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the nature of a misunderstanding

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The day has been long and grueling, filled with endless stacks of parchment paper, deeds and details and payments for properties. It is not uncommon to have a day such as this, the properties do have to be tended to, but gardening, cooking and writing are so much more enjoyable. So while this is not exactly hard work, it is tedious and a brew of ale seems like a just reward.

Unfortunately he has run out of ale and cannot purchase a barrel until tomorrow when the markets are opened. So Bilbo Baggins decides to indulge himself a little and leaves the cozy comforts of Bag End behind for a while, venturing out into the cool evening air. He will go to the Green Dragon and perhaps be sociable for once. He must do that now and then to keep up appearances, he remembers, and though he is not looking forward to the walk back home when he is a few cups deep, he puts on his best smile and arrives at the inn in hardly any time at all.

Bilbo enters and takes a short moment to observe who is enjoying the freely flowing ale. There are Boffins and Tooks, of course, and a few Brandybucks but hardly any Bagginses. It is not altogether surprising and Bilbo smiles and waves at a few of his neighbors before heading to the bar. He takes up a free stool and says hello to the Brandybuck lad sitting next to him and after Tolman Cotton walks by they both have fresh ales in hand and make a rousing toast between themselves.

He chits and he chats with anyone that will come and say hello and fine-tunes his reputation as well as he can. He doesn’t get roped into any singing or dancing, excusing himself with an achy back but he does recite a lewd poem and smiles when his fellow hobbits crow and laugh.

After a few mugs of ale he is feeling sufficiently full of cheer and thinks about turning in before moonshine is introduced, as it no doubt will be the higher the moon rises. He is debating one last ale, gazing into his mug, when someone sits next to him on the last remaining stool at the end of the bar.

He lifts his gaze to welcome the newcomer and freezes at the sight that greets him. It is no hobbit.

A dwarf.

The most handsome dwarf he has ever had the privilege of seeing, he has to say, and promptly snaps his mouth shut as Tolman comes along.

“‘ello there, Master Dwarf,” the barman greets. “What can I do for you on this good evenin’? We have the finest ale in the Westfarthing or a meal of stew and bread, if you’re lookin’ for food.”

“An ale and the meal,” the dwarf says in a deep, throaty voice, one that sends Bilbo’s toes curling against the footrests of his stool.

Bilbo is staring and cannot find it in himself to stop. He wishes he was not so close to him so that he could get more of an eyeful and regrets that line of thought the moment it comes. It is when a blue gaze meets his that he starts, making an odd noise, and turns quickly away from the dwarf, cheeks flaring with heat now that he knows he has been caught.

But perhaps the dwarf can forgive him. Dwarves are so rarely in the Shire, preferring their mountains and far less wandering. Bilbo is sure he has not seen a dwarf in a decade and that was only because a few had come to trade in the markets one summer.

The dwarf sitting next to him appears to be alone. He is as broad as most dwarves and much taller than Bilbo, even while sitting but there is something odd about him that Bilbo can’t place. He has seen his long, wavy black hair and the forget-me-not blue eyes and his sharp angular nose but he is missing something.

He thinks about saying hello but the fellow is sitting hunched in on himself and screams of someone that does not wish to be disturbed. Bilbo is hesitant to do so, as he knows how it feels, so he chances a peek out of the corner of his eye.

The dwarf is staring down at his mug of ale and does not so much as twitch until Tolman comes back around the bar with a bowl of stew and a plate of bread and a decently-sized chunk of soft cheese. He sets the meal in front of the dwarf and bustles off to greet a Brandybuck couple that are entering the inn.

Bilbo watches as the dwarf grabs his bread, tears into it with surprising ferocity and stuffs a piece into his mouth, chewing hard enough to surely crack a tooth or three.

He’s thin, Bilbo’s mind supplies, and he is taken aback. That is what is wrong, what seems so strange about this dwarf. He may be broad but he is thinner than most, with a flat stomach and a narrow waist, which are visible even under his sturdy clothing. Sturdy but well-worn and patched in many places. Bilbo looks at his hair and notes that it is in need of a good washing; it is lank and looks a little oily and he wonders when the poor fellow was last able to take a hot bath.

He has clearly come across hard times and Bilbo’s natural instinct is to offer help but he knows it might result in a black eye, so he refrains, and contents himself with hoping that good fortune goes the dwarf’s way.

Then blue eyes are upon his and he blinks once, then twice, before he realizes that he is now being stared at in return. Bilbo jerks, his elbow flying off the bar, and makes a surprised noise as he steadies his empty mug before it too can flee from him. He turns hastily away and apologies are bubbling up in his throat but before he can blurt them out, Tolman swoops in to rescue him. Whether it is on purpose or simply that the barman has good timing, Bilbo can’t say.

“You’re a long way from home, Master Dwarf,” he says, wiping down a mug with a clean rag. “From the Blue Mountains, ye are? I recognize the leather work nowadays, what with most of your kind stoppin’ here on their travels, what little travelin’ they do. Headin’ to Bree?”

The dwarf is silent for a moment and it is a painful one at that before he finally nods. “Aye,” he says quite simply and with a finality in his tone.

Tolman either ignores this or does not care. “Aye, aye,” he says, setting the mug aside and grabbing another one to dry. “What’s takin’ ye there? Lookin’ fer work?”

Another beat of silence, then a nod. “Aye. To look for work,” the dwarf says, as if this is expected of him.

“And what sort of work do ye do?”

“Anything that I can get,” the dwarf answers gruffly, his hand tightening around the bread.

Tolman nods. “Well, best of luck to ye,” he says, perhaps sensing that this dwarf is not one for chatter. He turns and goes to greet a wandering Bracegirdle that has just entered.

