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The Secret

Chapter Text

Bofur found out Dwalin’s secret quite by accident, the second (or was it the third?) time Dwalin saved his life.

It was the umpteenth Orc attack; the whole company was beginning to be a bit blasé about them by now, as they neared the relative safety of Mirkwood.  A small party of Orcs attacked them in the night, and Bifur gave the alarm.  The fight hadn’t lasted long, and Bofur, Dwalin, Kili, and Balin gave chase for a short while just to make sure the damn things would stay away for the rest of the night.

Two of the Orcs turned unexpectedly to fight about a mile out, while the rest fled into the hills before the twanging of Kili’s bow.  Dwalin charged the larger one, a war bellow ringing through the clear night, and a beat later Bofur shrugged and ran after him to engage the smaller.  "Smaller" was still half again his size, but he managed to hold his own pretty well, for all he wasn’t much of a warrior.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to dispatch the Orc by himself, but as soon as Dwalin dealt with his own, he’d be there to help.  And out of the corner of his eye, Bofur saw Balin circling back around from where he'd followed Kili; he only had to keep the creature busy for a few minutes.

The Orc realized it too, however, which became a problem faster than Bofur had anticipated.  Cornered animals could be vicious.  Cornered Orcs – well, Bofur rather thought he may have met his last cornered Orc.  The combat was close, and Bofur’s swordplay had never been developed enough to merit the use of the word “rusty.”  Also he hadn’t teeth nor claws.  When the Orc wrested away Bofur’s mattock and went for his neck, the dwarf closed his eyes and waited to meet his maker.  At least he would not be ashamed to join the ranks of his ancestors, having met his death in combat.

Just as hot death sliced into his neck, a roar sounded in his ears and the Orc was torn away from him.  Bofur’s eyes flew open, and he panted his surprise.  The Orc lay crumpled against the far wall where Dwalin had hurled him.

There was no time for thanks.  “Look out!” he shouted, and Dwalin spun to meet the Orc he’d been fighting earlier, just a moment too late.  The Orc’s scimitar sliced across the front of the burly dwarf, and Dwalin crumpled.

Bofur didn’t remember much about the next few moments, but he came to to find his sword in the Orc’s chest.  His eyes stung in the sudden silence.  This was what came of being blasé.  Thorin would never forgive him for losing him one of his oldest friends.

Balin arrived a moment, wild-eyed with panic.  “Dwalin!” he howled.  Bofur shook off his numbness to help Balin turn over his brother’s limp body.

He expected a bloody mess, and steeled himself for it; eviscerations were never pretty.  He was determined not to throw up, no matter how bad it might prove.

Instead, he found himself blinking in confusion.  “What the…”

Aye, there was blood all right, but the wound wasn’t deep.  The fabric of Dwalin’s tunic and undershirt had parted under the blade, but the blade itself must have been deflected by the metal stays…  Bofur frowned.

He’d seen ladies wearing these.  Corsets, they called them, and sometimes there was bone or steel in them.  Bofur had never understood why women would want to make their bodies other than they were.  Humans were strange creatures, and no dwarf would be caught dead in such a thing.

Except here was Dwalin, caught dead in one.

No, not dead, and Bofur felt the air whoosh out of him in relief to see Dwalin’s chest rise and fall.  Next to him, Balin gave a short sob.  “Thank Mahal,” he whispered.

The – thing, for it couldn’t be a corset, and it wasn’t fitted to Dwalin’s waist – was barely hanging by a thread, and Bofur needed to see if the wound was deep enough to need immediate attention.  He tore the remnants of the heavy linen, pushing the garment away, then reared back in surprise.

Oh.  Well, that explained something, at least.  Bofur felt blood rushing to his face, and he immediately dropped his hands away.  Under the linen and steel, Dwalin had breasts.

“The wound – is it deep?” Balin demanded, pushing Bofur out of the way.  Then he, too, froze.  Bofur watched him carefully, thinking dully that perhaps this was some strange magic.  Perhaps Gandalf would need to be called on.

“Durin’s beard,” Balin whispered.  His eyes flew to Bofur’s, and Bofur could tell that, though surprised, Balin had known.  Which only made sense, of course; Balin had to know, as Dwalin's brother.

They heard a shout, and both scrabbled for their swords – what had they been thinking, turning their backs on the darkness when there were Orcs about? – but it was just Kili, far up the hill.  “Dwalin’s wounded!” Bofur shouted, and Kili started scrambling down the slope towards them.

As if in answer to his name, Dwalin twitched.  Balin bent over him, inspecting the gash that started at his breastbone – her breastbone? – and ended at the navel.  “He can travel,” Balin told Bofur shortly.  “Let’s get him to Oin.”

Dwalin groaned, and opened his eyes.  Above them, Kili skidded down through scrub and scree, yelping when branches scratched at his bare arms.  Dwalin’s eyes met Bofur’s and he stiffened in realization.  He looked down at his naked chest, and looked back at Bofur.

Kili was twenty yards away now, and closing fast.  Bofur was amazed, looking into Dwalin’s eyes, to see despair there.  Dwalin closed his eyes.

Without even thinking, Bofur pulled off his cloak, and spread it like a blanket across Dwalin.  The dwarf's eyes sprang open again, startled.

“Can you walk?” Balin asked.

“Yes,” Dwalin growled.  Sweat stood out on his forehead when they helped him to stand, and Bofur helped him to fasten the cloak to hide his nakedness.  Dwalin’s left temple was bloody where the Orc had knocked him out.

Kili joined them.  “Killed two, four fled,” he said shortly.  “I see you two got another two.”

“That’s all of them accounted for, but now we’ve two wounded,” Balin said.

“Two?” Bofur asked, looking around.

Balin reached out and touched Bofur’s throat.  His fingers came away covered in blood.

“Ah,” Bofur said faintly.  “Two wounded.  Thorin will not be pleased.”

Chapter Text

            The long trudge back to camp was silent and tense.  Kili, ever light-footed, tore away ahead of the other three; thank goodness for small mercies.  Dwalin looked just as angry as he always did, and he was perhaps paler than usual.  Balin too looked angry, though Bofur was pretty sure he was not the object of the old dwarf’s wrath.  Balin kept darting glances at his brother, and there would no doubt be hard words between the two as soon as they could be private.

            Bofur was at a loss.  It was secret he hadn’t wanted and still didn’t want, and he wished there were a way to un-know it.

            His mind picked at it, though.  He couldn’t help it.  There were legends of warrior-maidens, back in the First and even the Second Ages, but dwarf women were rare enough that no one had risked them in battle for thousands of years.  How on earth had Dwalin convinced someone as tradition-bound as Thorin…

            Oh.  “Thorin doesn’t know, does he?”

            Balin went white, and stopped dead.  Bofur stopped automatically, and looked up at the older dwarf.  There was fear in Balin’s eyes.

            Bofur had seen Balin face down the Goblin King.  There had been no fear then.

            “I won’t tell him.”  The words spilled out of him before he’d thought them through.  It wasn’t quite a crime, what he was party to, but Thorin’s wrath should he find out would not be the less for that.  This was taboo of the deepest sort.  Dwalin would only be sent home in disgrace, but those who had been party to his perversion…

            Dwalin’s face stayed just as stony as it ever was, but Balin drew a relieved breath for both of them.  “Thank you, lad,” the old dwarf said quietly.  They started walking toward camp again, the air no longer quite so thick with unspoken words.

            As they approached the fire and the others’ hearty cries, Bofur bit his lip, realizing that the danger was not passed.  “What about Oin?” he asked Dwalin.

            Dwalin flicked him a glance, and Bofur realized that it was only Balin’s anger that had subsided, not his brother’s.  Misery was writ large in every bone of Dwalin’s body.

            Bofur thought of what it must be like, knowing every day that his secret could be discovered and he could lose everything.  A lesser dwarf would never dare such a foolhardy plan, but Dwalin was the bravest dwarf Bofur knew, except maybe Bifur.  Dwalin had been a warrior for more than a century, carrying this secret.

            It moved something in him, deep and unexplainable.  It wasn’t pity, and it wasn’t friendship.  Dwalin moved toward the fire steadily, as if going to his doom.

            “Does the wound need stitching?” Bofur asked suddenly.

            Dwalin shook his head and kept marching, eyes forward, soldier to the last.

            “Say nothing, then.”  Bofur was pleased that his voice didn’t shake.  “I’ll borrow some of Oin’s ointments after he sees to my neck.  No one need know.”

            Dwalin stopped.  Bofur stopped.  Balin glanced at the two of them and hurried on.

            “Why?” Dwalin rumbled.  Bofur had never noticed before how impassively Dwalin held his face.  Years of practice, no doubt.  It was like trying to read the emotions of a wall.

            Bofur tried to think of the right words, but they didn’t come.  Instead, he shrugged and went for the easy answer: just as true, but not the real reason.

            “You’ve saved each and every one of our hides on this journey.  We’d most likely be dead without you.”  He chewed his lip.  “I for one would like my fourteenth share of the gold at the end.  A thirteenth share might sound better to some, but I don’t think we’d survive the dragon without you, if we even managed to get there.”

            He couldn’t tell if the scowl he got was for his words or if it was just Dwalin’s normal expression.  But the burly dwarf nodded, finally.

            “Have Oin see to your neck before you lose more blood,” he said gruffly, and stumped off to join Gloin by the fire.

Chapter Text

            And that should have been the end of it.  Bofur was good at forgetting people’s secrets; it was one of the reasons people liked him.  Dwalin had breasts, and it didn’t matter, and it wasn’t his business.

            Bofur knew plenty of secrets, and he was good at putting them out of his mind.  He’d managed to forget the look of grief in Fili’s eyes when his younger brother crept out to kiss the milkmaid at that first inn the company stayed at.  He’d forgotten that the reason Nori had joined them was because Thorin gave him a choice between adventure and prison.  He didn’t remember that Bombur still wept for his dead wife on the darkest nights.  He should be able to forget this one, too.

            He knew why he was having trouble with it.  It was a petty thing, and he disliked himself immensely for it.  Dwalin was Dwalin, whether he had breasts or no, but the pleasant fantasies that Bofur had once been able to indulge in now hit a screeching stop at the intersection of reality.  It had never been more than idle attraction; everyone knew Dwalin took no lovers.  And if he had, he would be able to look higher than a poor miner to whom Erebor was only a legend.  Dwalin’s family was highly placed in the Longbeard clan, and the renown of his warrior status had earned him several offers of alliance from neighboring clans.  It certainly didn’t hurt that he looked like a dwarf out of legend, all that a dwarf ought to be.

            Well, now he knew why Balin had refused all offers on his brother’s behalf.  Bofur had thought it was because of Erebor, or perhaps because Dwalin was holding a torch for Thorin.  But no.

            It shouldn’t matter.  It shouldn’t bother him.  Bofur grit his teeth.

            He’d never had a chance with Dwalin, and it hadn’t bothered him at all; it was just nice to have someone to fantasize about.  Bofur liked dwarf women just as well as he liked dwarf men, and it shouldn’t matter that his fantasies had been about a comforting weight at his back, a hard cock within him, and muscled arms holding him trapped in their embrace.  Only one of those things was no longer real, and it shouldn’t ruin the rest, and it was just a fantasy.  He should be able to let this go.

 

Chapter Text

            Of course he had questions – How did you manage to keep this quiet for over a century?  How did you get Balin to agree to say nothing?– but he knew he should leave it be.  He shouldn’t ask; he should put the whole thing from his mind.  Dwalin deserved his privacy, and some secrets were not for sharing.

            He didn’t dare ask Dwalin, anyways.  The big dwarf sat glowering by the fire, even more menacing than usual.  He even snapped at Thorin, though everyone put it down to tetchiness over his head wound.  Thorin, still punch-drunk on the adrenaline of narrowly escaping death, was even several days later still in a good mood and ignored his friend’s growls.

            Bofur wouldn’t ask, because it would be prying into business not his own, but he was glad when Balin found him the next day shortly after they started hiking.  They fell back behind the others a bit for privacy.

            “I expect you have some questions,” the old dwarf sighed.

            Balin had been a lord under the Mountain, and Bofur was very conscious of their difference in rank now that he held the key to a ruinous scandal.  Never again would he know if Balin’s easy companionship was genuine or a gesture of political appeasement.

            “Aye, I do,” Bofur agreed, though almost he decided to stay quiet – but he’d regret that, he knew.

            Balin hummed, an uncertain look on his face.  “You’ll let me know if you decide to tell Thorin?”

            Bofur reddened.  “I said I would not tell Thorin, and I will not.  If my word is not enough, sir, I will swear an oath.”  He glared at Balin.

            It bothered him sometimes that people thought that just because he was merry and light-hearted, he couldn’t take things seriously.  He had come on this quest, hadn’t he?  This journey wasn’t just a lark, and they all had the scars to prove it.

            Balin had the grace to look ashamed.  “My apologies, lad.  I’m afraid I’ve not much practice with negotiation when it’s family involved.”

            Bofur scowled.  “This isn’t a negotiation.  I will not tell Thorin.  I would like to know why Thorin doesn’t know already, but he will not hear it from my lips.”

            Balin peered at him, frowning, as though seeing him for the first time.  “That is… kind of you,” he said finally, his words carefully chosen.  “I would know your reasons.”

            Bofur sighed and kicked at stone.  Ahead of them, Mirkwood came closer every day, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.

            “Dwalin has been a good companion to all of us,” he said at last.  “He’s saved my life several times over.  If he wishes to live as a male, it’s no concern of mine.”

            “Not many would share your… flexibility,” Balin said.  “I did not, at first.”

            Bofur looked up.  This was the part he wanted to know.  The story was the important bit.

            “From the month she grew her first beard, she insisted she’d live as a man and as a warrior,” Balin said.  “We sent her to foster in the Iron Hills – my father meant for her to marry Thorin, and we couldn’t let her stay in Erebor while she was going through such a phase; it would ruin all her chances of marriage.”  He chuckled.  “She’s – he’s – had many offers of marriage in the years since, of course.”  His eyes were far-away.

            Balin had still been relatively young when Smaug came to the mountain.  “And when Erebor fell?”

            “Ah.  Well, the story starts before that.  You see, we sent her to foster with cousins who had never met her.  They expected a girl, but they weren’t too put out when a boy came instead.  Dwalin can be quite stubborn, and he was manifestly a boy, so they decided there had been some misunderstanding on their part.  And then the dragon came, and my father died, and it was years before I saw Dwalin again.”

            “But I thought he fought at Moria.”

            “Aye, he did.  He did not seek me out, though.  But he fought beside the King, and won great renown.”  Balin looked proud, as he always did when he recounted his brother’s exploits.  Besides Thorin, Dwalin’s name was probably the best-known of any dwarf’s in Middle Earth.  “And then he traveled for decades, adventuring.  I got letters from him.  Years, and battles, and more years, and more battles.  After a while, you begin to forget.  It was no longer my sister that had gone adventuring, bringing shame on us all; it was my brother, a mighty warrior, who raised up our family and our clan with his fame.”

            Balin gave him a small smile.  “You won’t believe me, but I haven’t thought of his sex in more than seventy-five years.  I’d clean forgotten, if you must know.”  He chuckled.  “Before they finally met, Thorin asked me if my brother would be amenable to marriage, so my father almost got his wish.”

            “Dwalin was not amenable?”

            “Nor Thorin, in the end.  They are too similar, and too fond of each other to be married.  They both need someone to balance them.”

            Bofur wondered if Dwalin had wanted the marriage, but not been willing to give up his secret.

