We’ll try them on for size, but we might need to make a few quick alterations, here and there.”

Bilbo stares at the first item, a brocaded jerkin in a deep maroon. He thinks it will be very flattering despite the dwarvish style. “Oh, that’s very nice.”

Bilbo strips down to his undergarments to try everything on.

“You have no idea how wonderful this is,” he says as he slips on a cream-coloured linen shirt. “I thought I’d have to wait until trade starts again before I’d be able to get a change of clothes. I was despairing of ever getting Thorin’s bloodstains out of my cuffs.”

Dori chuckles. “No wonder he was so insistent that I find you a better shirt.”

Bilbo’s fingers still on the shirt’s gold buttons. “Thorin?”

“Why yes, Thorin asked me to find something suitable for you to wear.”

Bilbo’s stomach drops in dismay. Oh botheration. Thorin must have noticed the state of Bilbo’s clothes and deemed them unworthy to wear at the coronation ceremony.

Bilbo’s cheeks and ears burn in mortification and he fumbles with the buttons. “Right. Well. I doubly thank you then. I would not wish to disappoint him.” To think he’d been at risk of embarrassing his friend on the most important day of his life.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have you fit for a king in no time,” Dori says with a smile and hands Bilbo a pair of wine-coloured knee breeches.

“I suppose the others already have fine clothes to wear,” Bilbo asks as he pulls on the breeches.

“Oh they’ll all wear their best armour.”

Bilbo looks at the mithril shirt lying on the bed with his other clothing. “Should I wear the mithril on top, in that case?”

Dori considers him, tapping his fingers on his chin. “Under the jerkin, I think. Thorin was most insistent on a fine jacket.”

Bilbo nods, still agonised. What must Thorin have thought? All too late Bilbo remembers how terribly self-important Thorin had seemed when he first arrived in Bag End. Thorin is king now. Bilbo has let familiarity lull him into a false sense of appropriate behaviour. What sort of gentlehobbit is he? Waltzing up to seek an audience with a king, dressed in filthy clothes. No wonder Thorin didn’t take time to speak with him. He should have thought of finding new clothes himself, but had assumed it to be a luxury that could wait. That’s where assuming gets you. Well, Thorin can hardly blame him for that, he wasn’t to know some of the ancient dwarvish clothing was salvageable.

Chastened, he tries on the rest of the outfit. Dori checks the sizing and apart from a bit of looseness about the middle and across the shoulders, decrees it a good enough fit and very fine. Bilbo looks down at himself, and wishes for a mirror.

“Do you know where I might find a comb or a brush?” he asks.

“Borrow mine.” He looks at Bilbo’s hair critically. “Have you considered braids? You could manage a few small ones along the sides…”

Bilbo shakes his head. “Ah no, I don’t think so.” Then hesitates. “Should I? Would it be rude not to?”

“Oh, no, no. You’re a hobbit, people will understand,” Dori reassures him. “Now, take those off and let me add some tucks into the shoulders of that coat. I’ll have them back to you in no time.”

 

Bilbo has just returned to his room after lunch with his parcel of newly altered clothes when a dwarf arrives carrying a copper bath, followed close behind by another dwarf with two buckets of hot water, a towel and some soap. They place the bath by the fire, pour in the hot water, then give him a nod before departing.

“Well,” says Bilbo brightly. “A bath. I won’t say no to that.”

He luxuriates in the water and feels so comforted that he starts singing his favourite bath song.

“Sing hey! for the bath at close of day that washes the weary mud away! A loon is he that will not sing: O! Water Hot is a noble thing!” he sings as he scrubs at his ears and and neck, and slips under the water to wash his hair before starting the second verse. “O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain, and the brook that leaps from hill to plain; but better than rain or rippling streams is Water Hot that smokes and steams.”

But the thought of rain falling around Bag End, of the little brook and his very own bathroom in his very own smial is suddenly altogether too much and he trails off at the end of the verse, feeling rather melancholy. He looks up at the high, stone ceiling and longs for the earthy tones and neat whitewash of his own little home. He indulges in a moment of abject self-pity, feeling very small and alone indeed, plagued by stubborn dwarves who don’t seem to care a jot for hobbits who have turned their lives upside down thank you very much, and are still here, in this overly large mountain, but for what purpose, let me ask you?

“This will never do,” he tells himself. There is a coronation to attend, and he’s to be dressed in finery and stand alongside the King as an honoured member of the Company. He’s survived far worse scrapes than that! Besides, how many hobbits get to attend a coronation? He’d be foolish indeed to miss out on this experience just because he’s feeling a little delicate. His adventure will be over soon, he should enjoy the last of it. He washes his face, and with new resolve, finishes his bath, and the last verses of the song for good measure.

There’s a tap on the door just as he’s finishing dressing in his new clothes.

“Come in!” he calls and looks up in surprise as Gandalf comes through the doorway, which is so high he doesn’t even need to duck his head.

“Well, well. Bilbo Baggins, look at you. Dressed as fine as a princeling.”

Bilbo spreads his arms to show off his fine clothing. “I am indeed. I could call on the Old Took himself and not put the Baggins name to shame. Ready for Thorin’s big night?”

“I have some business to attend to first.” Gandalf pulls out Bilbo’s chair and takes a seat in front of his small table.

“Oh?”

Gandalf hums in agreement and then produces a small cloth-covered bundle from his robe. It looks unsettlingly familiar and Bilbo watches with a growing unease as Gandalf unrolls the bundle on the table.

The Arkenstone glows as brightly and with as much beauty as it ever did, and Bilbo wonders at it, wonders how something so beautiful could cause so many troubles.

“Why do you have that?” he asks in a flat voice.

“For you to return to Thorin Oakenshield before his coronation. It would be a shame if anyone were to question his legitimacy because he does not hold this pretty bauble. I think there’s been enough conflict, don’t you?”

Bilbo’s throat is tight, his guilt and doubts back in full force. “You think I did wrong in taking it?”

Gandalf huffs. “No. I do not. I think Thorin Oakenshield may have found it even harder to forgive himself if you had not.” He stands. “You took it, Bilbo, I will let you be the one to return it to him.”

Bilbo’s mouth is dry and his pulse is racing. “But Thorin— is it safe for him to have it? Balin said— Smaug said—”

“It was a danger to him in the height of his gold sickness. It was a symbol of all he had striven for and all that could be taken from him. It holds a different meaning now for our dwarf.”

Bilbo looks at the soft luminosity of the Arkenstone. The stone that crowns all. “Do Bard and Thranduil know you have this?”

“They do. It has no more use as leverage. Thorin will not sacrifice a single dwarf or piece of gold for it again.”

Bilbo nods. He hopes this is true, and he’s glad that the stone has been returned just as much as he’s nervous about facing Thorin when he returns it to him. Gandalf is right. He took it; he must give it back. Perhaps finally this will make amends.

“Very well then. I’ll return it.” He stabs his finger at Gandalf. “If you find me out on my ear this afternoon and setting off for the Shire, be it on your head, Gandalf.”

Gandalf chuckles. “Understood.” He places a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “Oh, before I forget…” He produces another package, one tied with string. “I believe I promised you some pipe-weed. And a pipe.”

Bilbo accepts the gift grudgingly, his concern about the Arkenstone overshadowing any pleasure at finally having a pipe and some leaf to smoke. “Oh well,” he says gruffly. “Don’t mind if I do, Gandalf. Indeed, thank you.”

Bilbo stares at the Arkenstone for a long moment after Gandalf leaves and then shakes himself, wrapping it up quickly and tucking it in his fine new coat. He squares his shoulders and steps out of his room, about to go to Thorin immediately, when he remembers himself and stops in to see Dori on the way to borrow a comb for his head and feet.

Dori fusses over his clothes. “Oh you look lovely, very smart,” he says clapping his hands together. “Do you like them?”

“The clothes? Oh yes. They’re very nice. They’ve lasted very well, considering.”

“Camphor wood lining in a solid silver chest,” Dori says knowingly.

Bilbo nods, suitably impressed. “Do I have you to thank for the bath as well?” he asks, availing himself of Dori’s mirror as he tackles weeks’ worth of knots and tangles in his hair.

“Bath? Oh, no, that had nothing to do with me. Thorin must have ordered it for you.”

This quells Bilbo’s good humour. Thorin is concerned about his cleanliness too? He clears his throat, finishes smoothing his hair and then nods to Dori as he hands him back his comb.

“Well, I’m going to see him now. Will I pass inspection, do you think?”

Dori chuckles. “Pass inspection, indeed. You are a funny one, Bilbo. Now you’re certain you’re happy with the clothes?”

Bilbo pats his arm reassuringly. “Yes, yes of course. I’ll be sure to tell Thorin I’m very happy.” And he leaves while he still has his courage.

 


 

Thorin keeps working and tries not to think about the coronation in a few hours. If he doesn’t think about it, then he won’t grow too prideful and arrogant. If he doesn’t think about it, he won’t have it ripped from his fingers at the last moment. If he doesn’t think about it, he cannot ruin it.

Dwalin enters with the briefest of knocks. Thorin glances at him and Dwalin takes a seat opposite. They have been through too much and Dwalin has seen him at his worst far too many times for Thorin to demand they stand on ceremony, though maybe it’s because he knows Dwalin would, if asked, and Thorin does not wish for that.

“Everything’s ready,” Dwalin says.

“For the coronation or your trip?”

“Both. I leave tomorrow as soon as my hangover allows.”

Thorin chuckles at that. “I trust you won’t indulge too heavily.”

“It’s your coronation, I’ll get as roaring drunk as I bloody-well like,” Dwalin declares.

Thorin smiles wryly. “None deserves a drink more than you, my friend.”

“You’d better bloody believe it.”

They share a look and Thorin feels gratitude to his kin, friend, and loyal shield-brother since they were but lads. He leans forward and touches his brow to Dwalin’s.

“Thank you,” he says, and whispers Dwalin’s inner name, a secret they had shared after Azanulbizar, when so much had been lost, and what had not had seemed so very precious. “I would not have succeeded without you.”

“And you, Imhaznâgûn,” Dwalin gruffly speaks his inner name as he draws back. “My friend.” He holds Thorin’s gaze. “And King.”

Thorin clears his throat. “A safe journey to you, my friend. I will see you before you depart.”

“Aye, let’s hope it’s a lot less eventful than the journey here.”

Dwalin stands to leave, clapping his hand on Thorin’s shoulder. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”       

There’s a familiar light tap on the door, and Thorin looks to the door sharply, heart thudding. Dwalin catches his look and raises an eyebrow. He tilts his head to the door. “Asked him yet?”

Thorin glowers. “I will.” He rolls his eyes at Dwalin’s look. “Before the ceremony. I may have spent most of my life in exile but I haven’t completely forgotten our ways.”

Dwalin chuckles and opens the door. “Master Burglar,” he says and turns to cast a knowing glance at Thorin before leaving the room.

Thorin’s breath catches as Bilbo steps into his chamber. He wears the clothes Thorin requested for him and he looks finer than Thorin’s ever seen him before, dressed in the best Erebor can offer right at this moment; a deep mahogany coloured velvet and brocade coat over a jerkin of a matching shade with the froth of a cream coloured shirt at the cuffs and collar, and knee-breeches, tight and promising on his sturdy legs. His sword, small but worthy, is belted at his side and his hair has been styled just so. Dori has done well and Thorin reminds himself to thank him heartily.

Bilbo smiles hesitantly. “Hello.”

Thorin stands. “Bilbo.”

“Yes. I…I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“No, no. Please, come in.”

Bilbo shuts the door behind him and Thorin’s legs carry him closer. Bilbo straightens his small shoulders and clears his throat. “Thorin, I have something I must give you.”

Thorin’s heart misses a beat. A gift in return? He hadn’t dared hope.

“What is it?” he asks and swallows because his voice sounds uncommonly rough.

Bilbo looks down, flushing slightly, and Thorin’s stomach warms with fondness at this endearing bashfulness. He wants to take Bilbo’s hands in his, fall to his knees and kiss each knuckle with soft affection as he assures him that his feelings are reciprocated.

Bilbo reaches into his jacket and draws out a small cloth bundle. He hands it to Thorin wordlessly and Thorin searches Bilbo’s face as he gently unfolds it.

The very first glimpse of the cold gleam of the stone chills him. The stone weighs nothing. It’s so light, yet Thorin feels the weight of it, as heavy as the lead that sinks in his stomach. Not a courting gift, no.

“The Arkenstone.”

He’s never held it. Not once. Not even as a boy, as the honoured grandson of King Thror. He’s never even touched it. He would be unsurprised if it scalded him. The pale shifting glow taunts him, empty and cold. A mountain’s soul. A soul of gold and cold diamonds. Brittle, hard and sharp like shards. There is no love here. No warmth and affection. No life.

“What is this?” he rasps.

“I took it from you. Now I’m returning it to you.” Bilbo’s voice is wrong too. It’s hollow and small and far away.

Thorin covers up the stone. He raises his gaze to meet Bilbo’s. He looks fearful. It hurts. It hurts so much Thorin thinks he might weep.

“How did you get this?” he hears himself say.

Bilbo gives him a small deprecating smile. “Gandalf. Who else?”

Thorin nods. Of course. The fleeting thought, of his burglar liberating the stone from under Thranduil’s sneering nose, had been rather too good to be true. There is no triumph in this, it is a rebuke, a lesson. He places the stone behind him on the table and feels instantly lighter.

Bilbo stands before him, twisting his hands.

“Thank you,” Thorin says, trying to gentle his voice and blunt the sharp edges of disappointment and resentment.

Bilbo nods, mouth a crooked line, tight and rueful. “I… Do you still wish me to attend your coronation?” He lifts his chin to ask. His hobbit, always brave.

Thorin stares at him. “I do.”The words are but a breath, escaped from his aching throat. He hates that Bilbo questions his welcome. He fumbles for the pouch in his pocket. It is time. Long overdue in fact. He has tarried too long in this.

“Bilbo,” he begins and falters. He can’t find the words, but Bilbo is looking at him, not so much fear now, but concerned curiosity. He opens the leather pouch, fingers clumsy, shaking. Foolish. He finds the courting bead.

“I want you at my coronation,” he says finally lifting his eyes to Bilbo’s. His tongue feels thick. “Will you wear my braid?”

Bilbo blinks at him. “Your braid? Uh…yes, of course, yes I will.” His tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip. He searches Thorin’s face.

Thorin’s heart pounds and his hand closes in a tight fist around the bead. He steps forward and Bilbo stays perfectly still, staring up at him until proximity makes him glance away. Heart in his throat, Thorin slides his fingers through Bilbo’s curls, still slightly damp from his bath. His hair is so soft and fine. Bilbo exhales and Thorin breathes in.

“Hold this,” Thorin murmurs, slipping the bead into Bilbo’s hands.

Bilbo rolls the bead between his fingers. “Your bead?”

“My bead.” He wishes he’d had more time. Had been less exhausted. Had his own forge and his own tools. It bears his mark, as is proper, and Bilbo’s name rendered in runes. The symbols linked.

“Did you make it?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. It’s lovely,” Bilbo says softly and Thorin glows at his approval.

His fingers feel thick and clumsy. Carefully, slowly he takes a small strand of hair at Bilbo’s temple and begins braiding back, painfully aware of Bilbo’s presence, his every breath. He plucks the bead from Bilbo’s fingers and fastens the braid so that the bead hangs just in front of Bilbo's ear, a small glint of gold. Gold to honour and to remind Thorin of what he had nearly lost.

“It is done,” he says, yet is reluctant to step away. His fingers brush over the tip of Bilbo’s ear. Bilbo’s breath hitches and Thorin thinks he could lean forward, just an inch and press a kiss to Bilbo’s hair. He could. He has asked and Bilbo has accepted. They are now courting. He could—

Bilbo steps away with a small cough. “Do you have a mirror? May I see?”

Thorin tells himself firmly that he doesn’t mind that Bilbo does not offer a braid in return. There is time yet to earn that honour. He indicates the mirror hanging on the wall and Bilbo looks at his appearance and then smiles at Thorin. “New clothes, scrubbed feet and a braid, now I shan’t put you to shame.”

Thorin inclines his head, confused by the idea that Bilbo would ever bring him shame. “You will bring me honour standing by my side, my Halfling.”

Bilbo catches something in his expression for his smile slips into seriousness. “Thank you, Thorin. I am honoured that you wish me to be by your side.”

Thorin’s heart pounds. He takes a step towards Bilbo. The last time he held him in his arms is a vague memory of pain and the fog of unconsciousness, Bilbo’s body close against his, holding him together, holding in his life’s blood. It has been so long since he embraced Bilbo properly, it seems another time, back on the Carrock, when his eyes had been opened and he’d seen Bilbo for who he truly was.

“Bilbo—“ he murmurs just as Bilbo says, “Thorin—“

There is yet another knock on the door, a definite rap, wood on wood. Gandalf steps into the room silencing whatever had been on both their tongues.

“Ah, Bilbo, you are here. Do excuse me, I need a word with Thorin — alone if you please.”

Bilbo hesitates and Thorin feels no small satisfaction as they share a look of mutual chagrin at this interruption. Bilbo exhales in resignation and gives him a rueful smile.

“Good luck today,” he tells Thorin with quiet sincerity and lightly touches his forearm. “You will do splendidly.” He nods and slips from the room. Thorin’s arm tingles where Bilbo’s hand had rested. He flexes his fingers and glares at Gandalf, who raises his eyebrow.

“I am just making sure you’ve been gentle with my hobbit.”

“He is not your hobbit.”

Gandalf makes a neutral sound. “No, I suppose he is not. He belongs to himself. Do you seek to make him yours, Thorin, son of Thrain?”

Thorin can’t help the flush on his cheeks, but he bristles at Gandalf’s tone and insinuation. “I do not seek to own him.” Guilt stirs heavily in his stomach; once he had sought to possess Bilbo. He cannot help returning a jab however. “Nor would I seek to direct his will.” He looks at Gandalf pointedly. “I will take what he gives willingly and nothing more.”

“I am glad to hear it.” Gandalf gives him a knowing look. “That is not the only reason I am here.” Gandalf unburdens himself of a long, wrapped bundle that he’s been carrying under one arm. He hands it to Thorin. “A coronation gift, given in good faith by Thranduil Oropherion.”

“It is a day for gifts,” Thorin mutters. He opens the bundle and there lies Orcrist. Pleasure at the sight of his beautiful sword is tinged with suspicion. “And in return?”

“In return, I expect you to give Thranduil back his white jewels.”

Thorin holds his gaze for a long moment. “Take them then, let me be done with Elves.”

Gandalf’s mouth quirks into a smile. “Cheer up, Thorin, you have completed your quest, today you will be crowned King, you have your Arkenstone and your sword, and Bilbo Baggins is here, is he not, and he is far fonder of you than you deserve.” He looks narrowly at Thorin, that same crinkle of amusement in his eyes and in his quirked lips. “You are proving to be a good and diligent king. Well done, Thorin Oakenshield, very well done indeed. Your father and grandfather would be proud.”

“My father…”

“Ah,” says Gandalf, and a shadow passes across his face. “There is something I must tell you.” All whimsy is gone from his expression, replaced by a deep sorrow. “Your father is dead. I found him in Dol Guldur, but he was slain by the Necromancer.” Gandalf places his hand on Thorin’s shoulder, steadying him. “He told me to tell you that he loved you. I am sorry, Thorin, I could not save him.”

Thorin sags, and staggers to sit down. “Why do you only tell me this now?”

Gandalf gives him a heavy look. “If you may recall, we both had other things occupying our attention when I returned from Dol Guldur. And then it hardly seemed opportune to give you such news while you were recovering from your wounds.”

All these years, his father had been alive all these years. Thorin had wondered, and now he knows. “I should have looked for him. I should—”

“Enough, Thorin,” Gandalf rumbles. “You would not have found him.”

His father. ‘Adad. It is true then, not just the fevered dream of a wounded dwarf. “I saw my father, when I was about to enter the Halls of my maker, he was waiting for me.”

“He will be there, waiting for you still, but I hope you will not meet again for many years yet, King under the Mountain.”

 


 

Bilbo stands in the hall outside Thorin’s chambers. His heart is still pounding. Oh dear, oh bother. He can’t help but think about Thorin’s deft fingers weaving the braid into his hair, the simple intimacy of the act, Thorin’s sturdy proximity. He had been so close, and Bilbo had been so aware of him, the simple fact of him. Then he’d accidentally brushed Bilbo’s ear with his fingertips and it had almost been too much. Bilbo had had to step away quickly for fear of embarrassing himself. For a moment though, he’d thought, perhaps— the way Thorin had looked at him, had stepped towards him, had put Bilbo very much in mind of the Carrock, when Thorin had embraced him, and it had stopped his breath for one fraught moment. He’d been about to blurt out something foolish, and Thorin had spoken at the same time, but then Gandalf had come and the moment, if there’d even been one, had been broken.

He considers waiting until Gandalf leaves, so he can go back in and— say what exactly? He takes a breath and shakes himself. Thorin is a dwarf and a King. He does not wish to hear about Bilbo’s complicated and difficult feelings.

He clears his throat and nods to the two guards, who are staring at him, then turns on his heel and hurries off. He’ll find Balin and see if there’s anything he can do to help with the coronation.

 

Bilbo cannot help but touch the small gold bead hanging by his ear. He's very proud indeed to be wearing this dwarvish symbol of his loyalty to the King. He feels truly one of the Company now. They are all dressed in shining armour, just as Dori said they would be, their beards glossy and braided intricately.

“I see you’re wearing the King’s braid,” Bofur says, giving him a teasing shove as they make their way to the throne room. “Suits you.”

The others notice too, either slapping him on the back or smiling when they see it. Bilbo is rather chuffed.

Thorin’s coronation is an impressively solemn affair. Despite all the wealth of the mountain, he eschews gold and jewels and the heavy armour of his grandfather. He dresses in furs and a belted overgown of deep-blue. His only decorations are a simple chain about his neck, which bears his father’s key, and the heavy silver buckle on his belt. Bilbo is surprised to see Orcrist belted at his side but had not failed to notice the bundle Gandalf had carried, and so could guess where it came from. He wears his two customary braids but the rest of his dark mane has been brushed and pulled back loosely with several silver clasps. He looks very noble and so unbearably handsome that Bilbo’s breath catches in his throat, and he is doesn’t register that Bofur has whispered something to him until several moments later but he has no idea what was said.  

The throne is still cracked, a scar and reminder, Bilbo suspects, of Smaug’s attack and perhaps the dangers of the dragon sickness and Thror’s greed that had lead to the fire drake’s arrival in the first place. The Arkenstone, however, is back in its proper place. The sight of the stone sits uncomfortably with Bilbo, a curious mix of guilt and apprehension. Thorin’s expression is not one of triumphant joy either; he is sombre as he steps onto the dais and takes his place on the throne. He’d looked so terrible when Bilbo had given him back the stone, that Bilbo had feared the worst, but Thorin had put it aside, and astonishingly, had instead asked Bilbo to wear his braid.

There are no other races in attendance, no Elves or Men or even Gandalf. Dwarves line the viewing galleries. Bilbo and the rest of the Company flank the dais. Balin, Dain and Thorin speak the ceremonial words in Khuzdul but Bilbo can understand the intent as well as if they’d spoken in the Common Speech. Still he can’t help but notice many dwarves staring in his direction and he resolves to ask Bofur afterwards if he’s unwittingly breached some cultural etiquette.

The crown is finally placed upon Thorin’s head and the roar that rings throughout the throne room is deafening. Thorin sits solemn and magnificent upon the throne. Bilbo cheers and applauds with the best of them, but he feels rather small and empty as he looks up at the fine figure on the dais, more unreachable and untouchable than ever: Thorin II Oakenshield, King under the Mountain.

Thorin steps from the dais and leads the procession along the causeway from the throne, the Company falling in behind Dain, Balin and Thorin’s guards. Bilbo knows he’s not imagining the looks and whispers in his direction from the audience on the viewing galleries, he even catches the word ‘hobbit’ a few times. He nudges Bofur.

“Why is everyone looking at me, please tell me I haven’t done something insulting.”

Bofur shakes his head. “It’s just— it’s unusual for someone who’s not a dwarf to even be here for this sort of thing.” He shrugs. “It’s religious.”

“I shouldn’t have been there?” The Baggins half of Bilbo is mortified and the Took part isn’t far behind. “Why didn’t anyone say something,” he hisses. “Thorin told me he’d be honoured— and Balin specifically said—“

Bofur gives him a light shove.

“Stop looking like you’ve just vomited on your mother’s best anvil. You were supposed to be there, all right? It was noted, that’s all. Our language isn’t to be shared with outsiders.” Bofur raises his eyebrows. “It’s like acknowledging you as one of us.”

Bilbo laughs with relief. “An honorary dwarf?”

“Something like that,” agrees Bofur.

Bilbo relaxes, just a bit pleased with himself.

Then he hears from one of the Iron Hill’s dwarves: “Bare feet and he’s naught got a beard to speak of!” and he deflates considerably.

The Gallery of Kings has been laid with tables enough to seat all the dwarves in Erebor, and Bilbo follows Thorin with the Company to the head table. Thorin takes the seat of honour with Dain on his left. Bilbo, still worrying about his place at the celebration, goes to take a seat further down, next to Bofur.

“Uh uh,” says Bofur with an oddly panicked look. “No, no, no,” he says, steering Bilbo back.

Assuming there must be some familial seating arrangement, Bilbo moves to take the chair one over.

“Nope,” Gloin takes his elbow, steering him forward up the table, assisted by Oin.

“Not there lad—“

Dwalin grabs him by the shoulder with one meaty paw and deposits him unceremoniously next to Thorin. Bilbo looks at Balin on his right. Surely there’s some mistake—

Then Thorin turns to look at him.

“Bilbo,” he says softly, and Bilbo’s stomach flutters in the most undignified manner.

“Oh, Thorin, hello.” He attempts a smile. “It appears I am sitting here. Oh and congratulations are in order. Well done, your Majesty.”

Thorin’s gaze is still upon him, shifting over his features. “Did you enjoy the ceremony, Master Hobbit?”

“I did, yes, indeed. It was very fine, all rather splendid. You looked very splendid.” Bilbo finds himself babbling. “My, is that a whole pig?” He peers down the table, hoping his ears aren’t as red as they feel.

“As do you,” Thorin murmurs. “That colour suits you.”

Bilbo jerks his gaze back, blinking. He looks down at himself. “Oh. Well. Thank you. Oh dear, I nearly forgot – thank you for the clothes,” he says plucking at the jerkin. “I like them very well indeed. Dori outdid himself.”

Thorin’s smile is strangely soft and reminds Bilbo of their quiet moments in the tent outside Dale. “I am pleased.”

Dain gets to his feet beside Thorin, cup in hand. “Aâttk!” He bellows and the loud roar dies off only slightly. Thorin’s cousin looks around for a moment more than takes another breath and roars: “I said, SHUT IT!”

Silence does fall this time.

“Right!” Dain turns to Thorin. “Well done cousin.” He turns to the hall and raises his tankard. “Lift your mugs to THORIN II OAKENSHIELD SON OF THRAIN, SON OF THROR, KING UNDER THE MOUNTAIN!”

Bilbo’s ears are still ringing by the time the resulting roar dies away and Thorin gets to his feet. He inclines his head to Dain and then the assembled dwarves, then he lifts his own tankard.

“To Lord Dain, to my kin and friends of the Iron Hills, you have my thanks!” The dwarves all cheer. Thorin turns right to where the company are arrayed, Bilbo, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bombur, Bofur, Dori, Nori and Ori.

“To my Company!” he hails.

The dwarves all return the toast. Thorin is smiling. He is looking directly at Bilbo and beaming, and Bilbo can’t help but beam back.

Thorin raises his tankard again and with his other arm gestures expansively towards Bilbo. “Mr Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire, son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna of the family Took, my umùrad’akar, I declare you Bahukhazâd!”

The dwarves all cheer the Khuzdul word back wholeheartedly and Bilbo smiles and flushes hoping the word means what it sounds like it means.

“Feast my friends!” Thorin bellows. “Drink!”

