On the day after his thirty-third birthday Bilbo Baggins wakes up hung over, covered in glitter, and alone in a hotel room in the casino-riddled city of Bree. Seventeen years later a group of dwarrow insurgents break into his kitchen and kidnap him.
It’s not readily apparent, but these two events are not entirely unrelated.
He’s been locked in a defunct meat locker for going on four days. The kidnappers seem largely disinterested in interrogating or even really talking to him. One of them walks him to the toilet three times a day and drops a gallon jug of water off by Bilbo’s makeshift cot along with a small bag of corner shop sandwiches by way of meals. That is the extent of Bilbo’s social calendar until his guards fail to appear one morning.
Bilbo would like to say that he doesn’t panic and it’s a little true. He’s been expecting something to go heinously wrong. He used to watch procedural dramas on the telly before all of this happened. Kidnappings very rarely end with the kidnapped victim being returned to their previous life unharmed. It’s just –he’s been braced for one of the guards to shoot him in his sleep; to fall asleep and never wake up.
Slowly starving (or suffocating) to death in a locked freezer is one of the most horrific deaths that Bilbo dared to imagine in store for him.
He rations his water. Ignoring hunger pangs has gotten rather easy, living off two or three egg salad sandwiches a day. Bilbo sleeps a lot in case he’s also rationing air and tries not to think about the passing time.
Eventually there is a BANG against the freezer door followed by another and then yet another until the door falls inward to crash down onto the floor of Bilbo’s cell.
There’s a human in SWAT gear holding the Jaws of Life that he used to cut the lock and hinges off the freezer door. He’s flanked by more dwarves –dwarves in Ereborean RAF uniforms unless Bilbo’s mixing them up with the Iron Hills militia again. He’s only ever seen brief clips of nameless soldiers on the evening news and he’s really not at his best right now.
He puts his hands behind his head and kneels when directed. The SWAT team bundles him out into a waiting ambulance when the dwarves confirm that he isn’t hiding a knife or an AK-47 under his pathetic nest of blankets.
The hospital puts him in a private room where his doctors are kind enough to not handcuff him to his bed even though there are police officers outside his door twenty-four hours a day. They put him on a saline drip and feed him little bits of pudding or oatmeal to ease him back into eating. The telly is unplugged when he arrives and vanishes all together while he’s asleep. They don’t let him have a phone or the internet, but a nurse brings him a whole stack of paperbacks from the hospital library and it does more for his mental health than the psychiatrist who keeps trying to visit him even though Bilbo has said he flat out cannot afford the therapy what with the bill he can already expect for all this time in a private room they won’t let him out of.
He’ll have been in the hospital for a week (and for no good reason that he can fathom) by the time the doctors finally let his have visitors, which cheers him up a bit. Frodo’s been in the hallway a few times to argue with the guards on Bilbo’s door even though he hasn’t been able to get in. It’ll be nice to hear his nephew’s voice without all the swearing.
Bilbo doesn’t expect a dwarf to be his first visitor nor does he expect his guards to salute the man as he enters unannounced.
“Do not get up.” He says as Bilbo flounders in bed like a beached octopus and makes it sound like getting out of bed would have unpleasant consequences beyond the usual fallout of trying to walk in a hospital gown with no back.
This isn’t a person Bilbo knows, not even from the telly. He rather thinks he’d remember someone with a pair of eyebrows like that. They’re like something out of a cartoon: big, black, mobile, and intimidating. They go well with his seemingly permanent frown and hawk-like nose.
Despite that, Bilbo thinks he’s a bit handsome in the way that villains are generally thought to be good-looking. He wears his hair long and loose around his shoulders, which would look a bit vain if not for the way he’s let it go streaky with haphazard gray. He’s dressed in a button-less blue jerkin and a heavy belt with the metal embellishments that dwarves seem so fond of. His arms are thick with muscle even for his kind and he has broad capable hands with a dusting of dark hair across the backs.
