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The Real Thing

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As a Baggins of Bag End Bilbo had access to quite the vast library, built up by his various relatives over the years. He had books on almost every subject from the history of men to the architecture of elven structures. He had read books on every race in every time frame, drinking in the knowledge they provided eagerly.

But nothing compared to experiencing the real thing.

Reading about the hidden valley of Imladris was nothing compared to actually spending a night in Rivendell. A map of the Misty Mountains could not hold a candle to the peaks themselves. A sonnet on the beauty of elves could not justify the almost painful beauty of the beings.

And all the books on dwarven behaviour could not prepare Bilbo for the strange habits of The Company.

Bilbo had been watching the routine the dwarrow settled into at night. While Bombur cooked their dinner, they all fussed around in twos or threes, some solitary. Thorin mostly spent the time brooding in the distance, staring off to the horizon as the sun set. Dwalin often sat beside his cousin, back to everyone and hunched secretively over his lap. Balin was the only one he allowed near, aside from the King, and the older dwarf simply chuckled before meandering off.

Bofur remained seated by the fire, one eye on his cousin as he chatted with his brother. He would intervene quickly whenever Bifur was set off, calming his cousin with soothing noises and gentle touches. They were occasionally joined by Gandalf, who engaged the grateful Bifur in conversation.

Oin often turned in straight after eating, not wanting to listen to Gloin's 'ode to Gimli' any longer. Gloin would simply change group, double checking their budget and waffling on to whoever would listen about his beloved son. He gave Nori space though, not trusting the thief around the money he held. Nori didn't seem to take offence at it, happy to be spared the long winded speech about Gimli. Dori stuck fast to his brother's side, keeping both eyes on young Ori. Nori tried to spare Ori the worst of Dori's mothering by distracting the elder, mostly unsuccessfully.

Which left poor Bilbo to be sandwiched between the Durin boys. No matter how many nights he tried to slip away to join a different dwarf cluster he found himself inevitably dragged back to the brothers, like a favourite toy they were unwilling to share.

This particular night Bilbo was seated between Fili's legs, back to his chest while Kili rested his head in his lap. Bilbo had squirmed at first, until it became obvious he was stuck. Kili had then insisted on having his hair stroked, and Bilbo had given in, burying his hands in Kili's dark hair and grumbling.

Fili was chattering on about the boy's childhood, his chin resting on top of Bilbo's curly locks. Kili was muttering his own input every now and then, which was mostly ignored.

Bilbo was dozing lightly, soothed by the presence of the young boys who reminded him of his own dear young cousins, when he noticed movement across the fire. Ori had set his book aside and had risen determinedly. Half the company eyed him warily, especially when it was clear the boy was making a beeline for Gloin. No one talked to him willingly, not when it meant a half hour talk about Gimli.

Ori bent to talk to him, voice pitched so low no one else could hear it. Fili and Kili immediately began to squirm, obviously wishing they could move closer and eavesdrop. Their curiosity only grew when Gloin rose, grasping his axe and gesturing for Ori to follow. He led the boy away from the company, but still within the safety of the group. He and Ori settled with their backs to the company, speaking in hushed tones.

"Well, that's-" Fili began.

"-Interesting." Kili finished. He sat up, eyes locked onto the pair. He leaned back suddenly, grinning at Fili. "Fancy a walk?"

"I could stretch my legs," Fili agreed. Bilbo rolled his eyes and began to shuffle forward, allowing Fili room to slide out from behind him.

Instead, Bilbo found himself lifted into Fili's arms, Kili dancing around him with a laugh. He shrieked, grabbing onto Fili's shoulders.

"Put me down!" Bilbo demanded. "Damn it, Fili, now!"

Instead, Fili marched over to where his Uncle sat, speaking in low tones to Dwalin. Ignoring the abrupt end to their conversation and the glare he received, Fili simply dumped Bilbo down, straight onto Thorin's lap.

"Your turn to Hobbit-Watch, Uncle," he announced before swiftly turning on his heel and walking away, Kili laughing uproariously next to him.