            Balin continued.  “I had some half-formed notion that Dwalin had found some strange Elf-magic to change him.  I didn’t think on it, because I barely knew him when he was a child, and I knew of him only as male – and as a tale told to dwarflings, for that matter – until he was well into his second century.”

            Bofur had a thousand more questions, but they weren’t the sort of thing Balin could answer.  How had Dwalin kept this secret, every day, for over a century?  Had he never been found out?  Had he never in that time longed for a lover?  Had he never taken one?

            Dwalin was the only one who could answer those questions, and Bofur knew well enough that Dwalin never would.

 

 


 

 

            In Beorn’s house, however, Dwalin sought him out one evening.

            “You no doubt would like an explanation,” he said, his face resigned to an unpleasant chore.

            “No,” Bofur said firmly.

            Dwalin blinked at him.  “No?”  He tilted his head, eying Bofur with distrust.  “You have no questions?”

            “Balin told me a little -- enough.  It’s not my business, and I don’t need to know more.”

            Dwalin stared.

            Bofur smirked, just a little.  Who knew it was so easy to discomfit Dwalin?  Ah well, he wasn’t playing fair.

            “No questions at all?”  Dwalin sounded astounded, and just a little hopeful.

            Bofur had one, actually.  “What will you do to bind your chest?”

            Dwalin grimaced.  “Bandages, until I can find someone who won’t ask questions to repair the damn thing.”  He didn’t meet Bofur’s eyes.

            Bofur took a deep breath and gathered his courage.  “I won’t ask questions, and I’m handy with a needle,” he offered.

 

Chapter Text

            Balin and Dwalin both watched him silently for several weeks afterward, not trusting that he would keep their family’s secret.  Bofur tried not to mind, and Mirkwood took all their attention anyway.  By Laketown, they were friendly again.

            Dwalin saved Bofur’s life three times in the Battle of the Five Armies, and Bofur saved Dwalin’s once.  He could get used to this, Bofur thought, adrenaline singing in his veins as he stood back-to-back with Dwalin, cutting down all foes.  A fierce joy lit Dwalin’s face; finally he was in his element.

            Guilt took their knees out from under them when they understood what the battle had cost them.

            Bofur could not speak for eight days, afraid that if he gave voice to the grief in his heart, he would never be able to stop.  Dwalin wept, enough for all of them.

            Dain was crowned King Under the Mountain, and Bofur couldn’t help but hate him a little, this prince who had refused their quest and now claimed their prize.  He would never replace Thorin in any of their hearts.

            The Halfling departed for home amidst more tears, and still Bofur could not speak.

            He looked upon his share of the gold, and thought he would give a hundred times the obscene riches he now laid claim to, to hear Kili’s laughter one more time, or to look up to see Thorin scowling into the distance.

            All the adventurers were given richly appointed rooms in the mountain, of course.  Bofur had his own room, and a suite to share with Bifur and Bombur.  He kept getting lost in the long corridors though, still numb.

            On the eighth day, he finally found the room he was looking for.  Thorin’s funeral vault was a work of art, befitting the last descendent of Durin.  Fili and Kili were laid to rest on either side of him.

            Bofur didn’t know how long he stayed.  He knew he slept, but there was no way to mark the time here in the dark.  Gold and gems glittered in the dim torchlight, but nothing could make up for the silence.

            When he awoke the second time, Dwalin was sitting next to him.

            Bofur sat up rather faster than he ought, and the room swam around him.  Silently, Dwalin held out a tray.  Soup had never tasted so good, and Bofur wondered when he’d last eaten.  For that matter, he wondered how many days he’d been here.  Bombur and Bifur would be worried sick.

            Dwalin seemed content to join him at the silent vigil, and Bofur couldn’t quite bring himself to leave just yet.  To say goodbye to Thorin Oakenshield would mean their quest was over.  He would have to find a new person to be.

            He watched Dwalin’s eyes wander over the intricate carving of the monument.  “Balin says you were to be betrothed to him.”  The words left his mouth before his mind caught up.

            Dwalin nodded.  “It was my father’s dearest wish.”

            “Did you want it?”

            There was a silence as Dwalin considered this.  “Not as a child.  When I came back, I sometimes thought on it.  If things had been different, we would no doubt have shared a bed a time or two.  But no, I never wanted to wed Thorin Oakenshield.”

            “He was your closest friend, though.”  Bofur felt like a fool, hiding here in the dark with his grief when Dwalin’s grief must be three times his own.

            “Aye.  And the boys – I had a hand in their training.”

            “I grieve for your loss,” Bofur said formally.

            Dwalin nodded slowly in the dim light.  “And I for yours.”

            “What will you do now?”

            His companion shrugged.  “I’ll stay for a bit.  Balin needs looking after; Thorin was his oldest friend.”

            “Yours, too.”

            “Mine too,” Dwalin echoed.  “And you, will you stay here?”

            “I don’t know,” Bofur said.  “It depends on what Bombur and Bifur want to do.  We’re all the clan we’ve got, you see, so we stick together.”

            Dwalin nodded, though Bofur was almost certain he didn’t understand.  Dwalin’s clan was large and prosperous, and there was always a place for him; anywhere he went, there would be Longbeard dwarves and he would be welcome.  Bofur and his brother and cousin had never had that.  Dwalin was able to leave his brother for most of a century; Bofur was not certain he’d ever gone more than a day without seeing Bombur.

            The company had been like family, which was why it hurt so deeply that Gandalf and Bilbo had left.  They should have stayed; family would have stayed.

            But Bofur also knew he’d never see Nori without thinking of Fili, and never talk to Oin without grieving for Thorin.  Family meant shared memories, and grief deeper than speech.  There were ten left of the company now, and Bofur couldn’t make them stay.  He didn’t even know if he wanted to stay.  Perhaps it would be better, away from this place.

            He didn’t visit Thorin’s vault again.

 


 

 

            Dain brought then together for a ceremony, the ten of them who remained.  Bofur knew that it was a political gesture more than anything else, but it was nice to have their accomplishments honored.  Still, everyone was subdued.

            It was when Dain started granting favors that Bofur understood.  The ten of them were legends now, and Dain wanted them to stay.  Dain wanted their loyalty, or at least the appearance of it.

            By the slightly fixed smile on Balin’s face when Dain made him principal advisor and restored his title, the old dwarf saw right through the new king as well.

            Positions that once would have taken a lifetime of work were bestowed like rings and cups.  Ori was given the libraries, named head scribe.  Bombur was given the kitchens, and his face glowed with pleasure.  Dwalin and Bifur were offered positions in the King’s personal guard – which Bofur thought might be overplaying his hand, but both accepted.  Bofur blinked to find himself the head of the western mines of the mountain, the deepest and richest of all the mines.  He bowed automatically, and missed what the next few were offered through the roaring in his ears.  He thought he heard Nori put in charge of internal security, which made him want to burst out laughing.

            He looked around.  Ori, Balin, and Bombur had received their heart’s desire.  The others seemed content enough, and truly Bofur thought he could be contented as well with his gift, had he not seen the flash of deep sadness behind Dwalin’s eyes.

            They had all gotten what they wanted except for Dwalin.  What did a warrior like Dwalin care for this petty king, even if he was King Under the Mountain?  There was only one thing Bofur could think of that Dwalin wanted, and Dain could not grant it.

            Bofur was a rich dwarf now; richer possibly even than this king.  There had to be a way to give Dwalin his heart’s desire.

            It took Bofur almost two years to find it.

 

Chapter Text

            “Nori?  Say I needed to send a message over the mountains, and I needed to be sure the King didn’t know.  Could it be done, and how long would it take?”

            Nori considered.  “It depends on where over the mountains.  Hobbiton is easy enough if it’s our burglar you want, but I don’t think you’d need my help if it were that simple.”

            “Not Hobbiton.”  Bofur told him the destination, and Nori grimaced. 

            “Not easy,” he mused.  “Not easy at all.  It’ll cost you a pretty penny.”

            “Nori,” Bofur said patiently, “I have an entire room full of pretty pennies down in the vaults.  Just tell me if it can be done.”

            Nori looked slightly offended that anyone would doubt him.  “Of course it can be done, Bofur.  Anything can be done, with enough patience and money.”

            Bofur certainly hoped this was true.

 


 

 

            Because Bofur was afraid the ten of them would start drifting apart now that they were spread all over the Mountain, he instituted a monthly party.  They would gather for food, ale, and song, and raise a glass to those passed on.  Bofur hosted three of these parties in his quarters before Gloin caught on and invited the company to his chambers.  His wife and little boy, newly arrived from the Blue Mountains, joined them as well.

            The next time, Ori shyly offered to host.  He had his own rooms adjacent to the archives, and it was a tight fit.  But Balin had a letter from Bilbo to share, and with enough ale nobody minded being pressed up against their neighbor.  Bofur was glad he had snagged a seat next to Dwalin.  He drank too much ale as an excuse to lean his head back against Dwalin’s shoulder, and shuddered with delight and guilt when Dwalin put a heavy arm around him to keep him from listing dangerously to one side.  Dori and Balin laughed at him for not being able to hold his liquor, but Bofur couldn’t bring himself to care.

            “I think you’re pretending to be more drunk than you are,” Dwalin rumbled in his ear toward the end of the night.

            Bofur grinned.  “Could be, friend Dwalin,” he agreed.  “Could be.”

            Dwalin laughed quietly, and didn’t move his arm.

 


 

 

            The absolute best part of living in Erebor, as far as Bofur was concerned, was the baths.  He had missed the comfort and companionship of bathing during the journey; as a miner, he had been accustomed to go daily.  It was relaxation and it was bonding.  You couldn’t carry on a conversation down in the mines with your fellow dwarf, but you could soak with him after, share stories and song.

            The baths at the Lonely Mountain were fed by volcanic springs, and were the most elaborate Bofur had ever seen.  It was rumored the mines of Moria had baths even more extensive, but Bofur felt no need to go brave the Orcs to find out.  Not when he could rest weary muscles at the end of the day and finally feel warm again.

            It quickly became a routine: at the end of his shift, he would go up to the libraries and pry Ori away from whatever he was working on.  He took turns with the other companions in this effort, but Ori was most likely to come quickly when it was Bofur or Balin fetching him, instead of asking for “one more paragraph, I’m almost done…” until Gloin dragged him off by his beard.  Often the midday meal Bombur had sent up would still be on Ori’s reading table untouched, and Bofur would wait for the young dwarf to scarf down a few bites before making him go be sociable.

            The baths were one of Bofur’s favorite things about the day, and about being a dwarf, really.  It was how he got to know the dwarves in his mines, and how he made friends far and wide throughout the Mountain.  There was little enough of ceremony and rank in the baths.

            One evening when he came to collect Ori, he found him with Dwalin in the archives studying a map.  Bofur tried not to let panic flood through him – if Dwalin wanted to go adventuring again, there was nothing Bofur could do to stop him.

            “Evening, Ori, Dwalin,” he greeted, and tried not to look at the map.

            “Evening, Bofur.”  As always, Dwalin’s deep voice sent a throb of awareness through him.  He watched as Dwalin rolled the map and secured it in its carrying case.

            “Ori, did you remember to eat today?” Bofur asked, looking around for the evidence.

            “I made sure he did.”  Dwalin was gathering a collection of documents – he must have been here all day.

            “Will you join us, Dwalin?” Ori asked, putting away the inkpots.

            “Aye, perhaps, lad,” Dwalin said.  “I’ll just stow this in my quarters.  You go ahead and I’ll join if I can.”

            Bofur frowned, because it wasn’t until this very moment that he realized he’d never seen Dwalin in the baths.

            Bofur waited for his friend until his fingers turned wrinkled in the hot water and he’d cycled through three different sets of bathing companions.  When it hit him that Dwalin had a very good reason not to come, he felt like the worst sort of fool.

            He hadn’t understood how Balin could forget, could overwrite what he knew to be truth with what he wanted to be truth – but Bofur realized that he’d done the same thing.

            He knew that Dwalin could never forget.  Not for one day, maybe not even for an hour.  It unsettled him, knowing that Dwalin must hurt with it every day.  And it unsettled him, how much Bofur wished he could forget again, the way Balin already had.

Chapter Text

            The Midsummer Fair was as much fun as Bofur had had in a long time.  For three days, all three races met at Dale to revive the ancient tradition.  There were feats of arms and storytellers and minstrels.  There were whores and healers and food merchants plying their wares.  There were weddings and there were dances under the stars.  The King Under the Mountain came down to enjoy himself in the sunshine, and Bofur gave all of his miners the three days off so that he would be able to do the same.  Even the female dwarves came out to join the fun, and Bofur found himself staring; he'd heard some had come to Erebor, mostly from the Iron Hills, but he rarely ventured beyond the mines and the baths, and never saw them.

            Dwalin competed in both feats of arms and contests of strength, and came away with a small pile of blue ribbons.  Bofur played his flute at one of the dances, watching the humans and the younger dwarves have their fun.  The Elves hung back, watching curiously; the dances they performed later were more formal, more stately and elaborate.

            Ori was one of the official storytellers at the Fair, and the company gathered together on the third afternoon to hear about the quest to retake the Mountain.  It was strange, hearing it from Ori’s point of view; all of them were such larger-than-life characters to him that Bofur found himself looking at his companions, wondering if this were how fairy stories began.  Certainly he had never been as brave and kind as Ori described him – though Ori got Dwalin right at least; you couldn’t overstate bravery and loyalty such as Dwalin’s.

            “I thought I had better tell a story I know this year, so that I have a whole year to research before next year’s Fair,” Ori explained after, when they treated him to a round or four at the pub.  “I wanted to tell stories about the kingdoms in the South, but Smaug burned about half the scrolls I’d need to do a proper job of it.”

            “Gondor and Mordor, you mean?” Bofur asked.

            “No, further south,” Ori hiccupped through his ale.  “They have great beasts called oliphaunts that they ride like horses, an’ one of them can carry twenty men!”

            They laughed loudly at this suggestion.  “I think someone’s been having you on, lad,” Dwalin said kindly.

            “An’ there’s a clan of warrior women who live without men, an’ they use bow and arrow so much they cut off their right breast to help shoot true,” Ori said, eyes wide.

            Dwalin stilled for just a moment.  Bofur wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been in his customary seat at Dwalin’s right side.  He glanced up at his friend, but Dwalin was already shaking his head to clear it.

            They drank too much to think of walking back to the Mountain that night, so Dwalin secured them a room at a semi-respectable inn.  They had to carry Ori, who’d had twice as much as anyone else and would be regretting it in the morning.  They poured him into bed and settled in for a quiet game of dice.

            “Have you thought of it?” Bofur asked finally.  “Cutting them off?”  He winced to hear the words aloud.

            Dwalin examined one of the dice so he wouldn’t have to meet Bofur’s eyes.  “Aye.  I tried to, once.”

            “What happened?”

            “Hurt so much I passed out.  Someone found me and a human surgeon stitched me up.  Gave me an earful about performing surgery on myself, but he wouldn’t do the rest of the job.”  Dwalin snorted.  “There’s a big chunk out of the left one, so even if I ever changed my mind I’d never be… whole.”

            Bofur trembled at the word, at the self-loathing in Dwalin’s voice.  “I’m sorry,” he offered.

            Dwalin finally looked up.  “I’m sorry, too,” he said quietly, and suddenly Bofur wanted to run, because Dwalin was going to try and let him down easy.

            “Bofur,” and Bofur shuddered, because there shouldn’t be tenderness in Dwalin’s voice, not when he was going to take away everything.  He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see compassion in Dwalin’s gray eyes.