The dwarf stares at him with a pensive sort of frown as Bilbo pulls himself together then he lurches forward and drops into the chair next to Bilbo’s bed like a malfunctioning robot. There he sits. And stares. Like Bilbo is a puzzle he can solve though willpower alone if only he looks hard enough.
There’s a bed shawl laying across the foot of Bilbo’s bed that he’s largely been ignoring up until now, but Bilbo finds himself wanting another layer between himself and whatever piercing inspection of his person is going on right now so he gropes down the mattress for it and the dwarf jerks forward to put it into his hands. Bilbo recoils a bit and the dwarf wincing imperceptibly before dropping the shawl into Bilbo’s lap.
“Thank you.” Bilbo swallows and pulls the soft fabric around his shoulders. It’s very nice for hospital-issue.
“Do not mention it.” The dwarf rasps. Actually, now that he’s this close Bilbo’s realized that he looks awful, like he hasn’t slept in days. “It is the least that I am able to do and much less than you are owed.”
“…all right?” Bilbo says slowly, wondering what exactly it is that he’s gotten involved in. “Are you with the police? Or, well, whoever else is involved? It’s just, I don’t know you.”
"We knew each other.” The dwarf replies. “Once, it seems.”
“Oh?” Bilbo squints and wishes for his glasses. No one’s been able to go to his apartment for a fresh set of contacts and the ones he had in before feel like sandpaper at this point. “I’m sorry. I’ve got a terrible memory for faces and… well. It’s been a rough few weeks. Who are you?”
“Thorin the Second of the line of Durin.” He replies and Bilbo feels the bottom of his stomach fall out. “Informally, I’m Thorin Oakenshield.” The dwarf clears his throat and his ears turn a dull red. “Your husband.”
Bilbo sits and stares and eventually his brain kicks back on stuttering and coughing like the engine of an elderly VW bus and he opens his mouth. “Bree.” Is what falls out because to his surprise he finds he does recognize Thorin, but only because he’s been absently searching for the man in the face of every stranger he’s met since that most unfortunate birthday, the one right after his parents died and he’d accidently stumbled out of the figurative closet in front of the rest of his viciously conservative family during the funeral.
Thorin nods slowly and Bilbo thinks he is probably wearing the mirror image of Thorin’s shell-shocked expression.
The Bree trip had been both a gift from his cousin Drogo and a way to get him out of town before he really did strangle his cousin-by-marriage, Lobelia, on sight. He’d gone to lose a little money, take in a show or two, and desperately try to remember what being happy was like by any means possible.
He’d found it in a handsome stranger whose name he never did quite get and who had pale frosty blue eyes, much like Thorin’s. He wore his beard much shorter in those days and kept his hair tied back in a low ponytail that loosened up invitingly around his face as the evening wore on.
Bilbo has many good memories of that night, most of which are blurred by copious amounts of alcohol, and he doesn’t remember how exactly he got to the hotel at the end of it.
“How have I not been audited all this time?” Bilbo says shakily. “I’ve been filing as single all these years.”
“Ours was not an entirely legal ceremony, I think.” Thorin replies. He has that same smoky accent that Bilbo couldn’t place back then, but now recognizes as Ereborean. “I am not a citizen of Eriador …although I am told I can now apply for a green card, should I wish. Nor was I allowed to use my real name at the time.” He shakes his head. “I spent forty years as a political refugee here when my homeland was overrun, but now I may apply for citizenship. Pah.”
“You’re that Thorin the Second, then?” Bilbo doesn’t wonder why he didn’t recognize his dwarf on the newscasts. There’s nothing to wonder about. The Dwarrow nations are possessive of their royalty, mostly because they’ve see how the Human nations treat theirs. Paparazzi don’t get very far into Erebor or any of the other mountain nations, but plenty made the effort to get a look at Thorin II, Hero to the Dwarrow people and the first Dragonslayer since the third era.
“…I am, yes.” He lifts his chin, almost daring Bilbo to make something of it.
