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Safe and Distant

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He wonders how his life got to the point where, even when given food and hot drinks and clean clothes, he can’t quite relax. The men of Laketown have welcomed them and after days of freezing water, shivering whispers in a hut, and midnight break-ins, the whole company has been taken to the Master’s home to stay in the guest halls. They’re bathed, fed, given a comfortable area to sit, and Bilbo can’t bring himself to relax and laugh and lounge about with the others, which is ridiculous because this is probably the first bit of luck they’ve managed in this entire daft mess of a quest.

 

He supposes it’s hard to relax, when you’re stuck wondering if you’re going to be made into a well toasted meal the next day. If you’re a reasonable, non-dwarfy sort, that is.

 

So he clutches his tankard of hot mulled wine, frowns at the opulence of the Master’s halls in comparison to the ragged feel of the rest of the town, and sits on a small couch by the window, looking out at the mountain.

 

There’s a soft touch to his back, a quick press of a hand, and it’s only because Bilbo’s gotten so used to Thorin’s quiet way of saying hello that he doesn’t jump out of his skin. The first few times he did, after he was suddenly deemed a real part of the company and learned first-hand how tactile the dwarves are. He’d already adjusted to the others tendency to grab and nudge and slap in constantly friendly greetings or joking prods, but for a while Bilbo had thought Thorin was simply separated from all that. It wasn’t until after the crushing hug on that rocky peak that he realized he simply hadn’t been accepted into the fold in Thorin’s eyes, as it were. After that there was a deluge of touches; a pat here, a tap on the shoulder, a quick hand pressed to his arm in acknowledgement as Thorin rushes by. Little touches that constantly kept him aware of the dwarf’s presence.  

 

By now the palm between his shoulders is hardly out of the ordinary, it’s something of a comfort. It’s concrete, warm, steadying, and so normal that it settles a bit of the tension growing in him. Bilbo glances up with a little smile and a nod, and that’s their usual greetings now. A touch, a smile, and they go on.

 

“I need to thank you,” Thorin says quietly, hand sliding smoothly down Bilbo’s back before pulling away as the dwarf sits by him on his little couch by the window, “for speaking on my behalf earlier.”

 

“What? With the-? Oh that was nothing.” Bilbo loosely waves the thanks away with a scoff. “Of course I’m going to vouch for your honor. I don’t think you’d be Thorin without it, it’s like second nature for you.”

 

Thorin’s smile is small and easy, eyes warm and unusually relaxed. “I wish it were so easy as you make it sound. I’m glad to know you think so highly of me.”

 

“You take honor to a nearly pigheaded level, if I’m to be honest.” Bilbo says with a laugh, and Thorin sighs and rolls his eyes, though his smile grows a bit.

 

“Ah, and there it is. I knew it would only be so long before our Burglar would find a way to spin praises to insults.”

 

“I mean the praise and the insult, thank you. You threw yourself over a cliff to pull me up once and you didn’t even like me!”

 

Thorin’s smile shifts into an uncomfortable grimace, arms crossing awkwardly over his chest. “I didn’t dislike you, exactly.”

 

“Oh come off it.” Bilbo snorts, well remembering all the disapproving glares, annoyed huffs, and passing scowls whenever he happened to make any movement around Thorin.

 

“I didn’t trust you. But moreso, I didn’t think you capable of the tasks that would come. As Dwalin had said, you were of the gentle folk, yet you had pledged services to me. I did not much like the idea of having what I thought was your sure, violent death on my hands.” Thorin says in a rush, fingers tapping nervously against his arm.

 

“So I...made you feel guilty because I was going to die?” Bilbo’s face scrunches up as he muddles over that. He really had just thought Thorin had outright not liked him in general, but then it begins making sense. Thorin was constantly scanning over his company, mentally tallying each of them after any skirmish, being the first to jump up between a possible threat and his dwarves, yelling orders to keep everyone alive and intact. Thorin took a pledge of allegiance as a mutual trust of service and protection.

 

“I did say I had been wrong on that count.” Thorin mutters, sinking down a little.

 

“Well…” Bilbo tilts his head, then nods like he’s just made some important decision. “Well you really just proved my point then. You thought even some little halfling idiot who shouldn’t have come out of his hole was your duty to protect, just because he was fool enough to sign a contract.”

 

“You’re no fool, Master Baggins.” Thoin says gently, smile starting to show itself again.

 

“No,” Bilbo grins, “I’m not. And since I’m no fool, Thorin, I can say without any foolishness, that you’re worth staking my own honor on. You deserve every bit of it.”

 

Thorin looks like he’s considering arguing on it, then he sighs and dips his head, eyes flicking down before he turns his attention to the mountain. The small smile doesn’t move, but it turns to something more poignant and longing, as he gazes on the mist shrouded peak. Bilbo looks out with him. They’ve been watching that single mountain for months now, it hardly feels real that he’ll be finally standing on it tomorrow.

 

He can’t imagine what Thorin must be feeling, him and Balin, the two that remember the daunting and mysterious mountain as home. Bilbo can’t imagine how any of the dwarves feel really, even he feels a tightening in his chest when he looks at it, and when one comes down to it, he doesn’t even have a reason to care.

 

“How does it feel then?” He asks quietly, “Being this close to it all?”

 

Thorin watches the mountain for a few more silent moments, and doesn’t take his eyes off it when he slowly answers. “It feels like I may actually be able to do this. That after everything that came against me, I’ll be able to do this for my people. There is still much to do before I can say it’s done, but we came this far within the right time, and everyone is alive. I…” He pauses, works his jaw and winces a little, as if he doesn’t really mean to let this out, “am loathe to admit it, but I wasn’t sure we would get this far. I would have fought to get here to my last breath, but I couldn’t see myself accomplishing this much. Not many did.”

 

That...was far more than Bilbo was expecting, and he distracts himself by pretending to blow on his cooling wine as his mind works through all of that. He never had thought of Thorin as being one do doubt anything, much less his own abilities. “Well…” he starts, hoping he doesn’t go and screw it all up, “I don’t think any of them took into account how determined you can get. You’re one of the most stubborn folk I’ve met, I think if you decide you’re going to do something, it’s going to happen. Even if all you have with you are twelve dwarves and a very lost halfling.”

 

Thorin glances away from the mountain with a smile that grows when he looks out over his company, then back to the mountain. “I wouldn’t want anyone else behind me in this. Or beside me.”

 

Bilbo nods, and sips on his wine. “So, what is the plan then? After we get the door open? If the dragon is gone then easy enough, but if it isn’t?”

 

“The arkenstone.” Thorin says quietly. “That’s why we need to get the arkenstone. And it’s why we needed a burglar. If the dragon is in there, then it is sleeping, and we only need one stone. Something that small should be easy enough to take, and with that I would be recognized as the King of Erebor, and could summon the armies of all my kin to take the beast down once and for all.”

 

“And you seriously think I can do that? Steal a gem from a dragon.”

 

Thorin glances over, eyebrows up like it’s obvious. “You were able to go undetected in an Elvish kingdom for nearly a month. If you can’t steal from a dragon, I very much doubt anyone can.”

 

“So...that’s it then? Open the door, sneak in, get the arkenstone, kill the dragon with a lot of angry dwarves?”  Bilbo pushes on, wanting to get the attention off of him as quick as he can. It was almost easier when Thorin didn't expect anything of him, and he didn't have to worry about praise that he highly doubted he could live up to. Though Thorin puts the plan out like it's so simple, so straightforward.



“There’s much to do afterwards.” Thorin admits. “Erebor is in ruins, my people would need to be brought back, as well as any kin who would wish to come. Most importantly, I would need to bring my kin here and establish my line as King. There’s much to be done, before I can say this is finished.”

 

Bilbo sips his wine again, even if it’s cold now, and thinks. He only signed on officially for as long as it took him to finish his job as the burglar. Technically, he could turn right around and leave as soon as he did what he was brought on for. But it feels...wrong. “Well….” He begins, then in a moment of daring, reaches out to put a hand on Thorin’s shoulder. The dwarves really must be rubbing off on him, he thinks, and even Thorin shoots a look of surprise at the casual contact. “Well, I signed on to this, and I’ll see it to the end. I may have just been taken on as a burglar, but I want to see it finished.”

 

Thorin turns his full attention away from the mountain, and looks Bilbo over like he’s not quite sure he believes the hobbit is there. The wide grin that Bilbo has become familiar with grows slowly over his face, and he grasps Bilbo’s shoulder in one hand, right over the collar of Bilbo’s now ragged good shirt.

 

He leans forward, and Bilbo tenses up at the sudden breach of space, then freezes entirely when Thorin’s forehead presses against his own. It’s only the fact that he’s seen this gesture before, shared between Thorin and his nephews, or with Balin on a few occasions, that keeps Bilbo from yanking back in alarm. Even so he’s horribly aware of how close this is; of Thorin’s large hand on his shoulder, the gentle brush of air against his cheek as Thorin exhales, Thorin’s black hair falling around them like a curtain, shutting the world out and trapping him within this bubble of just the two of them.

 

“When this is finished, when it’s all done.” Thorin says softly, barely over a whisper. “We will have much to discuss, you and I.”

 

Bilbo swallows, unable to find his voice to ask what the blazes Thorin means. He’s still trying to fight past the lump in his throat when Thorin sits back again, gives a final smile and friendly squeeze of Bilbo’s shoulder, like they just shared some deep secret together, and stands up to rejoin his company.

 

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The problem with deciding to leave, is that this time Bilbo can’t exactly just grab a pack and go flying out the door. Technically he could, if he really wanted to. But he knows that this isn’t some last minute run after something wild and unknown, something that he’ll be coming back from. The entire idea is to not come back, and there's a lot to consider there.

 

He’s definitely going to remember his handkerchief, for one thing.

 

His first issue is getting to Erebor in the first place. Last time he happened to have a wizard and a band of dwarves with him, and Bilbo may be an irregular and foolish hobbit, but he’s hardly a stupid one. A few drills with a sword don’t do good when you’re driving a loaded cart through mountains and forests loaded with orcs, goblins, trolls, and heavens knows what else. Adventure is all well and good, but he would rather this trip be a little more calm than his last trek to the mountain.

 

That problem ends up solved easily enough by a few trips to Bree. Merchant caravans of Dwarves are common enough, and he hangs around the Prancing Pony until he hears mention of travel to Dale for trade, work, and the chance to see the legendary reclaimed Erebor. After that it’s a matter of a few coins, fewer questions, and a space guaranteed for him in their caravan within a month’s time. He knows he strikes a curious figure, a gentlemanly hobbit with a cloak and an elvish blade on his hip (he’d made sure to wear Sting, not just because he feels bare without it now, but because it doesn’t hurt to let Dwarves know one is armed just for the little bit of respect it brings) asking to join up in a very un-hobbit like journey halfway across Middle Earth. But the merchants only eye him curiously, accept his coin and his offer to help with cooking, and ask no questions. And if they send a flurry of small hand signals at each other when they think he's not looking, then that's their business.

 

It’s something he rather likes about Dwarves. Don’t pry into their affairs, and they won’t pry into yours. Unless they have decided you’re friend-kin, then every shred of privacy goes out the door and you’re fair game.

 

Bilbo figures he’ll likely have enough of prying, nosy dwarves in his future, and a few months of quiet and suspicious dwarves doesn’t sound all that bad.

 

So he’s left with a month to close everything up and prepare to leave the Shire behind him. The first thing he takes care of there is his will, and that’s only a matter of stopping by the notary and having it officially written and signed that after he is gone for a year, Bag End and all that is left in it will go to his cousin Drogo Baggins, his young wife Primula, and any of their line after that. Technically, without his change to the will the estate would have gone to the next in line, but that would leave it all to the Sackville-Baggins family.

 

“And I’d rather go on in peace with knowing that I’ve thwarted Camellia for the rest of her life. Don’t write that down by the way. Actually can you? Can we make that officially part of the will? Camellia and Logo can have my blessings to stare at Bag End all they want while their far removed cousin and his Brandybuck wife live long and happy there. Drogo’s the only other Baggins I can stand, and I honestly can’t stomach the idea of any of the rest of this absurd family living there. That should do nicely.”

 

The notary is a professional, and his face is blank and nothing but business as he writes everything down, ignoring Bilbo’s unseemly and petty giggling. He leaves in a final note that the passing of Bag End not be announced until the year is up, just so he can know that the Sackville-Baggins brood would spend that long waiting to snatch it up only to see it go to Drogo. It’s the best going away present he can give himself.

 

None of it feels real, exactly. It’s like some game, preparing for some grand step that hasn’t really sunk in as an actual event. It isn’t until he buys a large cart and two sturdy ponies (Gerda and Tilda, he decides), and begins packing up that it finally begins to dawn at him that he’s leaving this place. For good, most likely.

 

His books take up three trunks alone, and he hires some workers to dismantle his writing desk to make it easier to take with him. It had been commissioned for him by his father, long ago, when he first started jotting down stories and ideas or notes on languages, and he still will pause sometimes and run his fingers over where he had crudely carved his initials into the leg as a small boy, or where he had spilled ink and stained the wooden top. Besides that there’s his mother’s jewelry box, all her crochet and knitwork, a trunk of his clothes, bedding, his parents portraits, and a few other small bits and pieces with more sentiment than any real use.

 

His armchair is the last to go out, carefully wrapped against the elements and secured tightly into the cart alongside two barrels of Longbottom Leaf before everything is covered and strapped in. When Bilbo walks back into his hole, he has to stop for a moment to look at the space it had occupied by the fire.

 

It’s two days now, before he’s due to meet up with the merchants outside of Bree, and Bilbo wanders the curving rooms and halls of his home.

 

He loved this place, still loves it. There’s marks on one doorway where his mother had jotted down his height, the couch where he had sat on his father’s knee and heard stories of his great great grandfather Balbo Baggins, who built this home and began their proud family line. Wherever he goes, a part of his heart will always stay here, in this place that will in some way always be home. It’s not a hard thing to come to terms with, and it’s not that he regrets his choice, but he’ll miss it all the same.

 

If things had gone different, he could have probably stayed here in his peace and isolation, content with his books and pipe and garden. But now he talks out loud to himself and feels a pang when no one answers. He’ll have some dry remark and wish he had Bofur’s crooked grin answering him with a joke. There’s his fireplace and warmth but there isn’t a broad hand on his back, a silent greeting of contact that’s so comfortable that he doesn’t even think on it. Not until it’s not there anymore.

 

This place is home, will always be a home, but his heart isn’t here, and hasn’t been for quite some time. And Bilbo’s starting to think that maybe one can have more than one home in their life, and it’s alright to outgrow one so happiness can root in another.

 

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In literally any other circumstance, he probably would have loved the elvish kingdom in Mirkwood. The deep, underground city, built within the roots of the forest, has a wild beauty that mirrors Rivendell while being completely different. Rivendell’s delicate houses and open air balconies had a precise and refined elegance that ornamented the waterfalls they were built over. Each archway and each ornate balcony was a work of art there, with flowing, intersecting lines and complex patterns that must have taken years to plan out.

 

Mirkwood is wild and entirely organic, each home and pathway looks like it was grown from the roots around it, and Bilbo wonders if the whole thing was made that way, instead of built. There are carvings here and there, a few more practical sections of simple structures. But everything here speaks of a beauty that could go feral at any moment. And the elves here match their home, fair haired and bright eyed, quicker than the dark, languid and draping Rivendell elves. The wood elves leap from path to path, move like wild animals on the prowl, laugh sharp, joke easy, and bristle with small knives or bows and arrows wherever they go.

 

It’s the danger that currently strikes Bilbo more than the beauty, as he clings to the walls and flits from nook to nook within the city. The elves seem constantly on the alert, eyes scanning everywhere they go even as they laugh and grab drinks or walk arm in arm together. After two days of trying to find some weakness in their guard, Bilbo is so drained that he nearly falls off the path a few times, and it’s only the fact that he happened to be in an empty corridor that saves him from being caught at the unseemly squawk of alarm he makes.

