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A Portrait

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The melancholy of homesickness curled around Bilbo’s chest like the smoke wafting from his pipe that night. He felt very small and far away, far from the rolling green hills of the Shire, far from the comfort of his hearth. For the first time in a long while, he thought of his parents. Of his mother’s warm arms and his father’s broad grin. They had passed away many years before, but the yearning for home brought their memory into sharp focus.

The fire at the center of camp was burning low and most of dwarves had passed into exhausted sleep. He sat with his back to a tree, surveying the shining stars and blindingly full moon for the first time in days. Their company had been plagued by rain for nearly a week and Bilbo’s clothes were still damp with it. But the smell of the fresh rainfall lingered in the air, making the earth smell like springtime and rebirth.

He took a final puff of his pipe before the leaves were useless and let it out slowly, blowing the smoke steadily out. Through the slight haze, he spied a figure in the distance, sitting against an alcove of rocks, head hunched over something. It was Thorin.

Knowing that sleep was still far from his grasp, Bilbo gently laid down his pipe and began walking away from the fire and toward the king.

It wasn’t that he often sought out their leader’s company, but in recent weeks, after Azog’s attack, they had become much more friendly to one another. It was a relief following the chilly cordiality that had begun in the Shire. Bilbo liked to think that they were friends, even if Thorin did not share the same opinion.

Typical of his unintentional Hobbit stealth, Thorin did not hear Bilbo approaching. He was surprised to see the dwarf looking more relaxed than he had ever witnessed before. He had rested his back against the large rock behind him, one leg folded under the other outstretched before him. His head was slightly bowed, looking at something that rested on his lap.

Moving closer, Bilbo realized that it was a pad of parchment and that the king was… drawing.

“What are you drawing?” Bilbo asked with genuine curiosity.

It was only through years as a hardened warrior that Thorin barely flinched at the unexpected voice. Slowly, slowly, he lowered the delicate charcoal he held between rough, calloused fingers, and looked up to meet the hobbit’s eyes.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping, burglar?” His voice was not cruel or angry, but he did sound slightly weary.

Bilbo shrugged. “Couldn’t find a soft spot on my share of the rocks,” he replied with a small, lopsided smile.

Thorin huffed out something that might have been a small laugh, or an exasperated sigh, but he did not object when Bilbo sat down next to him, leaning back against the rock himself.

“I didn’t know you could draw,” Bilbo pressed, leaning over to look at the parchment.

“Many don’t,” Thorin replied gruffly, tilting the parchment away from the hobbit’s prying eyes. “It is… a juvenile pursuit. But I find it calming.”

“You’re full of surprises, you are. First the harp, now this,” Bilbo chuckled. “I had no idea dwarves were so cultured.”

“Hobbits are not the only ones who appreciate the finer things in life,” Thorin all but growled. “Just because my kin do not travel with silver cups and velvet pillows does not make us barbarous.”

Bilbo felt appropriately admonished.

“Right, sorry.” He clasped his hands together and looked at his feet, feeling a bit sheepish.

Silence prevailed between them for a long while before Thorin looked back at his parchment and ran a finger over the edge of it. “I’ve been drawing since I was quite young,” Thorin said, quietly. “When I was less than a man, but more than a boy.”

Bilbo tilted his head, interested. He had never heard Thorin speak of his childhood. He suddenly felt quite privileged.

“I was hungry to prove myself, all the time,” Thorin murmured, before letting out a breath of a laugh. “Not so much unlike Kili is.” He smiled at that, his nephews a constant soft spot in his steely heart. “The first sword I ever forged I presented to my father, hoping that it would earn the praise that he was so stingy with in those days. But all he said was, ‘A fair attempt, my boy,’ before clapping me on the shoulder and going to bed.” Thorin shook his head. “I had never been so disappointed in all my life.”

Bilbo smiled a little, imagining a stout little beardless Thorin looking crestfallen at the ground with a child’s pout on his lips. It was quite endearing and it managed to paint the king in a less regal light.

“After that, I was dejected and furious. I nearly tore my chambers apart in frustration.”

“You sound like you were a stormy child.”

At that, Thorin did genuinely laugh. “Indeed I was. I was young and stubbornly proud.” He quieted for a moment, turning thoughtful. “It was not until Balin sat me down and taught me to put charcoal to parchment that I truly quieted the tempest in my young mind.”