Bilbo scrambled straight off of Thorin's lap, resolutely not looking the King in the eye. He muttered a quick apology before hurrying off to join Bofur by the fire, ignoring the eyes boring into his back. His face flushed, he hunkered down by the fire, scowling at the flames.

Damn, damn, damn, damn those boys. It was like they knew how Bilbo felt around Thorin – like they knew his heart would thump painfully, his breath would come short, his face would flush, his skin would crawl… Damn them! It's like they knew about Bilbo's attraction to Thorin.

It was pointless. After that brief hug on the Carrock, Thorin had begun to treat Bilbo with a cool indifference – not rude, not overly kind, just… neutral.

Bilbo huffed as Bofur handed him his food, digging in sourly. At the hurt look Bombur gave him Bilbo mumbled a compliment that seemed to placate him.

Twin thumps sounded on either side of him and Bilbo's scowl deepened as Fili and Kili settled next to him, their own bowls of stew in their hands. As they began to eat, rudely talking around mouthfuls of food, Bilbo silently seethed in between them.

"Why Gloin was teaching Ori how to clean his axe is still a mystery," Kili laughed. "But hey, if he wants to listen to him yammer on, better him than us, eh, Bilbo?"

Bilbo shoved his empty bowl into Bofur's surprised hands before stomping off to his bedroll, ignoring the shocked brothers behind him. He wrapped himself tightly up in his cloak, closing his eyes and willing sleep to come quickly.

Instead, two firm bodies settled on either side of him, arms slipping out to wrap around Bilbo.

"Are you still upset over Uncle?" Kili asked as he nuzzled Bilbo's hair. "It was just a joke."

"He already hates me enough," Bilbo muttered. "You don't have to make it worse."

"He doesn't hate you," Fili protested as his long fingers found their way to Bilbo's sides, mercilessly tickling the Hobbit. "Stop being so sour, you'll start to look like him."

Bilbo tried to hold onto his anger but the combined effort of Fili's attack and Kili's puppy eyes had him laughing soon enough, swatting away Fili's hands.

"Stop! Please," he begged as he squirmed. "Boys!"

"Enough!"

The three of them froze, staring up at the King standing over them. Thorin's face was cold and impassive as he stared down at the three of them.

"Kili, Fili, you will take first watch," Thorin ordered. With one last hard look at Bilbo he turned and strode away, leaving the Hobbit feeling lower than dirt. Kili patted Bilbo's hair and Fili offered him a sad smile before they slunk away.

Bilbo huffed and picked himself up, cloak and all, stomping over to where their resident wizard sat, back to a tree and blowing smoke rings. He leaned against Gandalf without a word, making himself comfortable.

"You cannot hide behind me forever, Bilbo," Gandalf reminded him as another ring faded on the wind. "I will be leaving your company in a few days, you'll have to face Thorin yourself eventually."

"I will do no such thing," Bilbo muttered as he closed his eyes. "I have no need to face him. He's made his peace with me."

"But have you made your peace with yourself?" Gandalf asked as he set his pipe away, tugging his hat low. "Have you made peace with your heart, Bilbo?"

"You know too much, but share too little," Bilbo responded irritably. Gandalf chuckled lightly.

"Wise words, Mr. Baggins, wise words indeed."

Neither noticed the eyes watching them from across the fire, locked onto the hobbit.

The oddities continued the next night. After a long trek during the day, during which Thorin had requested Bilbo walk beside him, they settled down. Ori and Gloin immediately moved away, axe in hand. The others stared at them for a moment before they settled.

Oin, free from his brother for the night, struck up a conversation with Dori and Bofur. Bifur was yammering on to Gandalf who responded softly, both being watched by Bombur. Thorin and Dwalin were once again down the end of the camp, both secretively muttering to each other while Dwalin worked at something in his lap.

Nori was playing cards with Fili and Kili, leaving Bilbo to sit with Balin. Bilbo watched Ori for a while before turning to the dwarf beside him.