            “Don’t,” he choked.

            “I know you want to bed me,” Dwalin said.  Bofur felt his hands being gathered, held in Dwalin’s.  “And I wish I could say yes.”

            Bofur flinched, and tried to pull his hands away.

            “Please, let me say this,” Dwalin said.  “I won’t have the courage to again.”

            Bofur promised himself that he wasn’t going to cry until after Dwalin had had his say.

            But Dwalin seemed to be having trouble finding words.  Bofur opened his eyes, and saw Dwalin drawn in on himself.

            “I don’t want you just because you have…” Bofur tried.  He couldn’t say the words. 

            “I know,” Dwalin said, but he didn’t.  He didn’t believe it.  “It’s just… how can I let you love a body that I hate?”  It came out as a growl, but there were tears at the back of it.

            “Dwalin,” he pleaded.  “You know I would never ask you for things you didn’t want to do.”

            “But you would want them,” Dwalin snapped.

            “I don’t,” Bofur said.  “I don’t want to fuck you,” and he knew, he knew he couldn’t unsay these words, but they wouldn’t stop.  “Just the opposite, in fact.  I want you to fuck me.”

            There was dead silence.  Dwalin looked sick.

            “Well, I definitely can’t give you that,” he said, finally.

Chapter Text

            Bofur studied the ceiling and wished he could die.  He realized he was crying only when Dwalin held him close and petted his back to sooth the sobs.  He felt like the worst sort of worm, making Dwalin take care of him.

            “Shh,” Dwalin murmured, as if he were a little dwarfling.  “It will be all right.”

            “It won’t be,” Bofur muttered against his neck.  He’d often fantasized about being held close like this, but knowing he would never have this again rather ruined his enjoyment of it. 

            “Bofur…”  The impatient growl was much more like the Dwalin he knew.  Bofur pulled himself together and wiped his eyes, and turned to his friend to apologize.

            He stared.  Dwalin was smiling.  He didn’t think he’d ever seen Dwalin smile before.  Laugh, yes; grin, even.  But he’d never seen such a look of open happiness on the grim dwarf’s face.

            “What – ” he croaked.  He didn’t understand.

            Dwalin chuckled, and the sound warmed Bofur down to his toes.  “All this time,” he said, “I thought you wanted – her.  And now I see you want me.”  His eyes were shining, and Bofur felt a shudder of apprehension run through him, for he’d not done anything to deserve such a look on Dwalin’s face.  He was interrupted when he tried to speak, however.  “I wanted you to want the real me,” Dwalin said.  “And you do.”

 


 

 

            Bofur woke in the quiet half-light of early morning.  Ori was snoring softly in the other bed, but Bofur’s eyes were drawn to the far corner where Dwalin sat in a man-sized armchair.  Bofur had hoped he’d come to bed eventually, but Dwalin was nothing if not stubborn.  He wasn’t altogether surprised his friend had chosen to keep vigil all night.

            Bofur knew he should head toward the Mountain, toward the mines, but instead he watched how the pale sunlight fell on Dwalin’s tattoos, bringing the ancient designs to vivid contrast.  More silver in his hair and beard than black, but Dwalin held the years well.

            I wish I could make you happy, Bofur thought through the lump in his throat.

            “You can’t make someone happy,” his mother had said once, after her brother-in-law had stormed out and slammed the door yet again.  It was three years after their uncle and Bifur had come to live with them.  Balur had taken to drink not long after the death of his wife.  “You can help them along the way, but you’ll kill yourself trying to rescue someone.”  The words were bitter, but her heart wasn’t, yet.  It had taken ten more years for Balur’s sickness to affect everyone.

            Bofur thought of the letter he’d sent across the mountains, a shot in the dark.  Was there any way for Dwalin to be happy?

            Probably not here, Bofur acknowledged to himself.  Dwalin had seemed content as a wandering warrior.  Playing nursemaid to a King Under the Mountain nobody respected had to rankle.  It was no wonder Dwalin had been looking at maps lately.

            Well, that would have to be that, then.  Dwalin had said no – flattered, but no.  It had been inevitable, Bofur reminded himself.  Knowing Dwalin’s secret had forced an intimacy that would never have been granted freely.  He must have been a fool to think that Dwalin, the greatest dwarven hero still living, would ever want a poor miner and buffoon like Bofur.  How Fili and Kili would have laughed if they’d known, Bofur thought miserably.

            Stop it, his better sense told him.  Dwalin doesn’t want anyone, but he does value you.  He didn’t laugh, and Fili and Kili wouldn’t have either.  But part of Bofur wanted to wallow in his misery.

            Dwalin stirred, and Bofur watched him begin to wake up.  One last time, he let himself wish he could kiss those soft-looking lips.

            As the morning light lengthened and strengthened through the shutters, Bofur came to a decision.  Dwalin would stay or he would go, but Bofur couldn’t let himself hope for a return of his affections any longer.  He was not a starry-eyed dwarfling, full of romantic tales.  Maybe his brother was right to call him a fool and soft in the head, but even Bofur knew that some quests were impossible.  He had Dwalin’s friendship and respect, and wanting more was just going to lead to misery.

 


           

           Things shifted subtly after that.  Dwalin put away his maps, and in return Bofur put away his impossible fantasies.  He put away childish dreams and told himself this was better.  The other dwarves always left a seat open for him at Dwalin’s right hand, and that was enough.  He would make it be enough.

           Summer turned to winter before the first reply to his letter came.  Bofur almost lost courage in the face of the enormity of his audacity, then.  But the plans he’d put in motion were beyond his control now.  Things were moving beyond on the mountains, and after putting it off for weeks Bofur finally steeled himself and called on Balin for assistance.

Chapter Text

 

PART TWO


 

           “Mister Bofur?”  Cantrell rapped his knuckles on the open door of Bofur’s tiny office.  “May I come in?”

            Bofur looked up from the ledger that was making him cross-eyed.  Who could have guessed that taking ore out of the ground necessitated such paperwork?  But the miners had to be paid, and the mines had to be inspected for safety, and only the most profitable veins should be played out, so paperwork it was.  “Yes, come in, Mister Cantrell.”

            The overseer strode in with a bit of a swagger.  Bofur sighed internally.  His second in command was a good dwarf and a good miner, he reminded himself.  He was just so… insufferable.

            Cantrell stuck his hands in his pockets and puffed his chest out.  “I’ve come for any last-minute instructions, sir,” he said loudly, probably for an audience down the hall.  “Before you leave on your journey.”

            “Is it evening already?” Bofur asked, looking around for the clock.  Ah – he’d forgotten to wind it this morning.  Blast.  He wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight.

            “Yes, sir,” Cantrell said smartly.

            Bofur frowned, and tried to mentally reprioritize all the tasks left before he could leave for the night.  “Very well.  We’ll do a walk-through, and I’ll give you my notes.  Ahh, Cantrell, I did mention that the journey isn’t official yet, didn’t I?”

            “You did, sir,” said Cantrell, tapping the side of his nose and trying to wink.  “You did.”

            They wandered down to the shaft entrances together, Bofur ticking off last-minute reminders as they went.  He was pleased to hear voices raised in song in shafts 20 and 21; when the evening shift was happy, he could generally be sure the day shift was happy as well.  He said as much to his companion.

            They inspected shafts 7, 17, and 27 today, and Bofur frowned at the notes left by the official inspection team.  “Close 27 until further tests can be done; it’s looking unstable.”

            “But shaft 27 is one of our best, sir!” said Cantrell, sounding shocked.

            “It won’t be if there’s a cave-in,” Bofur said.  “Ask Oin in the east mines to send you his head inspector; the lad’s got a good eye for such things.  If he says you can open it again, do so.”

            Bofur waved at some of the day-shift miners who were still straggling out.  Sometimes it was difficult to give up a particularly rich vein when you’d been working hard at it all day.  “Remind me to send someone down Shaft 12 to demand they go home and get some sleep.”  There had been a thin vein of emeralds found there earlier this week and some of the miners still hadn’t left.  “Oin’s your go-to dwarf if you’ve any questions; I’ve let him know to expect you,” Bofur said.  “And I’ve drafted out the next ten paydays, though of course you’ll need to make minor adjustments.  Unless you’ve any questions, I think we’re ready to hand you the reins, so to speak.”

            “Thank you, sir,” Cantrell said in his stuffiest voice.

            “I don’t expect I’ll be gone more than a few months, but you never know.”  Bofur remembered something and frowned.  “Do you know the time?  I’m to see the King at seven thirty.”

            “It’s seven twenty now, sir.”

            Damn and blast.  Bofur ran.

 


 

 

            It was dreadfully improper to arrive at the King’s audience chamber in miner’s clothing and the grit of the day still on him.  Bofur couldn’t bring himself to care, because all of his plans hinged on the next few minutes.  Indeed, Dain scowled to see him so dirty, and Balin, who had orchestrated this entire affair, rolled his eyes.

            Bofur caught sight of Dwalin, a step or so behind the King, and flashed him a smile.  Dwalin, who had very definite ideas of on- and off-duty behavior, ignored him completely.

            “We have,” said the King in that sing-song voice he used when he was trying to be regal, “a mission for you, Mister Bofur.”

            “For me, sire?”  Bofur affected surprise.

            The King gave him a sour look.  “For you.  You have been specially requested.”

            Bofur waited.

            “We would like to send a formal invitation to the dwarves living in the Blue Mountains, those who came of Erebor, to return to their homeland.  After much discussion,” and the King looked peevishly at Balin, “we have decided to send two of the heroes who joined my predecessor on his quest.  We will send a Longbeard, of course, but we would also like to send a native.”

            This was where it could all unravel.  Bofur was the native.  Seven of the remaining heroes of the quest were Longbeards, though most couldn’t be spared.  Bofur had gone over the possibilities in his mind again and again.  Balin and Ori were too necessary, as was Dori – though Bofur still didn’t know what a Head Chamberlain actually did.  If Bofur was going, they couldn’t send Oin too, and Gloin would flatly refuse; his wife and boy were here at last and he would not leave them.  Which meant that it would come down to a choice between Dwalin and Nori.  It was more prestigious for the King to keep Dwalin at the Court, but it might come as an insult to their kin to send Nori, who had not been missed when he left the Blue Mountains.

            “I would be honored, sire,” he said.  “May I ask which Longbeard will accompany me on this journey?”

            The King frowned.  “As we have had growing reports of Orc attacks, we think it best to send the foremost warrior.  Dwalin will accompany you.”

            Bofur took a breath at last, and thanked his stars.

            Someone must have told Dwalin already, because surely someone couldn’t stifle surprise that well?  Dwalin did not even look at him as the formalities and details wrapped up.  Bofur tried not to take that as an ill omen.

 


 

 

            And indeed, Dwalin was smiling – well, grimacing, which was as close as he came – when they set out two days hence.  All eight of Thorin’s company came to see them off, and Bofur found himself a bit teary-eyed when he hugged Bifur and Bombur goodbye, and clasped hands with Balin.  Ori composed an ode, and Dori pressed extra food on their already-overburdened ponies.

           Bofur waved as they trotted away toward the Great Road.

 


 

 

           It took Bofur off guard how suddenly and sharply he missed his kin, and the rest of the company as well.  He’d never been parted from Bombur in his life; the closest he’d come was in Mirkwood when they’d been afraid his brother would sleep forever.  And then he’d had Bifur at least, and Kili and Fili who had made a special point of cheering him up.

           Dwalin noticed the change in mood.  Dwalin didn’t speak much at the best of times, so Bofur was used to filling the silence with humorous chatter and inane witticism.  But the further they got from the Lonely Mountain that first day, the more he found he couldn’t find words to fill the emptiness.  He fell silent and wondered if he’d made a grave mistake.

           “Is there aught I can do to ease your sorrow?” Dwalin asked when they’d pitched camp and settled in for the night.  The formal question offered to grieving family seemed appropriate, almost.

           “No,” Bofur admitted.  “I’ll just have to grin and bear it.”  But the smile slipped from his lips within seconds.

           “Dwalin?” he asked when the silence became too much.  “Could you tell me a tale about one of your adventures?”

           “Aye, of course.”  He could hear the amusement in Dwalin’s gruff voice; Gloin’s son Gimli had asked the same questions not long ago.

           To his surprise, Dwalin told him about the disastrous campaign to retake Moria.  “It was a bad job from the beginning,” he said, “and everybody knew it.  But they’d just lost their home, and Orcs were easier to face than dragons – or the truth.”

           “Is that when you first met Thorin?”

           “Aye.  I think he knew how bad it was going to be, but his father and his grandfather wouldn’t hear reason.  He came by his stubbornness honestly.”

           Bofur lay back in his bedroll and looked at the stars.  “Tell me about how you met him.”

           It took a while, but gradually the steady stream of Dwalin’s words seemed to fill up a corner of the empty place in Bofur’s heart.  He closed his eyes and listened to the cadence of the deep voice as Dwalin talked far into the night.

 


 

 

           The journey was to take at least two months, and they had to stop as royal envoys at many places along the way.  At Thranduil’s palace, the welcome was uneasy; at Beorn’s, joyful.  Dwalin was a pleasant enough traveling companion, and was willing enough to add his deep voice to the songs that Bofur played in the evenings.  Bofur still missed his kin, but the first hard wrench of it was passed.

           A sense of peace, now that his plan was finally moving ahead, kept him buoyed for a month.  Then one day, Dwalin frowned when Bofur nudged his pony off the main road.

           “Where are we going?  I thought we were headed for Bree?”

           Bofur turned a brilliant smile upon him.  “We’ve an invitation to Rivendell.”

 

Chapter Text

True to form, Dwalin asked no questions, just guided his pony to follow Bofur’s.

They had only gone a few miles when a company of Elves melted silently out of the woods to surround them.  The faces were, if not friendly, at least not grim, and no weapon was drawn, so Bofur chose to consider them an escort rather than a guard.  He could feel the tension radiating off Dwalin, however.  When he glanced back, he saw his friend was fingering one of his axes.

Lord Elrond wasn’t likely to forgive the willful decapitation of his subjects, so Bofur did the only thing he could think to do.  He began to hum the song the Elves had sung the last time they’d escorted dwarves to the Last Homely House.  As one, the Elves took it up as they rounded one last bend to find the hidden valley spread out before them.  Bofur caught his breath.  Pulling the pony up next to him, Dwalin surveyed the valley, and with a visible effort let himself relax.

Irregular communication through Nori’s network of – well, it wouldn’t be polite to call them spies, would it? – meant Bofur couldn’t be sure if Lord Elrond would be at home when they called.  But he was soon put to ease on that point.  Elrond came to greet them himself, a glimmer of a smile on his face as he bowed.

“Mister Bofur, Mister Dwalin,” he said, “welcome to Rivendell.”

They were given comfortable rooms and told to bathe and rest before the evening feast, but Bofur couldn’t relax.  Now that he was here, there as no going back.  He had gambled everything on this venture.  If Dwalin refused…

The knot in the pit of his stomach, which had been growing over the past year, hardened into stomach cramps.  Bofur curled up on his bed and tried to think soothing thoughts of deep mines and glittering gold.

Dwalin pushed open the adjoining door without knocking and strode in.  “Those blasted Elves –” he began, but he caught sight of Bofur and ran to his side.  “What’s the matter?” he demanded.  “Are you ill?  What did you eat?  Did they poison you?”  He turned toward the door, knife already unsheathed, ready to attack all comers.

Bofur put a hand on his wrist to calm him.  “I am well, Dwalin.”

It took the big dwarf a moment to compose himself, and for the second time that day Bofur watched him force himself into calm.  Dwalin sighed, a long rumble.  Bofur was touched by his friend’s concern.

