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What Bilbo Baggins expected from his adventure with Dwarves, he was not sure.

To help them reclaim their homeland was the obvious goal. A chance to see more of the world, to live as his mother and he himself had once wanted to live was also a part of it. Bilbo was a Hobbit and thus far he had done absolutely everything that a respectable Hobbit would not do. (And they were not even near the Lonely Mountain yet!)
What he expected from his companions, he was even less certain about.

For they were Dwarves, all thirteen of them! Dwarves were bigger, gruffer, cruder and strange to Hobbits. They worked from the earth, lived in rock, hungered for riches. An average Hobbit could hardly make sense of the way a Dwarf lived because it was so…un-Hobbit-like.

Bilbo considered himself lucky, then, not to be an average Hobbit. After some weeks on the road with these thirteen, he thought himself comfortable with them and their differences (though not ingratiated with them, for nearly all, save the youngest, Balin, and Bofur and his family, treated him still with suspicion). He even entertained hopes that, by the end of the quest, he might be a formal Dwarf-friend, something he would never have dreamt of in his cosy Hobbit hole!

If only he could find a way to gain Thorin Oakenshield’s trust.

~~~

Only at night could Bilbo appreciate how far he had come from home. They were eking further East, into woodland by now, and now camped out in a neat little clearing. A fire was being prodded into life, the sky above was flushing royal blue and Bilbo thought that if he were to look around he would recognize nothing. He had never been so long and so away from the Shire before! The thought both exhilarated and unsettled him.

It was around this point in Bilbo Baggins’ adventure that events took a turn that did not usually feature in old storybooks. As the company gathered around the fire and Gandalf curled his long body around his pipe—a sure sign that they could relax and unwind for the evening—idle chatter became animated conversation. Bilbo was more than happy to lean back and let his companions talk and was half-dozing when Gloin mentioned his son.

“Oh, must you?” Nori exclaimed and the Company seemed to dissolve into laughter, “Every bloody night, Gimli this and Nannen that—!”

“Jealous, are you?” teased Gloin, “I don’t see any of you getting a nice Dwarrow to warm your bed—‘cept old Bombur, ‘course—”

“Cos he’s the size of three Dwarves!” grinned Bofur and everybody cackled. Bombur reddened but straightened up and glared his friends down.

“I never hear Silta complaining.”

Dwalin wolf-whistled. A bristling Dori attempted to clamp his hands over Ori’s ears, even as his youngest brother wriggled out of reach. Dori would have to put up with such lewd talk, as the conversation only worsened in filth from then on.

Bilbo rather hoped that they would change topic after Oin’s bellowed tale about his romp in a Blue Mountains tavern (“I ran in with four young ladies, sisters, all delightful, almost identical … and I haven’t been in since, though I hear the barkeep’s son couldn’t walk straight for weeks!”) but it was at that moment that Bofur noticed Thorin had been rather quiet all night. Only Bofur would be shameless enough to ask the following of their leader.

“And you, Thorin? Ever had a romp in the hay with a farmer’s wife you’d like to share?”

The Company instantly spilt into guffaws. Dwalin glowered a little at Bofur but said nothing. Fili and Kili did not take too kindly to the image of their uncle having any ‘romps’; Fili wrinkled his nose and, when Gandalf offered him a packet of pipe weed, accepted it, while Kili squawked and squirmed into Dori’s lap, clapping the older Dwarf’s hands over his ears. Even Bilbo could not resist a smile at the mental image of Thorin, stern brooding Thorin, rolling under the sheets with someone, stripped of his coat and armour and propriety, flushed and wild-eyed with desire…

Well. It took Bilbo a few long moments to wrench himself out of that fantasy. How strange.

By this time, the laughter had died down. Thorin had not so much as chuckled and his silence rendered the others awkward. As they glanced at one another in confusion, Thorin glared into the fire and held himself still, as if he truly were hewn from stone. But Bilbo did not think he imagined the blush of his face, even though it was dark and they sat so close to the fire.

“Alright, lads, enough of that,” Balin said at length, “Thorin’s business is his own, after all.”

“Quite right,” said Thorin and his voice was rough. Bilbo was just about to relax again when Gandalf—curse the wizard, curse him!—plucked his pipe from his mouth. His eyes twinkled merrily.

“A sensible course of action,” he chirped, “to prioritize the kingdom above earthly needs. I’m sure that your romp will happen in the proper circumstances, once Erebor is regained and the right person comes along.”

There was a moment of confusion. That was when Bilbo, tongue loosened by sleepiness and cheer, decided to speak.

“Thorin, it sounds a bit like you’re a virgin!”

Thorin’s eyes widened. The Company was laughing again—“Pull the other one, burglar!” “Shire folk! Precious!”—save for Dwalin, who looked thunderous, and Bilbo, who felt suddenly like he had just tipped himself off of a very large cliff.

“Enough!” Thorin roared and threw himself to his feet. There was dead silence immediately. Thorin looked angry but Bilbo could see the tremble of his hands, the nervous lines around his eyes and mouth. He looked for a moment as if he would speak but then he glanced at Bilbo and clenched his jaw. Without a word, he stormed into the thick of trees and left his men in baffled silence.

Then, Nori’s voice, speaking as if he had found the secret to life itself, speaking with such awe and reverence that Bilbo felt goosebumps break out on his arms.

Virgin.

“Excuse me?” yelped Dori. Nori turned round eyes on his brother; the corners of his lips just resisted flicking up into a grin.

“He’s a virgin. It all makes sense!”

“Nori—!”

“HE JUST NEEDS TO GET LAID—!”

With a shout of anger, Dwalin threw himself at Nori, stopped only by Dori and Gloin’s pushing arms. Startled, Nori toppled backwards off of the log he and his brothers were perched on. This was enough to set them off again and soon nearly everyone was splitting their sides over Nori, rolling on his back like a stuck turtle.
Thorin did not return for a long while.

~~~

The next few days were a blur. The Company was almost devoured by trolls; Orcs on Wargs pursued them across the plains; and then Elves saved their lives and Bilbo found himself in Rivendell, a place more beautiful and astounding than he could ever have hoped.

The Dwarves were less than pleased to be surrounded by Elves but it was the first time in ages that they could have hot baths and comfy beds. Even Thorin kept his complaining to a minimum.

At this point, Bilbo thought it had been forgotten about the revelation that night. Hobbits were not an especially prudish or private people; most had a fair handful of lovers before (and sometimes after) settling down and Bilbo himself had dallied with the odd lass and lad before. Dwarves seemed to be of the same mould, if their stories were anything to go by. Why should Thorin’s lack of experience be of any interest to them? Why should it matter at all what he got up to—or, rather, did not get up to?

(Aside from the dreams Bilbo sometimes found himself jerking out of, confused and alert and usually aroused, he really paid the matter no mind.)

Rivendell was when Bilbo came to realise that, as far as his Company was concerned, Thorin’s virginity was a pressing issue.

“Did you see that Elf maid at dinner?” Kili asked nonchalantly. They were all huddled on a balcony, casually snapping the Elves’ lovely wooden furniture in order to build a fire later that evening. They were safe from being overheard by Thorin, who was with Balin in attendance at one of their Boring Secret Meetings with Lord Elrond and Gandalf (Kili’s words, not Bilbo’s).