Bilbo suddenly felt a keen kinship with Thorin, because he felt similarly about his occasional bouts into writing. Before he had ever put pen to paper and wrote his first, childish adventure, it had been like something was been missing from his soul. A tiny puzzle piece misplaced. But when he scribbled his first sentence into a new leather bound journal, it was like his heart took flight. Everything was clarity and diamond tipped precision.

“It was drawing that brought me peace,” Thorin continued. “My harp brought catharsis when my emotions got the better of me, and the forge let me vent my anger physically, but drawing was pure, beautiful creation. I finally was able to earn my father’s praise because I had stopped trying to seek it. I even stopped worrying when my beard would finally grow in,” he added, smirking.
Bilbo chuckled. “I’m glad you were able to find something that made you so happy.”

Thorin looked at him out of the corner of his eye, a hint of a real smile on his lips. Then, it was as if a shadow had crossed over the moon, and Thorin’s face fell, his expression hardened.

“That was before the fall of Erebor,” he said, voice low with emotion. “After that, after Smaug drove me and my kin from our home… I could not draw. I could not even lift a stick of charcoal without snapping it into pieces.” He lowered his head. “It was like a part of me withered and died. Then the battle at Moria and beyond that…”

Bilbo was overwhelmed by a pang of sadness for the dwarf. He could not even fathom the pain he must have felt. The deaths of his parents were hard enough, and they had lived to be ripe and old, but to lose his entire home…

He could not imagine losing the Shire.

Thorin brought the parchment back into easy view so that Bilbo could finally see it. What he saw was the enchanting, otherworldly façade of Erebor in its halcyon days. Tall and imposing, an apt portrayal of its might and glory.

Bilbo’s mouth was slightly agape. “Thorin, that’s… that’s beautiful.”

Thorin grunted something that was not really an agreement, but not an outright denial, either. Even dwarves were self-conscious of their art, it seemed.

The hobbit leaned over and lifted the paper from Thorin’s hands, moving it to catch the light for a better view. It truly was a remarkable work.

Then something occurred to him.

“What made you start drawing again?” he asked, eyes pouring over all the fine details of the picture. “It sounds as though it would have been painful. Something quite special must have inspired you.”

Bilbo waited, and waited, but there came no answer. Eventually, he lowered the drawing to look at Thorin, who was pointedly looking off into the distance.

“Thorin?” he pressed, brows furrowed.

“You’d best get some sleep, burglar,” Thorin said, gruffly, climbing to his feet. “We have a long trek tomorrow. I won’t have any member of our party slowing us down.” With that, he began walking away.

Bilbo was completely confused and a little hurt. They had been getting along so well! What could he have possibly said wrong?

“Wait! Thorin!” he called after him, clutching the lovely drawing in one hand. But it was no use, Thorin had wandered off, ignoring all calls to him.

Bilbo stood there, utterly confused and disheartened. Thorin continued to be a mystery.

 

*

 

The days that followed saw a renewed tension between Thorin and Bilbo. The king was short and moody with the hobbit at every turn.

“Keep up or we will leave you to fend for yourself!” he had barked once several days after the incident with the drawing. Bilbo had only slowed to take a drink of water, still keeping pace with the other dwarves.

Bilbo scowled and angrily shoved his water flask into his pack.

Gandalf, who was walking behind him raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Something the matter, Bilbo?”

“I have no idea,” Bilbo replied, bitterly.

It continued like that for days, until even the dwarves began to comment on it.

“You must have truly offended him,” Fili said, flanked by Kili as they crossed through a muddy field. “I haven’t seen him so spiteful… ever, really.”

“Well, that’s just lovely,” Bilbo bit out, trying not to fall over himself as mud sucked at his feet.

“What did you do, anyway?” Kili asked with morbid curiosity.

“If you could tell me, I’d love to know,” Bilbo said, frowning as some tall grass smacked him in the face. “Maybe His Majesty finally realized how useless I truly am to this party.”

At nights, when the company made camp, he was further confused by the fact that the stubborn king was watching him, ceaselessly. No matter where he sat, how far from or how close to the fire he got, Thorin was watching him. Like he was waiting for him to slip up. Or die. Or cease to exist.