“You don’t look well,” Dwalin muttered.

Bofur hesitated.  This might be the last moment Dwalin ever treated him as a friend, and he wanted to bask in it, but instead he took one of the massive hands in his and said, “Promise, no matter what follows, that you will not hate me.”

Dwalin gave him a baffled look.  “I have no reason to hate you.”

“And if I gave you a reason?”

To his surprise, Dwalin tweaked one of his braids affectionately.  “You are as kin to me.  I could never hate my kin.”

Bofur tried to let the words warm him, even as the knot in his stomach turned to stone.

 


 

 

Lord Elrond did honor to his guests.  The feast was merry enough, but Bofur could not enjoy it.  To his relief, Dwalin took it on himself to answer the Elflord’s questions about their mission and their new life at Erebor.  Excepting the first night of their journey, Bofur had never heard him say so many words in one sitting.  He was aware that talking was usually his job, and he was failing miserably on this mission.

After the meal, Dwalin took his arm to guide him back toward the rooms, a worried look crossing his face when he saw Bofur’s uneaten food, but he stopped at a sign from Elrond.  Bofur looked up at the regal Elf and wondered how he’d ever thought he’d have the courage for this.

“Mister Bofur, will you join me in my study?  We have much to discuss.”

Dumbly, Bofur nodded.

Elrond turned to Dwalin and bowed.  “Mister Dwalin, if you will excuse us.”

Dwalin bared his teeth.  “He goes nowhere without me,” he snarled, stepping in front of Bofur as if to protect him.

Elrond half-smiled and titled an inquiring look toward Bofur, unruffled.  “Mister Bofur?” he asked.  “May Mister Dwalin join us?”

Bofur swallowed.  “Yes, he had better join us.”

Dwalin entered Elrond’s study as if entering an Orc nest.  A quick scan of the room, a nod to Bofur that it was safe, and then he moved to guard the most likely point of attack – the door.  Bofur felt an overwhelming sense of fondness, and almost managed to smile.

He had meant to explain to Dwalin before supper, but he hadn’t had the courage.  That was a mistake, he knew: now the best he could hope for was that Dwalin would hate him forever, and choose not to eviscerate him.

Elrond shut the door after him, which Dwalin didn’t like.  The tall Elf raised an eyebrow at Bofur.  “Mister Bofur, does your friend know why you are here?”

Bofur couldn’t make his throat work.  He’d just caught sight of the books and scrolls open on the worktable.  Elrond was nothing if not thorough; there were at least a dozen sketches next to the box of what looked like very delicate knives.  Bofur approached to see them better.

It was like a kick in the gut.

The books were the worst.  The first was open to a picture of a female dwarf, completely naked.  All the details except for her face were meticulously sketched.  Bofur shuddered.  It was obscene.

Another scroll showed cross-sections of different parts of the body, thankfully above the waist – Bofur wasn’t sure he could keep from throwing up otherwise.  Not all the drawings were of dwarves, but they were all of women. 

“Mister Dwalin,” Elrond said, “Mister Bofur contacted me about a medical matter some time ago, and I’ve gathered my research.”

Bofur’s stomach dropped into his boots when Dwalin stepped up to the table to examine what the other two were looking at.

The last scroll caught Bofur’s eye enough to distract him; it was headed by a lavish illustration of an archer with long hair braided in many braids close to her head.  The side of her chest where she clutched her bow and quiver was flat.  Underneath, more sketches illustrated how the surgery was done.

This was the scroll that Dwalin reached for.  Bofur felt numb.  He saw Dwalin’s eyes go wide and a little feral, and the big dwarf went rigid.  The scroll shook in his heavy hand.  Dwalin’s head snapped up and he looked straight at Bofur.

Bofur would never be able to unsee the horror in his friend’s eyes.  Dwalin’s mouth worked silently for a moment as he tried and failed to find words, but fear darted after rage through his eyes.  They stared at each other.

“You – you shared my secret with an ELF?!” Dwalin roared.

Bofur’s head swam.  It was going all wrong.  Of course it was going wrong.  He was supposed to have told Dwalin on the way here, had this out long before Rivendell.  If only he weren’t such a coward

Dimly, he was aware that Dwalin had shoved him against the nearest wall and was shaking him until his teeth rattled.  He was pretty sure he deserved it, so he didn’t protest.  Finally, with a cry of anguish, Dwalin shoved him away.  Bofur stumbled and would have pitched forward if Elrond hadn’t caught him.  He was very, very glad that Dwalin didn’t have his axes with him.

He looked up at Lord Elrond.  The dark Elf seemed imperturbed, but he checked Bofur over to make sure Dwalin had done no damage.  “Are you hurt?” Elrond asked.

Bofur shook his head.  Elrond guided him into a chair and stood, blocking Bofur from Dwalin’s rage.

He almost didn’t dare to look at Dwalin, though the roaring had stopped.  The dwarf had fallen to his knees, his shoulders shaking.  “A century of silence,” he rasped, accusing, broken.  “A century, and you gave it to our enemy.”

“No, Master Dwarf,” Elrond said calmly, “I’m afraid you are incorrect.  You are the one who shared your secret with an Elf.”  Dwalin spun, mouth open to shout a denial, but Elrond raised a forestalling hand.  “Until tonight, I believed that Mister Bofur was my patient.”

Dwalin’s mouth opened, and his eyes flew to Bofur’s again.  Elrond put a protective hand on Bofur’s shoulder, and Dwalin began to speak – but he stopped and gazed at Bofur.  Bofur saw the moment that Dwalin regained control of himself: shame joined the hot rage in his eyes.

Elrond’s voice was icy.  “I will not leave this room until I am certain that Mister Bofur is safe with you, Mister Dwalin.”

Chapter Text

Strangely enough, it was the hat that brought Dwalin back to himself.  Sometime in the shaking – Dwalin cringed – it had toppled onto the floor.  Now it lay there, silent and alone.  The wrongness of the hat without Bofur, of Bofur without the hat, seemed to wake him as if from a dream.

A nightmare – and Mahal, how he wished it were only a nightmare.  The world had titled on its axis.  An Elf stood guard over Bofur, to protect him from his closest friend.

“Bofur –”  Dwalin reached out, Bofur liked being touched so he’d been trying to do it more, and something turned cold inside of him when Bofur shied back.

“I…”  Dwalin found he didn’t have words.  He’d never seen Bofur look like that, all grey around the edges and no depth in his gaze.  Mahal above, Bofur had looked better when they’d unwrapped him from the spider’s sack in Mirkwood.

Dwalin wanted to be sick.  He’d done that – he’d put that fear in Bofur’s eyes.

“Bofur, I’m sorry.”  How empty the words were, how meaningless when Bofur looked through him and didn’t see him, didn’t smile the smile that had greeted Dwalin daily for three years now.

“Bofur?” Elrond prompted gently.  “How are you feeling?”

Bofur made an effort to shake himself alert.  He blinked at Elrond, who knelt beside him looking troubled.

“I’ll send for some hot tea and brandy,” Elrond said, studying Bofur’s eyes.  “It’ll help take the edge off –”

Bofur looked alarmed and jumped to his feet, backing away from both of them.

“Bofur?”  Dwalin couldn’t help the break in his voice; Bofur looked like a cornered animal.

“So - so sorry to be any trouble,” Bofur said all in a rush.  “I should have explained to Dwalin, I’m sorry you went to such trouble my lord, I hope you’ll only hold it against me and not against the dwarves, if you don’t mind we’ve a long journey and I should get some sleep goodnight!”  And he fled.

Dwalin moved to go after him, but the Elf put a cautionary hand on his shoulder.  “Let him go, Mister Dwalin,” Elrond advised.  “You’ll only terrify him more if you don’t give him some time to remember that you’re his friend.”  He reached for the hat on the floor, but Dwalin snatched it.

“I don’t think I’m his friend, after what I just did."  His fingers dug into the soft fur of the hat’s brim.

Elrond motioned him to a chair, and Dwalin obeyed instinctively.  He remembered that the Elf had been a general in countless wars; it would be hard to disobey the command of one so self-assured.  Elrond sat and surveyed him, his face betraying no emotion.

“When was the last time you lost control like that?” Elrond asked.

Dwalin looked away, but the words came unbidden.  “Seventy years ago.  Three dwarves violated a human woman.”  He hesitated.  “When I think back, I only should have shaved their beards and cut off their balls.  I should have made them live instead of making them die.”

Elrond arched an eyebrow.  “What did you do?”  There was no condemnation in his voice.

Dwalin glanced away again.  “I don’t like to think on it,” he growled, “and I did it.  I shouldn’t put that blackness in another’s head.”

Elrond nodded.  “Is it worse to think on what you did, or what they did?”

Dwalin shuddered.  “What I did.  They’re dead and gone, but I have to live with the memory.”

They sat in silence together.

“We all have that darkness in us, you know,” Elrond said finally.  His voice had changed, no longer commanding answers.

Dwalin made a noise of disbelief.  “What do Elves know of darkness?” he scoffed.

The look Elrond turned on him made him wish he hadn’t spoken.  “We brought darkness incarnate to Middle Earth once,” Elrond said, and Dwalin shivered to hear his tone.  “I’d say we know the darkness quite well.”

Dwalin thought of Bofur going limp, not fighting as he was shaken.  He knew he’d have nightmares about that, about his fingers digging into Bofur’s shoulders to prevent himself from going for his throat.

“Darkness comes on the heels of love,” Elrond said finally.  “The things most deeply held are the things that engender the most fear.”  He stood and crossed to the window, looking out at his valley.  “Still I’d like to think that love is stronger.”

Dwalin glanced up.  Elrond had a distant look in his eye, as if he weren’t entirely living in the present moment.  “Do you believe that?” he asked.  “That love is stronger?”

Elrond shook his head absently.  “My lady is passed over the sea.  She was savaged by Orcs, and love could not save her mind from reliving her torment.  My sons are too caught in revenge to realize their lives have become as nightmares.  No, I shouldn’t believe that love and honor and decency will beat back fear and darkness and deception.  But there’s still a part of me that does.”

Unsure what he ought to do with this flood of information, Dwalin looked away.  His eye was caught by the scroll with the one-breasted archer, and he reached for it.  He studied the illustrations that followed, and tried to imagine never having to bind his chest again.

“Why didn’t he tell me?” he asked at last.

“Possibly he had some idea that you wouldn’t take it well,” Elrond said dryly.  He left his window and seated himself beside Dwalin again.

“He shared a secret he said he’d keep,” Dwalin said.  Who else might Bofur tell?  Did his kin know?

Elrond sighed and stood.  “You’ll need to forgive him that, and he’ll need to forgive you losing control.  There’s only one of those things you can accomplish yourself.”

Dwalin stood too and bowed awkwardly, feeling ill at ease.

“Your secret is safe with me, Mister Dwalin, as I trust mine is with you,” Elrond said.  He smiled then.  “I am six thousand years old, master dwarf.  You are hardly the first person in Middle Earth who was born to the wrong body.”

Dwalin started.  “There are others?”

Elrond nodded to the table.  “Those weren’t made for prurient interest alone.  Nor even just for better archery.  It’s rare, but it happens.”

“Even to dwarves?”

Elrond shuffled through a pile of papers, and brought out a book.  “I sent for that from Erebor, you know,” he said.  “I think it mightily confused young Mister Ori, but he was kind enough to lend it.”

Dwalin paged through the book, fascinated – and vaguely nauseated.  Castrations, piercings, implantations.  All on dwarves.

“May I take this to my chamber?”

“Of course.”

Dwalin looked up at the strange, ancient Elf.  He suddenly felt very young indeed.  He looked again at the archer.  “Should I do it?” he asked.

“That, my young friend, is entirely up to you.  I will not treat you until your mind is made up definitively.”  Elrond waved a hand in dismissal.  “And not until you have come to some understanding with Mister Bofur.  You are welcome here as long as you need to stay, Mister Dwalin – but do not leave it too long.  It would not be kind to him.”

Chapter Text

           Dwalin had been a warrior for almost two centuries.  He had seldom had occasion to doubt his courage.  Indeed, the concept of bravery had never been one he quite understood; combat would end well or it would end poorly, and it was a matter of luck and skill.  Skill he had plenty of, and he supposed he must have luck on his side as he wasn’t dead yet.

           But he’d left fear behind the day he’d stolen some of Balin’s clothes, bound his chest, and set out to foster with his relatives as a boy.  He’d won renown as a warrior – but only because he hadn’t had to conquer fear.  Other warriors were more skilled, but they were more reluctant.  Dwalin hadn’t understood for decades, frustrated with how much more could be done if they’d just be willing to take risks.

           And now, in the peace of Rivendell Dwalin the dwarf knew fear.  Bofur was on the other side of that door, and Dwalin couldn’t bring himself to try the knob.  He thought he might shatter if he found it locked.

           He paced his small room in the misty half-light of the moon.  Was this what Elrond had meant about fear and love?  Was it possible this fear meant that he loved Bofur?

           Dwalin sat down on his bed and tried to think what he had loved in his life.  His kin, certainly.  Balin.  But Bofur had been upset to part from Bombur and Bifur, whereas Dwalin had gone stretches of many months and even years away from Balin without much thought.  And there’d been the decades of separation when he hadn’t dared go home for fear that Balin would unmask him.  Love, yes, but with fear shot through it.

           He had loved his King.  Not Thrain or Thror, who hadn’t earned it, but Thorin.  Thorin, who shared with Dwalin the singularly useful quality of setting every atom of his body to a goal and never bending from that path.

           Dwalin wondered what Thorin would be like had he lived, King Under the Mountain, without that driving purpose ruling his life.  Would Thorin be as lost as Dwalin felt now?

           He reached for the closed door and his courage failed him once again.  Damn Bofur, anyway!  He could have asked if Dwalin wanted this… this…  Monstrosity?  Butchery?

           There had been a time when Dwalin would have killed to have such a thing.  He almost had killed – killed himself.  A third of his left breast was gone because he hated the softness, hated that it meant he couldn’t be a true warrior in his family’s eyes.  The blood loss had almost done him in; no Orc had been able to do what Dwalin almost did to himself.

           Dwalin frowned to realize that the hatred of the useless breasts was mostly gone.  He hadn’t thought about his body in decades, not since Balin had greeted him as a brother.  The last traces of fear had left then, and now the breasts were just annoyances.  Much like the menses; he’d hated that his body did such things to him, but eventually its permanence had worn his hatred to dull peevishness.

           On an impulse, he tore his shirt off.  For the first time in months he unlaced the breast binder.  The knots had not been made for untying, so he took a knife to them.  He ran his fingers over the alien skin underneath.  Almost a century and a half, and he still didn’t feel like the ugly lumps were part of his body.

           So why not? a treacherous voice whispered.  Why not get rid of them?

           You selfish coward, another voice said.  Didn’t Elrond say it would be unkind to leave Bofur without an apology?  And here you’re fondling yourself and wondering if you’d feel differently if it were him touching them.

           Dwalin snatched his fingers away and pulled on his shirt.  Then he pulled on his tunic as well for good measure.  The fabric felt strange against his unbound breasts.

           He took a deep breath and steeled himself.  Unbidden, an image of Thorin came to him from many years past.  Thorin and Dwalin had taken Kili out to track and kill his first warg.  Kili was too young, much too young: not even any fuzz on his upper lip.  But they’d taken Fili last year when his beard began to come in, and Kili had pleaded and begged and whined and pouted and Dis had eventually told them they would either take him or they would have to foster him, because otherwise she was going to strangle her youngest.