He resumes his seat amidst the cheering, and meets Bilbo’s gaze, not with the expected look of majestic triumph, but something that speaks of a private understanding. He puts down his cup, and closes his hand over Bilbo’s. It is so like the way he’d held Bilbo’s hand when he was recovering that for a moment Bilbo is rendered speechless. He clears his throat but is unable to do anything about the butterflies in his stomach.

“What was that word you used, Barakhasard, something?”

Bahukhazâd. Dwarf-friend. You are considered as one of us, Bilbo, and will be welcomed by any dwarf that is a friend of Durin’s folk.”

Bilbo is exceedingly touched. “Oh. That— Thank you, Thorin.” He squeezes Thorin’s hand back before releasing it, and quickly takes a drink before he can say something ridiculously foolish.

 


 

Thorin allows himself to relax and enjoy the feast, this, his moment of triumph. He tries not to think of those absent, or the work that lies unfinished and waiting for him on the morrow. Instead he raises his tankard and drinks the ale Dain had shipped in only that morning and eats the meat he knows was procured at an extortionate rate, and does his very best not to dampen the well-deserved cheer of his friends and now, subjects. Thoughts of the Arkenstone skitter beneath the surface of his mind but he won’t think of that either, nor its reappearance only that morning courtesy of Bilbo, nor the knowing, warning look Gandalf graced him with before he took himself back to Dale, laden down with the precious white gems of Eryn Lasgalen.

The crown — his grandfather’s — is heavy, and he ignores the creeping disconcertion he feels wearing it once again. But no, tonight he is not unwell. He is aware of who he is, of how things are, and he knows the price that has been paid for this honour. He knows what was nearly lost — and what was lost.

He has already wept many tears for his nephews and now for his father too, but he can weep again later. It does his heart good to know his father is at peace with Mahal and it is a wound that now reopened can finally heal.

And Bilbo is at his side, and has been announced in front of all the dwarves in Erebor that he is his One, his intended consort. A tingle of anticipation flares low in his belly. Bilbo wears his braid and approved of his first gift. He must remember to commend Dori on his work.

Bilbo is talking to Balin at his other side and to Bofur several seats down. There’s a roar of laughter from that end of the table and Thorin sees Bilbo tilt his head back and laugh with delight along with the others. Thorin takes a sip of his own ale.

Bilbo’s soft curls glint gold in the candlelight, reflecting off the sheen of the Gallery. Thorin cannot forget how they felt under his fingertips. He ought not to find a hobbit so attractive. Somewhere between Dwarf and Elf and Man; by dwarven standards of beauty he’s decidedly lacking — with his beardless face, short curls, pointy ears, no muscle tone to speak of, not to mention a complete lack of any sort of craft or trade — but Thorin has thought on that face for some time now and cannot see it as anything less than the most attractive visage he’s had the pleasure to lay eyes upon. He feels warmth when he sees Bilbo, finds comfort when he thinks of him late at night. Somehow, between Bag End and here, the little burglar has grown on him and thoroughly worked his way under Thorin’s skin. Their shared perils, grief and loss, their trials, have only made that longing stronger.

“He’s bonnie enough,” Dain says suddenly and when Thorin glances at him sees that he too is looking at Bilbo. “Got some life in him, that one. I can see why he caught your eye.”

Thorin bristles despite Dain’s good intentions. “I would not be here if it weren’t for him,” he says with quelling heaviness. Bilbo doesn’t hear, there is too much noise. He stands up and slips down to where Bofur is seated and takes a chop from the platter at that end of the table.

“Aye, I don’t doubt it. You think with your hammer more than your head sometimes, laddie. That one, he’s small but he’s clever. Do you trust him though? He did steal the stone from you, and hasn’t that been one bastard of a headache? Mahal spare me from Wizards and canting Elves.”

Thorin responds stiffly. “He took the stone to force my hand when I would not listen to reason. I trust him now as I trusted him in Mirkwood and trusted him in Erebor before I failed him.”

Dain makes a sound that might be positive. “As long as you know what you’re doing. You’ll be stuck with me as your heir if he accepts yer, yer know that don’t you?”

“I do. You have heirs enough for the both of us. And there is always Dis. She’d rule Erebor as well as either of us, I’d wager.”

Dain chuckles in agreement at this and Thorin allows himself to unbend.

He sighs. “I am one hundred and ninety-five years old,” he says pensively, putting into words the thoughts that he had wrestled with the night before. “Even if I found a dwarf I wished to take as wife, who’d have me in return, and begat a babe on her within the next year, it would be sixty years before they would be of an age to take my crown. I was too young when I took on the mantle of leader of my people. I would not wish that on my own child.” He watches Bilbo. “Besides, I have lived many years and I have reclaimed my home. Is it so wrong that I ask for this one thing? To have something of my own, that I chose for me, not for duty?

Dain’s keen gaze pins him. “He is your One, then, you think?”

“I have not felt this longing with any other.”

Dain shakes his head and slaps Thorin on his back. “Oh laddie. You never do things the easy way, do you cousin?”

Thorin gives a rough bark of laughter. “No, I suppose I do not.” He considers his cup pensively. “I never thought I’d find my umùrad’akar. When I was younger I assumed I’d be married to a dwarf of my grandfather’s choosing, to continue the line of Durin into perpetuity. Then we were in exile and at war. What did I have to offer my One, even if we managed to find each other?”

“Thorin, I love you like a brother, but I haven’t had enough to drink for this,” Dain says and raises his tankard to the serving dwarf.

Bilbo returns to his seat with a thump.

“Having fun?” he asks, all rosy cheeked and in the best of humour. Thorin is overwhelmed with affection.

“It is a good night, yes. And you, Bilbo, I see you are enjoying yourself.”

“Why yes I am, thank you, your Majesty, very much so. It is a fine night to be celebrating, I don’t think you can begrudge me that.”

“I would not begrudge you joy for all the world,” Thorin tells him and Bilbo stills and seems caught by his words, his head tilted just so.

“Oh.” He flushes and looks away, and Thorin wonders if he’s said something amiss.

A servant catches his attention. “Your Majesty, we are ready.”

Ah. Thorin glances back at Bilbo and with a strange song singing in his heart, he asks, “I have an errand, Bilbo. Will you accompany me?”

Bilbo looks at him with a familiar and thrice-cursed curiosity. “Indeed? And where, may I ask, is the guest of honour disappearing to in the middle of his own feast?”

“To give ale and meat and my good wishes to the dwarves who have drawn the short straw and must stand guard tonight instead of feasting in my halls.”

Bilbo looks at him, a slow smile dawning. “I would be honoured to accompany you, your Majesty.”

Thorin stills, no, it is not right. “Thorin. Always Thorin, I beg of you.”

Bilbo stares at him and his throat bobs as he swallows, and Thorin realises his own heart is pounding and he wonders, if in seeking to reassure Bilbo, he has overstepped some bound.

“Thorin,” Bilbo says, then seems to shake off whatever mood had briefly overtaken him and he smiles brightly, tilting his head towards the servant awaiting them. “Come along then, those poor fellows have waited long enough.”

The dwarves at the gate greet Thorin with good cheer and Bilbo jests with them with an easiness that Thorin admires. It is only when they take their leave that Thorin realises his mistake: their next stop is the battlements. With sinking dread, he clasps Bilbo’s shoulder, staying him.

“Go back to the feast now, Bilbo. I will manage from here.”

Bilbo’s expression of cheer falls away. “What? No. I’ll come with you.” He laughs with an edge of nervousness, searching Thorin’s face. “I have quite eaten my fill, thank you very much!”

Thorin meets his gaze, willing him to realise, and spare him from speaking of this reminder that can only bring them pain. “Bilbo…”

Bilbo frowns. “What is it? Thorin— “ Thorin recognises the moment when Bilbo finally realises where they must go next. “Oh. Well now.” He squares his shoulders, lifts his determined chin, hands bunching into fists at his sides. “That’s just being silly,” he says, avoiding Thorin’s eyes. “We can’t both avoid the battlements forever. You don’t intend to throw me off and I certainly don’t intend to… ” he trails off. “Well, nevermind that, I won’t be doing it. Come along you, the guards will be wondering what’s become of us.” And without a backwards glance he turns and marches up the stairs to the upper ramparts. Thorin stares after him for a long moment, his brave, all too forgiving Bilbo, and then he follows behind him.

Bilbo stands at a distance while Thorin speaks to the guards. He cannot fault him for it, though it pains him. He pushes away the memories that prick and seep.

Once the servant has finished sharing the food and drink, Thorin sends him back to the feast and crosses the battlements to Bilbo’s side. Bilbo tilts his head towards the night sky.

“It’s been a few days since I saw the stars. It feels good to be under the sky again, I never realised how much I missed it.”

Here at the scene of his great shame, Thorin looks out at the night, at the lights in the camp outside Dale and in the town itself. He looks at the stars, watching down upon them from the soft velvet of the night. He can hear the guards eating and drinking, the clink of chain mail as they shift in their places. Far below and behind, he hears the feasting carrying on without him. Erebor opens around him, the weight of generations settles upon him like a mantle. He stands on stone, in his mountain, and he feels protected, safe. He is here. He is home. His heart swells and he blinks back tears of emotion that he never felt during the ceremony itself. Deep in his heart he feels his maker’s quiet strength, and his love.

A small hand slips into his own and he cannot move, cannot speak. He feels the song of the mountain, ancient and infinitely patient and he is at peace.

Finally the song fades, the stars and the night stop whirling by swift and unstoppable and he breathes. He looks down at Bilbo. His hobbit is looking up at the stars and Thorin’s heart hurts.

He squeezes Bilbo’s hand and together the two of them climb down the stairs from the battlements.

“There, you see,” says Bilbo when they reach the bottom. “You didn’t try to throw me off once and I didn’t speak to a single elf.”

Thorin gives a startled laugh and looks down at his ridiculous, impertinent hobbit. Bilbo’s face is tilted up towards his, his expression a mix of caution and a teasing fondness. He is so very beautiful. Thorin’s breath stops in his throat, and his heart, already so full, aches with longing.

“Come,” he says, tugging lightly on Bilbo’s hand. “I tire. Take me to my bed, my burglar.”

Bilbo’s lips quirk slightly and his dark eyes are unreadable. “Yes, of course.”

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo and Thorin make their way back to the feasting hall where Thorin bids Dain goodnight. From behind Thorin's elbow, Bilbo gives him a nod, and, grinning broadly, Dain claps Thorin on the shoulder and bangs on the table for quiet. The Company picks up the action, until the roar of feasting dulls to a low hum.

Thorin raises his cup again. “Feast my friends! I bid you goodnight!” He takes a last swig of ale as the dwarves all cheer, then do the same. Thorin slams his cup on the table and, raising his hand in farewell, leaves the table.

Bilbo catches the eye of his friends at the table and bids them goodnight with a nod and tilt of his head in the direction of Thorin, indicating that he’s going to help him back to his room. Bilbo thinks their farewell is far more enthusiastic than is warranted, but he supposes they’ve had far more ale than is sensible.

Two dwarves whom Bilbo recognises as Thorin’s personal guards stand to accompany them, but Thorin waves them away. He rests his large hand heavily on Bilbo’s shoulder and exhales. Bilbo can see he’s flagging. He puts his hand on Thorin’s waist to steady him and together they make their way down the long halls to Thorin’s apartments, where Thorin sets down his heavy crown, and then into his bedchamber. Neither says much but it is not an uncomfortable silence, more like the quiet comfort of the tent, the relief of just knowing the other is there.

Tonight has been good. Very good. This friendship that is so dear to Bilbo, the affection he thought he’d felt from Thorin is not lost after all. Thorin’s concern for his feelings, the warmth in his gaze, give Bilbo heart. He is wanted here and he will stay as long as Thorin wishes it.

“Let’s get you into bed then, old dwarf,” Bilbo says fondly.

Thorin sits heavily on his bed. “I have missed your company these past few days,” he says.

Bilbo smiles to himself and kneels to help him with his boots. “You’ve been busy, I imagine there’s a great deal of work involved in renovating a city. Why, I recall the time my mother decided to redecorate our kitchen at Bag End. You’ve never seen such a business, my father said it was more trouble than building the smial itself.”

Thorin smiles at this, which gives Bilbo a small satisfaction. “Well, while it is true that this is nowhere near the scale and scope of a hobbit’s kitchen, it is a large undertaking nonetheless.”

Bilbo grins, pleased that Thorin is jesting with him. He pulls both boots off, taken by the neatness of Thorin’s stockinged feet. “Socks,” he tuts.

“Not all of us have furry feet, my Hobbit. You may take off my socks but do not laugh.” His blue eyes crinkle in good humour, the warning only teasing.

“Oh I cannot promise at all not to laugh at your poor naked little feet.”

“Be kind,” Thorin rumbles and Bilbo grins up at him and peels his majestic feet free of the socks. Despite his threat, he does stifle his startled laugh at the sight of Thorin’s feet, so short and blunt, pale and soft, so bare. He finds himself completely unable to resist touching them, running his fingers over the arches and the delicate bones of Thorin’s ankles, then he trails his fingers down and under the sole. With a grunt, Thorin flinches his feet away and Bilbo remembers himself. Oh my. He looks up, expecting to see a scowl at his impudence, but instead Thorin is oddly flushed.

“Tickles,” he mutters.

Bilbo is completely captivated and returns his fingers to Thorin’s bare feet again, touching his short, blunt toes with their surprisingly soft, delicate skin.

“I changed my mind,” he says with a dry mouth. “Your feet are ridiculously sweet and I’m sorry I ever laughed at them.” And then flushes hotly because he just said that aloud. He stands quickly. “Well, off with the rest of it, you can’t go to bed like that,” he says briskly.

Thorin holds Bilbo’s gaze for a heavy moment before turning his attention to his fur cloak.

He unfastens the garment and Bilbo helps lift the heavy fur from his shoulders, laying it neatly over the back of a chair. Underneath is a deep-blue, belted coat. Thorin tugs at the buckle and then curses as it proves difficult to unfasten while seated.

“Come here, “ Bilbo says, batting his hands away. “You will insist on wearing twenty layers of clothes,” he chides. He doesn’t mention how well the blue suits Thorin, how it flatters his intense eyes.

Thorin snorts and leans back on the bed while Bilbo steps between his knees to unbuckle the huge belt. He sets it and Orcrist beside the bed. Thorin sits forward just as Bilbo reaches for the lapels of his coat to assist him with it.

Bilbo falters. Thorin’s suddenly very near, and Bilbo’s hands are clutched in his coat. It is almost an embrace.

Like this, with Thorin seated in front of him, Bilbo stands nearly half a head taller. Bilbo looks down at his strong brows, the silver-shot dark hair, the sweep of his cheekbones, the curve of his oddly rounded ears. His breath catches in surprise as Thorin lifts his hand to Bilbo’s chest and lightly touches the gleam of mithril that peeks out beneath the collar of his jerkin.

“You still wear it.”

Bilbo’s pulse thrums in his veins. “I do. I… I should give it back to you.”

“Only if you wish to insult me,” Thorin says quellingly. “It is my gift to you.”

Bilbo flushes, embarrassed at appearing rude. “No, I didn’t mean—“

“Forgive me—“ Thorin sighs, his brow furrowing. “I did not think. The shirt must hold unpleasant associations—”

Oh drat and blast it, just when Bilbo thought they’d gotten past all that. “No, no,” he says quickly. “How many times must I tell you, you ridiculous dwarf, I have forgiven you, and I hope you have forgiven me. You must stop this! Every time you apologise, I must apologise, and how many times must we forgive each other, hm? It’s over and done with.” He relaxes his hold on Thorin’s coat to reach up and lay gentle fingers on his cheek. “I’m the one not thinking. It was a gift. You said ‘token of our friendship’, and I was proud indeed to receive it. It is very fine mail and it suits me to wear it because you gave it to me.”

Thorin doesn’t answer, gaze still fixed on Bilbo’s chest. Slowly his fingers trace along the ornately woven collar of the mithril shirt, pushing aside Bilbo’s coat, then his hand splays open on Bilbo’s upper chest, hot like a brand.

 


 

Thorin’s blood pounds in his veins. He keeps making a mess of things, he’d nearly ruined this moment. He orders when he means to ask, he finds offence when he should find forgiveness. He does not deserve Bilbo, so giving and open. He cannot think. He feels brittle, prone to shattering at any moment. His nerves are alive, alight. Bilbo’s soft intimacies have laid him to waste. He is all at sea, uncertain, untested.

With each breath Bilbo’s chest rises and falls under the weight of Thorin’s hand. They hover here, on the edge of more.

“There are things I have resisted,” he says, his voice a rasp in his throat, his pulse hammering in his ears. “Denied while my quest was still unfinished. Hopes and desires that I dared not acknowledge, save in the secret places of my heart. My journey is finished and now I find I cannot ignore them any longer.”

Bilbo’s fingers stroke softly down his cheek, into his beard and Thorin shudders under the weight of desire. A sound escapes his throat, something low and longing.

He lifts his face and meets the eyes of his umùrad’akar, dark as onyx.

 


 

Everything stops. All Bilbo can hear is his own pulse. Thorin’s eyes are fixed on his, dark and unreadable and his beard is rough under his palm. His lips, oh, that curve so temptingly, are parted as if on a breath.

“Thorin?”

Thorin shuts his eyes as he exhales, and they are so close that Bilbo feels a warm puff of breath against his lips.

Thorin’s fingers trace back along the collar of the mithril shirt.

“Mr Baggins, Bilbo, my burglar,” he murmurs, and his voice, so deep and low, rolls through Bilbo from sternum to spine. Thorin’s eyes open, fixing on Bilbo’s, searching his face. “Lie with me tonight.”

He blinks at Thorin. Oh.

The longing that has been teasing at Bilbo, simmering, unnamed and unexplored ever since Bag End, that intensified ten-fold since he woke from his grief-stricken nightmare on the battlefield, suddenly coalesces with impossible clarity into urgent, fervent desire.

It is overwhelming but Bilbo doesn’t have Took blood for naught.

“Yes,” he blurts, and shuts his eyes tight, bumping against Thorin’s nose as with fumbling haste he seeks to close the distance between them. “All right, yes,” he breathes and finds Thorin’s mouth at last.

For a terrible moment Thorin freezes against him, but then a caught, bitten off sound escapes his throat and it’s so wanting, so needful that Bilbo whimpers in return. Thorin’s large hand is on Bilbo’s back, pulling him closer, his other palm still gripping the front of Bilbo’s shirt as their mouths are crushed together. Bilbo’s heart hammers in his chest and he cups Thorin’s bristly cheek, clutches tightly at his coat with his other hand, and kisses him with a fierceness born of months of longing, of grief and an urgent, desperate relief.

Thorin yields to him, his lips parting, and the fierce crush becomes soft willingness, pliant lips and the glance of tongue against Bilbo’s own. He tastes of ale, and Thorin moves against Bilbo with the inexorable ebb and flow of the tide, meeting his kiss and pushing back only to fall under the pressure of Bilbo’s eager mouth. Bilbo is unused to beardy kisses but the scratch of Thorin’s furred chin against his own grounds him firmly in the moment. He feels every inch of his kiss from the tingle in his toes to the hungry flare low from the pit of his belly.

Finally Bilbo remembers to breathe again and draws back a fraction, sliding his fingers from beard to soft hair to the nape of Thorin’s neck. Thorin grazes his nose against his, unyielding in his embrace but his hand unclenches from the front of Bilbo’s shirt and finds its way to cup Bilbo’s jaw.

“Ah Bilbo,” Thorin sighs against his mouth. “I had thought—“

But what he’d thought, he does not say, for he finds Bilbo’s mouth again and the kiss this time delves far deeper than before. Both Thorin’s and Bilbo’s hands move with a restless intent. Bilbo wants to touch him everywhere at once, span Thorin’s strong broad shoulders, slide his fingers through long, silken hair, graze his palm on rough beard or just clutch his arm and hold him close and tight. He doesn’t dare stop to think or question. He can’t quite believe this is happening, that Thorin wants this, with him.

For a person so strong, so capable of such violence and brutality, Thorin touches Bilbo with surprising restraint, and there is something almost tender in the way he cups his cheek and the back of his head or skims his fingers down Bilbo’s shoulders, arms and chest. His reticence only makes Bilbo’s need burn the hotter, and he pulls at Thorin’s coat, pushing it from his shoulders. Finally Thorin relents and releases Bilbo, one hand at a time, to rid himself of the garment before returning the favour and stripping Bilbo’s coat from his shoulders in a single movement. Bilbo gives a gasp of laughter and in no time Thorin rids him of his sword belt, Sting falling unheeded to the floor, and Thorin’s hands are at the fastenings of Bilbo’s fine jerkin, strong fingers making swift, short work of the lacings.

With a jolt, Bilbo’s wits return for the briefest moment. “Just let me—“ he says, stepping back and checking his pocket quickly for his hidden ring before shrugging off the jerkin. He folds it carefully, hanging it over the end of the bed. When he turns back to Thorin, there is a look on the dwarf’s face that is entirely too fond. Bilbo’s stomach flips indecorously as he steps back to him.

“There is still some of the fastidious little Hobbit I found in the Shire,” Thorin rumbles, leaning in for another kiss.

“Nonsense,” Bilbo murmurs against his lips. His hands fall to the edge of the mithril shirt, but Thorin grasps them both in his.

Bilbo blinks at him, caught by the intensity of his expression, and really has no choice but to lean forward and chase the look away with a kiss. Thorin sighs into his mouth and his hands release Bilbo’s in favour of sliding them around his waist. After a long moment in which Bilbo becomes quite lost in the sensation of Thorin’s mouth and the glide of his tongue, firm and insistent against his own, Thorin breaks the kiss, and with a dark, hooded look, slides his hands reverently up Bilbo’s mail clad torso. He exhales and his hands glide back down to the hem of the shimmering mithril shirt, lifting it and sliding it up Bilbo’s body, hands tracking the path of the shirt, leaving fire in their wake. Bilbo pulls it the last of the way off, up and over his head.

He lays the mithril alongside his jerkin, and as he turns back he sees Thorin’s eyes upon him. A frisson of anticipation lances through him; here he stands before Thorin Oakenshield, down to his shirt and knee-breeches, about to go to his bed.

He clears his throat, and then, since he’s proved himself to be more Took than Baggins in the past while, steps back into the circle of Thorin’s embrace, tilting his king’s bearded chin up and bestowing a kiss on his forehead, nose and then finally returning to his lips to catch the groan that greets him. Oh that mouth, that wonderful mouth! He’s been tormented for so long by its curves, by its cruel twists, the rarer quirks of amusement, and the even rarer broad smiles it can bestow. He sighs as Thorin meets his lips with a willingness Bilbo never dared dream. His hands take shocking liberties with Bilbo’s person, roaming with a presumptuousness that has Bilbo’s breath quickening along with his pulse. Bilbo’s hands skate over Thorin’s shoulders and up into the thick mass of his hair and his knee somehow finds its way atop Thorin’s broad thigh. Thorin sways back with a grunt, nearly toppling over.

Bilbo breaks the kiss, breathing heavily and rights himself. This will never do, Thorin is still recovering and should be in bed.

“Right, bed for you. Lie down, you shouldn’t be exerting yourself.”

“Mmn.” Thorin reaches for him again, pulling Bilbo closer into the bracket of his legs. “I intend to exert myself quite a bit once you’re in my bed.”

Bilbo’s mouth tugs into a smile. “Then get in it, and I’ll join you.”

Thorin drops his forehead to Bilbo’s chest with a put-upon sigh, but he stands up, unlacing his tunic and lifts the edge of the garment, wincing as he tries to pull it over his head.

“Stop, you’ll hurt yourself,” Bilbo interrupts, and helps ease the shirt up and off.

Thorin flings back the covers and sinks on to the bed with a small moan and Bilbo stops, the tunic fisted uselessly in his hands, staring at the sight that greets his eyes. Thorin’s strong, lean, muscled upper body is covered with thick dark hair. Faded scars and intricate tattoos in the square-edged fashion of the dwarves decorate the biceps, his shoulders and upper pectoral muscles, and without the tunic covering his tight breeches, Thorin’s interest in current matters is rather obvious. The visual confirmation of his sheer physical strength, bared, offered like this, is breathtaking, but it is the evidence of Thorin’s recent wounding that quiets Bilbo. He knows dwarves heal quickly and the Elven charms have done their work, but an angry red scar remains on Thorin’s abdomen, out of place and wrong on that strong, vibrant body.

For a moment Bilbo is back on the battlefield of his nightmare and Thorin is lying lifeless under his hands. He swallows and looks away, momentarily overcome.

“Ah, I see,” says Thorin softly and Bilbo glances up. The dwarf looks down at himself with a deprecating ruefulness, a harshness in his tone. “This body has indeed seen better days. You need not feel obligated—“

Bilbo frowns. Oh. “No, nope, no,” he says, dropping Thorin’s tunic and marching to the bed. “No. You… you are…” He scrambles onto the bed beside Thorin. “You are magnificent. Wholly, completely. Ludicrously. I…” he ducks his head, flushing, lost for words, mouth dry at finding himself in bed beside Thorin Oakenshield, his powerful body laid before him, alive and wanting and here. “I— your wound. I was put in mind of a time when I thought I would lose you. That’s all.”

“Bilbo,” the word is but a breath on Thorin’s lips and his expression is soft as he reaches for Bilbo pulling him down closer. Bilbo, bracing himself to keep his weight off Thorin’s upper body, meets his kiss with a desperate rush of need, full of everything he’s felt since he woke on the battlefield. He might never have had this, but Thorin is not dead and Bilbo is not either. Far from it, in fact.

Thorin rolls them both onto their sides and the kiss slows and becomes less desperation and more exploration. Bilbo cannot quite help himself, taking another kiss, and then another, completely entranced by the sensation of Thorin’s mouth, the softness of his bottom lip, the glide of his tongue, the rub of his beard.

It is all kinds of wonderful to dig his fingers into Thorin’s thick chest hair, to feel the expanse of his bare, broad shoulders and back, to have his legs and hips pressed so intimately against Bilbo’s and to feel his answering hardness flush against Bilbo’s thigh.

One of Thorin’s arms is cradled under Bilbo’s head, while his other is about Bilbo’s waist, fingers trailing leisurely up and down Bilbo’s back as if kissing in this manner is the only thing of importance in all the world. His hands are so large, he is so large that Bilbo has not felt quite so held before, so singularly possessed.

Bilbo reaches lower, gathering enough wits to realise he finally has unimpeded access to Thorin’s lower half and there’s an opportunity currently going sorely to waste. His hands quest with agitation, needing to own and know. Thorin’s backside is a wonder, and so are his thighs, as is the sound that comes from his lips when Bilbo’s fingertips dip into the waistband of his breeches. Bilbo trails his fingers over Thorin’s hipbone and down the smooth tempting hollow that leads to the front of his trousers.

“Let’s see what dwarf kings keep in their breeches, shall we?” Bilbo murmurs, smiling against Thorin’s beard as his roving fingers pull at the fastenings of his breeches.

“The same thing as Hobbit burglars do, I expect,” Thorin replies a touch breathlessly and seems to give in, falling back a little way, watching as Bilbo unfastens the placket of his trousers, hand closing around silky-hard heat.

Thorin’s eyes are so very dark, his cheeks flushed above his beard, his lips parted, kissed red, and the sound he makes is so very edifying. Bilbo huffs a breathless, delighted laugh, his pulse thrumming in his veins.

“Just as I suspected,” Bilbo says, his throat a little rough. His tongue darts out to wet his lips. “Something magnificent.”

 


 

Thorin gives a startled laugh. He cannot restrain himself and he surges forward to capture Bilbo’s mouth again, sighing with a sense of completion as they join again. He reaches for the front of Bilbo’s breeches in return, his breath quickening along with his pulse. The reassuring evidence of Bilbo’s arousal has not escaped Thorin’s notice but he still finds himself fumbling as his fingers brush the hardness under his Halfling’s garments and hears Bilbo’s caught breath. Bilbo breaks the kiss, drawing back on a caught, bitten sound – still touching Thorin in ways that make it very hard to think, let alone unfasten delicate ties.

“Here,” Bilbo says. “Let me.”

The sound Thorin makes is not a whimper as Bilbo releases him to makes short work of the flap on his breeches, but any disappointment is forgotten as Thorin is granted access to the most intimate parts of his Hobbit’s person.