“Tell me Bofur,” Bilbo said one evening, around a mouthful of stew, “if Thorin were to, uh, kill someone, someone outside a battlefield, how do you suppose he would do it?”

Bofur chewed contemplatively for a moment, the firelight making shadows dance across his face, before answering. “Well, Thorin is nothing if not honorable.”

“Of course, I quite agree.”

“So, most likely, he would challenge the person he wished to kill face-to-face.”

“That sounds very reasonable.”

“But!” Bofur continued, setting his bowl down on the ground in front of the log where they sat, “if he had to kill him in a subversive kind of way, which is a possibility-“

“Naturally.”

“-then he’d probably just slit the man’s throat in his sleep.” Bofur grinned at him cheerily.

Kili leaned over then, intrigued by the conversation. “Or if he really didn’t like him, he could stick his sword right in their gut, make them suffer for hours!”

“Or put out his eyes!” Ori piped in.

“Maybe skin the flesh right off his bones!” Fili shouted from somewhere in the distance.

Bilbo felt his stomach drop. “Er.”

“Why do you ask?” Bofur asked, curiously.

Bilbo looked across the fire, over the orange flames and into the half-light just beyond where Thorin was leaning against a tree, arms crossed. He looked… well, Bilbo thought murderous, but intense was another word that came to mind.

And he was staring directly, unflinchingly, at Bilbo. Again.

“Oh, no reason,” Bilbo said airily, feeling his stomach churning. “Just trying to figure out how painful it’s going to be when Thorin finally kills me.”

Bofur looked at him, brows furrowed, before barking out a hearty laugh and clapping the hobbit on the shoulder. The younger dwarves followed suit, snickering into their bowls and thumping their knees.

“Oh, Mister Bilbo, Thorin’s not going to kill you! Not after how happy he was after you saved him from Azog!” Bofur continued to chortle, wiping a stray tear from his eye. “Oh, no, he most definitely doesn’t want to kill you. He’s just interested in you! Studying you, really.”

“Oh,” Bilbo said, not really feeling at ease quite yet. “Then why is he treating me like I’m the scum he scrapes off the bottom of his boot?”

Bofur gave him a friendly smile. “Bilbo, he doesn’t hate you. Our leader is a proud dwarf, and he has been through much. We all have. He sometimes has trouble… expressing his thoughts properly, that’s all.” Bofur thought for a moment before adding, “It may be that he’s trying to distance himself from you, you know.”

Bilbo nodded absently before looking back to the tree where Thorin stood, but the dwarf king had vanished.

Distance. Why would Thorin try to put distance between them, when everything in Bilbo screamed that they should be closer?

It was days like these he yearned for the transparent honesty of his hobbit kin.

He watched the sparks from the fire float into the sky for a long while afterward, considering Bofur’s words.

 

*

 

Later that night, in the very small hours of the morning, he woke to the sound of scratching. Blinking his eyes, he blearily lifted his head from his bedroll, searching out the source.

Silhouetted by the moon, he could make out Thorin’s figure, sitting a fair distance away, huddled over his parchment again. He was drawing.

His long hair with its streaks of grey fell across his face and his eyes were focused in the same way that made him dangerous on the battlefield. His large hands slashed and dragged the charcoal across the paper, turning his finger tips black. Bilbo could make out a smudge across the bridge of his nose.

How would it feel, he wondered, to have that intensity focused on him not in anger, but in admiration. How would it feel if Thorin were to focus on him with complete affection. If he were to draw his calloused fingers over the knuckles of Bilbo’s hands, the tips of his ears, or just down his neck.

How would it feel to be embraced by the dwarf king once more, with the knowledge that he was thought well of, maybe even cared for.

He watched him for a long while, feeling a sense of peace in the quiet of the cool night.

Bilbo smiled before remembering how irritated he was supposed to. Dropping his head back to his blanket, he threw an arm over his face.

He did not care about the king’s happiness one bit.

Not. One. Bit.

Maybe.

 

 

*

 

It happened so fast that Bilbo was hardly aware what had happened.

They had been crossing a river of moderate depth as the sun began to fade over the horizon. The current was strong, but not impossible. Bilbo stuck close to Gandalf for safety. Hobbits were not inclined to enter bodies of water. Swimming was not a preferred pastime and boating was downright strange. But Bilbo was handling himself alright, even if the water was up to his shoulders.