 

He needs to sleep, he needs to find somewhere to rest, but he can’t get himself to relax anywhere in this place. It’s not that it’s hard to find safe areas, Bilbo has already managed to crawl into several abandoned little crannies or dips within the wood. But every time he lays down he can hear his heart pounding, each trickle of water, the creaks and groans of living wood, and wonders about his companions deep, deep down in the dungeons.

 

After a whole day spent just going from resting spot to resting spot he finally gives up and very carefully makes his way down. It’s a slow journey past guards and patrols, including the red haired woman who seems to make it a habit to march sharply through every few hours, eyes focused and assessing as she checks her charges. All of the elves are frightening in their own way, but Bilbo finds her the most alarming, second only to the terrifyingly calm and intense king.

 

Eventually he makes it to the dwarves cells, and, like a magnet, he’s drawn to Thorin’s.

 

It’s late, gods know HOW late, but he knows it’s late by the quiet that’s fallen over the city and the soft snoring echoing through the dungeon. Every dwarf fell asleep hours ago, except Thorin, who sits on the ground with is back to the wall, practically plastered up to the bars of his cell with his hands gripping each other tight over his bent knees.

 

Bilbo takes in the lank hair, left to hang wildly everywhere instead of pushed back as it usually is, the deep shadows around Thorin’s darting blue eyes, and has the feeling that the dwarf has slept about as much as he has. The worry-wart has probably just finished pacing and brooding menacingly at any elf that happened to pass by, and Bilbo almost feels sorry for the guards.

 

Almost, he thinks, looking at the strained lines around Thorin’s eyes, but not quite.

 

He carefully settles himself down against the wall in Thorin’s nook, finding a nice little alcove area in front of the bars. It’s become a fascination, watching people with the ring on, and Thorin is a completely different level of fascinating. Bilbo can see the way each breath is carefully measured, exhaled in a burst, and drawn slowly back in. Thorin’s eyes keep flitting from outside, to each wall of his cell, then back out to take a silent tally of each cell he can see from his own, forehead constantly furrowed. He really is pressed to the bars, the metal of them biting into his upper arm and his leg.

 

A while ago, he had talked about Erebor and his family, his childhood, and his voice had taken an oddly strained note when he mentioned how he hated the cramped room he would be locked up in whenever he was caught wandering out too far. Bilbo remembers that now, and remembers the wild, enraged panic in Thorin's voice as the fumes of mirkwood seeped in and all he would talk about were the trees pressing in around them and the lack of air. Bilbo decides that no, actually, he doesn’t feel sorry for any elves that come under that glare at all.

 

The pad of his thumb runs slowly over the ring, warm and feeling alive with some buzzing energy against his finger. He watches Thorin, and seriously considers taking it off. What he would accomplish by that, he isn't sure. Some comfort maybe? Telling Thorin that he’s working on something, he’ll get them all out of there and get Thorin out of the cramped space. But he needs to stay secret, needs to make sure there isn’t any hint that the elves should go looking for an intruder. He knows Thorin wouldn’t make a scene, but he doesn’t imagine even he could keep fully quiet if Bilbo materialized out of no where, and the hobbit can only imagine the ensuing pandemonium as soon as the others got word that he was there.

 

His hand falls away from the ring, and he sighs slowly and leans back against the wall. He scoots in as close as he dares, not really knowing what he’s trying to do, but wanting to reach out and take Thorin’s hand, to stop the nervous tapping and the darting, trapped panic in his eyes. Instead Bilbo just sits nearby, feeling useless as he looks in on the caged king.

 

After a few minutes Thorin inhales slowly, then steadily begins to calm. His frown never leaves, but he leans his head back on the wall and lets his eyes shut with a long sigh. Bilbo curls up where he is and watches the dwarf slowly drift off, finally relaxing enough to sleep sitting uncomfortably up against the bars of his prison.

 

‘I’m working on it.’ Bilbo thinks, feeling his own eyes grow heavy. ‘I’m here. I’ll get us out. Don’t lose hope and don’t give up on me just yet. I’ll get you out.’

 

It’s a mantra that he repeats every night before his vision fades, returning to the same spot each night to sleep in front of Thorin’s cell.

 

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He leaves when the first bit of light is creeping into the sky, but before the sun rises, when the night begins fading into a pale and clear dawn. The acorn is in a pouch on his belt, and he picks one last harvest of mid-summer vegetables from his garden. There’s a basket of tomatoes, squashes, and sweet pepper that he packs away to snack on in his cart.  That should at least give him a few days of something fresh before it’s all tough, bland road food.

 

This time there’s no one to avoid goodbyes with, though a few farmers are already out, watching him with solemn and concerned disapproval as he puts on his hat, lights his pipe, and lightly twitches the reigns to get moving.

 

He wears a plain and sturdy shirt and deep red vest, a brown jacket folded in the seat next to him. The mithril sits under it all, warming against his skin and hidden away under fine hobbit made cloth. If it weren’t for Sting resting at his hip, he would look like any other trader heading to Bree with his pipe and broad hat in the early morning.

 

As he approaches the edges of Hobbiton, he pauses for one last look back at Bag End, caught in the early morning light and perfectly tranquil. Gandalf’s words from over two years ago come back to him, and he smiles and makes one small change before he clicks the ponies on.

 

Home is behind, home is ahead.

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“Perhaps it is best if that stone remains lost.”

 

Balin gives him a pointed look, and Bilbo swallows, gives the smallest nod, and steps back. He has to take a few breaths, feeling the air swim around him because he doesn’t want to lie to Thorin, it’s been hard enough as it is so far. But he can’t just give in and give Thorin what he wants and make everything worse.

 

It gets just a bit too much, and he sits heavily on a dust coated box, rubbing his hands over his face and closing his eyes. This is one of the first times he’s had a real chance to breathe away from Thorin’s shadow. He scrubs his hands over his face again and has no idea what to do. He can’t just cart the arkenstone around forever, tucked away in an inner pocket of his coat.

 

“You alright, laddie?” Balin asks, coming up by him, voice gentle with worry. “Y’er looking faint.”

 

“No. I’m- I mean yes. Yeah. I’m. I’m just.” Bilbo looks around, and does his regular check for the gold glint and hulking shadow of Thorin that seems to lurk around every corner to snap at him to follow. And every time he does the check he feels a heavy lead weight sink into his guts. He shouldn't be checking to make sure Thorin isn't nearby, not when he used to want Thorin around.  “It’s just-” He laughs nervously, trying to make it sound lighter than he feels, “I think...I think Thorin may suspect something…”

 

Balins bushy brows lower, and he crouches down by Bilbo. “Lad...I think if he suspected you, you’d know.” He nods his head to give another significant look, and Bilbo recalls Thorin growls of ‘I will have my vengeance’ and has to agree with him.

 

“I don’t know. Maybe? It’s just-”

 

“Just?” Balin prompts, leaning in.

 

“I can’t-I don’t know. I think this is the longest time I’ve been able to go without him around? I don’t know what it is. He won’t let me out of his sight, Balin!" Bilbo stands up then, running his hands back through his hair and starting to pace in a tight circle. "He won’t let me down to search with the others for the stone, and I thought it was because I...failed...the first time.” He clears his throat and Balin nods rapidly as he goes on. “But he isn’t...he says I don’t need to keep looking because I’ve done my part. And then there was the bit at the throne...I’m just. I’m used to him always being around and I guess it’s not new but this feels…”

 

He swallows, unable to voice the tense fear that Thorin inspires now, and how completely at odds it is from the usual comfort he had come to associate with his friend. How the enveloping safety and steadiness has been completely replaced by this tense apprehension, like he’s trapped prey whenever Thorin growls a command to follow him to some new part of the mountain. Thorin doesn’t even pay much attention to him, for all he’s dragged around. It’s like Bilbo is only really noticed if he talks, or if Thorin realizes that he isn’t nearby.

 

Balin grimaces, eyes looking away almost guiltily as he sets his mouth in a thin line. “Lad…” He stops and runs a hand down over his beard, and Bilbo stops his pacing and looks up, noting how unusually tense the old dwarf is. “Lad you’ve done your part. You were hired to sneak into the mountain past the dragon, and you’ve done that. Your part of the contract, as far as I can see, and I wrote that contract mind you, is fulfilled.”

 

“What do you mean?” Bilbo asks slowly.

 

“I mean,” Balin says, and he stops fidgeting, looking Bilbo firmly in the eye. “I mean, you should consider heading out, Master Baggins.”

 

“What? No! No no, Balin-”

 

“Bilbo.” Balin interrupts, “The winter will set in hard soon enough, and you’ve no more duty holding you here. I’d hate to see you go but-”

 

“I’m not going anywhere!” Bilbo snaps. “No, Balin! This isn’t done here! I told Thorin,” He has to stop and swallow, remembering Thorin as he was in Laketown, calm and relaxed and smiling out at the mountain. “I told him...I told him I’d see it finished. I promised him I would stay until it was all done. And it isn’t yet, not while it’s like...it's all wrong. I can’t just leave now while he’s like this. He’s sick and I can’t leave. Not while Thorin-” He has to stop himself before he says ‘needs me.’

 

He can’t be thinking like that. There’s nothing he can do, really. He can’t fight sickness and he carries the one item that he had hoped could help hidden away in his coat. If anything all he could do is make Thorin worse, but he can’t make himself leave. Thorin isn’t right, Thorin needs help and Bilbo could never forgive himself if he left Thorin to this sickness and madness and ruin.

 

Balin sighs, and shakes his head with an odd, sad smile. “Right. Of course not. Would you promise me something then lad? If Thorin-...if anything happens-”

 

“What are you talking about?” Bilbo asks, and Balin looks at him with this unplacable sadness. “Balin? What do you mean? What would Thorin-”

 

“Bilbo!”

 

Thorin’s shout is a shock to his nerves, making every one of Bilbo’s muscles clench up. He takes a bracing, deep inhale, and forces himself to relax bit by bit against the winding tightness that begins coiling up when he turns to smile curiously at the broad shadow storming into the room.

 

“Oh! Hello Thorin, you need something?” He asks, smile on and voice light, placating and calm. Thorin pauses, the thunderous scowl blinking away for a brief moment as he looks between Bilbo and Balin.

 

“What are you doing?” He asks, frowning suspiciously at the two of them. Bilbo wants to throw something, wants to scream that this is BALIN for goodness sake! What would either of them be doing against Thorin?

 

Instead, he shrugs, face scrunching up in innocent confusion. “Talking, we just were having a chat. Don’t get much chance for it these days.” Balin smiles amiably and nods besides him.

 

Thorin’s full scowl returns, though it’s slightly less dark, which is the best they generally hope for these days. “We don’t have time,” he growls, “for chit chatting. Balin, get back with the others. Bilbo, with me.”

 

Balin nods and walks out, back to the endless piles of gold and the very, very lost arkenstone. Bilbo smiles and keeps his step light despite the hammering in his chest as he falls in line behind Thorin.

 

“You sure you don’t want me down there with them? I could-”

 

“You don’t need to do anymore.” Thorin interrupts. “It’s time they do their part.”

 

“Right.” Bilbo agrees quickly, jaw clenched and fists tight at his sides as he follows Thorin down to look over the hills and hills of gold.

 

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He’s being stared at again.

 

Luckily for Bilbo, after coming home to the Shire decked out with a dwarvish shield and a chest of treasure, is used to being stared at. And the dwarves are far less prone to gossiping.

 

Well, he thinks they are. There is an awful lot of quiet conversation in Khuzdul going on all around him, and while he’s starting to listen for the patterns he hasn’t quite got the sharp, stacatto language figured out yet. It’s awkward, but he continues on in his cart near the back of the caravan, keeping a book out to make it clear that he isn’t interested in conversation. It’s still an odd contrast to his last experience with dwarves. Maybe it’s different, when you’re not officially part of a company? But he feels like an odd outcast.

 

Just a few months. And it is rather peaceful. He can sit around one of the fires, smile politely, chat about the roads that day with one of the other families, and go back to his cart without any trouble at all.

 

It’s nice while it lasts.

 

“Interesting sword, for a halfling to carry.”

 

Bilbo is well practiced at dissembling at this point, and only looks up in vague, innocent interest at the young dwarf sitting on the other side of the fire, acting like he’s been asked about the weather and that there aren’t suddenly about ten sets of eyes watching him with interest. It’s nearly two weeks into the trip, and he thought they had all gotten used to him. But the dwarf, who must be around Ori's age, watches him curiously as Bilbo glances down at Sting like he just now noticed it there.

 

“Hm? What? Is it? I thought it was a bit small.”

 

“It’s elvish.” Another dwarf, older and decorated with ornate, beaded braids, says gruffly. Bilbo is not surprised at all at the hint of disgust in his voice.

 

“Oh! Yes. I found it in ah, in a cave. Thought it was a-”

 

“Do you actually know how to use it?” The young dwarf asks, no insult in his voice. He’s honestly curious, watching Bilbo like he’s some odd little animal that can do tricks. Bilbo can’t really be insulted. He’s back in his finer Shire clothes, well bathed, and calmly smoking a pipe, so he hardly looks the part of a warrior. He still doesn’t really see himself as one, to be honest.

 

“Oh a bit.” He shrugs. “I mean, I’ve done some drills? Nothing really special. It’s mainly a deterrent, you know what I mean? It also helps to distract enemies because they wonder what the bloody hell a halfling is doing with a sword, and then I can have off while they muddle it over.” He smiles, and a couple of the dwarves chuckle, while a few others narrow their eyes at him.

 

“Halfling’s don’t carry swords.” Another dwarf states, gruff and final.

 

Bilbo glances down at Sting and scrunches up his eyebrows in concern, working his pipe between his teeth. “Well this is awkward then. I wish someone had told me that.”

 

“Especially not elvish swords.” Says the braided dwarf, and Bilbo looks up again and tenses when he notices the number of eyes on him has about doubled. He clears his throat and busies himself by puffing on his pipe, shrugging and fighting the urge to start reaching for the sword that has caught so much interest.

 

“Well. You know. I just like carrying it. It’s-”

 

“A halfling. With an elvish blade. Heading off to Erebor.” The young dwarf says, the words slow and drawn out, like the pieces of a puzzle. His eyes slowly start to widen as the description seems to sink in and strike at something.

 

“Oh hell.” Bilbo mutters. Then winces at himself. He really picked up some dreadful language hanging around with the Company.

 

There’s a few heartbeats of tense quiet as everyone watches him, then the braided dwarf makes an odd, excited shout and points at him.

 

Akdâmuthrab! You’re the Burglar!”

 

“What? The-” Bilbo leans back, eyebrows shooting up in shock. “The what? What did you call me? I have never-! How could-”

 

“The Burglar in the company! The halfling that travelled with King Thorin to take back the mountain!” He goes on, and the explosion of activity drowns out Bilbo’s groan of pain.

 

“I wasn’t a very good burglar.” He mumbles, pipe tight between his teeth and feeling a bit trapped by the crowd around him.

 

“So you were then?” The young dwarf looks like he’s about to fall into the fire, he’s sitting so far forward on the box he’s taken as a seat. Bilbo sighs heavily, sends a silent goodbye to the peace and quiet of his journey, and shrugs.

 

“Ah. Yes. Yeah I was in the Company. Bilbo Baggins, at your service.” He admits, half mumbling it into his pipe as if he hopes no one will actually hear him. The excited flurry of Khuzdul around him proves that the effort was in vain.

 

“Did you really fight the dragon?” The young dwarf asks, breathless and wide eyed. “In the mountain?”

 

“What?! Did I-? No! No goodness no! Where did you-” Honestly what WERE they all saying? He bet Bofur said that, the gossiping cad. “No I didn’t fight it at all! I think I was the worst fighter of the lot of them. I just talked at it a bit.”