Bilbo taps his fingers against the bar and thinks quickly. The dwarf goes back to shoveling food into his mouth and Bilbo is tempted to chide him until he slows down or surely he will be sick. He refrains and blinks to himself, a dreadful stirring climbing up from his gut toward his throat. He must, he must say something to this dwarf, and he hasn’t any idea why.

“Any sort of work?” he finally blurts and sounds rather different from himself. It is a strangled, awkward voice that leaves his throat, certainly not his own, and he immediately blushes and opens his mouth to apologize but the dwarf has stiffened and is peering at him again.

They stare at each other in silence and when Bilbo is truly fit to burst with a thousand things he’d like to say, the dwarf nods in a jerky sort of way.

“Aye,” he says, low and hoarse. “Anything.”

Bilbo nods, relief hitting him like a cool rain on a hot summer day. “Oh,” he breathes out, his heart beginning to calm down from its wild staccato. “What skills do you have, if I may ask?”

“Many,” the dwarf answers, setting his food aside and looking more pale than he had only a moment ago. “I am a blacksmith by trade but I have not been able to find work as such.”

“I see,” Bilbo says, still tapping his fingers against the bar, trying to spend off some of his nerves. “We don’t require a blacksmith often but good Angus is almost always available when we need him, so you’re not likely to find any work here. I suppose that’s why you’re heading to Bree.” The dwarf inclines his head and Bilbo hums. “But if you can’t find that sort of work, at a forge or whatnot… are you willing to do other kinds of work?”

The dwarf is silent again and his eyes are hard and ablaze, as if he is debating answering the question harshly or not. Bilbo flounders, wondering what he has said wrong but he has an idea and wants to see if it can come to fruition. He wishes to help this dwarf, at least in some small way, if he can.

Finally he gives a slow nod. “I am,” he says shortly. “What did you have in mind, Master Hobbit?”

“Oh, well, erm,” Bilbo says, furrowing his brow and frowning. “I do suppose I have a few things in mind, if you’re well-suited to them. I’ve heard things about dwarves, you know.”

That earns him an arched eyebrow and he hastens to continue, “That you lot are good with your hands and the like.” He supposes that doesn’t sound much better and lets out a sigh, half tempted to pinch himself. The dwarf remains silent either way, staring at him, openly wary. Bilbo can’t blame him.

“Well, anyway, I do know a few ways that can earn you a bit of coin for the road to Bree, if you’re interested.”

“I will not do everything,” the dwarf says abruptly and so fiercely that Bilbo gapes at him.

“O-Oh, well, of course not, but,” Bilbo starts, then stops. “I don’t expect you to be able to do everything, but, ah, I suppose we’ll work out the specifics. I’m sure you’re quite talented. Like I said, I’ve heard much about dwarves. Not that I often hear about dwarves or anything, but… oh bother.” He sighs, wishing desperately for another ale, whatever he has in his veins clearly not doing him any favors right now.

The dwarf is watching him with a queer expression and Bilbo grumbles a little, trying to think of something to say that will make him look less like a nutter.

“How much will you pay?” the dwarf asks and Bilbo is relieved.

“Well,” he says, thinking. “I’m not entirely sure of everything I want. Do you have a set rate when it comes to these things? I thought that I might charge you by the amount of work you do. Or… or how many things you do. I’m not sure, what’s the best way to go about this? I’m afraid I don’t hire often.”

The dwarf frowns at him. “By quantity then. We can further discuss this when we are alone,” he says, his eyes darting around the general area.

Bilbo nods and taps the side of his nose. “Of course. Best to discuss business elsewhere,” he agrees, then smiles, turning toward the dwarf, extending his hand. “Pardon me, I haven’t even introduced myself. Bilbo Baggins.”

The dwarf looks at his hand for a long, heavy moment before he meets Bilbo’s eye again. He bows his head but does not take his hand and says in a gruff tone, “Thorin, at your service.”

“Thorin,” Bilbo repeats, a little miffed that his hand has not been shaken. He pats his thigh instead and watches Thorin closely, feeling rather wrong-footed now. “Well, erm. It’s good to meet you, Thorin.”

Thorin does not say anything and turns back to his supper, beginning to polish the rest of it off in the same vigorous manner as before. Bilbo is certainly feeling off-kilter now and like he has missed something important in this conversation but he can’t think of what that is. He has hired a complete stranger - a dwarf, at that - to do work for him, at his home, and he hasn’t a clue what he was thinking. What if Thorin tries to cheat him or does shoddy work? He might have said he was a blacksmith but Bilbo can hardly know that for sure and he is beginning to think that he has made a grave mistake.

“Are- are you staying at the inn?” he asks, his voice higher in pitch than it normally is.

Thorin pushes his plate away and does not look at him. “No,” he says. “I had planned to make camp not far from here.”

Bilbo supposes he can’t afford a room and suddenly remembers why he wished to help Thorin in the first place. “I see,” he says, wondering if Thorin would take it poorly if he offered to pay him first. Besides being a silly thing to do, which he knows, he thinks that Thorin’s pride would not suffer the insult well. “I live around the Bywater, up at the top of the hill, if you’d like to come by in the morning.”

“You do not wish for me to join you tonight?” Thorin asks, as if he is surprised by this, and Bilbo chokes on air.

“Tonight?” he shrills, then looks quickly around. No one is looking his way and he sighs, glancing back at Thorin. “W-Well, er, I hadn’t planned on you starting work tonight. I mean, it’s a bit late, isn’t it? And we’ve both had an ale or a few ales in my case, so perhaps this sort of work is better suited for the beginning of a day?”

Thorin is staring at him again and Bilbo tries not to scowl, feeling a bit bothered suddenly.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to take a guest room so you can begin your work early,” he says, knowing this is dangerous and foolish but not wanting to be looked at as if he has something wrong with him anymore. “I’m a good cook, I can make you breakfast in the morning, though we won’t consider it part of your payment.”