Bilbo grunts as Thorin takes him in hand, then gives a sudden laugh. “Well, that is lowering, I must say.” Thorin’s gaze snaps to his face – flushed, breathless with wry deprecation in his expression. “I never thought of myself as small until now. I mean, proportionally speaking.”

Thorin looks down between them again. His hand does completely engulf Bilbo’s entire prick. He releases him, cupping him in his palm. Bilbo groans and presses his forehead to Thorin’s chest.

“Not that I’m complaining, please continue.” He strokes Thorin a little as a demonstration. Bilbo’s hand barely covers half Thorin’s prick – he feels somewhat monstrous beside his neat, delicate Hobbit. However he is not so graceless that he doesn’t recognise this as a point of sensitivity.

“It is a very good size,” Thorin says placatingly, pressing his cheek against his Hobbit’s curly head, trailing his fingers over perfectly shaped bollocks and along his length. “Should you ever wish to couple with me, I believe it would provide much enjoyment. I, on the other hand would not be able to return the favour for fear of causing you harm.”

Bilbo lifts his head then. “Oh. You— Oh. You do that? You like that?”

“Hobbits do not?” Thorin flushes. Bilbo’s hand has stopped its ministrations and Thorin fears he has spoken amiss.

Bilbo looks at Thorin with an arrested expression. “Some hobbits do. Some hobbits think it’s not the sort of thing a respectable hobbit does.”

“And which sort of hobbit are you?” Thorin dares, voice rough.

“Oh, I believe I’ve proven myself entirely disreputable by now.” Bilbo’s pink tongue peeps out between his lips as he looks down between them. He glides his hand along Thorin’s entire length, making him choke back an undignified moan. “As to the other – well, we shall have to see about that. You're not so ridiculously big.” He looks back up at Thorin, lips wet and parted. “What would you like tonight?”

“This, this, you.”

Bilbo’s eyes are so very dark and he presses a small kiss to Thorin’s mouth in answer.

His burglar strokes and explores, awakening within him a slow fire that grows hotter, brighter until Thorin fears he will be consumed by it. It burns along his limbs, through his core. He kisses when he may, when he can between panted breaths and words that fall from his tongue with little sense save that they are all for Bilbo. He touches Bilbo in return, as best he can, feeling clumsy and rough by comparison. Bilbo kisses him back, kisses his brow, his cheek, his mouth, his throat, kisses and strokes.

It has been many years since he was with someone, and never has he been with one he ached for so fervently. He has never allowed himself to think on this moment, but now it is here and he is unmade. He does not want his release, wants to remain in this moment of demanding arousal and answering pleasure. Then he chokes on a moan as Bilbo breaks free from his kiss, slips downwards and takes Thorin in his mouth.

Bilbo’s mouth, so quick and clever, so sarcastic and nimble, always makes Thorin feel slow, dull and painfully direct by comparison. Now Bilbo uses that mouth to bestow such shocking intimacies, to rend such pleasure from Thorin’s flesh, that he can hold back no longer. Thorin trembles and breaks, spilling into the wet heat of Bilbo’s mouth, a thousand words caught fast in his throat.

He reaches for Bilbo, shivering out the last of the aftershocks against him, tasting himself on Bilbo’s tongue.

“There you are, there you are,” Bilbo murmurs against his lips.

Thorin’s heart is so full, full of his One. He pushes Bilbo back, lifting up on one elbow and attends with more studious attention to pleasuring him. Bilbo’s hand tangles in his hair, the other strokes his cheek. He is a sight to behold, like this, flushed and panting, lips parted, eyes so very dark as he holds Thorin in his gaze.

“Thorin,” he groans, pressing an open-mouthed kiss against Thorin’s chest. “Oh don’t – don’t stop, yes, there, there— Oh—“ And Thorin does not stop and the sight of Bilbo shaking with pleasure, clutching at him, as he reaches his climax is almost too much to bear.

“Bilbo— ghivashel.” He presses his face to Bilbo’s hair, holding him close, relishing the final tremors of Bilbo’s pleasure as he jerks and shudders against him, spilling into his hand.

Bilbo finds his mouth at last and kisses him with a sweetness Thorin has dared not imagine. He draws back with a rueful smile. “We’ve made quite a mess of your lovely bed.”

“It matters not,” Thorin responds and wipes his hand on the sheet, wipes both of them clean, and gathers him close, sinking onto the pillows with a satisfied groan.

Bilbo looks up at him with an oddly soft expression and Thorin’s heart warms all over again.

“We’ve made a mess of you too,” his Hobbit says, and combs his fingers through Thorin’s hair. It is a quieter intimacy compared to the ones they’ve just experienced but Thorin prizes it nonetheless. Warmth and peace creep over him as Bilbo cards his fingers through his tangled hair and plucks out the hair clasps that have come undone. He smooths Thorin’s braids and Thorin has to close his eyes for a moment at this liberty his One takes so freely. He opens his eyes again and touches the courting braid in Bilbo’s hair, the small bead he’d engraved.

Bilbo toys with a lock of Thorin’s hair between his fingers.

“I should give you a braid,” Bilbo says in that careless tone he has, as if to hide the weight of his words.

Thorin’s breath catches.

“Yes,” is all he can manage to say. He cannot quite believe his good fortune. How can it be that the one he yearns for desires him so fully in return, has accepted his offer of courtship, and now gives him this sign of his affection? Perhaps after so many years of strife, Mahal finally looks favourably upon him. Or perhaps it is Bilbo who brings the good fortune.

Bilbo quirks a smile, and with nimble fingers he braids a lock of hair from behind Thorin’s left ear. Thorin watches his face, furrowed in seriousness at his task. He uses one of Thorin’s hair clasps to fasten it, and smooths in next to Thorin’s other braids with a small satisfied sound.

“There, now we’re a matching pair. I’m wearing the king’s braid and you’re wearing the burglar’s.”

Thorin’s heart is so full it hurts. His smile grows wider. He pulls Bilbo close, pressing his face to his short, coppery curls.

Amrâlimê,” he breathes. Bilbo feels so good against him, the thin linen barely a barrier between their skin, his hands and breath warm on Thorin's bare flesh. He feels as if they stay in place long enough they might become one, melded together like welded steel.

Bilbo hums against his shoulder, a small contented sound. “If I don’t move soon, I’ll end up spending the night here,” he murmurs.

“Then you shall not move,” Thorin declares, shifting his hold and pressing another kiss to Bilbo’s hair.

Bilbo stills for a moment and then huffs a small laugh. “I have had a lot of ale you know. If I promise to return, will you excuse me for a moment?”

Thorin chuckles. “That would be wise.” He indicates the door to his dressing room, an affectation in Erebor’s current state when his own wardrobe is nearly as limited as Bilbo’s. “There is a water closet through there.”

Bilbo sits up, surprised. “I suppose being inside a mountain, of course you’d have indoor plumbing.” He wriggles out of Thorin’s embrace, looking delightfully dishevelled. He hitches up his breeches and gives Thorin the most cocky smirk before he slips out of the room.

Thorin lets his eyes close. He is tired, but still so very aware of the miraculous fact of having Bilbo that sleep cannot immediately claim him. He hears Bilbo return and welcomes him back into his bed, and only then, with Bilbo warm and real by his side, does wakefulness ease its grip and he falls asleep.

 


 

Bilbo lies awake for a while, too keyed up about the remarkable events that have taken place to fall asleep. Heart aglow, skin alight, he listens to Thorin’s steady breath, stroking Thorin’s back with too-sensitive fingertips, the skin so smooth in contrast to the roughness of Thorin’s chest and chin.

Part of him thinks he should have insisted on leaving for his own bed earlier, but he had been pleased that Thorin seemed to want him to stay and so he’d agreed with foolish thoughts of prolonging this moment as long as possible. He images he’ll regret his weakness when they wake. It is bound to be awkward and Thorin’s dismissal will hurt more in the morning than if Bilbo had made a dignified retreat now. All the same, he curls in closer, rubbing his nose and cheek in the coarse hair on Thorin’s chest, breathing in his musky scent, and cannot seem to stop touching him, mapping the bare skin under his hands.

He has a disturbed night. The mattress is comfortable and Bilbo is tired, but he is unused to sharing a bed, despite close proximity during their travels on the road. He cannot help the small thrill every time he shifts and is reminded that it is Thorin here beside him – Thorin tugging him closer, nuzzling into his hair or shifting his hips to rub up against Bilbo with a sleepy, wanton thrust.

He is finally woken properly by the jostle of Thorin returning to bed. It is morning, and the strange refracted light of the mountain illuminates the room. Any fears of awkwardness are immediately forgotten as Thorin settles back against Bilbo’s side and nuzzles at his hair again, his lips grazing Bilbo’s ear in a manner that sends a delicious shiver down his spine.

“Mm, morning,” Bilbo says, opening his eyes to find the dwarf looking at him with smiling eyes.

“Good morning,” Thorin says, voice sleep-roughened. Bilbo turns towards him fully, thrilling as Thorin’s embrace only tightens. He briefly considers the state of his breath but Thorin doesn’t pay that any consideration and takes his mouth in a deep kiss. He has obviously rinsed his mouth and tastes pleasantly unexceptionable. The kiss grows heated quickly and Bilbo finds himself on his back, Thorin flinging off the covers to lean over him. He draws back, large hand skimming down Bilbo’s shirt front to pluck at the hem.

“Off,” he says. “I wish to see you properly, my Hobbit.”

Bilbo obliges, with no small difficulty, given that Thorin impedes his progress with kisses and roaming hands.

“Feeling better this morning?” Bilbo grins against his mouth.

“I slept well,” Thorin tells him, as Bilbo’s shirt is finally cast aside. He gives Bilbo a wicked look. “And I am feeling inclined to exert myself.”

Bilbo is not of a mind to disagree. Thorin presses him back on the bed, gaze roaming over Bilbo with undisguised approval. His large hands skim along the path of his gaze and Bilbo shivers at the intent in Thorin’s expression as he bends his head to Bilbo’s bare skin.

Bilbo melts. There is no other word for it. Thorin melts him like a lump of ice before a fire, leaving him nothing but a puddle of hobbit on the bed as Thorin brands whiskery kisses down his chest, large hands tracing fiery whorls over his skin as he moves inexorably downwards. Bilbo lies pliant as his breeches and underwear are removed without ceremony and Thorin restarts his torturous journey, this time from Bilbo’s feet up, large hands spanning ankles and even calves, beard and hair teasing as he kisses his way up Bilbo’s thighs. Then, oh then—

Thorin lies between Bilbo’s thighs and bends to his task, mouth hot and merciless in the face of Bilbo’s whimpers and moans. Bilbo props himself up on his elbows, transfixed by the sight of Thorin Oakenshield sucking him down with an unmajestic eagerness. His hair is a dark fall over Bilbo’s hip and Bilbo admires the expanse of back bared to where Thorin’s breeches have ridden down, exposing his hips and the cleft of his glorious buttocks to Bilbo’s view. His mouth is wet with the urge to lick, his hands itching to cup and squeeze. Thorin looks up at him, eyes heated.

“Thorin––” Bilbo begins.

The knock on the door is like a dash of cold water.

Bilbo jumps and tries to pull away, but Thorin’s hand clamps fast on his thigh. He growls around Bilbo’s prick, which does not help at all.

“Oh good heavens—“ Bilbo’s eyes nearly roll back in his head.

“Your majesty?” says a voice.

“Bugger off!” Bilbo practically screeches.

The silence on the other side of the door is almost palpable. Well, if people aren’t talking already–– Bilbo meets Thorin’s amused gaze and drops back on the pillow with a groan that turns into a pleasure filled moan as Thorin has his way.

Thorin is determined in his attentions and Bilbo is helpless to resist the mounting pleasure. Soon he is overcome, shuddering out his climax, gasping half-formed nonsense. Thorin keeps mouthing his prick until Bilbo finally hisses and pushes at his shoulder.

Thorin sits up wiping a hand across his mouth, gaze dancing over Bilbo’s face. “Thank you,” he says.

Bilbo gapes breathlessly at him. “You’re thanking me? Thank you, you glorious creature. That. That was— oh. Come here.”

Thorin exhales. “I should get dressed. It is getting late.”

Bilbo can’t help the stab of disappointment. “What about you?”

“There is no obligation.” Thorin stands, his impressive cock bobbing, red and erect, from his low-slung breeches.

Bilbo swings up legs over the side of the bed. “Thorin,” he says firmly. “It’s not ‘obligation’ I’m feeling.” He grasps his wrist, drawing him near.

Thorin steps between his knees and Bilbo’s hands fall to his hips, steering him into place. “Can’t have you meeting with the lot from Dale feeling all frustrated. We’ll end up with war, or worse, Thranduil will see this and get the wrong impression.”

Thorin laughs his quiet laugh, the one that’s just for Bilbo. “Do not ever mention that elf and my erection in the same breath again.”

Bilbo looks at said erection. “Now. Will you please let me suck you, Thorin?”

Thorin makes a small sound, clears his throat. “Yes,” he says more firmly.

Bilbo does. It is a fact that hobbits are somewhat orally fixated and it is true that Bilbo has pleasant memories of this sort of dalliance in his youth, but there is something in particular about Thorin’s eager length that begs Bilbo to taste and lick and have as much of it in his mouth as possible. Or perhaps it is more to do with Thorin standing before him, his breeches shoved down his thighs, abdominal muscles quivering, and wrecked sounds falling from his lips as Bilbo pleasures him. Thorin’s hands rest lightly on Bilbo, shifting constantly as if he’s not sure where to put them, or even if he’s allowed, at times on his shoulders, at others in his hair or cupping the side of his face. Once he chances to stroke the tip of Bilbo’s ear, and after Bilbo gives a soft moan, Thorin’s hands keep finding their way there with suspicious regularity.

Afterwards, Thorin sinks down on the bed beside Bilbo with shaking knees and sloppy kisses. Bilbo draws back to look at him: he’s a mess, all flushed, his hair in a tangle, warm and bare. Bilbo combs his fingers through Thorin’s hair, smoothing the long silver-shot length.

Thorin watches him with a soft expression as Bilbo straightens his two braids and the little one he had woven in behind his ear the night before.

“There, now you’re respectable.”

“I must hurry,” Thorin murmurs with a sigh.

Bilbo sighs too, falling back on the pillow, and Thorin tugs lightly at Bilbo’s small braid, pecks him once more on the mouth and slides out of bed, hoisting up his breeches and padding off into his dressing room.

Bilbo dresses, fixing his clothes from the night before as best he can. His breeches are a bit of a state, but luckily his jerkin and coat cover any unfortunate marks.

Bilbo stops as he opens the door to Thorin’s sitting room. The table has been laid with breakfast for two and a copper bath stands by the door, along with two buckets of now not-so-hot water. He feels a bit guilty for his ‘bugger off’ and flushes, it must have been very obvious what he and Thorin had been up to. He’s surprised that Thorin is not concerned about proprietary. He’s only a visitor here, his reputation doesn’t matter, but surely Thorin would prefer that it isn’t common knowledge whom he beds? But then, Bilbo supposes, it was Thorin’s coronation yesterday and perhaps a little celebrating is expected or excused.

He ducks back into the bedroom. “There’s a bath here, and breakfast,” he calls.

Thorin comes out of the dressing room, drying his face with a cloth, wearing only his linen drawers. “You have them, I won’t have time.”

Bilbo blinks, momentarily distracted by 5’ 3” of nearly bare dwarf. “You’ve got to have something for breakfast,” Bilbo protests. “It’s the most important meal of the day. I can’t send you off to negotiate the future of Erebor on an empty stomach.”

Thorin looks at him with an expression that is curiously soft and then prowls towards him to tilt up Bilbo’s chin and plop a kiss on his lips. “Join me for my evening meal.”

Bilbo feels a smile tug at his lips. “Certainly. It’s the least you can do, I suppose, if you’re hoping to get me into your bed again.” It’s only as he says it that he realises how presumptuous he must sound and laughs to pass it off as a joke.

Thorin’s cheeks colour even as he gains a whimsical note to his expression that Bilbo isn’t quite used to yet. “Is that an offer, Mr Baggins?”

It is Bilbo’s turn to blush. Good heavens, is Thorin flirting? “Well now. We’ll see how dinner goes,” he says primly. “I don’t share my kisses with just any dwarf.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Thorin says in a forbidding tone. “Now, eat, Mr Baggins, I can’t have you wasting away.”

And with that he snatches up his tunic and saunters back towards the dressing room.

Bilbo watches him walk away and then shakes himself and wanders out to the sitting room. His stomach gurgles loudly as he lifts the covers on the breakfast tray and spies sausages, toast and porridge as well as a pot of coffee. He’s just poured himself a cup when Thorin leans over his shoulder and snatches a slice of toast from his plate.

“Will I pass for a king, my Hobbit?” he asks spreading his arms wide.

He looks very fine, dressed for court, sword at his side, ridiculously big crown now in place. Bilbo’s cup stops halfway to his mouth. He feels a little nonplussed. Thorin is all kingly majesty and Bilbo finds it hard to reconcile this regal being with the person he’d tumbled so enthusiastically not a quarter an hour ago. He clears his throat.

“One look at your scowl and Bard the Dragonslayer won’t mistake you for just any dwarf,” he teases, trying to have a bit of decorum about how ridiculously magnificent he finds Thorin Oakenshield.

“Dragonslayer? Is that what they’re calling him?” Thorin’s expression darkens.

Bilbo grins in delight, pointing at him. “That’s the scowl, that one, right there.”

Thorin seems amused despite himself. He inclines his head. “Until tonight, Master Burglar.”

“Yes,” says Bilbo and it takes all his strength to stop himself from leaping up for— what, another kiss? An embrace? Anything to bring back the amiable, tactile dwarf whose bed he’d just shared. “Tonight. Good day, Thorin.”

Thorin hesitates a moment, then reaches down and touches the braid at Bilbo’s temple. It is then that Bilbo notices Thorin is still wearing the poor little braid he’d woven in behind his left ear. “You’re still wearing my braid,” he points out.

Thorin smiles. “I am.” His fingers graze Bilbo’s ear as he straightens and Bilbo does his best to hide the tingle that runs through him at the sensitive touch.

“Good day, Bilbo.” Thorin inclines his head again then strides out of his chambers leaving Bilbo to his breakfast.

It is suddenly very quiet, and Bilbo, sitting in the King’s chambers, alone with a breakfast feast for two, is hit by the enormity of what has just transpired.

He sits very still for a long moment. Well.

Once he’s eaten he takes his time with a lukewarm bath and then redresses. He’s still no more used to the fact that he’s just spent the night with Thorin, but he does have one or two tasks to accomplish. He checks his jerkin pocket for his ring and then leaves the King’s bedchamber, dignity as intact as it can be, walking past the guards in his clothes from the day before.

He needs to find Oin and Ori. He has some questions.

Chapter Text

It takes all of Thorin’s willpower to leave Bilbo behind in his chambers and attend to his duties. The dwarves are all sleepy-eyed and sore-headed this morning and Thorin is grateful for several reasons that he had chosen not to overindulge at the feast. His fingers itch to reach for the braid Bilbo had woven in his hair, but aside from making sure it can be seen over his shoulder he resists the urge, satisfying himself with simply the knowledge that it is there.

He feels light, buoyant with an unfamiliar joy. He’s invigorated after the best night’s sleep he’s had in memory; the fears and worries that normally assailed him each time he stirred in the night were rendered impotent in the face of his Hobbit’s warm embrace and soft snores.

Ah Bilbo. Thorin’s whole being thrums with the knowledge of him, the pleasure of his taste, the ecstasy of his touch. Fresh desire shafts through him at the mere thought of Bilbo’s body, naked to his gaze, to his touch. His. He wills the day and all its tedium to be already over so he can return to Bilbo, feel his easy, willing kisses, his eager embrace.

Balin is not blind, and he notices both the new braid and Thorin’s good humour as soon as he greets him in the council chambers. He beams widely and claps Thorin on the shoulder.

“It’s about time, laddie,” he says with a knowing twinkle.

Thorin feels his face heat but he glows with pride all the same. There is nothing shameful about loving his umùrad’akar. He brushes it aside, and brusquely turns to business. They are to meet with the party from Dale this morning to finally negotiate a treaty and, more importantly, lay the groundwork for a trade agreement.

“Are the Elves and Men here yet?”

“No, they arrive in an hour. We have time to go over our notes.”

Thorin nods. Balin’s notes, more like – what Thorin is willing to concede, what is non-negotiable. Thorin’s job is to say as little as possible and not lose his temper. Balin will raise each point on the suggested treaty and pretend not to be willing to give in on things they are actually flexible about, at which point Thorin will intercede with all reasonableness. That is the plan. Thorin is dubious about the ‘keeping his temper’ part. It is odd that right now he is willing to simply give Bard cart loads of gold to make him and the Elvenking go away.

“Is Dwalin still abed? When does he plan to leave?”

“I saw Dwalin holding his head and vowing to abstain from ale for the next thirty years a mite earlier. They’ll leave at midday,” Balin tells him. “I predict we’ll not be any nearer being finished by then, so we’ll break for luncheon so you can bid them farewell.”

Thorin is glad the expedition to Ered Luin will soon be on their way – the sooner his people know of their triumph, the sooner willing hands can join them in the rebuilding of Erebor. Part of Thorin will be glad too when Gloin and Dwalin are safely on their way and there will be no chance of Bilbo changing his mind and going with them. The mere thought makes him wish to return to his chambers just to reassure himself that Bilbo truly is staying in Erebor. More importantly though, Dis must receive the news soon before rumour reaches her. Thorin will not have his sister learn of her sons’ deaths through idle gossip. He still feels guilty for not taking the news to her himself, but Balin is right, he is needed here.

Dain joins them first and they stand at the end of the entrance hall to greet the delegation from Dale. Thorin’s recent injuries have given them the home advantage and after some wrangling, Thranduil and Bard have agreed to meet in Erebor. It does mean a contingent of Elven archers littering the grand entrance though.

Thorin had been too ill, too grief-stricken to pay any mind to the Elvenking the last time they met at Fili and Kili’s funeral. Now he is struck by how different Thranduil seems – as if he too, has been humbled by recent events, has searched his own heart and found it lacking. He seems subdued, less imperious. Perhaps Gandalf had been right to insist that Thorin return the white gems, and remove that one obstacle between an alliance with the Elvenking.

Bard, now of Dale, looks as tired and brusque as ever, but there is also a lack of self-assurance there that Thorin recognises from his own early days as a new leader. He is not yet King, that Thorin is aware of, but the Lake-Men treat him as such and sooner or later he will be forced to take a title. Bard does not appear to have a second and looks to Thranduil with a disconcerting regularity, more proof that he’s thrown his lot in with the Elvenking. As for Dain, he’s nursing a mother of a hangover – he has no real stake in the meeting other than lending his support to Thorin.

What a disagreeable band they make, Thorin thinks as the Elven page pompously proclaims the entirety of Thranduil’s multitude of titles. He imagines what Bilbo would say if he could see them now, all four of them severe and dour. What is the name for a group of monarchs? A misery of majesty? A majestic discontent? It is an amusing thought and he resolves to share it with Bilbo, imagining Bilbo’s clever tongue inventing even more absurd collectives.

His amusement must creep into his expression, for Thranduil’s impassive expression flickers as he looks at him and takes on a haughty air. Ah Durin’s balls, what a start. Thorin goes back to glowering, and feels Balin’s reproachful glance well enough without seeing it. Well, it will do the pompous Elven arse good to think Thorin is not impressed with his centuries of titles.

Thranduil and Bard step forward and Thorin inclines his head magnanimously.

“Greetings, King Thranduil,” he says. “Bard Dragon-slayer.”

“Aye, greetings,” echoes Dain.

“King Thorin, King Dain,” Thranduil says looking down his elegant nose at them. “My congratulations, on your coronation, King Thorin,” Thranduil’s cool, hooded gaze sweeps over Thorin. “I hope the ceremony was to your satisfaction.”

“Yes, congratulations,” says Bard settling into a defensive stance. “Have you recovered from your injuries?”

“Thank you, I am much recovered,” Thorin replies with equal reserve, but feeling more comfortable knowing that Bard, at least, feels the dwarves have the advantage. He girds himself. “And I thank you, King Thranduil, for your hospitality during my convalescence.”

If Thorin’s gratitude surprises Thranduil he does not show it, but merely inclines his head. “I accept your thanks on the behalf of my healers.”

Thorin grits his teeth. Mahal save him. How in Durin’s name is he to survive a whole morning of this?

Balin clears his throat then. “This way my lords, if you’ll follow me to the council room?”

They meet in the newly rebuilt formal chambers, and for diplomacy’s sake they sit at a round table. Bard and Thranduil sit directly opposite Thorin. Dain, Balin and one of Thranduil’s elves sit between them on either side. Balin has thought of everything; for diplomacy’s sake, and the comfort of their guests, the Man and Elves sit slightly back from the table on oversized chairs.

Just then the door swings open and Gandalf sweeps in.

“Gandalf?” Thorin frowns. “Why do you come?”

“Mithrandir?” asks Thranduil.

“To make sure you four fools don’t start another war before I’ve had a chance to leave.”

Thorin feels he should bristle at this, but somehow Thranduil’s not quite concealed look of affront makes him relax instead, and he nods.

“Join us then,” Thorin says gruffly, as a servant quickly brings another chair to place Gandalf next to Balin. It’s an ordinary dwarven chair, so Gandalf perches a little awkwardly, but is not apparently bothered by it.

“May I ask where Mr Baggins is?” Gandalf asks innocently. Thorin is not fooled and he meets his gaze steadily.

“When I left him he was having breakfast,” Thorin says, unable to keep the pride and defiance from his tone. “But as to his current whereabouts, his time is his own and I cannot say where he might be.”

Gandalf’s mouth twitches. “Indeed, I am pleased to hear that he was having breakfast.”

Thorin is careful not to look at either Thranduil or Bard, he holds Gandalf’s gaze a moment longer, then turns to Balin. “Balin.”

“Your majesty,” says Balin. “My lords. Shall we begin?”

 


 

Bilbo finds Oin first, at work as usual in the makeshift hospital where the dwarves who’d suffered more extensive wounding were continuing to heal. Oin greets him jovially and they exchange a few words about the hospital and the health of the dwarves under Oin’s care.

“And how is our King this morning? I trust you were gentle with him last night.”

Bilbo’s eyes widen and he flushes beet red. Botheration. Do his friends know already? Surely the servant’s gossip hasn’t spread that quickly. Suddenly he recalls the Company’s raucous farewells to him at the feast, and realises they’d known all along that he was going to Thorin’s bed. Had Thorin said something? Or had he been that obvious about his feelings? He’d thought he’d managed to hide them so well. He clears his throat and speaks into Oin’s ear trumpet, trying to avoid shouting his private information to the whole of the hospital. “He… he is well, yes. In very good health and spirits this morning.”

Oin chuckles and claps Bilbo on the shoulder. “Glad to hear it. The lad’s been needing a good seeing to for decades now, will have done him the world of good.”

Bilbo thinks now would be a good time for a were-worm to launch out of the floor beneath him and swallow him whole. He looks around. The dwarf in the hospital bed nearest to them is looking at them keenly. Bilbo takes Oin’s elbow, drawing him off somewhere a little more private.

“Actually I need to speak to you. About. That,” he says when they’re safely on the other side of the door to the dispensary.

Oin raises an eyebrow. “What is it you need to know, he didn’t do you a mischief, did he? You’re such a wee thing. I’ve got a salve that might be of use.”

Bilbo chokes. No, he was wrong, now would be a good time for that were-worm. He curses the fact that he has to speak so loudly. “No, nope. That’s. That’s all fine.” He looks down, his ears flaming now too. “But, about that. I’ve—“ he clears his throat. “I’ve never.” He looks at Oin meaningfully. “You know.”

He suspects he may have left Thorin with the implication that he, Bilbo, was familiar with the art of certain types of amorous activities. Bilbo is certainly willing to pursue said activities but embarrassing himself in front of Thorin with woeful ignorance is something Bilbo would rather avoid.

Oin squints at him quizzically.

Bilbo gathers his courage and speaks into the trumpet. Of all the dwarves to have this delicate conversation with – he hadn’t exactly thought this through. “I, you know. Need some advice.”

Oin blinks.