“Elf maid?” Ori repeated distractedly. He was sitting cross-legged against the wall, intently scribbling in his book. Kili tossed him a look.

“While you’re writing, Ori, get this down: I must always listen to Kili and pay attention because pretty Elf ladies might want to shag me.”

Ori spluttered and knocked his ink all over his drawing in surprise. Bilbo hissed sympathetically.

“Oh, come here, Ori,” he said, kneeling next to the distraught Dwarf and pulling out his handkerchief. He still had the pocket Bofur had ripped off and thrown to him when he first joined their Company and this served now to blot the puddle of black that so marred the thick white pages.

Above them, Fili scowled at Kili.

“Leave Ori alone, Kee. For that matter, leave Elf women alone too. Uncle will have your head if you try anything on.”

“It’s Uncle I’m thinking of! She was making eyes at him and—well—” here, Kili waggled his eyebrows lasciviously. Bilbo’s head shot up.

“You’re thinking of Thorin and—and that woman?” he cried. Fili groaned.

“Kili, must you meddle?” he exclaimed, “You couldn’t even abide the picture of Uncle before—”

“Uncle telling his stories was one thing,” Kili said dismissively, “But not having any? Fili, Uncle is—he has never—do you see my point?”

“Not really, no.”

“For Mahal’s sake. He has never been touched. He has never had anyone. At his age—and a King to boot—he ought to have driven himself mad by now!”

“He’s had other things on his mind,” Bilbo pointed out weakly, attracting curious gazes from both boys, “I—well—by the sound of things, Thorin’s been very good to you since—well.”

“Oh yes,” Kili replied, “He’s cared for us and he’s done a good job since Smaug. But he hasn’t cared for himself properly and there must be a reason why. That’s why I think he needs us, Fili. We are his nephews, his heirs. It is our blood right—nay, the responsibility, the duty of our line—to break Uncle’s maidenhead.”

Bilbo choked on air.

Kili’s speech had apparently had a very different effect on Fili, who now regarded his brother thoughtfully, “Well…I do agree that Uncle could use some happiness but I highly doubt he’d give himself to an Elf.”

“Who else is there? Surely we cannot wait until after the dragon unless you know if we all survive the dragon,” Kili drawled, “Unless you propose he lie with one of the Company? That or Gandalf—”

“NO!” Fili and Bilbo cried as one. Kili reeled back.

“Alright, not Gandalf. Mind, the wizard could probably do with a good tup himse—”

NO!”

~~~

Word spread around quickly and soon the entire Company—save, of course, Thorin—seemed to be aware of their new mission. If Kili had hoped for a volunteer, he was disappointed; Gloin and Bombur were married, Ori and Dori huffed and blushed at the suggestion, Dwalin said some very not-nice things in Khuzdul that nobody cared to translate, Nori was warned swiftly that he was not so much to look at Thorin on pain of death and the others were all declared unsuitable in their own ways.

(No-one asked Bilbo and he was equally offended and relieved—not that he would admit to that.)

Their stay in Rivendell was to encompass two weeks and so Bilbo made himself quite familiar, exploring the rooms and hallways and taking full advantage of all their hosts had to offer them. It was on one such venture, as Bilbo searched for an exquisite library one of Lord Elrond’s sons had told him about, that he happened to overhear bickering from a nearby alcove. A moment later, Bilbo realised that, despite their public setting and raised voices, Thorin and Balin meant for their conversation to be private. To Bilbo’s shame, he could not tear himself away.

“—why anyone, least of all—especially you, should even care about—”

“Thorin, you are more than my Prince, you are my friend and I only want to look out for you.”

“By embarrassing me, by slandering and disrespecting me among my Company?”

“Be reasonable, Thorin! They would follow you anywhere and you know that. I wish only to make sure that, when the time does come—”

“Is this really happening?”

Bilbo blinked. Thorin’s voice had risen to an almost petulant groan. He sounded disbelieving and exasperated and Bilbo could not believe how much he enjoyed hearing Thorin lose his kingly bearing so.

“—when the time does come, you’ll be as adequately prepared as a King should be.”

“What he’s asking,” a third voice—Dwalin’s, rumbling with amusement—said, “is if you know where to put it.”

“Dwalin—”

“I KNOW WHERE TO PUT IT.”

“—don’t make things worse—”

“I UNDERSTAND IT PERFECTLY, I SIMPLY HAVEN’T PRACTISED.”

There was a pause, during which Bilbo’s chest seemed uncommonly tight. The next person to speak is Dwalin.

“What these louts ought to remember is that Thorin’s our King and friend and deserves that respect. Anyway, we’re on a quest; if those lads try anything funny now and don’t leave well enough alone, I’ll personally feed them to Smaug before I rip off his head.”

Dwalin spoke as if he were discussing gardening and Bilbo pulled back in horror. Balin merely chuckled.

“How kind, to be defending Thorin’s virtue, Dwalin.”

“My virtue,” scoffed Thorin.

“You know there was talk of encouraging an Elf to proposition you?” Dwalin revealed, “Thorin, I fear you’re made a Company out of idiots.”

Thorin let himself laugh—a low sound that Bilbo warmed to hear—and then spoke, “We’re agreed then? This nonsense will stop?”

“Yes,” Dwalin replied instantly. Balin’s acquiescence took a moment longer.

We can stop. Try getting the boys to stop.”

Thorin growled in exasperation. A heavy clomp of boots on stone alerted Bilbo to their approach and he leapt back into the centre of the hallway, attempting to look for all the world as if he had just walked by.

“Ah, hallo, Thorin!” he chirped when the Dwarf in question swept into view. Thorin reared back in surprise. Balin and Dwalin, on either side of him, arched their eyebrows suspiciously.

“I was just, er—I was wondering—library—well, I can see you’re busy! I’ll leave you to it!”

With that, Bilbo shot lightning-fast down the path, away from the baffled Dwarves. He stumbled over a potted plant at the corner of the hall. It seemed only fitting.

~~~

After being so cruelly dismissed, tumbling down a rock slide, being poked and prodded and shoved by goblins, falling down yet another black tunnel, being threatened by a greedy little beast and temporarily turning invisible, Bilbo thought he rather deserved a break. To have the whole Company stare at him with surprise and distrust and far too little relief was only the cherry on top of the disaster of a cake that was Bilbo Baggins’ night and to hear Thorin question why he had come back really was the last straw. At this point, he hardly tagged along for his health or even for the sake of adventure.

He cared. He cared about Fili and Kili’s mischief and Ori’s drawings and Gloin and Oin’s stories and Nori and Dori’s bickering and Balin’s wisdom and Bofur’s jokes and Bombur’s cooking and Dwalin’s loyalty and Bifur’s…Bifur. He cared about Thorin Oakenshield and what he believed in and strove for and how he protected his men. Bilbo had always known home, had always had comfort and knew that he could easily return to the Shire and normalcy, yet it was the quest of this Dwarf and his Company that lit any flame of passion in Bilbo’s heart.

And that is what he told them. Actions speak louder, however, and when those nasty Orcs burst back onto the scene—as Azog the Defiler smirked, as that Orc raised his knife above Thorin’s vulnerable form—Bilbo let them roar out his love.

