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Growing Dwarves (And Kingdoms)

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Even given the chance, there was nothing Bilbo would have done differently.

Of course, things had not exactly gone as well as he might have hoped, but that had not been anything his actions could have changed, certainly not to a conclusion he would have preferred. He did not regret stealing away the Arkenstone, nor giving it to Bard to trade with. He did not regret going back to take part in the battle, nor fighting his way over to Thorin, even at the risk of his own life. No, there was nothing he would have changed of his own actions.

Every time he shifted in his bed, though, he was reminded that not everything was dependent on his own actions, as a sharp pain inevitably tore at his side from the injury he had been dealt in his efforts.

It was getting better, though, under the close care and stern instructions of Óin. The old dwarf had taken it upon himself to care for Bilbo's injury along with those of the rest of the Company, even though both Dáin's men and their new allies had offered healers to help with the aftermath of the battle. Not that Thorin would have ever agreed to have an elven healer tend him, no matter their successes. His pride would have never allowed that.

With or without elves, though, Thorin was now fully healed, or so Óin told him. Bilbo had not seen much evidence of this himself; the one time Thorin had visited him had been soon after the battle, with both of them quite worse for the wear. Not that he would have expected anything else. Thorin was quite busy getting everything running again, so it was only natural he wouldn't have the time to check on a convalescent burglar. The others more than made up for it, anyway; he was quite sure everyone in the Company had visited him at least once, and some of them were by practically every day.

It made him feel somewhat guilty, the way they were all taking the time to come and visit him when they would have had plenty of other things to do. He was an adult hobbit, he could have amused himself well enough without constant visitors. Not that he wasn't grateful for the distraction, but really, they must have had much more important things to spend their time on, and yet they wasted it away on a useless burglar.

He would have tried to tell them that, but the one time he dared to voice his thoughts, Bofur practically pounced on his bed to shake him out of such foolish thoughts, while Fíli and Kíli wailed about how they were terrible friends for letting him think so little of himself, and of course they would visit, they would have had to be monsters to stay away. It had been very touching and embarrassing all at once, and left Bilbo quite flailing at anything to say. He had tried to explain himself, pointed out how Thorin was focusing on the things he had to get done, and really, he would not have blamed any of them for doing the same. Surely the rebuilding of Erebor and Dale alike required every capable pair of hands, and since he couldn't have done much even if he hadn't been bed-ridden, the least he could do was not keep others from their duties as well.

At his explanation, both Fíli and Kíli had gotten a strange look in their eyes, then excused themselves. That had been three days ago, and he hadn't seen Kíli since then. Bilbo rather hoped he hadn't offended the young dwarf, though the others had assured him that was not the case, still adamant about visiting him over and over again. Fíli had been one of those visiting, once again telling him Kíli was by no means mad with him, really he wasn't, something had just come up that Kíli had to do. Bilbo figured he could probably trust Fíli on that, though he still wasn't convinced this was entirely unconnected to his little outburst.

The even stranger comment, though, had been Fíli's information that he had spoken with Thorin, and the king had sent his regrets for not having visited Bilbo more often, citing his duties as the reason. His regrets! As though he owed any visits to the silly little burglar who had stolen his family heirloom.

He did not say that to Fíli, though. He had the feeling he would have been shot down most vigorously, regardless of how reasonable his opinion was. These stubborn dwarves were going to be the death of him one of these days, and not only because he apparently kept getting hurt around them.

The following morning Thorin himself came, clad in the rich clothes of a king once again though the madness was thankfully gone from his eyes. He looked the kind of tired that could not be cured with a simple good night's sleep, once again bringing his apologies for not visiting earlier. Bilbo tried his best to tell him that really, it was all right, Thorin had much more important things to do than attend to a grown hobbit whose main complaint was boredom as his injury could not allow him to sit up and read for more than a moment.

Apparently, it was the wrong thing to say, as Thorin's face darkened. "It is a stain on all of our honour, and mine before all," he said. "Had I not been so stubborn and blinded by the gold, you would never have come to such harm."

"It's not like that, really." Bilbo sighed. "I knew you'd get mad, and made my choices anyway. Then I chose to take part in the battle, and that was my own choice as well; I doubt anyone would have blamed me if I'd decided to hide away instead. Really, none of you should feel guilty for my injury, and certainly not obligated to keep me company. Not that I'm not grateful, but I'm sure you have much more important things to accomplish."