“On how to not do him, or me, either of us, in fact, a mischief. As you say.”

Oin suddenly comprehends. “Oh! You want to know about—“

Bilbo inhales. “Yes. Any advice. You might have. Please. And perhaps some oil, of some sort.”

He leaves the hospital with his face flaming, one of Oin’s vials, and his mind full of thoughts that, while rather intriguing, he rather wishes hadn’t been put there by Oin.

Bilbo’s next stop is Ori and he finds him in the mess, squinting a little and nursing his head.

“Mahal,” Ori groans. “Don’t speak, just let me finish my coffee first.”

Bilbo grins and joins him for a second breakfast, grateful for a chance for his embarrassment to fade before he needs to speak.

“You had a nice night then?” Ori asks finally, when he has a little bit of colour back in his cheeks.

Bilbo blushes all over again. “I did, yes.”

Ori nods but to Bilbo’s relief does not make any comment or innuendo. Perhaps Bilbo and Thorin’s encounter isn’t common knowledge after all.

Bilbo toys with the handle of his mug. “I was hoping you could help me with something actually.”

Ori blinks at him, smiling helpfully. “Of course.”

“It was something Thorin said, in Khuzdul.”

Ori’s smile fades a fraction. “Yes…?”

Bilbo tries to remember exactly how the words sounded. There were a few of them. He remembers one at least. “Ghivashell or something like that? Do you know what it means?”

Oh, ghivashel.” Ori flushes. “Treasure of treasure.” He can’t quite meet Bilbo’s eye. “It’s an endearment.”

Bilbo feels his own face heat. If Ori hadn’t known something was going on, he certainly would now. “Oh. Oh well. That’s nice.” Treasure means a lot to dwarves. He supposes it’s like saying ‘my petal’, a sweet nothing to share with a lover. His stomach flutters at the thought.

Ori looks at Bilbo awkwardly. “Are there any other words you wanted to know?” he asks with commendable bravery.

As the other Khuzdul word was said in similarly amorous circumstances, Bilbo suspects it will be just as intimate as ghivashel, and Ori looks set to combust as it is.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t suppose I could get my hands on a dictionary or something?” Bilbo asks. He doesn’t hold out hope of there being a dictionary in the mountain of course, but perhaps they could send for one from the Iron Hills.

Ori shakes his head. “There are no written translations, only Khuzdul itself is written down. It’s very secret, we have to keep it out of the wrong hands, don’t you know.” He smiles. “We learn the common tongue from the cradle but except for a few family words, our secret language is taught by our elders when we are older so it is always unchanging and immutable.” He smiles. “Like stone.”

“Like dwarves,” says Bilbo. He supposes he’ll just have to ask Thorin the next time he uses one of the Khuzdul words.

“Except stone can be worn down by the gentlest pressure, given time,” notes Ori.

Bilbo is reminded why he likes Ori so much. “I do have one more favour though, may I borrow some paper and a pen? I would like to send a letter home to the Shire with Dwalin and Gloin.”

Ori readily agrees and Bilbo follows him to the temporary office that Ori has made his own. Bilbo’s eye falls immediately to the new shelf in the corner, greedily noting the books upon it.

“This is my new project.” Ori beams proudly. “The library has been unsealed.” He crosses to the bookshelf, hand fluttering an inch from the ancient tomes. “Some of these I found among the salvage earlier, but I’ve started saving what I can from the library now. There’s some scrolls here too.” He indicates parchment pinned out on the desk. “Once everything’s finished I’m going to use my share of the treasure to hire scribes to make copies of the most precious.”

The word precious stings Bilbo’s mind and his fingers automatically reach for the pocket on his jerkin. He calms as soon as he feels the cool metal of the ring under his fingers and quickly withdraws his hands. Ori is looking at him oddly. “Are you all right, Bilbo? You look like you smelt firedamp.”

Bilbo shakes himself. “No, I’m fine. That – that sounds like a wonderful plan, Ori. I would very much like to help, if I may.”

Ori beams. “That would be brilliant, Bilbo.”

“But first, I must write this letter,” Bilbo tells him and Ori sets him up with pen and paper and finds him a clear space to write.

Bilbo spends a lovely morning with his nose filled with the scent of parchment and dusty old books. Ori takes him into the library and Bilbo is awed by the scope of the place, the bookshelves reaching high up into the vaulted ceilings. Although a whole wall of shelves has been flattened, by some miracle no fire has entered the room and the real damage is from age, misuse, rubble, and damp from leaking water. Ori’s process so far for the books amongst the rubble is one of triage, rescuing the most important relics immediately and then sorting the rest into ‘fine’, ‘repairable’, and ‘in dire condition’. Bilbo is soon helping to sort the books, which leaves Ori free to assess those most damaged for their value.

Ori chats amiably as they work, telling Bilbo about the repairs underway in the mountain. Bilbo had forgotten that Ori had been born in exile and of course had never been to Erebor before. His knowledge of the mountain kingdom comes from legends and stories told to him by his kinfolk.

“I know there’s copies of this back in Ered Luin,” Ori says of one torn and battered book, most of the pages illegible from mildew. He hesitates, then with a terribly guilty look throws it on a very small pile. “I won’t try to save it.”

Bilbo wipes his face, a smear of mud on the back of his hand from the dust mingling with his sweat. He grins. “That’s a grand total of three now, Ori. You’re ruthless.”

Ori smiles. “We never had many books when I was little, and we’d never throw one away, not while it could still be read.”

“Quite so,” Bilbo agrees gently. He’s pieced together enough over the last year with the dwarves to know that their time in exile has been neither happy nor prosperous. He didn’t understand when he first joined the quest, caught up as he was in a reckless thirst for an adventure – even with Thorin’s hauntingly seductive song of the Lonely Mountain – that the gold and Erebor represented so much more than mere treasure to the exiled dwarves. It was easy to forget this, in the face of Thorin’s gold sickness, in the delight the Company took in the treasure horde, even in Thorin’s recent majestic return and coronation. Ori’s simple tale reminds Bilbo of what Thorin is working for - a home for his exiled people, the comfort of wealth after nearly two hundred years in poverty. He feels a surge of fierce affection as he thinks of Thorin’s ceaseless, conscientious work since he took up the mantle of King under the Mountain.

“Bilbo,” says Ori hesitantly. “I think it’s nice, no lovely really, that you and Thorin are… you know.” He blushes and Bilbo feels his own ears heat. “I mean that you were able to tell each other how you felt, that… not everyone gets a chance to do that. To know that the other person feels the same.” Ori’s smile wobbles and he ducks his head, looking intently at the book in his hands.

Oh. Bilbo swallows. But who? “Did…?” he begins and then decides it’s none of his business. “I’m sorry,” he finishes.

Ori shrugs. “Nothing was said. I never said. If I had it over, I’d like to have just… known, you know, if I’d have had a chance.”

Maybe it was another battle, or not even a battle, a first love, lost back in the Blue Mountains, but the way Ori speaks, it makes Bilbo think that is not the case, that he’s referring to a more recent loss.

Ori knows about Kili and Tauriel. It must have been…

“Fili?” Bilbo asks.

Ori shrugs but smiles shyly. “He’ll probably laugh his head off at me when we meet again in Mahal’s halls.”

Bilbo touches his hand. “I think he’ll be honoured, Ori.” His heart is heavy with Ori’s loss. This could well have been himself. If things had gone differently on Ravenhill, he might never have known the heated touch, the taste, the most intimate knowledge of his stern dwarven king.

The bell for the noonday meal tolls, clear and sharp, jolting Bilbo from his thoughts. He scrambles to his feet. Oin had told him Dwalin and Gloin would be leaving at noon. Where had the time gone?

With Ori at his heels he races back through the halls to the main entrance.


 

Thorin clasps Dwalin’s hand firmly. “Have a good journey my friend.” He has given Dwalin a letter for Durin’s folk, inviting all to return to Erebor and another, more personal letter for Dis.

Gloin is talking to Oin. Two of Dain’s dwarves are accompanying them and stand waiting with their ponies. Bofur, Bifur, Bombur, Nori, and Dori have gathered to bid them all farewell, along with a few lads from the Iron Hills.

Dwalin turns to Balin. “I needn’t tell you to take care, lad,” Balin tells his brother.

Dwalin pulls Balin into a bear hug. “Don’t go dying while I’m away, you stubborn old prick,” he growls.

Balin merely laughs but as Dwalin releases him, there’s a sudden commotion by the gate.

“Dwalin, Gloin, wait!”

Thorin’s blood freezes as he hears Bilbo’s voice, sees Bilbo come running through the gates, waving his hand, calling for them to wait, as he’d done in the Shire not so long ago.

All he can think is, not yet, not yet.

Bilbo gasps, bent double, catching his breath.

“Bilbo." Thorin can barely force out the word, his heart is in his throat. Somehow between leaving the bed this morning and bidding Bilbo good day he’s done something to ruin everything and Bilbo has changed his mind and has decided to return to the Shire now after all. His blood thuds in his ears. No. Not yet.

Dwalin is looking between them, the others are all looking at Bilbo.

Bilbo rights himself and fishes in his jacket before brandishing an envelope.

“I have a letter to my friends in Hobbiton. Would you mind passing it on when you reach the Shire?”

It is sheer will power alone that stops Thorin’s knees from giving out in relief. He cannot, however, stop the short sharp exhalation that escapes or the broad blooming smile that tugs mercilessly at the corners of his mouth.

Bilbo looks up at him and breaks into a startled smile in return and Thorin’s whole being glows. He’s so relieved it hurts.

Chuckling, Dwalin slaps Thorin on the back before striding over to Bilbo and plucking the letter from his fingers.

“It has the name and address on it,” Bilbo explains. “Any hobbit will be able to deliver it—“

“I’ll see it gets there, Master Burglar,” says Dwalin. “I’m sure you have plenty of news you wish to share with your kinfolk.” Thorin could kill him now and none would gainsay it. He barely stops himself from going to Bilbo’s side.

Bilbo smiles. “Thank you. Yes I do, I’ve had quite the adventure, I must say.”

Dwalin finds this too amusing, the bastard, and he pats Bilbo on the back.

“You take care of yourself too, lad,” Dwalin tells Ori, who’s also just arrived, and then strolls back to his waiting pony.

“Well then, farewell friends,” declares Gloin, and the party mount their ponies. Dwalin raises his hand in farewell and Thorin turns his attention to the departing expedition.

“Farewell my friends. I bid you safe travels,” he says, and watches as his friends turn their mounts and start off down the causeway from the mountain kingdom.


 

For a moment Bilbo feels a pang as he watches Gloin and Dwalin ride away from Erebor towards the West, but it is mixed with a strange sense of relief. He’s not ready to go yet, doesn’t want to go yet. Not now. Not with this new, extraordinary thing with Thorin. He doesn’t know where it will go or how long it will last. It is a different kind of adventure, Bilbo thinks, but it’s one he wants to see to the end.

Bilbo shades his eyes. It is bright out here at the gates after being in the dull light of the mountain for so long. It is nice to feel the sun on his face, to look up and see the endless stretch of sky rather than a ceiling of rock, no matter how cavernous.

“Bilbo.” He glances around to see Thorin by his shoulder. He is wearing that ridiculously fond expression that Bilbo isn’t quite sure what to do with. Thorin rubs a smudge from Bilbo’s face with his thumb. “You’ve been busy, I see.”

Belatedly Bilbo realises what a sight he must make, all red-faced and dusty. He clears his throat, half expecting Thorin’s censure. “Yes, I’ve been helping Ori in the library. It’s magnificent, will be magnificent, once it’s repaired.”

“Ah,” says Thorin. Bilbo searches his face for reproof, but he seems to accept this amiably.

“You don’t mind me getting involved? I mean while I’m here, I might as well make myself useful.”

Thorin shakes his head. “I would not deny you your interests.” He smiles again. and Bilbo is quite caught by Thorin’s agreeable expression, as if he’s simply happy. He’d like to keep him like this always, except perhaps for when he’s helpless in the throes of pleasure – that is another expression that also looks very well on Thorin. Thorin clears his throat. “Although I hope you will save some of Erebor’s wonders for me to show to you.”

His expression remains light and Bilbo smiles readily though it belatedly occurs to him that perhaps Thorin would have liked to show him the library. “Of course.” It reminds him of the duties that demand Thorin’s attention. “How was your meeting?” he asks.

Almost instantly, Thorin’s pleasant expression slips into weariness and irritation and Bilbo curses his own foolish tongue.

“Not yet finished. So far we have agreed that we will have a treaty, and that we will negotiate the treaty, and we have agreed upon the subsections of the treaty, but as yet not discussed the actual treaty. I believe being netted by spiders was a preferable experience to this.”

Bilbo grins. “Should I come in swinging Sting and save you perhaps?”

Thorin chuckles. “I will imagine that very thing, Bilbo, when Thranduil Oropherion becomes too overbearing.”

Bilbo looks down to hide his grin. Oh, he likes Thorin like this indeed. “Where are our distinguished guests now?”

“Having luncheon. I must join them shortly.” Thorin sighs with obvious reluctance and his fingers brush against Bilbo’s arm. His expression suddenly brightens and he leans in close to Bilbo’s ear. “What would you call a gathering of monarchs then, my Burglar? A misery of majesty, I thought.”

Bilbo chuckles lightly, though he’s rather delighted at Thorin’s sharing this small joke with him. “A vexation of dignities? A pomposity of magnificence?”

“Hm, enough,” Thorin rumbles. His lips brush lightly against the shell of Bilbo’s ear as he draws away but it is enough to send a hot shiver down Bilbo’s spine. “Until tonight, my Burglar.”

Bilbo’s wit dies on his lips and his mouth goes dry as he sees the heat in Thorin’s gaze. “Yes,” he manages. “Tonight, Thorin. I will wait upon your pleasure.”

Thorin’s mouth curves into a smile. “I hope I may wait upon your pleasure, too, my Hobbit.” And with that knee-tingling thought and a lingering glance he takes his leave. Bilbo stares after him, Oin’s vial of oil suddenly burning a hole in Bilbo’s pocket.


 

It is with no little resentment that Thorin returns to the negotiation table. He wishes more than ever to be able to devote all his time to winning Bilbo’s heart, convincing him to stay permanently and take his rightful place at Thorin’s side. He cannot blame young Ori, but it stings to know that someone else is showing Bilbo the grandeur of Erebor. To know that he is delayed from that pleasant task by yet another duty galls him even more.

His time is even less his own now than it ever was. Even when he worked as a blacksmith, at the beck and call of the town burghers, he could dictate his own terms, his hours of work. Balin is a blessing at his side, but he longs for Dis, who used to handle these tedious diplomatic necessities. He has even less reserves of patience to sit and debate each and every word of the long and onerous treaty document. It seems it should be simple: the dwarves need a guarantee of goods and access to the markets in Dale, and in return they will pay or help to rebuild the market city. Yet every point must be dissected and picked over like the bones of carrion. He feels his anger, his temper rising and he grits his teeth and grips the arms of his chair, willing himself to remain calm.

He cannot fail at this. He cannot be his grandfather, condemning his people to centuries of enmity over a handful of gems. He will not show any sign of greed or lust for the gold that he must use to buy the comfort and security of his people. He will not give them, these Elves, and Men, and, most of all, Gandalf, cause to think he has succumbed again to the curse of Dragon Sickness.

He glares resentfully at Dain, dozing quietly at his side. Dain has no need for alliances with the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale. Not while Thorin lives. Thorin picks at the wood of the arm of the chair with his fingernail and tries to imagine what Dis would be doing now if she were here. He pictures her, tone sharp as she smelts the ore to extract the iron from the spoil. Her best Look of Disapproval would certainly give Thranduil Oropherion’s haughty glare a run for its money. She’d have Bard eating out of the palm of her hand by chatting about their wee ones—

Thorin exhales harshly. Dis will not be the same. How can she be? He will not blame her if she retreats from public life after her loss. He will not blame her if she does not forgive him for Fili and Kili’s deaths.

Go. Run!

The memory is vivid and sharp. Fili, his good, earnest Fili, bright eyes filled with fear and despair. Pain–-

He thrusts the memory away. Pushes it back even as the sorrow and rage and guilt claws at his throat.

His gaze fixes unseeing on his grandfather’s banner, hanging on the wall.

He has lost his heirs. This line of Durin will soon end. Perhaps it is best that this root of the Durin family tree withers and dies along with him, taking its sickness with it. He does his duty now, not for his line, not for the line of his grandfather, but for his people. He has no right to begrudge this work, not for his own selfish desires, not for a happiness he does not deserve.

With bitterness in his throat he returns his attention to the drone of conversation.

Across the room Thranduil is watching him with an unreadable expression. Thorin cannot meet his gaze.

It is late when the meeting finally breaks for the day, the Dale delegation repairing to a set of tents outside Erebor. Thorin stays at the table with Balin, catching up on reports and documents that he’s been forced to neglect for the sake of the negotiation. It is another hour before he has finally satisfied his conscience enough to bid Balin goodnight and leave for his own chambers. He stretches, body sore from spending so long seated, head aching from the weight of the crown and from gritting his teeth and holding his peace.

He makes his way up to his chambers, weary and wishing for some food but hoping it is not too late to call upon Bilbo after all, only to find his Hobbit curled up on his armchair with a book. He is wrapped in one of Thorin’s own long robes, curls damp, skin looking scrubbed.

“Hello.” He looks up with a smile and Thorin’s heart lightens.

“Bilbo.” Thorin returns his smile. He removes his crown, rubbing at his temples, and lets himself sag. “My apologies for my late return. Have you eaten?”

“Never mind that, I told them to hold over supper until you return.” Bilbo rises, a determined cast to his expression. He shakes his head as he crosses to Thorin. “Look at you, utterly done in, aren’t you? You ridiculous creature. Let’s get you into a bath.”

Bilbo’s small, warm hand closes about his own, and Thorin lets Bilbo lead him into his bedchamber where a copper bath is sitting by the fire.

“Here, a nice warm bath before supper arrives. Come on now, off with all that frippery.” Bilbo releases his hand to go to the fire and lift a steaming kettle that has been heating above it.

“Frippery?” Thorin grunts, surveying his royal robes, but he does not protest. As long as Bilbo is here, Thorin is more than willing to let him have his way. He rids himself of his robe and then sits stiffly on an armchair to remove his boots as Bilbo pours the hot water into the bath. Bilbo puts the kettle aside, then stands for a moment, hands on hips, surveying a job well done before bustling forward and helping Thorin with the rest of his clothing.

“You need not—“ Thorin protests weakly, but Bilbo pushes his fumbling fingers away from his fastenings and makes short work of them.

“Let someone take care of you for once, silly dwarf, it’s quite obvious you’re not going to do it.”

His actions are all very business-like and Thorin feels self-conscious about claiming the kiss he has been hungering for all day, instead he lets Bilbo manhandle him with complete propriety. He is tired, his head is still throbbing; slipping into a bath and closing his eyes, does sound selfishly pleasant. All the same, when Bilbo pulls down Thorin’s drawers, his prick manages to rally enough for a valiant twitch.

The only sign that Bilbo has noticed is a small intake of breath. “Well, into the tub with you,” he orders and Thorin supposes there’s time enough for some bed play later and obeys. It’s a large tub, but he still has to fold himself a little to fit. There is a towel folded over the edge of the bath at his head and he rests against it, closing his eyes as he sinks into the warm water.

He hears the slosh of a flannel and then Bilbo runs it over his chest.

Bilbo is bathing him.

“Oh Mahal,” he groans.

Bilbo’s hand stills on Thorin’s chest. “Good?”

“Yes,” Thorin sighs lustily.

Bilbo chuckles lightly as he returns to sloughing the flannel over Thorin’s chest and upper body. Thorin relaxes, allows his tired mind to drift under Bilbo’s steady ministrations. He feels Bilbo linger for a moment over his recent injury, then the cloth is wrung out and spread over his chest. Gently Bilbo eases Thorin’s head up, lifting his hair up and out of the way, settling him comfortably back on the towel. His light, nimble fingers fall to Thorin’s scalp, lightly kneading. It is pleasurable indeed, goosebumps run down Thorin’s upper arms and he leans into the touch with a deep moan of enjoyment.

“Very good,” he murmurs before Bilbo can think the sound he made could possibly mean otherwise.

Bilbo hums lightly and he works his way down Thorin’s head to apply firm but gentle pressure to the nape of his neck and then his shoulders. The muscles are so stiff and aching that Bilbo’s touch brings an exquisite kind of torture, painful but in a good, healing way. Thorin groans and shifts under his relentless touch, more forceful now.

“You are tense,” Bilbo notes. “I don’t see any armies at the gate, so you must have been gritting your teeth all afternoon.”

Thorin half laughs, half groans. “It has been an exercise in humility and patience, my Halfling.”

He feels the kiss on his scalp and warms at the affectionate gesture. He feels invigorated from this alone - and though being bathed and massaged is pleasant indeed, he wants to eat and then seek more mutual pleasures.


 

Thorin plucks up the flannel and begins to wash himself as Bilbo works out the last of the knots in Thorin’s shoulders. Thorin is so tense, it will be a wonder if he does not have a dreadful headache as well. He’d looked so dreadful when he walked into his chambers, pale and drawn with a tight, pinched look about his eyes, that Bilbo’s plans for the bath had changed immediately from seductive to soothing. Good grief, the foolish dwarf is barely out of his sick bed and he’s already pushing himself too hard. The new knowledge from Bilbo’s conversation with Oin this morning will have to wait. They’ll have their supper and perhaps he’ll give Thorin a nice little suck after he’s got him to bed.

Bilbo cannot help but watch, however, as Thorin lazily washes his body, under his arms, down his furred chest and belly, over his strong, muscular thighs. His prick floats, flaccid, in the water. He does not linger as he washes between his thighs, but Bilbo’s face heats all the same, wishing it were his hand weighing and fondling Thorin in his softness.

Thorin gives a low groan then and sits up in the tub, water streaming down his broad back as he scrubs at his face.

“Here, give me the flannel, I’ll do your back,” Bilbo offers. Thorin obliges and Bilbo takes longer than is strictly necessary, drawing the wet cloth over Thorin’s tattooed shoulders and down his muscled back to the softness of his waist, the downy hair of the small of his back and the tempting cleft below.

Thorin leans into his touch with a deep rumble, rolling his shoulders, as Bilbo runs the flannel upwards again. He tilts his head as Bilbo lifts the dark fall of Thorin’s hair out of the way and sluices water over his shoulders. His eyes shut and his large frame rises and falls with long, steady breaths. Bilbo studies his profile, the severe, sharp lines never entirely relaxed, even like this. He’s handsome in a way that hurts Bilbo’s heart.

Thorin’s skin gleams golden in the firelight, the intricate designs inked into his skin standing out even more starkly, and Bilbo draws the dripping cloth one more time over his back, watching the water run down his spine. Finally he sighs, wrings out the flannel and slings it over the side of the bath. He stands, holding out his hand to help as Thorin rises from the bath. Thorin looks much better, some colour has returned to his cheeks and, Bilbo cannot help but note, to his prick as well, bobbing with a mild expression of interest at his groin.

“Supper should be here by now,” Bilbo says, firmly drawing his eyes back up to Thorin’s face as he hands him his towel. “Then bed for you.”

“I am not so very tired,” Thorin says, his gaze lingering.

Bilbo feels the spark of anticipation right to his toes. “I am very glad to hear it.”

Thorin gives him a heated look, then disappears into his dressing room and Bilbo returns to the main sitting room. Sure enough, supper for two has been delivered, the dwarven servants unobtrusive and surprisingly good at their jobs. Though the thought of Thorin’s kisses are proving tempting indeed, Bilbo is a Hobbit and his stomach will not stand for any further suggestion of passing up a well-cooked meal. Bilbo removes the covers from the food and is helping himself when Thorin joins him, wrapped in a robe, his dark hair combed and pulled back, leaving just the three braids hanging about his face.

It is rather sweet that Thorin insists on keeping the silly little braid Bilbo had given him. Not that he needs proof that this affection between them is founded on more than physical wants, but still, it’s tangible evidence that Thorin feels at least some of the foolish fondness Bilbo does.

Bilbo’s stomach flutters at the memory of Thorin’s deep voice, heated with passion, curling the strange words so naturally around his tongue. Words of a lover. He shakes himself and serves them both some of the baked sweet potatoes. He’s discovered dwarves do eat vegetables quite willingly, just not green ones.

Thorin is hungry, and there is not much conversation as he demolishes a hearty plateful of food and then serves himself a second. There is still plenty of food, so Bilbo does not hesitate in taking a second helping himself.

Thorin smiles approvingly. “Perhaps we will both have a chance to fatten up, eh?”

Bilbo grins. “I have to say, I am looking rather scrawny by Hobbit standards. They’ll think I have worms in my tubes if I go home looking like this.”

His joke falls somewhat flat. “Indeed,” Thorin says with a short smile, stabbing his fork into a slice of mutton.

Chastened, Bilbo focuses on his meal. Perhaps Thorin does not like the reminder of Bilbo’s misadventure with the trolls, or more likely worms in tubes is not considered appropriate suppertime conversation. The other dwarves have no qualms about what Bilbo considers impolite table manners but Thorin has always been different, now he thinks about it. Being raised a prince, Bilbo supposes.

Suddenly Thorin chuckles. “I will not soon forget the outrage on Gloin’s face at the suggestion he might be riddled with parasites.”

Bilbo looks up, smiling, relieved that the momentary awkwardness has passed. “All of you were quite outraged, let’s be honest, when I said they ought to skin you first.”

“I was ready to skin you, for getting yourself into such a fix in the first place,” Thorin says, but with good humour.

Bilbo shakes his head. “There’s one thing I never understood. Why ever did you throw down your weapons and let the trolls capture you? I mean, I appreciated not being torn limb from limb, so thank you for that, but since you might have all been killed, it wasn’t sensible.” The truth was, at that moment he’d thought he was truly done for, it had been inexplicable that Thorin would turn himself and his entire Company over to the trolls for the sake of one small hobbit he seemed to despise.

Thorin regards him for a long moment, a flush of colour on his cheeks. “Perhaps you had already worked your way under my skin, Master Burglar. Besides, while there’s life, there’s hope.”

Bilbo considers that. “Although being roasted alive is probably considered more horrifying than hopeful.”

Thorin raises his eyebrows reprovingly. “Did you really expect us to watch you be torn in two, my Burglar? Did you think so poorly of us? We would have done the same for any of our number.”

“I know,” Bilbo says, and he does. “I know you would. I suppose that was the first time I realised you counted me as one of the Company and not just some… tag along.”

Thorin looks down. “And that was the first time I saw a hint of your true worth, your quick wit, your bravery. Though even then I did not appreciate it, I began to learn that it would serve me well to put my faith in you.”

Bilbo is touched. “Thank you, Thorin.”

Thorin searches his face. “No thanks is needed. It is I who must thank you.”

Bilbo shakes his head. Then laughs. “No, no, thank you.” He raises his eyebrows and Thorin huffs, an acknowledgement that they are becoming ridiculous.

“Have you eaten your fill?” Thorin asks. “Let us retire, I am feeling much revived and I wish to show you the full extent of my appreciation.”

Bilbo pushes his chair back from the table. “The full extent? That is very large indeed.” He hops up from the table, delighting in the blush that blooms on Thorin’s face.

“Bilbo,” Thorin growls and grabs his hand, pulling him close, tipping up his chin and claiming his mouth in a deep kiss that leaves Bilbo feeling very discomposed indeed. Thorin finally draws back, large hand still cradling Bilbo’s jaw, thumb stroking his cheek. Bilbo smiles.

“I have something for you,” Bilbo says, then rolls his eyes at Thorin’s dirty smirk. “That too–” He drops his hand into the pocket of his robe and pulls out the vial he got from Oin. “I am never going to be able to look Oin in the eye again, but here.”

“What’s this?”

“Oil. To, uh, ease our way. If, you, uh, would like to… try being with me, that way. Inside.”

Thorin looks at him for so long that Bilbo begins to think he has overstepped, that Thorin’s suggestion was more of the ‘one day maybe’ variety rather than the ‘yes, definitely, as soon as possible’ kind.

“Bilbo, there is nothing I would like more than for you to take me,” Thorin says, so low and rough that Bilbo’s mouth goes dry with want.