“Then what the blue blazes were you doing in Bree of all places?” Bilbo asks because he was completely at sea. Don’t exiled members of Royalty have secret service protection?
“Much the same thing you were, I think.” Thorin replies, softening. “I was much younger and more headstrong. I had slipped away from my companions for the evening and wished to be an anonymous person among anonymous people. What is it they say? What happens in Breeland stays in Breeland? I wished to have an evening of my own. Foolish, I know that now. Recklessly so. I might have done myself a harm –or invited someone to do it for me if I hadn’t encountered a beautiful young Halfling outside of my hotel who seemed in need of company.”
“Do you remember where we decided to get married then?” Bilbo asks. “I’m drawing a complete blank.”
“I do not.” Thorin confesses as he opens his hands wide. “However there is a trail that can be followed if one is clever, determined, and well-funded… as the dwarves who attacked you in your home were.” He drops his gaze. “I apologize that you were placed in danger by my actions. They were extremists from the Iron Mountains who would see my cousin Dain Ironfoot seated on my throne, despite my position as rightful heir and the fact that Dain does not want it. They sought to use you to discredit my claim to the throne.”
Bilbo frowns. “… what damage could I cause you?” He asks, feeling a bit prickled. The Baggins are a respectable family and minor gentry in their own right among their own people, although the title doesn’t really translate among the higher nobility in Middle Earth. “Is it because I’m not a dwarf?”
“You could be an Ent and it would not affect my position in the line of inheritance.” Thorin replies dryly. He shakes his head. “It is because we separated. Divorce is…unheard of among my kind. Our word once given binds us forever. They meant to use you to claim that I am an oathbreaker.”
“I…” Bilbo swallows. His head is swimming and he feels a bit giddy, which can only mean he’s teetering on the edge of shock. “A Bree wedding can’t possibly count.”
“I have a document signed by my own hand and yours that says I swore to honor and keep you all the days of my life.” Thorin replies. Bilbo can’t make heads or tails of the emotion on his face. “I swore that I would cleave to no other. Twenty hours later I left you asleep in a strange bed and never saw you again. By their accounting, I am an oathbreaker even if it was not consciously done and you have paid the price for it.”
“Here now, that’s just ridiculous!” Bilbo blusters and pushes himself upright only he ends up tangled in his fool IV, which he doesn’t even NEED anymore and ends up having to let Thorin disentangle him. “Look, you.” He levels a finger in front of Thorin’s impressively patrician nose. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve had a week from hell and don’t have much patience left for nonsense. How do you know I didn’t kick you out? I could be a surly drunk.” He scowls as Thorin cocks an eyebrow at him. “I could!”
“I think you are a surly patient, perhaps, at the outside.” Thorin allows, which is pretty generous given the fact he’s in a prime position to know that Bilbo is the least aggressive drunk on the face of Middle Earth. After two drinks Bilbo gets biddable and affectionate and falls asleep at the drop of a hat.
“Well.” Bilbo swallows and looks Thorin up and down. It’s the most abominable timing, but he realizes that he likes what he sees. “What are we going to do now?”
“Now you are to rest while you can.” Thorin says. “Later you will be discharged and I will take you back to your home. My security service has been shielding you from the media presence, but your nation is more permissive than Erebor. I cannot promise that the news hounds do not have your name.”
“Am I on the news?” He asks because if so then it’s only a matter of time before Lobelia starts selling embarrassing family stories to SNN. “I’m going to have relatives crawling out of the woodwork.”
“Not yet.” Thorin stands. “There are things we must discuss, you and I. Now is not the best of time, but we must speak.”
Bilbo nods and… “I don’t think you’re an oathbreaker.” He says all at once in a lovely awkward rush. He immediately turns a bright red.
“That is kind of you to say.” Thorin’s smile is a pale shadow of its species.