"More like things to keep from getting accomplished." Thorin sighed, though the line of his shoulders relaxed minutely. "Some of the elders from the Iron Hills have taken it upon themselves to arrange a council to advise me, which in practice means they are doing their best to turn things to their own advantage."

"And the advantage of the Iron Hills, I presume." This, he could do. This was so much better than discussing the unfortunate circumstances of their fight.

"Precisely. I know many of them would rather see Dáin on the throne in my place, and I dare say none of them would have grieved much to see me fall in battle."

"But the mountain is rightfully yours," Bilbo pointed out. "And even if you had fallen, Fíli would have taken over, not Dáin."

"I know, but mere words do little to remind them of true bloodlines when the gold of Erebor yet shines in their eyes." Thorin sighed again. "It is fortunate for me that my cousin, loyal as he is, would not hear of such things. He came to my aid when I needed it, and will not wrench away what is rightfully mine."

"That's good at least." Bilbo hesitated. There was really little he could say, in way of advice or otherwise. Hobbits had no kings, and while bloodlines could bear some importance, it was far from this ferocity. Yes, he knew some of his relatives would have been very happy to claim Bag End to themselves, but that was a matter of one hobbit hole, not an entire mountain that would soon be full of people. "I wish there was something I could do, too."

"You have already done more than your part." Thorin reached out a hand to touch his, a brief contact that was surprisingly gentle. "You helped us reclaim the mountain, and stalled the inevitable when my foolishness was about to lead us all into an honourless death."

"I couldn't stop the war from happening, though. I just bought a little time."

"But thanks to you, it was us and our allies against the foul orcs, not my Company slaughtered in our own halls by the forces of elves and men. For that, I'm sure I am not the only one to be grateful."

"And I still didn't manage to do what I wanted to." Not to say his way of going about it had been the best, but still.

"Oh, I am not certain." Thorin's lips twitched into a ghost of a smile. "I have regained both the Arkenstone and Orcrist, in return for quite a hefty part of the gold and some quite shiny gems. It is far from the ideal solution, but this way carries no lost honour to any, and even the elders of Iron Hills cannot truly argue against my decision to spend the gold to obtain such treasures."

"Would it be bad for me to say I am glad to hear that?" Because while it was certainly the truth, he was not foolish enough to think Thorin would ever thank him for his betrayal.

"Not at all. If I cast aside the pride and gold sickness that maddened me before, it is plain to see this is for the best." Thorin shook his head. "Erebor has ever been an ally of Dale, and will be so now once again, and while I bear no love for the elves, I would rather have them as tentative allies than open enemies. If the return of that is a little less gold in my halls to tempt new worms about, that is a price I am quite willing to pay."

"And perhaps next time you need help, they will be happier to give it."

Thorin snorted. "I rather doubt it, but we shall see. Not that I ever hope to find us in such dire straits again." His eyes were sincere as he looked at Bilbo again. "I will not soon say this again, but you were right, Master Hobbit, and I was wrong. For all that I acted rashly and in madness, it was wrong of me, and for that, I can only apologise."

Well, that he certainly hadn't expected. "Oh. Uh. I accept your apology?" He really wished he could have thought of something else to say, or at least made it sound less like a question. "Really, though, I don't blame you for getting mad at me. I tried to force your hand, and even if it did turn out for the better in the end, it should have been your call to make."

"Yet I would not have made it without your aid." Thorin's lips twitched again. "Even the best king is only as good as his decisions, and all too often those are no better than the wisdom of those who advise him. I would be fortunate indeed if my new council was more like you."

"You mean, bedridden and useless?" Bilbo sighed. "I'm feeling quite guilty, you know, for making everyone take the time to visit me."

"You never should, Master Hobbit. You have risked everything for our cause and gained nothing but pain and hardship in return. If there is any kindness we can offer you, it is only your due."

"I do hope you won't tire of showing that kindness, then, because I do not think I will be leaving any time soon." And that was a regret, yes, but again nothing he could help. "Even without my injuries, winter closes in fast, and it would soon be foolish indeed to even think of passing the mountains."