 

“You talked to the dragon?” Braids asks, now leaning forward as much as the younger dwarf. “You lived. How did you manage it?”

 

“It uh,” Bilbo coughs and busies himself knocking his pipe out a bit before puffing it again. “You just...dragon’s are easily flattered and very...polite...in their very dragonish way? You talk at them and they just...sort of talk back. It wasn’t that impressive, I just babbled at the thing until I was able to get away.”

 

“So you really do know how to use that sword.” Youngster says smugly, as if Bilbo had tried to lie earlier.

 

“Well, Thorin taught me a bi-”

 

The dwarves absolutely explode into excited shouts and exclamations of awe. Bilbo groans and rubs at his forehead. Gods there’s a migraine coming on.

 

“You knew him, then?” One dwarf yells, practically vibrating out of his boots.

 

“Well I was in his company so I should hope so.” Bilbo snaps. “There weren’t that many of us-” He's half tempted to say that their Hero King was the one who got them lost half of the time, but decides that it would be bad form to ruin Thorin's shining image when he's possibly on his way to marry him.

 

“What’s he like? King Thorin?” Youngster shouts over the din, and all like that they go silent, eagerly watching Bilbo as they hang on his imminent answer.

 

Bilbo looks around, takes a slow puff, and sighs, giving up on being able to get away from any of this. “He-”

 

He has to stop again, watching the fire and trying to find an actual, easy way to finish the sentence. Thorin is….

 

Incredible, hopelessly brave and noble, honorable to a fault, one of the most caring people Bilbo has met, intense, determined, tad obsessive, a complete loss with directions, stubborn, good at battle strategy, bad at overall planning, complete moron when he sets his mind to it, can take years off your life with a glare or completely melt your insides with a smile that’s all teeth and bright blue eyes.

 

Bilbo is utterly hopeless, a complete loss. He clears his throat, feeling his face heat up a bit and hopes the firelight is too dim to really show how red he probably is. “He’s...well he’s beyond description...really. It was an adventure just being in his Company, and the greatest honor any halfling could ask for.”

 

The dwarves all gather in closer, all breathless and eager.

 

“Were you there in the battle? When he charged out of the mountain?” Braids asks.

 

“I wasn’t with him then.” Bilbo clears his throat, deciding it’s probably best not to tell a bunch of idolizing dwarves about how he betrayed the trust of the great King Thorin Oakenshield. “I was fighting in Dale, but I was able to see it.”

 

The dwarves press in more, and Bilbo gives in. He takes his pipe and leans forward, setting his elbows on his knees and looks out at the audience that’s gathered around him.

 

“So, what was left of Dain’s army was backed against the front of Erebor, surrounded and barely holding together. I was on the walls of Dale, and thought I was about to watch a slaughter, when from the top of the ramparts of Erebor, the war horn blew…”

 

It goes on for hours, telling stories of his adventures with the legendary King Under the Mountain, and he manages to completely avoid the fact that he’s heading back with plans to accept a wedding proposal.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

He has absolutely no trouble with the fact that Thorin is attractive. Very attractive. Kingly and noble and seemingly having a sixth sense for when to look off when the light will hit him just so and the wind will ruffle his thick black hair.

 

It’s annoying at first, and not because Thorin happens to be most definitely masculine. That was never much of a problem for Bilbo, who had always been a bit more interested in the people more than anything. An attractive person was just attractive. No, the issue with Thorin wasn’t that he was an attractive male dwarf, but that he was an attractive ass. No one, in Bilbo’s opinion, should be that surly and rude, and still manage to be devastatingly handsome while going about it.

 

Eventually it’s something of a little internal joke to Bilbo. Thorin manages to be so attractive that it becomes funny. It’ll be raining, they’ll all look like half-drowned dogs, everything’s splattered in mud as they start trying to find a way to make camp, and there would be Thorin. Thorin, with his hair curling in the damp and flung wildly about him, his face smudged with just enough mud to make him look rugged, and water dripping around his glaring blue eyes. And Bilbo would have to stop himself from bursting out laughing because really: Who looks like that? Who honestly bloody looks like that except Thorin bloody Oakenshield?

 

So it goes on well enough like that for a while. Thorin glares at him and snaps at him to keep up, the sun breaks through the clouds behind him in just the right way to crown him in golden light, and Bilbo tries not to start giggling because no one actually looks like that. He manages to keep a straight face usually, and just mentally ticks off another point on his list of Reasons Thorin Oakenshield Isn’t Actually Real.

 

Things take a bit of a wrong turn after the eagles drop them off.

 

“I have never been so wrong in my life!” And Bilbo has gotten quite used to Thorin scowling and looking good with it, but he was entirely unprepared for Thorin smiling at him. Thorin’s smile is flashing teeth and steely blue eyes suddenly sparkling with warmth and affection, fine lines that Bilbo had no idea existed crinkling at the corners. It’s really unfair, Bilbo thinks, his stomach dropping in shock at that smile, because no one warned him! And it’s doubly unfair, because Thorin has a gash across his nose, blood splattered on his face, and his cheek is swelling a bit and starting to bruise, and he still looks like that!

 

He’s still mentally reeling from Thorin’s smile, and therefore doesn’t have a chance to prepare himself for the extra shock of Thorin yanking him into a bone crushing embrace. Bilbo never had been one for casual contact, even with regularly attractive people, and nothing could have prepared him for the enveloping warmth.

 

Several things strike him at once, in the first few seconds of that hug.

 

The first one is that Thorin is very, very solid. It’s like being held by a very warm wall. And that’s the next thing, Thorin is incredibly warm. Bilbo’s surrounded by a sturdy heat, holding him secure and tight against Thorin’s front, thick arms around his back pressing him in and then Thorin somehow pulls him in more. Bilbo can feel Thorin’s face pressed against his jaw and feel that black hair about his face as it’s shoved into Thorin’s shoulder. It’s then that the smell hits him. There’s smoke and fire and the tang of blood but under it there’s leather and metal and spice. And there’s absolutely nothing funny about this, he thinks, his stomach still down somewhere around his feet and his heart frantically trying to escape his ribs. It’s terrifying and yet he feels the overwhelming urge to curl into that embrace and bury himself against Thorin’s chest and make himself quite comfortable there.

 

‘Oh dear...’ he thinks, feeling the first signs of an odd bubbling in his chest as he hesitantly lifts his arms and returns the embrace. ‘This is going to be a problem...’

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

He hardly recognizes Dale.

 

Bilbo knows that with the return journey, the months in the shire, and the long haul back, it’s been over a year since he last saw it, but he still can hardly believe the change that’s taken place. The caravan trundles into the city, which he can honestly call a city now, and he stares around with wide eyes, trying to equate this hustle with the ruins he remembers. There are still crumbled buildings and sections of missing wall from the battle. There are still large sections that feel empty, not yet occupied by what’s left of the humans of laketown. But every tumble of stones and every broken down tower is swarming with a mix of men and dwarves, all shouting and hammering and sawing and hauling away to rebuild.

 

He manages a few quick goodbyes to the dwarves who had listened most to his stories, fends a few headbutts off and graciously accepts the hugs and makes several promises to come by for dinner. Unlike with some of the Shire folk, he honestly looks forward to it this time. But work is to be done, wares to be sold, and he finds a space by the main road where he can pull his cart over and watch the work going on around him while he tries to get himself sorted.

 

Bilbo has absolutely no idea what he’s going to do now. He had months on the road to plan it out, and never really getting something down. Would he settle in Dale for a bit first? Or just make his merry way on up to Erebor and stride in as casual as he could, oh yes how is everyone? Don’t mind him he’s just here to see if Thorin still has that whole marriage proposal offer on the table or if Bilbo should just quietly scurry back to Dale and pretend none of that happened.

 

He doesn’t think Thorin would take something like that back. Or he hopes. Maybe. He had wondered often, if it was too late. If his sudden departure had soured what had grown between them and he’d be returning to the awkward remains of friendship. But this was Thorin, who had spent years in Blue Mountains fixating on Erebor, who had stubbornly held on to the conviction that his little band could reclaim an entire kingdom from a dragon. This was the Thorin who chose to sit in a cell rather than put aside an old grudge against the Elf King. No, he can’t really imagine Thorin letting anything go for more than a few decades.

 

Especially now that Bilbo's had time to really think back on it, and remember how long ago he started seeing those soft smiles. He doesn’t have much doubt that there may still be hope with Thorin, he’s just still not sure how exactly he’s going to bring it up without feeling incredibly awkward and foolish.

 

“I had heard rumor, that the latest traders had a bit of an odd traveler with them.” Says an amused voice by his cart, and Bilbo jumps a bit from where he was staring up at a group of dwarves carefully constructing a large arched bridge over the main road. He looks around, then grins at the rider who’s come up by him.

 

“Bard! Or King Bard, I hear is the official title now?” Bard grimaces, and Bilbo grins wider. The man looks slightly more like a king now, wearing finer leather and clothes without a bit of holes in them, though it’s still a simple outfit. The showiest part is the crossed black arrows over the back of his long coat, and the plain golden circlet on his head.

 

“Hate the title. Hate the ruckus that goes with it, but there’s work to be done and someone might a well make sure it happens.” Bard shrugs away any more discussion of his royalty, as if it were a dreadful, tedious thing, which Bilbo suspects he honestly thinks it is. “What brings you all the way back to Dale, Master Baggins?” Bard goes on, holding out his hand.

 

Bilbo takes it and can’t stop smiling warmly as he gives a firm shake. He and Bard hadn’t had much chance to talk in all the smuggling, hiding, chaos, and discussions of war, but he had liked him and hadn’t realized he’d honestly missed the gruff bowman. “Oh just visiting, thought I’d stop in and see how things have come along on this side of the Misty Mountains.”

 

Bard raises his eyebrows and leans back on his horse, looking over Bilbo’s furniture loaded cart with an exaggerated slowness. “Do you think you may have packed a little lightly for a visit?” He asks, drolly casual.

 

“Hm? What?” Bilbo spends a bit of time pulling his pipe out of his travel bag and shrugs, makes a few noises that aren’t really words in response, and coughs as he gestures at the bustle around him with his pipe. “This uh, you’ve done a lot of work here, haven’t you? I barely recognized the place, it looks like you’ve about finished rebuilding it already.”

 

Bard gives him a sidelong glance, mouth twitching at the corner as he eyes Bilbo’s cart again, then shrugs and goes with it. “King Thorin has been...surprisingly generous.” Bard's mouth thins a bit at the admission, and he grudgingly eyes the mountain. “After the battle had been cleared away, and the last of the dead buried, he rode into Dale with three carts of the precious gold he had been so eager to cling onto. Many of the dwarves coming in from the Blue Mountains and Iron Hills have also come here to find work and rebuild both kingdoms. I admit the shift is odd, but I’m not going to pry into any offers of assistance.”

 

Bilbo sighs and looks down at his pipe, playing with it in his hands. “It’s not that surprising,” he says quietly, “not if you really know Thorin.”

 

Bard shrugs. “Forgive me, Master Hobbit, I know he was your friend, but I have not been given much reason to give him my own friendship. I can give good will for what he has done for us, but I do not have to like him for the hardship he’s brought on to me and mine.”

 

“He’s not-” Bilbo stops and has to take a breath before his temper gets the better of him. He knows, logically, that Bard really doesn’t have any reason to like Thorin. Even before the sickness, Thorin wasn’t exactly gracious and warm, and Bard’s worries had ended up well founded, though not for the reasons Bard thought. “He was sick.” Bilbo sighs. “He’s ambitious and rash, but until the sickness got ahold of him, he had always been one to keep his word.”

 

“Aye,” Bard says, considering Bilbo’s words. “He did not come asking for pardon, simply stating that he would hold on to what vestiges of honor he had left. And he has done that much.” The king of Dale shrugs again, looking unconcerned with it all. “In the end, I can say he held to his word, and I can work with him as one King to another, but I do not have to like him.”

 

Bilbo snorts, Bard always had an honesty that was refreshingly open. “Fair enough.” He admits. “I know as well as any that Thorin can be...difficult.”

 

Bard looks over, glances at the loaded cart again, then back at Bilbo. “What really brings you to Dale?” He asks. “Do not get me wrong, I’m happy to have you here, and you’re welcome to wherever you’d like to live within my city, but I had thought you were long gone to your Shire.”

 

“Yes. Well.” Bilbo holds his hands up and smiles. “The Shire ended up a bit dull. I’m still working out what exactly I’m going to do here. It will really depend on a few ah...very...key points. And how they play out.”

 

Bard nods, and doesn’t pry, which Bilbo is very grateful for, because he really has no idea what the bowman would think of him possibly going off to hitch up with the dwarf King he just admitted to not liking. It’ll have to come up eventually, but right now Bilbo’s not quite ready to admit what his little personal quest is about. Even the traders had only been told that he was wanting to settle in closer to where his friends were. Which isn’t a lie anyway, so it was an easy enough story to stick with.

 

“Will you be staying in Dale for the night, Master Baggins?” Bard asks. “My home is always welcome, and this time I can offer slightly better accommodations, if you need them.”

 

Bilbo chuckles, remembering the strange trip up through the toilet and then the hours spent shivering in Bard’s little shack over the water. “No, thank you but no. I may take you up on that later, and we are definitely due for a visit that doesn’t have any imminent death or threat of capture muddying it up. But there’s a few things that I- well- that I need to get done. And I’m afraid if I don’t just head over to that blasted mountain to do it, I’ll end up hiding here for days working up the courage.”

 

Bards eyebrows come together, bewildered at Bilbo’s hesitance. “There’s no dragon in there anymore, if you may remember.”

 

“Ah yes, and I do thank you for that. But at least I knew exactly what the dragon was about, and what it’s threat was. I’m afraid I was a bit of an idiot and left the entire company with only a note and with no goodbyes. And dwarves can be...emotional.”

 

He’s startled by Bard’s bark of laughter, and looks over in surprise, realizing he never really heard the human laugh at anything. “Oh I heard about that a little!” Bard chuckles, shaking his head. “A few of your little band stormed in asking if their fool Burglar had run off to my halls, but by then you were already off with the wizard. They made quite a scene. It was one with the odd hat, the tall bald one, and the King’s young kinsmen, his nephews, if I heard correct.”

 

“Bofur, Dwalin, Fili and Kili.” Also known as all the loudest of the whole lot, and least likely to care about decorum and respect. Bilbo winces, imagining the spectacle they must have made. “Yes...sorry about that.”

 

“Well,” Bard claps him on the back and grins. “I imagine my embarrassment is about to be repaid. I don’t envy you at all my friend.”

 

“Oh I wouldn’t either.” Bilbo sighs. “They’ll either hug the life out of me, punch me, or both. Anyway, wish me luck, I hope I’m in one piece next time I see you.”

 

Bard laughs again and gives him a sarcastic little salute as Bilbo snaps his reins and gets his cart back on the road. Before he leaves the city, he sees a few wagons and dwarf families from his caravan, and gives a final cheerful wave goodbye as he passes them. Several look up and shout farewells, waving excitedly.

 

He’s too far ahead to see who the owner of the voice that booms out behind him is.

 

“AYE LADDIE!” It shouts, clear and gleeful over the bustle of the city. “GO GET YER KING!”

 

Bilbo freezes, head whipping around to stare in panic as several of the merchant dwarves burst into loud, guffawing laughter. A good number of them join in with their own shouts of encouragement varying from calls of luck to a few more...colorful wishes.

 

“Oh no. Nooo. No no no!” Bilbo squeaks, hunching down and quickly turning his attention back to the road, face turning beet red as the cheers and catcalls send him on his way to Erebor.

 

-----------------------------------

“Alright, I missed something.” Bilbo comes up besides where Bofur is twiddling away at a new bit of wood by the fire for the night. “I go get my bowl and he’s gone and sulked off.”

