When Bilbo Baggins had decided to stay in Erebor permanently, he had of course known that there would be adjustments to make.
Dwarves, after all, were quite different in their ways and mannerisms from hobbits.
Dwarves were naturally taller and broader than hobbits, their dispositions, though initially gruff and wary of outsiders, oft turned out to be loud and friendly, enthusiastic and near overwhelming at times.
So, quite understandably, dwarves in a group tended to make a shorter fellow like Bilbo feel somewhat wary and, on more than one occasion, completely and hopelessly lost.
Erebor was vast, and its' people so sure of themselves, that it was small wonder that Bilbo found himself turned around now and then, or else nearly trampled under the sea of folk that seemed to traverse the more populace parts of the mountain.
It was never done intentionally, gracious no, as Bilbo was generally well liked in the community thanks to his part in the reclamation of Erebor. However, from time to time, Bilbo could not help but feel a little homesick for the Shire where things were a proper size and the people were decorous enough to look where they put their feet or elbows.
At least he hadn't been foolish enough to take up residence in one of the kingdoms of men. That really would have been a mistake! The mere notion made Bilbo shudder. He would have likely been crushed to death already!
There was one saving grace to all this being pushed hither and thither and having his poor feet stepped on, however.
Bilbo had wondered following Thorin's convalescence and coronation if the dwarf king would ever have time for he and the others in the Company again. The hobbit would not have blamed Thorin had he not, though he would have missed his presence fiercely (and Bilbo was not about to ponder on why that was, thank you very much), after all kinging took a lot of time and hard work. However, he need not have worried.
Thorin was wonderfully attentive to those he deemed kith and kin, and Bilbo was pleased to learn that he was considered as close a friend as any blooded dwarf in the Company.
Their king made it a habit to spend time with all of them no matter how busy his schedule became, and though the thought of Thorin overworking himself did trouble Bilbo, the hobbit found that he was immeasurably grateful for Thorin's presence whenever he had to traverse a crowded area.
It had all started when Bilbo had attempted to visit the newly opened marketplace alone, a year or so following Smaug's demise. There had been great excitement at the prospect of the market stalls re-opening, especially since caravans of dwarves had been arriving regularly ever since spring.
Going alone on the day of the grand re-opening really had been a terrible idea in hindsight.
Bilbo had found himself pushed and nudged, elbowed and battered with various items, and even his poor feet, hardy as they were, became bruised after being stepped on one too many times by heavy boots! It had not been anyone's fault of course, he was just far smaller than the excitable dwarves were used to, and being a hobbit he was (unfortunately in this case) a lot easier to overlook.
Bilbo had eventually fought his way out of the jostling crowd and nearly collapsed in relief against the side of one of the quieter shops.
And that was where Thorin had found him, grumbling under his breath about 'ruddy awful boots' and rubbing his sore feet.
The king had been considerate enough to stifle his amusement, and instead enquired as to why Bilbo was alone.
"I am capable of shopping by myself, Thorin. I'm not a child." Bilbo had been a little rude perhaps, his tone waspish and a scowl on his face, but Thorin had been nothing but kind in return.
"Indeed not, but you are unfortunately quite a bit shorter than the average dwarf. They mean no harm by it, but you will probably find it difficult to get around places like these without ending up a little worse for wear if you are alone."
"I've found it's not only my feet at risk but my wits." Bilbo confessed with a frown. "Erebor is such a big place, especially now so much of it has been restored, that I often find myself lost. It wouldn't be so bad if I could actually read the names of the halls and streets, but they're all in Khuzdûl and- well…"
Bilbo had sighed before casting a longing glance back out towards the shops. He really had wanted to purchase some dwarven crafts… perhaps one of the Company would want to join him if he asked-
"Would you like me to show you around? At the very least you'll not find yourself lost in these vast halls with a guide."
"Says he that got lost twice on the way to my home." A little cheeky, given that he was speaking to royalty, even one who was his friend but Bilbo's expression had mellowed from its' earlier scowl and Thorin took the comment in jest, offering a sheepish grin.
"True enough, but this is my home. You can trust me to know my way around here."
"Well… I would be very grateful, but aren't you busy?"