"Not that we would allow you to leave on your own." Bilbo was almost surprised at how soft Thorin's voice was. "You are one of the Company, Bilbo Baggins, and if you were never to lift a finger again, you would still have a place in my halls for as long as you live. When you are fit and willing to head home, we will arrange for plenty of warriors to accompany you on your way. And before you complain, there will be plenty of fit dwarrows travelling the way in the coming years. Most of my most loyal people except for those in the Company still dwell in Ered Luin, and while some will undoubtedly choose to stay, there will be steady streams between the two colonies for years to come."

"In that case, I would be happy to join one of the parties setting off in that direction." Bilbo managed a faint smile. "Speaking of dwarves setting on their way, would you happen to know where Kíli has gotten off to? He was rather upset when I told them I did not need constant company nor wish to keep them from their duties, and I would hate to think that I might have offended him."

"He set off a few days ago, to speak with Bard about the rebuilding of the two cities and how we might aid one another." Thorin's eyes softened, though he otherwise appeared grave. "I get the impression there is more to his little trip then just that, but as long as he returns whole and brings some word from the Bowman, I will not contest his claim. It's been an arduous journey and a battle the likes of which he should not have seen in all his life, and if he wishes to destroy some targets alongside the new Lord of Dale now that we have peace, I'm more than happy to allow him the reprieve."

"Right." Bilbo's smile turned somewhat relieved. "As long as I didn't make him angry with me."

"Believe me, if you had earned his ire, you would know." Thorin snorted. "He does not hesitate to make his anger known, even to me. In that, he is a true Durin without doubt; it rather runs in the family."

"I never could have imagined." Bilbo was rather gratified to see that his teasing had been understood as such, judging by Thorin's quiet chuckle. "But honestly, I don't wish to keep you. If your so-called advisers are indeed working against you, that is all the more reason why you should not spend your time amusing a convalescent."

"Do grant me some reprieve, please." Thorin touched his hand again. "I promise I am not neglecting my duties by being here."

Bilbo gave him a careful look, then narrowed his eyes. "Being here is not one of your duties."

"Perhaps not, but showing proper gratitude for your aid is, and it would not be very courteous of me to extend my thanks via a third party. Therefore, my visiting you is certainly within the scope of my duties, and I can only apologise that it has taken so long before I could take the time to do so."

"Very well, then." He might have argued further, but honestly, it was taking all his calm not to get flustered at such words. "But don't think I will accept that excuse twice. I did not help you win your mountain back just so some wily politicians could steal it away while you sit by my bed offering apologies."

"Duly noted." Thorin stood up and smiled, and it was his true smile, the one that Bilbo could scarcely believe could ever be directed at him. "I suppose I shall simply have to come up with a new excuse for the next time, hmm?"

It was the fault of that smile, really, that stupid smile was to blame and nothing else, because there was no other reason why Bilbo would have been left gaping like that without a response while Thorin walked off, easy as you please.

Dwarves. Honestly. How on Earth was a respectable hobbit supposed to deal with such things?

*

Thorin couldn't quite stifle a sigh as he finally reached his rooms at the end of the day. The day had been a busy one, as all days seemed to be as of late, and he was more than ready for a moment of peace and quiet.

He took the crown from his head as the door closed behind him, setting it carefully at a small table nearby. It was not the heavy thing Thrór had worn, the one he had claimed for his own in the depth of his madness, but a fine thing wrought of mithril and silver, some of its construction so delicate it might have seemed elven work if not for the sharp angles and firm lines. He did not believe the madness lay in the crown, knew well enough his own vulnerability to the sickness before he ever lay hands on the thing, but if there was anything he could do to lessen the chances of that, he would do so without hesitation.

He could not allow himself to fall to the madness again. For the sake of his people and all he loved, he would not.

He walked further into his small apartment, shedding his heavy outer robe as he did so. These were not the opulent royal apartments that Thrór had occupied in his time; those had been torn out by the worm for their gold and gems, and again, Thorin found himself not even wishing for their return. The rooms he had taken for himself had been hastily cleaned in the part of the mountain that used to house important guests, one of the finer apartments there, quite fit for a king but mostly intact from the worm's wrath. In any case, it was more than he could have ever dreamed of during his countless years in exile.

"Don't you look chipper."