           Even Dwalin had been impressed with Kili’s seriousness and purpose once they were in the forest.  He listened to everything they taught him, and he learned quickly.  But he’d gone very quiet and rather white as they closed in on the warg.  Thorin wasn’t unaffected, either, and if it weren’t for Dis he would have dragged his nephew back to Ered Luin and safety.

           When it came the moment to step out and challenge the warg, Kili hesitated.  Dwalin and Thorin exchanged worried looks.  They would understand if Kili wasn’t ready to make his first kill – but Kili would never forgive himself.

           Kili had looked up at his uncle with tears in his eyes.  “Am I a coward?” he asked.  “I know I should have no fear in my heart, but I can’t make it stop.”

           Thorin clasped his nephew tightly in a hug.  “No, mine own,” he’d said in a thick voice.  “We all have fear in our hearts.  Fear is a very sensible thing to feel when you’re in danger.  Courage is when you can reach through the fear.”

           Kili nodded, straightened, took a deep breath, and plunged into the darkness.  Dwalin and Thorin plunged after him, because it was one thing to let Kili face his fears and quite another to let a boy face a warg alone.  But Kili’s had been the killing blow, and he’d worn that warg pelt until it was falling apart.

           Courage, thought Dwalin, and tried the doorknob.  It was unlocked.

           Bofur’s room was empty.

 


 

 

           If they were amongst dwarves, Dwalin would know where to find him.  He would just follow his ears to the noisiest pub and he would find Bofur in the thick of things.  Bofur was always at the center of any crowd, always laughed the loudest, always quaffed the longest.  Bofur made friends with all who met him and entertained with song and story.  For all that, Dwalin had discovered one of his friend’s secrets one night when he’d determined to match Bofur drink for drink: even when Bofur wasn’t buying, he drank nowhere near as much as it seemed he did.  Dwalin had thought to ask about the deception, but decided it wasn’t his business.

           There were no public houses here in Rivendell, but there was Elven music coming from a pavilion up the valley, and Dwalin decided that was his most likely bet.

           Bofur was indeed there, deep in conversation with a tall Elf with long golden hair.  Dwalin hated him on sight.

           He caught Bofur’s eye and subtly indicated with his head that he’d like to leave.  Instead of moving with appreciative alacrity as he usually would, Bofur looked at him stonily for a long moment, then turned back to his companion.  “Lord Glorfindel,” he said, “may I present my comrade, Dwalin son of Fundin.”  The Elf stood and bowed.  His eyes were the color of mithril, almost unworldly.  “Dwalin, the Elf Glorfindel.”

           Dwalin swallowed.  Bofur had once spoken of him as a living legend and Dwalin had laughed, flattered at the warm admiration.  But here was a real legend brought to life.  The only Elf to die and return to Middle Earth.  Glorfindel had battled a Balrog and come out victorious even in death.

           “Greetings, Mister Dwalin.”  The clear voice was melodious.

           Bofur WOULD have a type, wouldn’t he? an insidious little voice sneered.  Dwalin pushed the thought away and bowed curtly.

           Bofur smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.  “You needn’t glare so, Dwalin,” he joked.  “Glorfindel was telling me about the war against Morgoth, and the part Gandalf played in the final battle.”

           “Bofur, I would speak with you,” said Dwalin, losing patience for such polite platitudes. 

           Something behind Bofur’s eyes shuttered, but he nodded.  He turned to the Elf.  “It was an honor to speak with you, my lord,” he said.  “Your deeds are known even amongst the dwarves.”

           “As are yours amongst the Elves, friend Bofur,” Glorfindel said, bowing again.  “The fame of Erebor is known throughout Middle Earth.”  Bofur’s eyes widened at the compliment.

           They were silent as they made their way back to their suite.  Dwalin was unaccustomed to such quiet in Bofur’s presence; his friend always filled the air with humor or song, even when Dwalin had nothing to contribute.  The silence made him feel that he had perhaps broken something in his friend.

            Safe behind closed doors, Dwalin still hadn’t found the magic needed to mend what he had brought upon them.  Bofur turned to face him and waited, quiet and impatient, while Dwalin searched for words.

            He took refuge in formality, standing straight and looking at the far wall and pretending Bofur was a commander to whom he must make a report.  “I wish to offer my apologies for…”  But then it all broke down, because it came to him what he had done.  “…For assaulting you this evening.”

            Bofur did not make a reply, just looked at him.  There was an incredulity in the way he set his lips.  Dwalin focused on the far wall again.  “You… tried to give me a gift, and I did not understand,” he said, his throat growing unwontedly tight.  “I can offer no excuse for my actions.  I hope –” and damnation, why couldn’t his voice work properly? – “I hope that someday I will regain your trust.”

            Bofur didn’t reply for so long that Dwalin began to panic.  The clock in the corner ticked away the silence, and each second took Bofur further away.

            Abruptly, though, Bofur started and shook his head to clear it.  Dwalin couldn’t keep his eyes on the far wall anymore, had to know.  He met Bofur’s gaze.

            “Don’t be ridiculous, Dwalin,” Bofur said lightly, but his eyes were all wrong.  “It was my own fault.  I should have told you weeks ago.  If I’d not been a coward, you wouldn’t have been taken off guard in the house of one you see as an enemy.”  Dwalin began to protest, but Bofur waved it away.  “Enough.  Let’s put it behind us.”

            If Bofur would just look at him, he might be able to accept this.  But he wouldn’t.  “Bofur, I tried to kill you –”

            “You did not,” Bofur said flatly, and now he looked at Dwalin.  His eyes were depthless; not quite there.  “You did not try to kill me.  You were very angry, but you had no malice in your heart, Dwalin.  Dwarves have tried to kill me before; I know the difference.  You just wanted to hurt me as much as I’d hurt you.”

            Dwalin wondered if Bofur were trying to convince him – or himself.

            “I’m sorry I hurt you.  It was stupid of me.  It never occurred to me that –”  Bofur paused.  “It doesn’t matter.  We’re even, and we’ll put it behind us.”

            The silence lengthened until Dwalin couldn’t bear it, and he agreed, “Aye, behind us,” thought he almost choked on the words.  Bofur clapped him on the shoulder as if nothing had changed, and bid him goodnight.

            Dwalin didn’t sleep for many hours, disturbed by the memory of the flat faraway look in Bofur’s eyes.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had broken something and Bofur wasn’t going to let him fix it, and Dwalin wasn’t sure he even could.

Chapter Text

            Dwalin awoke the next morning badly rested but certain what he needed to do.  He was a warrior, and he would attack the problem head-on.  It was a relief to have a plan of action.

            This time, though, he knocked on the door between their rooms.

            It gave him an unexpected tactical advantage, being fully dressed when Bofur wore only a shirt of Elven make.  Bofur’s hair was a mess, and Dwalin clamped down an unreasonable desire to help Bofur with his braids.

            He offered up the hat wordlessly.  With a grateful look, Bofur clapped it on his head.

            “I need to decide whether to take the Elf up on his offer,” Dwalin blurted, “and I can’t make that decision until I know that we can be right again.”  He frowned at the awkward words, but plunged on.  “I will do whatever you need to earn your trust again.”

            Bofur looked terrible.  It wasn’t just the hair; he looked tired and bruised.  But when Dwalin met his eyes, Bofur’s weren’t flat anymore.  They still weren’t quite right, but Bofur was here, not far away.  Dwalin released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

           “Even if it takes years,” he said.  “Please, tell me I haven’t broken something that can’t be mended.”

            Bofur blinked up at him, still bleary.  Dwalin remembered that he probably hadn’t slept well, either.  He really wasn’t very good at this, he realized.

            Perhaps if Bofur had been more awake, Dwalin wouldn’t have seen the procession of emotions across Bofur’s face: relief, doubt, sadness, fear, and that soft look he sometimes had when it was just the two of them keeping each other’s company.  Something deep in Dwalin’s chest unclenched.

            “Aye,” his friend said finally, though the look on his face was more like one of defeat.  “If it can be done, we’ll do it.  I’ve never been any good at trust, but we’ll both do our best.”

            Dwalin wasn’t quite sure what the words meant, but words were Bofur’s realm, not his.  What mattered for now was the answer.  He let the knot around his heart slowly unravel.  He could tell Bofur didn’t quite believe him; had no reason to believe him.  But Bofur was willing, and Dwalin would show him he was trustworthy if it took a century.  “Thank you.”

            Bofur rubbed his eyes.  “What time is it?”

            Dwalin looked at the window guiltily.  Only the first hint of morning was lightening the sky.  “You should go back to bed,” he said gruffly.  “I’m sorry to have woken you.”  He began to retreat.

            Bofur rolled his eyes.  “I’m awake, aren’t I?”  He looked around for his clothing.  “We’ll go to breakfast.”  In a smooth motion, he pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it in the direction of the bed.  Dwalin’s breathing stuttered at the sight of Bofur in the nude.  He watched his friend searching for his trousers and tunic.

            He’d never seen Bofur naked – a fact which had never bothered him until this moment, when he realized that most of Erebor had, because most of Erebor could pass the evening in the communal baths.  Dwalin had seen naked dwarves before, but only in glimpses: changing clothes while on campaign or patients stripped in the medical tents.  He’d taken no lovers, so he’d had no opportunity to see a male body up close since he was a dwarfling, and then only family.  Suddenly, given how strongly he craved such a body of his own, he wished he had found a way to become acquainted with one earlier.

            Mahal above, Bofur was beautiful.  Perfectly at home in his own skin, paying no heed to Dwalin panicking in the doorway.  Not stout enough for dwarven critics, perhaps, but Bofur’s wiry strength could be seen in every line of his body.  His skin was golden in the lamplight.

            “Are you well?”  Dwalin came back to himself to find Bofur gazing at him with a confused look on his face.  “You were a hundred miles away.”

            Dwalin shuddered.  He shouldn’t be looking at Bofur like that.  “Breakfast,” he managed, and followed Bofur up to the dining hall.

Chapter Text

            Dwalin kicked him out of Elrond’s study only minutes after they entered.  Bofur would feel guilty later, but for the moment he felt only relief.  The scrolls were dreadful and they turned his stomach.

            “If you can look at them, so can I,” he said feebly.  But the thought of Dwalin under those knives made him dizzy.

            “There’s no reason for both of us to suffer,” Dwalin told him.  “Besides, you take it harder than I do.  I attempted it once, if you’ll remember.”

            Bofur was pretty sure he was turning green, and distracting Dwalin’s attention would not aid in making the decision.  He left.

            Wandering around Rivendell was pretty enough for an hour or two, but he wished he had someone to talk to.  All the Elves smiled kindly on him as they drifted by, but none looked approachable.  There didn’t seem to be a single public house in this blasted valley, and if there were it was too early for him to visit anyways.

            He spent an insufferably boring morning, but finally the Elf Lindir approached and said Lord Elrond had suggested he might try his hand at the forges.

            After the forges of Erebor, they scarcely rated a mention, but Bofur knew that once he’d have been impressed. Gloin had been impressed when they’d last been here; had talked of nothing else for days.  Perhaps that was why Dain had given him charge of the forges at the Mountain, Bofur thought.  Balin would have remembered such a detail.

            As compared to the morning, his afternoon passed enjoyably enough and he finished with a half-decent knife to show for his effort.

            When he met Dwalin for supper, the big dwarf was looking pale around the eyes.

            “You don’t have to choose now, you know,” Bofur muttered out of the side of his mouth as they ate.  “There’s the return journey, too.”

            “We’ll be accompanying our people back to Erebor on the journey back,” Dwalin said.

            “We will?”  He hadn’t thought of that.  In his head, he had to admit he hadn’t thought beyond Rivendell, except for an afterthought letter to Bilbo.

            “Unless no one wants to come,” Dwalin grunted.

            “Surely they want to return… home?”

            A shrug.  “Don’t see why they should.  Some might, but those who really wanted to come home have had two years.”

            Bofur frowned.  “Then why are we making this journey?”

            Dwalin grinned at him.  “As best as I could get out of Balin, it’s because you wouldn’t leave him be until he said yes.”

            Oh.  Well yes, there was that.  “It was just an excuse.  To get you here.”

            “Aye, I know.  But King’s orders are King’s orders.”

            Bofur made a face.  “Well, you could come back next year, then.  Dain’s not in a position to refuse you any favors.”

            Dwalin shook his head.  “A decision to wait is a decision not to act.”

            There were times Bofur wished that Dwalin didn’t look at the whole world as a military campaign.

            Dwalin sat outside in the moonlight all that night, alone with his thoughts.  Bofur forced himself to stay in his room.  He paced restlessly, telling himself that this was a decision Dwalin had to make alone.  If Bofur were to go out there and lend his support, Dwalin might weight his opinion differently.  Dwalin might do this because Bofur wanted it, and Bofur didn’t want that at all.

            It had seemed so clear-cut, back at the Mountain when it was all just a theory.  Now Bofur huddled against the wall closest to Dwalin, wanting to be there for his friend and knowing the best thing he could do was to stay away.  He wondered when life had become so confusing.

            In the morning, Dwalin told him his decision.

Chapter Text

 

            Dwalin strode into Elrond’s study scowling, every inch a warrior with his battleaxes strapped to his back.  “Your Elves,” he growled, “are the worst guards I’ve ever had the misfortune to look upon.”

            Elrond, who had been preparing the table for surgery, raised an eyebrow in mild inquiry.  “My guards know to expect you, friend Dwarf,” he said.  “Why would they stop you from passing?”

            “I have two axes and a sword, and you have only scalpels,” Dwalin growled.  He loosed one of the axes and looked at it fondly.

            Elrond smiled.  “I have kept myself alive through three Ages, Mister Dwalin.  I assure you, I am not entirely defenseless.”  He looked at the axe.  “Keep it on the left side of the table, if you’d like it near you; I will be starting on the right.”

            Bofur was already feeling a bit sick.  He wished he didn’t have to be here, but Dwalin had asked.  Whatever Dwalin needed, he would give if he could.

            He looked away when Dwalin removed his shirt and binder; he didn’t like to look at Dwalin’s bare chest.  The breasts were disconcerting, even under the thick fur that covered his friend’s torso.  They didn’t match Bofur’s vision of who Dwalin was.

            Dwalin grudgingly allowed Elrond’s examination, face impassive, but he balked when the Elf offered him a sleeping draught.  His knuckles went white where he clutched the axe haft.  “No,” he said.

            “It is necessary,” Elrond said.  “If you move during the operation, even a little, a scalpel could touch an artery – or your heart.”

            Dwalin glared at him.  “No,” he said.

            Elrond muttered something, no doubt about the stubbornness of dwarves, and put the draught away.  He regarded Dwalin with just a hint of frustration.  “What then do you suggest, friend Dwarf?” he asked.  “I cannot perform surgery if you cannot keep still, and you cannot keep still without either a sleeping draught or –”

            “Or?”

            Elrond shook his head.  “There are potions that hold a person awake but motionless, but they are not used in houses of healing.  They are more often found in torture chambers.”

            Bofur didn’t like where this was going.  “Dwalin,” he began.

            Dwalin turned a fierce glare on him, and Bofur shut up.  Dwalin would have to live with his choice; it wasn’t Bofur’s to make – even if he wanted to shout at his friend about pigheaded stupidity and lack of trust.

            Elrond sighed.  “A draught of waking death is one of the worst things a being can survive, Mister Dwalin.  You would have no control over your muscles.  Even focusing your eyes would become impossible.  And during that time, I would be cutting into your body.  You wouldn’t feel pain, I can take that with another potion, but you’d still be able to feel it happening and do nothing.”  He looked troubled.  “It is the stuff that nightmares are made of.”