Thorin appears to think this over and his expression is strange to Bilbo. He looks torn and half-angry and Bilbo doesn’t know what to make of him. He hopes that he is not dangerous; Thorin could easily break him in half, though any dwarf could he knows, even the thin ones. But would Thorin sabotage his chance at earning coin honestly? Something in his heart tells him that he wouldn’t but he still does not understand why Thorin looks the way he does now.

“Very well,” Thorin says after another moment. He looks at Bilbo but somewhere over his shoulder and not directly in his eye. “If it is not considered part of the payment,” he agrees in a firm tone.

“Of course not,” Bilbo says. He sits, quiet, thinking things through, then nods. “Well then, let’s be off. I suspect you’ll be working hard tomorrow and I’m sure you would appreciate a good night of rest.” He stands and waves at Tolman.

Thorin says nothing but stands, towering over Bilbo, grabbing a pack from the floor and slinging it over his shoulder and then they set off through the inn and exit it after letting Bilbo shout out goodbyes to his friends and neighbors.

They do not speak for the first leg of the journey, circling the Bywater, and it is stilted and awkward. Thorin walks like a dwarf, which is to say intimidatingly, and Bilbo tries to step as confidently as he can to match the steps but he suspects he is failing. The ale in his blood is beginning to wear off and the cool night air is helping but he still does not know what to say to Thorin. He is glad it is at least late so his neighbors don't see that he’s taking a dwarf into his home; surely that sort of talk would follow him for months to come. When they no doubt see Thorin working hard on the smial, there will be far less rumors.

Bilbo points toward the hill when they are close enough to see it. “My home is at the top there,” he says. “Bag End. My father built it for my mother when they married. They’re gone now, so it’s just myself, which some of my less cordial family members think is unrespectable. It’s hardly my fault that my father built such a large smial but it is in fact mine and I will be staying there until the end of my days.”

Thorin does not say anything, merely continues to walk alongside Bilbo, and he begins to feel foolish for opening his mouth. He does not try another conversation.

It feels as if it takes ages but they do finally trudge up the hill and then Bilbo is showing Thorin past his gate and into his home. It is only lit by a few oil lanterns and Bilbo hastens to the sitting room to get a fire going for some light. He tells Thorin to sit, if he’d like, and finds himself unsurprised when he chooses to remain standing in the middle of the room with his pack still over his back.

Bilbo ensures that his home is well lit and then joins Thorin standing in the sitting room. He pats his thighs and considers the situation before he points his finger in the air.

“Tea?”

Thorin shakes his head.

Bilbo holds in a sigh. “I suppose you must be tired and I am a bit as well. Perhaps we should discuss business in the morning over breakfast,” he suggests. Thorin inclines his head and Bilbo hums. “Let me show you to your room, then. The sheets are freshly laundered. I’ll get a fire going. The nights are beginning to cool considerably, aren’t they?” He motions for Thorin to follow and sets off down the hall.

He somehow loses Thorin around a corner and has to double back to find him again and smiles a little at the confusion evident on his face as he gazes around. He leads him to his best bedroom and shows him inside, hastening to the hearth to get a fire started.

Thorin sets his pack on the bed and stands near to it, watching Bilbo as he goes about his business.

Once the fire has roared to life, Bilbo turns to look at Thorin and takes in his appearance. He debates offering his bath but wonders if Thorin would find it insulting, no matter how clear it is that he could use one. He supposes he will be washing his sheets after Thorin has gone either way and decides against it.

“Well, ah. Please do make yourself at home. Is there anything that I can get you before we turn in?” he asks, peering around the room. It is filled with the comforts of home and he is proud of it and is pleased when Thorin shakes his head again.

It seems his houseguest is truly not one for speaking much so Bilbo waves. “I normally like to lie-in but I’ll be up with the sun, I imagine. If you are up before me, you are most welcome to the kitchen for tea and the like. So, erm. Goodnight!” he says, then turns and hurries out of the room, closing the door behind himself.

He rocks forward on his toes once he is in the hallway, looking back at the door. He listens for a moment and soon hears movement inside, nodding to himself. He goes down to his bedroom and changes out of his day clothes, getting into his pajamas and patchwork robe. Once he has ventured into the washroom and scrubbed his face clean, he peers down the hallway toward Thorin’s door, looking at the golden light from under it. He hopes that Thorin is making himself comfortable but at the same time hopes that he is not planning on robbing him.

Bilbo feels guilty for thinking this and even more for thinking about what he has heard about dwarves. He never paid any mind to rumors as he hardly knew any dwarves himself but the less savory things are coming back to him now that he has one under his roof. He is unsettled by this and goes into his bedroom, locking the door, which he is not sure he has done since he was a tween.

He gets into bed, lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling, wondering if he will sleep or not. He feels wide awake and decides that this will be a night of little rest indeed.

——

Bilbo stares blearily at the window and tries not to groan aloud. It is dreadfully early, much earlier than he normally wakes, and he has had an equally dreadful night of sleep. He is fairly certain he woke every hour, any creaking throughout his smial had been Thorin wandering around, stealing all of his valuables, and his newfound paranoia has done his bones no favors.

He decides a good cup of tea is in order and stumbles out of bed, his muscles sore and heavy. As he curses his foolish heart for aching at the sight of a thin dwarf, he changes, then leaves his bedroom and wanders into the hall, looking quickly at Thorin’s door. There is no more light from under it and he hopes that Thorin is sleeping soundly. He ventures down to his kitchen and gets a fire going, dawn’s blue light just adequate enough for him to be able to see what he’s doing.

