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The sheets were warm.

 

Well, they would be. Not only was the sun streaming in through the windows (though thankfully not far enough to land on the pillows and in anyone’s eyes), there was the delightful fact that he was not alone in bed. And, really, being sandwiched between two Dwarf-built bodies was the best way to wake up.

 

“Stop wriggling about,” one grumbled, just as a tattooed hand slid across his healthily plump belly.

 

The other kept silent, but the lips pressed against his forehead were clearly curled into a smile.

 

“I’ll wriggle all I like,” Bilbo replied tartly, sounding more alert than he actually was. He meant to actually squirm against Dwalin’s bulk, but ended up stretching luxuriously. His large toes slid against Thorin’s shin.

 

“S’that so? You’d best be ready for some more, burglar,” Dwalin said, and oh, that was another delightful thing to wake up to, make no mistake.

 

The only wriggling Bilbo ended up doing was onto his back in the middle of the bed. Dwalin loomed over him, driving forward with achingly languid movements. To Bilbo it seemed to last hours, this slow, lazy lovemaking, and the intensity of it all was overwhelming. Dwalin was similarly affected; he groaned deeply and let his forehead rest on the pillow beside Bilbo’s head, and that was when Bilbo caught sight of Thorin at the end of the bed, lip bitten almost raw and watching avidly as he stroked himself.

 

It was with his name growled low on Thorin’s lips and Dwalin’s suddenly-erratic thrusts that Bilbo slipped gladly into blissful oblivion.

 

Yes, this was a good morning.

 


 

“I’m leaving now!” Bilbo called. There was no reply and he huffed, closing the front door. He hoped that Thorin was in the washroom and not still lounging in bed. It was already noon.

 

It was a gorgeous day, and Bilbo whistled as he walked down the road. The Sire was cast in shades of green and gold, leaves fluttering in the soft breeze and catching the sunlight. Overhead the sky was a lovely duck-egg blue with fluffy white clouds interspersed throughout.

 

He made good time, contentment settling deep in his bones as he watched other Hobbits go about their business. Giggling children ran by calling their greetings. Nearer the woods, sheep milled around, nosing curiously at the basket in his hands as Bilbo exchanged gossip with young Milo Burrows.

 

He waved goodbye to the lad, happy to have heard that Drogo was pursuing Primula (one of Milo’s aunts) – although it was simultaneously peculiar, seeing as he could still clearly remember Drogo as a naughty child.

 

Bilbo put these thoughts of his ever-climbing age out of his mind as he heard singing in the woods, just over the sound of wood being chopped. While Dwalin’s voice was not as deep as Thorin’s, it was still wonderful to listen to.

 

He made sure to call out a greeting before actually stepping into the clearing the Dwarf was in; it was never wise to surprise him when he had any sort of axe in hand, even if Bilbo’s quiet steps were hardly a deliberate effort on his part.

 

Dwalin leaned on the axe, wiping at his forehead with the back of his free hand. “Knew I forgot something.”

 

Bilbo set his basket on a tree stump. “Glad to be of service. I thought you would appreciate some boiled eggs and ham.”

 

“Always.” Dwalin long-sufferingly waited as Bilbo placed a blanket onto the ground (he’d learned to no longer comment about such finicky things) and sat down heavily. He watched the food being set up. “Why didn’t you just have lunch at home?”

 

“I wanted the company.” He smiled up at the Dwarf; both of them knew quite well that Thorin was horribly lazy on Sundays. They’d not figured out why. “I also knew you’d not brought any with you. I’d be a terrible host if I let you go hungry.”

 

Luckily for Dwalin, he was tall enough to be able to lean over the blanket and kiss Bilbo soundly on the lips. “You’re much more than a host, y’know.”

 

Bilbo swatted him away, blushing. “Eat your food.”

 

Dwalin smirked at him, and did.

 


 

Thorin was the only one he allowed in his study, the only one allowed to look over his shoulder as he wrote. For some reason Bilbo didn’t complain – or mind at all, really –, even if he’d previously chased Dwalin out of the room with a teaspoon for doing the same thing.