"What… What are they doing?" he asked, curiosity getting the better of him. Balin chuckled as he watched them.

"My guess is that young Ori wishes to learn how to care for the weapon since the dwarf he desires does not have a trade," Balin explained as though it was the most normal thing in the world.

"I… I don't understand," Bilbo said, puzzled. "What does their trade have to do with anything?"

Balin pulled his pipe out, staring contemplatively at Bilbo. He lit up and stared at the hobbit for a moment longer before sighing and looking out over the company.

"Tell me, Bilbo, how do hobbits court?"

Bilbo blinked at the question, not quite sure he heard Balin correctly. "Courting?"

"Yes," Balin nodded patiently. "How do you express interest in courting someone?"

"Um, well," Bilbo felt his ears heat up. "It usually starts with a request to dance. If you dance more than twice it is an expression of interest, more than thrice and it's a serious one. Flowers are usually followed, then food, and finally a gift. The gift must be something personal, usually a family heirloom. If the gift is accepted then you are engaged."

"Do you have something to gift?" Balin asked casually. Bilbo's blush deepened and he nodded.

"I do…" he mumbled before reaching into shirt. He pulled up a chain revealing the heavy signet ring hanging there. "This was my father's… It's too large for my fingers, so I wear it around my neck. It has the symbol of the Baggins clan on it."

"A fine gift indeed," Balin said with a nod. "We dwarrows are different. When you wish to express an interest in courting you learn the other's trade. For example, if someone wished to court Bofur or Bifur they would learn to carve a toy, to show that they accept their chosen's trade and are willing to embrace it."

"But if they have no trade…" Bilbo prompted. Balin nodded.

"If they have no trade and were warriors, such as Fili and Kili, one would learn to care for their weapons," Balin explained. "To show that they accept that their intended is a warrior and to show that they are proud to help them fight."

"So Ori…"

"Ori is learning to care for his intended's weapons," Balin said, eyes twinkling. Bilbo couldn't help but smile in return.

"How do you accept the courtship?" Bilbo asked, finding the whole conversation fascinating. His books never could have told him this.

"If you are presented with something of your trade, or an offer to care for your weapons, you must never decline it, even if you are not interested," Balin said seriously. "It is the gravest insult. Instead, you simply do not return the gesture."

"I see," Bilbo muttered. "In the Shire you simply turn down the second dance. Anything more counts as leading someone on."

"Simpler, but less effort it seems," Balin mumbled into his beard. Bilbo nodded, gazing into the fire.

"I am much more inclined to your way of courting," he said with a sigh. "So much effort, just to prove your love."

"Indeed," Balin said, eyes across the fire on his brother filled with amusement. "It is amazing what lengths some will go to, no matter how bad they are at the trade."

Bilbo sighed softly, the romantic within him rising. To learn a whole new trade just to please your love, that was true romance. Bilbo had never courted in the Shire, though he'd had many offers from hobbit lasses and lads. It just never felt right.

His eyes drifted across to Thorin who sat with Dwalin, almost out of sight. He wondered what one would do if they desired to court the King. His trade would be ruling, so that ruled that out, yet learning to clean a sword didn't seem enough…

Bilbo glanced down at his own little 'letter-opener' and bit his lip softly. Out of all the dwarrows only three primarily wielded swords: Balin, Kili and Thorin himself.

Bilbo would rather die than ask Thorin to help learn to care for his sword. He couldn't ask Balin as it would seem suspicious after their talk. Which left... Kili.

Bilbo shook his head of the thoughts. It would just be useful to know. He needed to care for his weapon, so why not learn now?

Nodding to himself he rose, giving Balin a smile.

"Um, excuse me," he muttered. "I've got to… um…"

"Go on, lad," Balin chuckled. "Good luck."

Bilbo ignored him, ears flaming, and hurried over to where the brothers were arguing with Nori who had a much-too-innocent expression on his face.

"-like we're playing for real money, anyway," Nori said gleefully. "And I won, fair and square. Well, depends on your definition of fair…"

"Ah, Kili?" Bilbo interrupted. "Can you um… can you help me clean my sword?"