When the Eagles saved them and dropped them quite safely on the faraway Carrock, Bilbo would have collapsed in shock and exhaustion had he not spotted Gandalf hovering over Thorin, still bloody and prone on the ground. His stomach twisted in fear and he scrambled over even as Thorin’s eyes flickered open.

Thank heavens!

“The halfing?” Thorin wheezed. Gandalf breathed his own sigh of relief. The rest of the Company were being deposited now and crowded around their leader in unconcealed concern.

“It’s alright; Bilbo is here.”

Bilbo could not even enjoy a moment of that feeling—Thorin is worried, he thinks of me, he cares—before Thorin was staggering to his feet, helped by Dwalin and Kili. He looked cross—no, downright furious.

“You!” he barked and Bilbo had to restrain himself from cowering away, “What were you doing? You almost got yourself killed!”

A rebuttal was on the edge of Bilbo’s tongue before Thorin stormed on, now stepping towards him with a grim glint to his eye.

“Did I not say that you would be a burden? That you would not survive in the wild? That you had no place amongst us?”

Every word weighed down on Bilbo’s shoulders like stone and he had to drop his gaze, swallowing hard against a lump in his throat. What had he thought, that he could have belonged, that he was anything other than a stupid, useless, clumsy Hobbit—?

“I have never been so wrong in all my life!”

Bilbo did not even notice Thorin move until his arms were around him, pulling him tight against a solid chest, against a warm body and a beating heart and a huff of relieved laughter against his ear. Behind them, the others were cheering themselves but Bilbo barely noticed them. Something fluttered in his belly, quick and impatient as a bird’s heart, more than joy or relief, something hotter and more intense.

Oh dear, Bilbo thought as Thorin pulled away to smile at him (and what a smile!), This is an unexpected adventure.

~~~

They spent most of that day carefully manoeuvring their way down from the Carrock. Many scrapes and bruises were accumulated, many near-falls were conducted and Gloin very nearly jeopardized Gandalf’s fragile treaty with Eagle-kind by cursing whichever Eagle decided that leaving them on top of a huge tower of rock was a good idea. Bilbo found himself putting off climbing down himself until he was sure Thorin, who moved gingerly and with some hisses of pain, was making progress. This was until Dori hoisted him onto his back and scaled the rock with a slightly frantic Hobbit clutching at his shoulders.

Camp was made in the Carrock’s shadow and Oin soon declared that this camp would be in place for at least a few days, until the extent of Thorin’s injuries could be determined. (Thorin looked awfully sour at that but he did not complain and Bilbo was glad because he did not want to risk their new truce by stamping his feet and vehemently arguing with him.) A small lake was found nearby, firewood was gathered and before long Bombur had a stew boiling and several happy voices surrounding him.

Bilbo was sure that night, a celebration of their survival, was an enjoyable one but he could not be sure. Within minutes of them being settled, he had fallen asleep on Dori’s shoulder.

~~~

For three days, the Company recuperated. They all took the chance to bathe in the lake and Fili and Kili were able to hunt in the woods to replenish their stocks. Bilbo discovered that he had earned even Dwalin’s grudging respect when he shoved his little sword at him and announced, “I’m gonna teach you some technique, alright?” Oin decided that Thorin, though battered, was not grievously wounded and that some rest was all that was required.

On the fourth day, Bilbo found himself alone with Thorin.

He was down by the lake, scrubbing at his torn waistcoat and cursing the creature in the caves, when Thorin ambled out of the trees and stopped short at the sight of him. Bilbo noticed him out of the corner of his eye and mumbled a greeting, too fixated on one of the ripped threads that once connected gold buttons to the garment.

“Are you bathing, Master Baggins?”

“No, I’m not,” Bilbo replied and finally glanced up, “I was actually just…just…”

Thorin raised his eyebrows in question. Bilbo, unfortunately, could not answer. Bilbo was rather too distracted by the fact that Thorin was clad only in his trousers and loose undershirt. Not even shoes. He could see a triangle of Thorin’s chest and of the dark hair that furred it. It was practically obscene.

“Coat,” Bilbo blurted out eloquently and, if he did not already look like a fool, he hefted his wet waistcoat into the air in demonstration and subsequently soaked his trousers. He might have cried if Thorin had not so promptly chuckled.

“Do you mind if I do? I have been all but confined to my bedroll since we arrived here. Even Bifur believes I’m in desperate need now.”

Bilbo nodded dumbly. He did not think to look away, however, until Thorin had lifted his shirt over his head, and he swiftly buried his burning face in his waistcoat. It was too late, however, and he had caught a glimpse of hair and browned skin and toned muscle and the angry purple welts that curved across Thorin’s torso in the unmistakable shape of a Warg’s teeth.

“They’re healing nicely,” Thorin told him conversationally as he stepped into the water. Bilbo did not dare look up. He recalled Rivendell, when his thoughts of Thorin had been coloured by intimidation and lust, when he could scarcely peek at him without feeling a stirring low in his gut. These last few days, however, with Thorin weakened and kinder, his desire was tempered with a stronger emotion, a yearning to touch and take care of him, and Bilbo feared now that, if he were to look again at Thorin and see those bruises, he would be unable to help himself and would only embarrass the both of them.

Instead, he squeaked, “That’s good. Very good. Um.”

For a while, they sat in silence. Bilbo pretended to focus on an imaginary stain on his waistcoat (it was basically ruined but he would not admit to that yet) while listening to the rustle of water as Thorin washed carefully. After putting his waistcoat to one side, Bilbo finally could not help himself and peered at Thorin. At this point, he had dunked his head and his hair now hung soaking, heavy and almost-black down the length of his black. Bilbo swallowed very hard and grappled for something to say.

“Out of curiosity,” he said, “what do you want to do…after the dragon is gone?”

A split second later, Bilbo was kicking himself. Thorin said nothing, only glanced at Bilbo from over his shoulder.

“What I mean is,” stammered Bilbo, “Obviously, you’ll be King. After that? Do you intend to…well, do something special, something kingly?”

Thorin lifted his eyes as if in thought before replying, “I intend first to ensure Smaug and all relics of him are removed from Erebor.”

“Oh. Obviously, heh.”

“After that, it will be a case of stabilization, bringing the Dwarves of Erebor back to their homeland, making the Mountain prosperous again…why do you ask, burglar? Your fourteenth of the treasure is ensured.”

“What? Oh, oh yes! That isn’t why, I only…I wanted to know what you wanted to do with this home you’re reclaiming. Settling down, taking a consort and the like.”

Only after stating this did Bilbo realise what it was that he had said. Did I just ask Thorin if he wanted to get married?!

Thorin went quiet again. Bilbo could feel his hands trembling as he reached again for his waistcoat.

“Forget I asked, I was being silly. I really should find a place for this to dry.”

“I see what this is about,” Thorin had twisted around now and glared at Bilbo, regally captivating even when stripped down and perched in a lake, “I see. Did my sister-sons put you up to this?”

“What? No! Perhaps there’s a good rock to put it over, I’ll be—”

“The state of my sheets is no-one’s business but my own, Master Baggins—”

“Bilbo!”

“Excuse me?”