 

A steaming cup of tea was placed on the desk, and Bilbo smiled as a whiskery kiss was set on his cheek.

 

“What are you working on today?”

 

“I thought I’d finish up the map of Eriador… not much in the mood for writing.”

 

“Mmm.” Thorin’s fingers were distracting as they twisted the curls at the base of Bilbo’s neck. He wasn’t tugging hard enough to be painful, but it was firm enough to send tingles rushing up Bilbo’s scalp, making him lean into the contact.

 

Still. He would not be so easily sidetracked.

 

“Did you and Dwalin fight?”

 

No answer.

 

“I have noticed that you two haven’t spoken at all this past week-and-a-half.” He hated it; he hated being stuck between the two of them. This sort of thing had happened before, of course it had, but never for this long – and they were all more than aware of how long a Dwarf could hold a grudge.

 

Bilbo sighed through his nose. Bumped his head against the now-still fingers in his hair. “Thorin.”

 

“It’s nothing.”

 

“Don’t try that with me. Don’t make me force the two of you to –”

 

“Bilbo. You can’t fix everything.” Thorin’s voice was dead and flat. Defeated. “Just like not everything can be forgiven.”

 

He slotted his short fingers together, squeezing his hands tightly together. “I’ll admit that Dwarves are better at repairing things than I am, but –”

 

“We’re not talking about a broken trinket, Bilbo!”

 

The Hobbit flinched at the harsh shout and the way Thorin stormed away, but he resolutely kept his gaze on his blotter. He knew Thorin would not wander far. He knew that he’d soon hear sheepish footfalls as Thorin crept back into his study, just as he knew they’d try to come up with some way to make everything better while he put the finishing touches on the oak tree over Bag End.

 

He was wrong.

 


 

It was a different Sunday. Thorin was most definitely awake as he lowered himself onto Bilbo. He and Dwalin still weren’t speaking.

 


 

November was quiet. Bilbo found himself curled up in an armchair by the fire, absently tracing over the map to Erebor (which he’d been allowed to keep as a memento). Thorin was attempting to place braids in Bilbo’s curls. As usual, he was failing miserably.

 

The door opened, bringing in Dwalin and a large gust of cool air. Bilbo looked up (Thorin hadn’t moved), and watched Dwalin’s gaze flit down to the frame in his hands. Some ugly expression passed over his face before he stomped off into a deeper part of the smial.

 

Bilbo’s heart clenched. Thorin pushed him back against the cushions.

 

“I will go to him,” he said.

 

Bilbo wasn’t exactly sure what he expected after watching Thorin disappear after Dwalin – but it wasn’t the sound of something shattering spectacularly.

 

He was on his feet and running to the bedroom within seconds. Dwalin was alone, having smashed the water jug with one massive fist. He said nothing when he looked up at Bilbo’s entrance.

 

“You could have thrown it at the wall.” The admonishment fell flat in the face of his worried tone and his pinched expression.

 

“Would’ve made a mess.”

 

“This is mess enough.” Bilbo sighed at the blood oozing from Dwalin’s huge paw, and went to grasp his uninjured one. “Come along, let’s get you cleaned up.”

 

Dwalin held fast. Bilbo wasn’t stupid enough to pit his strength against the Dwarf’s, and so stood there with his hand in Dwalin’s as the silence stretched between them, thick enough to make the air feel like syrup in his lungs.

 

“Is it Thorin?” he finally asked, despite knowing the answer.

 

Dwalin ducked his head further. “Isn’t it always?”

 

Bilbo stepped near and dropped kisses to Dwalin’s bald head. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, resting his cheek on tattooed skin. “I’ll make him apologise.”

 

His hand was released so Dwalin could pull Bilbo onto his lap. “You and I both know it’ll do no good, lad.”

 

Bilbo curled into Dwalin’s hold, closing his eyes against the rush of tears that threatened. Oh, oh, he hoped that that wasn’t true.

 


 

Summers passed.

 

Things improved. Or they seemed to be doing so, until Thorin announced he was leaving.