The three dwarrows stared at him before Nori burst out into laughter. Bilbo flushed scarlet as Fili spluttered irritably.

"I have two swords!" he protested. "Why not ask me?"

"You rarely use them," Bilbo muttered. "I forgot you had them."

"I'll teach you," Kili said as he rose to his feet easily. Fili shoved his brother out of the way.

"No way, I'll do it."

"He asked me."

"I'm older."

"I'm smarter."

"I'm prettier."

"I'm-"

"Enough!"

Kili and Fili jumped apart, looking around for their Uncle. To their surprise, Bilbo stood with his hands on his hips glaring up at the two.

"Kili can teach me to clean the sword," Bilbo announced, ignoring the younger dwarf's whoop of joy. "Fili can teach me how to sharpen it."

"Or, I can do both."

The three of them jumped and turned to guiltily face Thorin who stood before them looking unimpressed. The boys began to shuffle away, complaining about the unfairness of it all.

"N-No."

All three royals stopped and stared at Bilbo's shaky word. The hobbit was staring up at them, mouth set in a mulish line. Thorin blinked down at him as though dazed for a moment.

"What?" he grunted at last. Bilbo narrowed his eyebrows.

"I said, no," he stated. "I-I asked Kili and Fili."

Both brothers seemed to hold their breath behind Bilbo as Thorin stared down at him, mouth open. Finally his cheeks seemed to inflame with rage, he directed a harsh glare at his nephews before stalking away, muttering angrily to himself.

"Oh Bilbo-" Kili whispered.

"That was-" Fili breathed. Bilbo swallowed and closed his eyes.

"Magnificent!" Both brothers cheered at once. Bilbo blinked in surprise as they pulled him into their arms and dragged him across the camp.

"Come on, Uncle Bilbo!" Kili said cheekily as he pulled Bilbo down beside him to the ground. "Let's start."

"Ah, you forget, brother, sharpening comes first."

"He's barely used it, he doesn't need to sharpen it. He can do that tomorrow."

"Dwalin always taught us not to be lazy!"

"He also taught us not to waste time."

Bilbo sighed softly and prepared himself for a long night, but a small smile slid onto his face.

'Uncle Bilbo, huh?'

The next night as Bilbo was awkwardly sharpening his sword under Fili's watchful eye he noticed that Dwalin seemed to be cursing a lot more than usual. The large dwarf was seated at the edge of the party again, alone this time. Thorin was off in the forest, scouting the path in the dying light. Bilbo was glad for the dwarf's absence – he had been asked to walk beside him again that day, which was purely nerve-wracking for the hobbit.

As soon as the King returned however, Dwalin shot to his feet. He stormed over to Thorin, waving something in his hands.

"This is ridiculous!" he snapped, seemingly uncaring if the whole company could hear him. "You cannot seriously expect this to work!"

"Dwalin-"

Dwalin cut his friend off. "No! I tried, that's all I promised! It's not right, it's not good enough for hi-"

"Um, e-excuse me?"

Both dwarrows scowled and turned, causing little Ori to flinch. Dwalin's scowl vanished instantly and he stuffed whatever he was holding behind his back. Ori shuffled nervously from foot to foot, opening and closing his mouth several times.

Bilbo watched avidly, sword forgotten. Balin, seated next to him on the log, nudged him unnecessarily.

"What is it, lad?" Thorin grunted. Ori's cheeks heated and he closed his eyes, head tilted towards the ground.

"Mister Dwalin, sir," he almost shouted in his nervous state. "Can I please clean your axes for you?"

Silence fell throughout the camp, no one daring to breathe, until Dori broke it with a loud squawk. Nori quickly slapped a hand over his brother's mouth, silencing the older dwarf. Mutterings broke out and little Ori began to shake, clearly feeling rejected. He took a step back, opening his mouth to speak again, but before he could Dwalin shoved whatever was in his hands forward to Ori.

"Only if you wear this while doing so."