It is not long before he has his kettle over the fire. He watches the sun rise for a time before he ventures into the pantry and begins to inspect its contents for breakfast. He decides on sausages, eggs, tomatoes and toast, thinking it will be a nice, hearty breakfast for Thorin before he begins his work on the smial.

In his waking hours in the middle of the night Bilbo had come up with a solid list for Thorin and hopes that he will be up to the tasks. It should keep him busy for the full day and then Bilbo can feed and bathe him before sending him off on his way to Bree with a pocketful of coin. He is feeling rather proud of himself, despite his vague unease about it all still, and carries what he needs for breakfast into his kitchen.

There is the sound of wood groaning under heavy boots and Bilbo freezes, glancing at the archway. Thorin appears hesitantly around the corner, looking at him with a guarded expression, dressed as he was the night before.

They watch each other for a time, then Bilbo shakes himself. “Good morning,” he says, fetching the kettle from the fire. “I was just about to start on breakfast. It’s a bit early but I thought that it’d be good for us both. Have a seat, please, if you’d like, and I’ll get you a cup of tea.”

Thorin stays standing for a bit, then finally enters the kitchen and sits stiffly at the table, his back rigid and his eyes stuck on Bilbo.

He tries not to feel bothered by it but really can’t help it and goes about pouring tea with lightly trembling hands. He pushes Thorin the jar of honey and then bounces on his toes, trying to think of something to say to get Thorin to open his mouth; he’s fairly certain he hasn’t spoken since he agreed to work on the smial.

“How did you sleep?” he settles on, thinking this is safe.

Thorin inclines his head and says nothing and Bilbo is beginning to feel even more bothered.

“Well, ah. I was thinking sausages and eggs for our first breakfast,” he says, turning back to his counter to begin that task at least.

Thorin is quiet still but eventually he does shift and Bilbo hears a quiet, “First breakfast?”

“Of course,” he says, glad that Thorin has not suddenly turned mute overnight. “What would you like for second breakfast? I have scones and muffins, plenty of jams and jellies, and quite a few different cheeses.”

“That is…” Thorin trails off and Bilbo patiently waits for him as he prepares sausages to be fried. “How many breakfasts do you eat?”

“Oh, just the two,” Bilbo answers, smiling a little to himself. “I suppose you dwarves might not eat as much as us hobbits. We have seven meals, you know. You’re more than welcome to partake with me, as long as you’re here. Plenty of fuel for the work you’ll be doing, which I have thought about through the night. We’ll eat and then discuss it.”

He sees Thorin fingering his tea cup and wonders if it’s a nervous gesture.

“I have been on the road for two weeks,” Thorin says after another bout of silence. “I should bathe before we… before we begin.”

Bilbo looks at him and blinks a few times, frowning. “You’d like to bathe first? Are you quite sure? I imagine you’ll get a little filthy,” he says, trying not to eye Thorin’s hair too closely. “Not that I would mind if you bathed first or, or after as well, but, I… well. It makes sense to wait, does it not?”

“It is not for my benefit,” Thorin says and sounds a little annoyed, which is perplexing.

“Right,” Bilbo says, and is fairly confused. He isn’t planning on being close enough to benefit from a freshly-washed Thorin and wonders if this is a dwarvish preference. “Well, you can bathe whenever you’d like. I have a lovely copper tub. I may have to partake in a good scrubbing myself before the end of the day.”

It goes quiet again and Bilbo simply concentrates on making breakfast before he can truly feel discomfited. He can hardly blame Thorin for not being a talkative sort and perhaps he’s feeling a little out of place as well, so Bilbo tries to forget his ire. Food is ultimately the best solution for that and he enjoys himself as he always does making breakfast.

It is not much later when he sets a plate in front of Thorin, then spoons a good many sausages and fried eggs onto it, as well as toast and his sweet heirloom tomatoes from the garden. He watches from the corner of his eye for a reaction and sees the hunger evident on Thorin’s face. He’s glad of it and serves himself, then takes a seat at the table and motions for Thorin to eat.

They do so in relative silence; Bilbo does not wish to push his guest into conversation and contents himself with watching Thorin shovel food into his mouth. He is beginning to worry that he has not made enough, despite it being a respectable hobbit breakfast, and mumbles about wanting something sweet to end his meal, fetching the plateful of blueberry scones. He sets them in the middle of his table and nibbles on one, waiting. Thorin does not disappoint and snatches up a scone, which he inhales in short order.

Bilbo is impressed but not altogether surprised and feels his heart ache when he looks at Thorin’s shoulders, which are surely not as filled in as they should be.

They finish their scones and Bilbo pats his belly, peering openly at Thorin, who looks at him and swiftly averts his gaze.

“You do not want me to bathe first.”

Bilbo frowns, wondering at this line of conversation again. “That is- that is certainly up to you, Thorin. I daresay I don’t mind. Do you prefer to be clean before?”

Thorin’s brow furrows. “Aye,” he says, as if this is something Bilbo should not be questioning.

He flounders for a moment. “Well, ah. Then I suppose I shall show you to the bath,” he says haltingly, standing from the table and gesturing vaguely.

Thorin stands and Bilbo tries to ignore his significant height - he must be quite tall, even among his own race. Bilbo is fairly certain other dwarves have all been around his own height, when he has seen them before. When Thorin has weight on he must make for an even more imposing sight and Bilbo wishes he could feed him until he is filled out. He leads Thorin to his washroom and hopes, again, that better fortune will come to him.

He shows Thorin his tub and fetches him a few fresh towels, then leaves him to it. He has a feeling it’ll be a good long while until Thorin reemerges, considering his hair alone.

Bilbo cleans the dishes and tidies up his kitchen, thinking about him.