 

“It’s not permanently, dear one.” Thorin rubbed the Hobbit’s back as desperate kisses were fluttered against his throat. “Of course not. I just must visit Erebor and see how things are going on.”

 

“Let me go with you. Let us go with you.” Bilbo couldn’t explain why, but he had the uneasy feeling that if Thorin left… he’d not come back. “Please, please.”

 

“Bilbo…” Thorin framed his face with his large hands. Bilbo’s eyes slid closed when thumbs stroked over his cheeks. “Bilbo, you must let me go.”

 

“I can’t, please, don’t make me, don’t go.” He was hardly coherent at this point, having lost his tenuous control on his tears. He wasn’t sure what Thorin said in reply, he could barely muster the strength to return the hug given to him as Thorin whispered farewells across his skin. He didn’t know when Thorin left.

 

Dwalin’s voice drew him back to himself. The worry in it was a sharp blade that sliced through Bilbo’s melancholy, although it did nothing to dispel it.

 

“Thorin’s gone.”

 

The Dwarf’s expression cleared. He gathered Bilbo close, massive body engulfing Bilbo’s and surrounding him on all sides, making him feel safe and sheltered as it always had. Bilbo hiccupped into Dwalin’s neck, miserable as his hands twisted in well-worn cotton.

 

“I miss him as well.” His voice was low. “More than you know.”

 

“Why did he have to –?”

 

“Hush, lad. ‘S no use wonderin’ about things we can’t change.”

 

“Couldn’t we join him –”

 

Dwalin kissed him. Hard.

 

Bilbo allowed himself to be silenced. He held on to the Dwarf that still remained… and did not think of how Dwalin had said nothing about Thorin returning.

 


 

When Frodo entered their lives, Bilbo was at a bit of a loss.

 

The lad liked him well enough – he was known for his storytelling, after all – but that had been when they’d been cousins and Frodo still had parents to return to. Now Bilbo was his guardian, his uncle, and things were… different.

 

It was Dwalin who suggested that Bilbo sleep in the same bed as the Hobbitling. Frodo was often taken by night terrors and it was indeed easier for Bilbo to be close at hand to soothe the lad’s fears and accompanying tears. Bilbo didn’t really like the idea of leaving his lover alone in their bedroom but Frodo was the priority. And, as Dwalin said, he could very well survive a few nights on his own.

 

The trouble was that a few nights became a week’s worth, and then a month’s worth, and just kept increasing. Frodo was a quiet child, always had been. Now he was even more withdrawn; he constantly looked haunted and tired, not helped by his inability to sleep through the night. It hurt to meet those pained blue eyes, so much older than they were meant to be. So much like the blue eyes of someone else he knew very well.

 

Just as Bilbo was nearing his wit’s end, Thorin returned.

 

Their reunion was expectedly tearful, more so on Bilbo’s part than Thorin’s. Relief, joy, anger – all these emotions and more surfaced as Bilbo’s mind and body finally let go of all his accumulated stress. When he had calmed down in Thorin’s arms, he abruptly realised that Thorin had been an uncle, just like Bilbo now was. Thorin had had nephews – and although he had lost Fíli and Kíli, perhaps he might be able to teach Bilbo how to raise Frodo.

 

Perhaps he might help do so himself.

 

So he took Thorin’s hand, quietly explaining the most important event that had happened during his absence. He could see the Dwarf pale under his travel tan, and Bilbo hadn’t even had to ask before Thorin was demanding to see the Hobbitling.

 

Frodo was supposed to be napping, but when Bilbo and Thorin entered he sat up further in bed and placed his book aside. (It was one of Bilbo’s poetry books, and he couldn’t help but smile a little.)

 

“Frodo,” Bilbo said, seating himself on the edge of the mattress. “This is Thorin.”

 

The lad blinked up at him with huge blue eyes. “The king from your stories?” he asked quietly.

 

“Aye,” Thorin answered, and Frodo smiled.

 


 

“Uncle Dwalin! Uncle Thorin said it’s wrong to steal cookies!”

 

“Tha’ may be, lad, but we’re not stealing. We’re sharing. And what does Uncle Bilbo say about sharing?”