            Dwalin nodded, jaw clenched.  “I will not sleep while in the power of an Elf,” he said grimly.

            Bofur wanted to hit him.

            Elrond held Dwalin’s gaze for a long moment, as if testing him.  Finally he nodded.  “It shall be as you wish,” he said.

            They were silent as the surgery was prepared.  Dwalin had never looked so small as he did lying on a linen-draped table next to an ancient Elf.  Dwalin clutched the handle of his axe in his left hand.

           “Bofur will stand guard over me,” Dwalin said when Elrond brought him a goblet.

            “I will?” Bofur straightened.  “I will.”

            He approached the table.  He already wanted to throw up, and Elrond hadn’t even started yet.

            But Dwalin smiled up at him, and clasped his hand like a brother.  “My second axe is in the corner.  I trust you to use it if necessary.”  The smile on his face said he knew it wasn’t necessary, but the fine tremor that ran through him said it would make him feel more at ease.  Bofur fetched the axe.

            Dwalin drank the two draughts, and clutched again his axe-haft as the tension eased from his muscles.

            Bofur stepped to Dwalin’s left side, careful to put himself in his friend’s line of sight.  He knew he was trembling, but he didn’t care.  He kept his eyes on Dwalin’s, refusing to look at Elrond.  He was afraid he might bolt at the first sight of blood, and he couldn’t abandon Dwalin to live through this alone.

            What must have been hours later, Elrond bandaged Dwalin’s right side.  He put a hand on Bofur’s wrist to alert him.  Bofur, who had managed to block out the entire world except for Dwalin’s breathing, started so violently that Elrond frowned.  Bofur shook off the Elf’s concern and moved to stand on Dwalin’s other side, but he realized that Dwalin still held his beloved axe in his left hand, blocking Elrond’s access.

            “Dwalin,” he said softly.  Dwalin didn’t even twitch.  “Please do not fear.”  He pried the axe-haft out of Dwalin’s wooden fingers and took it to the other side of the table.  He reached for Dwalin’s right hand and tried to wrap his fingers around the axe, but they wouldn’t stay.  Bofur fought a wave of nausea.  Dwalin was not dead, he reminded himself.

            Not dead, he repeated, again and again, his fingers laced around Dwalin’s motionless ones to grasp the axe.  Not dead, and he clutched the second axe in his other hand so hard that the imprint stayed for days.

 


 

 

            Dwalin slept for almost a day after he regained the use of his limbs.  Bofur suspected a sleeping potion, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.  Dwalin had asked him to protect him during the surgery, not after, and sometimes Dwalin needed protection from himself.

            He knew he had to stuff his anger away before Dwalin woke, so he spent the time in the forge, pounding metal rather harder than necessary.

            This had better be worth it.

            Bofur was not normally one for what ifs, but he wondered if it would have been best to leave well enough alone; whether they would both be happier back in Erebor serving the King.

            Dwalin would be happier now, he hoped.  That it might come at the cost of their friendship, Bofur had never expected.  Forgiveness was all very well, but what of the next time Bofur poked Dwalin’s wounds?  Dwalin could have killed him if he’d wanted to.

            The knife he made today was better than the previous one, but Bofur knew he had little talent for weaponscrafting.  But he was too unsettled to busy his hands with making toys, and there were no children in Rivendell.

            When pounding metal turned his muscles to knots, he wandered through the valley again.

            He’d love a good pub brawl, he thought, and regretted again that the valley had no such establishment.  A friendly drink, a friendly fight, some destruction of property – that would leech the anger out.  Pity he’d not been able to do that in years.  Erebor didn’t seem to have need of such places.

            Still, the anger fled his conscious mind when he entered Dwalin’s room to find his friend awake.

            “Is there any pain?” was his first question.  “Should I fetch Lord Elrond?”

            “No,” Dwalin rasped.  His voice was even more gravelly than usual.

            “Can I fetch you anything?”

            “Water?”

            Bofur brought him water, and was relieved to see him drink unassisted.

            Dwalin tried to sit up, and evidently there was pain and Dwalin was just being stupid again, because he winced and gasped.  “Help me with my shirt,” he said, his face pale.  “I want to see.”

            “There’s nothing to see but bandages, Dwalin.”  Bofur tried to be patient.  “Give it time.”

            On the third day, Dwalin didn’t grit his teeth with every movement, and Elrond allowed the bandages to come off.  And the look on Dwalin’s face as he traced the still-angry scars on his chest made it all worth it, no matter what the cost might turn out to be.

 

 

Chapter Text

            On the day they left Rivendell, they went to Lord Elrond’s study to thank him privately.

            The Elflord waved away their words, but Bofur thought he saw some satisfaction on his face when Dwalin, with obvious reluctance, admitted that he should not have dismissed his advice just because he was an Elf.  It was the closest Dwalin would get to an apology, he knew.

            There was a definite twinkle in Elrond’s eye as he bowed and said, “In that case, Master Dwarf, I hope you will not take it amiss if I offer a gift before you depart.”

            “A gift?”  Dwalin’s voice held deep suspicion, and both Bofur and Elrond stifled their smiles.

            Elrond indicated a wooden box on his writing table.  It was completely devoid of all decoration – something almost unheard of in Elven circles.  The box had a delicate lock, to which Elrond held the key.

            “My hope is that the contents will not cause offense,” Elrond said.  “I understand that such matters are considered… private… amongst dwarves.  I may have presumed too far, in which case I will tender my humblest apologies.”

            Bofur raised an eyebrow.  This ought to be good.  When dwarves went stuffy and formal, he knew what to expect; with Elves, he hadn’t the first clue.

            For once, Elrond seemed to have difficulty choosing his words.  “Mister Dwalin,” he said slowly, “in my reading on dwarven culture, I have noticed that the practice of communal bathing serves as a bonding ritual for males of your kind.”

            Bofur stared at Elrond.  He’d been wrong; this was going to be awful.  Dwalin frowned and started to speak, but Bofur elbowed him in the ribs.

            “Surgery of course can only do so much.  To, ah, supplement the rest, I fashioned this.”  Elrond placed the small key on top of the box.  “A… prosthetic, if you will.”

            Dwalin reached for the key, looking completely mystified.

           “Why, Mister Bofur, are you quite well?” Elrond asked.  “You’ve turned a most alarming shade of red.”

           Bofur made a strangled sound and glared at the Elf.  Dwalin turned to him, confused, so Bofur growled at him to open the blasted box.  Might as well have it done with.  If Bofur was very lucky, Dwalin might well only try to kill Elrond.

           Dwalin unlocked the box with surprisingly nimble fingers and pushed up the lid.

           It wasn’t quite the dildo Bofur was bracing himself for, but it was a phallus, nestled in white linen.  It was made of waterproofed kidskin, filled - they would later discover - with fine sand.  Mithril threads – minute chains that had to be dwarvencraft – indicated it could be attached to the body; the chains would be barely visible under thick dwarven hair.

           The thing was enormous.

           “…Oh,” Dwalin said faintly.

           “I had some trouble with the dimensions,” Elrond said, and Bofur had to bite back a shout of hysterical laughter.  “I’m afraid even medical texts seem to disagree, and the dwarves I asked gave me no better data.”

           “The dwarves you…” Bofur echoed.  Mahal above, Elrond was a madman.  He’d let a madman carve up his best friend.

           “A most unsatisfactory way to glean information,” Elrond agreed, looking mildly affronted.

           Bofur finally dared to look at Dwalin.  He was still staring at the box, holding himself very rigid, but Bofur could see the whites of his eyes.

           “Er,” he began, hoping he could hurry Dwalin out before there was an explosion.

           “I removed the most spurious claims and tried to find a happy medium,” Elrond went on.  “But I understand it is a, ah, touchy subject amongst dwarves, so if you’d like me to have it remade to specifications…”

           Mad laughter burned the back of Bofur’s throat and made his eyes water.  Dwalin was in no state to reply, so Bofur reached for words, but –

           “No, my Lord,” Dwalin said, snapping the box closed.  “The specifications are quite satisfactory.  My thanks for your… thoughtfulness.”  There was a queer look on his face as they made their goodbyes and their escapes.

           Just outside the study, Bofur realized that Dwalin was shaking.  Alarmed, he whispered, “Are you well?”

           But Dwalin turned and Bofur saw his face, the barely-banked hilarity there, and together they tore down to their rooms and slammed the door behind them.  Dwalin leaned against the door and roared his laughter, and Bofur collapsed on the floor in hysterical giggles.

 


 

           They were still giggling when they guided their ponies out of the valley.  The box was tied to Dwalin’s pony, and the key hung on a chain around his neck.

           “Can you imagine the look on Thorin’s face, were he here?” Dwalin chuckled.

           “You’re going to be a legend,” Bofur hooted.  “Never mind a lifetime as a warrior.  After they see you in the baths, they’ll sing songs for centuries for the size of your cock alone!”

           They rode in silence for a bit, still grinning.  “How far to Ered Luin, then?” Bofur finally asked.

           “Twelve days if we don’t stop, but I rather thought we ought to look in on our burglar when we pass the Shire.”  Dwalin quirked an eyebrow at him.  “I never thought I’d be able to bathe with other dwarves – I can wait another fortnight.”

           “You looking forward to it?” Bofur teased.

           Dwalin grinned, flashing teeth, still almost giddy.  “Very much so.”

           It was a pity he had to wait so long, Bofur thought.  Dwalin’s pleasure was evident in every line of his body since the surgery.  He was even holding himself differently – it was subtle, but there was a tension gone.  Bofur felt himself smiling like a fool.  “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “the Redbeards have a mining settlement two days north of here.  It’s a little out of our way…”

           When Dwalin was so open and happy like this, his face was easy to read.  He clearly wanted to say yes.  “King Dain…” he began reluctantly.

           Bofur clucked to his pony and turned her northward.  “You’ve got kin there, haven’t you?  It would be rude not to visit and tell them about the splendor of Erebor.”

           You can’t make someone happy, his mother’s voice echoed in his ears, but he ignored it for the look of boyish glee on Dwalin’s face.  His excitement was infectious.

           They raced the ponies northward.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

PART THREE


 

            The Redbeards welcomed them as heroes, which still surprised Bofur.  Dwalin didn’t seem to notice, but then Dwalin had been a hero for much longer than the rest of them.

            As compared to Ered Luin, the settlement was prosperous – but Bofur couldn’t help comparing it to the Lonely Mountain.  No wonder Thorin had never been able to resign himself to exile; nothing could match Erebor.  Still, it was nice to have earth over his head again.  He didn’t mind the Outside, but it wasn’t homey; there was a sense of safety underground, being surrounded by stone and earth.

            They were feasted, of course, and called upon to tell the tale of the quest and the Battle of the Five Armies.  Bofur enjoyed telling stories, but the Battle was not a story he liked.  It had cost them all too much.

            He would not neglect his duty though, or dishonor the memory of Thorin and his sister-sons by hurrying past their deaths.  To his surprise, when his voice faltered over Fili’s end – he was weeping now, no shame in that, but it made it hard to speak – Dwalin’s deep voice joined in.  The dwarves in the feasting hall were held captive as they traded the tale back and forth until Dwalin told of the crowning of King Dain.

            There was silence when he finished, and all the dwarves thought on their heroes, living and dead.  “To Thorin Oakenshield,” said the Redbeard chief finally, and every dwarf in the room drank to his memory.

            It was a relief when the bards were called to take over.  Tears continued to roll down Bofur’s cheeks, and he didn’t even try to brush them away.

            Dwalin squeezed his shoulder.  “You’ve not wept for them before.”

            It was true, Bofur reflected.  He’d not been able to weep until now.

            Dwalin left a comforting hand on his shoulder, and it was so much like how they’d been, at home in Erebor before this hare-brained scheme of his, that Bofur wanted to weep more.  But he dried his tears and drank a toast to the dead King Under the Mountain, and listened to the bards tell of Durin’s deeds.

 


 

 

            Bofur rapped at Dwalin’s door a few hours later.  He pushed it open slightly without waiting for an answer.  “Shall we go down to the baths, then?” he called.

            When he received no reply, he entered the room.  It was still a surprise to him that everywhere they stopped, they were given rooms to themselves.  On their way to Erebor, they would have been lucky to receive only one room for the fourteen of them.  Only Thranduil had given them private quarters – in his dungeons.

            Dwalin was sitting on the bed, looking at the closed box before him.  His gaze was oddly fixed, unseeing.

            “If you’d rather go in the morning, there will be fewer people,” Bofur said.

            Dwalin stood.  “No.  I want this.  So I’ll do it.”

            Realizing that he’d interrupted Dwalin girding himself for battle, Bofur tried to apologize and leave him to himself for a while.

            Dwalin looked alarmed.  “We’ll go together, won’t we?” he said.

            Bofur smiled.  “Of course.”

            “Then let’s go.”

 


 

 

            The look of pure animal delight on Dwalin’s face as he slipped into the heated water – well, Bofur hoarded it like a dragon to shield himself from his mother’s words.  That Dwalin had spent nearly two centuries without this when Bofur still hated to think of their eight-month quest: the thought hurt, so he put it away.

            Dwalin was stiff and shy with the others in the baths, not that anyone noticed.  They were all too busy having a genuine hero in their midst.  Dwalin and Bofur were pelted with questions about Erebor, about the dragon, about Dain.

            Durin’s Beard, Bofur had missed being amongst his own kind.  How the Halfling could have stood it all alone, he’d never know.

            Bofur rose to the occasion, shouting answers, telling jokes.  Not a quiet soak, not tonight – they might get that if they came back in the morning.  This was a celebration.

            When Dwalin started growling at the young dwarves pestering him, Bofur judged the evening over.  “Too much?” he asked when they finally had a moment of quiet in the dressing room.

            But Dwalin shook his head.  “Good,” he grunted, combing his fingers through his wet beard.

            Bofur thought he could get used to a world where Dwalin’s default expression was a smile.

 


 

 

           They visited the baths again in the morning, and Dwalin seemed more relaxed this time.  Bofur put it down to fewer people.

           It was a wonderful luxury to soak, and he would be sorry to leave.  He was rather dreading Ered Luin and all the memories it held.

           Beside him, he felt his friend go tense.  He tilted an inquiring glance Dwalin’s way.

           “The ratty little fellow with red hair,” Dwalin said under his breath.  With a subtle jerk of the head, he indicated a dwarf a yard or two to his right.  The dwarf saw Bofur glare at him and looked alarmed.

           “What about him?  Do you know him?”

           “He’s been making faces at me all morning,” Dwalin muttered.  “Last night, too.”

           “Likely he just wants to meet his childhood hero,” Bofur said.

           “Perhaps.”  Dwalin sounded doubtful.

           Because his friend still looked disgruntled, Bofur kept an eye on the dwarf.  Sure enough he soon tried to get Dwalin’s attention again.

           Oh.  Understanding flooded through him.  “Excuse me,” he said to Dwalin, and not letting himself think too much about what he was doing, Bofur splashed through the water over to the offending dwarf.

           It only took a few words to make the stringy little fellow realize his mistake, and Bofur felt quite satisfied as he scuttled away.  He bared his teeth when the dwarf looked back, and returned to Dwalin’s side.

           Dwalin raised an eloquent eyebrow.  It was so much like Elrond’s that Bofur almost laughed aloud, but decided it was best not to share the comparison.

           “Well?” Dwalin said when Bofur didn’t speak.  “What was that all about, then?”

