Bilbo Baggins had always been considered different among the hobbits of the Shire. For one thing, he was part Took, and always ran around with his Took cousins when he was little; for another, no hobbit in the Shire had ever turned up with Bilbo written in delicate cursive on some part of their body.
However, nothing the older hobbits said seemed to bother the fair-haired hobbit, and besides all those qualities Bilbo was a fairly respectable hobbit. He enjoyed smoking his pipe, read books during the day, and never flashed the soul name on his body to any hobbit, ever.
Then thirteen Dwarves showed up at his door one night, and the next day Bilbo was running after them, a giant sign on his door reading GONE ADVENTURING.
Fíli and Kíli, Thorin Oakenshield's nephews, were mischevious lads with their first initials soul-marked on each other's wrists over symbols of one another (a K over an arrow on Fíli's wrist; and an F over a silver bead on his younger brother's). They roared with laughter, teased Ori almost nonstop, and seemed generally fond of the hobbit as a whole.
That didn't mean they didn't drive him crazy, wondering about his own blank wrist, asking about the hobbit way of life, and badgering him to teach them hobbit drinking songs (although most of the Company did, indeed, want to hear hobbit drinking songs).
In return Bilbo mother-henned them, and refused to answer any questions about hobbit soulmate ways. He did, though, teach them the drinking song his cousin Edwin Took made up, 'A Half a Pint, a Whole a Pint'. He only regretted it when they wouldn't stop singing it for an entire week.
They were resting in Rivendall enjoying the warmth of a fire when Ori came of age, a knuckle duster and a very dark, bold D appearing on his wrist, much to the chagrin of his older brothers.
Thorin said nothing against the strings of fate, clapping his best friend on the shoulder once before heading off to who knew where. Dwalin had taken Ori's wrist in his fingers, brushing a very soft kiss against the soulmark, and Nori and Dori stopped complaining.
The two disappeared off into the night, and Bilbo smacked Fíli and Kíli over the head when they started sniggering.
"I have no doubt," He said, glaring at them fiercely. "That you two rushed off to be alone when Kíli came of age, so stop sniggering or Aüle help me I will borrow Bombur's spoon and whack you over the head with it."
The brothers quieted, although Kíli made his puppy dog eyes before sighing and settling back into his brother's arms.
Bilbo frowned at them, and absentmindedly reached over his left shoulder to rub his shoulder blade. Fond he might be of Thorin's nephews, but sometimes they just drove him crazy.
Nori pulled Bilbo aside not two days later, a frown on the professional thief's face and his eyes full of unspoken questions.
"Mister Bilbo," Ori's older brother began, picking at the jacket covering his right wrist with urgency. "I have a rather improper question for you, but I have hope that you will answer it anyway."
The hobbit blinked, startled, but shook himself out of it. "Ah-very well, ask away," He squeaked.
The dwarf nodded, paused, and then shoved his sleeve up abruptly to reveal a pale, unmarked wrist.
"You have no mark on your wrist, either. I thought-"
Bilbo patted his other arm lightly. "Pull down your sleeve, Nori. Surely you've heard tales of other soulmarks that take a while to mature and appear?"
Nori looked crestfallen. "Dori has one, though he's never met them...and now Ori and Dwalin-"
"Sometimes things take time," Bilbo said. "Yours will come."
It was three days hence that Thorin's company stole from Rivendall in the middle of the night, and Bilbo found himself walking behind Fíli and Kíli, with Nori at his back. Thorin (who, Bilbo had learned from Kíli, was directionally challenged), had ordered Balin to lead the way while he conversed with Dwalin.
Oin and Gloin were behind them, and in front of Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo. Behind Nori, Dori was fussing over his youngest brother, who was blushing and scowling and staring at Dwalin like the lovestruck fool he undoubtedly was.
Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur were bringing up the rear.
Kíli had started singing, for no apparent reason, and his brother joined in. It began to rain.
Bilbo sighed, swearing a hobbit curse as he nearly slipped on the slippery rock.
"Hey, you haven't taught us that one!" Kíli laughed over the thunder. "What's it mean?"
The Halfling had no chance to answer, for Thorin roared, "Stone giants!", and then they were moving.
Fíli screamed his brother's name as they were separated, and Bilbo caught a hold of the Prince's sleeve, also grabbing onto Nori as well as they clung to the stone giant's moving body.
The other half of Dwarves leapt to safety off the stone giant's leg, and Bilbo swore to himself he would tell no soul that Fíli released a sob in a mixture of relief and desperation beside him.
But then the mountain was hurtling towards them, one of the dwarves yelled his name, and the hobbit was clinging to the side of the mountain in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
The dwarves had managed to haul him (and Thorin, who had jumped to his rescue), back up the mountain, and the company had found a cave in which to spend the night.
Thorin's gaze was heavy on his back, and the hobbit rolled his shoulders, touching his left shoulder blade again before shrugging it off.
The dwarves were setting up their bedrolls when Nori suddenly said, "Oh!"
Bilbo turned to look at his new found friend, and was greeted by the sight of a very familiar hat and a...well, cheerful-looking B on the ginger-haired dwarf's previously blank wrist.