 

The Hobbit flashed a wide smile, showing off his newly-lost front teeth. “Sharing is caring!”

 

“Quite right.”

 


 

As the years flew past, Frodo bloomed into the precocious and bright-eyed Hobbit he was, always curious about the world and absolutely happy to while his days away in East Farthing woods with a book. In the evenings he was often found in the company of his many cousins and friends; more often than not he’d be with Samwise, Hamfast Gamgee’s soon.

 

He’d also developed a keen love of scrumping. This was not strictly respectable behaviour, but it was insisted that ‘the lad be allowed some fun’.

 

Conversely, Bilbo became recluse; he blamed it on being close to a hundred (and how had that happened? Age had really crept up on him unawares). Seeing as his Dwarves were about double his age, both wisely said nothing on the subject. It was infinitely unfair, however, that Thorin appeared utterly unchanged, although Dwalin’s hair was now completely and comfortingly gray.

 

Where once Bilbo could have been found smoking on a bench outside Bag End or perhaps chasing his nephew (or lovers, come to think of it) around the house, now he was most often ensconced in his study. As always, only Thorin was allowed inside.

 

Not that it stopped Frodo, really. But he knew when to hightail it if his uncle’s mood soured.

 

The thing was, Bilbo’s moods seemed to sour very often of late. It didn’t take much for his expression to darken or for his replies to turn snappish. One time he’d actually shouted that he needed to put in a door with a deadbolt so he’d finally get some peace and quiet. In the next moment he’d been laughingly defending his scones from Dwalin’s thieving hands.

 

Today his pleasure was apparently to tear through his study, upsetting stacks of books and scrolls, muttering furiously to himself. Just as Frodo entered Bag End, ostensibly to change out of his grass-stained trousers, there came a loud wail of frustration.

 

Frodo’s concerned gaze found Dwalin, who was painstakingly penning a letter to his brother. “What’s happening?”

 

A sigh. “Best leave it.”

 

And Frodo would have followed this advice. Would have.

 

“Thorin Oakenshield, if you’ve stolen my ring – which, may I remind you, is mine – so help me…”

 

At this, Dwalin did look up. Frodo couldn’t place the expression on his face, but he did note that his ‘other uncle’ had snapped the quill in his hand. He hurriedly went to fetch another, trying to think of a way to phrase the questions clamouring in his head.

 

“You know how everyone thinks Bilbo is odd?”

 

Dwalin snorted as he accepted the quill. “That’s been an opinion held for years and years, lad, even when your uncle was wee. The fact that he’s connected with Dwarves hardly helps matters.”

 

“Yes but… you’ve known him longer than I. You can’t say how he’s acting now is normal.”

 

“It’s not.”

 

The young Hobbit hesitated. “He keeps blaming Thorin –”

 

“Frodo. Leave it.”

 

“But –”

 

“Please.”

 

He hung his head. “Yes, Dwalin.”

 


 

An unfortunate side-effect of growing old in such a peaceful country was having to sleep earlier and earlier. A younger Dwalin would have been disgusted to know that he was now nodding off in bed closer to sunset than sunrise.

 

Bilbo propped himself up on one elbow and placed his other hand on Dwalin’s bare chest to catch his attention. “I want to leave the Shire.”

 

It took a moment for this announcement to pierce through his haze of sleepiness. He hurriedly blinked to wake himself up a little. “But this is your home.”

 

“It has been, yes. But I’ve been here so long, Dwalin. I’ve only really been away from Bag End when I followed you and Thorin and the rest of the Company to Erebor… now I want to do it again. Before – before it’s too late.”

 

Dwalin had lived amongst Hobbits for long enough to know the length of their average lifespan, and how many years past it Bilbo was. He caught Bilbo’s hand and pressed it to his lips, trying to still the uneasiness in his heart.

 

“Please. I want you with me. I want to see the world again.”

 

In the end, he’d never deny Bilbo anything. And it was worth the smile that followed when he said, softly, “We’ll leave after your birthday.”

 


 

“You alright, Bilbo?”

 

“Fine. Fine,” he said distractedly, eyes still scanning the inside of his pack.  