He wonders if he has a family somewhere. Why is he traveling alone away from his mountain halls? Bilbo remembers that Tolman had said he was from the Blue Mountains - Ered Luin is a name he knows and he wonders what type of life it is, living there. Perhaps Thorin has a family he is trying to feed and could not find work, not even in a place that Bilbo suspects needs blacksmiths. Or perhaps he has no one and no home and is a wanderer. There is a reason he is so thin and Bilbo wonders if he can ask him, if Thorin would ever open up to him and tell him why he is so far from a home of his own.

Bilbo knows that he is privileged, even for a hobbit. His father had worked hard in his life, becoming a landlord and tending to the properties as well as he could. The Baggins family name was respectable, of course, but Bungo’s wealth had been the result of his own tenacity.

He has never had to work all that hard to keep up with Bungo’s legacy. He may complain about paperwork but it is something he can do with very little trouble; coin flows freely still and he can indulge himself in his own ventures, whether they be writing or mapmaking or simply baking. He has never known a hard life, a life on the road, or starvation. He knows nothing of what Thorin has gone through and begins to feel infinitely out of place in his own home, much to his consternation.

He is more aware of his fineries and comforts than he has been in a while and wonders if Thorin resents him at all for it. He pushes that thought aside, knowing it will do him no good, and takes a fresh cup of tea to his sitting room, taking up residence in his armchair, grabbing the latest book he is reading.

It is indeed some time before the washroom door opens again and he hears the footfalls of his guest. He turns to his doorway and watches as Thorin appears, lifting his hand and waving to catch his attention. Blue eyes settle on his and Bilbo’s breath catches a little.

Thorin certainly looks better. His hair is damp still but it looks luxuriously soft. He is dressed in different clothes but they are still the same type of sturdy leathers as before and Bilbo hopes they are at least clean.

“Do you, ah… do you feel better?” he asks, feeling a little silly, but Thorin had been so adamant about a bath.

Thorin inclines his head, his hands at his sides tightening into fists and does not enter the sitting room. “Thank you,” he says, like an afterthought and it is quite stiff.

“You’re welcome,” Bilbo says, politeness coming as easy as it always does. “Will you join me?” He motions at the armchair across from his.

“I would like to get started so I can be back on the road by this evening,” Thorin says. “If you are amenable.”

“Oh, of course! Of course. I do hope we’re done before then, I had quite a few things in mind,” Bilbo says, standing from his chair, tossing his book aside. He approaches Thorin and rocks forward on his toes as he watches him. “We may have to borrow a few items from my neighbor, I’m afraid I’m quite ill-prepared.”

Thorin looks pale and almost as if he is in pain, but he nods and gazes somewhere over Bilbo’s shoulder again. “The bedroom?” he asks, quiet, and there is something heavy in it.

“The bedroom?” Bilbo repeats, blinking in surprise. “The bedroom! Why on earth- no no, the bedroom is hardly the place to begin.” He eyes Thorin a little and motions toward the hall. “I was thinking we could begin outside. Should- should we not discuss payment first and if you’ll even be able to do what I have in mind? Not that I doubt you, of course! But… my list is quite specific.”

Thorin has met his eye now and is looking at him from under his brow. He remains still and quiet for a time, until Bilbo is fidgeting, then nods. “I will not do everything, as I told you evening last,” he says, his voice low. “Ten silvers for each of your… requests.”

Bilbo gapes. “T-Ten silvers? Ten silvers?” he asks, his voice reaching dangerously high levels. “Ten silvers!” he repeats, aghast. “Now- now see here, Thorin, that is quite a lot of coin for what I’m asking for, don’t you think? Is this normally what you might charge?”

Thorin’s face twists and he looks angry suddenly. “You think I am not worth the coin?” he asks and there is a dangerous edge to his tone that does not sit well with Bilbo.

“That is not what I said,” he says, holding up his hands. “I’m sure your work is excellent but- but- ten silvers, why, I’ve never…! I’ve never paid so much, not even for dwarvish work.”

“I am charging less than Menfolk would,” Thorin growls.

Bilbo doubts that but he isn’t sure he feels safe enough to argue the point. “Be that as it may, these are very simple things I’m asking for, Thorin. At least it seems so,” he says, wincing as Thorin’s eyes narrow and his knuckles turn white. “Good gracious. To be fair, I’ve hardly seen any of your work. I am sure you’re up to the task but… oh bother! Fine! Fine, ten silvers, but I expect quite the effort in return!” He puffs himself up a little, holding his finger in the air. “Can we agree to that?”

“You wish to begin outside?” Thorin asks, in lieu of answering, an unsettling harshness to his tone. “I do not wish to conduct our affairs in the public eye.”

Bilbo gapes again. “The- the public eye,” he repeats, lost. “There is hardly anything indecent about- about our- affairs? I will have you know that hiring help is not frowned upon here! Why on earth are you opposed to going outside?”

Thorin stares at him as if he is being particularly foolish. “I do not know how halflings go about their business but I will not be subjected to others’ eyes during a private exchange!” Thorin says, his voice rising.

“A private exchange!” Bilbo trills, holding out his hands helplessly. “Master Dwarf, I have only hired you to- to- to…”

Bilbo trails off and stares, very hard, at Thorin’s glare.

And then it occurs to him just what Thorin is thinking and he inhales sharply, his hands flying to clutch at his chest, and he takes a step back.

“You, you… you…! You think I hired you to…? Oh!” Bilbo cries, pointing at Thorin. “Did you- did you think I- I propositioned you?” he demands shrilly, his cheeks flaring with heat at the very idea. But it suddenly makes sense and he is horrified.

Thorin frowns at him, confusion evident. “You did,” he says, still sounding quite livid and looks as if he is disgusted at the idea of it.