The dwarves were crossing single file and emerging to the opposite side which was to be their resting place for the night. The sky was an effulgent orange and it turned the shimmering water the color of fire. Each dwarf held their pack over their heads, while Gandalf put a steadying hand on Bilbo’s shoulder.

“I can’t wait to get out of this frigid water,” Ori mumbled. “Not that I’m cold!” he said a little more loudly. “I’m quite robust, you know!”

Biblo chuckled, being careful as he felt sharp rocks digging into his feet on the river bed. They were a little more than halfway across now, and already Dwalin, Balin, Bombur, Bofur, Nori, and Thorin had ascended the bank.

“A little bit of cold water never hurt anyone!” Ori continued, vehemently. “Especially not a dwarf as strong as me-“

That was when Ori stumbled, and his feet were swept right out from under him.

He would never know if he reached out from conscious thought or instinct, but the minute he saw Ori stumble, Bilbo had shot his hand out to steady him.

That had been a horrible mistake.

One minute, he had been firmly under Gandalf’s grasp, the next, both he and Ori were being dragged downstream by the powerful current.

He lost track of what was up ad what was down. His eyes stung with the freezing water, but he clutched to Ori’s tunic like a lifeline.

Tumbling, tumbling, his head slammed against a rock, and Ori was jerked from his grasp. His lungs burned for air. He kicked his legs and his arms, praying that he could break the surface-

Any remaining air was slammed out of his lungs from another collision with a rock and water filled his mouth.

Must breathe, was the only panicked thought Bilbo could muster before a strong hand was grasping the back of his shirt and dragging him to the surface.

Coughing and sputtering before gasping, he opened his eyes to see Gandalf holding him in his arms, carrying him to the bank of the river. He blinked the water from his eyes, wheezing, “Ori, where’s- where’s Ori-“

“Ori is fine, thanks to you,” Gandalf said calmly, placing him on the soft grass of the slope.

Bilbo tried to focus his spinning head long enough to find the young dwarf and, sure enough, he sat just feet away, his brothers worrying over him.

“Oh, that’s a relief,” Bilbo said, grinning. “Ow,” he continued, putting a hand to his forehead, pulling it away to reveal a thin trickle of blood. “Wasn’t expecting that.”

Gandalf chuckled. “No, I suppose you weren’t.” The wizard worried over him for a moment, waiting until the throb in his head subsided to a dull ache, before squeezing the hobbit’s shoulder. “You held on to Ori long enough for me to pull him out. Well done, Bilbo, even if your initial instinct was incredibly foolish.”

Bilbo flushed a little. It was short lived though, because only moments later, Thorin Oakenshield, in all his dwarven splendor, was stalking over to him. He gripped his arm, dragged him to his feet and hissed, “Walk.”

Bilbo shot a look over his shoulder at Gandalf, but the wizard merely raised an eyebrow. Very helpful.

They walked quite a distance away from the others, until they were shrouded by trees and Bilbo’s head had begun to throb again.

“Thorin- Thorin, stop, what are you-“

The dwarf roughly pushed him away. Bilbo stumbled slightly before straightening. Thorin had begun pacing furiously.

“What do you think you were doing?” Thorin growled, face one of barely contained rage. “You both could have drowned!”

“Yes, well,” Bilbo said, rubbing a hand over his forehead. “We didn’t, and also, you’re welcome.”

“Is it your goal to infuriate me at every chance you get?” Thorin snarled. “Do you have so little regard for your own safety that you’re willing to forfeit your own life at the drop of a pin?”

“Now, hold on a minute- It was completely accidental-“

“I told Gandalf I would not be responsible for you fate-“

“And I’m not trying to hold you responsible for my actions! Why are you being so unreasonable-“

“I knew it was a mistake to bring you along, I have no idea why I allowed this-“

“I am capable of taking care of myself. Why do you hate me so-“

“For the sake of all the Valar, Bilbo Baggins, BE SILENT!”

Bilbo’s mouth open and closed for a moment before snapping shut.

Thorin took a shaky breath, trying to clamp down on his anger. He scraped a hand over his beard before facing the hobbit again. “Bilbo, I do not hate you-“

“You certainly have a funny way of showing it-“

Thorin raised a finger in warning. Bilbo quieted.