“Um,” Bilbo had rather startled himself by shouting but he could see no other alternative than to follow that train of thought, “Please. You can just call me Bilbo. And I don’t mean to pry. I know it’s my fault anybody even knows about your—er, the state of your sheets but I honestly don’t mind and I don’t want you to think that I think anything about—that I think at all because I don’t really seem to, do I? Think, that is. Please tell me to stop talking.”

“Stop talking,” Thorin parroted, not unkindly. Bilbo shut his mouth with an audible click of the teeth. He was still holding his waistcoat up like a shield, only dripping more dirty water onto his newly-dried trousers, but eventually draped it back on the grass.

In the water, Thorin sighed, “My Company means well, I believe. They’re of the opinions that a Dwarf of my age and status ought to have accomplished this particular feat.”

Bilbo inclined his head in agreement, though he was mostly surprised that Thorin was even speaking to him like this.

“The opportunities arose, of course,” Thorin continued, “but I turned them down. Before the fall of Erebor, it was because I believed I was worth more than what my suitors offered. I was arrogant. When the dragon came, I dedicated myself to the efforts of my father and grandfather —to finding a new settlement for our people. I have always lived without acting on the…urges…as I had always lived without doing so before. I cannot miss what I never had. Yet these men behave as if I am committing a cardinal sin.”

“You aren’t,” Bilbo said immediately and felt himself flush again when Thorin turned to look at him, “I mean, it’s a wonderful thing to do if you’re with a person you love or trust. It can be intimate or only about having children or it can just be…nice or…or fun. But you should never feel like you have to do anything. You should wait until you’re comfortable, until you have the right person, and then it’s…” Bilbo hesitated before exhaling through his mouth and gasping, “Well,” because he abruptly had the image in his head of what it would be like with Thorin, to touch Thorin, to kiss Thorin, to make love to Thorin…

The Thorin before him merely blinked at him, “Have you found…the right person, Bilbo?”

“Wha—oh, no. I haven’t been in love before,” Bilbo admitted. In that moment, he contemplated adding ‘until now’. Thorin looked oddly pleased enough as it was.

“Then I hope we both do someday, burglar.”

~~~

Lake-town was where it ended. Or started, depending on how one looked at it.

The Company had been fine rooms and a hearty welcome by the Master of Lake-town (an otherwise repulsive gentleman) and were delighted, after so long cooped up in narrow Elven dungeons and tossed in barrels on a churning river, to be on warm, sturdy ground. They were quick to decide that a feast—more importantly, ale and beer—were in short order.

A merry pub, cheerful friends and a good meal were sure-fire ways to tempt any Hobbit. Bilbo had practically been shoving the Dwarves out the door in his eagerness, prompting loud laughter and a declaration from Bombur that they were kindred spirits after all. Even Thorin had chuckled, a sound which might have melted Bilbo were he not so focused on the prospect of food.

The Men in the appointed inn were raucous and jovial in welcoming the Company among their ranks and it was not long before thirteen Dwarves and one Hobbit were well into their cups and approaching boisterousness rapidly. At the darkest point of the night, when the pub was at its most crowded, they managed to find themselves crammed at a table as honoured guests. Kili perhaps attracted the most attention from particularly amorous men (his comrades did not seem to realise but Bilbo was a little more familiar with the ways of men, having once or twice found occasion to travel to Bree, and knew that Kili’s delicate features and lack of beard were considered handsome or even pretty by them) but he was rescued from the more forward of these by Oin and Dwalin pointedly pushing him between them. This, of course, led inevitably to…

“You know the last time I had a good fuck?”

“Nori!”

“Must-a been a solid three weeks a-fore we all met at ol’ Bilbo’s—did I mention, Bilbo, lovely spread you put out for us at your home—and speakin’ of spreading and putting—”

“Nori, our brother—”

“Oh, Dori, I’ve heard it all before!”

“What?! WHERE?”

“—lovely Hobbit lass, actually, just within the Shire borders…part of the reason why I bet against you, Baggins, I thought that if your women were so wild, you’d never want to leave! That and you were a bit of a blanket, no offence.”

“None taken,” Bilbo chirped and took a large gulp of ale. Nori’s tale was swiftly followed by Bofur’s fond recollection of a Dwarfess in the Blue Mountains, as well as Bombur and Gloin commiserating, for both were husbands and fathers and both missed their families (and by extension their beds) desperately. This time, Thorin did not listen to the talk with a stony countenance; perhaps their journey and the bond between the fourteen had changed him, but he took some interest and even amusement in his men’s stories.

Until, again, he himself was addressed.

“Y’know, Thorin,” Kili slurred. The hour had grown later and the Dwarves had by now outstayed even the sturdiest of Men. “You know…Uncle…you’re my Uncle…and we’re going back to Erebor, to fight a home and reclaim a dragon and all that…and I’m proud but I feel like, in my soul, I just cannot let you go ahead without even, even having sex,” this last was whispered like a horrible secret. Kili leant forward as if to make up for his lowered tone of voice and very almost tipped off his stool. Fili barked with strained laughter.

“Ignore him, Thorin, he’s had too much.”

“And Thorin’s had none!” Kili wailed. It spoke volumes about how drunk nearly all the Dwarves were that even Dwalin nodded his head sagely at this.

“Aye,” he sighed, “I’d kill anyone who laid a finger wrong on ye but you oughta at least have risked it.”

Thorin, staring intently at the contents of his mug, grunted noncommittally.

“This might be your last chance,” continued Kili so earnestly that Bilbo thought he saw Bombur wipe away a tear, “and I think you should have a go, Uncle. Because Smaug might defeat us and to think that you would deny yourself—”

His voice cracked horribly and he had to bury his face in his brother’s shoulder. After a moment of melancholy contemplation—for most of them; Bilbo and most likely Thorin too sat awkwardly—Balin lifted his head.

“If you wish to be with someone you trusted,” he told Thorin solemnly, “you know that you need only say the word. We all swore upon joining this Company that we would die by your side in battle if called for. It would be absurd to refuse to lie with you too.”

“Aulë help me,” Thorin said and downed his ale, “I think we all ought to go to bed.”

Every Dwarf at the table jolted upright at this and shared alarmed glances with one another.

“Well, Thorin,” Bofur began slowly, “if that’s what you would like—”

“TO SLEEP.

“Ah. That makes more sense.”

As they jostled and clambered to their feet and to the door, Bilbo deliberately wormed his way to Thorin’s side and the pair led the others back towards their lodgings. Bilbo was tipsy and just optimistic enough to walk closer to Thorin than he normally would—close enough that their arms brushed with every stride. For a beat, he thought Thorin had not noticed.

“Swaying, burglar?” Thorin asked suddenly, almost teasingly. Bilbo rather thought he would collapse with surprise and not a bit of pleasure.

“Not at all!” he replied, “Simply keeping you all on the right track.”

As if on cue, Bilbo had to press at Thorin’s elbow and steer him down the alley he had almost missed.

“I know better than to trust the Dwarf who got lost in Hobbiton,” Bilbo quipped and Thorin narrowed his eyes.

“Impetuous Hobbit. I must ban my nephews from venturing near you again.”

With a chuckle, Bilbo allowed their chat to dissolve into comfortable silence, broken only by the rowdy calls of their friends behind them. The house that the Master had bestowed upon them was near the centre of the town and large, big enough for Man-sized bedrooms, a dining area and a sitting room. To these beds Thorin quickly directed his company. Fili, Kili and Ori fell asleep sprawled and tangled together on one bed; Gloin and Bombur had an especially emotional hug before separating to the rooms they would share with their brothers; Dori led Bifur off and left Nori to negotiate sleeping arrangements with Dwalin and Balin. Bilbo, it seemed, would be getting his own room but he did not yet feel like sleeping. Instead, he built a fire in the sitting room and curled up on one of the armchairs, wide and cushy enough that it might have served as a bed itself.

He was not left alone for long. Bilbo had been staring at the fire for some time when the door creaked open and Thorin padded in. When Bilbo turned to blink at him, the pale shapes of flames were molded on the inside of his eyelids.

“You’re still awake!” he blurted out. Thorin arched a dignified brow even as he jumped onto the opposite chair.

“I appear to suffer from a stronger disposition than my Company,” said Thorin, “and cannot sleep at any rate. Not when we all but sit in the shadow of the Mountain.”

There was an odd pull to the corners of Thorin’s mouth, as well as shadows beneath his eyes that not even the fire could illuminate. Bilbo straightened his back.

“What’s troubling you? Is it being so near now? Our quest is awfully close to being over, isn’t it?”

Thorin hummed an affirmative even as he fixed Bilbo with a strange look. Bilbo supposed he was being frightfully obvious; he was not looking forward much to the completion of their quest, even as Bag End and home beckoned. He was used now to living on the road, with these Dwarves, with Thorin. Leaving Thorin would be the most difficult part.

It was Thorin who broke the silence this time, though not in the way Bilbo anticipated. “What did you think of what they said about me?”

“When?”

“In the inn. About my…proclivities.”

“Your pro-what?” Bilbo asked. Thorin angled his head pointedly and a piece fell into place. “Oh! Not your virginity!”

Thorin grimaced.

“Or…yes your virginity?” Mortified, Bilbo cleared his throat, “I, I didn’t think much of it. It isn’t my business, your sheets or whatever, and you should if you want but shouldn’t if you don’t. Balin was right, though, about being with someone you trust—”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Your—ah, so, you have someone—something, that is, in mind?”

“Somewhat,” Thorin answered. His face looked oddly scrunched up; on anyone else, Bilbo might have labelled the expression uncertainty. “I have to ask, though: when Balin declared that any one of them would fall in my bed as willingly as they would their swords—a comparison I’m not sure I’m altogether appreciative of—did you include yourself in that number?”

Bilbo, in the midst of chortling at the disdain in Thorin’s voice upon remembering Balin’s words, made a strangled noise. Thorin’s eyebrows shot up.

“Master Baggins, you make even Balin seem almost flattering.”

“That’s not what I—I—” Bilbo was unable to do more than splutter for a moment. All melancholy forgotten, he blurted out, “Of course! If you asked, I’d be there in a second!”

Thorin’s eyes widened, as if startled by this, before his face softened in a way that plucked hopefully at Bilbo’s heartstrings. They seemed on the edge, Bilbo thought, of something significant.

“Is that simply loyalty or the drink talking, Bilbo Baggins?” Thorin asked quietly.

“Neither,” Bilbo admitted, “Rather, my heart, made braver by drink.”

“Your heart is plenty brave as it is. Not many Hobbits, I wager, would agree to face a dragon.”

Bilbo was almost breathless at this point. Thorin, too, was flushed and Bilbo fancied it was from something more than the fire roaring next to them. After a moment of gathering every drop of his courage—if he could fend off Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, he could do this—Bilbo slid off his chair and lifted his gaze to Thorin’s.

“Would you care to go to bed, Thorin Oakenshield?”

The blush staining Thorin’s cheeks was now, undoubtedly, caused not by the heat of the fireplace. Nor was the brightness of his eyes as he nodded.

“There’s no-one I’d rather have.”