 

“Oh that,” Bofur looks up at where Thorin has separated himself to stare meaningfully off into the distance. “You want the short version or the long version?” He asks with his usual crooked grin, scooching aside to give Bilbo a place to sit.

 

“We’ll go with the short version.” Bilbo plops down, stretching his legs out in front of him, “I expect the long one is riddled with tragic backstory all over, and drama puts me off my appetite.”

 

“Oh I highly doubt that.” Bofur snickers and cleanly slices away a bit of bark on the wood, fingers moving quick and sure as he turns it this way and that. “Kili said something about wondering where Gandalf has run off to this time, Thorin says we don’t need him, Fili said he’s been a bit useful to have ‘round, specially with that troll incident not to mention him healing Thorin after the eagles, and GETTING us the eagles. Thorin is offended that his nephews have turned so cruelly and devastatingly against him.”

 

Bilbo wrinkles his nose up, trying to figure out how all that has led to another dramatic brooding session. “But...Gandalf is useful. I quite like having a wizard around, myself.”

 

Bofur puts his hands up, shrugging as he places his whittling aside and takes the bowl of gruel for the night from Bilbo. “I’m not sayin’ he’s makin’ sense! And don’t go saying that around him, he may go into a sulk for days if he gets it in his head that his nephews AND his burglar have ganged up on him and sided with, oh Mahal what did he call him? The ‘pointy hatted meddler.’”

 

“Oh this is ridiculous.” Bilbo snorts, glaring at their dramatic, brooding, idiot leader. “He’s just got his knickers in a twist because Gandalf doesn’t take orders from him.”

 

Bofur shrugs. “Again, wouldn’t be saying that in front of him.”

 

“Well of course he’s decided to have a fit in the middle of dinner.” Bilbo sighs, pushing himself up with a groan as his legs inform him that they don’t appreciate being put to use again.

 

“You don’t think he should be sent to bed without supper?” Bofur grins, and Bilbo snickers.

 

“Supper was hours ago. And as much as I’d love to tell him off like the child he is, our grand leader probably needs to not end up passing out from lack of food at some point tomorrow.” Bofur mutters something about hobbits and their food, which Bilbo ignores as he slops some of the nights mess from the large pot over the fire into another bowl.

 

“You really gonna go over there? Y’know there’s no talkin’ with him when he gets like that. Dehersu zirin kall.” Bofur says, nodding over at Thorin.

 

“Well someone has to try or he’ll stay up all night and be unbearable tomorrow. And derhuwhatsit yourself, thank you. I’m at least going to make a go at it.” Food in hand, he makes his way over to Thorin.

 

“Hate to interrupt whatever you’re up to over here.” He starts, and feels just a little pleased when Thorin jumps a bit before glaring at him. As far as stealing things, he’s a rubbish burglar, but at least he has a pretty good handle on the sneaking bits. “Thought you might like some food. Or what we pass off as food.” He holds one of the bowls out to Thorin, who bristles and glares at it like it’s personally offensive.

 

“Thank you.” He says, making it sound like an insult. “I’m not hungry.”

 

“Oh come on.” Bilbo sighs, nudging Thorin on the arm with the bowl as he shoves it forward more. “Made it special myself. Just the way you like it, with extra lumpy bits of mystery in it. I worked extra hard on this batch, had to make up some completely new spices for it. By make up, I mean that they’re imaginary.”

 

Thorin looks up at the bowl to give Bilbo the now familiar look. The one that says he’s not sure what to really think of the hobbit, and is undecided if his confusion should give way to anger or not. The quizzical look, bordering on outright suspicion, doesn’t leave as he takes the bowl from Bilbo’s hands.

 

“There you go!”

 

The confusion gives way to a glare and Thorin yanks the bowl back, narrowing his eyes at Bilbo for a few more seconds before he takes the most grudging bite of the food, which utterly ruins whatever look he’s trying for as he stares meaningfully off at the horizon.

 

“How is it then? You know how I pride myself on my gruel cooking.” Bilbo prods, and manage to stop himself from cheering himself when Thorin’s mouth twitches up a little bit at the corner. The dwarf glances at him from the corner of his eye, the smile solidifying slightly at Bilbo’s wide eyed look of false earnest hope.

 

“It’s terrible.”

 

“Oh it’s dreadful.” Bilbo agrees, nodding rapidly. “But I imagine with a bit of any other ingredients, it could be salvageable.”

 

“It only needs to keep us fed.” Thorin points out, though he’s a lot less growly now.

 

“Thorin.” Bilbo says very firmly. “Remind me to actually cook you something after all of this.”

 

Thorin eyes him again, as if he’s been threatened instead of offered a meal. “Alright." He says, sounding like he's weighing his words very carefully "I’ll hold you too that, Burglar.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

If he hadn’t already seen just thirteen dwarves build a sturdy barricade wall overnight, complete with built in stairs, ramparts, and peek-holes, using just random blocks of ruin and rubble, he wouldn’t have actually believe what he was seeing.

 

The makeshift wall is gone, and the bridge leading into Erebor is remade with smooth stone and hulking statues of the armed, crouched dwarves. Where there had been a gaping maw into the mountain, there was now a solid door of wood and iron, engraved with runes and great carvings of ravens clutching giant stones in their claws. The ramparts have been rebuilt over the gateway, fully manned by guards, and to the side is a giant block of stone that’s swarming with dwarves strapped in place and carefully chiselling away a new statue to replace the one Thorin had ordered destroyed to block the entrance.

 

Bilbo hops down from his cart to lead the ponies over the bridge, heart hammering as he stares at the massive doors before him. He feels far too exposed on the bridge, even with the bustle of dwarves (he hadn’t quite realized how many there must have been, waiting in the Blue Mountains) around him, all laden with hammers and axes and equipment as they come and go through a smaller door off to the side of the main gate.

 

Mahitdin!"

 

Bilbo jumps, having forgotten for a second about the guards up over the gateway. He stops and grips at the ponies reins.



“What business do y’have with Erebor?” The voice is low and rough, having no patience for whatever Bilbo may say. Oh he knows that too well. Bilbo tilts his hat back and cranes his neck to squint up and sure enough, there’s a shining bald head set on broad shoulders that are just visible from where Bilbo is.

 

“Well,” He muses, loud enough to carry to the top of the wall, “just a bit of burglary, really.” Dwalin leans hard over the top of the ramparts to stare down, and Bilbo can just hear the muttered curse as he grins up at the dwarf.

 

“Bilbo!”

 

“Hullo!” Bilbo waves, and Dwalin curses again.

 

“Yah little SHIT!” He hollers over the wall, loud enough now that a few dwarves are stopping to stare. “I’m gonna wring your damned little neck! Open the gate! Open it right now! I’m gonna kill him!”

 

“Oh dear.” Bilbo says to himself, wincing as Dwalin disappears behind the ramparts, echoes of various threats to Bilbo’s well being drifting up from behind the wall. He watches with raised eyebrows as something large and metal clanks, and one of the doors begins to swing open. Dwalin’s shouting can be heard the entire time, and he emerges as an image of rage from the gates of Erebor.

 

“A note! Nothing but a fuckin note! Ag zasasmaki rathkh-hund!” He snarls, fists balled at his sides as he stalks towards the smiling hobbit. Dwarves dive out of his way and he looks like a legendary figure of war, dressed in iron armor emblazoned with a raven in flight over the chest. Bilbo notes the blues and deep reds, and also notes that there isn’t a hint of gold on the plate armor, for all it’s decorated with the complex geometric squares dwarves are so fond of.

 

“Well I was always terrible at goodbyes…” Bilbo starts, and any other excuses are crushed out of him as he’s swept up into a hug that may be designed to break his back. Dwalin sets him down and grabs Bilbo’s head hard between both hands, and Bilbo sends up a frantic prayer that he isn’t about to get knocked out by a friendly dwarvish headbutt, but Dwalin settles for just shaking him.

 

“You-!” Dwalin says,grinning wide even as he rattled Bilbo’s brains about in his skull. “Ah you’re a sight for sore eyes Master Baggins! Maybe we’ll finally have some peace ‘round here!”

 

“Uh, peace?” Bilbo manages, voice jumping up an octave when the shaking stops and is replaced by an arm slung around his head and yanking him into an unbreakable headlock. “Dwalin! Dwalin get off me! I’m sorry alright! Ow-!”

 

“AY! BROTHER!” Dwalin shouts, ignoring the little hobbit fists pounding away at his armored shoulder. “Come look at what’s crawled up to our doorstep!” Bilbo manages to land a hit on a joint in Dwalin’s armor, and only gets a loud laugh and a giant hand rubbing violently over his head for his efforts.

 

“Brother,” He can just hear Balin’s voice approaching from the direction of the doors, sounding like this is a conversation they have had many times before. “I’ve told you, y’can’t refer to the men like that, it’s bad for diploma-oh bless my beard! Is that Master Baggins you have there?”

 

“Balin!” Bilbo shouts, renewing his efforts to squirm his way out of the elbow locked around his neck. “Help!”

 

“Little bugger just came riding up to our door!” Dwalin snorts, giving Bilbo another little shake. “Happy as you please and as if nothing was the matter at all.”

 

“My goodness.” Balin just says, and Bilbo can hear the fond smile, but no mention of him actually being let go. He can just see a bit of white beard when he looks up through his hair, and one of the dwarf’s hands reaching out to get the attention of a nearby guard. “Could you take Master Baggin’s cart and find a place for it? And send word to the Eastern slope, I believe the King is still out there, and I expect he’ll want to hear about our new guest’s arrival.”

 

Bilbo swallows a bit at the mention of Thorin, half hoping that the King will take a bit getting to them so he can have a little more time to think of something. At the moment, however, he’s more concerned with the fact that he’s still doubled over and locked in place. He’s aware of someone taking the reins to his ponies from his flailing hands, and can hear the clop of hooves going off towards what he assumes are the stables.

 

“Balin!” Bilbo yelps, hands flailing wildly to gesture at his current position, as if the older dwarf hasn’t already noticed it. Dwalin laughs again and he gets another hard ruffle over his hair. “Dwalin you let me go you confounded- I should turn around! Should turn right around, this is the worst idea I’ve ever had! Right after signing that stupid contract and leaving Bag End and getting dragged along just to be abused and-and- bring me my cart back! Bring it back right now I’m going to-”

 

“Ah right, right yes.” Balin chuckles. “Ah, brother? I believe you can release our burglar now, I think he’s quite gotten your point.”

 

Dwalin lets go, without any warning, of course, and Bilbo nearly goes right to the ground. He manages to keep his footing with just an undignified squawk and a good amount of flailing, and punches Dwalin in the arm as soon as he stands. A choice he instantly regrets, and leaves him biting back a string of curses as he shakes his fist out. Dwalin just laughs again, and slaps him on the back hard enough to nearly send him to the ground again.

 

“Dwarves.” Bilbo lets every bit of aggravated disdain he’s ever felt ooze into the word as he makes a pointed show of straightening out his jacket.

 

Balin chuckles warmly and pats Bilbo on the back, and it’s hard to hold back the smile that comes over his face around the old dwarf.

 

“You could have sent word, Master Baggins,” he points out, starting to lead Bilbo into the mountain. “Not that you aren’t welcome by any means, even after a departure that would be considered rude by any standards, much less a hobbit's.”

 

Bilbo winces, but accepts that he’s going to be hearing about that for a while, and can’t exactly blame any of them. “Well it’s not like I can exactly send a raven, can I? And I doubt the Hobbiton messenger pigeons would make it past the Misty Mountains. Besides, you all burst into my hole uninvited, I thought it was high time I return the favor.”

 

Balin laughs, and the three walk into the mountain, now free of ruins and lit with the golden light Bilbo had heard Thorin whispering about. Last time he was here, the place was a tomb, filled with charred and desiccated bodies shriveled in their armor, stones and statues toppled to the grounds. And Bilbo doubts that the mountain has reached the full majesty that it had once had, but it’s still an amazing transformation into something that could be considered an actual home, instead of a shamble of ruin and memory.

 

Thorin works quickly.

 

“It’s good to see you again, Bilbo. I’m sure the rest of the company will agree, once word’s gotten to them.” Balin says, and Dwalin claps Bilbo on the back again, this time without enough force to knock him down. Bilbo looks up into the hollow mountain, and can see glimmers of lights from braziers and torches, hear the echo of voices and shouts of orders, the ringing of hammers and the hum of saws.

 

‘You’ll understand, when you see it. You could stand on the ground level and look up and only see neverending staircases and archways, doors and lights shining like stars within the stone, stretching forever upwards.’

 

Bilbo walks along the stone halls, gazes past the grand statues and ornate carvings, up into the lights glimmering within the depths, and thinks he is starting to understand. “It’s good to be back.” He says.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------

 

He was prepared for drunk dwarves. Bilbo saw the laketown men hauling in barrels of wine and ale, platters of food in celebration of the deal struck with Thorin. And he really thought he was prepared, he had seen dwarves in celebration in an unfortunately up close and personal setting.

 

He was not prepared for Thorin.

 

“Thorin! Get off me! You’re too heavy you lunk!”

 

Thorin, who is well on his way through another tankard of ale (Bilbo had given up on keeping count long ago) just laughs and, as a result, sways and leans more heavily on Bilbo. Bilbo, who had mistakenly thought that their grand leader would have had the wisdom to not partake quite so much in the merriment. He was wrong.

 

Dwarves.

 

Thorin’s been as loud and excitable as the rest of them, booming laughter ringing over everyone else as he went throughout his company, exchanging hugs, friendly slaps on the back, and the occasional headbutt. At one point him and Dwalin had started yelling in good nature about something and had nearly destroyed some perfectly good furniture in the process. Bilbo made the mistake of intervening, and Thorin responded by throwing an arm over Bilbo’s shoulders, yanking him firmly against his side, and proceeding to drag the hobbit around for the rest of the night and, occasionally, use him as a crutch.

 

“Thorin!” Bilbo snaps, smacking the arm hooked around him for what has to be the tenth time that night. They’re supposed to be facing a dragon tomorrow! And everyone’s practically falling over themselves like a bunch of idiots, with this idiot leading the way. “Thorin let go!”

 

“Bilbo!” Thorin grins, voice too loud and sounding like he just remembered Bilbo was there and it’s the best surprise ever. “Bilbo you’ve been amazing!”

 

Bilbo sighs. “Yes, thank you Thorin.” Thorin has been going to everyone and informing all of them how amazing, incredible, noble, and perfectly loyal they are. It was charming the first five times.

 

“I really-” Thorin sways again and Bilbo’s legs nearly give way under him. The dwarf catches himself and yanks them both back upright so suddenly that Bilbo yelps as he’s nearly lifted a little off the ground. “I really thought you were going to die within a week!”

 

“Yes, well, so did I.” Bilbo huffs, and lightly smacks the large arm around him again. “Thorin, come on! We really can’t be-”

 

“But you didn’t!” Thorin goes on, flinging out his free arm and sloshing ale all over the place. “And it is because of you we’ve made it this far.”

 

“Thorin, I really-”

 

“This quest owes our success to you, Master Baggins.” Thorin says firmly, and it would be touching if he weren’t slurring the praise.

 

“Thank you Thorin, but if we’re going to actually finish this in time, we need to get your drunken, idiot arse set and taken care of for the night.” He can’t imagine them trying to hike up the mountain tomorrow, not if Thorin is still recovering from this lunacy. For what has to be the hundredth time, Bilbo wonders how dwarves manage to function at all. Obviously someone here is going to have to be in charge of some intelligent, responsible decisions.

 

“I am set!” Thorin declares, “I’m King Under the Mountain!” He bellows the title out, and all the dwarves stop to cry cheers and shout in Khuzdul, raising their tankards. Thorin cheers back and Bilbo nearly gets ale spilled all over him. The only thing that saves him from a migraine is when they all stop to down their drinks.