Thorin merely raised a brow as he found the figure seated quite comfortably in one of his chairs. "I'm glad you find it so amusing. Chances are you are sighting into your own future, here."

Fíli shrugged, toying with the small circlet in his hands. "Not for a while yet, I hope. This thing is heavy enough, I can wait a while before I take on yours."

"Let us both hope it's a long while yet coming, then." Thorin walked over to the box that held his pipeweed, what little there was left of it. Few traders had yet managed to make their way here in the wake of the battle, and those who did carried mostly food and other necessary goods. Between the ruin of Laketown and the long neglect of Erebor both their wares were gone, and while he supposed he could have demanded for some extra comforts for himself, that was not the kind of king he wished to be.

"Indeed." Fíli kept his eyes on the circlet he passed through his hands. It was a simple thing, little more than a smooth circle of gold well fit for his head, but Thorin suspected he saw quite a lot more than the metal itself. "I heard you offered to buy all that traders bring in and share that with Dale."

"Indeed." He packed his pipe, not hurrying the task. "It makes more sense than one of us buying everything and charging the other, or letting the traders play on our desperation to hike up the prices for both. Besides, the only ones who have yet reached us are those from Iron Hills, and I dare say they will give us a better price than they would to the men."

"Not all are happy that you're just giving away food to the men."

"It's part of their payment." As though he allowed his decisions be swayed by those who would have held onto each last grubby coin. That was a darkness he would not fall into again. "Even more so than the last time, it was through our actions that the worm destroyed their homes. Even if they had not had the Arkenstone to trade for, it would not have been honourable for us to deny them compensation." Which was entirely different than keeping the promise that had been forced from him in exchange for his freedom and life.

"You know, I kind of like hearing you speak like that." As he glanced at his sister-son, Fíli was looking at him at last, his eyes almost twinkling. "I like this Thorin better."

"Good. I'll just have you smack me over the head if I ever seem to fall to the sickness again. Don't look at me like that; if there's anyone who can do it, it's my heir." And it had been proved he would not even listen to Dwalin when he sank deep enough. Perhaps his sister-sons would have more success than that.

"Aye, I'll do it if I must, but I hope it never comes to that." The gaze Fíli now gave him was that of a serious adult, not a boy still playing at adventure. For better or worse, he had grown during their journey.

Thorin was only grateful he was still here to see this changed dwarf.

There were whispers already, in tones as close to reverent as dwarves were capable of, of the way Fíli had carried himself in battle. They spoke of the way he had made his way through the waves of orcs, crying out challenges to any who would try to pass him, to take Erebor with their filthy hands. It was so great an image Thorin might have thought it a mere battle tale had he not been there himself, had he not seen the glory of the warrior his sweet little sister-son had become. He had seen the sun set behind Fíli's sturdy form, lighting up his hair in a glowing halo, dark blood dripping from his blades as the curses fell from his lips.

Fíli the Golden, they called him, for his hair and his defence of the shimmering Erebor alike, and Thorin could not have thought of a dwarf better suited for such a name. Yes, Fíli was made of gold and mithril and all things precious, and as much pride as he carried in finally sitting upon the throne under the mountain there was yet more in the knowledge that he would one day have leave to trust it in the hands of someone so strong of heart and soul.

Gold madness would not take Fíli, no matter the yield of Erebor's mines or the riches of its halls. How could it? He bore all the gold he could need in his person.

"You look thoughtful." Fíli paused. "By which I mean you actually forgot to light your pipe. Is something the matter?"

"Just thinking." He made to light the pipe now, then took a seat himself. "So. What can you tell me about what your brother is up to?"

"He's down in Dale. I thought you knew that."

"Oh, certainly I've been made aware of it. I just wonder what exactly is keeping him there. If it was indeed just talks with Bard, he might have at least shown his face once or twice." There was a fleeting hint of something almost like guilt on Fíli's face before he hurried to hide it, and now, wasn't that interesting. "You know what it is, don't you."

"I may or may not." Please. As though the boys could ever truly lie to him. "It's not something that's mine to share, though."

"You think I would be angry with him." That much was clear.

"You might be." Now Fíli was practically squirming. So much for keeping confidences. He'd have to learn himself out of that habit if he was ever to deal with a councilful of idiots.