“Well, you didn’t get married in the past seventeen years did you?” Bilbo asks and squashes the little trill of excitement in his middle when Thorin shakes his head. “Then the rest is no one’s business except ours.”
“I will bear that in mind.” Thorin bows deeply at the waist. “Please remain in your room for now. It is easier to deal with the media if I know that you are secure. Indulge me in this.”
Bilbo nods woodenly and watches as Thorin leaves. What commences is perhaps the longest four days of his entire existence. Frodo is finally allowed to visit properly and brings with him Bilbo’s e-reader from the apartment. Thorin does not visit again for some time, but makes his presence felt in other more subtle ways.
The nurses stop pretending to bring him standard hospital fare and just deliver his meals in sealed containers bearing the crown and seven stars of Durin’s line. His e-reader has five hundred pounds loaded onto it for him to download whatever books he wishes. He uses it to buy up a lot of books on Dwarrow culture and only succeeds in confusing himself. A valet brings him a little suitcase full of clothes that look like his upon cursory inspection, but after a second look he realizes that they bear the little tag of the tailor who makes his special-occasion suits and that they have all been made to his measure and from materials rather closer to the back of the shop than Bilbo has ever been able to go before.
Thorin appears again later the same day his clothes arrive and stands rather sheepishly in the doorway as Bilbo fastens his cufflinks.
“Do you approve of your investment?” Bilbo asks facetiously. He’s referring to the clothes, but Thorin’s gaze travels up from his toes past his shirt and up to his eyes without skipping over a single inch of him. Bilbo’s ears go hot.
“Aye.” The dwarf replies and takes a step forward. “I do.”
“Oh, I… yes. Thank you.” Bilbo sputters and drops his gaze. Flirtation was never his game, but Thorin reaches out and tilts his head back up.
“I ask your forbearance, but you cannot return home yet.” Thorin tells him softly. “My people are speaking out and wish for you to be presented in Erebor. I… told them what you said to me when one of my detractors spoke out against my abandonment of you.” A wry smile tugs at his handsome mouth and Bilbo finds himself captivated by it. Thorin has a mouth made for smiles and after a few minutes in his presence, Bilbo finds himself wanting to make him smile like that all the time. “You have great support in Erebor.”
“How have they spoken to you?” Bilbo asks trying to think calming thoughts. “Was there a petition?”
“Of sorts.” Thorin allows. “Bring Consort Baggins Home is trending on Twitter.”
“Please tell me you’re fibbing to make me smile.” Bilbo groans and buries his face in his hands. “Frodo will never let me hear the end of it. I don’t even know how to work the bally program!”
“You are not alone.” Thorin’s voice sounds warmly amused and a tingle chases through Bilbo’s veins as a pair of broad hands settle on his shoulder. “I have a Public Relations manager who tends to such things for me. She will see to it for you as well.”
“At some point I would like to have some details about our wedding.” Bilbo says and that is especially the case if they’re going to have to do it all over again in Erebor… and possibly also the Shire. Dear god, soon Lobelia is going to realize that Bilbo has a wedding to plan.
…perhaps retiring to Erebor isn’t such a bad idea after all. It’s on the other side of the country and there’s a mountain range between him and the Sackville-Bagginses.
The idea is sounding better all the time.
“My people tell me it was a lovely ceremony, however. The chapel kept it on video and put a clip on their website. It was one of the historically-themed packages. The Celebrant was dressed as Durin the third, my many times great grandfather.” Thorin says this with a remarkably straight face. “I’ve ordered a copy for us to watch together.”
Bilbo closed his eyes and drops his head back. “Please tell me they didn’t put me in a false beard.”
“Alas, I cannot do that.” Thorin is outright chuckling at him now, but his eyes are bright and Bilbo cannot mind that it’s at his expense. “I’ve been told it’s beneath my dignity to lie.”
“This is going to be an interesting marriage.” Bilbo observes.
“Yes.” Thorin lets his hands slide down Bilbo’s arms to cup his elbows. “I think it will be.”