As the dwarves began to mutter, the floor of the cave gave out beneath them.
It had been the longest forty-eight hours of his life, and the only things keeping Bilbo upright as they searched for a suitable campsite near the Carrock were adrenaline and Nori, who despite not yet really having a chance to speak with Bofur, was beside the Burglar's side.
"Nori, I'm fine," The hobbit said to his friend. "Go speak with Bofur, he's staring at you longingly."
"You're barely standing up, you look to be in worse shape then Thorin-" The ginger dwarf was cut off by the Dwarven Prince himself declaring their current position to be a suitable place to rest the night.
Bilbo waved his dwarf friend off, taking off his coat. "Go, Nori. I'm going to crash as soon as I hit the ground and Bofur looks absolutely pitiful."
"Aye," Fíli appeared out of nowhere, standing beside them. "Kíli and I will keep watch over the burglar, you go see to your heart's desire."
Nori hesitated for only a second before slinking off towards Bofur, and Bilbo smiled gratefully at Fíli before passing out on the cold, hard ground.
Beorn was a gracious, if not odd host, and Bilbo sunk down into the depths of an honest-to-Aüle bed with a throaty groan that could be mistaken for a completely different noise.
The hobbit stripped his upper clothing off, massaging his left shoulder blade and as far down his back as he could reach. He could still feel his skin vibrating from the contact when Thorin had unexpectedly pulled him into a hug, and it made him shiver lightly as he crawled under the covers.
At least, The hobbit mused, yawning, Fíli and Kíli hadn't badgered him about his blank wrist for quite a few days.
As luck would have it, Kíli brought it up the next morning during breakfast.
"Why are you so keen on knowing?" Bilbo huffed, absentmindedly reaching out to fix a wayward strand of the archer's hair.
"He's a curious little bugger, that's why," Fíli laughed at his brother. The dark-haired dwarf growled, pouting a bit before punching him in the arm. Fíli punched him back, and the two began to tussle.
The hobbit inwardly rolled his eyes. Dwarves had no manners when it came to the eating table, honestly.
The Burglar tore his eyes from the brothers and looked down the table, where Bofur had his arm casually slung around Nori's shoulders. The thief was resting comfortably into the embrace as he teased his younger brother, who was blushing and protesting against whatever Nori was saying, using his hands to articulate his words. The wild gestures left his cardigan slipping down his arms, displaying his soulmark for all to see.
Dwalin's eyes were glued to it, at any rate.
Bilbo hummed as he tore off a manageable piece of his toast to consume. He'd become quite used to seeing each respective dwarf's soulmark. Kíli had explained that, once dwarven soulmates found each other, they left their wrists bare, proclaiming to all of Middle-earth that they were taken.
Everyone back in the Shire would have been scandalized. Bilbo liked the concept, though; if his own soulmark had been similar to the dwarves and on his wrist, he wouldn't have had a problem showing it off.
As it stood, though, the soulmark emblazoned across his shoulder blades was large and damming, so he wouldn't be going around without a shirt on his back any time soon.
Bilbo excused himself from the table, and returned to his room. If he hurried, he could enjoy the sunshine outside by himself for a while, and maybe even take a quick dip in the cool, clear stream nearby.
The sun was warm across his back, in total opposition from what awaited them in the deep dark of Mirkwood's forests. The hobbit rolled his shoulders slowly, stretching as he dipped his toes in the refreshing stream. It was peaceful out here, and no foolish creature would dare attack him while he was on Beorn's land.
Bilbo swung his feet in the water hurriedly. He would tell Thorin after the dwarves had reclaimed Erebor, He decided. He would shown Thorin if he did not believe him. And, if it turned out that Thorin's mark did not match his own, as sometimes happened, he would return to the Shire and there would be no hard feelings.
He did always seem to be the odd hobbit out, anyway.
A large hand-a large, FAMILIAR hand-resting on his shoulders startled Bilbo out of his thoughts, and he froze in horror.
"Bilbo," Thorin Oakenshield said, sounding amused and-pleased? "It appears you have my name on your shoulders."
Bilbo coughed. "Oh, really? I hadn't noticed." He shivered as Thorin began tracing the letters on his back, then dipping down to trace the image of an oak branch below it. "Thorin, I-"
The dwarf Prince huffed a laugh in his ear, cool lips pressing against the T on Bilbo's shoulder blade. "I've got a B on my wrist, along with one of your beloved tea cups, hobbit. You should have told me."
"Oh," The Halfling said, bewildered, twisting around to face the dwarf. Thorin's lips settled across his, and Bilbo sighed into it.
"I'm not walking around without my shirt on, Thorin," He said when they parted, and the dwarf Prince's deep chuckle echoed through the clearing.
"That is probably a good thing, because every time I see it I will, no doubt, want to ravish you."
They tumbled to the ground, kissing, and Bilbo removed the silver bracelet covering Thorin's wrist.
It would not matter if no one could see his soulmark, as long as every dwarf, elf, man and halfling saw the mark on Thorin's wrist declaring his heart was taken.