Ori shakily took the khaki green bundle and shook it out, revealing a long, poorly made scarf. Large holes were visible from a distance but Ori stared at the scarf as though it was the most beautiful item he had ever been gifted.

"You- You knitted!" Ori sighed as held the scarf to his face, nuzzling it. "Oh, mister Dwalin!"

Dwalin grunted, ignoring the flush crawling up his neck. He took the scarf back long enough to wrap it around Ori's neck, much to the little dwarf's joy.

"Come on, lad," he muttered as he slid an arm around Ori's shoulder. "Grasper and Keeper are this way."

A scuffle drew Bilbo's eyes to Nori and Dori, the younger brother now seated on top of the elder, still firmly covering his mouth. Bilbo knew how protective Dori was of Ori and couldn't help but smile.

"So that's it?" Bilbo asked Balin, who nodded with a smile. "Wow…"

"Dwalin?" Kili screwed up his nose. "And Ori?"

Fili elbowed his brother in the ribs. "Opposites attract."

"Ha, sure!" Kili laughed, slapping Bilbo on the back, making the little hobbit glad he had put his sword away. "Next thing it'll be Uncle Thorin and Uncle Bilbo!"

Bilbo choked on air, coughing harshly and turning bright red. Balin smacked him on the back, shooting Fili and Kili a glare as the two brothers gaped at him.

"No way-"

"You and Uncle-"

"So the sword cleaning-"

"And refusing his help-"

"No way!"

"Listen here you two!" Balin snapped, getting both boys instant attention. "You will speak not a word of this to anyone. Do not meddle in this, or I swear there will be consequences that make your Uncle's hidings seem like a treat."

Kili and Fili paled before shooting to their feet, bowing deeply and scampering off. Bilbo buried his face in his hands, moaning softly in embarrassment.

"Why?" he groaned. Balin sighed heavily.

"It was only a matter of time, laddie," he soothed. "Don't fret; it will all work out in the end."

Bilbo didn't see how.

The sun shone upon them as they made their way towards Gandalf's friend the next day. Fili and Kili were on forward scout, so Bilbo was mercifully spared the teasing he was sure was to come.

"Burgler," Thorin materialized beside him. Bilbo bit his tongue to stop from yelping. "You will walk with me again today."

"Oh, um, all right," Bilbo blushed. "S-Sure…"

Thorin nodded, seemingly pleased with himself. Bilbo trudged along beside the King nervously, comforted and frightened by his presence at the same time. As they headed towards the house of Gandalf's friend Bilbo tried not to dwell on his thoughts.

"Are you sore?" Thorin asked suddenly. Bilbo blinked slowly up at him. "You are hunching. Are you sore?"

"N-No," Bilbo stood straighter. "I just have a lot on my mind."

"Speak then," Thorin ordered. "I will listen."

"Oh!" Bilbo's face flushed scarlet. "I um, I… just the usual… the quest…"

"It is a heavy burden," Thorin agreed. He glanced around before bellowing loudly, causing Bilbo to jump. "We stop for lunch!"

Bilbo stopped with the rest of them, settling on a log to eat the simple bread and cheese Bombur passed out – they were running low on food. Fili and Kili came to settle beside him, but before they could another sat down.

Bilbo blinked up at Thorin who was twirling a sprig of mint in his fingers. Once Bilbo had finished his meal he offered it to the hobbit, staring straight ahead. Bilbo smiled and took the plant, picking off the flowers and crushing the leaves to chew on.

"Thank you," he mumbled. Thorin nodded before shooting to his feet and striding off into the company. Bilbo shook his head as he strode along, somehow finding himself beside Ori who was humming happily, his scarf still wrapped around his neck.

"Oh, Mr. Baggins, it's such a lovely day," Ori sighed as he nuzzled his scarf. "Isn't it just?"

Bilbo smiled and looked up at Thorin who was striding ahead with Dwalin, who kept peeking over his shoulder occasionally at Bilbo's walking companion.

"Indeed it is."