“I do not hate you,” Thorin continued. “I don’t know why I allowed Gandalf to convince me that one so… so innocent as yourself should be allowed on this quest.” He took another steadying breath. “I told him that I would not be responsible for your fate-“

“And you’re not-“

A glare.

“Right,” Bilbo said. “Shutting up.”

“I told him I would not be responsible,” Thorin said quietly, “but I find myself caring for your fate more than my own.”

At that moment, he looked Bilbo directly in the eye and he could see not the flash of anger, but… but a look of fear. Genuine, uninhibited fear.

Bilbo’s eyes widened. “Oh.”

Thorin began pacing again. “You asked me, the night you watched me draw, what was so special that it caused me to put charcoal to paper again.”

The king knelt down to search through his own bag that he had dropped to the ground after pushing Bilbo away. He rummaged through it for a moment before pulling out a carefully rolled piece of parchment, tied carefully with twine. Silently, he handed it to Bilbo.

Bilbo was not sure he wanted to know what was on this paper, but his insatiable curiosity (and a swelling in his heart) told him that he must. Slowly, gently, he untied the twine. He took a deep breath before unfurling it, revealing the exquisite charcoal drawing on the other side.

He gaped.

“It was you, Bilbo Baggins,” Thorin whispered, sounding almost ashamed.

The likeness was incredible. It was like looking into a mirror that emphasized his best features. His eyes were just as he knew them to look. His nose, the slight upturn of his lips, the soft curl of his hair. It was unmistakably, undeniably, a beautiful portrait of Bilbo, drawn with great care and passion.

“For weeks, even before Azog,” Thorin pressed on, still pacing, “I was entranced by you. Never before have I met someone who so completely confounded and exhilarated me. You are simple hobbit, but there is nothing at all simple about you, Bilbo.”

It all made sense. The nights of staring, the drawing until the late hours of the night. Thorin had indeed been studying him, as Bofur said, but not out of disdain, out of admiration.
Bilbo finally tore his eyes away from the drawing. “Thorin… I don’t know what to say.”

Shaking his head, Thorin raised a hand. “Say nothing. I understand that the feelings I have for you are completely unwelcome.”

“Wait, no, hang on,” Bilbo tried to interrupt, startled. “I didn’t say-“

“I shall say nothing more of them. I will keep my distance and-“

“No, Thorin, stop, you don’t understand-“

“-we will never have to speak of it again-“

“Oh, for goodness sake,” Bilbo muttered, before dropping the portrait and throwing an arm around Thorin’s neck, dragging him down into an abrupt kiss.

It was glorious.

Thorin was completely caught off guard, Bilbo’s lips pressed firmly against his own. But as soon as he realized what exactly just happened, he responded with vigor. He lifted the hobbit on to his tip-toes, kissing the air out of Bilbo’s lungs.

It felt, Bilbo realized, a little like he was drowning all over again. Except he never, ever wanted to breathe.

The feel of Thorin’s beard against Bilbo’s soft face made the hobbit flush and gasp, a small grin beginning to form at the seam of their lips.

The low rumble of a pleased laugh bubbled up from Thorin’s throat and soon they were both laughing whilst still trying to kiss eachother. They sank to their knees on the soft ground, covered with fallen leaves. Thorin broke away to rest his forehead against Bilbo’s own, and for a moment, they just breathed.

“What a fool I’ve been,” Thorin whispered.

“Well, foolishness runs in my family,” Bilbo replied, running a hand from Thorin’s ear to the juncture of his neck. “So I suppose we are both to blame.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, reveling in the other’s presence.

“This is much better,” Thorin said softly, pressing their lips together once more, sliding his tongue along Bilbo’s lips. “Much better to trace your lips with my tongue than the charcoal.”

A long, wet kiss that turned Bilbo’s knees to mush.

“Much better to feel your hair with my fingers, than the rough parchment,” he whispered, tangling his hands in Bibo’s curls.

Hot breath against his neck. Bilbo tipped his head back, eyes sliding shut.

“And much better to press your body to mine, than hold nothing of you at all.”

They kissed again, deeper, wetter.

“And better to have you kissing me, Thorin Oakenshield,” Bilbo whispered with a mischievous glint in his eye, “than plotting my doom.”

They both laughed before tumbling down together to the leafy forest floor, the beautiful portrait lying forgotten, just out of reach.

The real Bilbo was far superior, after all.