Bilbo feels the floor drop out from underneath him and his heart begins to pump hot, mortified blood through his veins. He is also inexplicably offended. “I most certainly did not!” he shouts, taking another step back. “I would never! Oh, I cannot believe- no wonder you have- oh! I did not hire you as a- as a- a dwarf of the night! That is not the type of hobbit I am! I merely hired you to do handy work around my smial! Why, I never…!”

Thorin has gone deathly pale and his eyes widen a fraction. He is very still and says nothing, staring at Bilbo in a way he has not before and it occurs to him why he has had such trouble looking him in the eye.

Bilbo feels a blush take him from his neck to the points of his ears and continues to stare back at Thorin, his mouth open.

“You,” Thorin starts, then stops. His voice has gone terribly hoarse. “You… did not mean to take me to bed.”

He says it as a statement, not a question, but Bilbo still vigorously shakes his head.

“No!” he says, still piercing. “Of course not! I’ve heard that dwarves are good with their hands- oh bother it all!” He groans. “I meant in a- in a fix-it sort of way! With tools and the like! Fixing pipes or- or sanding and polishing wood! Not in a carnal way! Oh good gracious me, Yavanna’s leaves, I cannot believe-” he abruptly cuts himself off and feels his heart skip a beat.

He refocuses on Thorin and the fight leaves him. “Oh… oh, Thorin,” he whispers, an immense weight falling across his shoulders.

Thorin’s face immediately twists into a snarl. “I do not need your pity,” he spits. “I misread your intentions. That is the end of it.” His tone is harsh but Bilbo can see he is unsettled with the way he shifts on his feet.

Bilbo feels this is very dangerous territory. If he says the wrong thing he is uncertain what Thorin will do but suspects it will not be kind. But now he knows what Thorin has resorted to in order to earn coin and it is clear what he actually thinks of it. Bilbo feels ill and swallows past a dry throat, lifting his hand to run through his hair in distress.

“Thorin,” he says, his voice froggy, and he clears his throat. “I would… I would still like to hire you to help me around my smial-”

“I do not need your pity,” Thorin repeats, stepping closer and looming over the entire sitting room. “Keep it. I will take my leave. I apologize for wasting your time and sitting at your table under false terms.”

Bilbo closes his eyes for a moment, trying to get his bearings. “Thorin,” he says again, looking at him. “You are a blacksmith. Can you or can you not fix things outside of a forge?”

Thorin eyes him warily and says nothing for a time. Finally he gives a jerky nod.

“Then why can you not do that? We’ve had a misunderstanding, yes, but I still need help around the place and you’re already here. Perhaps I won’t pay you ten silvers but I’ll pay a fair and decent price still. Name it. Stay, do your work, I’ll feed you and then- and then you can be on your way. No harm done.”

“You make the offer out of pity and I will have none of it!” Thorin practically roars.

“Oh blast it all, you stubborn dwarf!” Bilbo says, stamping his foot. “Perhaps you need a little pity! If this saves you from doing what I think you’ve been doing just to feed yourself, then accept it! Your pride is not more important than saving yourself from work you obviously do not take pleasure in!”

“What I do is my business and mine alone!”

“You’re right, it is,” Bilbo says, unable to help the frustration he feels. “But you’ve also made me privy to it, whether you’d like that or not. If you can’t do the work or won’t because you’re a stubborn clothead, then fine. It was a pleasure meeting you and good day! I shall simply pay someone else for honest work!”

Thorin glares some more, then abruptly turns on his heel and storms down the hallway. It sounds as if he stomps down to the bedroom he stayed in and then there is a bang of the door a moment later. Thorin appears again, with his pack on his back, but this time he storms past the sitting room, and Bilbo follows him into the hall. He watches as Thorin turns into the parlor, confused, and then furrows his brow as he appears again in the hall.

“Is there no end to this accursed hole?” Thorin says aloud, walking down the hall and in the right direction.

Bilbo huffs as he follows him. “You could stay and get to know it by being my handy-dwarf,” he says tetchily, feeling rather bothered now. “Then you will have a full pocket and belly for the road to Bree.”

Thorin says nothing and reaches the door, opening it with far more aggression than is warranted and stepping out into the cool autumn day. Bilbo follows him, stopping in the doorway, and watches him go.

He wishes to go after him and make him see sense but Thorin is angry and embarrassed and he knows he can’t push him further than he already has. He simply watches him until he disappears down the hill, then closes his door and leans back against it, letting out a long, slow sigh. It’s not his duty to save everyone in Middle Earth and even though his heart goes out to Thorin and his plights, he can do nothing for someone that does not wish for help.

Bilbo, feeling dejected and altogether lonely now, walks back into his sitting room, standing in the middle of it and looping his thumbs in his pockets. He rocks up on his toes, looking at his book, knowing he won’t be able to read. Now he is unsettled in his own skin and curses himself for going to the Green Dragon.

But thinking of it reminds him that he needs to purchase a few barrels of ale as well as the rest of his groceries for the week. The markets will be open now but Bilbo is suddenly quite tired and the idea of pushing a cart loaded with goods up a hill makes him feel even more so and he slumps into his armchair with a groan.

There are three heavy knocks on his door.

Bilbo blinks, looking toward his hall. He can’t remember the last time anyone really knocked on his door, not before ringing the bell, and feels his heart begin to pound. It makes his fingertips throb and he shakes his hands as he stands, cautiously heading back to his door, eyeing it as he approaches.

He opens it and looks at Thorin, frowning, and chooses not to say anything.

Thorin still looks upset, with the same stubborn line to his brow but he meets Bilbo’s eye and says, “I need a sword.”

“Sorry?” Bilbo says, raising his eyebrows. “I’m afraid you won’t find one here.”

Thorin sighs. “I lost my sword two nights ago to bandits,” he says and the hard press of his lips says he does not wish to discuss it further. “I need coin to buy a sword. What do you need?”