Bilbo has no words. He can only accept with a nod, and take Thorin’s sleeve between his fingers, towing him through the door to the bedchamber.

Thorin is upon him the moment the door is closed, large hands cupping Bilbo’s face, bestowing a long, knee-weakening kiss. Bilbo tugs at the sash of Thorin’s robe as he walks them back towards the bed, encountering warm, bare skin when he slips his hands inside. Well. He smiles against Thorin’s mouth, exploring a little to confirm his suspicion.

“You’re not wearing anything under there. That’s very kingly of you.”

Thorin unties Bilbo’s sash. “And you’re wearing too much for your audience with the king.”

He helps Bilbo undress and stays close, hands roving over Bilbo’s shoulders and upper arms as Bilbo rids himself of his smallclothes. Thorin’s own robe hangs open, his glorious, muscular body bared to Bilbo with a careless ease. Bilbo cannot help comparing them both, he has always been considered a rather acceptable partner by hobbit standards, with his exemplary fashion sense, good personal hygiene, and unexceptionable appearance. He wonders how he must appear to a dwarf, with their enthusiasm for elaborate beards and long hair, their broad, tattooed, hairy bodies and faces, their hairless feet and rounded ears.

“I must look very strange. I make a very poor dwarf,” Bilbo says, covering his insecurity with humour.

Thorin’s hands close on Bilbo’s arms, holding him steady as he looks down at Bilbo’s naked body. He shakes his head, his gaze returning to meet Bilbo’s as he pulls him close and tilts up Bilbo’s chin, kissing him softly. He draws back with a smile and nudge with his nose. “If I wanted a fashionable dwarf, I would be courting Dori.”

Bilbo chuckles. “Courting. Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Thorin’s expression grows serious as he looks down into Bilbo’s eyes. “You are very pleasing to me, Bilbo.”

Bilbo’s heart swells. “You should certainly know by now that you’re pleasing to me too.”

Thorin presses his forehead to Bilbo’s, his hand sliding through his short hair and he gives a rueful laugh. “I know not why. I am neither a fashionable dwarf nor a respectable Hobbit.”

Foolish dwarf. Bilbo bumps their noses together. “I should very much like to see you in short trousers and a waistcoat.”

Thorin’s hands fall to Bilbo’s hips and he pulls him flush against him, skin to skin. “Would you indeed?”

Bilbo bites back a groan and pulls away, climbing onto the big bed, and setting the vial next to the pillow. He licks his lips. “If you ever come to visit in Bag End I will have a whole outfit tailored for you, something to show off that trim waist and those impressive biceps of yours.”

Thorin’s expression darkens and he advances on Bilbo with a glare, following him onto the bed and looming over him. Hanks of dark hair have come loose from their tie and fall about his face. “If I have to go all the way to Bag End to see you, my Hobbit, I will be too busy keeping you to your bed to see any tailors.”

Mouth dry, pulse racing, Bilbo stares up into the fierce blue gleam beneath those dark brows, at the determined curve of his ruddy lips. “I like the sound of that,” he says quietly and leans up to take a kiss.

Thorin kisses him deep and slow, in a way that makes Bilbo want to hold him very, very tightly. No words follow and there’s nothing in the stillness but the crackle of the fire, the rustle of bedclothes, the slide of skin against skin, and ragged breaths interspersed with the soft wet sound of two mouths finding each other.

When Thorin presses the vial of oil into Bilbo’s palm, closing his fingers over it, and murmuring a rough ‘please’ against his shoulder, Bilbo cannot think of anything he wants more in all the world.


 

Bilbo exhales his assent, pressing his face into Thorin’s hair, then wriggles determinedly in his embrace. “Just let me, here--”

Thorin wants. He cannot stop touching Bilbo’s soft curls, his bare skin, the sensitive points of his ears. He curls his toes in the hair on Bilbo’s feet, spans his hands over the small of his back, nuzzles under his jaw. Bilbo pushes at him and rearranges them both with endearing little grumbles interspersed with soft kisses.

“You’re sure now? Of course you are, you’re Thorin Oakenshield. Now you must promise to tell me if I hurt you in the slightest. No, no, on your back, I want to be able to look at you. Oof, that was my shoulder –- No, stop it, I’m perfectly fine. Move your leg, yes, there, please and thank you.”

“Bilbo,” pleads Thorin, his hand sliding through a mess of curls as Bilbo slips down to kneel between his thighs.

“Look at you,” Bilbo says softly, gazing upon Thorin, dark eyes full of warmth and anticipation.

For a moment Thorin feels unbearably exposed. He likes this act well enough, but has not done this in well over half a century, the last few times were rough tumbles in inns when he was working away from Ered Luin, and only once before that, as a lad, in something of a dare with Dwalin, an experiment of sorts which neither felt bore repeating. Then Bilbo’s mouth is on his prick, and the wet, wicked warmth defies any hint of embarrassment. Thorin’s need grows to a greedy pitch and he greets the press of Bilbo’s slick, teasing fingers with a shaking eagerness.

Bilbo’s draws back, looking up at Thorin, his lips wet and ruddy, a delightful flush upon his cheeks, and a hooded, heaviness in his gaze.

“Oh, you look very well like this, Thorin, very well indeed.”

Thorin breathes through his nose, arching his back, reaching for Bilbo. He needs him closer, nearer, between his thighs, within his arms, inside him, now, now.

Bilbo exhales, swallowing. “Give me a moment, I just need to –” Bilbo’s fist slides over his prick, hard and slick with the oil and Thorin cannot stop from leaning forward to help. Bilbo bows his head, giving himself over to Thorin’s hand for several tantalising strokes.

“Oh...stop, stop,” Bilbo cries out. “You’d best stop now or we won’t be getting very far with this at all.”

With a rough exhale, Thorin drops his hand. “Now, Bilbo,” he growls, and reaches for him once more.

Finally Bilbo is in his arms, above him, against him, easing his way in with brutal slowness. Every inch of Thorin is alight. He is boneless, flayed open, at his Halfling’s mercy. He bites back a desperate sound.

Bilbo’s dark blue eyes are fixed on Thorin’s. “Hush, patience,” he pants. “Nearly there, that’s it, Thorin, oh–” With a final sharp thrust Bilbo is fully seated and the sensation punches the air from Thorin’s lungs.

Bilbo stares down at him, so beautiful in his startled, consuming pleasure that Thorin could weep. He reaches up to touch Bilbo’s cheek.

Amrâlimê,” he breathes.

“Thorin,” Bilbo gasps, then gives a wobbly, breathless smile. “My Thorin.”

He rolls his hips and Thorin quakes with the sudden shock of sensation.

“All right?” Bilbo pants.

Thorin rocks lightly, savouring Bilbo’s intrusion, making his Hobbit tremble in return. “Yes.” His voice catches in his throat.

“Good, that is good,” Bilbo says shakily and rolls his hips once more.

Thorin’s world narrows to Bilbo; to the hard glide of his prick, his sweat-slicked body against Thorin’s, his hand, tucked beneath Thorin’s neck, and his eyes, fixed on Thorin’s face, demanding his attention and his pleasure.

“Thorin,” Bilbo gasps, head bowing, mouth parted. “Oh Thorin. You feel so good.”

Thorin slides his hands up and down Bilbo’s smooth back, tilts his hips to meet each slow thrust, each trail of sparks.

“My umùrad’akar, amrâlimê, my Bilbo.” His own prick throbs but he doesn’t want this aching arousal to end, wants to stay on this knife edge of desire, lost in sharing Bilbo’s pleasure.

Bilbo bows his head, his next thrust erratic. “Not going to last much longer. Thorin, ah, Thorin—“ He jerks roughly.

Thorin arches into him, grips the back of his neck, dragging him down for a kiss, sharp and urgent.

Bilbo groans and takes his weight on his arm, forehead bowed to Thorin’s, panting against his lips. He reaches between them and Thorin bucks into his touch, strains to meet him. He moans into Bilbo’s mouth and catches Bilbo’s harsh, wordless cries in return as Bilbo fucks into him, graceless and desperate. Thorin clutches him close, helpless between hand and prick and a spiralling pleasure that builds—

He shatters, wrapped in Bilbo’s arms, all sweat and heat, the smell of musk and oil, and words gasped against his ear, his own raw cry reverberating through the pounding of his blood.

“Thorin—“ Bilbo groans, ragged and sharp, and Thorin feels him spill, feels the pulse and heat of him deep inside and it is good, good.

They lie together in each other’s arms for some time. Thorin is not inclined to move, happy to soak in Bilbo’s warmth. Bilbo seems equally happy to become just another layer of Thorin’s person, a hot, pleasurable weight sinking into him. Thorin kisses where he may, too spent to do more than run the very tips of his fingers over Bilbo’s back.

Bilbo buries his nose in Thorin’s throat with a happy, satisfied groan.

Thorin reaches up a shaky hand and smooths Bilbo’s unruly hair, his fingers find the braid and toy with it. “Ghivashel,” he breathes.

Bilbo hums against his skin. “Treasure of treasure,” he murmurs and Thorin’s heart skips a beat to hear his words returned to him so lovingly in Bilbo’s own tongue.

Eventually though, Bilbo shifts off him and Thorin grunts in protest. “Sorry, I didn’t think, how’re your ribs?”

“They are fine, come back.”

Bilbo kisses his shoulder. “Call of nature. I’ll be back.”

He does come back and he wipes Thorin clean and pulls up the bedclothes and drapes himself half over Thorin, still wonderfully naked and warm. Thorin pulls him closer.

“Stay here.” The words spill out, and he says them into Bilbo’s curls, breathes them against his skin.    

Bilbo’s arms tighten around him. “I won’t say no, your bed is nicer than mine.”

It’s not what Thorin meant, but perhaps it is what he should have asked – Bilbo has said yes to this at least. All the same he can’t help pressing further, just a little.

“You should sleep here from now on.”  

Bilbo lifts his head, then settles back down, smiling against his skin. “Maybe. We’ve only shagged three times, see how you feel in a few days, you might be sick of me by then.”

Thorin kisses his hair. “No.”

“Stubborn dwarf.”

“You know I can give orders to have your bed destroyed,” Thorin notes.

Bilbo laughs at that. “You’re threatening my bed? That’s not overbearing or domineering at all.”

Thorin smiles. “You said it was a horrible bed, anyway.”

“I said it wasn’t as nice as yours, totally different. Pray, spare my bed.”

A fierceness fills Thorin and he rolls with Bilbo, takes his mouth, kisses him, shows him with each slow slide of lips and tongue how much he adores him. Bilbo returns the kiss fervently and it doesn’t so much stop as slowly fades to nuzzles and pecks until Thorin finds himself dozing in and out of wakefulness.

Sometime later the whispering sound of scales sliding through gold wakes him, but Bilbo is there, and Thorin pulls him closer and returns to sleep.

Chapter Text

Bilbo wakes first, thanks to some dwarven hair tickling his nose. The soft, filtered light of the mountain during daytime fills the room. He rubs at his face, relocates the errant strand of hair and then settles back down into Thorin’s warmth, marvelling at the simple fact of waking up next to Thorin Oakenshield. Waking up next to Thorin Oakenshield after, well… Bilbo feels a jolt of arousal, remembering the pleasure of sliding into tight, silken heat and Thorin’s blue eyes burning into his, hot and dark.

Bilbo sighs with satisfaction and rubs his hand through Thorin’s chest hair; he’s all sleep-warm and lovely. Bilbo is tempted to wake him with bold kisses, but he refrains – Thorin needs his rest. He lies quietly for a little longer, lazy and sleepy, though just a little aroused, feeling the rise and fall of Thorin’s chest with each steady breath. Finally the demands of nature overcome his reluctance to move and he slips from bed.

Hobbits are quiet on their feet and when he comes back from the water closet, Thorin has not awakened. He lies sprawled on his back, mouth open, snoring majestically. Open and so unguarded. Bilbo’s heart fills to the brim with a sharp burst of affection. He pulls on his robe and then pads into the sitting room. Just as he’d hoped, the table is laid for breakfast and Bilbo arranges toast and two cups of tea on a tray and returns to bed to wait upon his King’s pleasure.

He feels almost giddy, a bubble of joy in his chest as he perches next to Thorin. He can hardly dare believe that this is his good fortune. Only a fortnight ago he thought he had lost Thorin’s good opinion and friendship forever. Now here he is, sharing Thorin’s bed. Thorin kisses him so sweetly, gives himself so willingly, speaks so lovingly –-

My Hobbit. My Burglar. My Bilbo.

Oh goodness. Bilbo presses his knuckles to his mouth, not sure whether he wants to giggle or exclaim. He looks at his sleeping King, soft in sleep, flawed and fallible and all the more admirable for it.

Thorin. Thorin… Thorin returns his feelings. Thorin.

My Thorin.

It is completely overwhelming.

He sets his cup back on the tray and pulls his knees up under his chin as he considers Thorin. His stomach flutters just at the sight of him. How is it possible for a face to have become so very dear?

Did Thorin really ask him to move into his chambers last night? Bilbo sucks in a sharp breath and hugs his knees in tighter at the mere thought. He can hardly countenance it: his King under the Mountain – who wants him to be in his bed, who asked him to sleep with him every night from here on in, his dear, ridiculous, preposterous, magnificent dwarf, his – cares for him too.

Finally Bilbo remembers to breathe. He is only a little hobbit after all and his heart is very soft – he guards it carefully for it has been bruised rather badly in times past. Carefully, tentatively, he lets himself consider his feelings on the matter.

He loves Thorin. Not just as his brave, noble leader; not just as a friend. He loves him with warm fondness, with every soft affection, yes, but he loves him too with a fierce hunger, something that longs from deep within his chest and teases him when Thorin is absent, has teased him for quite some time, if he’s honest with himself.

And it is rather apparent that Thorin feels the same.

Thorin. He and Thorin. Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins. Thorin, King of Erebor, King under the Mountain and Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. Oh, good gracious.

A little twinge of conscience pricks at Bilbo. Bag End waits. He’s supposed to go home, he’s thought of going home for as long as he’s been on this journey, at some moments more longingly than others. Right now though, right now, the thought of leaving sits uncomfortably, rather like a stomach ache.

What if he stayed? Another year? He could send word back to Hamfast. Maybe Hamfast could move into Bag End? It certainly had more room for his small tribe of offspring…

He could. Only if Thorin wanted him to, of course—

Bilbo picks up his cup again and takes a fortifying sip. Oh goodness.


 

When Thorin opens his eyes it is morning, and his Hobbit is sitting next to him in bed, sipping a cup of tea and watching him.

“Good morning,” Bilbo says, and a bright smile dawns.

Thorin beams in return and reaches for him, sluggish with sleep, his hand connecting with a warm, robe-covered thigh. “Good morning,” he says against the roughness of his voice.

“How are you feeling?”

Thorin stretches, a luxurious feeling of relaxed but well-used muscles. His mind is rested and at ease, and Bilbo is in his bed. “Immensely satisfied.”

Bilbo blushes endearingly and harrumphs. “I am glad to hear it.”

Heart full with the knowledge of Bilbo, Thorin tries to tug him closer.

“Here, careful, my tea,” Bilbo protests, but he sets the cup aside and willingly straddles Thorin’s lap as he grants him a kiss. The warmth of it seeps into Thorin’s very bones, and he draws back with regret. After so many years above ground, he is growing used to the mountain again, and the quality of light tells him that it is later than he usually sleeps.

“I must hurry,” he murmurs against against Bilbo’s jaw.

Bilbo sighs and nips at his earlobe. “I suppose you must. We can’t have people thinking I’m making you shirk your duties.”

Thorin arches under him and slides his fingers teasingly over the point of Bilbo’s ear in retaliation. “People may think what they like, it matters not to me.”

Bilbo seems surprised at that for he stills, and then huffs a small laugh against Thorin’s cheek. He draws back looking endearingly stern. “All the same, I refuse to be a bad influence. Sit up now, and drink your tea.”

Thorin does sit up, but since Bilbo is still on his lap, Thorin cannot, for all the gold in Erebor, pry his hands from his Hobbit’s body. There is another long, heated kiss that ends with deep, regretful groans from both parties when they finally part.

Thorin obediently drinks the cup of tea Bilbo presses into his hands and takes a piece of toast as he rises from the bed. It is difficult indeed to leave his Hobbit there, warm and tempting, while he must ready himself to do diplomatic battle with so-called friends he has in only recent memory called enemy.

Bilbo is dressed when Thorin emerges from his dressing room. He’s wearing his clothes from the day before, the ones Thorin gave him, and the mithril gleams under the jerkin. Bilbo breaks into a warm smile when he sees Thorin and the furnace of Thorin’s heart glows so hot it aches.

“You look very fine,” Bilbo tells him in that decisive way of his.

Thorin’s pulse skips at the praise and he tries not to let it show. “As do you, my Hobbit.”

Bilbo ducks his head with a becoming flush and then tilts his head towards the door. “I suppose I can’t convince you to eat some more breakfast.”

Thorin shakes his head. “I must go.”

Bilbo sighs. “Very well then, you can walk me to my door.”

 


They leave the royal chambers together, walking down the long stone hall side by side, Thorin’s two guards following a discreet distance behind them. It is a comfortable silence, Thorin does not seem inclined to speak and for Bilbo’s part he’s not sure what to say. He would like to ask about the Khuzdul words Thorin used last night, but in the cool, clear light of day, he feels awkward bringing them up after the fact, realising he had led Thorin to believe he understood the words in the heat of the moment.

“Well, this is me,” Bilbo says, smiling up at Thorin when they reach the door to his bedchamber.

Thorin smiles. “Indeed? You are not so very far from me, Amrâlimê.”

Bilbo seizes his chance. “You said that last night, a few times actually. What does it mean?”

Thorin flushes delightfully pink, which makes Bilbo’s pulse quicken just a bit.

“It means,” Thorin says, stepping closer. “That I enjoyed last night very well, my Hobbit, and would like to know the pleasure of waking beside you for many mornings to come.”

Which is no answer at all really. Bilbo huffs up at him in wry amusement, secretly enchanted by the sentiment. “That is a very poor riddle,” he chides. “I’ll have you know I can riddle with the best of them, have done to save my life, in fact, and I am quite certain I have solved it already--”

“There is no riddle.” Thorin’s gaze is weighted. He leans down, one large hand threading through Bilbo’s hair, the other settling on his waist, and, right here in the middle of the hall, claims his mouth, determined and unashamed. Bilbo’s heart pounds, he can’t help but be aware of the guards standing several feet behind them and is sure he ought to be more dismayed than he is. He clutches at Thorin’s cloak, caught in the strength of his embrace and the heat of his kiss. Thorin releases him slowly, gaze fixed on Bilbo’s. “Does that answer your question?”

Bilbo licks his lips and swallows. “I believe it does.”

“Until tonight, my Bilbo,” says Thorin and Bilbo is left staring after him for quite a few moments before he can pull together enough sense to open the door to his bedchamber.

He thinks about Thorin as he gets changed into his old clothes, now clean after having been washed and dried overnight. He thinks about Thorin as he sees to the new garments Thorin gave him, washing them and hanging them up to dry as well. He’s still thinking about Thorin as he sits down to a second breakfast in the mess, lost in a sea of strangers.

Would it matter if he sat in on the meeting, just quietly, to give Thorin moral support, perhaps?

He looks up as a plate is dropped onto the table opposite him. It’s Bifur.

“Hello,” Bilbo says, not expecting any sort of conversation. It’s nice though, that Bifur wants to sit with him. He hasn’t seen much of Bofur’s cousin since they returned to the mountain. Bifur’s been left to his own devices apparently, exploring the long lost home of his forebears.

Bifur smiles in reply. He says something that Bilbo now suspects must be Khuzdul, and then places a small cloth wrapped bundle on the table. Bilbo looks at him inquiringly. Bifur smiles encouragingly and then unwraps the bundle. It’s a small, wooden toy, a top, by the look of it and Bilbo thinks at first Bifur must have found it among the ruins. Bifur hands it to him and Bilbo examines the intricate shapes and patterns. At Bifur's nod and gesture, Bilbo puts it on the table and gives it a twirl. The top spins and as the markings blur Bilbo sees – a great Orc, and a smaller unmistakeable figure, standing with a branch on his arm, behind him is a pine tree and a smaller figure yet, holding a sword aloft. The smaller figure has pointed ears and oh...hairy feet. Suddenly Bilbo realises, this is not a relic from the past, but a new piece of art, telling the story of him and Thorin.

“Did you make this?” he asks, astonished.

Bifur smiles shyly and the top spins to a halt. Bilbo goes to hand it back but Bifur shakes his head and presses the top back into Bilbo’s palm.

“Oh, thank you, thank you very much indeed, Bifur, it’s – very splendid, it truly is.”

Bifur ducks his head and then begins to eat his porridge. Bilbo carefully wraps the top back up and slips it into his trouser pocket.

He thinks of Thorin and Azog. How young Thorin must have been at Azanulbizar when he earned the name Oakenshield and lost any remaining innocence he had left.

Bilbo finishes his porridge in silence and then gives in and makes his way to the meeting chambers. He’ll just see if Thorin’s all right, if he can be of any assistance.

The sight of the dwarven and elven guards standing at the entrance, bristling with weapons, jolts him back to reality. Suddenly he’s all too aware that the last time he attended a meeting with Bard, Thranduil and Thorin it was not the best of occasions, and more to the point, he has not been invited to this one. He hesitates, not wanting to risk what he has now with Thorin with a foolish misstep.

There’s the tiniest whisper in his mind. More a prickle under his scalp.

He could wear the ring. He could slip in and just check on Thorin, sit in for a bit and see how he is faring. He could…

He keeps walking as nonchalantly as possible and when he’s safely out of view of any dwarves, he slips his hand into the pocket of his waistcoat and finds the cool metal of the ring. It slides onto his finger easily.

Erebor rushes into him. He’s in the half-world of the ring and everything is dull and amplified all at once. He walks, muffled, through the blurred grey light of the ring world. Sounds on the edge of his hearing pull at him, a scrape and rustle of scales, a shattering tinkle of gold, an echoing that, when he listens more carefully sounds like–

Flames crackle, voices scream, there’s shouting–- In the corner of his vision there’s the sheen of gold and the flicker of flames, and then a fleeting, disjointed figure–-

Bagginsss...

He walks towards the council chambers, the shadows and forgotten voices pulling at him. The doors are closed and he waits, standing close by for the opportunity for slip inside. The air, the light, pulses around him, the guards grey and looming, but then, sure enough an elven servant appears with a platter of fruit and pushes open the door. Bilbo goes to slip in after him but then freezes. There, in the chamber, he sees a familiar figure, his grey cloak oddly white in the ring’s gloom.

Bilbo steps back quickly. Gandalf is here.

He’ll know.

Pulse racing, Bilbo clasps his hand over his ring finger.. Wizards can sense these kinds of things. He’ll know.

It must not know we have the ring— a cracked, hissing little voice echoes in Bilbo’s head. It takes it from us—

We must hide it.

Bilbo watches, frozen in place as the door swings closed between him, and then stumbles back, away.

Hide it. Hideit hideithideithidehidehidehidehide—

The rasp of scales and the shimmering chime of an avalanche of gold coins echoes behind him as he flees back down the corridor and around the pillar. He tugs off the ring – tight now— and shoves it back into his pocket. The world flashes back to blinding brightness and the hollow echoes in his ears are shut off.

He can hear the shouts of dwarves and the noise of construction. There’s the murmur of voices nearby and it’s all so ordinary.

He stands there breathing heavily for a long moment. Then he pats the pocket on his waistcoat and decides to join Ori in the Library, where he should have been all along.

A bitter aftertaste of jealous fear lingers, and he feels jittery and jumpy within his skin as he enters the library but he is soon helping Ori with his project and manages to distract himself quite satisfactorily.

“Ori,” says Bilbo after a while. “Will you teach me Khuzdul? I’m quite quick with languages if I do say so myself. My mother taught me Sindarin and I managed to pick up a smattering of Silvan when we were in Mirkwood. I promise not to vex your patience greatly.”

Ori looks up from the book he’s examining. “Oh. Um...” He hesitates, a pensive, guilty look on his face. “I’m sorry Bilbo, it’s really secret, I… “

Ori looks so wretched about saying no that Bilbo is about to hurriedly reassure him, when Ori continues, “I suppose you are Bahukhazâd. I don’t think Balin or the others could really object, I mean if Thorin doesn’t mind. He is the King...” He considers a moment more, then grins. “Why not? I’m no teacher, but I could try.” He smiles shyly.

Bilbo can’t help but be pleased. “If you’re sure? I don’t want you to be in any trouble, and I wouldn’t want to cause offence––”

“I’m sure,” Ori says firmly.

Bilbo smiles encouragingly. “All right then. And your writing too, if I may be so bold? Here, let’s start with this—“ He holds up the book he’s looking at.

Ori grins and reads the title, gives its meaning, then carefully points out each rune. For the rest of the morning Ori spells out each runic title on the books they examine and Bilbo fires common speech words at Ori to translate.

“Mother?”

“Khagan or ‘amad .”

‘Amad,” Bilbo repeats, remembering the word. “Father?”

'Adad.”

'Adad. Friend?”

Ori translates.

Bâha Ori,” Bilbo says.

Ori grins.

“Well then, how would you say—“ he hesitates, then decides he might as well ask. “My love?”

Ori flushes as he answers. “Well that would be… I suppose the closest approximation is Amrâlimê. Although it… well it means a certain depth of feeling you know. The word love is too broad. Amrâlimê is rather specific. I assume you mean romantically?”

Bilbo’s pulse thuds. “Yes, ah, yes I do. I mean, I thought it must be something like that.” He clears his throat, avoiding Ori’s gaze.

Oh... Right. Oh. Thorin really said that? Sorry, sorry. I just never thought of him being… soppy.”

“He’s quite effusive, to be honest.” Bilbo feels the need to defend Thorin’s honour.

Ori covers his face. “Oh, I uh. Can we not? You’re my friend, Bilbo, but Thorin’s my king and like an uncle to me – it’s like talking about Dori and Nori’s love life.”

Bilbo coughs. “Of course,” he says piously. “So I suppose asking for a translation of ‘massive dwarven member’, for example, would be out of the question?”

Ori’s appalled expression is worth any embarrassment. The young dwarf draws himself up. “Yes, yes it would,” he says tartly. “You can just use Common Speech for your bed play talk thank you very much, Bilbo Baggins.”

“Sorry, sorry,” says Bilbo, trying not to grin.

Ori pushes him. “The cheek,” he sniffs but then grins.

“He really is quite big though,” Bilbo adds.

Idlig,” says Ori. “There’s a word for you.”


 

It feels as if Thorin has been in this meeting for nearly an entire day, yet a glance at the shadows tells him that it is only mid-morning.

Mahal save him, will they never be finished?

“This is how it worked before, why reinvent the wheel? We should set it up properly from the start.” Balin is red in the face, fists clenched on the table, debating hotly with Thranduil’s secretary.

“That was then,” Bard interjects. “We have no city, we have no merchants. We’re a handful of homeless fisherfolk, you cannot expect your guilds to work now. What do you think will happen, that we’ll somehow try to take advantage? We'll no more take advantage of you, then you will of us!”

“Of course you’ll take advantage, Man!” Dain booms. He’s recovered from his hangover and apparently feels Thorin is not reacting enough, because he keeps throwing in fierce accusations and loud exclamations of disgust on Thorin’s behalf. “You lot are out there, hungry and homeless and you know the Mountain’s full of gold. You can’t tell me the gatekeepers and merchants aren’t going to bleed Erebor for every ounce of gold!” He settles back in his seat. “No offence.”

“You think so little of us!” Bard explodes. “We’ll not extort our allies. And keeping my word still means something to me.”

“I said ‘no offence’!” roars Dain.

Bard half rises from his seat but Thranduil's hand on his shoulder stays him.

Thorin grits his teeth, despite the justice in Bard’s barb. “We will honour any agreement we make.” It comes out stiffly but he prides himself that his tone is level.

“And it will be in writing,” Balin adds. “So there’ll be no question about who said what.”

Thranduil clears his throat pointedly, waiting for the others to cede the floor to him before he continues (as if he’s too good to try to get a word in edgewise like everyone else, Thorin thinks).