"I'd not be idling about here if I were."
Thorin said no more on the matter, but instead grinned again, gave a small but gallant bow (which caused Bilbo to startle a little… Thorin was king, surely he shouldn't bow to anyone), and then offered his arm to Bilbo.
Bilbo shook his head at the sight, bright laughter escaping him for a moment before he slipped his arm through Thorin's and was led back out into the fray.
The experience was far pleasanter than before. Now with Thorin beside him, Bilbo found that he was no longer subjected to any pushing or shoving, nor did he find the crowd closing around him so much that he could not see where he was going. He had room to breathe and the opportunity to look at the wares on sale, and found that visiting the market in Erebor was actually very enjoyable.
It had become something of a tradition after that. Every Sterday, Thorin would call on Bilbo in his quarters and accompany him to the market.
There were some changes to their routine of course. Occasionally, Thorin could not find the time to join him, and so would visit another day. Some days Bilbo found that he would prefer to visit friends in the forges (another incredibly busy place), and so Thorin would lead him there instead. Another difference was how they had gone from walking arm in arm to holding hands and entwining their fingers.
He had blushed the first time he had realised what he had done. It had been an unconscious action. Bilbo had seen some wonderfully exotic ingredients on one of the stalls in the marketplace, and in his excited haste had simply slipped his arm free from Thorin's and grabbed his hand to pull him along behind him instead.
The hobbit had realised the misstep when the stall owner had cast a shrewd eye over them and winked. Bilbo had made to release Thorin's hand only to find, that strangely enough, Thorin seemed quite content to keep their hands clasped together.
As such, Bilbo had thought little of the matter given that he quite enjoyed holding Thorin's hand himself and if Thorin did not object, why should he stop?
Bilbo did confess to an element of confusion regarding the matter, however.
As time wore on, Bilbo and Thorin would find more and more places to visit together; Dale for one, or the slowly awakening fields before the mountain, the training grounds, or the stables… and in each place Thorin would keep the hobbit close.
Bilbo was not especially surprised by this. Thorin had proven himself to be the protective sort even as far back as the early days of their Quest. It was probably second nature to a dwarf who led and cared for his people to keep one of their number from harm, even from harm as trivial as a stubbed toe.
It was the hand holding which continued to perplex Bilbo though.
Ever since that fateful day in the market, Thorin would take Bilbo's hand and lead him through the crowds as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
And perhaps to dwarves it was, but Bilbo could not recall seeing many others doing the same save for parents with their children, and on occasion, lovers.
Bilbo tried to chalk it up to the fact that he was so much smaller and thus more likely to become separated from his guide and friend without that contact…
… But this didn't really explain recent events.
Bilbo noticed it first in the newly finished library.
The pair entered the palatial room hand in hand as had become custom between them, Bilbo nodding and smiling to Ori as they passed his desk and made their way through the shelves. The sheer amount of books on offer was enough to make one's head spin. Bilbo could be forgiven then, in his distracted staring, for taking a while to notice that though books surrounded them, people certainly did not surround them.
So why did Thorin deem is it necessary to keep hold of his hand here?
Bilbo decided that Thorin simply must be as in awe of their surroundings as he was and so had forgotten to let go. Besides, the feeling of their joined hands was very pleasant, so he wasn't going to complain.
Tucking away the small curl of guilt he felt at essentially taking advantage of Thorin's inattention, Bilbo turned his own attention back to the books on offer and decided to think on this further at a later date.
The next time Bilbo noticed was during a feast held to celebrate midsummer.
True, the great hall had been teeming with life during the early evening and so it had been prudent for Thorin to keep Bilbo close and within the company of their immediate circle of friends lest the poor hobbit be swept away by the crowd and end up goodness knows where.
However, as the night had drawn to a close more and more of Erebor's residents and visitors from Dale had left, leaving the once raucous and busy room quite bare.
There were still small groups of revellers here and there and certainly, Thorin and Bilbo's friends were all accounted for, but there was definitely enough ebb in the flow of people now that Bilbo could wander by himself and not find any trouble.
Thorin clearly thought otherwise though, and Bilbo found himself by the king's side more often than not as the celebrations waned.