"And would this have to do with a certain elven lady Bofur may have mentioned?" At the plain surprise on Fíli's face, Thorin sighed. "Please. According to Bofur his interest was plain as day, especially when he made to make promises in front of all the assorted men. He told me so I wouldn't end up catching the rumour mill through Nori once the tale had grown into something quite indecent."

"He loves her." Fíli's voice grew quiet, his eyes again fixed on the circlet. "At first I thought it was just some silly infatuation, but… he asked her to come with him, when we left for Erebor. And when she would not, he gave her mother's runestone as a promise. And ever since… I know my brother, Uncle, better than myself sometimes. I've never seen him so serious about something."

"I see." He took a puff or two from his pipe, turning this over in his head. "And would this be the elf who healed him in Laketown? And then rose against Thranduil when he made to leave?"

"It's more than that." Fíli shook his head. "She was banished from his court, for aiding us, it seems. Ever since the battle she's been living in Dale because there's nowhere else for her to go. I hear Bard's quite pleased with her healing skills."

"So she's definitely not in Thranduil's favour, then." Which was a point in her favour in Thorin's eyes, at least. "And what do you think are Kíli's intentions for her?"

"I know he plans to court her." Fíli looked at him again, almost desperate. "I — please don't deny him that, Uncle. If you do, I don't know what he might do. I wouldn't put it past him to run off with her, and then we'd have a right mess in our hands."

"Calm down, lad." Oh, there was still a small part of him that reared up in protest, yelled into his ear about honour and duty and filthy deceiving elves, but for now, he pushed it back. It sounded an awful lot like the part that had hissed at the idea of parting from even one piece of gold, anyway. "I have no intention of parting him from her."

"You — what?" Fíli blinked in surprise. "But — she's an elf."

"Yes. And from what I hear, one that's as different from Thranduil as they come, in as much as I believe one elf is different from another." He shook his head. "Moreover, I know how you boys get when you have your heads set on something. You're right, if I denied him his wish, he would run off and get into trouble and then your mother would bash my head in with her favourite axe, and I would hate to see her ruining it on my hard skull." His lips twitched. "I do expect him to court her properly and not rush things along. It's no small matter, I wouldn't think, falling for someone who will never join him in the Halls. If she accepts his suit, and they are both still in agreement after the courtship period, I will see them wed and enjoy the knowledge that even one of Thranduil's own would rather have a dwarf for a mate than his precious shining son."

"But… why?" There was something akin to desperation in Fíli's eyes, and it tore at Thorin's heart to know he had put that feeling there. "I mean, I'm not complaining, but why? You hate elves, always have. Annoying Thranduil isn't enough to make you change your mind."

"Perhaps not." He stood, walking over to the fireplace. The fire that someone had started, Fíli perhaps, was starting to wane, and he added some wood while considering his words. "I came close to losing both of you during the battle," he said at last at some length. "Closer than I ever would have wished. And while I have felt fear before, I have never before felt such pain as I did that day." The pain of seeing blood in Fíli's fair hair, of Kíli's face ashen and unmoving on the battlefield.

The pain of seeing a small body, so much smaller than a dwarf, motionless on the ground amidst the fallen warriors.

Fíli said nothing, waiting for him to continue. Thorin stared at the rekindled fire for a moment before he did so, not quite ready to face his nephew just yet.

"I have reclaimed my home, and I have fallen to the sickness that claimed my grandfather, and almost cast aside everything important for the sake of glittering gold and a single shimmering stone." It would have shocked most to hear him speak so dismissively of the Arkenstone, but Fíli did not react. Though then, he had seen Thorin's madness, had seen the depths of it. "Now that I am of sound mind and heart again, I would give away every last coin under the mountain to guarantee the safety and happiness of those close to me."

"That's the uncle I know," Fíli murmured, and Thorin wasn't entirely sure the words were meant for him. "That's the king I'd follow."

"So, if seeing your brother wed to an elf is the price of having him happy and by my side, as opposed to lost to me in death or exile? By Mahal, I will carve her wedding beads with my own two hands if that's what it takes."

"Thank you." The words were only barely louder than the murmur before. "I'll admit I was worried."

"And I don't blame you for that." Thorin turned around again, giving an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose I'll have to ask Bard to act as a chaperon, as long as she is living in Dale. For all that it's probably a lost cause either way, I do have to at least keep up the appearances of propriety. Your mother's going to have my braids either way for letting him be alone with his chosen while I presumably did not know of the interest; if I didn't take any measures now, she'd take my beard as well."