“If the Dwarves showed the Men of Dale a degree of trust and respect, perhaps it would be reciprocated,” says Thranduil, all serenity. He has remained fairly impassive during the meeting, occasionally interjecting with a minor point, but for the most part, he watches Thorin with a careful, hooded expression until Thorin is completely certain that he is delaying, debating, nitpicking on purpose - stretching Thorin’s patience thinly until he finally snaps, loses his temper and proves he is unworthy of the crown of Durin and a seat at this council.

Gandalf sleeps on, his chin tucked into his beard, the heated debate over a regulated marketplace not bothering him.

Thorin bites down on his anger, swallows back bitter bile. He tries to school his face to a careful blankness, to not let his expression reveal just how much Thranduil and Bard’s recalcitrance has worked under his skin.

A tap at the door interrupts the debate, and for a moment Thorin’s heart foolishly leaps at the thought that perhaps Bilbo has come after all. But no, it is an Elf with a platter of fruit and green things. Gandalf stirs, one eye cracking open, but he grunts and falls back to sleep.

The debate continues, the Elves even more smug, offering to share their fruit. Thorin shifts in his chair, the thin padding doing little to assuage the dull ache he’s feeling this morning after last night’s most edifying activities. He focuses on the twinge, taking a small pleasure in this reminder, proof, of Bilbo’s fervent desire. His pulse skips at the mere thought of his umùrad’akar. His Bilbo – ah, if he had his way he’d be in his arms right now, rolling with him, naked and fevered, showing him the full extent of his passion. He exhales, shifts again.

Instead he is here, watching Thranduil regard him with ice blue eyes. The Elvenking’s haughty expression grates along Thorin’s every nerve – he is the symbol of every humiliation, every indignity Thorin and his people suffered in their exile. Sneered at, mocked, cheated, cursed. And Thranduil himself had looked upon them coolly, turned away rather than came to their aid. He is every leader, every village headman, every tavern keeper, every officious bureaucrat, heaping indignity upon indignity on the heads of Durin’s folk.

Thorin grips the arms of his chair tighter. His pulse races and his throat is tight with raw anger. All the gold in Erebor and it has come to this. THIS. Still reduced to begging and wheedling, trading and haggling. And the Elves and Men revel in it, this debasement. All the gold in Erebor and he cannot buy his people grain or cloth or even decent beds.

They made a life, Durin’s folk. They made a life, even though everything had been stripped from them, they built something in the Blue Mountains that resembled home, poor and bitter though it was, with cruel, thankless work. There were long hours in the nearly spent mines of Ered Luin with naught to show, and Thorin and others took what work they could elsewhere to earn food for their kin. A bare existence. What kind of Prince, what kind of King had he been?

He has not known the true comfort of home in so long.

A sudden memory heats him, of a warm, soft body, rolling with him, of wry, laughing eyes and a quick sunbeam of a smile. A comfort indeed. A stolen moment of happiness when there is so much work to be done.

He clenches his teeth, muscles tense with the effort of holding himself still. He must not fail, he must have trade and goods. His people are coming and Erebor must be ready to greet them. Winter will be spent building and repairing and before the snows arrive he must get in enough stores to last until the spring.

Finally, finally Balin interrupts Dain and Bard to declare, “My lords, I believe it is time for luncheon, shall we adjourn for an hour?”

“An excellent idea,” agrees Thranduil, and for the first time Thorin sees a hint that perhaps the Elvenking is not as equanimous about the drawn out negotiations as he would like to appear.

Gandalf wakes with a start. “What? Yes. Lunch, splendid suggestion.”

Bard sighs and stretches, not bothering to hide his obvious relief at a break in negotiations. The Man and Elf leave with Gandalf and the elven servants. Thorin is left in the room with Dain and Balin. Thorin exhales and rolls his shoulders.

“He’s a slippery bugger, that Elf,” Dain says. He raises an eyebrow at Thorin. “You’ve got to stand up for yourself, lad.”

“I need to keep my temper,” Thorin replies heavily.

“A bit of yelling does the world of good in my experience,” Dain replies. He sighs. “You’re the one with the gold, you don’t need either of them. Give the rest of Arda time to catch up with the news and you’ll have merchants beating down your door to get their share of it.”

“We do not need enemies on our doorstep,” Balin reminds him. “Dale and Erebor once lived in harmony, together we can both rebuild and prosper.”

Thorin pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Let us eat,” Balin says. “We have made some progress. Perhaps Thranduil and Bard will return from their refreshment with some perspective.”

“Thranduil is testing me,” Thorin mutters. “He wants to see if the dragon sickness will reappear given the right amount of pressure.”

“If you’re gold sick then so is every dwarf this side of the Ash Mountains,” Dain scoffs.

“Isn’t that what the rest of the world says of us? Greedy, covetous, treacherous Dwarves? Isn’t it what I proved myself – that my vow means nothing when it comes to gold and treasure? That I would go back on my word rather than share the smallest coin? That we cannot be trusted not to cheat those we deal with?” Worse, Bilbo had vouched for him, had believed in him and Thorin had betrayed that trust. He feels sick to the stomach at the thought.

“You weren’t well, laddie. You’re better now,” Balin says soothingly.

“Yes, I am well, and I must prove it. We will negotiate, and we will keep to our agreement. We will rebuild the reputation of Durin’s folk. We have reclaimed Erebor, no more must we be forced to sink to dishonour or sully our good names and reputations. Once more the word of the line of Durin will mean something.”

Dain has grown solemn and he nods. “Very well, do it your way lad, I’ll keep my peace.”

Balin however is smiling at him. He pats Thorin’s shoulder. “Well said, my King, well said.”

Thorin is tempted to seek Bilbo out as they adjourn to the luncheon tables, but feels uncomfortably needy, recalling Bilbo’s light refusal to share Thorin’s bed on a more permanent basis, Bilbo’s comment that they’d only been intimate a few times. Thorin had not thought his request too eager, too forward, not after they had shared such tender intimacies, but now it gnaws at him. Too fast, too soon. He’ll scare Bilbo away if he pushes too hard. Thank Mahal Bilbo had thought Thorin had been talking about something else when Thorin had begged him to stay in Erebor—

Yet – he doesn’t have time. Not as much as he needs. He wants to lay his heart out to Bilbo, right now, to throw himself on his mercy, to beg him to stay, to accept his suit and remain at his side, here, in Erebor. A sudden chill runs down his spine - his thoughts too reminiscent of the darker, more possessive urges he’d harboured towards the hobbit during his sickness.

He swallows.

No. He does not need to see Bilbo, he does not need to shadow his every step, to know where he is and what he is doing every waking moment. He does not need to, nor does he want to—

Bilbo in the gold, pressed into the gold, clutching at his back—

Thorin pushes the thought back, down. No.

If Bilbo wanted to see him, he would be here, it would be a simple enough matter to discover when luncheon was taking place if he wished to join Thorin.

Instead Thorin wanders out to stand in the entrance of his mountain, to look up into the mighty vaulted caverns. The mountain kingdom is alive again; no longer a tomb, no longer abandoned, no longer the foul nest of a firedrake. The air is cleaner and fresher, and Thorin feels a sense of goodwill and hope settle upon him as he watches his fellow dwarves at work, each going about their business, each working in their own way to restore the mighty Kingdom. His home. The home of Durin’s folk.

He will do this. He will see Erebor restored.

With renewed determination, Thorin returns to the council chambers, but it is not long before the strain of negotiation, the tedium of the minutiae rather than the sweeping grandeur of a worthy goal wears at him.

Thranduil sits here, as if the minutes are not wasting. This day must be but the blink of an eye to him, Thorin thinks, for what is time to an Elf? Even dwarves normally wear time lightly. But Thorin feels it slipping through his fingers now. Hobbit lives are so fleeting, how many years does Bilbo have left? Fifty at most?

There is a niggling itch at the base of his spine and he longs to jump to his feet and bellow at Thranduil and Bard, to order them out of the room, out of his mountain, to be gone. Or to name their price, take the gold and leave him be!

Once this is done. Once they have the treaty—

But then there’ll be other things to arrange, other work to do, other projects to oversee, other agreements to debate, to discuss, more papers and reports. The work stretches on endlessly. And soon more dwarves will join them. There will be more mouths to feed, to house, to clothe.

In Thorin’s sickness he had grand sweeping visions of Erebor in all its glory, of presenting Bilbo with all the treasures and comforts the kingdom could afford. Of showing him the home of his childhood memory.

It is still not home now. It is a construction site, an army encampment. A memory. A skeleton.

“But what if the price of wheat goes up?” Bard is saying. “You cannot expect Dale to subsidise the merchants just to keep to this—this— arbitrary price you’re insisting on.”

And they are back to this again.

He will never be free and before he knows it, Bilbo will be gone. He feels his Hobbit slipping from his fingers. One day Thorin will wake and all he will have is a dwindling pile of gold and the whisper of scales across the surface of his mind.

He tries to steady his breath, his nails digging into the lacquer on the arms of his chair.

“And if we don’t, what’s to stop the merchants charging us more, simply because they can?” Balin insists. “We will set the price we will pay and the merchants can like it or no.”

“Yet we must somehow ensure we can supply that quota of grain?” Bard argues. “You cannot have it both ways.”

Abruptly, Gandalf springs to his feet.

“Carry on, carry on, I’ll be back shortly.” He waves off their surprise as he strides from the meeting room.

The door bangs shut after Gandalf. The sudden movement has quickened Thorin’s pulse and he slowly settles back in his chair again, hands still clenched on the arms.

The argument resumes. Round and round and round in circles.

Thorin’s heart is still too quick. His skin is stretched too tight across his throbbing head.

“Durin’s hairy scrote,” Dain explodes. “We’ll provide Erebor with its bloody grain, we’ve got our market set up nice and fair. We’ll send it on here.”

“Do be reasonable,” Thranduil interjects.

Suddenly the door opens, interrupting whatever is about to be said next. Gandalf has returned, but then from behind him steps a smaller figure.

Thorin’s heart leaps.

Bilbo follows Gandalf around the table, and one of the dwarf servants produces a chair from somewhere and places it next to Thorin, and Bilbo looks at him and offers him a small, questioning smile as he takes a seat.

The room tilts slightly and Thorin’s chest is so tight it hurts.

Bilbo clears his throat and leans in to Thorin. “I hope you don’t mind. Gandalf said I could attend.”

Thorin swallows, searching Bilbo’s face. “I do not mind,” he says, his voice a low rasp in his throat. His hand finds Bilbo’s, closes over it.

He breathes.


Bilbo’s heart had nearly leapt out of his chest when Gandalf had appeared in the library. For a moment he had been certain the wizard had come to demand the ring, but no, he had instead demanded Bilbo’s presence.

“Come along, Bilbo, your dwarf needs you, and be quick about it.”

He can see now that Gandalf was right. There’s a terrible hollowness to Thorin’s expression as if he’s holding himself together by sheer willpower alone. No wonder the ridiculous dwarf had been so tense last night if this is how he spent the day. When Bilbo had taken a seat beside him, his eyes had fixed on Bilbo’s with something expectant in his expression and he’d seized Bilbo’s hand almost desperately, clumsy and ungentle.

Thorin exhales, and turns back to the rest of the table, and Bilbo’s heart hurts because Thorin clutches at his hand so tightly.

Balin clears his throat, and looks back at the elven secretary who snaps his gaze back to Balin. Everyone else around the table is staring at both of them.

Bilbo nods. “Well then,” he says, squeezes Thorin’s hand back and doesn’t let go, reminded sharply of their time in the healers’ tent outside Dale. He looks around the room. “King Thranduil, Bard, it is good to see you again.”

Thranduil and Bard exchange glances.

“Master Hobbit,” Thranduil says, cool gaze falling to Bilbo and Thorin’s joined hands. “After losing so many, it is fortunate indeed to cross paths with our friends once more. Mithrandir tells me you are staying here in Erebor. Please accept an offer of my hospitality as well, should you require it.”

“Bilbo,” Bard says earnestly, glancing at Thorin. “Are you well?”

Bilbo feels Thorin tense, and knows he has not missed the veiled accusations in their concern. Bilbo knows they mean well. After all, both Bard and Thranduil had witnessed Thorin almost throw him from the battlements; they know Bilbo’s part in the theft of the Arkenstone. All the same, can’t they see that Thorin is well now, that he has nothing but concern for Bilbo?

Bilbo smiles, quick and sharp. “Perfectly well, thank you,” he says. “And thank you for your kind offer, King Thranduil, but I am perfectly content here in Erebor, King Thorin is looking after me most hospitably.” He looks about the room even as Thorin’s thumb rubs against the heel of Bilbo’s hand. “Pray, don’t let me interrupt. Do continue.”

“Now, where were we?” asks Balin.

The meeting continues. Thorin grips Bilbo’s hand and breathes, deep breaths, as if he’s trying very hard to keep them steady. For a while Bilbo just sits there, hoping he is offering some support with his presence, squeezes Thorin’s hand supportively, but he can’t help paying attention to the debate going on. After a while he thinks he can follow it, and what appears to be happening is that they are all arguing around in circles.

Worse, it’s apparent that all this endless roundabout discussion is wearing painfully on Thorin. Bilbo can feel the tension in Thorin’s grip with each objection, with each comment from Thranduil, Bard and even the other dwarves, every time they return yet again to a point that’s been covered before.

Enough is enough.

Bilbo clears his throat, then adds a little more loudly. “Excuse me, if I might interject?”

They all look at Gandalf who merely raises his eyebrows. Thranduil inclines his head slightly and Bard and Balin both exhale and sit back with similar gestures that say ‘why bloody not?’ Dain who’d been going a bit red in the face, gives a chuckle and sits back as well, arms folded, apparently willing to enjoy the show. Bilbo, however, looks to Thorin, only caring what he thinks. Thorin meets his gaze and nods his approval.

Bilbo squeezes Thorin’s hand one last time and slips his free. “Right. Well, it seems to me that we should be talking about what both sides agree on, and not what you don’t agree on. You’re all so busy trying to make sure the other lot doesn’t get more than you think they deserve that none of you are listening. Thorin, you want to rebuild the great markets of Dale as a safe route for food and supplies, and as a place to trade your gold and jewels and crafts for food and raw materials you can’t get in Erebor, yes?”

Thorin nods. Balin nods more cautiously.

“And Bard, you want to build a new home for the Lake-town people, and establish jobs and all those sorts of things, and you don’t want to end up in debt to the dwarves or locked into contracts that might be difficult later on.”

Bard nods.

“And Balin knows how it all used to be and how it used to work, because he was there, but Bard doesn’t want to get tied up with guilds when they don’t even have houses yet.”

“Right,” agrees Bard.

Bilbo rubs at his nose. “Let’s be honest, the Dwarves need Dale and Mirkwood right now, but they won’t soon enough, not when the rest of Arda discovers that Erebor is ready to trade. They’ll be setting up a whole new market town right at the foot of the Lonely Mountain if they can, and Dale’s going to be fixed up despite itself. So what we’re dealing with, my lords, is right now. Because winter is around the corner and I don’t know about you, but I’ve lived through one winter with wolves and orcs at our doors, and we had a snug smial and a pantry full to bursting. I would not wish the alternative on any creature. Right now, this minute, people in Dale need food and shelter before winter sets in, and they need money and help from the Dwarves to do it. The Dwarves on the other hand need food and supplies to carry on reconstruction, and they need Dale to let the supplies through, or they’ll have to stop work until the merchants start coming through in the spring, and you can’t exactly defend a mountain full of treasure all winter on empty stomachs.”

He looks around the table and everyone seems to be listening. Good.

“Balin, a piece of paper and pen, if you please.”


Thorin could kiss Bilbo. His heart swells with pride as his little Hobbit cuts the bloated arguments down to size and proceeds to nut out an agreement that will see them through the winter and open the door to future cooperation.

It is a wonder to behold, for Bilbo refuses to consider that any party isn’t acting in good faith or wants anything but a mutually beneficial agreement. With a quiet, almost understated determination he repeatedly steers the discussion back to the matter at hand, listens to discursions but does not allow them to move them off course, refuses to acknowledge reproaches nor recriminations. And somehow he does it in a way, that if Thorin were not paying attention, he might not have even noticed, instead thinking perhaps he or Bard or even Thranduil had swayed the conversation in their own favour.

In the end it is agreed that Thorin will give a one off payment of thirty gold pieces per head to the people of Lake-town to restart their lives, another thirty gold pieces per head to Bard to go into a treasury to buy food and supplies for the winter and to begin governance of the fledgling city. Thorin will also pay for skilled dwarves from the Iron Hills to draw up plans and oversee the construction or repair of enough dwellings in Dale to house the people before winter, as well as funding the cost of that construction. Thranduil will open the path through Mirkwood and ensure adequate food supplies reach both Erebor and Dale for the winter ahead.

Thorin winces internally at the mounting costs, but doesn’t dare to dwell on the gold it will take from the treasury. This will be the end of it, come spring, Dale will see to its own keep, and Thorin will have honoured his word that Bilbo had vouched for so eloquently.

“There is only the matter of defence to consider now,” Bilbo says, as the arrangements for the food supplies are finalised. “I assume we’ve all had enough bloodshed to last a lifetime, so I should think it an easy decision to agree not to go to war with each other.”

Bard chuckles dryly. “One would think so.”

“Done,” declares Dain.

Thranduil inclines his head. “In the name of establishing peace and stability, I also agree.”

“And I,” agrees Thorin.

Balin adds the detail to the document he is transcribing and then passes it to the elven scribe, who crosses out one word, adds another, then hands it back. Balin sniffs but nods.

“Good,” says Bilbo. “Not to belittle the courage of the folk of Lake-town but what with the poor defences, Dale will need help over winter. I should hope the Orcs have enough wounds to lick but they may try again when the days get darker. Thorin, you can help Bard with guards and weapons, can you not?”

Thorin smiles a little at being ordered about by his Hobbit. “Of course.”

He cannot keep his eyes from Bilbo. His Hobbit is unbearably attractive at this moment, so bright and vibrant, from his little nose twitch, to his sharp grin. He likes Bilbo’s poor bare little chin, he likes his unruly curly hair, he likes his expressive brows and his bare cheeks and the way his mouth quirks. He even likes Bilbo’s elvish-looking ears. Bilbo’s wearing the clothes from Lake-town but they’ve been washed since the last time Thorin saw them and Thorin thinks the blue coat suits Bilbo, even if it’s ill-fitting and in the fashion of Men. It pleases him to see the mithril shirt gleaming beneath the collar of his shirt, and he imagines removing those layers of clothing later, of baring Bilbo until he’s naked except for the shining silver-steel links. He would look well indeed, the silver shimmering in the firelight, his skin and hair gleaming golden, his eyes darkened and heavy—

Bilbo glances at Thorin at that moment and gives him an unreadable look, but there’s something familiar and knowing in his expression and it makes Thorin flush. He shifts in his seat, feels again the legacy of Bilbo’s pleasure, and he wants.

“We will also supply archers and training,” says Thranduil. He pauses and inclines his head deferentially towards the Dragonslayer. “Should Lord Bard require it.”

“More than likely,” Bard says with a wry glance at the Elvenking. “My people will be in charge when our own defence is concerned, is that understood?” He looks first to Thorin who nods, and then to Thranduil, whose mouth twitches up ever so slightly as he acquiesces.

“As you wish.”

Thorin is suddenly struck by the give and take between the leaders of the Elves and Men. There is a trust and familiarity there that goes beyond convenience and alliances.

“Splendid,” says Bilbo. “And that being said, I should think you’ll all agree to come to the aid of each other should there be an attack from an outside foe.”

An age old chill trickles down Thorin’s spine and he cannot help the dark seeping resentment of old betrayal.

“Have done, will do again,” Dain declares with a pointed look at the Elves and Man.

Bard nods. “Not sure what help we’ll be, but we’ll have your backs.”

“As you say,” says Thranduil and he fixes his gaze on Thorin, as if daring him to dispute the statement and destroy their nearly achieved accord.

Thorin feels the bite of humiliation –– that he must accept Thranduil’s barefaced declaration or prove he himself is untrustworthy. He breathes once, twice, slowly. A small hand creeps back into his and gives a light squeeze.

“The dwarves of Erebor will come to the aid of their allies,” he says stiffly.

Thranduil exhales and inclines his head and for the first time Thorin thinks that maybe the Elvenking actually wishes to put their enmity behind them. Thranduil’s gaze returns again to rest on Bilbo, something cool and considering in his expression that makes Thorin twitch.

“Well then. Can anyone think of anything we’ve missed?” Bilbo asks, giving Thorin’s hand a final squeeze before releasing it once more. “Perhaps you should all meet again once spring arrives?”

“Regular meetings would be wise,” Balin agrees.

“We will host the next meeting,” Thranduil says and then adds even as Thorin already starts to bristle. “My kingdom is particularly lovely at that time of year, and –“ he lifts his chin, meeting Thorin’s gaze squarely. “King Thorin, would that I might have the opportunity to greet you with a welcome more befitting your dignity and status than was meted to you last time.”

Thorin lifts his chin as well. “Then I accept. We will meet in Mirkwood.” He cannot resist the opportunity for one small jab however. “As long as I can keep my weapons.”

Thranduil holds his gaze. “Of course.”

“As long as there’s no spiders or barrel rides,” mutters Balin.

Bilbo laughs. “Or fish.” Thorin very much likes Bilbo’s laugh too, he cannot help but smile at his Hobbit. Bilbo meets his eyes and returns his smile. Thorin’s hand feels empty and he clenches it tightly. Ah Mahal, he would take him in his arms now, if he could…kiss that clever mouth…sweep the papers from the table and lift Bilbo onto it—

Thorin flushes. He hasn’t been this eager since before he came of age. He digs his thumbnail into his upper thigh sharply in an attempt to quell his ardour.

Bard smiles at Thranduil. “Well, I for one am looking forward to more of that wine of yours.”

The Elvenking’s gaze glides over the bargeman’s face. “I hope my kingdom holds more to tempt your interest than wine, Lord Bard.”

Bard seems caught by his expression. “Of course,” he says suddenly, gruffly, and clears his throat and turns to the papers in front of him.

Thorin watches as the Thranduil’s eyes linger on the Man for a moment longer. So, that is how it is. He cannot help but feel a little warmer towards the Elvenking.

Thranduil must sense his gaze, for he lifts his chin and meets Thorin’s eyes haughtily and all Thorin’s goodwill diminishes rapidly.

“Then we are finished?” he asks roughly. The sooner they are done, the sooner he can be in his chambers with Bilbo, demonstrating his admiration in full. His Bilbo in his arms, just the two of them, locked away from the rest of the clamouring, demanding world.

Balin writes a few more words and hands the document to the elven scribe who nods and passes it back.

“Once we have your signatures, my lords, we will be finished,” Balin tells them.

It takes far longer to scratch four names than Thorin thinks is warranted, but finally, finally, the wretched treaty is complete.

Gandalf wakes with a snort. “Well done, gentlemen. And well done, Bilbo. Perhaps I should employ your services with some other recalcitrant monarchs. Thorin, would you consider letting me borrow him for a while?”

Dismay shafts through Thorin but he bites back the resounding ‘no’ that forms in his throat. “Bilbo is free to do as he chooses,” he mutters gruffly.

Bilbo smiles wryly. “I think not, Gandalf, I have only so much hair and I should not like to have to pull it all out.”

Thorin chuckles ruefully, secretly warming with relief. He does not think it possible to love his umùrad’akar any more than he does in this moment. Bilbo bumps his shoulder with his own and Thorin feels the contact as if a quake of the earth.

The Elves and Man take their leave with ample pomp and ceremony and Thorin stands with Dain as they leave through the gates of Erebor with a fanfare of elven trumpets.

“Well I’m having an ale,” Dain says, clapping Thorin on the shoulder. “Joining me, cousin?”

Thorin however is watching Gandalf talking to Bilbo off to one side. He doesn’t know what is being said, but he can guess: does Bilbo wish to stay? Thorin’s stomach sinks, a tightness forming in his throat, but then Bilbo shakes his head and smiles and Gandalf gives him a nod and one of his patented knowing looks before straightening and stepping forward to tower over Thorin.

“I will bid you good day, too, Thorin, King under the Mountain. I will be around for a little while longer, should you need me.”

“Is it ungrateful to say I hope I do not, Tharkûn?” Thorin asks. He exhales. “Thank you, friend, for your help, and your meddling. I do not believe I could have done this without you.”

Gandalf tilts his head and seems almost, almost touched. “You do not give yourself the credit you deserve, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain. Good day, I will see you before I depart.”

“Ale,” says Balin.

“Ale,” agrees Dain.

Thorin however looks at Bilbo. Bilbo looks back at him. His glorious Hobbit, with his quick, clever tongue, his heart bursting with courage, and his expressive face, endearing and comical and breathtaking in turns. Thorin feels the want curl in his stomach, feels it lodge in his chest. His hands ache to touch, and he keeps them firmly clenched at his sides.

“I tire,” blurts Thorin.

“I’ll walk you to your room,” Bilbo tells him.

Their hands brush as they walk side by side and Thorin feels each touch as if a spark from his forge. He leans closer, lets his arm, his elbow nudge, bump against Bilbo’s. Bilbo does not lean away. When Thorin glances at Bilbo he sees his profile, his chin lifted, looking studiously straight ahead, but there’s a hint of a flush on his cheeks and Bilbo’s throat bobs as he swallows. It is all Thorin can do not to pull Bilbo into a secluded corner and claim the kiss he’s been aching for since they parted this morning, but he does not trust himself to stop there, so he does not. Instead he sets a rapid pace and Bilbo meets it, skipping up the stairs at Thorin’s side on fleet bare feet.


Bilbo feels buoyant with success. His pulse races with anticipation as he dashes up the stairs to the royal chambers, keeping pace with Thorin’s long strides; Thorin’s two guards are left behind. He could not mistake the look in Thorin’s gaze, and he very much looks forward to what it heralds. For one who claims tiredness, Thorin takes the way to his chambers swiftly.

Indeed, Thorin has already shed his cloak and crown by the time Bilbo steps into Thorin’s bedchamber and Thorin shuts the door behind them. He seizes Bilbo from behind, pressing firmly against his back, one arm wrapped around Bilbo’s middle.

“Oh well then,” says Bilbo with a chuckle. Thorin growls and nuzzles along Bilbo’s hairline with his nose, breath tickling Bilbo’s skin, and then he licks the curve of Bilbo’s ear to the very tip, making him shiver and tingle all over.

“Bilbo Baggins; that was very, very well done.”

Bilbo sinks back against Thorin with a small moan. “You approve? I was worried I had overstepped.”

“No,” Thorin rumbles against his ear and licks again so that Bilbo nearly whimpers. “You were…” a lick, “utterly,” another lick, “breathtaking.”

Bilbo’s breath is taken, he knows that much. Thorin rolls his hips, rocking against his backside. Oh my. There’s a definite hardness poking into the small of Bilbo’s back.

“Well, I’m glad I can help,” Bilbo manages to say, and wriggles against Thorin’s groin.

Thorin groans, full and throaty, the rumble of it travelling straight to Bilbo’s knees, and he pulls Bilbo tight against him, thrusting lightly against him as he mouths at Bilbo’s sensitive ear.

It’s excruciatingly arousing. It is all Bilbo can do to remain standing as Thorin’s hand slides down Bilbo’s chest, thrusting aside his coat and tugging up his waistcoat, shirt and the mithril mail and all, to unfasten the placket of his trousers and free him from the confines of his smallclothes.

“Bilbo,” Thorin groans against his ear as he fondles Bilbo’s hardness. Bilbo sags into him, tingling from ear to prick, his legs quite turned to jelly. He reaches back to clutch at Thorin, grinding back into each of Thorin’s thrusts. His own breath is as short and laboured as the heavy breaths against his ear. Bilbo is lost, there is nothing majestic about Thorin right now in his undisguised lust, it is just Thorin, simply Bilbo’s dwarf, exposed and vulnerable, frotting against Bilbo like an eager tween. It’s just them, only them, only this room, the two of them moving together, seeking and sharing their mutual pleasure.

“Thorin,” he gasps reaching up to tangle his fingers in Thorin’s hair, tilting his head to let Thorin nuzzle down his throat. Thorin strokes him indolently, with luxurious greed, as if he cannot touch enough of Bilbo all at once.