They reached Beorn's that eve. Bilbo was so grateful to have a proper straw mattress for the night that he found himself able to ignore their host's rather rude comments about him, as well as the nickname 'little rabbit.'

He was completely content to collapse onto his mattress and sleep through the night – dinner be damned, a strange thought for the Hobbit – but Thorin insisted on bringing him a plate and watching him eat it carefully. Bilbo had eaten shyly under the King's gaze, smiling softly whenever he met Thorin's gaze.

As soon as his plate was empty Thorin grabbed it and moved away without another word, starting his own meal at long last. Bilbo stared after him, shocked at the oddity. He shrugged it off and snuggled down into his blankets, sighing happy at the thought of the upcoming sleep.

He was vaguely aware of two bodies settling on either side of him some time later, and assuming it was the boys, he reached out to the nearest one, grasping a sleeve and tugging with a soft mutter. A warm hand covered his own, rubbing softly and Bilbo mumbled happily. His last thought before he slipped back into a deep slumber was that he did not remember Fili or Kili's hands being that large…

When Bilbo awoke it was from the most luxurious sleep he could remember. He groaned and arched his back, his arms stretching above his head and his back popping. He let out a satisfied moan and collapsed back onto the bed, sighing happily. He rolled onto his side and slid his eyes open.

And almost shrieked at the sight of Thorin seated on the mattress next to him, eyes gazing down at him filled with a dark emotion Bilbo couldn't pinpoint.

"T-Thorin," Bilbo sat up shakily, pressing a hand to his heart. "You… You scared me."

"You slept well, I take it?" Thorin asked briskly. Bilbo nodded, his eyes sliding around the hall. "Good. You were tossing and turning in the night, I was unsure if you were experiencing nightmares or just uneasy sleep."

"Oh, I'm just a restless sleeper," Bilbo said with a smile. He stared at Thorin for a moment before his words processed. "Wait. In the night? You were next to me?"

"Yes," Thorin confirmed. Bilbo's face turned scarlet.

So the hand he had been holding in the night was not Fili's…

"Oh…" Bilbo stared down at his lap, hoping Thorin would not mention it. "S-Sorry if I disturbed you."

"Not at all," Thorin reached into his coat as he spoke, eyes off of Bilbo for the first time since the hobbit woke. "I have something for you."

"For me?" Bilbo perked up. He knew it was selfish, but he loved to receive gifts.

Thorin nodded, and lifted his hand and held it out to Bilbo. Almost bouncing in excitement Bilbo held out his hands.

A long, thin chain snaked from Thorin's hand into Bilbo's, white and almost glowing. A single pendent dangled along it, silver-white with a pure sapphire. Bilbo stared at it in shock, fingers delicately lifting the gem to his eye.

"Th-Thorin, it's beautiful," Bilbo whispered. "It's… just… it's too much!"

"You accept it then?" Thorin asked, leaning in and ignoring Bilbo's protest. Bilbo smiled up at him.

"If you're sure you want to give it to me," he whispered. "Then yeah."

Thorin smiled then, and Bilbo found his breath stolen away. The smile lit up the King's eyes, making them dance almost the same colour as the sapphire in Bilbo's fingers.

Thorin took the sapphire from Bilbo's slack fingers and leaned in, reaching behind the hobbit and fastening the chain around his neck. His fingers followed the chain down to the pendent which he rested gently a top Bilbo's shirt.

"It was my mother's," Thorin explained as he leaned back again. "Pure mithril, and a sapphire mined from the heart of Erebor by my father himself."

Thorin stood, gazing down at the gaping hobbit. He cupped Bilbo's face with a hand, shocking the poor thing even further.

"I would not set a date until Erebor is reclaimed," Thorin said seriously. "When I can give you all you deserve and more. I hope this sits all right with you."

With that, the King strode off, leaving a completely confused Hobbit behind, clutching a necklace with a look of utter panic on his face.

What on Middle-Earth just happened?

Bilbo felt slightly bad for interrupting Balin's peaceful smoke down by the lake, but at the same time he desperately wanted answers to what was happening.