"Now, now. Mother wouldn't be that unreasonable, I'm sure." And yet Fíli was grinning with amusement at his impending doom, because really, these boys had absolutely no respect for their uncle and king.

Fíli's hair was golden in the firelight and there was no blood to be seen, though, so Thorin was rather content for the moment.

*

Bilbo did not look up from the book he'd managed to get his hands on even as he heard the door being opened. "You know, while I am somewhat grateful that you have started to find actual reasons to visit me, I actually do not require more than four separate people to tell me that Glóin's group is doing well. In fact, I would be quite happy just to hear the news once for every message he sends."

"Glóin's doing well? That's good to know." The voice did make him raise his eyes, now, being one he hadn't heard in a few days now. The dwarf standing in the doorway had likewise been missing from the frequent visits as of late.

"Kíli! It's good to see you again, my lad. I was rather worried I offended you somehow." Bilbo reached for a bookmark, careful not to aggravate his wound too much. This was clearly more important than any reading, and besides, he was starting to get a headache. Not that he would have ever admitted that, or someone would have instantly announced he would never be fit to strain his eyes by reading again thanks to his head wound, no matter how well it seemed to have healed.

"Uh. Sorry for just disappearing on you like that." Kíli gave him a slightly sheepish grin. "It's just that I thought of something I could do to help things, and didn't stop to leave a note or anything. So, ah, sorry?"

"You're quite definitely forgiven. Do come in. What I've said about not spending all your time here does not apply when you've first made me worry so." Which was perhaps selfish of him, but then, he trusted someone would come to inform them if Kíli was actually required elsewhere.

"I hope you don't mind, but I brought someone else along as well." There was a kind of excitement in Kíli's tone that made Bilbo curious as to the identity of this guest. Probably not one of the Company; they certainly seemed to think nothing of dropping by whenever they could. The only one besides Kíli he hadn't seen at least twice in the last four days was Glóin, and that was because he was taking a group of warriors west to bring official word to the Blue Mountains about their retaking of Erebor. Perhaps some unfamiliar dwarf, then, or even Bard or one of his children?

A figure appeared in the doorway as Kíli stepped out of the way, tall enough to have to duck their head to step in. Not a dwarf, and not even one of Bard's family, tall and slim and with red hair falling over her shoulders.

Kíli had brought along an elf.

"I do not believe we have formally met, Master Baggins." The she-elf nodded at him in greeting. She wasn't dressed in official armour, not like the army Thranduil had led to Erebor's gates, but even Bilbo's rather unaccustomed eyes could tell she was prepared for combat if need be. "I am Tauriel, formerly of Mirkwood, at your service." There was a hint of something dark in her tone, sorrow perhaps, but her eyes were soft as she glanced at the grinning Kíli by her side.

"Ah. Bilbo Baggins, at yours." The name tugged at his memory somehow. "You're the one who healed Kíli in Laketown, aren't you? Óin talked about you, said you were rather good." For an elf, Óin had added with some disdain in his voice, but then there was no reason for Bilbo to repeat every word that had been said.

"I am not a healer by trade, but I do know something of the healing arts." Tauriel offered him a small smile. "That is, I believe, why I have been brought to your side."

"Uh. Not that I'm not grateful or anything, but are you sure you should be here?" Bilbo frowned. "I know there have been some elf healers around, but I'm pretty sure Thorin hasn't let any of them this deep in the mountain, and Óin might take it as a personal affront if anyone else were to treat the Company." Surprised though he had been to find that he still counted among them even after his actions.

"Thorin knows that she is here." If at all possible, Kíli's grin only grew wider. And that? That required some explanations, and soon. "And Óin said he can't do much more for you right now, didn't he? So I thought there couldn't be any harm in letting her look at least."

"I cannot promise to make much of a difference at this point," Tauriel warned as she came up to Bilbo's bedside. "My expertise is mainly in keeping someone grievously injured alive long enough to bring them to a proper healer. However, I have promised to see if there is anything I can do, if you would allow me to see your injuries."