 

“Right.” Bilbo mutters, and grabs onto the bit of Thorin’s sleeve in front of his face. “Right then. That’s all well and good but you’ll be King under the bloody tables if something isn’t done.” He tugs on the sleeve and manages to start steering Thorin, who’s being surprisingly cooperative, towards the stairs that lead to the rooms they all have been given. There’s a bit of difficulty once they actually reach the steps where Thorin forgets how to work his fool legs and nearly sends both of them tumbling down. Bilbo manages to grab the railing and grits his teeth at the explosion of cheers that their stumble brings.

 

“Ay Bilbo!” Bofur yells, “give him hell!”

 

Bilbo rolls his eyes and waves his hand, and the headache starts returning when Thorin bursts into laughter right by his ear. Everyone else seems to think that Bofur is the most hilarious thing ever, and the cheering follows Bilbo and Thorin all the way up the steps.

 

“How’d we get up here?” Thorin asks, cheerfully curious as he looks around the room Bilbo’s managed to steer him into.

 

“Walking. Thorin. You walked. Or, more accurately, I walked and dragged. You stumbled, fell and staggered.”

 

“Are you taking me to bed, Master Hobbit?” Thorin cackles at his own joke, swaying wildly again and Bilbo aims him at the bed, where he lets the idiot fall into a pile. Thorin flops back and keeps on laughing while Bilbo rubs at his own abused shoulders, seriously wondering if one got dislocated during his stint as a support beam for inebriated kings.

 

“I’m putting you TO bed, you moron.” Thorin lifts a hand and waves it in Bilbo’s general direction, slurring something in Khuzdul which Bilbo loudly ignores as he goes to the side table. “Oh thank goodness there’s some water.” He mutters, picking up the full pitcher and pouring it into a mug.

 

“We are on a lake, Bilbo.” Thorin says with a slow grin. “There is plenty of water.”

 

“Shut up.” Bilbo snorts, getting a hand behind Thorin’s shoulder and easing him up to sit on the edge of the bed. “I can not believe you let yourself go like this you colossal idiot. No-shut up, just shut up. I don’t want to hear it. And stop grinning like that, you’re a disgrace. Drink this.” He shoves the mug into Thorins hand and the dwarf takes it without a protest, holding it with both palms and grinning widely at Bilbo.

 

“You’re incredible.” He declares.

 

“Thank you Thorin, drink that.” Thorin surprisingly obeys, chugging back the water with all the enthusiasm he had shown the ale earlier, then raises his eyebrows and tilts his mug so Bilbo can see that it’s empty.

 

“Will that suffice?” He asks.

 

“Oh yes well done, you’re still able to drink water.” He moves in to take the mug back, and as soon as his hands are free Thorin grabs Bilbo’s face between them.

 

“I” He announces solomnly, “am going to marry you.”

 

“That’s very nice Thorin.” Bilbo sighs, dislodging himself from Thorin’s grip and shoving lightly on his chest. “I bet you say that to all the nice halflings.”

 

Thorin flumps back at the lightest shove Bilbo gives him, arms splayed wide at the bed. “I don’t like the other halflings.” He snorts.

 

“Shut up and go to sleep, you’re going to be a disaster tomorrow.” Bilbo moves over to the side table to put the mug back. And he really should have learned his lesson from downstairs, when it came to coming within grabbing range of drunk dwarves. He only has a second to realize his mistake when a large hand fists itself into his shirt and yanks him onto the bed.

 

“Thorin! Thorin let me go!” Bilbo’s voice nearly squeaks as he gets pulled in, smacking at one of Thorin’s wide shoulders but it’s far too late. Thorin mumbles something in Khuzdul and flings a thick arm over Bilbo, pinning the hobbit firmly and, just like that, starts to snore.

 

“You are joking!” Bilbo snaps, kicking in futile and yelping in indignant fury when Thorin mumbles in his sleep and tightens his arms around his unwilling captive. “Let go of me! You stupid, pig-headed, stubborn, pea-brained, thick skulled-”

 

Bilbo continues hissing insults, squirming and flailing around until he can finally free himself of his prison. Thorin mutters something else as soon as Bilbo manages to escape, and flails his arm for a bit until his hand lands on of of the pillows, which he instantly curls himself around.

 

Bilbo sighs, and shakes his head, glad no one can see the small smile that he can’t quite fight down as he tugs a blanket up over the loudly snoring legendary Thorin Oakenshield. “Tomorrow is going to be a mess, you idiot.” Bilbo says fondly.

 

Hours later, long after he’s meandered his way over to another room and passed out on his own bed, he’s woken unpleasantly by a loud banging on his door.

 

“Wake up, Master Baggins!” Thorin’s voice booms through, perfectly clear and strong and brimming with excitement. “We leave within a half hour!”

 

Bilbo highly doubts that, and stumbles over to the door, blinking rapidly as he flings it open into the sunlight. He squints his eyes when he spots Thorin, blinks again, then nearly flings his hands up in complete disgusted surrender. Because Thorin’s going from door to door, fully washed, dressed, bright eyed, and completely awake as if he wasn’t running into tables and loudly proposing just the night before.

 

“Dwarves.” Bilbo snarls, yanking his door the rest of the way open and marching out of his room.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

“You bastard!” Bofur yells, and Bilbo is swept into the fifth back crushing hug of the day. He’s wondering if he’s going to end up incapacitated for life as a direct result of enraged dwarf affection. “You slimy little bastard!”

 

Balin’s pulled him into one of the smaller rooms with a long table that’s already been heaped with platters. Heaven knows when these arrangements were made, or how word got out so fast, but one by one the company arrives in, and each time Bilbo prays that this won’t be the one that finally breaks him. Goblins, trolls, orcs and dragons have nothing on dwarves.

 

“I know, I know!” Bilbo says, voice cracking in surprise when Bifur comes up and slams a hand into his back. “I’m sorry!”

 

“What were you thinkin’!” Bofur goes on, stepping back but holding Bilbo firmly by the shoulders. “Tea time is at four?!”

 

“Well it is!” Bilbo says weakly, and is given another firm slap on his back for his trouble. “I said I’m sorry!”

 

“Sorry he says!” Bofur declares, giving Bilbo a last little shake before he goes and falls into a chair with the others at the table. “Sorry! Can yeh believe it?”

 

“So what’re y’here for then?” Gloin stabs right to the point, as per usual.

 

“Well-”

 

“Will you be staying?” Ori asks quietly with a hopeful smile.

 

“I do actually plan on, well yes. It will depend on how some- how some uh, things, play out. If not here then I’ll be in Dale. The Shire is just...well you all got me too used to noise and you can’t yell at the other Hobbits like I can yell at you.” Bilbo grins and grabs a roll from the table, and feels lighter than he has in nearly a year. There’s noise and grinning faces around him, shouts and debilitating back slapping and a brilliant lack of any true civility. There’s no false smile, no forced polite little greetings, and Bilbo finally feels right in his skin again.

 

“Hold on,” He asks, looking over the faces and taking a little tally. Thorin is still absent, which he desperately steers his mind away from. He did leave the two of them in a rather awkward place, he can’t really expect Thorin to sweep in and everything to automatically be alright. Though that’d be nice. But none of the royal line is present. “Where are Fili and Kili?”

 

“Off to the Blue Mountains.” Dwalin says gruffly. “They’re going to try and convince the Lady Dis to return to Erebor with them.”

 

“And,” Balin adds, mouth pulling into an odd mix of a grimace and a smile. “I did hear rumor that Kili has been waylaid in the woods. Dreadful business.”

 

Bilbo’s eyebrows go up. “Oh. Oh! So did he...oh no how did that go?” He asks, and the awkward glances around the table confirm his growing fear that whatever happened, it was not a pretty thing.

 

“Well…” Oin starts carefully.

 

“Ah don’t dance around it.” Dwalin snaps. “Kili ran off with his damned elf woman after Thorin nearly threw her out of the mountain!”

 

“Oh nooo. No no he didn’t.” Bilbo winces, knowing full well that yes, yes he most certainly did.

 

“He didn’t quite throw her out.” Balin amends. “Fili said she saved Kili’s life a few...well at least two times. So she wasn’t outright banished with a guard on her…”

 

“But there was still a good deal of yelling.” Bofur says cheerfully.

 

“Oh dear. I’m glad I wasn’t here for that.” Bilbo can only imagine. An elf and a dwarf was bad enough, but one of the royal family and a mirkwood guard...oh it must have been a scene.

 

“But you’re here now!” Bofur throws his arms out, and the company cheers instantly, boisterous and happy as ever.

 

“Yes yes! I-” He knows instantly. Though that’s hardly a difficult thing with how the company falls silent, eyes all trained on the entryway a bit behind Bilbo’s left shoulder.

 

He turns to follow their gaze, and there’s Thorin. He’s standing just in the doorway, arms crossed stiffly over his chest and Bilbo’s struck, more than with any of the other dwarves, at how he doesn’t look a bit different. They’re all cleaner, of course, and all notably well dressed. Thorin is back in his layers of black and blues with steel mail and leather vambraces. It’s almost a spot on for his outfit when they started the journey so long ago, except for the intricate designs of sharp squares and interlocking diamonds stitched in deep red on the sleeves and the crown of black metal and bright steel.

 

There isn’t a bit of gold anywhere, and Bilbo notices that the crown, while similar, isn’t the same that Thorin had worn when he’d decked himself in golden armor and the ostentatious clothes of his grandfather.

 

“Thorin.” And his heart is pounding, his head is buzzing, but he feels strangely grounded, like he’s never been more solid. He can’t help the little smile starting to pull the corners of his mouth.

 

“Master Baggins.” Thorin says cautiously, head tilting in a guarded greeting. He doesn’t move from the stone doorway, and his stiffly crossed arms don’t relax in the slightest. “I hope your journey went well.”

 

“What?” The formality stops him a bit, and his heart stops the desperate pounding in favor of sinking down somewhere around his feet instead. “I. Yeah. Yeah it was alright. A lot less exciting this time around, but I’m not complaining.” His mouth twitches up nervously to try and force the joke a bit. Thorin just blinks and gives another stiff little nod.

 

“Of course.”

 

The silence is excruciating. Bilbo is incredibly tempted to flee and run off from the fact that there is this awful heavy silence and bloody everyone is staring at the two of them staring awkwardly at each other. The only thing stopping him from doing so is the fact that Thorin is blocking the damn exit. He was expecting anger, maybe a little yelling, but not this uncharacteristic blank stiffness from Thorin.

 

Bilbo finally clears his throat and looks down at the roll in his hand, tossing it a few times and setting his jaw, mouth moving as it tries to figure out what exactly he’s going to say. “Ah, Thorin-”

 

“You will excuse me.” Thorin says quickly, voice strangely flat, and he gives another quick nod as he steps back a bit. “I’m afraid I can not linger for long. My apologies, Master Baggins, there’s much to be done still. It’s.” And then Thorin stops, and Bilbo can see a brief crack in the carefully forced formal calm when Thorin blinks a few times and looks anywhere in the room but at Bilbo. “It’s good to have you visiting.” He says finally, and gives another awkward nod and turns to leave quickly.

 

Bilbo opens his mouth, shuts it, and raises his eyebrows as his innards try to remember where they’re supposed to settle. He had imagined his reunion in a million ways in the months that it took to come back, and that wasn’t anywhere close to any of them. Bilbo can’t even tell if that was worse or better than the most terrible scenarios he’d thought up.

 

“Wh-” He starts weakly, then has to stop and blink rapidly as he tries to process all of that.

 

M’imnu Mahal!” Dwalin snaps. “Please tell me you’re going to do something ‘bout that now you’re here!”

 

“Wh-? What? What do you-? What on earth was all-?” Bilbo gestures vaguely at the doorway, still staring wide eyed at it. “Was that? What was that?”

 

“That was…” Balin starts awkwardly, then sighs and shrugs his shoulders. “Well you did leave a bit suddenly. And I don't think any of us really expected you to come back after the way you took off. I don't believe Thorin ah...had much time to prepare.”

 

“Yeah well that’s because he-!” Bilbo stops, flushing as he remembers Thorin’s earnest and hopeful eyes and the large hands holding on to his. Then he notices the Company all shifting awkwardly and glancing around at each other. “And speaking of that!” Bilbo grits, narrowing his eyes at the guilty looking dwarves and pointing a finger out, waving it around to make sure all of them know they’re part of this. “At what point was anyone planning on telling me that I was engaged then? Think someone could have mentioned that before I had a fever-muddled king calling me his betrothed?”

 

Silence.

 

“Well?”

 

“We uh,” Bofur grins apologetically, “well we thought you already knew. I mean you two were already-”

 

Balin shakes his head rapidly and Bofur stops, staring at Balin, then at Bilbo, his eyes widening. The other dwarves all swivel their heads around to stare between them as well, ten sets of eyes widening in surprise. Bilbo’s hands curl into fists at his sides while he glares at the two of them.

 

“We were what?” Bilbo asks cooly, raising his eyebrows as all the dwarves stare at him.

 

"No." Bofur says, directing it more at Balin than Bilbo. "Y'weren't already...? You weren't already together?"

 

“No!” Bilbo snaps, throwing his hands up. “No we were not! I had no idea! None! And I thought you all just knew about the engagement! Not that everyone but ME was going about assuming that-”

“How did you not know?” Nori asks, completely flummoxed. “How could anyone not know?! We all had to watch Thorin all but throwin’ himself at you every damned day!”

 

“I didn’t think-!”

 

“But at Laketown!” Bofur interrupts, pointing back at Bilbo. “You went upstairs! You two-”

 

“I dragged him upstairs to get him to sleep! Because he was a drunk idiot and we needed to face a dragon in the morning! What on earth did you think-” He stops at the shocked faces on all the dwarves, except for Balin, who stares guiltily at the wall, and Dwalin who is shaking his head in disgust.

 

“Balin?” Bilbo asks, narrowing his glare at the white haired dwarf.

 

“Oh! Well.” Balin starts, smiling nervously. “I knew you two weren’t...well Thorin and I had talked about it you see. He wanted to wait until the quest was completed and-” He stops and shrugs with a smile as if everything is obvious. Which it most certainly is not.

 

“And?” Bilbo prompts, crossing his arms.

 

“You accepted the mithril!” Bofur snaps his fingers, grinning like he’s very proud for having caught Bilbo out. Balin coughs and starts shaking his head again, but Bilbo is already on it.

 

“He said it was a token of friendship! I thought it was a nice friendship gift!”

 

Dwalin snarls something to himself in Khuzdul, and Bilbo decides that it’s not worth asking for a translation. Bofur sputters in indignant shock.



"It's bloody mithril, isn't it?! You thought mithril was-"

 

“I was going to tell you what that was about.” Balin says quickly. “I knew what he had meant by it and that you weren’t ah, quite as aware. The significance of the value of mithril is easily lost on those who don't know the history of our culture. But then you had run off with the stone and...well.”

 

That calms Bilbo fast, memories of the chaos and the wild hurt rage in Thorin’s eyes as hands fisted in Bilbo’s shirt and nearly sent him over the wall. Fine, that’s an excuse he’ll accept. He nods a bit, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

 

“The question.” Dwalin growls. “Is now what? Since we’ve all been updated one everyone’s emotions.”

 

They all turn to stare at Bilbo, who is reconsidering running off.

 

“What?” He asks nervously. “What are you- alright! Alright fine I. Yes. I thought about it. I wanted to, to talk to Thorin. About...the whole thing. That he decided to spring on me. I just needed- well. I came back for you all too. I-” He rubs a hand over his face, wincing at the earnest grins all directed at him. “No nono stop that all of you!”

 

“We missed you too laddie!” Gloin shouts.

 

“Stupid decision.” Bilbo mutters into his palm. “Mad. Absolutely mad. I must be. I left all the quiet and peace-”

 

“Well that sounds dull,” Bofur gets up to walk over and clap Bilbo on the back. “Just you and yer plants and yer dishtowels full of holes.”