 

Dwalin’s eyes were narrowed. “You sure?”

 

“Yes, of course. I just feel like I’ve forgotten something important. Something’s missing, something’s wrong.”

 

“Except we spent hours making sure we had everything you needed. C’mere, Bilbo. Rest.”

 

A frown still creased Bilbo’s forehead (and how curious that he still looked so young and unwrinkled despite his age), but he went to Dwalin, letting himself be positioned on the Dwarf’s lap. Even after all his years in Hobbiton, Dwalin was all hard, sinewy muscle and Bilbo burrowed deeper into that strong warmth.

 

“Tomorrow we’ll reach Bree,” he murmured, staring at the moths fluttering over the fire.

 

“Aye. Spend a few days there, with proper food and weak ale and soft feather beds.”

 

“I can tell which you’re looking forward to.”

 

“Mmm.” Dwalin nuzzled Bilbo’s white curls. “Time alone without any distractions or pesky nephews underfoot…”

 

Bilbo laughed, and it was a delightful sound.

 


 

Rivendell. They’d been welcomed warmly enough – or, Bilbo had been welcomed warmly, hailed as elf-friend and whatevernot. Elves still made him uneasy, and they apparently still held their reservations when dealing with Dwarves… even if they didn’t exactly show it outright.

 

They’d kindly been given a room and bid to stay as long as they wanted. Although the original plan had been to stay for a maximum of a month, they lingered. Bilbo was good at finding excuses to put off leaving – he was learning Sindarin, he had just gotten significant work done for his book, he’d been asked to tell tale of their adventures at the Hall of Fire. Considering that Bilbo was also becoming increasingly easily exhausted, rushing him onto the road seemed like less and less of a priority.

 

Still. Prolonged contact with Elves. Ugh.

 

There were ways to counteract that, though; namely, not venturing out unless during mealtimes (and sometimes not even then). Today, for example, Dwalin was sitting quietly in the sitting area of their room, whittling at a piece of wood (which had been taken from a conveniently broken chair. Old habits died hard). He didn’t expect the door to slam open, and he certainly didn’t expect Bilbo to fly through, eyes wild and panicked.

 

He hurriedly set his things aside, rising to his feet just in time for a tiny (and increasingly frail) Hobbit body to slam into him. His arms went automatically around Bilbo.

 

“What is it? Who did this to you?”

 

Some hysterical sound – it wasn’t a laugh – crawled out of Bilbo’s throat and made Dwalin wince.

 

“I did this to myself. I’ve – I’ve been so blind, I can’t believe – why didn’t you say anything?”

 

The accusatory note cut, particularly seeing as – “Bilbo, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

The Hobbit pushed away from him – Dwalin very reluctantly let him go – and went over to the table he’d been working at. Small fingers ran along the edge of the small blade there before he resolutely turned away. He wrapped his arms around himself, as if trying to fend off the outside world.

 

“It’s been years. Years and years and years and not once have I thought – you must have thought I was mad but you didn’t say a word and, and neither did Frodo – oh, Frodo…”

 

“Bilbo…”

 

“Not only did I leave him, I – d’you think Gandalf knew? Why didn’t he say anything? He could’ve helped, he could have –”

 

He couldn’t listen to this – he couldn’t listen to Bilbo while he was so obviously distraught, not when he didn’t know how to make things right. He grabbed his Hobbit by the shoulders, startling him silent. “Tell me clearly: what’s wrong?” Tell me how I can fix this.

 

“Dwalin,” Bilbo said, his voice gone tight with terror. “Dwalin, how long has Thorin been dead?”

 

Oh.

 

The Dwarf took a shuddering breath. This. This explained everything. He felt like the ground had swooped out from under him, unsure of whether to feel reassured or afraid at this development. More conflicting emotions coloured his voice as his hands slid down to cup the burglar’s elbows. “Bilbo –”

 

“How long.”

 

He pulled Bilbo close, easily overcoming what little strength he had left. He pulled Bilbo close and breathed deep and put his lips to one pointed ear.

 

“Erebor.”