“I want you,” Thorin says, rough and low, and Bilbo fumbles to unfasten his braces and push his trousers down, bare-arsed now against Thorin’s clothed thrusts. The sound that comes from Thorin is more of a whimper - Bilbo’s knees do give out then, and they both fall to the floor.


They are both on their knees, and Thorin hauls Bilbo back against him, his Hobbit, bared to him. His hands roam, touching Bilbo’s thighs, cupping him, holding him, stroking him. He mouths at Bilbo’s throat and ear, nuzzles at the nape of his neck, rubs his cheek in Bilbo’s hair. Bilbo’s round, plump arse sits flush against his pelvis, Thorin’s clothed prick nestled snugly. Bilbo grinds back on him, and it’s more than Thorin should have to bear. He wants. He – oh Mahal – he wants. He relinquishes Bilbo’s earlobe and pushes Bilbo forward onto his hands and knees. Thorin’s hands tremble as he frees his prick from his trousers.

“Wait – the oil,” Bilbo gasps, twisting away. Oh— Not... not that. Thorin hasn’t the patience. He clamps his hand down on his Hobbit, holding him in place. He’s too hungry, too impatient, too greedy to try that.

“Don’t need—“ he grunts and hauls Bilbo back in close, his arse snug against Thorin’s erection. The sensation of soft warm skin against his achingly hard prick is so good he almost sobs at the contact. “Like this,” he breathes into Bilbo’s ear, bowing over him. “Just like this.”

“All right,” Bilbo says, breath hitching, and he rocks against Thorin, hands clutching Thorin’s thigh, pulling him even closer, and it’s exquisite. Thorin grunts and thrusts against the cleft of Bilbo’s soft, warm behind, fondling Bilbo’s own hard prick, his breath heavy with soft, filthy little moans.

“Mine,” Thorin gasps into the shell of Bilbo’s ear. “You are mine. Mine.”

“Oh, sweet— Oh Thorin. Amrâlimê—“

Thorin gasps, heart skipping for a moment and he nuzzles at Bilbo’s ear, holds him tighter, closer. His. His. His. His. His. He pushes them both forward, pushes Bilbo onto all fours beneath him, and thrusts his prick between his thighs to rub against Bilbo’s neat bollocks, the bristle of coarse hair and the hot hardness of his prick. It feels so good, so good, and Bilbo is whimpering and rubbing against him. They rock together, sweating and panting, and Thorin spits in his hand and reaches around to take them both in hand. Bilbo curses, and Thorin cannot restrain his groan. They both thrust together into his fist, and Bilbo is making such wanting, needy sounds and Thorin can hardly breathe and there’s a curling tightness, across his back, his thighs, his groin, clenching his muscles and he –

He shatters. It consumes him, this pleasure that rocks through his body, the hot wetness of it spilling into his hand, and he hears Bilbo cry out and shudder beneath him and his hand is slick with the both of them, and Bilbo is shaking under him and he can’t—

He finally moves, releasing Bilbo to collapse onto the floor. He sits back, and the cold of the flagstones seeps into his knees.

Along his spine.

Bilbo lies tumbled on the stone floor, wrecked. His trousers about his thighs, arse bared, clothes rucked up.

The chill lodges in Thorin’s gut and he staggers to his feet.

This is— this is not how he should treat his umùrad’akar – his beloved. They are courting.

Rough, careless fucking in a dirty back room of a long forgotten inn. His partner nothing but a faceless memory. A hand to relieve him, nothing more—

Guilt flares, raw and stabbing.

Their mingled seed is still on his hand.

He goes to his dressing room and washes his hand in the basin of water, wets a cloth. His body still thrums from the pleasure of their coupling.

Mine. You are mine. Mine.

His stomach clenches at the memory of his lust, so urgent, so heedless and overweening. What has he done?

He thinks of his ceaseless longing, his untoward thoughts, his inability to put Bilbo from his mind. And now this— uncontrollable lust, taking and using Bilbo so shamefully.

In truth, he can think of nothing he desires more in all the world.

A cold, dreadful certainty washes over him. It was not only with gold that Thorin had become so unhealthily obsessed during his sickness.

Bilbo in the treasury, shifting against the coins, pinned down, owned, nothing more than Thorin’s possession—

He’d foolishly thought he was well, thought he could just shake off the sickness. In focusing on the gold he had ignored this other, more terrible greed.

What must Bilbo think of him? Rubbing desperately against him, seeking his pleasure, like some rutting beast—

He stands at the door to the bedroom for a long moment, trepidation staying his hand, but Thorin is no coward and he finally gathers his courage. He opens the door and steps forward to face Bilbo.

Bilbo has rolled onto his back and lies splayed and undone. He gives Thorin a sleepy, sated smile but Thorin’s relief is short-lived. Bilbo doesn’t know what has happened. He only forgives him because he doesn’t understand—

Thorin swallows against the bile in his throat, pulse thudding in his ears. He hands Bilbo the cloth. Bilbo quirks a smile as he wipes himself, then stands, one hand gathered in his loose trousers. He looks at Thorin with curiosity, forgiving him as always, when he ought–-

Bilbo should go, leave now before Thorin does something that can never be forgiven.

“You must leave,” Thorin says, urgency and fear making the words sharper and more brusque than he intends.

Bilbo stares at him, the smile sharpening, the softness fading. “What do you mean?” His tone is edged, and Thorin deserves that, does he not?

“Go back to your books,” Thorin says roughly, the words like grit on his tongue. “And your armchair.” His chest aches, everything aches. “Plant your trees. Watch them grow.”

“Thorin?”

Thorin cannot bear the look of questioning hurt in Bilbo’s eyes. His Hobbit should be angry, should rail at Thorin, as he did on the battlements. Instantly, Thorin wants to take back his words, to wrap Bilbo in his arms and bundle him into his bed and keep him there, in his embrace for the rest of their days—

Mahal. Fresh guilt stabs through him. He steels himself, tries to find the words to convince Bilbo, to make him understand. He cannot meet Bilbo’s eyes.

“If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place,” he says gruffly. “Go home, Bilbo.”


The air punches from Bilbo’s lungs, the cold of shock washing away every lingering vestige of satisfied pleasure. The words from his dream, his nightmare echo back to him. Suddenly he is on the ice again, and Thorin is dying in his arms, dying in his arms and bidding him to go home, back to his books and armchair, to plant the acorn—

Bilbo takes a step back, too shocked, too startled.

“Yes,” he says. “Of course.”

Thorin’s face is tight and there is none of the lover left in his expression, he won’t look at Bilbo.

Bilbo pulls up his trousers and with fumbling hands fastens his braces, straightens his shirt and jacket.

“I will send word to Gandalf. Goodbye, Thorin.”

He doesn’t remember leaving Thorin’s chambers, but he finds himself in the hall and manages to reach his own room, to shut the door. He paces. He picks up the kettle and puts it over the fire, and then takes it off again and instead sits on the bed, pulling up his knees.

Go home.

Go back to your books, and your armchair. Plant your trees. Watch them grow.

So this is it. This is the ending foretold in his dream. A stay of execution, little more than two weeks. It is only the fact that Thorin lives, that he will carry on, alive and whole in his kingdom under the Mountain that stops Bilbo from thinking perhaps it would be better if he had never had these few days of joy. He had thought when he woke on the ice that he knew what he might have lost, now he knows truly.

It hurts. It hurts, deep inside, in his chest and belly, with a pain more sharp than the snick of a blade.

Bilbo curls onto the bed, hard, compared to Thorin’s soft mattress.

He’s not sure what happened, what he did, exactly, to make Thorin change his mind. He should have asked but he’d been too startled by the words from the dream to think properly. The warmth and intimacy of their coupling seems an eon ago instead of a few minutes—

Bilbo had been thinking they’d turned a new corner, Thorin had been so unrestrained. Oh, it had been thrilling, Thorin holding him so possessively, the strength of his magnificent body bent entirely to the task of drawing forth Bilbo’s climax, of reaching their mutual pleasure. Bilbo had told Thorin that he loved him, the dwarvish word falling from his lips, so right and easy—

Was that it? Was that why? Guiltily he remembers Ori’s hesitation in teaching him. He’d thought–– but Thorin had said it first –– is he not supposed to use the sacred language in return? How is he supposed to know? No one bothers to explain anything!

Maybe it was the meeting. Thorin had seemed pleased, had said he’d done well– but maybe Bilbo had overstepped— maybe there were too many reminders of Bilbo’s betrayal with the Arkenstone...

Or was it something else? Something more intimate. Had he disappointed Thorin… Bilbo had enjoyed their coupling, had thought Thorin had too, but perhaps he’d been mistaken... After all Thorin had not even tried to enter him... Had he decided Bilbo could never satisfy him properly?

Frustration roils with the hurt in Bilbo’s breast. If only he knew what he had done. Aggravating dwarf. Just like that: over. Did the past few days mean nothing? Did their friendship, their trials mean nothing? To think Bilbo had been considering staying here in Erebor indefinitely... But he’d known this would happen, hadn’t he? He’s a hobbit and Thorin is a dwarf and a king. What did he think this could be, but a fleeting liaison? Better to end now than to become too attached.

He’d called Thorin amrâlimê.

Bilbo holds himself tight and if he allows his sore heart a few tears then none would blame him.

Finally Bilbo sniffs and wipes his nose on his sleeve, wipes his eyes.

Well, if this is what Thorin wishes. There is no point delaying. He will leave tomorrow. No use sending word, he will pack his belongings and go to Dale to seek Gandalf himself. He can stay there until Gandalf is ready to leave for the Shire.

 

 

Chapter Text

Thorin’s throat is tight and his chest aches, everything aches. He should be relieved that Bilbo has understood and agrees, but instead he only feels a sharp stab of dismay and a dreadful sinking feeling. Bilbo is all business, righting his clothes. He doesn’t look at Thorin and the sinking feeling is only worse.

“I will send word to Gandalf. Goodbye, Thorin.”

Bilbo walks out of his chambers without a backward glance. The door closes and Thorin sways with a lurch of disappointment so sharp that he has to grip the bedpost. It is only then that he realises he’s been willing Bilbo to stop, to turn, to argue and use his quick, clever tongue as always to make things right, to convince Thorin that he was wrong.

Foolishness. He has done the right thing. Bilbo will be safe. It is better.

Goodbye, Thorin.

It’s over. This brief, incandescent flare of brightness in his life.

He cannot stay in the bedchamber with the memories it holds, and even now he cannot be sorry for those moments, even though he should have seen this from the start. He’d been so blind— wilfully so.

At some point servants bring food, but Thorin cannot stomach the meal that is presented to him. With a pang he wonders if Bilbo has had his supper and he orders his servants to take the food to Bilbo’s room instead.

He stares into the fire and then lies on the sofa and stares at the ceiling.

Later he crawls back into his bed, shamed and shameless.

Thorin does not sleep.

Finally he takes solace in work, forces himself to focus on the plans and designs that are needed for the kingdom.

There should be joy in this, finally moving forward with the reconstruction, now they have finally signed a treaty, but there is only a bitter emptiness. It is a hollow victory. The days, the nights, stretch ahead bleakly in front of him.

Some hours into the night he can bear it no longer and leaves his chambers, waving off the guards and walking down the hall to stop outside the room that he’s almost certain belongs to Bilbo. Plates of food lie untouched outside his door.

Thorin’s heart pounds and he wishes –

He could knock. His whole being seizes with the treacherous desire to do so, and breathing hard, he forces himself onwards, down into the mountain.

The mountain is quiet at night, but it does not quieten Thorin’s mind. Its vastness taunts him, a mere pebble in the rubble of an empty ruin. Every turn is a mocking reminder of what is not, what he has lost, how he has failed. It is no longer the home of his memory.

Finally he returns to his bedchamber and seeks relief in sleep that comes poorly at best. In the dark he reaches for a warm body that is not there and will never be there again.

He wakes early and summons Balin, who arrives yawning and crotchety. He takes one look at Thorin and rubs a hand over his face as he sighs.

“For Mahal’s sake, lad, what have you done?”

Thorin flushes, guilty and ashamed. “I’ve done what is right. Bilbo is to return home, where he belongs.” Thorin focuses on the papers on his table.

Balin is not to be dissuaded. “What has he done?”

“Nothing. Bilbo has done nothing to garner blame,” Thorin growls, “and I will not hear a word said against him, do I make myself clear?”

“Oh laddie,” Balin sighs. “Well then, what do you want me to do?’

Balin’s sympathy is almost worse than his reproach and Thorin cannot answer for a moment. The pages in front of him blur, but this must be done.

“Prepare Mr Baggins’ fourteenth share of the treasure and fit out enough carts to carry as much of it as he can to the Shire. He will return to his home in a state befitting his courage and bravery.”

Balin is silent. “If that’s what you want.”

“It is.”

“Is it what he wants?”

“He agreed.”

“Do you want to…” Balin sighs. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Thorin swallows. “See it is done, Balin.”

“Yes lad.” Balin leaves the room and Thorin is free to bury his face in his hands in private.


 

For a few seconds when Bilbo awakes he doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember that he is leaving today. He doesn’t remember that he’s not in Thorin’s bed. He doesn’t remember that he’s been banished from Erebor yet again.

That Thorin doesn’t love him.

Then he opens his eyes and it all comes rushing back in full force.

He clenches his eyes shut again but last night was not just a dream. No. In the creeping light of early morning it seems so unreal, so ridiculous. Why only yesterday morning he’d—they’d--

There must be some mistake.

He lies in bed, mulling it over. Thorin hadn’t been himself yesterday, he’d been tense and stressed by the interminable negotiations… perhaps, perhaps it had all been a bit too much. In fact, now he thinks about it, calmly, Thorin’s expression when he’d returned from the dressing room had been off, wrong, with that same tenseness as earlier in the day. Perhaps…

Bilbo’s stomach twists. He’d been so shocked by hearing the words from his dream— He’d handled this badly. If there’s a problem, surely they can talk about it? He should have asked, he should have helped…

By the time he gets out of bed he’s decided it’s all been a silly misunderstanding and he’ll just go and see Thorin and sort it out. Heart racing with a sense of urgency, and stomach full of nervous butterflies, he’s pulling up his trousers when there’s a tap at the door. His heart leaps – Thorin?

It is not Thorin. It is Balin, and at his expression, so sad and sympathetic, Bilbo’s optimism evaporates.

“Thorin sent me,” says Balin. He shakes his head. “Laddie…”

Bilbo swallows, stomach dropping. It is true then. It’s really happening. “Right, of course. He told you then.” If Thorin told Balin then it really is over. He clenches and unclenches his shaking hands. “I don’t suppose— what did he say?”

Balin looks at him sympathetically. “I’m to ready your fourteenth share for you to take with you.”

Bilbo blinks. He hadn’t even thought about the treasure. “Oh… no, that’s… that’s not necessary.”

Balin shrugs. “It’s yours lad, you earned it.”

“But the Arkenstone.”

Balin just looks at him.

Bilbo sags. “I don’t want payment. I never came along for the treasure, you must know that, Balin.”

“I do, lad,” says Balin. “But Thorin gave his orders.”

Bitterness rises in Bilbo’s throat. Is that what Thorin thinks? That he wants payment? He’d hoped that Thorin has somehow confided in Balin, had perhaps…oh he hardly expects Thorin, King under the Mountain, to cry on anyone’s shoulder, but he’d hoped Balin might have known what had happened, might be here to advise him—but no, it is all business. Only business. As if Bilbo’s departure was just a bit of paperwork.

“Then tell Thorin I don’t want it.” He draws himself up, pushes away the hurt. “I’ll be leaving shortly, anyway, there won’t be time.”

“But you need to send word to Gandalf. There’ll be a few hours before he comes from Dale.”

Bilbo shakes his head. “I’ll tell him myself.”

Balin looks sad but not surprised. “Wait a day. We’ll have a feast, a proper farewell.”

The thought of seeing his friends, of bearing any more sympathy, or blame, is too much for one small hobbit. “I think I’ll slip quietly away. Can you tell the others I said goodbye?”

The look Balin gives him is pure disappointment. “You should tell them yourself.”

The words tug at his memory and suddenly he’s standing in front of the gates of Erebor, and his friends, his remaining friends, are standing there too, to bid him farewell. The end of the dream. The too, too real dream he’d had as he’d lain unconscious on Ravenhill, before being wrenched back to wakefulness only to find Thorin lying wounded on the ice.

At least this time he’ll leave Thorin alive and well, rebuilding the home he’d strived so hard to recover. Bilbo had promised he’d give him that, and he had, hadn’t he? So now his work here is done. It is time to go.

Bilbo’s throat is tight at the thought saying goodbye, but he supposes he should.

“I will, just, I’ll see them before I leave.” He’ll say goodbye to Thorin’s Company. His fingers go unconsciously to the small braid by his ear. The King’s braid. Oh. Chest tight and throat thick, he tugs the bead, Thorin’s bead, free.

“Give this to Thorin, will you,” he says, and his voice betrays him.

Balin sighs heavily as his hand closes over the small bead. “Take something for your trip at least, lad. One bag of coins. It’s a long way to the Shire. Even the least of the Lake-men got thirty pieces of Erebor’s gold.”

Bilbo exhales. He thinks of the long journey west. It is an awfully long way. He nods in defeat.

Balin smiles sadly and pats him on the arm. “Good lad. And you’ll at least let two of us escort you to Dale. ‘Tis desperate times and I’d sooner see you safely with the wizard.”

Bilbo nods again. “All right.”

He leaves, and Bilbo stands silently for a moment before he finishes dressing. He hesitates over the mithril shirt, but Thorin had been clear on that, and so he slips it on. He looks around at his belongings, the clothes from Thorin, what’s on his back, his sword. Not very much at all to show for his year’s adventure. In his pockets though, three small treasures, the ring, Bifur’s top and a small acorn. He’s tempted to simply go, despite promising Balin that he’ll take the money. He’ll need some sort of satchel, though, and probably some food for the start of the journey. Dale has even less than Erebor.

His stomach growls, rudely hungry despite Bilbo’s misery.

Very well. He leaves his room and heads down to breakfast. Vaguely familiar dwarves give him nods of greeting and he feels a small pang as he realises those friendly looks will vanish once news spreads of his fall from Thorin’s grace.

He’s not very hungry after all, and after a few mouthfuls, he pokes his spoon at his porridge in a desultory fashion before giving up. He takes a few supplies from the mess and finds an old sack – which will do for the journey until he reaches Mirkwood at least, where he should be able to get some more food and a better satchel.

Slowly then, he trudges back up the winding staircases to his room.


 

Thorin stares unseeingly at the cup in front of him. His breakfast sits untouched. The door opens and he realises he hadn’t even heard the knock. It’s Balin.

Thorin’s heart pounds. “Is it done?”

Balin’s expression is so full of pity, it’s a reproach. “Here,” he says too gently. “He said to give you this.”

Thorin’s throat is thick as Balin places a small bead in his hand. His courting bead.

Over. Just another failure to add to a list of many. Yet this one stings with such bitter disappointment.

“He wouldn’t take his share,” Balin continues. “I could barely convince him to take a bag of coins for the journey.”

The bead is cold and hard, clenched in his palm. He should not have expected Bilbo to carry Thorin’s heart home with him. He places the bead on the table.

“He’ll be leaving soon, Thorin,” Balin says, in that same, too gentle, tone. “He said he’ll not wait for Gandalf. Bofur and Nori will take him to Dale.”

Thorin swallows against the lump in his throat. So soon. Bilbo is leaving already. He’d planned– He’d wanted— He’d thought and thought on what he would say. He hadn’t trusted himself to see Bilbo too soon before he left, but he wants, needs, to bid him farewell. To see him, one last time.

His pulse pounds in his ears, his heart is in his throat. “I will speak with him,” he hears himself say. If Balin responds, Thorin doesn’t hear.

He strides out of his chambers and down the hall, the door to Bilbo’s bedchamber is unlatched. Heart racing, Thorin flings it open.

The room is empty.

Thorin feels the ground shift beneath his feet.

Unsteadily, he steps into the room. The bedroll is made on the bedframe, and on top, neatly folded, are Bilbo’s clothes – the ones Thorin had gifted him. The first and only true courting gift after the bead.

Of course.

Bilbo has already left.

Thorin’s legs threaten to give way and he grabs at the stone mantelpiece for support.

He is gone.


 

Bilbo pauses at the door to his bedchamber, it is ajar, and cautiously he pushes it open. He stops and his heart skips a beat.

Thorin stands by the fireplace. His head is bowed, one hand gripping the mantelpiece. Bilbo’s stomach flutters with agonising tension. Hope flaring, pulse racing, thoughts tumbling over each other, he steps into the room. He shuts the door behind him more loudly than he intends. Thorin’s head jerks up.

“Bilbo–” Thorin’s expression closes and he straightens, cool, regal and forbidding, and Bilbo’s hope vanishes. “I thought you gone,” Thorin says stiffly.

“No. I…” Bilbo lifts up the bag he found, his mouth twisting and failing to smile. There’s an awful tightness in his throat. Thorin is a stranger, cold and distant – so far from the person with whom he’d shared warm smiles and heated breaths. “I’m still packing. I’ll be gone soon, sorry.”  

“No. That was not what I meant.” Thorin glances away, and when he looks back Bilbo doesn’t know what his expression means. “I thought I was too late,” he says, voice rough.

“Oh.” Bilbo’s throat is tight and he can’t – For once his words fail him. His mind is a whirl, torn between protecting his bruised heart and pride, and desperately grasping at this small shred of hope and searching for what he might say to convince Thorin to change his mind. He clenches his shaking hands into fists and holds himself still, searches Thorin’s face, afraid of preempting him, of mis-stepping.

“Balin says you will not take your pay,” Thorin says suddenly, an accusation.

Bilbo stares at him, taken aback. He swallows, forces himself to speak. “No. I have enough.”

Thorin looks away, expression tight. “The Arkenstone does not count as your fourteenth share. Take the gold you have earned.”

This, this is what Thorin wanted to say? Perhaps it is because he brings up the Arkenstone, perhaps it’s because Bilbo cannot believe that this is what Thorin is concerned about, this is why he’s here, perhaps the sheer wrongness of Thorin’s assumption, or perhaps it’s because it’s easier to argue about pay than everything else that’s bottled up tight inside, but finally the dam breaks.

“Gold? How can you think I care about gold?” he bites out, the words rasping from his throat, caught, choked, but once started they tumble out like a flood. “Do you really think I came on your ridiculous quest for the money?” He stares at Thorin in disbelief, all his hurt and confusion channelling into indignant fury, over this, this, and his need to make Thorin understand for once in his stubborn life.He steps towards him, stabbing his finger in punctuation. “I came because I wanted to do something more interesting with my life than prune roses and straighten my mother’s doilies! I came because—“ He falters, but squares his shoulders, his jaw. “I came because you sang your song, and it was the most beautiful, terrible, inspiring thing I’d ever heard in my life. I wanted to be a part of something grand, to help you get your home back, I wanted to slay the dragon and give that to you. Do you understand?”

His chest is heaving, pulse racing and he’s staring at Thorin and Thorin is staring at him right back. “So you can keep your gold. I never wanted it.” His anger flares again, bile, bitter in his throat, and hurt too, tight and crushing, prickling at the back of his throat and at his eyes. “Do you really think… after… after all we did, that I require payment? For services rendered? As if—“ He shakes his head incredulously. “You might as well have left a handful of coins on the nightstand! So, no, Thorin, I don’t want your money.”

Thorin’s eyes widen. “No. No. Never that. You— “ His jaw works and his hands clench. “You—“ He looks away. “Forgive me. That was not my intention. I thought— But—” He mouth twists and he runs his hands through his hair as he turns back to Bilbo. “You gave me back my bead,” he says helplessly.

There’s something so pleading and defeated in his words that Bilbo’s anger evaporates. He looks at Thorin, really looks at him. He looks terrible, his eyes are red and his expression pinched and drawn. He’s still in yesterday’s clothes, crushed and crumpled, no robe, no crown, thin slippers on his feet, and, Bilbo realises suddenly, he is still wearing Bilbo’s silly little braid, tucked behind his ear.

“Why did you tell me to go?” he blurts out. “Just give me that, Thorin, tell me why you want me to leave.”

Thorin flinches. He does not meet Bilbo’s gaze. “I do not wish for you to leave. I do not wish it at all— but you must, it is not safe— I am not safe.”

Bilbo stares at him, frustration warring with hope. “What do you mean? If you’re talking about the ramparts again – we’ve already been through this, how many times—“

“I am not safe!” Thorin interrupts him, his deep voice terse and sharp, but Bilbo sees now, sees the desperation, the earnest fear. “I’m still sick, Bilbo. I thought I had rid myself of my grandfather’s sickness, but the way… the way I look at you, want you. What I feel for you, it’s needful and greedy. I care not for the gold, the touch of it sickens me, yet you… in the depths of my madness I lusted for you, a sick, dark, needful hunger, and I feel it, I feel it again. What I did to you, the last time we lay together— that was not how I should treat my umùrad’akar, I could barely control myself, the things I desired—I will take you and possess you jealously, and you will come to hate me for it.”

Bilbo’s throat is dry. Oh. Oh. So that was why—It suddenly makes sense, Thorin retreating immediately afterwards, his terse, tense behaviour. Bilbo shakes his head, because how can Thorin think what they did, that open, desperate passion, their mutual pleasure, was the work of the dragon sickness? “No. You are wrong, so wrong.”

“You do not know—“

“I do, oh I do, Thorin Oakenshield, because I saw it, I saw the gold sickness take over you, I saw it, and I don’t see it now, and I didn’t see it in your bedchamber yesterday.”

“Bilbo…” it sounds like a plea and Thorin stares at him helplessly. “You agreed, afterwards, you agreed you should go…”

Bilbo’s stomach drops. “No, no, no. I was startled, that’s all—“ Thorin shuts his eyes, as if pained, and Bilbo steps forward, grasping his hands. “No, no, not like that— I had a dream. When I hit my head, on Ravenhill. I had a dream that you died. You died in my arms and then— you were gone, you were gone and I was left alone. I got a fright, you see, because the words you spoke, about going home to my chair and my books and planting the acorn – that’s what you said, before you died, and— it seemed that well, that must be it, I had come to the end of our journey together.” Thorin opens his eyes but his gaze skitters from Bilbo’s down to their joined hands. “I was so surprised, you see, that I didn’t argue. Ask me again and I promise I’ll argue this time.”

Thorin turns Bilbo’s hands over in his, cradling them in his large palms. “I cannot,” he whispers. “I cannot risk harming you.”

Bilbo sighs in frustration. It is so ridiculous that they are parting because of this, out of everything. “You didn’t worry about that when you sent me into a dragon’s nest, did you? Or when you took me through a forest of spiders, or into a pit full of goblins. And we won’t mention the wargs and the orcs. Or the trolls—“

Thorin’s severe features soften and there’s a hint of a smile. He strokes his thumbs over the bones in Bilbo’s wrists. “I did though, my Halfling, more than I liked – when the dragon awoke, I wanted nothing more than to charge in after you, I told myself I must not endanger the success of the quest for my own heart’s desire, but it was only my faith in you, Bilbo Baggins, to yet again succeed where I had failed, that stayed my hand.” He lifts his gaze to finally meet Bilbo’s, and his eyes are so soft that Bilbo’s heart leaps with hope, because it’s Thorin again, no longer a stranger, no longer an untouchable king. Thorin huffs softly and his lips quirk into a rueful smile. “I was right, was I not? You found the Arkenstone, just as I knew you would.”

Old guilt fights for a space in the whorl of emotions in Bilbo’s chest but loses to the relief that Thorin is finally connecting with him again. “Then trust me now, Thorin. I will tell you if you are hurting me. I will tell you if I think the dragon sickness has returned. Do I ever keep my mouth shut when I’m worried about you, hm?”

“I confess, you do not.” Thorin’s eyes are so full of hope that Bilbo cannot help but smile, but then he grows sober and Bilbo’s heart sinks again. “Bilbo, I too had a dream. When I was on my sick bed, I dreamt I took you, rough and heedless, in the treasury, amongst my grandfather’s gold, just another trinket for me to own. I felt that same lust yesterday, so needful. It frightens me, Bilbo, that I might become that which repulses me, that I could, would treat you so.” He swallows.