"Ah." Bilbo was doing his best not to be embarrassed, really he was, she probably had seen much stranger things in her time, but he still had to fight down a faint blush as he sat up straighter in the bed and took off his shirt. At least he still had his trousers on, so it wasn't entirely indecent, though it still felt quite improper to be without a shirt in front of a lady. "It's, well, I'm sure it looks worse than it is."

Tauriel's eyes narrowed as Bilbo got his shirt off, taking in the bruising over most of his chest. "What happened to you?"

"I, ah, kind of got stomped on by an orc?" Bilbo scratched the back of his head, feeling somewhat sheepish. "I was wearing armour, and it did stop blades, but it didn't really do much to stop the crushing. Óin says I'm lucky none of my broken ribs punctured anything, and that there's no internal bleeding, but even with his remedies it hurts to even breathe, never mind move much."

"He also hit his head," Kíli added in a helpful tone. "Got us quite worried with that, though it seems nothing worse came from that."

"I see." Tauriel ran feather-light fingers over his chest, taking note as he winced at a particularly painful touch. "Well, if it's just the ribs that are paining you, the best course of action is simply to try and breathe as usual to let them heal themselves. There is a pain remedy I could make if I can find the necessary herbs, though I might have to consult with Master Óin first on what he has been giving you."

"I would be grateful." Bilbo sighed. "Not to say Óin's concoctions aren't helping, because they are, but frankly I'm not sure dwarves and hobbits agree on what is an acceptable amount of pain."

"Óin is a master in such things." The new voice cut in before Tauriel could respond. "Though I suspect he might be giving you smaller doses of his remedies than he might to a dwarf, on account of you being so very small."

"Thorin." Bilbo straightened again, though his eyes did flick towards Kíli. The boy tensed, for all his reassurances that Thorin knew of Tauriel's presence. "I didn't mean to say —"

"I know, I know. You are far too polite to insult a dwarf's abilities behind his back, for all that you might have a few words to their face." Thorin's lips twitched into a small smile, just for a moment, before he turned serious again as he looked at Tauriel. "So you are the elf I have heard so much about."

"I believe so." Tauriel took a step away from Bilbo's bedside, turning to face Thorin. She was quite a bit taller than him, for all that Thorin was tall for a dwarf, her simple green clothes a stark contrast to the regal blue robes that told Bilbo Thorin had come straight from a meeting with his council. "And you are Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain."

"So I am, now. And I see my sister-son has brought you quite a ways under said mountain." There was no open hostility that Bilbo could see in either Thorin's expression or his voice, though there was a certain wariness to his bearing that didn't match his usual reservations with people he didn't know.

"He asked me to see your burglar, to see if I could ease his pain to allow him to leave his bed."

"Is that so." Again, Thorin's eyes came to rest on Bilbo, meeting his gaze for a moment before flicking down for a moment. "I suppose that's as good an explanation as I can expect for you walking in and starting to undress members of my Company."

Bilbo flushed at the implication, and Kíli seemed equally flustered, but Tauriel gave no visible reaction to the barb. "I assure you there is but one member of your Company I would have any interest in disrobing for another purpose, and that will have to wait."

Kíli gave a strangled little sound, but Thorin's lips merely twitched again as though in approval. "Good. Nobody could stand my sister-son's wails if that were to happen, and besides our poor burglar here might actually turn into a tomato if he blushes any harder."

"You're not exactly helping the matters, Thorin." Bilbo belatedly remembered to grab his shirt and pull it over his head. His hurry sent another wave of pain flashing through him, and he had to halt for a moment. When he finally got it pulled all the way down, Thorin was watching him with an unreadable look. "Did you actually have a reason to come here besides teasing me?"

"Several, actually." Thorin took on his serious expression, again, the one he wore for matters of state. "One of them was to see this elf that Kíli apparently insists on dragging around."

Tauriel tensed a bit, barely perceptible but definitely there. "I was under the impression you had given your permission for my presence."

"Oh, believe me, if I had not you would not have made it this far." Thorin gave Tauriel a small nod. "I have heard enough good things about you, and high enough pleas for your sake, that I will reserve my judgement of you until I know you better. I cannot promise to ever be fond of you, but if the Elvenking has indeed cast you out, my gates are open to you."

"I hope I will not give you reason to dislike me any more, then."

"I'm sure we both hope that." Thorin nodded again. "And do you have family left in Mirkwood?"