           Bofur decided it was better not to have this conversation in public.  Back in their rooms, he smirked at Dwalin.  “He was propositioning you, my friend,” he explained, and let the laughter bubble out at Dwalin’s thunderstruck expression.

           “But – why?”

           “What do you mean, why?”

           Dwalin looked adorably confused.  “Is that – usual in the baths?” he asked.  “No one’s ever…”

           “Not unusual,” Bofur said.  “A shake of the head will stop anyone if you’re not interested.  But come now.  Surely you’ve been propositioned before!”

           “No,” Dwalin said.

           Bofur gaped for a moment, then shut his mouth.  “No, I don’t suppose anyone would have dared.”  He chewed his lip.  “Not even Thorin?”

           “Once, but he was in his cups.”

           Bofur frowned at his friend.  “Dwalin, you do know you’re quite attractive, don’t you?”

           Dwalin looked almost shy.  “I know you think so – thought so.”  He turned away, and started fussing with the laces of his knapsack.

           “No, really.”  Bofur reached out and stilled the other dwarf’s fingers.  “You look like a king out of legend.”

           Dwalin shook his head.  “I’ve seen what people want in a bed partner, and I made sure I wasn’t it.”

           Well, Dwalin was intimidating, Bofur would agree.  He took a different tack.  “What do people want in a bed partner, then?” he asked, keeping his voice carefully light.

           Dwalin looked at his hands, his brow knit.  “Someone young… handsome.  Pleasing to the eye.  Someone strong, with a light heart and ready smile.”

           Bofur felt suddenly panicked.  “Dwalin, are you describing Fili?”  He’d thought Dwalin might have wanted Thorin; it had never occurred to him to think further.

           Dwalin shook his head, and smiled tentatively.  “No.  I was describing you.”

           The silence went on for too long, and finally Bofur looked away and said, in a voice he barely recognized as his own, “We’d best set out soon.”

           “Aye,” said Dwalin, turning back to his knapsack.

           Bofur was almost at the door when Dwalin asked, “What did you say to him to make him run off like that?  The red-haired dwarf?”

           “Just that he should be grateful you didn’t take his balls for such presumption,” Bofur lied.

 

 

Chapter Text

They tried to make up for the delay by riding hard toward the Shire.  Bofur thought of those ten paydays he’d prepared, already half gone, and tried not to worry about the mines – or Dwalin.  Cantrell couldn’t flub things completely, Bofur told himself.  As for him and Dwalin…

They did not speak much in the days that followed.  The silence was not tense, but it wasn’t their former easy comraderie, either.

They arrived at Bag End midmorning.  Bofur was glad for that; the air was already thick with memories, and arriving at night would make it worse.

“Does he know to expect us?”  There was a hint of worry in Dwalin’s voice.

“If the letter went awry, there’s an inn down the road we can stay at.”

Dwalin knocked.  After a long pause, the round door opened just a crack.  Bofur and Dwalin adjusted their gazes to hobbit-height, but had to look further down when a shy “Hallo” came from around their knees.

A hobbit-child, no more than a toddler, gazed up at them.  He had startlingly blue eyes and a crop of dark curls on his head.

“Hello,” Bofur said automatically, still blinking his surprise.  None of Bilbo’s letters had mentioned a babe, let alone a marriage

“The Halfling has spawned?” Dwalin demanded under his breath.  He sounded outraged.

“Hello,” Bofur tried again.  “I’m Bofur, and this is Dwalin.  Is your father at home?”

The child put two fingers in his mouth and shook his head solemnly.

“Frodo?” a voice called from deep in the hobbit-hole.  “Frodo, who is it?”  Dwalin and Bofur both broke into smiles to hear their beloved burglar.

There was the sound of footseteps bustling up to the door.  “If they’re visitors it’s polite to invite them in, Frodo, but if they’re selling something you should say ‘No thank you!’ firmly and shut the door in their faces.”  The door was pulled open and Bilbo blinked up at them.  Then he blinked some more.

“Oh!” he said, and turned quite red.

“Are we selling something, Bofur?” Dwalin asked, and his laughter boomed through the hobbit-hole as he pulled the sputtering hobbit into an embrace.

“Definitely,” Bofur agreed.  He hugged Bilbo tightly.  The Halfling smelled like tea and lavender.

“If he’s not careful, we’ll kidnap him for another quest!”

Bilbo emerged from the embrace looking both pleased and disgruntled at the same time.  “I’ve been waiting for you two for weeks!” he grumbled.  “And there will be no kidnapping while Frodo is here, thank you very much.”

Bofur looked down at the tiny hobbit-child.  “It seems congratulations are in order.”  He bowed to Frodo.   “Bofur, at your service.”

“Congratulations?” Bilbo echoed, confused.  Then his face cleared.  “Oh!  Frodo isn’t mine.  I mean, I’m only his uncle.”

Dwalin also bowed, muttering “At your service” to the little one, who chewed on his fingers and stared with huge eyes.

“Are you fostering him, then?” Bofur asked.  He hadn’t heard of hobbits doing such a thing, and Frodo seemed quite young for it.

“Oh, no.  He’s here for a few days while his parents go to a house party in Tuckborough.  Do come in,” Bilbo added earnestly.

The hobbit-hole was quite as comfortable and cozy as Bofur had remembered.  Soon they were installed in comfortable chairs in the parlor, eating scones and tea.  Frodo toddled unsteadily between one and the other of them, peering up at them with interest.

“Not married, then?” Dwalin said lightly.  “I’d think being the richest hobbit in the Shire might endear you to a young hobbit lass?”

“Not married,” said Bilbo firmly.  “I quite enjoy being a bachelor, you know.  And no respectable lass would have me, after I went off adventuring.”  It didn’t sound like he minded.

“And the unrespectable ones?”

Bofur kicked Dwalin and nodded to the wide-eyed child.  Frodo smiled sunnily up at Dwalin and reached for his beard.

To Bofur’s amazement, Dwalin swung the child up to sit on his knee.  Frodo’s hands fisted in his beard and Dwalin winced, but he tickled the boy’s stomach to distract him.  Frodo laughed delightedly, but did not loose his hold on Dwalin’s beard.

Bilbo smiled at Bofur.  “Kili and Fili said he’d been like an uncle to them, but I couldn’t quite imagine it.”

Neither could Bofur, who stared at his friend.  There weren’t any dwarflings in Erebor except Gimli, and Gimli was too old for such play.  He’d never have imagined this in a hundred years.

Bofur gave Bilbo news of the rest of their company.  In spite of the letters they all sent, Bilbo seemed to drink in the information as if hearing it for the first time.  Dwalin told Frodo dwarf legends about gold and dragons, and swung him around the parlor by his ankles as he shrieked his joy.

While the hobbit prepared the midday meal, Bofur told him all about the western mines.  When Bofur returned to the parlor to tell them dinner was on the table, he found Dwalin dozing with a sleeping Frodo on his chest, still clutching his beard.  Bofur tiptoed away to fetch Bilbo.  The two of them took turns peeking into the parlor again and again, shaking with silent laughter.

“Dwalin’s happier,” Bilbo observed when they’d retreated out to the veranda with their plates, so as not to disturb the sleepers.  “I’m glad he enjoys Erebor.  I didn’t think he was the type to settle down.”

“Ye-es,” Bofur said slowly.  “He might still go off adventuring, though.  I’m surprised he hasn’t yet, to be honest.  It’s dull being the King’s personal bodyguard.”

“Dain trusts him, then?” Bilbo asked.

“Why, yes.  At least, I don’t have any reason to think he doesn’t.  Why do you ask?”

“Something Balin said in one of his letters, about Dain being the suspicious sort,” Bilbo said vaguely.

Bofur felt his heart sink.  He’d not thought how his request would look to the King, or how much goodwill Balin must have expended to make this damnable journey seem to have a purpose that wasn’t… shady.

It’ll be fine, he told himself.  Balin wouldn’t have agreed, otherwise.  You’re the heroes of Erebor, and Dain can’t do just anything, even if he is the King.

“So,” said Bilbo over his cup of tea, “are you the settling down type?”

Bofur looked at him quizzically.  “Yes.  I mean, it’s only been two years, but I expect I’ll stay at Erebor.  Bombur won’t leave, and Bifur’s happy.  And I couldn’t leave the rest, you know.  Ori and Balin and Gloin and all of them.  They’re… they’re kin.”

Bilbo peered up at him.  “I meant, do you think you will marry?  Or will you be a bachelor?”  He blushed.  “I mean to say – I’ve never seen a female dwarf, and I was beginning to wonder if they were more legend than real, and –”  He stopped when Bofur started laughing.

“Aye, we have womenfolk,” Bofur assured him, still laughing.  “Not many, I’ll admit.  And only a few at Erebor thus far.”

“I only meant,” said Bilbo earnestly, “to ask whether you will have dwarflings of your own someday.”

Bilbo couldn’t know it, but he’d hit on a sore point for Bofur.  “It depends,” he said carefully.  “Why do you ask?”

Bilbo was still quite pink.  “Well – being uncle to Frodo has put it in my mind, I suppose,” he said.  “I really am quite happy as a bachelor, but a part of me would like to have fauntlings of my own.”  He sounded wistful.

“Is there really no lass that would have you?” Bofur asked gently.  Had they ruined their burglar by dragging him across Middle Earth in search of adventure?

Bilbo busied himself lighting his pipe, not meeting Bofur’s eyes.  “If I looked, no doubt I could find one.  But I – I don’t want a lass.  Or a lad,” he added, forestalling the question on Bofur’s lips.  “I can’t imagine wanting to share my life with anyone, actually.  But that does rather complicate things when it comes to children.”

Bofur knew dwarves like that, uninterested in finding a mate.  Dwalin, for one, but Balin too, and Oin.  But from what he knew of hobbits, it didn’t seem to be nearly as common.

“Never mind,” Bilbo said.  “It can’t be helped.  But you – you said you might want little ones of your own?”

Bofur chewed one end of his mustache.  “Aye, I suppose so.  I’d very much like it,” he admitted.  “But dwarves aren’t like hobbits, Bilbo.  We count ourselves lucky to find a mate, no matter what the gender.  And even were I to find a woman to marry me, there’s no guarantee she’d be fertile.  Many aren’t, you know.  Dwarflings are few and far between, and the women who are able to bear them try to have many so as to balance all the ones who can’t.”

Bilbo hummed thoughtfully.  In this green and growing land, the hobbits seemed to breed like rabbits; having little ones truly was a choice for him, Bofur realized.

“I always thought you’d make a good father,” Bilbo said.  He chewed at the end of his pipe, and offered Bofur the bag of pipeweed.  Bofur accepted gratefully; he’d run out before they even made it to Rivendell.

“I was almost an uncle,” Bofur told him.  “Bombur’s lad.  I was so excited – we all were.  But Merced died in childbirth, and the babe with her.”

Bilbo looked guilty.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize…”

Bofur waved away his apology.  “Gimli is likely the closest I’ll come to unclehood now, and he’s nearly grown.  A fine lad – all down to my influence, you know.”  He summoned a smile.

“Will none of the others marry?” Bilbo asked.

Bofur ticked through the options in his head.  “Ori,” he said finally.  “Ori’s our best bet.  I suppose Dori might?  And Balin will need an heir someday.  There will be a political marriage there, no doubt, but not until he can’t put it off any longer.”

Bilbo pouted.  “And why do you not include yourself in this list?”

It was a fair question.  Not one he’d thought to discuss with the Halfling, though.  Bofur puffed thoughtfully at his pipe and mulled over how to respond.  “I quarreled with my last lover,” he said finally.  “He was convinced I would not consent to marry him for the very reason you mention: I would dearly love to be a father.”  He bit his lip.  He had managed not to think on Havlin in many moons, but the memories still hurt.

“Can male dwarves marry, then?” Bilbo asked.

“Yes, of course.  Do you mean that hobbit males can’t?”

Bilbo shook his head.  “It’s dreadfully improper to have relations with your own kind after your tweens.  It happens, of course, but to marry – no.  It wouldn’t be allowed.”

“That’s dreadful,” Bofur cried.  When dwarves fell in love, it was for life; he shuddered to think of falling in love and not be able to be with his chosen.

Bilbo frowned.  “I think it’s dreadful that dwaves have no guarantee of children.  I supposed it can’t be helped…”

Bofur wanted to argue that the hobbits at least could do something to change their situation, but they were interrupted by a harried-looking dwarf holding a very hungry hobbit-child, and all talk of fatherhood and marriage fled in the face of actual domesticity.

 


 

That evening, Bilbo brought out the good plum brandy and Bofur brought out his flute.  Frodo looked on with wide eyes as the three adults sang and told stories far into the night.  When he eventually dissolved into weary tears, Bilbo bustled off to put him down to sleep.

“You’ll be in the master bedroom; it’s got the biggest bed,” he called back to them.  “I’ve turned down the bed if you’re ready.  You can take the lamp on the mantle.”

Bofur looked over at Dwalin, who was smoking his pipe contentedly.  The firelight flickered over the serene face.

“And you, have you ever wanted to be a father?” Bofur wondered aloud.

“No,” Dwalin said.

This morning, the answer wouldn’t have surprised Bofur.  After seeing him with Frodo, it did.  “Never?”

Dwalin shrugged.  “Wasn’t much point.  It isn’t possible.”

Right.  Bofur needed to stop forgetting.  But – “Doesn’t mean you can’t want it.”

“I liked being an uncle to Kili and Fili.  But I never wanted any of my own.”

Bofur couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.  Dwalin was hardly alone amongst dwarves in not wanting offspring, but Bofur had never really understood how anyone wouldn’t want, deep down, to have little ones to love and cherish.

“Do you?”

Bofur glanced up.  Dwalin was watching him, dark eyes inscrutable.  Bofur hoped this wasn’t a test.

“Yes,” he said.  He took up the lamp and wandered down the hall.  He found the master bedroom, and hesitated for a moment before entering.  It wasn’t as if he and Dwalin didn’t share a tent every time it rained, or curl together for warmth on cold nights in the mountains, he reminded himself.  Just because he’d had the luxury of private rooms elsewhere didn’t mean they couldn’t share.  Last time Bofur was here, he’d had to bed down in a closet; this was infinitely better.

But Dwalin’s words at the Redbeard settlement were still secreted away in the back of his mind.  Once upon a time, Bofur would have thrilled to hear them.  A part of him still did, but it was the part of him that hadn’t quite given up on hopeless quests.

Dwalin seemed to have similar thoughts on his mind.  When he entered the bedroom, he paused and frowned.  “I can sleep on the floor,” he offered.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bofur snapped, and pulled the blankets over his head.

 

 

Chapter Text

Dwalin woke before dawn from long habit.  Most dwarves lived underground where time didn’t matter as much, but Dwalin had long years of travel behind him, and found the sun as logical an entity as any to hitch his day to.

He’d slept better than expected in the small bed.  When he opened his eyes, he discovered why.  Sometime in the night he had turned in his sleep, and now he was wrapped around his companion, Bofur’s back flush against Dwalin’s chest.  It felt nice, so he didn’t move.  He hadn’t slept so close to someone since before he’d grown his first beard.

He watched as the first fingers of morning light trickled through the window, just enough that he could make out Bofur’s face only inches from his own.  From the rhythm of his breathing, Bofur was still asleep.  Dwalin didn’t want to disturb him, so he decided not to move until Bofur woke.

Sometimes he looked at Bofur and thought he couldn’t possibly be real – someone so kind and easy, who never questioned Dwalin’s need to be male.  Dwalin himself had questioned it – at great length – but nobody else’s opinion on the subject had ever mattered, not really.  But during the long night in Rivendell, if Bofur had come out and asked him not to do it, had asked him to forget the whole thing – well, Dwalin might have decided differently.