 

“It’s crochet.” Bilbo sighs into his hands, barely keeping himself from completely breaking down into a fit of crying or laughing, he isn’t sure which. “It’s supposed to look like that, and it’s a doily.” He looks up, feeling a bit hysterical. But there’s also a bit that needs to be done before he can work himself up into a complete nervous meltdown. “Right then. I need. I have to. Can anyone tell me where Thorin would have gone?”

 

“Oh that.” Bofur laughs. “I imagine he’s up on guard.”

 

Bilbo blinks, frowns, and blinks again. “On what?”

 

“Up on the front wall.” Balin explains.

 

“Y’see.” Bofur explains. “Whenever our good King needs some alone time-”

 

“Whenever he’s off to sulk.” Dwalin growls.

 

“Right, yes. That too. Anyway. What he does is he goes up and relieves the guard from his duty up on the wall with some excuse about kings taking part in the workings of the kingdom. And there he broods all by his noble self.”

 

That did sound like Thorin. Bilbo takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and counts as he lets it out slowly. He can't put this off. Not after all this time, after this journey and after that painful reunion earlier. The feast laid out in front of him is forgotten as he keeps slowly breathing and working his nerves up. If he doesn't do this now he'll just be an anxious wreck for the rest of the night.



“Okay. Right. Alright. I-I uh. I guess I’ll be heading to the wall then.”



---------------------------------------------------------------



Bilbo’s head is still swimming from the blow he’d taken earlier, and he can feel the trickle of blood down the side of his face that he can’t be bothered to wipe away. The world is still heaving around him, sounds reaching him slowly as he stumbles through the stone walls and staircases, trying to find ANYTHING. Because there had been so many orcs, swarming like insects over the walls. Too many to count, too many to comprehend. But now there isn’t anything but screaming wind and snow and his blood dripping down his face.

 

He stumbles, catches himself on a large stone block, and hears his own harsh breathing echoing in his head, drowning out everything else.

 

Then he looks up. And Thorin’s standing on the ice, back to Bilbo, and overlooking the battle far, far below.

 

The relief is like a veil lifting away from him, making the world clearer and making his vision settle. Thorin’s standing. Thorin’s alright. Thorin’s standing with shoulders back, the pale orc lying with Orcrist sticking from his chest in the middle of the ice, and in that moment everything is alright again. For a few soaring seconds, Bilbo can breathe and feel the small smile of relief that at the end of all this, Thorin is alright and alive and standing.

 

Thorin’s knees buckle. Bilbo’s lungs stop. Thorin falls, a slow tipping to his side until he finally crashes down hard, lying back in a heap.

 

“No. Nono no no!” Bilbo’s fingers scramble against frozen stone as he flings himself over and onto the ice, nearly falling several times and his breath stopping and gasping, leaving him coughing on the dry, icy air as he runs as fast as he can to where Thorin’s lying.

 

No it isn’t happening like this. Not after all this. Not after Thorin is finally back and finally himself again, not after the dragon and the fire and the terror of the past few weeks. This isn’t the end, this can’t be the end!

 

“Thorin!” He drops to his knees besides the King, and this small, broken dwarf can’t be Thorin. Thorin doesn’t breathe shallowly and stare blankly up at the sky, fight gone and eyes glazed. He doesn’t simply lie down and accept.

 

“Bilbo.” Thorin breathes, eyes focusing on the hobbit’s face.

 

“Lie still, Thorin lie still. Just. It’s just.” He reaches over and there’s blood, gods there’s so much blood. Bilbo nearly gags at it, at the sharp scent of it and the warmth against his fingers. There’s so much blood pulsing from a deep stab through Thorin’s side. Bilbo tries desperately to remember everything Oin had taught him about healing, as the dwarf slowly explained wraps and salves and different quick battle patches. He check’s Thorin’s face and there’s no blood coming from his mouth, no red between the pale lips so his lungs are alright. That’s the extent of Bilbo’s knowledge though, and he fight’s down the nausea building in his stomach and clamps a hand tight down over the wound.

 

“Hold on Thorin, just hold on.”

 

“Bilbo…I-"

 

“Don’t you dare, don’t you dare. It’s going to be alright Thorin. The eagles are here. The eagles are here we’ll be alright. Just don’t, don’t you dare….don’t...” It repeats over and over in his mind. ‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare leave. Dont you dare leave me in a world where you don’t exist. Don’t you dare let go.’

 

Don’t let go.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Bilbo can’t keep his hands still as he walks up the steps in the main hall that lead to the guard wall. They tap against his legs, twist around each other, clench and unclench as he steps out into the clear night. It’s cool out, but not cold, and Bilbo thinks it a bit funny that he keeps coming to Erebor right at Autumn.

 

Thorin is easy to find, standing in the center of the wall, arms out and braced as he leans heavily against the ramparts and looks down at the sheer drop. Bilbo swallows, and remembers looking over his shoulder at a very similar height. This wall is cleaner, the stones set firm and the ramparts decorated with interlocking chains and complex geometric designs interspersed with carved ravens. But it’s still familiar enough to make Bilbo tense and remember when he nearly became very well acquainted with that fall.

 

“I remember it all.” Thorin says softly, and for once Bilbo’s the one jumps a bit, then shuffles guiltily when he realizes he must not have been as quiet as he had assumed.

 

“Yes.” He answers, swallowing as he leans his elbows on the stone a ways down the wall from Thorin, looking out at the night and definitely not down.“Yes. Well, I like this wall a great deal more." He goes on. “It’s nicer.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Thorin’s voice is even quieter, a whisper that is almost carried away by the wind. “I’m so sorry, for all of it. For the things I said, for-”

 

“Thorin, it’s alright.” Bilbo interrupts quickly, not sure he can really handle the vulnerable quake in Thorin’s voice right now. “It really…” and for a few moments it isn’t the terror of the drop, the rage and snarl in Thorin’s voice then that he thinks of, but the soft broken way he had said 'you would steal from me?' and the pained tears in his eyes. And gods, that look hits him so much harder now, now that he knows what the gift of mithril had meant, what Thorin had thought of them in his sick mind. Even then, Thorin had been sick, but he had later said the heart behind it was true. And for the better or not, knowingly or not, Bilbo had still thrown that in his face.

 

“I’m sorry.” Bilbo sighs. “Whatever my reasons were, I betrayed you. And I didn’t...it wasn’t what I wanted. That was the hardest thing I did, and a few times I had been so close to giving it to you, just because I knew how badly you wanted it. I never wanted to betray you. Handing that stone over was-. I knew I was hurting you and I couldn’t-”

 

“You did what you had to.” Thorin says, still not looking up from the wall. “You were right, to not give it to me, to take it away and know not to follow me into death and ruin. You were the only one who saw what was best for the company, for me.  Your only mistake was coming back after you did it. You always-” Thorin stops, breathes in slowly, and pushes himself away from the wall to stand fully. “My apologies. These shouldn’t be the sort of memories you dwell on during your stay.”

 

“Where…” Bilbo sniffs, and taps his fingers on the cold stone, trying to find the best way to ask what could be a very dangerous question. “Where is it now? The arkenstone?”

 

“Deep.” Thorin says, voice solid. “It’s back down in the depths of the mountain. Sealed within a tomb dedicated to those who lost their lives in this place.”

 

Bilbo nods. “Good. That, that’s good. It’s a good place for it.”

 

The silence that falls over them isn’t quite as painful as the one that came on with the company, but it’s still heavy. It presses down on Bilbo as he tries not to obviously watch Thorin, who is stiffly looking out away from Bilbo.

 

He wonders how many times Thorin came up here and just got lost in his own head, trapped in memories and regrets and unable to see what was happening now. Too lost in the ruins to see how much life and light he's brought to the mountain again.

 

They’ve both been morons, really. And Bilbo sighs as he walks up to Thorin, who refuses to look at him.

 

“Thorin-”

 

“How long will you be visiting us?” Thorin asks quickly, head turning away just slightly to look out at the hills, voice back to that forcibly stiff and formal grit. Bilbo stops, and it finally hits him what’s happening, why Thorin is standing stiff and formal and unusually forced into this unnatural politeness.

 

“What?” He asks, eyes narrowing and taking in Thorin's tense shoulders, the hand out on the wall and fingers tapping against the stone.

 

“You’re always...you can stay as long as you like. I’ll have Balin arrange a place for you, if you wish to spend your time in Erebor. It may be wise to wait until the spring, when it will be easier to cross the mountains back to the Shi-”

 

“You idiot!” Bilbo yells. Thorin finally looks at him at that, taken aback and wide eyed. “You absolute idiot! I can’t believe-”

 

Thorin stares at him like he just now realized Bilbo existed, and wasn’t sure how he got there. “What?” He asks, hesitant.

 

“You-! Why do you think I came back? Why do you think I hitched myself up to a bunch of dwarvish merchants and spent months coming all the way back to this bloody mountain!?”

 

“I don’t-?”

 

“You’re a king! You’re supposed to be able to catch on to things! You absolute moron! A visit!” Bilbo reaches up and tugs the collar of his shirt aside a bit, showing the mithril he’s worn since he left the Shire far behind him. “A visit! Really?!”

 

Thorin freezes, eyebrows furrowed in confusion for a moment, before he catches sight of the silvery gleam and his eyes go wide. He’s still for a few moments then exhales in an unsteady huff, his shoulders slumping and face open, full of disbelief as he reaches up to take Bilbo’s collar, tugging it down and to the side to show more of the mail beneath.

 

“Why do you think I came back?” Bilbo shakes his head, laughing a little and heart wild in his chest. “You complete, utter, incredible moron.”

 

Thorin swallows, and Bilbo can feel the fingers shaking where they grip his shirt, and the dwarf just stares at the mithril. He looks briefly up at Bilbo’s face, expression shell shocked and dazed, then looks back at the metal shirt.

 

“I just needed to think!” Bilbo goes on. “Thorin, I needed to actually think! Away from all the pressure here! I had no idea that you- that there was all that. I’d never dared to hope for any of that! You’re-. Well you’re you! You’re Thorin Oakenshield, the king and warrior and everything else you’ve become. I’m just-”

 

“Bilbo.” Thorin breathes.

 

Bilbo swallows, and is afraid he may do something incredibly embarrassing. Like swoon. Fortunately his legs stay good and steady and he reaches up to hold the hand still gripping his shirt. “Yeah. Yeah that. Look this-” He takes a deep breath, once again regretting that he never took the time to rehearse this. “This is mad and irregular, but you kind of make me do mad and irregular things pretty...well...pretty regularly. I-”

 

He has to take a few seconds to breathe, and it’s hard to keep control of that when Thorin is looking him full in the face now, the look of wonder and awe that Bilbo had seen so many times returning with wide eyes and slack, parted lips.

 

“I. Ok. I’m for it. Alright? The- the marriage. That whole thing. That idea. I’m. Yes. Yeah. I-you...I love you. Alright? And I did before but I had to get my head around the fact that that wasn’t a bad thing and that you were actually a thing that I could- Yeah. So I came back for that. Because I want-. That wasn’t home anymore. And I’m thinking this could be. A home. With you. If you-”

 

Thorin breathes out, making a soft, wordless sound and the hand on Bilbo’s collar slides around to the back of his neck. It pulls him forward as Thorin leans down and presses their foreheads together, breathing unsteadily in the space between them while Bilbo can feel a hysterical smile coming over his face again.

 

He reaches up and rests his hands on Thorin’s upper arms, fingers tensing nervously against the fur and leather. Thorin’s hair is draping around them again, and now he can close his eyes and let himself feel the closeness of it, the heat coming from Thorin and the soft brush of air between them as they breathe. Thorin’s hand moves from the back of Bilbo’s head to slide to his jaw, the other one coming up so Bilbo’s face is cupped gently between the warm and calloused palms.

 

“Bilbo.” Thorin says, barely over a whisper. “I am going to kiss you now, and I would prefer if I not get yelled at for it this time.”

 

Oh help him he really might swoon. “I’ll yell at you if you don’t kiss me you utter-”

 

He doesn’t get a chance to finish what was sure to be a fantastic insult, as Thorin tilts his face up between his palms and swoops in, pressing his lips to Bilbo’s mouth.

 

And this, this is a proper kiss. Bilbo can’t even be ashamed when he sways and grabs onto Thorin’s sleeves to steady himself. It’s warm and soft and firm all at once, and he feels like he’s completely surrounded by the dry palms against his face, thumbs gently stroking over his cheeks, the scratch of beard and the steady press of Thorin’s lips. He sighs out and relaxes into it, getting enough of a mental grip to lean up into this kiss, pressing back and feeling a swoop of elation as Thorin instantly responds by stepping in to press fully against Bilbo’s front.

 

Thorin breaks it first, though he barely moves away, just moves his head to kiss Bilbo’s cheek and press their faces together, arms wrapping around him and pulling him tight against his body. Bilbo laughs a little, feeling like his insides have been replaced with fireworks, like the only thing keeping him on the ground is the heavy, solid warmth of Thorin holding on to him. He buries his face against the thick black hair and reaches up to wrap his arms around Thorin’s shoulders.

 

“I did not think I would see you again.” Thorin says, soft and wondrous. “When the raven returned with news that you had arrived safe, I thought it would be the last I would hear of you.”

 

“Idiot.” Bilbo grins, tightening his arms around Thorin and laughing when Thorin returns the gesture with a low chuckle of his own. “I’m sorry about...about how I left. I was overwhelmed but it’s no excuse for just-”

 

Thorin moves again, stopping Bilbo with another, gentler kiss that’s barely a touch of lips. “You’re here.” He says, whispering the words against Bilbo’s mouth. “You came back. You always come back.”

 

“And you’re always so surprised.” Bilbo grins on, giddy with everything. “I’m glad to be back. The Shire was...you were right, it’s too small now. I couldn’t just go back and be only me when I kept thinking of everyone here. Of you. And you were right about here, you’ve done so much in so little time. This is a home again. I think it really could be my home now.” He swallows and quietly finishes. “Our home.”

 

“Ours.” Thorin breathes. “Amrâl’im’ê.” He tilts his head for another kiss, and Bilbo can feel the shift in this one. He can feel it in the way Thorin’s arms pull him in tight, lifting him a little into the dwarf’s body and in the way Thorin presses their mouths with a sure focus, catching Bilbo’s bottom lip between his own before moving to the top lip. All at once Bilbo’s aware of the cool air on his face, of Thorin’s hands sliding up and down his back in firm, broad strokes and of the thick hair caught up in his own fingers.

 

It really can’t be Autumn, not with how warm it is, awfully warm. Bilbo’s breath hitches a bit when he feels the soft, questioning brush of a tongue on his lips, a quick flash of heat as Thorin’s hands tuck up under his shirt, pressing warm through the cool mithril. Bilbo inhales, opens his mouth and tightens his arms around Thorin, fully aware that he’s practically holding himself up now. But even that nearly fails him at the low groan against his mouth, the fingers gripping at his back and biting cold mithril links into his skin while Thorin’s tongue slides hot against his own.

 

Everything goes blurry, he’s a bit aware that they’re still fully out on the wall and only technically alone, and that this is a bit fast and not anything he’s really had any more experience with. But Thorin presses into him with a light scrape of teeth, bruising Bilbo’s lips and making low sounds that Bilbo can feel rumbling through the chest pressed against him and this is all very very far from sweet little kisses shared with flowers and shy smiles in the Shire.

 

He has to be the one to break the kiss this time, just to suck down cool air and try to get his heart back under control. Thorin’s no help, no help at all on that front. Bilbo’s trying to get his breathing steady and there’s lips dragging over his face, pressing open mouthed and hot along his jawline and quick flashes of the occasional tongue on his neck. No help. Not a bit of help.

 

“Thorin-” Bilbo means to point out that they are very much outside, but his voice is embarrassingly breathy and thin. Thorin’s fingers dig into his back and Bilbo feels the groan reverberate against his neck as the dwarf mouths at his pulse and sucks sharply, sending Bilbo’s sentence off into a high, reedy little noise. His hands scramble at Thorin’s back for a second, then fist in his hair and if Bilbo were a bit more in his right mind he’d worry about pulling, though Thorin seems unconcerned.