Bilbo tries not to slump in relief and certainly has to stop himself from smiling but he takes a step back and motions Thorin inside. “Put your pack inside and I’ll show you."

Thorin stays where he’s at, his grip on his pack tight, and frowns. “Two to five silvers per task,” he says and his tone is firm, just as it had been when they were negotiating something entirely different.

Bilbo cannot stop his smile this time but he does try to stop it from turning into a grin, lest Thorin think he is being made fun of. “Forty silvers for the day. And we’ll still have second breakfast,” he tries, encouraging Thorin inside again.

This time he steps forward and into the smial, lugging his pack off and dropping it on the ground. “I cannot eat a second breakfast,” he mutters, sounding pained at the thought. “But I will take a second meal later in the day.”

“That sounds fair,” Bilbo agrees, and hums a little. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

They do. Bilbo shows Thorin outside and to his leaky pipes, which extend into the inside plumbing, he explains. He is worried Thorin will not know how to fix them but then he speaks in some jargon Bilbo doesn’t understand and comes to trust that he does. They enter Bag End again and Bilbo shows Thorin different things he needs taking care of, whether it is as small as helping him move a piece of furniture, to fixing latches on doorframes or bent metalwork by the hearth or taking a look at his oven, which does not always heat evenly. Thorin is mostly quiet but he does assure Bilbo he can do all of the work well and they decide that forty silvers is indeed fair.

They must go to the Gamgee home for some tools that Bilbo doesn’t have and doesn’t really recognize either. Bungo wasn’t the most handiest of hobbits himself, preferring to hire others to build the smial and maintain it, and the only tools he left behind were gardening ones. Hamfast seems terribly shocked to see a dwarf but he is polite and offers tea, to which Thorin gruffly and shortly declines, and soon they are heading back up the hill with a potato sack filled with different tools.

Bilbo frets for a while when Thorin gets started on the leaky pipes and he can tell that he’s annoyed with him, so eventually he drags himself inside and contents himself with waiting. Thorin will come in soon and he can keep an eye on him then; not because he thinks Thorin will be up to no good but because he cannot help but worry over him now. Selling himself and being attacked by bandits - life on the road has been unkind and even though he does not know Thorin, he knows that he deserves better.

He gets tired of pacing and goes into the kitchen, gathering what he needs to bake shortbread cookies and a blackberry pie. The last of the blackberry harvest was just a short few days ago and Bilbo has a bucketful that need to be eaten before they sour; they are plump and sweet, and he thinks about fattening Thorin up with the pie if he can. He suspects Thorin will eat anything he sets in front of him, depending on when he is actually hungry.

Thorin eventually comes inside and says nothing, getting to work in the sitting room, and the smial is filled with banging and thumping, sounds of life, and Bilbo is as happy with it as he is music. He has company often enough but somehow Thorin is different and he doesn’t think it’s because he knows his home will be in better shape.

The shortbread cookies are first and the quickest; they are cooling before Thorin has moved on to the smoking room, tending to the hearth in there. Bilbo has pie dough in the cold box that he made just yesterday, when he had made mince pies and gifted them to his neighbors. He fetches it and rolls the dough out until he can fit it in his pie tin, which he shortly fills with blackberries mashed with sugar and flour, then tops the filling with more blackberries. He finishes the pie with a lattice top and sticks it in the oven.

Once that is finished, he makes tea and takes a cup to Thorin, who has moved on to the washroom, the place that will likely need the most work, according to him. Thorin declines the tea but manages to mumble a thanks, to which Bilbo smiles and leaves him be. He fetches his book and sits at his kitchen table to read while he waits for the pie, listening to hammering and knocking down the way.

The pie is removed a while later and it has smelled up the smial with the scent of buttery crust and sugared berries and Bilbo sets it on his windowsill to cool. He is shoving a shortbread cookie into his mouth when Thorin appears at the doorway, looking decidedly ruffled and sweaty.

Bilbo chokes on the crumbs of his cookie when the realization of why Thorin wished to bathe earlier hits him and coughs, pounding at his chest as Thorin gazes at him, his brow knitted. He does not offer help, Bilbo notes sourly, and ignores him as he drinks his tea to soothe his throat.

Ignoring the sweat gathering under his own collar, he takes in a calming breath. “Yes?” he asks, as if he hasn’t just imagined going to bed with Thorin, which certainly has no place in his mind.

“The washroom pipes need more work. It will take me some time,” Thorin says, still giving Bilbo a peculiar eye. “I will need more materials. I saw that there is a market today and I must go there to see if I can purchase what I need.”

Bilbo nods. “Of course,” he says, gathering himself more. “Actually, erm, now that you bring it up…” He clears his throat, gamely ignoring the guarded expression Thorin now has. “I need to purchase ale at the market today and while I have you here, I thought that perhaps you can help me carry the barrels. Or… or all of my groceries in fact. Then I can be there to purchase the other materials as needed.”

Thorin stares, then nods. “Very well,” he says, and his tone implies you will be charged for it which makes Bilbo hide a smile.

He grabs a cookie and as he walks by, pushes it into Thorin’s hand, then ventures to his room to get his coin purse. He walks back out and when he goes to fetch Thorin, has to refrain from wiping the crumbs from his beard and forces himself to lead them out of the smial. They walk in silence but it is tentatively more comfortable than any other silence as of yet and soon they are at the market, where they are taken by the sights.

Bilbo gets a cart and begins to do his weekly perusing as Thorin wanders off to where Bilbo directs him with a pocketful of coin. He makes a bit of a spectacle wherever he goes though he does not seem to notice and Bilbo wonders if that is on purpose. Many hobbits stare after him and some are openly pointing, which grates on Bilbo’s nerves but any that ask him are contented with his explanation of a handy-dwarf. Some express interest in hiring him themselves, if his work is good enough, and Bilbo begins to plot.