~~~

“So, shall we have at it?”

“Shall we what?”

The last time Bilbo had enjoyed another man had been some years prior. Merebo Proudfoot had never much liked adventures; they grew up together but Merebo had not had the patience for Bilbo’s mad games or Gandalf’s fantastic stories. He did, however, quite like Bilbo as a grown Hobbit and had one evening, after an interesting Midsummer’s Eve celebration, dragged Bilbo into the Maggots’ farm to demonstrate just how much he did so. Bilbo would never quite forget how Merebo had hauled Bilbo’s legs over his shoulders, grinned and said, “Shall we have at it then?”

Dwarves were a very different kettle of fish. Especially virginal king Dwarves who were testy on the best of days.

It had begun wonderfully. Bilbo had barely had time to lock the door before Thorin had rammed him up against it and pressed his lips to his, all teeth and tongue and the unexpectedly lovely scratch of beard against skin. His mouth was hot and demanding and Bilbo had been the first to moan, the first to pull away and gasp for air even as hands wandered. They had grappled with one another, stumbling backwards towards the bed, pulling at clothes, kissing whenever a shirt was not in the way and buttons and buckles did not call for undivided attention. It was as Bilbo, left only in his underwear, focused on undoing Thorin’s belt that the rather unfortunate phrase saw fit to be said.

“Er,” Bilbo said. He could feel the tips of his ears turn red as Thorin crossed his arms over his bare chest and frowned. “I didn’t say that. I did not—”

“Is ‘it’ supposed to be—”

“Someone just said something like that to me once. Stupid, insensitive, can I take your trousers off now?”

Thorin quietened down and let Bilbo wrench his belt free and tuck his fingers into his waistband, catching them between rough fabric and gloriously warm flesh. Then he asked:

“Have you had many lovers then?”

“Eh?” Bilbo said. Oh no. This has to be navigated carefully. You don’t want to be sent away in this state, not when he’s so close, when he—

“Um, some.”

“Oh,” Thorin said, then: “Didn’t you wish to take my trousers off?”

With a sigh of relief, Bilbo tugged Thorin’s trousers and smallclothes down. Thorin was breath-taking. Bilbo had already seen him naked before, during baths or early mornings as they changed, but this was different. This was intimate and now Bilbo could look upon him as a lover should. He pressed Thorin back onto the bed and ran his hands across broad shoulders, through the coarse black hair of his chest and his flat stomach, sliding over smooth hips and strong thighs. Thorin was trembling after this appraisal and Bilbo skimmed his fingers back up to curl through Thorin’s, rubbing his thumb over his knuckes.

“Beautiful,” he mumbled and punctuated this with a kiss to Thorin’s throat, “Beautiful.”

“Bilbo,” Thorin gasped in a garbled voice and then cut himself off in embarrassment. Bilbo was unable to hide his smile. Then, slowly, he leant back and looked at Thorin where he had not before dared to look.

“Oh.”

“What?” Instantly, Thorin was propped up on his elbows, eyeing Bilbo suspiciously, “I’ve been told it’s perfectly proportion—”

“Oh, it is,” Bilbo exclaimed. Now it was his turn to blush, even as Thorin smiled proudly and all but preened under his admiring gaze. “Very, very, very…what was I saying? Ah, I know. Which would you rather?”