"B-Balin," Bilbo collapsed to his knees in front of the old dwarf, clutching the necklace in his hand. "W-What happened? I don't understand! Thorin was saying things, and he gave me this, and-"

"Oh dear, I did think he was being too subtle," Balin sighed as he took his pipe from his mouth. "Had you not noticed him courting you, Bilbo?"

"Courting me?!" Bilbo's shriek came out a bare whisper. "But he didn't… He didn't do any of the things you spoke of!"

"Aye, he did not," Balin agreed with a soft laugh. "But maybe he did all the things you spoke of."

"Me?" Bilbo whispered, bewildered. "Like… Hobbit courting?"

"I assume so," Balin said with a nod. "He could not dance with you, of course, but how many times did he ask you to walk beside him?"

"Three…"

"And then what did he bring you after lunch on the third day?"

"…Mint… with the flowers attached…"

"And then last night, what did he do?"

"He… He brought me food."

"And then this morning you accepted his gift?"

"Oh God," Bilbo fell back onto his back, staring up at the clear blue sky. "A-Are we…? Are we…?"

"I'd say yes, Bilbo," Balin chuckled. "You're engaged. Congratulations."

And just like in the hall at Bag End, all that time ago, Bilbo promptly fainted.

It was too loud voices that Bilbo woke.

He could easily recognize the deep rumble of Thorin, the soothing voice of Fili and the animated shouts of Kili. At his first groan they all fell silent, and Bilbo forced his eyes open.

"There, he's fine," Fili said, whirling back to his Uncle. "Not that we did anything."

"You always do something," Thorin growled.

"Uncle, we didn't!" Kili exclaimed. "We hadn't seen him all day!"

"Then why was he unconscious?"

"I um, just," they all looked down at Bilbo. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be a worry."

Fili and Kili shot to his sides, helping him sit up. Thorin growled lowly before kneeling in front of Bilbo, eyes searching his desperately.

"Are you all right?" he murmured softly. Bilbo turned scarlet.

"I'm fine," he mumbled. He looked shyly up at Thorin, noting the worried look repressed in the King's eyes. Knowing that Thorin was worried – over him – make Bilbo's heart beat just that little harder.

Thorin's eyes snapped from Fili to Kili, and both boys muttered something about being needed elsewhere. Bilbo noticed that Balin was gone. He was alone with Thorin.

"You sure you're all right," Thorin asked as he settled next to Bilbo on the grass. Bilbo stared at the dwarf, heart still racing in his chest.

"Thorin…" he whispered. When the King merely gazed at him Bilbo licked his lips and tried again. "Thorin, may I… May I clean your sword?"

Thorin's eyes lit up in delight and he reached out a hand to stroke Bilbo's face softly.

"You've been speaking to Balin," he murmured as Bilbo stared down at the ground.

"So have you."

"Indeed," Thorin agreed. He stood, offering a hand to Bilbo who took it cautiously. "Orcist is inside."

Instead of taking the offered hand Bilbo reached into his shirt and pulled up the chain holding his father's ring. Undoing the clasp he held placed the chain and ring in the outstretched hand.

"It would please me if you accept this," he said, his voice barely shaking despite his nerves. Thorin didn't even hesitate to clasp the necklace and lift it, fastening it around his own neck straight away.

Smiling, Bilbo stood and began to make his way inside, whistling softly as he did so. It didn't take long for the dwarf king to catch up, large hand catching Bilbo's easily as they walked.

For once it was Bilbo who was part of the strangeness that night. He sat with his back to Thorin's chest, allowing the King's hands to guide his own as they cleaned Orcist together. Thorin was murmuring instructions into Bilbo's ear but instead of helping the Hobbit it distracted him further. The brush of Thorin's beard against his sensitive ear, the warmth of Thorin's chest against his back, the large hands guiding his own, it all led to Bilbo being highly distracted from his task.