 

Thorin moves away from his mark, dragging kisses along Bilbo’s neck up to his ear, which he lightly drags his teeth against and sends Bilbo’s world askew in the process. Bilbo had never really thought much about ears as being particularly intimate, but Thorin is making a very good argument with his teeth and tongue. There are sparks flashing all over him, he’s sure of it. He can’t catch his breath or keep a hold on the tiny noises that escape his throat, and there’s a huff of air that Bilbo suspects is a laugh as Thorin delicately traces the ridges of his ear and sucks the tip into his mouth.

 

“Thorin!” And this time Bilbo isn’t really sure what he’s asking for or if he really has a thought behind the whine he makes. He can’t get enough air into his lungs and can barely keep himself upright against this onslaught.

 

Thorin releases Bilbo’s ear, only to kiss the sensitive skin behind it.  “Stay with me for the night.” He says, his voice is low, heated and smooth. And, it seems, designed solely to grab at something hot and fluttering in Bilbo’s chest. “Forever,” he adds, “but now, for the night.” Just in case Bilbo fails to catch his meaning, he opens his mouth against Bilbo’s neck again, hands sliding down to duck up beneath the mithril shirt, and dragging up along bare skin. “Akhjamu'e amule'mê, amrâl’im'ê.

 

Bilbo pants, tightens his fists in Thorin’s hair, and buries his face into his shoulder as he tries to get his head together. Thorin doesn’t let go or loosen his grip, but he does move up to give a gentle, less heated kiss to Bilbo’s temple as Bilbo resettles himself past the rushing in his head.

 

It’s not that he had never thought about it, there had been the odd moment here or there; when Thorin would hug him, or in the quiet moments where they were sitting close enough that Bilbo could feel the brush of their shoulders with each inhale. But he’d never really let it go on past the light ‘what if’ fantasies. Though he also hadn’t thought about much beyond general kissing, and that had ended up working out more than alright.

 

Thorin carefully pulls his hands out from under the mithril, resting them over Bilbo’s shirt and rubbing calm circles against his back. And it’s that, that finally settles him. Bilbo exhales, relaxes against Thorin and lets himself close his eyes and just be held for a few calm moments. It’s the same safe, surrounding feeling he’s always had from Thorin, and it’s no different here than it is with anything else. It’s the steadying support that lets him do mad things and rush into the wild unknown.

 

“It’s alright, if you do not.” Thorin says gently, lips still pressed to Bilbo’s temple. “You don’t have to-”

 

“Alright.” Bilbo says suddenly, nodding quickly against Thorin’s shoulder and heart starting to pick up beat again. “I-yeah. Yes. I’m- I can do that. Definitely.”

 

Thorin inhales sharply, and the gentle stroking along his back presses just that much harder against his spine. There’s another quick kiss to his head, then Thorin leans back just slightly, grinning broad and bright. “You’re sure?”

 

“Yes!” Bilbo huffs, face heating up. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t want-” Once again, he’s cut off by Thorin pulling him up into a hard kiss, one hand hooked firmly behind his back and the other resting along his jawline. Bilbo flails a bit when he’s nearly lifted off the ground and gets a good grip on Thorin’s back as everything narrows down to hands and teeth and tongues and-

 

His stomach interrupts with a loud rumbling sound, and he distantly wonders if perhaps there is another dragon out there that could eat him right then as Thorin freezes. There’s a small pause as Thorin leans back to look down at him with raised eyebrows, and Bilbo opens his mouth right as his stomach makes itself known again.

 

“I’m sorry I am so-” Where is that dragon. Where is that dragon so he can just end everything right here. “I got caught up in everything since getting here and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything since- I am so sorry. Can we just-?”

 

Thorin slowly lowers his head to set his forehead heavily on Bilbo’s shoulder with a long, strained sigh. “Mahal akhjamu tulmel’e.” He mutters. “Save me from the halflings.”

 

“I am so sorry.” Bilbo whispers, absolutely mortified. Thorin huffs out another sigh and grabs onto Bilbo’s head again, pushing their foreheads together with a bit of force and Bilbo really can’t tell if he’s laughing or just shaking.

 

“No. No this is obviously my fault for being an ungracious host.” He says wryly.

 

“I um. Probably. I probably should have grabbed something before coming to find you.” Bilbo admits, and Thorin is definitely laughing now, though it’s a tad desperate.

 

“That would have been wise. You also could have mentioned this before saying you wanted to lie with me.” Bilbo clears his throat loudly and feels his face heat up even more, he’s probably letting off steam in the cool air at this point.

 

“I am really, really sorry I didn’t-” He starts stammering out more apologies and Thorin kisses him roughly on the forehead.

 

“Let’s go get you something before I change my mind.”  He sighs, then pulls away, and the cool air is a shock against Bilbo’s front after being pressed against Thorin for so long.

 

It takes them a bit of time actually getting to the dining hall where he had left the company. Which is entirely Thorin’s fault. Bilbo’s hand is kept in a tight grip as he’s practically dragged through the halls past the groups of surprised looking dwarves. At the pace Thorin is setting, they should have made it there within minutes, except for the fact that whenever there’s any hint of them being alone, Thorin will take the chance to whip around and yank Bilbo into a rough kiss. Things get muddled for a bit and time is lost in grabbing hands and searing heat before Thorin mutters some Khuzdul curse and is dragging Bilbo along again.

 

“We really don’t need to rush.” Bilbo points out, stumbling a bit to keep up.

 

“Yes. We do.” Thorin says firmly, marching on to where Bilbo can still hear the rest of the company laughing and yelling. The smell of meats and breads and the rest of the feast hits him and he winces as his stomach rumbles again.

 

“You sure you don’t want to stop in and chat with the rest for a bit?” Bilbo asks, fighting down the wide grin as he’s tugged towards the room. “I need to ask Ori how his knitting is coming along.”

 

Thorin stops dead, whipping his head around to stare at Bilbo in horror. “You need to do no such thing.” He hisses, and Bilbo can’t stop from laughing at the strained grit in his voice. , Thorin narrows his eyes and tugs Bilbo in sharply, gripping him tight by the arms and leaning in to growl against his lips. “I have waited for over half a year while the quest was underway, then another year in which I thought I had lost you entirely. You will not be so cruel to make me wait while you discuss knitting with Ori. Not when I can offer a much more interesting subject.”

 

Bilbo’s mouth goes dry and his heart does an odd flip in his chest, all the heat from the wall rushing back all at once and his laugh is a little high and just a tad hysterical. “Well I imagine he’s come a long way on it, he had some really detailed knit designs and I’d be interested to see-”

 

Thorin crushes their mouths together, and Bilbo wonders if this is going to become a regular way to shut him up. He can’t exactly complain about it, seeing as every kiss so far has left him with his head spinning and his toes curling against the stone. He sighs happily and buries his fingers in the beard along Thorin's jawline, deciding to make good use of the sudden kiss.

 

There’s a loud cough somewhere behind him, and it’s like a bucket of ice down Bilbo’s spine.

 

They’re right in the bloody doorway.

 

“So you two got that all sorted then?” Bofur asks, cackling as Bilbo cranes his head around, still very much trapped by Thorin’s grip on him, to stare in mortification at the assortment of grinning faces.

 

“Oh no. No no no no.” Bilbo whines, and Thorin tightens his grip on Bilbo’s arms briefly before shouldering his way between him and the company, completely unphased by the jeering cheers and applause as he strides in. Bilbo covers his face with a hand after Bofur winks at him.

 

“So you are aware this time, Master Baggins, of what’s going on now? Or is that bruise just a friendly token?” Bofur asks and Bilbo claps a hand to his neck, voice only managing a high noise of sputtering terror. Any hope from salvation from Thorin vanishes when he sees the wide grin on the king’s face. The absolute bastard. Bilbo is painfully aware of several details; like how mussed Thorin’s hair is, and the fact that his own shirt is awkwardly hitched and untucked around his bracers.

 

“Ah, Thorin,” Balin smiles and clears his throat, kindly not staring at Bilbo like everyone else while Thorin marches to the table. “The mastercrafter from the western slope came by, he wanted to know if-”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

“Right. Thought not. Will you two be stay-”

 

“No.” Thorin reaches over Gloin to roughly grab a plate piled with rolls and slices of meat. “We’re taking this, don’t wait for us.”

 

Bilbo wonders again if the dragon could show back up and kill him off right now. The company is all grinning hugely at him, and Bifur gives him and enthusiastic thumbs up as Thorin turns with his plate.

 

"I might faint.” He informs Thorin as the dwarf marches back to him. Thorin just puts a hand on his back and firmly takes him back out of the room, grinning at the applause and cheers that follow them.

 

“No you’re not.”

 

“I really might. That was mortifying. That was absolutely one of the worst-”

 

“Well they would have found out eventually.” Thorin shrugs, not seeming to understand what an absolute problem it is that they're being seen off with shouts of what he's sure are absolute filth in Khuzdul. Bilbo grits his teeth and realizes that this is not something that he is going to win. Dwarves.

 

“Here.” Thorin says, shoving a roll of bread into Bilbo’s hands as they walk. “Eat that.”

 

“Are you trying to fill me up before we get to your rooms?” Bilbo asks, his smile coming back as he bites into the roll.

 

“Yes. I am. I only have so much patience and you are testing it.” Thorin steers them up wide steps lined with grim looking statues of crowned dwarves towards a set of wide, solid oak doors.

 

“I’m not doing anything.” Bilbo points out, grinning at the look Thorin gives him as he pushes the door open.

 

He wasn’t really sure what he was expecting from the King’s chambers, and he’s not sure if he’s surprised or not. The high, vaulted ceiling is expected, and the large pillars carved with crowned ravens and huge stone axes certainly fit in with the grandeur of the rest of the mountain. A fireplace that’s easily as tall as an elf, already lit with a roaring fire, fills the room with a gentle gold light that softens the dark stone and sharp geometric lines criss-crossing over every available surface. The walls are draped in blue and a deep red, banners showing a raven perched on an oak branch lining the walls. There’s a table covered in papers, a separate table and chair with a pitcher and a few solid, silvery cups, and thin veins of gold through the stone adding a fluid organic look to the otherwise sharp and measured space.

 

Bilbo silently notes that besides the natural veins of unmined metal, there isn’t a glimmer of gold in the room, and a few places of suspiciously scraped stone.

 

“A far cry from a cozy hobbit hole, I’m afraid.” Thorin says quietly as he shuts the door. There’s a smile like he’s trying to pass it off as a joke, but Bilbo can hear the little question in it and smiles warmly around the honestly intimidating space.

 

“Oh it’s not too bad.” He says, looking up at the daunting pillars and harsh rock. “A few little homey touches here and there, is all it needs.”

 

Thorin sets the plate down at the table and pulls Bilbo to him by the hand, sighing softly and holding him loosely as he kisses him on the forehead. “I’d like that.”

 

“Well,” Bilbo gives a quick kiss to Thorin’s cheek, tugging lightly on one of his braids. “It’s a good thing I brought my furniture with me then.” He steps away to sit at the table, grinning at Thorin’s dumbfounded expression.

 

“Did you really?” Thorin asks, keeping a hand on Bilbo’s back as he pulls a chair up as close as he can besides the hobbit, looking slightly dazed. Bilbo nods, grabbing a bit of roast and shoving it between the halves of two loaves. He holds a bit out to Thorin, who just shakes his head and continues lightly running his hand up and down Bilbo’s back.

 

“I have a whole cart that Balin has tucked away somewhere.” He explains between bites. “Packed up my favorite belongings from Bag End, wrote up a will, and left everything else to my cousins.”

 

“You really came meaning to stay here.” Thorin says, eyes wide and staring at Bilbo like he was some incredible, awe inspiring thing. As if it’s absolutely amazing that Bilbo did something as simple as pack up and leave the Shire. Bilbo shrugs and busies himself with his food, face flushing at the open wonder in Thorin’s face, and flushing more as the hand on his back slides up to lightly play with the hair along the nape of his neck.

 

“Yes. Well. That’s usually what goes along with accepting marriage proposals. Or at least knowingly accepting them.”

 

Thorin’s laugh is a quick little exhale, and he leans in to kiss Bilbo’s temple, which Bilbo is starting to suspect will definitely be a regular thing. The hand on his neck shifts into an arm around his shoulders, holding him as Thorin buries his face in Bilbo’s hair with a brushing sigh. They sit like that in the comfortable silence that Bilbo’s always loved between them. Thorin simply breathing against him and Bilbo enjoying the warmth and the first meal he's had since leaving Dale earlier in the day.

 

“You’ve calmed down a bit.” Bilbo notes, reaching up to rest his hand over the one cupping his shoulder.

 

“I’m not entirely sure you’re actually here.” Thorin admits in a small voice, and Bilbo can feel the shift of his breath against his hair. “I have dreamed-” Thorin stops, and the hand under Bilbo’s turns to grip at his fingers. “You really did not know?”

 

Bilbo turns his head a little, nuzzling along Thorin’s scruffy jawline. “That seems to be the question everyone’s been asking me. But no, until you woke up and started babbling your fool head off, I had no idea.” He chuckles, smiling when Thorin tilts his head into the nuzzling and keeps it there. “There may have been some willful ignorance on my part.”

 

“I was not exactly trying to hide it at the end.” Thorin huffs, fingers shifting a bit to weave in with Bilbo’s. “I thought that you knew. That we were both simply waiting for a better time. It was not until after I...after the sickness. When I thought I had-”

 

“Well we were both quite the idiots.” Bilbo says quickly, before Thorin could start spiraling into self loathing regret again. He turns his head to kiss Thorin’s cheek again. “We got it all sorted out though.”

 

“We did.” Thorin agrees, pulling back just enough to move in and kiss Bilbo as carefully as he had the first time. Bilbo tilts his head into it, and Thorin moves his other hand to rest against Bilbo’s side. It’s calm, soft and inviting and unrushed, and Bilbo leans in and lets just the slow drag of lips and the broad hand on his ribs take over.

 

The build is slow, gradual and steady. It’s in a hand cupping his jaw, fingertips stroking along his cheekbones, the arm around his shoulders pulling him in and Thorin’s shaking sigh when Bilbo opens his mouth into the kiss, hesitantly running his tongue along the seam of Thorin’s lips.

 

It picks up quickly after that, when Thorin sucks his tongue into his own mouth, scraping teeth over his lips and digging fingers into the soft skin at the crook of Bilbo’s jaw. “Please tell me,” Thorin murmurs, nipping at Bilbo’s bottom lip and continuing to press small kisses to the corners of his mouth between words, “that you’ve had enough food now.”

 

Bilbo blinks rapidly, taking a few moments to process words, or how to put them into a coherent sentence. It takes another few moments to get his tingling and swollen lips to cooperate enough to form said words. “What? Yeah. Yes. Yes I’m fine now, that was fine.”

 

“Good.” Thorin growls, both hands suddenly grabbing at Bilbo’s waist and unceremoniously hauling him over. Bilbo squawks and flails for a second as he’s yanked onto Thorin’s lap, face heating up again. He feels like he should really put his foot down on this sort of rough handling, but Thorin’s mouth is back at his neck and he’s having trouble remembering what he’s protesting. So instead he decides it’s best to just let it happen, and he settles fully astride Thorin’s thighs, heart pounding and breath catching as he runs his fingers through the long black hair in front of him.

 

Thorin’s hands slide down his back, gripping briefly at Bilbo’s rear and tugging him in closer and oh Shire’s hills and rivers. There’s heat pooling down low and, more importantly, he can feel the press of heat against his inner thigh. His lungs nearly stop up entirely and he’s sure his heart does. His voice cracks on a small sound as it hits him that this is definitely happening and Thorin is definitely tugging at his bracers while pressing hard against his leg. This isn’t some dream to be quickly shoved away in the morning, and all of a sudden Bilbo can’t get it going fast enough.