“Which what?” Thorin asked. He was somewhat distracted with leaning up and mouthing at Bilbo’s throat, and Bilbo let his eyes flutter shut even as he powered on.

“Well, you haven’t done this before and I would rather you were comfortable. If you would rather be on top, that’s alright.”

The kisses being applied to Bilbo’s neck stopped. Thorin pulled back, curious and even a little nervous.

“You appear to know what you’re doing,” he said with a cough, “I would prefer that you…you have at it.”

Bilbo might have laughed if there was not a lump clogging his throat. “Are you sure? I really don’t mi—”

“I’m sure,” Thorin interrupted and, with a deep breath, underscored this by lying back and spreading his legs.

I’m dead. I’m dead and this is the afterlife and it’s perfect and I’ve never been so happy and—

“Oil?” Thorin said delicately and Bilbo knocked himself sideways in his scramble for his clothes. They had pilfered a bottle of cooking oil from the kitchen before coming up to this room and Bilbo now retrieved this from his trouser pocket. Thorin, in the meantime, shuffled up to the head of the bed and made himself comfortable against the pillows. Bilbo heaved himself back onto the bed and knelt at Thorin’s side, resting a comforting hand on the tense muscles of his belly.

Bilbo paused, breathing deeply and appreciating the sight before him. Thorin peered at him imploringly but he was apprehensive—understandably so. Bilbo squared his shoulders and told himself to get a grip, for Thorin’s sake if not his own.

“If you tell me that you want to stop, I will,” Bilbo told him and felt him relax minutely, “Tell me. You know I have had partners, that I ‘know what I’m doing’. What have you done?”
“You mean—in this area?” Thorin clarified, his breath hitching as Bilbo started to rub circles, “Aside from unwise fumblings when I was still a princeling…little. I never cared to until now,” Even his glazed eyes caught the hint of smugness in Bilbo at this, “Don’t let that feed your ego, burglar.”

“I would never,” Bilbo replied breezily and then lifted his hand away, returning it instead to unstop the bottle. As he tipped some onto his fingers and worked them together, Bilbo noticed the bob of Thorin’s throat. From fear or arousal, Bilbo could not be sure.

“I could give you my hand first,” he offered and Thorin looked at him scathingly.

“I should hope so, I won’t take you without some prepa—nng.”

“That,” Bilbo said slowly as he wrapped his hand around Thorin, “isn’t what I meant.”

“I realise that,” Thorin snapped and keened as Bilbo, smiling sweetly, adjusted his grip and began to pump. By the time that he had hit a rhythm, Thorin was gritting his teeth and fisting the quilt beneath him, clutching at whatever control he had left. He fairly writhed when Bilbo twisted his wrist and glided up, swiping the pad of his thumb over the tip.

“You’re doing well,” Bilbo murmured gently and then, as reward, leaned down and pressed a kiss to the side. Thorin came apart with a startled shout and Bilbo stroked him throughout, waiting until Thorin fell limp against the bed again to speak.

“How was that?”

“How was—” Thorin cut himself off with an incredulous chuckle, eyes falling half-closed, “That was spectacular, Bilbo.”

Bilbo squirmed with pleasure to hear this (no-one had ever described his ministrations as spectacular before) before shaking his head free of vanities and returning to the matter at hand. (So to speak.)

“Do you want to keep going?”

“Yes,” Thorin replied immediately and shifted his thighs apart again. Bilbo would have to ask him to stop doing that; it was not good for his rational thinking.

“Just stay lovely and relaxed, hmm? This isn’t going to be the most comfortable thing at first.”

“You’re very reassuring,” Thorin deadpanned but lay still. Bilbo poured yet more of the oil into his palms and coated his fingers again. As Bilbo shuffled to sit between them, Thorin pulled his knees up and opened them a little further, lifting his head to look at Bilbo for guidance.

“That’s good,” Bilbo said thickly. His own arousal was heavy and urgent but he tried to clear the mist of lust from his brain. He leaned over Thorin and, cautiously, pressed the tip of his index finger against Thorin’s entrance.

The first finger slid in easily enough, Thorin being lax from his earlier orgasm, and Thorin’s sharp intake of breath was probably more from the strangeness of it than any pain. Reminding himself to be calm, Bilbo moved it slowly, caressing Thorin’s thigh encouragingly with his spare hand. Thorin was tight and unbelievably hot and Bilbo had to force himself not to think of what that would feel like how good how right

“Thorin?” Bilbo ventured, “Is this alright?”

Thorin’s brow was furrowed, as if from confusion, but he threw out a “yes”. Bilbo held himself still, letting Thorin (and himself, if he were honest) adjust to the new sensation.

“Can I—shall we try two?” Bilbo asked, even as he reached again for the vial. On Thorin’s word, he tipped a drop more oil onto his fingers and held index and middle together. He could feel the stretch around his fingers and knew even before Thorin’s discomforted groan that it must have hurt. With a guilty sigh, Bilbo stamped a quick kiss on the curve of Thorin’s shoulder and then waited.

“It’s odd,” Thorin said in a rough voice and Bilbo blinked, “It burns, but it isn’t…a pain. Is this normal?”

“Yes,” replied Bilbo and kissed Thorin’s neck again—for good measure, “It isn’t too nice at first, but it will be once you’re more used to it.”

Thorin hummed low in his throat, considering this. After a moment, Bilbo felt rather than saw him relax and released the anxious breath he had been holding.

Then, experimentally, Thorin lifted his hips and swivelled them down.

The sound that was wrenched from Bilbo’s throat was thoroughly humiliating and shall not be repeated or represented here. It had been quite beyond his control, however; Thorin’s action had ground Bilbo’s fingers further into gripping, constrictive heat, better than anything Bilbo had felt in a long while, and his cock throbbed desperately against his thigh. He was a fool to wonder if Thorin noticed this. The wretched Dwarf stopped, smirked lazily and then rocked his hips again.

“You’re incorrigible,” Bilbo gasped and Thorin chuckled gruffly, “How does it feel?”

Thorin did not reply but the next roll of his hips gave Bilbo all the answer he needed. A third helping of oil allowed him to slide the third finger into Thorin, who now held himself very still and clutched at the bedcovers rigidly. It did not, however, burn enough for him to ask Bilbo to stop. With an apologetic kiss, Bilbo focused on working his fingers apart, stretching Thorin and seeking some relief for him, seeking—

Aulë’s beard!”

—that. Bilbo knew that his grin must have been half-wild but he could not quite bring himself to mind, not with Thorin arching and moaning with unexpected pleasure as Bilbo found that spot inside him, that place that Bilbo could not name but that had brought him, and would now bring Thorin, to a new level of delight. Already, the air between them seemed charged and Bilbo, once again, could not shake off the feeling that he would wake up tomorrow a very different Hobbit.

“That’s—” Thorin stammered (had Thorin ever stammered before? This was new and not entirely unwelcome), “That’s—interesting, that’s—”

“Good?” Bilbo teased and curled his fingers again. With a harsh cry, Thorin found the presence of mind to nod frantically.

“I, I think,” he panted, “that we can…move on now.”

“Are you sure?”

I feel quite prepared, yes.