Across the room Dwalin was resting his head in Ori's lap as the younger dwarf knitted, both of them murmuring to each other softly. Dori and Nori sat nearby, the elder's eyes watching the couple warily.

Bombur was happily picking at the remains of dinner, Bifur carving something nearby. Bofur and Balin were seated with Oin, laughing and joking over some strange board game that Beorn had provided.

Fili and Kili were giving their weapons a going over, but their eyes never strayed far from their Uncle. They would collapse into fits of giggles every so often at something one of them had said.

Gloin was entertaining their host himself with tales of Gimli, stories the Company had heard hundreds of times over completely fresh to the skin-changer.

Bilbo sighed happily and slid his hands out from under Thorin's, leaning heavily against the dwarf. He rested his head on Thorin's shoulder, smiling up at him. Thorin set the sword aside and stared back at the hobbit. Bilbo smiled up at the dwarf, feeling completely relaxed in the King's arms.

That is, until twin thumps sounded next to the couple.

Thorin let out a warning growl as Fili and Kili grinned at the two, and Bilbo closed his eyes, silently begging for patience.

"So, Uncle Thorin-"

"-And Uncle Bilbo,"

"We just thought we'd come over-"

"-and offer our congratulations."

"Fine," Thorin grunted. "Now leave."

"Thorin," Bilbo said softly. "Leave them."

"Thanks, Uncle Bilbo-"

"-Yeah, Uncle Bilbo."

"You should be nicer, Uncle Thorin, like Uncle Bilbo-"

"-Then maybe it wouldn't take you so long to corner someone-"

"-Like a certain hobbit, perhaps."

"And it'll help you hold onto them in the future-"

"-in case they find themselves with another offer."

"All right, boys," Bilbo's eyes opened and he leveled them a glare. "Now you can leave."

Fili and Kili began to whine a protest, refusing to move. Before Bilbo could say anything more a strong hand gripped his chin, and he found his head tilted up to face Thorin. Chapped lips closed in on his, and Bilbo say in utter shock as Thorin consumed him. After a moment his eyes slid shut and he reached up to grasp Thorin's hair, tugging him closer and welcoming the ministrations with a soft mewl and an open mouth.

Fili and Kili let out noises of disgust beside them and quickly left. It was barely noticed by the couple, Thorin's hands sliding around to trace Bilbo's chest gently. He slid his mouth down from Bilbo's lips to his neck, sucking harshly at the long column. Bilbo writhed against him, back arching and feet kicking at the ground.

"Reel it in there, lad, you're putting on a bit of a show."

Bilbo's eyes snapped open and he stared up at Balin, horrified. He used his grasp on Thorin's hair to tug the man off his neck, scrambling from his lap. Thorin growled and reached for Bilbo, but the hobbit was far from his grasp, hurrying across the hall to hide behind Gandalf.

"Oh my," Bilbo mumbled into the robes of his friend. "Oh I'm so ashamed."

"There, there, Master Baggins," Gandalf laughed. "You're a newly courted couple. This is to be expected."

Bilbo remained huddled behind Gandalf for the rest of the night, shyly peeking around every so often to see if eyes were still on him. Fili and Kili leered at him every time he appeared, much to Bilbo's embarrassment.

Once the dwarrows began to drift to their beds Bilbo scurried over to his own. He dove under the blankets, barely noticing when another mattress thumped into his. He grumbled irritably when arms reached in and drew him out, pulling him against a firm chest. Thorin chuckled as he pressed a kiss to Bilbo's head, inhaling his scent.

"Sleep, Bilbo," he whispered softly. Bilbo nuzzled Thorin's neck in return.

"Mmm, all right," Bilbo mumbled. He blinked sleepily up at Thorin before smiling. "I'm… I'm glad it was you…"

"'It was me' what, burglar?"

"It was you who courted me."

"Of course, my Halfling. You've been on my mind for the longest time."

"And you on mine."

A soft kiss was traded in the dark, tame and mild in comparison to the earlier exchange.

'No,' Bilbo thought happily. 'Books cannot compare to the real thing at all.'