 

It should be terrifying, and in a way is. But it’s the adrenaline rush of the unknown, his heart pounding and his head swimming as he quickly shrugs his bracers off. Thorin’s fingers dig in briefly, then slide around and up, fumbling at Bilbo’s shirt buttons as he keeps pressing hot, open kisses that are mostly tongue and teeth against every bit of skin exposed.

 

“Thorin.” Bilbo’s voice catches and he has to swallow a bit to get it working again, shivering when Thorin groans deep against the skin at the base of his throat. “Thorin wait-wait just a. No no don’t stop don’t- you’re fine let me just-” He unwinds his hands from the death grip they had on Thorin’s hair and scrambles a bit at his shirt buttons, making faster work of it than Thorin’s fumbling. He leans back and laughs breathlessly when Thorin shoves the shirt down his arms as soon as the last button opens, throwing it to the side and reattaching his mouth to Bilbo’s collarbone.

 

“Hold on hold on.” Bilbo huffs, laughing again when Thorin snarls some Khuzdul when he leans away from the kisses. “Let me-” He quickly tugs the mithril collar up over his head, and within seconds there are hands sliding up his bare sides and lifting the metal shirt up and off of him with a slow, deliberate reverence. Bilbo lifts his arms and lets Thorin carefully pull the mithril up over him, feeling a reversed version of the heavy, careful meaning that had hung in the air when Thorin had first held it out for Bilbo to put on. Thorin’s less careless than he was with Bilbo’s overshirt, carefully taking the mithril and laying it on the table, not taking his eyes from Bilbo the entire time.

 

Bilbo had never put enough thought into his body to be self conscious. There was never anyone to see it, and whenever they did it wasn’t in situations where Bilbo cared what he looked like. But now Thorin’s hands are settling against his side as Thorin openly stares at him with wide, dark eyes, dragging his gaze over Bilbo’s exposed torso, and Bilbo tries to fight the urge to squirm under the heavy look. He’s painfully aware of how generally unbuilt he is. His shoulders are laughable compared to Thorin’s broad build, and while by hobbit standards he’s waifish, there’s still a softness to his midsection and he knows that whatever muscles he’s gained over the journey, while impressive for halflings, are softened by curves of plumpness.

 

The callouses on Thorin’s palms, much thicker on his right than his left, catch at Bilbo’s comparatively tender skin and make everything feel ten times more sensitive. Bilbo does start to squirm a bit under the slow, steady drags over him, sliding up his middle then down his arms, pausing to dip fingers into the soft skin at his belly and feel his ribs through his flesh.

 

Abnâm’sulum.” Thorin breathes, one hand continuing it’s slow exploration of Bilbo’s torso while the other slides up to rest along his neck. “You’re perfect.” He goes on, and Bilbo has to lean in and kiss him hard before anything else comes out and makes him combust on the spot.

 

“This is really unfair” Bilbo points out, tugging a bit on Thorin’s collar, and the dwarf laughs warmly, kissing down along Bilbo’s jaw.

 

“I’m enjoying myself.” He says, grinning wide against Bilbo’s skin. Bilbo snorts and tugs sharply at one of his braids, flushing when Thorin keeps dragging his hands over him.

 

“Come on,” He says, climbing off with some difficulty and tugging at Thorin. “Get up. I don’t want to think about how long it’ll take to get you out of all those layers.”

 

“Thought about it much?” Thorin asks, grin absolutely wicked as he pushes himself up and right into Bilbo’s space. It hits Bilbo very suddenly how much bigger Thorin is, in height and in general breadth, and how much smaller Bilbo feels with his bare skin hitting the air and Thorin leaning over him, hooking a finger under his jaw to tilt his face up into a slow, deep kiss.

 

“Come on.” Bilbo says again, voice a tad unsteady when he breaks from the kiss. He tugs at Thorin's wide belt with far more daring than he really feels.  “I don’t understand over half the clasps or ties on all of this, and I don’t really have the patience to figure them out right now.”

 

Thorin chuckles, rich and deep, and leans down to keep pressing kiss after kiss to Bilbo's mouth, moving from lip to lip and corner to corner while he slowly unclasps his belt and lets it fall with a heavy thunk to the floor. Bilbo grabs at his head and pulls him down for a deeper kiss, face flushing and eyes shut against Thorin's curled smile and the shifting of cloth and clinks of mail. Thorin is slow, methodical, and it's almost too intimate for Bilbo to watch, so he keeps his eyes closed and focuses on Thorin's lips on his and his tongue in his mouth while his heart pounds heavy as each layer falls to the floor with an audible rustle or thump.

 

He's only allowed to shut it out for so long, then there are large hands enveloping his own, tugging them out of Thorin's hair and pulling them down steadily. Bilbo feels the thin, supple cloth of Thorin's undershirt brushing against his fingertips and then Thorin's guiding his hands up and under. His palms hit skin and Bilbo has to stop there for a second, breathing heavily against Thorin's mouth and slowly settling his hands against Thorin's sides. It's softer than expected, but it's like the softness of fine suede leather over steel. There's no give to Thorin's skin, just a slight suppleness and hard muscle and steady heat.

 

Bilbo's eyes stay shut and he's horribly aware that his hand are shaking when he gets the courage to slide them up along Thorin's sides. It may be worse, he realizes, not looking. Because he's left feeling every dip and rise of a scar under his palm and the firm hills of Thorin's muscles. He can feel every catch in Thorin's lungs and how it goes with the sharp sounds of his inhales, hitching as Bilbo continues his slow journey, the shirt bunching up over his wrists.

 

"Are you alright?" Thorin asks, voice low, hoarse, and tinged with concern.

 

"Yeah. Yeah I'm alright. It's alright. Very alright. I just-there's a lot of." Skin. There is a lot of skin. And a lot of Thorin. He's being ridiculous, he realizes, and grits his jaw in annoyance at his own absurdity and forces his eyes open. And everything is worse and so, so much better. Because he can see his hands up to Thorin's chest, the shirt rucked up and showing what is indeed, a lot of skin. And muscle. And the line of dark hair running down the center of Thorin's stomach down into his pants. And the very, very defined bulge in said pants, which Bilbo stares at for a few seconds longer than is decent before looking up and freezing at Thorin's dark stare.

 

Thorin grins, wide and full of teeth, and pulls his shirt the rest of the way off, letting it fall into a pile on the floor with Bilbo's shirt and kissing Bilbo's slack jawed expression away.

 

Things were slow before, steady drags and hot molasses in the air and the sudden, tumbled rush is like a long fall. When Thorin pulls him in there's skin on skin and hands on his skin and skin under his hands. There's Thorin's heartbeat pounding against him and when he flings his arms over Thorin's shoulders to hold himself up there's hard muscle bunched under his gripping fingers. His voice cracks on the smallest, breathiest sound and Thorin's low growl in answer shoots right down his spine. All the shyness that had overcome him just seconds ago goes flying down the mountain as he grasps at skin and muscle and practically climbs Thorin, who hauls him up and half stumbles, half carries him to the bed.

 

There's a bit of a confused tumble after Thorin tried throwing him down onto the thick fur blanket and was foiled by the fact that Bilbo wouldn't let go of his shoulders. They nearly go falling right back off onto the floor in a pile of grabbing hands and locked lips but Bilbo manages to break away enough to scramble back fully onto the bed. He's barely up and on it before Thorin's on him again, bowling him over with a hard kiss and heavy weight that pushes him back into the soft mattress. He runs his hands up and down Thorin's back, pressed down and surrounded and whining softly at the crush of it all and feeling certain that Thorin's hands holding and grabbing at him are the only things keeping him together.

 

"Amral'imê." Thorin pants into the kiss, the word falling against Bilbo's parted lips and Bilbo can only manage a small little noise in response, his harsh breathing echoing loud and crashing in his head. Thorin settles more fully over him and he parts his legs to accomodate without thinking about it, without preparing for feeling Thorin's erection press through cloth against his own with a nearly unbearable heat and throbbing pressure.

 

"Fasâk, Bilbo." Thorin groans, deep and wrecked. Bilbo only whimpers softly, head falling back on the fur and lungs heaving at desperate grabs for air.

 

Thorin kisses him on his forehead, his nose, his cheeks. "Are you alright?"

 

"Wh-? What?" Bilbo blinks, whines again when he shifts and feels Thorin against his erection, and tries to remember how talking worked. "What? Yes. Yes alright I'm ok Thorin, don't- please don't try and ask me to be coherent right now!" Thorin makes a low sound and presses his forehead to Bilbo's, forearms braced on either side of the hobbit's head and locking him in as he hesitantly rolls his hips. The hot, grinding drag and pressure has Bilbo clawing at Thorin's back, voice catching on little broken noises with every other gasp of air, though his little sounds are lost in Thorin's wrecked, growling moan.

 

"Fasâk!" He hisses again, hips starting a slow, steady roll against Bilbo's. "Bilbo. Tell me if you want- if I need to-"

 

"Yes yes alright just-" Bilbo lifts his hips back, biting his lip at the pressure that's too much and definitely not enough. "Just yes to whatever you're thinking. Stop asking me if I'm alright I can barely think right now."

 

"If you don't-"

 

"If I don't like something I'll hit you!" Bilbo snaps, tempted to start hitting the fool dwarf right now for delaying things. "So far whatever you're wanting has been fantastic so just- oh hell!" Thorin took Bilbo's words to heart, and cuts his line of thought off with a sharp grind of his hips and teeth nipping at his ear.

 

"Izril'ê 'ubd'mê maigrifi'ê." Thorin gasps, rough and wrecked against Bilbo's ear and Bilbo has no idea what he's saying but nods anyway, biting his lip when Thorin leans back just enough to get to the button of Bilbo's trousers and yank them down. Bilbo is so far past self consciousness and eagerly lifts his hips, flailing his legs a bit to kick the offending cloth away and is quickly sitting up and pulling at the string of Thorin's pants.

 

"Let me-" Thorin huffs, kneeling between Bilbo's legs and bowing over to kiss Bilbo with a fevered desperation as he struggles to yank his boots off and shove his way out of his pants, which get added to the spread out pile on the floor.

 

Bilbo breaks the kiss to lay back against the bed, but stops short halfway down when he gets an eyefull of all of Thorin. There's muscle and scars, dark hair only accentuating the broad planes of his chest and stomach and helpfully leading Bilbo's eyes down to the very erect, very flushed and thick cock jutting straight out from the black hair.

 

"Oh." Bilbo squeaks, mouth falling open a bit and oh gods he shouldn't be staring but he's close to bursting into strained and hysterical giggles because there is so much going on there and it's all leaning over him with a solid strength that leaves Bilbo wondering if this is what it's like being made love to by a solid block of stone come to life. He's reminded of when he used to laugh to himself that Thorin was just too ridiculously attractive to be real, and this is all just confirming that.

 

"Any complaints?" Thorin grins, moving forward as Bilbo lays back in response, still staring wide eyed as Thorin braces over him and looks him over with a dark, hungry look.

 

"No. Nono absolutely- definitely not. No complaints. None." Bilbo does giggle a little bit at that, reaching out to run a hand over Thorin's broad chest, feeling just slightly giddy. Thorin lowers himself and kisses Bilbo with a slow, deep purpose, running his hands from Bilbo's hips to his shoulders, then back down to sink his fingers into the soft flesh of Bilbo's rear.

 

"Abnâm'sulum." Thorin murmurs again, sucking Bilbo's lip into his mouth and scraping his teeth along the swollen flesh. Any giggling dies quickly with a gasp and soft strangled sound as Thorin settles fully over him again, legs tangled together and kissing Bilbo like it was all he could do.

 

Bilbo hooks his legs around Thorin's hips, the soft cry getting lost in Thorin's mouth when their erections grind together and he's sure he might die from the shocks of heat and friction and wet slide. Thorin's moan is a punch to the gut and the broad hand reaching between them to grasp both of them together is a shock that has Bilbo jerking at the sensation crashing over him.

 

"Thorin!"

 

"Fasâk!" Thorin wraps his hand firmly around both of them, trapping Bilbo's erection in heat and rough calloused hands against throbbing velvety softness. "Keep doing that." Thorin pants, "Amral'im'ê, Bilbo, keep saying my name."

 

Thorin's name is all he can say at this point, it's all he can think. Bilbo breaks the kiss to pant heavily, burying his face into Thorin's shoulder and sinking his fingers into his back. He's distantly aware that he's probably digging his nails into Thorin's skin but right now it's all that's keeping him grounded and steady against the slide and pull of Thorin thrusting against him and breathing harsh, sharp curses and moans into his ear.

 

Bilbo feels like he's being wound tighter and tighter, body shaking and writhing against the everbuilding sensations drowning everything out and leaving him gasping Thorin's name like a mantra to keep him sane. One of his hands lets go of Thorin's back to fling up over his head, scrambling at the fur beneath him and tangling his fingers in it. Thorin shifts his weight, supporting it on his elbow so he can keep the steady pulling with his fist on both of the and clutch at Bilbo's hand at the same time.

 

"Bilbo, amral'mê. Maigrifi'mê, Bilbo." Thorin's voice catches, breaks down into a deep, rough pant of moaned words and Bilbo can feel the heated coil in him start to break. His nails sink into Thorin's back and he clutches desperately at the hand holding his against the furs, his back arching and breathing in gulping gasps.

 

"Thorin-! Thorin, I-" And it hits him so hard and fast that he's shocked at the force of it, mouth open and gaping on stopped up air and body jerking suddenly as he releases over himself and Thorin's hand. The sound he makes is a strained, high noise that barely makes it past his lungs and he's still gasping through it when Thorin practically roars in his ear. Bilbo's hand feels like it may break in Thorin's grip and he hardly cares when he feels the hot, wet streaks on his stomach. They shudder and grasp at each other for a few moments, air buzzing and thick as Bilbo tries to get his lungs to start working again.

 

"Oh gods and Shire bless..." Bilbo whimpers, shivering as he crashes back down into himself. Thorin kisses him a bit sloppily, still catching his breath with low, throaty noises and flopping with a heavy thud besides Bilbo. As soon as he's down there's a thick arm reaching out and pulling Bilbo in, pillowing his head on Thorin's bicep.

 

Bilbo slides an arm around Thorin's waist, head tucked up under the dwarfs chin and he feels like he's lit up all over. His muscles are sore and there's a cramp forming in his thigh and he can feel scraped areas of skin from Thorin's beard on his neck and face but really,really could not care a bit right now.

 

"Welcome home." Thorin rumbles, and Bilbo laughs a little breathlessly, curled and tucked against Thorin's chest.

 

"I should leave again, just to come back if that's the welcome I'll get each time."

 

Thorin's arms tighten around him, stiff and unyielding. "Don't." He says, voice soft and open. "Not again."

 

Bilbo nods quickly against his chest, curling his fingers against Thorin's side. "No. No I won't. Not again. I won't." He feels Thorin's sharp, long exhale, and the ruffle of breath as Thorin tucks his face into Bilbo's hair.

 

"Don't be a dream." Thorin says, so soft and quiet that Bilbo has the feeling that it's not exactly meant to be heard. He leans away from Thorin's chest, working one hand up in the scant space between them to cup his face and ease him into a slow kiss. Thorin relaxes, sighing into it and following Bilbo's short kiss with a few soft, lingering ones.

 

"I'm not. I'll be here, I promise. I'll be here in the morning, and the morning after that and so on. I'm back."

 

Thorin's smile is slow to grow, but so full and painfully vulnerable that Bilbo has to duck down to hide his face against the dwarf's shoulder again. Thorin's arms wrap all around him, and the silence falls over them in the hush of steady breathing.

 

He falls asleep so gradually that he isn't fully aware of it, and as promised, he's there in the morning. And the morning after that, and after that, and so on through the years.