Bilbo lifts one hand from the cradle of Thorin’s palms and reaches up and to cup his cheek, his beard rough under his palm. Thorin’s gaze bores into Bilbo’s and Bilbo can see it now, the fear. He desperately wants to reassure, to see it gone. Never mind that Thorin’s dream sounded rather interesting indeed. “You are allowed to desire things, you know,” he says firmly and quirks a smile. “If only you knew the things I would like to do to you, Thorin Oakenshield. Dreadful, lustful things. It’s perfectly, completely normal.”

Thorin’s eyes darken, just a fraction, but he still looks sceptical.

Bilbo licks his lips. “If I were to tell you how much I want to touch you, to feel your mouth on mine… on me… would you think me dragonsick?”

Thorin’s eyes flutter closed.

“Bilbo…” He sounds wretched, looks wretched, and Bilbo bows his head, despairing. He does want. He wants so much, he wants Thorin to look at him with heat again, to seek his lips, to ask him not to leave his bed. Oh he wants. In the end though, who is he to tell Thorin whether his fears for his own mind are founded or no, and if Bilbo’s leaving brings him peace, then perhaps it is for the best.

“Bilbo.”

Thorin’s beard rasps as he turns his face, and Bilbo looks up, breath catching in his throat as Thorin presses his lips to his palm. Thorin’s hand slides through Bilbo’s hair, and with a sigh he bends his head, nose and brow to Bilbo’s. Bilbo’s heart pounds. They are so close, and Bilbo is on a knife-edge, acutely aware of every point of contact and he wants so much more, yet he doesn’t dare—

Thorin finds his mouth – a careful, tender press of gently parted lips, salty and a bit wet. Bilbo’s heart soars, his chest so tight with possibility and relief that it aches. The kiss is so careful, so unbearably precious, it feels like another point in their argument, but a very good point indeed and Bilbo returns it, answers Thorin’s unspoken question just as cautiously, but then Thorin makes a small, terrible sound and Bilbo holds him fast and kisses him in earnest.


 

Thorin drops his hands to clutch at Bilbo’s shoulders. He is drowning, Bilbo’s mouth is warm and uncompromising, and Thorin is strung taut with relief and defeat all at once. Once more he puts his faith in his Hobbit, trusts that he knows what Thorin does not, will prove himself when Thorin doubts. Bilbo is in his arms and Bilbo is holding him. It is too much to ask that he resist in the face of Bilbo’s confidence, his assurances, when he himself wants this so badly that he aches.

Bilbo’s hands roam, in Thorin’s hair, on his face, over his shoulders and chest. He pauses briefly to shrug off his jacket, his waistcoat, never once abandoning Thorin’s kiss. Thorin tugs ineffectually at his own clothing but his hands would rather latch onto Bilbo’s waist, smooth over his back, clasp his shoulders, slide in his short curls and draw him closer.

Bilbo gives a low moan and Thorin’s throat closes, he cannot speak, and his legs cannot hold him. He stumbles backwards, into the armchair by the fireplace, and Bilbo goes with him, straddling his lap, rising up over him on the chair and holding his face and kissing, kissing. The ache that’s been tormenting Thorin since yesterday wells up and finally breaks free – a raw, anguished sound and he cannot catch it in time.

Bilbo groans and draws back, looking down on Thorin, dark blue jasper eyes filled with such desire and affection that it makes Thorin shudder. Bilbo strokes Thorin’s face, kisses his face, kisses his brow and nose and cheeks. Thorin’s heart is full of words he might say, but nothing comes, his tongue thick, his throat closed.

“I love you,” Bilbo tells him, so simply that Thorin could weep. He seizes Bilbo’s mouth, seizes him, lifts him up and rises to his feet, carries Bilbo those few feet to the small, awful bed and lays him upon it. Lays him upon it and looks down upon Bilbo’s unbearably dear face, and tries somehow to show Bilbo, to tell him with kiss and touch, what his voice cannot, should not say.


 

Thorin looks down at Bilbo with such tenderness and bestows kiss after kiss with such painfully sweet intimacy that Bilbo fears his heart might break. It’s almost too tender, too careful, and it hurts Bilbo to think that in some way this is Thorin trying to atone for some imagined crime, that he’s restraining himself out of fear of his own desires. Bilbo tries to reassure him, strokes his hair, his face, but his own voice is stifled by the magnitude of all the words crowding in his chest and mind.

Thorin moves down Bilbo’s body, pushing up his clothes, unbuttoning and unfastening where he may, kissing, mouthing, touching, beard grazing soft skin, dark hair falling in a delicate caress, and all Bilbo’s qualms are silenced, lost in a sweet, desperate pleasure. Thorin takes his time, teases, coaxes -- slowing but never ceasing, inexorably drawing Bilbo, trembling and begging, towards his release.

Finally, finally he spills into Thorin’s mouth, moaning Thorin’s name, hands fisted in the bedcovers. He shudders, gasping with sensitivity and Thorin kisses his hip, hand still spanning Bilbo’s waist, still holding him in place for his ministrations. Bilbo lifts up onto his elbows and, breathing heavily, Thorin sits back on his knees. His large frame is taut, thigh muscles straining, and he holds himself still, his arms hanging at his sides, darkened eyes searching Bilbo’s. He’s bared in his need, despite still being completely clothed – waiting, almost as if, even now, he still does not dare give into his desires.

Bilbo scrambles to sit up properly, touches Thorin’s cheek. Thorin exhales sharply and his eyes flutter closed.

“What do you want?” Bilbo asks, close now, almost close enough to kiss. “Anything you want, Thorin. Tell me.”

Thorin’s breath is hot against his face. His eyes open, the blue striking against the darkened pupil, and his gaze dips from Bilbo’s eyes, to his mouth, down and up again. His hand catches Bilbo’s against his cheek. He swallows.

“I want you to stay.”

Bilbo’s heart lodges somewhere in his throat. Oh. Oh honestly.

“Yes, of course,” he says, his voice a bit wrong. “Of course I’ll stay, Thorin! I’m here as long as you want me, you ridiculous dwarf. Come here.” With a sharp inhale, Thorin finds his mouth, and Bilbo kisses him soundly indeed, as Thorin’s big body bends and bows, caving in to Bilbo’s touch.

“Now, please,” Bilbo says firmly, in a breath between kisses, his hands questing over quivering, needful flesh. “Let me take care of you.” And Thorin groans as Bilbo reaches between them to unfasten the placket on Thorin’s breeches.

Thorin’s breath rushes from him in a sharp gasp as Bilbo takes him in hand. He trembles, holding himself so tensely, breathing harsh, his hands clutching, as if he’s holding himself together, still holding back.

“Shh, let go, Thorin, let go,” Bilbo murmurs and Thorin’s gasp is broken and Bilbo kisses him where he may. “Which would you like? Tell me Thorin. My mouth or my hand? Or something else? I’m more than willing. I want you in every way, you know. Anything you want.” Thorin leans into him, heavy and heaving, hips rocking into Bilbo’s grip. “Would you like my mouth around your thick prick? Or would you prefer if I talk to you, tell you how lovely you feel, tell you all the things I would like to do with you?”


 

It is too much, Thorin’s flesh is alight and he is helpless in the face of Bilbo’s words. Desire flays him raw.

“Bilbo—“ He gives a harsh groan, burying his face in Bilbo’s shoulder and closing his hand over Bilbo’s on his shaft, working it faster, harder. Pleasure, sharp, urgent pleasure burns in his thighs, his belly, across his groin, coiling tighter.

“Oh yes,” breathes Bilbo and when Thorin lifts his face, Bilbo’s grin is bright and feral, daring, willing. Something terrible boils up with Thorin’s chest and he breaks. He pushes Bilbo down, and rises over him, shoving away his hand, pushing up his shirt, holding him down as he chases his completion, with quick, hard tugs. He comes, ragged and gasping, spilling his seed over Bilbo’s soft, pink skin.

He pants, breathless, mortification creeping up his spine as his pleasure fades, but when he lifts his eyes, Bilbo is looking at him in wonder, approval.

He is glorious, flushed, glowing, his tousled curls a halo, and holding Thorin’s gaze, Bilbo dips one finger in the spill on his skin and lifts it to his lips.

Thorin thinks he might implode. His breath catches and his face flames. Mahal. He watches, caught, as Bilbo sucks the digit clean. Tastes him from his very skin. It is too much, too much--

He reaches forward before he can stop himself, a sharp spike of daring overwhelming his embarrassment and slides his hand through the slick mess, spreading it over Bilbo’s bare skin.

“Mine,” Thorin murmurs, the word escaping before he can stop it, but Bilbo’s answering expression is shockingly possessive. He grabs Thorin’s wrist and pulls his hand to his mouth, and, eyes fixed firmly on Thorin’s, licks each finger clean.

“Bilbo!” Thorin croaks, scandalised and captivated in equal measure.

Bilbo smirks and licks a stripe across his palm. “I told you I wanted to do dreadful things, didn’t I?”

This, this really is too much, and Thorin staggers into him, burying his burning face in Bilbo’s chest. Bilbo curls over him and holds him tight. Thorin hears the rapid beat of Bilbo’s heart, feels his soft kiss, and he breathes.

“Bilbo,” he whispers.

“Thorin,” Bilbo replies into his shoulder, as visceral as what has just occurred, and this, just this, is enough to soothe the last of Thorin’s mortification. He shifts to see his Hobbit and claim his mouth, soft and smiling.

Afterwards, they lie in each other’s arms, barely inches apart, nose to nose. The palpable distance between them has vanished but unsaid words still weigh heavily.

“Forgive me,” Thorin says softly.

Bilbo looks at him with his blue opal eyes. “There’s nothing to forgive. You had a bad day, that’s all. It’s all sorted out now, no harm done.”

Thorin smooths sweaty hair from his beloved’s brow. Bilbo is becomingly flushed from their exertions, his mouth red from their kisses.

“You will stay?” Thorin cannot help himself.

Bilbo gives him a stern look. “I said I was, did I not?”

Thorin cannot keep a smile from his face.

Bilbo smiles back and tugs his beard. “Promise me you’ll talk to me, the next time you’re worried about me. Worried about anything, really. I’m your friend, Thorin, on top of anything else, and I will always be here for you. Whatever you need.”

Thorin strokes Bilbo’s hair some more. Bilbo still loves him and it’s more than he deserves. “You have my word.”

Bilbo closes his eyes and yawns. “Good. Now, stop brooding, I can hear you all the way over here: I’ve had a very emotional morning and I need some sleep.”

Thorin huffs a laugh and settles as comfortably as he can in the hard little pallet bed. “You were right, my bed is truly superior to this monstrosity.” He shifts, his shoulder and ribs already twinging. “If you refuse to simply sleep with me, I shall be forced to have my bed moved here for you.”

“Ridiculous,” Bilbo mutters.

Thorin yawns, his own eyes heavy now too. “Cannot have the king’s chosen one sleeping on a plank.”

Bilbo’s eyes crack open at this. “I’m your chosen one?”

Thorin kisses the nearest part of Bilbo, which happens to be the tip of his nose. “You know you are,” he slurs, close to sleep.

Bilbo huffs and there’s a little grumble that sounds suspiciously like, “Chosen for what, is what I’d like to ask,” but Thorin is already nearly asleep and cannot reply.


 

Bilbo has just drifted off, peaceful darkness washing over him when there’s a sharp rap at the door. “B’gr off,” he groans. He is nicely cushioned on one King under the Mountain and he is very disinclined to move.

The knock is repeated, more loudly, and Bilbo sighs and clambers out from under Thorin’s arm.

“Yes, yes, coming,” Bilbo says crossly, adjusting what’s left of his clothing and pulls open the door. It’s Balin, but not just Balin: Balin and Bofur, Bombur, Bifur, Nori, Dori, Ori and Oin.

“Oh,” says Bilbo.

“I’ve got your gold, lad,” says Balin. “And Bofur and Nori here to accompany you to Dale.”

“And we’re here to see you off,” says Dori. “Don’t think you’re sneaking away without some sort of goodbye, Mr Baggins. Not after everything.”

Bilbo thinks of Thorin sleeping in his bed behind them. “Uh, well, the thing is— there’s been a change of plans.”

“Change of plans?” Balin asks.

“Yes,” says a deep voice from behind Bilbo’s shoulder, and he turns with a start, not having heard Thorin approach. He’s just as underdressed as Bilbo – down to his shirt-sleeves and trousers, his feet bare. “Bilbo is not leaving after all.”

Eight pairs of eyes fix on Bilbo. “No, I’m not. There was… a misunderstanding. I’m staying now, for a while longer.”

Ori looks mortified, Oin frowns, adjusting this ear trumpet, while Balin, Dori and Bombur simply look relieved, but Bofur’s face splits into a filthy, delighted grin.

“Right, well,” says Nori with equal amusement. “We should probably leave you to it, to keep working out this misunderstanding, good and proper like.”

There’s several dirty chuckles and winks and Bilbo does not think he can turn any redder than he already has by the time he closes the door again.

He clears his throat. Thorin stands by the closed door, looking at him with weight in his gaze.

“Come back to bed,” he says.

Bilbo holds his gaze. “Yours or mine?”

Thorin regards him steadily. “Mine.”

 

Bilbo thinks they must make a fine sight, walking down the hall together, Thorin carrying his slippers, surcoat slung over his shoulder, Bilbo without either jacket or waistcoat. It is only when they are halfway down the hall that he remembers the ring, tucked into the front pocket. He pauses, the urge to go back and just check almost overwhelming, but then Thorin looks at him curiously and Bilbo determinedly thrusts the ring from his mind.

The guards studiously keep their gazes front and centre as Thorin opens the door to his rooms, and Bilbo tries to pretend they’re not there as he steps past them into the King of Erebor’s sitting room. He can’t help but notice it’s a mess – papers scattered over the desk, chair askew – and with a pang he thinks of Thorin, miserable and alone last night, plagued by guilt and self-recrimination. He shakes off the thought, and strides to the bedroom door with determination. He turns, only to see Thorin toying pensively with something on the table.

“Thorin?”

Thorin picks up the small something between thumb and forefinger and looks up at Bilbo, expression unreadable. “Dare I hope you will accept my bead once more?” And now Bilbo sees that between Thorin’s fingers is the small, hand-carved bead he’d once worn. That he’d given back.

“Of course I will!” He feels that same ridiculous thickness in his throat – that Thorin even has to ask! “I hope you will always count me among your companions, Thorin.”

Thorin’s brow furrows and he searches Bilbo’s face. “I am not speaking of my Company, Bilbo. Will you wear my braid?”

It is Bilbo’s turn to be confused. “But—“ He stops, looking for an answer in Thorin’s face and failing. “Hold on, hold on,” he holds up his hand. “Thorin, what, exactly, does wearing your braid mean?”

Thorin stares at him as if he’s suddenly sprouted antlers. “You do not–“ He pales. “You did not know?”

“Know what?” Bilbo exclaims.

Thorin groans, dragging his hand over his face before staring at Bilbo in what is clearly frustrated dismay. “If – then why did you think I asked you to wear it?”

“To show I was part of your Company, of course!”

Thorin practically growls as he demands, “Then why did you ask me to wear yours in return?”

“Because you— because—“ Bilbo flounders. “I thought it was… sweet.” He blushes, embarrassed at having to explain the impetus that prompted his silly request to braid Thorin’s hair. “Since we like each other so well. I don’t know, it seemed very much like putting a flower behind your ear, as we do at home... when you fancy someone.”

Thorin’s expression clears. “Then it is a courting favour!”

“Courting?” Bilbo feels completely at sea. He holds up his hand again. “Thorin, stop, please.” He takes a breath and phrases his next question carefully. “What does wearing a braid mean, here, to you, in dwarvish?”

Thorin looks at him as if Bilbo’s the most unfathomable creature in existence. “You truly do not know?”  

Bilbo grasps at the remaining threads of his patience. “No, I truly do not.”

Thorin looks down at the bead in his hand. “To ask someone to wear your braid,” he says, voice a low rumble, “is to ask them if they will allow you to court them. We wear many braids, this one is a courting braid.”

“Courting,” repeats Bilbo not for the first time. “And what, exactly, does ‘courting’ mean?” This point seems particularly important to clarify.

Thorin looks up in surprise. “You do not court in the Shire?”

Bilbo feels as if he’s on the edge of a precipice. “We do, yes, but I’d like to know what it means to you.”

There’s something approaching trepidation in Thorin’s expression as he meets Bilbo’s gaze and his tone is almost chastened. “One who courts seeks to win the hand of the one they love, to earn their love in return, to accept their suit and agree to marry them.”

Love. All right. Yes. Bilbo had worked through the astounding concept that Thorin Oakenshield did probably love him, but... marriage? Marriage. Bilbo’s mind shies away from the thought – it is too overwhelming by far. Only a few hours ago, he had thought Thorin was done with him, and before that he’d only just started to wrap his head around being Thorin’s lover. His pulse thuds in his ears. He feels almost as if he’s outside of himself, looking in, as he speaks with commendable calm, “I see. And what does courting actually entail?”

He graces Thorin with a sharp look, because this is very, very important and he needs a straight answer for once.

Thorin is caught, pinned, his mouth opens and closes. Then he sighs, rubbing his hand over his face once more. “There are steps a suitor must follow – I must first ask your permission and then I must present a series of traditional gifts to prove my worth.” He drops his hand. “I fear I have not done well so far.“ He sighs. “I believed you had accepted willingly. Forgive me.”

Bilbo looks down at his own hands. Prove his worth! Good grief. Of all the ridiculous statements.

“I do,” he says, looking up, looking at the dear, maddening dwarf he loves. “I do accept willingly.”

He reaches for Thorin’s hand, clenched now into a fist and pries it open to reveal the bead.

“Here,” he says softly. “I would be honoured to wear your braid again.”

Thorin sucks in a breath and he closes the distance between them, and if Bilbo can feel Thorin’s hands shake a little as he rebraids the hair above Bilbo’s right ear and refastens the bead, he does not comment, for he feels rather emotional himself right now and cannot quite meet Thorin’s eyes. He fingers the bead and then nods towards the bedchamber, throat thick, and, brushing his fingertips against Thorin’s, leads him there.

When they are safely next to each other, bare and in each other’s arms, it is easier to speak with kisses and touches, to tell Thorin with tender exploration and certain caresses all he means to say, the enormity of feeling that swells his breast and he can’t quite put into words.

Much later, as they lie together, sated for a second time, Bilbo allows himself to think about the full import of what Thorin has told him, about the meaning of the courting braid, about Thorin’s intentions. It seems truly unbelievable, that Thorin, King of Erebor, magnificent and imposing, should want to what… make Bilbo his prince? His consort?

What would the other other dwarves have to say if they knew? Do they already know? And Bilbo realises that of course they must, that they have known all along what Bilbo’s braid meant and none of them seemed to care, to mind that their King was not only choosing someone not of their race, but relinquishing his chance for future heirs.

Honestly.

Thorin. Him and Thorin.

It all seems a bit much, and Bilbo is sure Thorin cannot mean it, not truly. Yet, what if he does? Only yesterday Bilbo had been thinking about staying in Erebor –

The possibility glimmers temptingly in Bilbo’s future. He licks his lips, ruminating on the thought. Really. It is all so soon, far too soon, they’ve only just started... started this...

Thorin sighs and rolls in Bilbo’s arms, kisses his forehead.

Amrâlimê,” he murmurs and Bilbo gives him a squeeze.

Courting. Good grief, and Thorin worrying about gifts and beads amidst running a kingdom! As if he didn’t only have to say the word and Bilbo would stay. As if Bilbo, if he’s honest with himself, could possibly refuse, if Thorin asked him to stand by his side as his consort.

“Perhaps you should court me the hobbit way,” he says from against Thorin’s firm barrel of a chest. “It’s far simpler. Leave the dwarven courting to me, if you must have it, I’ve much more time on my hands.”

Thorin’s chuckle rumbles against his ear. “And what does courting mean for a hobbit?”

“Well, when a hobbit fancies another hobbit,” Bilbo begins, smiling against Thorin’s skin as the dwarf snorts, “that hobbit will ask the other hobbit to step out with them – go for long walks, give each other tokens of their affection… tumble each other the second they have a moment alone, that sort of thing.”

Thorin chuckles again and rolls his hips against Bilbo.

Bilbo hooks his ankle over Thorin’s calf. “So you’re doing quite well by our standards.”

“And then?” Thorin’s hand finds a resting place on Bilbo’s bottom.

Bilbo curls his toes and strokes the soft skin above Thorin’s hip with his thumb. “And then, after some time, if they like each other well enough and they have a smial of their own, or there’s a fauntling on the way – whichever comes first – then they marry.” Often to the scandalised looks of the respectable members of the family, admittedly, but a wedding party erased many an indiscretion and, once the healthy, squalling infant arrived, no one cared much after the fact which side of the sheets the baby was conceived on.

Thorin is silent for a long moment. “You already have a smial,” he murmurs finally. “And you helped give me back my home, and we will never have fauntlings, not of our mingled flesh.”

Bilbo draws back to meet Thorin’s eyes. “You don’t have to give me gifts, or follow elaborate rituals, or meet special rules, Thorin. You don’t need to make me your, what, consort, to get me to stay. I’m not going anywhere, not unless you want me to.”

Thorin’s blue eyes are locked on Bilbo’s. He exhales heavily and when he catches Bilbo’s hand to his breast, Bilbo can feel his heart pounding.

“I believe I may be excused from my duties for a day or two,” Thorin says carefully. “And there are many places in Erebor that… I would show you. Will you step out with me, Bilbo?”

Bilbo’s lips tug up at the corners. “I would like that very much, Thorin,” he says solemnly.

Thorin’s mouth creases into a slow smile, one which crinkles his eyes and stretches his mouth to show his straight white teeth beneath his beard.


 

They take a picnic and a blanket, judiciously making use of second doors to lose Thorin’s guards and leave them behind, and Thorin shows Bilbo Erebor. They venture deep inside the mountain, down ruined halls and deeper to where Smaug could not and did not touch. In Thorin’s mind’s eye he sees the Erebor of old, and he follows halls and corridors almost instinctively to the secret places he’d loved as a child.

With a growing joy, he finds it has all been preserved quite well, with only dust to betray the passage of time. He can pretend it is simply evening or early morning, that the people are abed and the chambers silenced only momentarily. He shows Bilbo the beautifully wrought Temple of Mahal, the Place of Silence, the Stream of Durin, the Pool of Echoes, the elegant Shale Street, and fine Diamond Avenue. The Bakers’ Level stands silent yet the sight of it is enough to prick Thorin’s nose and he remembers the smell of baking bread and all sorts of good things to eat. He hears again the noise and bustle, the shouts and laughter.

Soon they will return, he thinks. Soon.

Bilbo is keen and eager to see every room and he asks many questions, except when Thorin finds himself overcome by his memories and somehow Bilbo seems to know and stands silent, his hand in Thorin’s until Thorin is ready to speak again.

And as they work their way through the mountain, as he shows Bilbo his kingdom, Thorin’s heart swells with love and pride for Erebor. Warmth fills his veins, for Bilbo is with him and the days ahead no longer loom long and empty, the work no longer seems so thankless.

Home, he thinks, and his heart warms at the thought. This is his home.


 

Thorin leads Bilbo further into the mountain, and if Bilbo thinks sometimes Thorin gets a little lost and retraces their steps, he has the good grace not to mention it. Finally they come to a door which leads to a darkened corridor, in truth more tunnel than hallway. Thorin puts out the light.

“Hush, take my hand,” he says in a low voice and then shuts the door behind them as he leads Bilbo down an uneven pathway, Thorin’s dwarven eyes far more capable in the dark of the mountain than Bilbo’s.

Bilbo clutches Thorin’s hand, nervous despite himself, memories of goblin caves rearing up in his thoughts. He reaches into his pocket with his free hand, the ring now safely back on his person – and touches the metal, just in case.

And then the oppressive sense of closed in space seems to lift and Bilbo steps into cooler air and nearly runs into Thorin who has stopped. He is manhandled into Thorin’s embrace and he feels the tickle of beard and the warmth of breath against his ear.

“Look up,” whispers Thorin.

Bilbo does. He looks up and up – into a myriad tiny pinpricks of light high, high above and around them, stretching off into the distance. Like stars. When he looks at the nearer lights they seem to dodge his attention but if he looks closely he can see tiny glowing threads. He remembers the conversation, so long ago, in Rivendell, when he and Thorin had stood looking at the stars and Thorin had told him—

“Fireflies?” he guesses, keeping his voice low.

“Glow worms,” Thorin tells him. “Beautiful, are they not?”

“Very.”

They stand there for a long moment, Thorin’s arms around Bilbo, the steady rise and fall of his chest at Bilbo’s back.

“The cavern is full of water, so don’t step forward more than three steps or you’ll have wet feet.” Thorin releases Bilbo and steps back, Bilbo hears him moving around and then Thorin takes his elbow and guides him down to the blanket he’s spread upon the ground. Guides him down to lie with him, to look up at the glowing lights that fill the cavern above.

They make love. Thorin has planned this excursion well, for he has brought the oil, and he rids Bilbo of his clothes and finds all Bilbo’s most sensitive places. Mouth and beard graze Bilbo’s soft skin while slick fingers open him with silent patience until Bilbo’s thighs tremble with his neediness and he shudders with wanting more, wanting Thorin between his legs, above, against, inside. Thorin takes him so slowly, so carefully, so gently, that Bilbo cannot bear the slow torment. He wiggles and pushes, more, more–

“Bilbo––” Thorin growls, fierce and desperate, against his lips, limbs shaking with tension, and suddenly Bilbo recognises this for the compromise it is, Thorin’s determination to control his lust, and this act of wild abandon, taking Bilbo here on the ground. His heart fills with love for his stubborn, noble dwarf and he gives himself over to Thorin’s iron will.

They move so slowly, Thorin holding himself so tensely, the sounds he makes so wrecked, that Bilbo thinks he might break, it is too much, the sensation so intense, so overwhelming and his want is so very great--

He spills between them, pleasure spiking into pain as his muscles clench too tightly around Thorin’s hard length, and Thorin shatters, gasping a breathless string of broken, unintelligible Khuzdul as he thrusts once more and shudders his climax into Bilbo’s shaking body.

They doze in each other’s arms and Bilbo rouses to Thorin lighting a torch. The cavern seems duller in the flickering light, without the pale blue glow to lend it an unworldly beauty. They right themselves and Bilbo bats away Thorin’s fussing hands, rolling his eyes at Thorin’s concern when he winces, but kisses him softly before Thorin leads them back along the tunnel.

It is a slow walk back, and they stop at an ancient bathhouse, the water bubbling up from aquifers, heated by the mountain itself. Bilbo relishes the warmth on his well-used muscles and relishes even more the feeling of Thorin Oakenshield, soft and agreeable, naked and wet in his arms. They don’t have the energy for more than some half-hearted fondling but it is delightful all the same.

Thorin rubs his nose against Bilbo’s. “I would never have dreamt that I might find my umùrad’akar in a hobbit hole in the Shire.”

Umù-rad’-akar?” says Bilbo carefully pronouncing the word.

“The other part of my soul, my One,” Thorin says, voice a low, thick rumble.

Oh goodness. Is there no end to Thorin’s revelations? Bilbo’s heart skips. “I don’t know about souls,” he murmurs. “But you have my heart, Thorin Oakenshield, have done for longer than I even knew. And I never would have believed I’d give it to a burly dwarf who tramped into my nice clean smial without even wiping his boots or a by your leave, but there you have it.”

“I’m sure I wiped my boots.”

Bilbo gives him a level look. “And called me a grocer.”

Thorin has the grace to look shamefaced even as he chuckles. “Forgive me, I did not see. I would never mistake my brave, noble, quick witted Burglar for a grocer now.”

“And I would never think you far too majestic for your own good, I know you Thorin, I know you and I love you.”

Thorin’s response catches on his lips and he exhales instead and takes Bilbo’s mouth in a soft kiss. “Amrâlimê,” he whispers.

And Bilbo cannot help smiling, because Thorin’s smile lights his eyes and his beard is wet and his knees bump Bilbo’s where he floats in the water, and as far as adventures go, this one has turned out rather well, all things considered.