If Tauriel was surprised by the question, she did not show it. "None alive who would claim me."

"Well. That certainly simplifies things." Then, before Bilbo could demand to know just what Thorin meant by that particular statement, the king turned towards Kíli. "Kíli. I had an… enlightening, shall we say, conversation with your brother." As there was no response, he went on after a second, "I do hope you realise that as a prince of Durin's line, you must meet certain expectations. And as such, this elf of yours is only allowed to remain here on certain… conditions."

"And what would those conditions be?" Kíli was, if possible, even tenser now. "Not besmirching my line's honour by having a public affair with an elf?" Oh. So that was what was going on.

Thorin lifted his eyebrows. "That would be quite preferable, yes."

"Well, forget it." Bilbo had rarely seen Kíli actually angry before, but there was a kind of fury in his eyes now that was hard to miss. "I will not treat my One like some dirty little secret just because you refuse to get your great big kingly head out of your hairy arse when it comes to elves."

Thorin appeared entirely unaffected by the insults. "And a good thing it is, too, given that I never suggested such a disgraceful thing."

"So you can take your shiny little crown and shove it right up your —" Kíli paused and blinked as Bilbo managed a small cough. "Wait, what?"

"I never asked you to keep her a secret, nor will I ever do so. As though it would be possible to hide such a thing, anyway." Thorin snorted. "Trust me, I know better than to part a Durin from his heart's desire. All I ask is that you remember your position and court her properly, as a prince should."

"King Thorin." Tauriel was the one that spoke now, as Kíli seemed to be left gaping. "As the head of your line and in place of his mother, are you giving your formal permission for our courtship?"

"I am." Thorin gave a curt nod, as serious as Bilbo had ever seen him about anything. "Of course, I will expect everything to happen in an appropriate manner, but I'm sure matters such as chaperons can be arranged easily enough."

"Well, technically, chaperons aren't required until we're formally courting." Apparently Kíli had recovered enough from his shock to start causing his poor uncle trouble again. "And that won't happen until I present my first courtship gift."

"True enough." To Bilbo's surprise, Thorin still gave no appearance of taking notice of his nephew's schemes. "But given that I do expect you to wait the full formal courting period before you marry, I am somewhat surprised to hear you haven't already prepared your gift for her." He paused, just long enough for Kíli's eyes to widen, then added, "And no, simply picking something up from the treasury is not sufficient."

Kíli made a small, strangled sound, then fled from the room. Tauriel gave the two of them a sharp glance, then followed him out, leaving Bilbo and Thorin alone.

"Well." Bilbo sank back against the pillows. "I have to say that wasn't quite what I expected."

"I presume you mean my permission." Thorin gave a small shrug. "As I have already told Fíli, I would rather have the lad here and married to an elf than never see him again. It may not be what I would have wished for him, but if she is the one Mahal has prepared for him, I'm not good enough a smith to hammer them apart."

"Thank you." It seemed rather insufficient, but it was the best he could offer right now. "Truly, thank you. I… I know this cannot be easy for you."

"I'm not sure why you would have cause to thank me, but you are welcome nevertheless." Thorin walked closer to his bed, now. "So the pain has not subsided?"

"No, I'm afraid." Bilbo sighed, then regretted it as the movement made the pain flare anew. "Óin's remedy does ease it a bit, but as it stands I do fear I have some quite trying times ahead until I heal."

"Perhaps the elf's skills will bring you some relief." Thorin's tone was rather doubtful, but the mere fact that he was making this suggestion was quite the victory, Bilbo mused. "In the meantime, is there anything I can do to ease your pain?"

"I would say a distraction would be welcome, but I find myself fearing you are again neglecting your duties just to amuse a poor little hobbit." Bilbo lifted an eyebrow. "Unless, of course, your 'several reasons' were not limited to meeting Tauriel and scaring your poor nephew."

"Ah! Right. That reminds me." Thorin smiled now, an actual smile, though there was a hint of tiredness to it. "I thought you'd like to know that Glóin's group sent word that they are progressing safely on their journey."

Bilbo barely resisted the urge to hide his head in his hands. Dwarves. They were definitely going to be the death of him one of these days.

However, as he decided as he saw the rather pleased look on Thorin's face, he was fortunate enough it was not to be today.