But Bofur wouldn’t, Dwalin knew: Bofur wouldn’t ever ask him to choose.  And knowing that sparked something in a small, soft place in his heart.

As the early morning sun chased away the shadows in the room, Dwalin became aware of something on a quite different level than his heart.  Bofur had thrown off the blankets sometime in the night, and now there was light enough that Dwalin could see the outline of his body.  Under the nightclothes, Bofur was hard.

Dwalin’s immediate reaction was to close his eyes, like a dwarfling hoping it would stop.  That worked about as well as expected.

He lay there, still curled around his friend, trying to will the panic away.  The only thing worse than Bofur waking now would be Bofur waking to find him panicking.

He shut his eyes again and forced himself to breathe evenly.  He calmed down a little.

Maybe if he went to sleep again, it would go away.  Bofur would wake, get dressed, and they would never speak of it.

Never speak of it…  Unbidden, his mind drifted to Thorin.  He could remember that night, the sharp gleam in his friend’s eye as they played dice and drank ale, both knowing there’d be a skirmish in the morning.  They were the only two trained fighters at the inn; around them, everyone was preparing as if for a siege.  Thorin remained calm, an example for his men, but there was a leonine tension about his body.

Dwalin ignored the tension; Thorin could brood with the best, and Dwalin didn’t have much patience for it.  When he said goodnight, Thorin rose too.  They’d climbed the stairs in silence, helped each other with their armor.  When Dwalin was down to just shirt and trousers, Thorin stepped in swiftly and pressed his lips to Dwalin’s.  At the same time, he took Dwalin’s hand and pressed it between his legs, curling his fingers around the hardness there.

Dwalin must have frozen.  Part of him had thought very clearly, He’s my King; I can’t strike my King.  Another part knew that Thorin had no interest in unwilling bed partners – indeed, until now, he’d shown little interest in bed partners at all.

When he got no response, Thorin retreated as if struck.  “My apologies,” he said, and left the room.

In the morning, when Thorin tried to apologize again, Dwalin said the words he’d rehearsed all night: “You had too much ale and imagined an invitation that wasn’t offered.  We’ll not speak of it again.”

Thorin had avoided his eyes.  “Aye.  If that’s the way you’d like it, that’s the way it will be.”  He nodded, and things returned to the way they’d always been.

In the years that followed, Dwalin found himself thinking rather too often of that kiss.  Between the space of one breath and the next, he’d found himself tempted.  He’d been tempted to bed his King, had yearned to tell Thorin the truth and have his friend say it didn’t matter.

Thorin was gone, and Dwalin was sure Thorin would not have been able to say such a thing.

Dwalin looked at the outline of Bofur’s cock under his shirt, and wondered what it would feel like in his hand.

When he glanced back up, Bofur’s eyes were open.

Not letting himself think too closely about it, Dwalin framed Bofur’s face with his hands and leaned in to kiss him.

As soon as he’d fitted his mouth to Bofur’s, he realized he didn’t have the first clue what to do next.  But that was all right, because Bofur’s lips were moving under his, kissing him, teaching him.

For a few glorious seconds, it felt like the entire world slotted into place.  Bofur’s hands came up to thread through his beard, caressing his neck, and Dwalin felt a fierce sweet ache in his gut.  He gasped when Bofur slipped his tongue into his mouth.

And then fate mocked him, because Bofur went still, and Dwalin felt the sinking feeling Thorin must have felt all those years ago.  He opened his eyes.  When he realized that he was holding Bofur almost pinned, he snatched his hands away as if scalded.

Bofur’s eyes came open then, and Dwalin retreated to the far side of the tiny bed because it was all wrong again.  Bofur had looked at him that way in Rivendell, and Dwalin had sworn he’d never have reason to look so again.  “Bofur –”

Bofur was on his feet, putting distance – an entire room – between them.  Having shouted down his panic only an hour before, Dwalin recognized the terror Bofur was trying to hide.  “Bofur,” he tried again.

Bofur flinched.  His eyes were wide.  Dwalin could see him trying to calm himself; watched as he modulated his breathing, as he put on a mask, as his posture changed.  Bofur, before his eyes, relaxed into the person Dwalin saw every day, open and easy – almost.

And that hurt.  It hurt that Bofur’s openness and friendliness was a mask.  It made Dwalin wonder who his friend really was, and why Bofur couldn’t be just Bofur, why he had to be someone else.

“Bofur –”

“No.”  And now Bofur was looking at him with warmth and sorrow and compassion, but his eyes still weren’t right.  It made Dwalin want to hit something.  “Dwalin, this – I – that was never what this journey was about.”

Dwalin didn’t follow.  “What?”

Bofur blushed red.  “I didn’t – everything with Elrond, and surgery – that was for you.  I didn’t do it for me.  I didn’t do it so you’d be grateful and offer – because that would be sick –”

“Bofur, what on –”

“You don’t owe me anything, Dwalin,” Bofur said earnestly.

Dwalin was beginning to understand, and he was beginning to be angry.  “Can’t you trust me to know my own mind?” he roared.  Too late, he remembered the Hobbit.  Hopefully sound didn’t carry in the hobbit-hole.

Bofur flinched again at the roar, face tight, and realization settled low and awful in Dwalin’s stomach.

“No,” Bofur whispered, “I can’t.”

Dwalin shook his head, tired of lies.  He caught Bofur’s anguished eyes and held the gaze.  “Tell me,” he said, maybe even pleaded, “Tell me you still would have stopped just now if I hadn’t assaulted you at Rivendell.”

Bofur trembled.  He tore his eyes away, looked about him wildly, grabbed his shirt and trousers, and fled.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

           There wasn’t far to run; Bofur had nowhere to go.  The initial rush to get away took him out the front door before he calmed enough to realize that he couldn’t just run all the way to the Lonely Mountain.

           Trapped again, like I was before the quest, he thought, and sat on a stump overlooking Bilbo’s garden.  At least the Shire was prettier than Ered Luin.  His pipe was inside, but he wasn’t going back for it.

           He watched Hobbiton wake up and prepare for a new day.  It was a ridiculously idyllic sight, and Bofur was a little bitter for it.  Bilbo came out with a pot of tea and pressed the back of Bofur’s hand to offer comfort, but Bofur couldn’t bring himself to respond.  The Halfling offered his pipe, and Bofur felt almost like weeping.  He had to get a hold of himself.

           He took the pipe.  Bilbo fussed with the tea things for a moment, then went inside.

           When he was collected enough to follow, Bofur found Bilbo and Dwalin glaring at each other over their breakfasts.  Dwalin was looking guilty, and the emotion clearly angered him.  In spite of his own anger, Bofur unexpectedly felt a stab of that familiar fondness; Dwalin hated anything he couldn’t fight head-on.

           Bofur was something he couldn’t fight head-on.  Dwalin would come to hate that, soon enough.

           Frodo looked up at him from his perch on a child-chair.  Far from the happy child of yesterday, he seemed to have picked up on the tension in the air.  His lower lip quivered tremulously.

           Bofur reached for the workbag he usually kept at his belt; he’d carved a few toy animals in the past few days and it seemed an opportune time to distract Frodo.  He scowled when he realized he had neither belt nor bag.  He heard Frodo begin to howl as he stalked back toward the bedroom.

           When he returned, Frodo was still whimpering in spite of Dwalin’s soothing rocking, and Bilbo hovered looking lost.  He seemed to have forgotten his quarrel with Dwalin, which was one less worry at least.

           Bofur gently chucked the child under his chin to get his attention, then made a tiny wooden sheep appear as if by magic from Dwalin’s ear.  Frodo stared at him, considering whether it was worth the effort to become interested.  Bofur made the sheep disappear by slight of hand, then made it reappear from his own ear.

           A brilliant smile appeared on Frodo’s face, and he reached for the toy.  By the time he was calm and fed and chewing contentedly on the sheep’s head, all three of the adults were feeling easier.

           “If you’d like, you can stay here while I go to Ered Luin,” Dwalin said quietly when Bofur mentioned needing to get on the road.

           Bofur had just hoped to avoid another night sharing a bed with Dwalin, but the relief at the suggestion took his breath away.  Curiously, the relief had little to do with Dwalin; Bofur had been dreading Ered Luin ever since he realized that their journey didn’t end at Rivendell.  So many memories, so much of his life spent there – but Bofur had burned his bridges when Thorin offered a chance of escape.  It had been a suicide mission for the king of a land he’d never seen, and he’d embraced it gladly.  He’d never thought to return.

           Bofur knew he was a coward.  He didn’t even mind, most of the time.  He could quite comfortably have avoided even thinking of Ered Luin for the rest of his days.

           “I couldn’t impose on the kindness of our good burglar,” he said when he realized that the silence had gone on for too long.

           “No imposition at all, truly,” Bilbo said, earnest.

           Bofur smiled at the worried look on the Halfling’s face.  He wanted very much to say yes.  But he glanced over at Dwalin, who was studiously not looking at him.

           He didn’t want to go to Ered Luin, but after this morning their friendship was a precarious thing.  If Bofur chose to hide here in the Shire, the month or two Dwalin was away would harden the cracks into real fissures.  He wasn’t quite sure what they could salvage of whatever this was between them – or even whether he wanted to – but he wasn’t quite willing to give up, not yet.

           Bofur sighed.  He should have known fate would catch up with him eventually.  Since the day Thorin had asked him to join the company, Bofur had led a charmed life.  He should have known the past could not be so easily left behind.

           He thought quickly.  He could get through a month or two at Ered Luin, however bad it got.  He’d survived there for years, after all.  And if he did decide to patch things with Dwalin, if they even could – not much chance, but that ridiculous spark of hope just wouldn’t quite die – the journey back wouldn’t be terrible either.  Four months at most before he was safe back in Erebor.

           “No,” he said, rising.  “I will not disobey the word of the King.”

 


 

 

           The road from the Shire to the Grey Havens was well-maintained, probably by the Elves.  The first day’s travel was spent mostly in silence.  Bofur knew that beneath the silence frustration was seething, and braced himself for an explosion that never came.

           As they sat close to the fire in the evening, eating roasted rabbit, Bofur found his thoughts wandering to the topic he’d avoided thinking on all day long.  He knew little of Dwalin’s days of adventuring.  He had assumed that somewhere along the line Dwalin had had bed partners even if he avoided it now.  But the hesitancy in Dwalin’s kiss forced him to reexamine his assumptions.

           “Are you a virgin, then?” he asked abruptly, the first words they’d exchanged since they’d left the Shire.  He hadn’t thought about it before, but Dwalin must be.

           But Dwalin shook his head.  “I paid a Human woman once, to show me.”

           Bofur waited, but Dwalin seemed to think that was the end of it.  “Did you enjoy it?” he asked finally.

           Dwalin reached for more meat, seeming not to notice the scalding temperature.  “Wasn’t bad,” he grunted.  “Pleasant enough, I suppose.”

           Bofur told himself that the sinking feeling in his gut wasn’t disappointment.  To distract himself, he dug in his workbag for a knife and a bit of wood.

           Dwalin watched him as the piece of wood slowly became a frog.  “That’s not the knife you usually use for carving,” he said when Bofur took out a polishing cloth.

           “I left my tools at home.”  He’d not had time or reason for toymaking in Erebor, and hadn’t thought it worth it to bring his tools on the journey.  He held the knife out to Dwalin.  “Elrond lent me the use of his forge.”  He remembered that Dwalin had fashioned most of his own weapons and added, “I’ve not been near a forge since my Da died, mind.”

           Dwalin inspected the blade with a professional’s eye.  “Not bad work for an amateur.  Though the metal’s been overworked; it will be brittle.”

           “Yes,” Bofur said calmly.  “I was very angry with you.”

           He couldn’t tell in the darkness, but he suspected that Dwalin flushed.  Bofur offered up the other knife, the one he’d made first.  “That one I made when I was merely worried about you,” he said.  “It hasn’t the proper balance for carving, though.”

           Dwalin weighed the second knife in his hand.  “Maybe not for carving…” he muttered.  With a sinuous flick of his wrist, he threw.  Fifteen feet away, the knife quivered, buried in a tree trunk.

           Dwalin hauled himself to his feet to fetch it back.  He offered it back to Bofur with the words, “Should you tire of mining, you’ve some talent for metalcraft.”

           Bofur wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Dwalin offer a compliment before.  To anyone.  No, that wasn’t quite true: he would praise Kili and Fili when they were especially deserving.

           “You needn’t look at me like I’m a snake about to bite,” Dwalin grumbled.  “Your da was a good craftsman, and you’ve inherited the talent.”

           Bofur raised an eyebrow.  He waited.  By now, he could tell when Dwalin needed space and time to work out his next words.

           “I’m sorry for being so stubborn in Rivendell,” Dwalin said finally.  “I’m sorry for everything that happened in Rivendell, except –” and he touched his chest.  “I hope the price of this was not our friendship.”

           Bofur opened his mouth to instinctively deflect, to assure Dwalin it was all right – but he closed it.  Enough lies had already been told.

           Neither of them slept well that night, bedded down on opposite sides of the fire as if they needed the buffer between them.

 


 

 

           In the morning, Bofur gave himself a good talking to.  He was not, by nature, a somber dwarf; give him a silence and he would fill it with laughter and song.  His cheerfulness put him at ease and it put others at ease, smoothing over ruffled feathers and injured feelings.  It was a testament to how much his life had changed over the previous three years that this was the first time since they’d set out to retake the Mountain that Bofur had needed to consciously focus to be merry.

           There was a duty to the King to be done, he told himself, and no one to blame but himself for that.  Dwalin had apologized twice, which had to be some kind of miracle, and Bofur really couldn’t ask for more than that.  He needed to stop wallowing and see what could be salvaged of his friendship.

           He knew how to do this; he’d learned from a lifetime of needing to forget.  He closed his eyes and pictured the scarlet scarf his mum used to wear.  Bofur spread it out in the floor of his mind, and put the memory of Dwalin’s kiss in the exact center.  Next to it, he placed the memory of the helplessness of being shaken so hard his head snapped back and his teeth rattled.  He rolled the scarf up and tied it in a knot, and tucked the bundle safely away in the back of his mind.

           Things would be awkward for a while yet, but Bofur knew that if he acted as if things were all right, most of the time people decided he must be correct.  Dwalin might balk, but Bofur didn’t think he would.

           Feeling immensely better, he reached for his flute.

 


 

 

           Predictably, Dwalin was wary of the return of smiles and story-telling.  Bofur eased him into it as best he could, and after several days Dwalin seemed willing to follow his lead.

           They avoided the Havens and travelled north, crossing the River Lhûn on the third day.  As things got more comfortable with Dwalin and that anxiety eased, another took its place.  With every mile that brought them closer to Ered Luin, the knot of dread in Bofur’s stomach grew.  It was almost a relief to reach the first village on the outskirts of the settlement; at least the anticipation was done with.

            Ered Luin spanned an entire mountain range, and comprised some seven thousand dwarves.  Most were clustered in the dwarf city, also called Ered Luin, nearest the principal mines.  Bofur had been born here, had lived a hundred and forty years here.  He would give a lot not to be coming back.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Author's note: I've been working on the next section, and have come to the conclusion that Chapter 20 is the end of Book I. Or the beginning of Book II. Not sure which, actually. I'm going to leave Chapter 20 here for the time being, and Chapter 21/Chapter 1 is up at http://archiveofourown.org/works/691430