With a shaky breath, Bilbo slowly removed his fingers, lips twitching when Thorin exclaimed at how odd it now felt to be empty. He reached again for the bottle and looked at Thorin.

“Roll over,” he told him, quite surprising himself—he did not even feel the patience to try please and thank you, and such manners would surely have him kicked out of bed were his partner a Hobbit! “Onto your hands and knees, or stomach if you prefer, whatever is comfortable.”

Thorin stared at him. Bilbo blinked.

“Thorin, what’s wrong?”

A heartbeat’s pause, then Thorin’s expression darkened. He dug his heels in, quite literally, depressing the mattress, and said, “Like this.”

“What?”

Thorin sniffed haughtily, “I expected that I would see you when we made love, not the embroidery on these pillows. I would have you face me.”

“But—er—” Bilbo felt quite at a loss, “It would be more comfortable on your—”

“Be that as it may,” Thorin cut in, “it is not what I wish,” On seeing Bilbo’s flummoxed expression, Thorin’s gaze softened and he struggled upright, “I wish to see you, Bilbo.”

“You wish to—oh,” Bilbo breathed as Thorin’s lips found his jawline, gliding up towards the lobe of his ear, “Well, um—as long as you tell me if you want to—”

“Yes, yes,” Thorin waved a hand, pleased to have got his way, and then flopped back down with a nervous smile. Bilbo felt an anxious flutter low in his gut, fear that he might hurt Thorin, but coupled with that was an aching pulse of desire in knowing that he would see Thorin as they became one, that he could watch Thorin unravel under his touch…

“Open your legs a little more,” he said hoarsely and Thorin obeyed, “That’s it. That’s it.”

Bilbo manoeuvred himself between Thorin’s legs and took his slicked cock in hand. Then, carefully, he lowered himself over Thorin and pressed himself in.

Thorin was every bit as hot and tight as Bilbo had anticipated. He exhaled shakily and forced himself to keep the pace slow and steady until he was fully inside Thorin, whose eyes had grown wide.

“Oh,” Thorin said, “That’s…”

Bilbo hoped that the tremors in his arms, planted on either side of Thorin to support himself, were not too obvious. His voice was rough as he asked, “Good or bad?”

“Not bad,” replied Thorin and his wondering gaze lifted to meet Bilbo’s, “Not bad at all.”

This surprised a chuckle out of Bilbo and his chest swelled with such emotion that he had to lean forward, pushing Thorin’s thighs apart further, to press their mouths together lest he break out into song—or worse. Thorin’s grunt was muffled but he indicated what he meant by sliding his arms under Bilbo’s and clutching at his back.

Move then,” Thorin grumbled against his lips and Bilbo was only too happy to oblige. The first few thrusts were clumsy, with Bilbo’s hips stuttering against Thorin’s and the feeling still alien to Thorin. Then Bilbo lifted Thorin’s long leg around his waist and changed his angle just the slightest bit. His next thrust found that place that coaxed a low moan out of Thorin, the rumble of which Bilbo felt in his own belly.

“That’s good,” Bilbo huffed into his neck, drawing back and rocking forward to find that spot again, “That’s very good, oh…”

They found a rhythm together, hips rolling languidly even as Thorin pulled Bilbo back down for an insistent kiss. It was unlike anything Bilbo had experienced before. Thorin seemed to surround him; his tongue twined with his own, his nails scoring lines down his back, his heels digging into his backside, pulling him deeper, pulsing around him; and it was hotter and madder and better than Bilbo could have dreamt.

“Bilbo,” Thorin gasped and this one word reverberated through Bilbo, more so than the slide of their bodies or the creak of the bed as Bilbo thrust harder than before. Thorin tensed beneath him and held him all the more desperately. He cursed in breathless Khuzdul and then barked, “I’m not going to last if—”

“Go on, then,” Bilbo breathed and caught Thorin’s lips in a hard kiss. Releasing his grip on Thorin’s thigh, he snaked his hand between them and took hold of Thorin, stroking firmly. “Come on, Thorin, come for me—”

It was as if Thorin had only been seeking permission. Burying his face in Bilbo’s shoulder, Thorin let out a helpless cry as he spilled between them, his cock throbbing under Bilbo’s fingers. He clamped unconsciously around Bilbo, drawing him further into tight, fluttering heat until Bilbo’s world narrowed down to just them, just Thorin, and his hips rocked once, twice more before he found his own peak. Stars burst behind his eyelids as they snapped closed in dizzy, overwhelming pleasure and he could only choke out Thorin’s name once before dropping his head and seeking out Thorin’s mouth again, biting at his lower lip as the final crest of orgasm surged through him.

They lay together for what could have been seconds or could have been longer, panting into one another’s mouths, before Thorin started to squirm.

“Baggins, I’m sticky,” he griped and Bilbo became abruptly aware that his belly was striped white and wet—and he was still inside Thorin, which was apparently Thorin’s next complaint, “and it’s beginning to ache. It isn’t always like this?”

Bilbo coughed awkwardly as he got his knees under him and pulled out, patting Thorin’s knee in sympathy when he winced, “The first time’s always the clumsiest. Next time, it’ll be more—”

“‘Next time’?” Thorin, sitting up now, raised surprised eyebrows at Bilbo, “That’s presumptuous of you, Master Baggins.”

Bilbo felt something like a knife edge slice through the haze of bliss still fogging his mind. Mouth still half-open, he leaned away from Thorin, who watched him with a stern brow, and tried to think of something to say. Of course I shouldn’t have assumed, what would a king like you want with someone like me, I was convenient, I was a means to an end, now you can marry some princess and be as amazing with her as you were with me and I’ll just kill a dragon and scuttle back to my Hobbit hole on my own and—

Thorin’s hand, as he reached out to take hold of Bilbo’s chin, was warm and gentle.