And now that the party was all but ended, Bilbo could not help but wonder why Thorin still drew him close and entwined their fingers whenever the opportunity arose.
There really wasn't any need for it, and though Bilbo yearned to remain close to Thorin, he did wonder if people might start to talk and so had opened his mouth to say as much, only to be caught unawares by a large yawn.
Thorin had smiled at that and teased him gently, earning a light smack on the shoulder from the hobbit who was trying hard to ignore the warmth blooming in his chest at how contented and happy he felt, and so the idea to let go of Thorin's hand or move away at all was easily forgotten.
The final time Bilbo noticed was in the quarters The Company shared.
And this time he could not keep silent about it.
Following their Quest, Thorin's companions had decided that it would be a grand idea to have a small area set aside for themselves. It was little more than a large parlour, given that everyone had their own living and sleeping quarters, but it was frequented by the Company and their various family members or close friends regularly enough that it retained a very homey feel to it.
It certainly could not be described as crowded though… and Bilbo definitely knew this part of the mountain well enough not to become lost.
So to have Thorin slip his hand into his as they walked through the door and greeted their friends would have confused Bilbo no end had he not had a suspicion to Thorin's motive growing since the night of the feast.
He just hoped he was right and not about to make a colossal fool of himself and potentially ruin their friendship.
Steeling himself, and dredging up every ounce of courage he could muster, Bilbo cleared his throat and pointedly looked down at their joined hands as he tugged Thorin down to sit on one of the couches by the fireplace.
(Bilbo also pointedly ignored the blatant stares from Thorin's nephews and the waggling eyebrows Bofur sent their way).
To his credit, Thorin had noticed how Bilbo glanced at their hands and had attempted to let go, only for his eyes to widen in surprise when Bilbo caught his wrist and then moved to lace their fingers together, palm pressed to palm.
"I was just wondering about this actually," Bilbo began sotto voce, and gave Thorin's hand a gentle squeeze.
"What were you wondering?" Thorin looked uneasy, and bless his heart, quite shame faced and shy. He had lowered his voice to match Bilbo's, clearly hoping against hope that their companions would not overhear whatever may come.
Bilbo felt that familiar warmth spread through his chest again and smiled reassuringly, his confidence bolstered by Thorin's reaction.
"Well… I can understand why you've taken to holding my hand when there are so many people around. It's very kind of you, keeping me close when I could very easily get lost. However, there has been a few times where I must admit you taking my hand confused me… The library for one, and as we entered the room just now… these are hardly crowded places, Thorin."
Thorin had averted his gaze, a flush creeping over his nose and cheeks as he mumbled what sounded like an apology.
Bilbo's lips quirked at the endearing sight and he shifted his grip on Thorin's hand so that he could stroke a thumb over the back of it and gain his attention.
"You must know I don't mind one bit, Thorin, but I would like to know if there… well if there was a reason for it." Bilbo pressed gently for an answer, but did not demand one outright. Part of him not wishing to push Thorin if he was uncomfortable, and another part still quietly afraid that he had read the signs wrong and was about to be rejected.
Thorin looked up properly then, eyes searching Bilbo's face for a moment before a slow, soft smile of understanding stole over his features.
"There is a reason." He answered simply, before lifting Bilbo's hand to brush a kiss to his knuckles and murmuring, "I find that I enjoy having you close to me."
It was Bilbo's turn to flush a little at such a gesture, and feeling both relief and joy at having his suspicions confirmed, leaned in to press a quick kiss to Thorin's cheek. "That's very good to hear, since I enjoy having you close to me as well."
Thorin's grin at that revelation was beautiful to behold, and Bilbo would have scolded himself for such a soppy train of thought had Dwalin not interrupted with a shout of an exasperated "About bloody time" from across the room (evidently Balin hadn't done as good a job of keeping them from eavesdropping as he had hoped).
After which, the hand which had been tenderly holding Bilbo's was employed in signing something quite rude to the dwarf's oldest friend and Bilbo had to contain his amusement and embarrassment as the nosey group on the other side of the room took this moment of distraction as an opportunity to start questioning them both about their relationship.