“Next time,” said Thorin and the corner of his lips quirked up, “I’ll be on top.”

~~~

The first night in the Desolation of Smaug was cold. Even the stars glimmered like icicles and only Bifur dared venture out of the tight huddle of the Company to break some flaking branches off of a dead tree to build a fire with.

Desolation was perhaps too weak of a word. The landscape between Lake-town and the Mountain was a flat, bleak stretch of grey ash and lifelessness. The Dwarves did their best to keep their spirits up but here, surrounding by suffocating darkness, Bilbo could not help but fear.

Around the small fire they now sat, close together. Bilbo was sandwiched between Bofur and Dwalin, the former of whom had a friendly arm thrown about his shoulders. Across the circle, Thorin’s eyes seemed to smoulder at this and, even now, a peculiar thrill shot up Bilbo’s spine at this.

He liked the effect he had on Thorin. He had been insatiable for the final few days they had spent in Lake-town. Thorin was clearly not a Dwarf to do anything half-heartedly; he led his men into battle through sweat and grief, he slaved to forge a new kingdom, he rallied a Company to take back a forsaken Mountain—and his relations with Bilbo were fuelled by nothing less than that passion.

This particular brand of passion had, of course, been bottled up for well over a century.

“Oi, Bilbo,” Bofur said and Bilbo snapped out of his reverie, “What’s got a smile on your face?”

“What?” Bilbo asked. Bofur raised his eyes and Bilbo scrabbled to think of something to say. I can’t very well tell him I was thinking about going to bed with his King, can I? “Oh, terribly sorry, Bofur, I was just remembering last night and what a lovely mouth Thorin has”—

Luckily, he was rescued by Gloin sighing dramatically to the side, “Whenever I want to cheer meself up—”

“If the next words out of your mouth pertain at all to your wife or kid,” growled Nori, “I might strangle you.”

This was met with a low murmur of assent and Gloin fell into quiet sulking. Ori, next to him, patted him on the shoulder and then leant the other way to nuzzle on Fili’s. Bilbo would have raised his eyebrows at this had Dori not already grumpily informed him that the youngest of their Company had downed enough to knock out a fully-grown troll the night before, when they were all being treated on their last night by their fans at the pub in Lake-town. Fili, too, was quiet and did not seem to notice Ori dozing off on him; Kili was as brash and bright as ever but Bofur theorized that he was probably still drunk.

“You’re one to talk, Nori,” Oin shouted defensively, “given how you talk about your conquests at every opportunity—”

“You can’t talk! Or do I need to bring up that poor barkeep’s boy again?”

Some of the Company hooted with laughter at this and Oin narrowed his eyes at Nori. Balin chose this moment to intervene.

“Now, now, it’s not a contest,” he chided, “They’re nowt wrong with talking about it, so long as we’re respectful about one another and don’t make anybody—”

“What he’s saying is pipe down,” Dwalin interrupted, “Some of us have had enough talk about it.”

Enough talk?” wailed Bofur, “There’s no such thing! You sons of Fundin of all people have the best stories—”

“I won’t argue that,” Balin replied with a proud twinkle in his eye, one that Kili widened his eyes upon noticing, “but nonetheless I don’t think this is an appropriate topic given, well—”

“Balin, it’s alright,” Thorin said and every gaze in the room snapped to him, “Let them discuss whatever they please.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, Fili’s mouth fell open.

“Thorin, did you—?”

“Don’t you dare,” Bilbo warned and now he was the centre of attention. “Er—I—well, it’s no-one’s business, is it? Unless they want to tell you about it. But you shouldn’t push.”

“Quite right, Master Baggins,” Thorin agreed with an amused rumble. Fili slumped at this and leaned his head on top of Ori’s, apparently content to let it go.

Then there was Kili.

Did you, though, Thorin?” he asked eagerly. Thorin frowned at him.

“Kili, would you want to know if I did?”

“You’re awfully chatty, Thorin,” Nori commented suspiciously, “Normally you clam up at this. Is it possible that something’s…opened you up?”

Nori was seated several places away but somehow Dwalin still managed to reach around and smack him on the back of the head. Bilbo smothered a grin at Nori’s yelp, one that did not escape Thorin’s careful eyes. Their gazes met across the fire and Thorin managed a small smile; Bilbo’s insides warmed up happily at this and he nodded at him.

“Alright, alright,” Dori scolded and grabbed Nori’s arm when he made to slap Dwalin in retaliation, “That’s enough.”

“Indeed,” Thorin rumbled, looking away from Bilbo to glare, “We’re bare miles from the Mountain and the dragon within, I ask you to recall. Have some decorum.”

Obediently, the Company fell silent. Bilbo found himself yearning to scoot out of the circle and run to wrap his arms around Thorin, so saddened did he suddenly seem. Not here, not now, he reminded himself…but oh, did he want to—

Then Thorin raised his head and said, “To settle this once and for all, yes, I did, alright?”

Kili’s squawk was loud enough to startle awake his brother and Ori. The rest of the Company fell apart into surprised yells and laughter; Balin gave away his shock with raised eyebrows.

“Jolly good, Thorin,” he said with supreme dignity and control, none of which Dwalin possessed.

“Who was it?” Dwalin demanded, “They better have treated you right. Did I see ‘em? Nobody we met in that place was worth much; if they—”

“Calm, Dwalin,” Thorin said in exasperation, “It wasn’t anybody from Lake-town.”

“Then who—one of us?”

The whole Company fell silent. As they leered curiously at one another, Bilbo saw Thorin stifle a smirk in his sleeve.

“As you said,” Thorin answered, “It ought to have been somebody I trusted. There is nobody I trust more than the Dwarves gathered here.”

Every member of their Company took a moment to swell with joy and pride at hearing this, until the lure of an unsolved mystery took them over again and they all peered at Thorin in silent question. Thorin sighed and Bilbo decided to step in.

“Really, is it necessary for you all to know?”

“Yep,” replied Nori. Bilbo rolled his eyes.

“Well, alright—raise your hands if you have never lain with Thorin.”

Fili gave a whole-body shudder violently enough to dislodge Ori. Twelve pairs of hands rose in the air and twelve sets of eyebrows shot up.

“There you go,” Bilbo said. Thorin was shaking with barely-withheld laughter and Bilbo felt a bit like kicking him. “What does that tell you?”

“Somebody’s lying,” Kili said darkly and Bilbo groaned.

“Oh, honestly—alright, it was me, alright, I’ve been with Thorin, I’m the one, could you not respect our privacy and leave well enough alone?”

Every Dwarf stared at him.

“Is the burglar lying?” Balin asked Thorin slowly.

“As it is,” Thorin began, “no, he isn’t.”

The very long silence (during which Bilbo felt Dwalin tense and suddenly he became very aware that he was sitting next to Dwalin, protector of the King’s virtue who just so happened to be big and bald and tattooed) was broken by, of all things, Bifur, who suddenly burst into shrieks of laughter hard enough to knock him onto his back. He was quickly followed by Ori. The littlest Dwarf had to bend over, he was giggling so hard.

“Oh—oh, that’s funny!” he cackled and actually had to wipe tears off his face, “You all thought—you all made plans—and then Bilbo—oh!”

The rest of the Dwarves all shared surprised looks; even Nori saw fit to be silenced by this. Next to Ori, Fili squirmed, “Oh, let’s not! Alright, Uncle’s done it, he’s not a—a—y’know anymore.”

“I feel a bit sick,” Kili said.

“Shall we move on now?” Fili pleaded and Thorin rested a hand on his shoulder in comfort. Dwalin mirrored this action on Bilbo, gripping hard enough that Bilbo squeaked.

“You were kind, I hope,” he stated grimly and Bilbo nodded desperately.

“Of course I was! He—”

“Were you good to him?” Bofur, on Bilbo’s other side, asked.

“Yes, I—wait, what?”

“Sorry,” Bofur said with a mischievous grin, “Just wanted to know how it was. Alright, Dwalin, stop gnashing yer teeth.”

“That’s none of your business!” Bilbo cried, outraged.

“Thorin, Thorin,” Nori called with a lecherous grin, “Hobbits, right?”

“Again, Bilbo is correct,” Thorin said, pointedly ignoring Nori being dealt another blow from Dwalin, “It’s nobody’s care but our own how we have at it.”

“How you…what?”

Bilbo glared. Thorin grinned at him again and Bilbo thought that that smile might make a weaker Hobbit melt. As it was, he still wanted to kick him.

(Maybe he would just have Thorin make it up to him later.)

“Never mind, I don’t want to know,” Dori exclaimed, wrinkling his nose.

“I feel sick,” Kili said.