He’s mildly annoyed when he finishes his shopping and sees that Thorin is being followed by no less than four lasses, all just out of their tweens. Thorin looks the same as he has since Bilbo met him, which is to say angry, and he wonders if he’s noticed he has admirers. Bilbo is bothered by it, as Thorin is still his guest, and maneuvers through his fellow hobbits until he catches up with him, sending a quelling glare to the girls.

They only snicker and continue to stand by, openly staring at Thorin.

“Put your purchases in here,” he says when Thorin has caught sight of him, motioning at the cart. “What else do you need?”

Thorin deposits his armful into the cart and shakes his head. “I am finished,” he says, glancing toward the girls, his expression souring further. “I am ready to continue my work.”

“Shall we have luncheon first?” Bilbo asks, for some inexplicable reason gladdened that Thorin is not happy with his admirers. “You’ve surely worked up an appetite by now.”

“Melekun,” Thorin grumbles, a word Bilbo does not recognize. “I am well for now.”

Bilbo sighs as if he is greatly disappointed and pats Thorin’s arm. “Oh alright. But you’ll eat a late luncheon,” he vows, then looks at his cart. It is fully loaded and the three barrels of ale, while small, are still quite heavy. He steps aside and gestures at it, smiling when Thorin takes his place and begins to push the cart as if it is burdened with feathers.

They leave the market and walk up the hill together, losing the gawkers, and Bilbo feels as if they both sigh with relief at that.

Thorin helps him with unloading his ale and his groceries and seems to be gradually loosening up. He takes another cookie and sets back off to the washroom to continue working.

After an hour, Bilbo takes Thorin a cup of tea, and refuses to leave until he drinks it. His plumbing looks to be in disarray but Thorin mumbles that it will look the way it did before, without the leaking, and Bilbo goes about his day.

He follows in Thorin’s wake and tidies up where he has been working on the smial, leaving dust or blemishes on the floors and walls. Bilbo doesn’t mind but it gives him something to do that feels like busywork versus lounging about reading; he feels he must be active while Thorin is in his smial and drily notes how good he has been for him so far.

When his stomach begins to truly gurgle, protesting his light second breakfast and late luncheon, he goes into his pantry and begins to gather what he needs for sandwiches. He suspects it’ll be easier to get Thorin to eat them rather than an imposing feast and goes about constructing a few cold turkey and bacon sandwiches with tomato, lettuce and some of his honey-cranberry jam.

Once they are made and sitting in his cold box, he makes his way to the washroom and steps inside, looking at Thorin. He is bent over his pipework still but everything is back together and he merely seems to be inspecting it now.

“Alright?” Bilbo asks.

Thorin startles and when he tries to rise, conks his head on the copper piping. He grunts and hisses, reaching up to lay his hand over his head, and turns a mild glare on Bilbo.

“Good gracious! I’m so sorry,” Bilbo says, hurrying over to him and attempting to get a look under his hand. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Should’ve cleared my throat or something, dreadfully sorry. Are you alright?”

Thorin bats his hands away and lets out what might be a huff. “Dwarven heads are made of stone,” he says but he looks decidedly grumpy and still rubs at the top of his head. “I am fine. I am done here. These pipes will work better and not leak again.”

Bilbo is still trying to inspect his head but Thorin stands and steps away from him. “Good. Ah, very good,” he says, wringing his hands together, looking around his washroom. “I’m sure that they won’t. I was afraid they might explode at any given time so I’m very grateful. Thank you, Thorin. I’ve made luncheon for us, if you’d like to join me now.”

“I think that you would not take no for an answer,” Thorin mutters, then begins to gather his tools. “I will join you. Give me a few moments to clean up.”

“Take as long as you’d like,” Bilbo says, smiling a little to himself. “And I certainly will not take no for an answer. I’ve slaved over these sandwiches, so come and enjoy them.” He takes his leave and goes back to the kitchen.

After fetching the sandwiches and setting his table with them and cheddar biscuits as well as a steaming pot of freshly brewed tea, he sits down and waits for Thorin. He is aware that this will be their first meal thinking along the same lines and hopes it will be less awkward than the first; he thinks of a few things he had said to Thorin over breakfast and has to bury his face in his hands, trying to will away the heat in his cheeks.

He hears Thorin before he sees him and is able to compose himself before he walks around the corner and into the kitchen. To Thorin’s credit, he only hesitates for a brief moment before he takes his seat across from Bilbo, looking down at the spread, a pronounced hunger now evident in his eye.

Bilbo is relieved and merely motions for him to get started, picking up half of his sandwich and taking a large bite. He eats and watches as Thorin does the same; he puts away the food without any issues and tucks in at least four biscuits, to Bilbo’s pleasure.

“I think that the oven should be cool enough to take a look at when you’re done,” he says. Thorin’s eyes meet his and he nods, glancing toward the oven. “I’ve made a pie, would you like a slice? It’s blackberry.”

He stands without waiting for an answer and fetches the pie from the windowsill, bringing it to the table. He gets plates and forks, then cuts two generous portions of pie, serving Thorin and himself. Thorin eyes the plate until Bilbo sits and then he lifts his fork and promptly begins to eat it with the same vigor he always does, and Bilbo begins to wonder if this is how dwarves eat or simply the starved ones.

It is endearing, if not terribly sad, and he smiles to himself as he eats his pie at a more sedate pace.

When Thorin is on his last forkful, Bilbo clears his throat.

“Thorin,” he begins, hoping more than anything that this conversation will not sour, “why are you going to Bree for work?”

“For coin,” Thorin answers, pushing the last piece of pie into his mouth.

“Well, yes,” Bilbo agrees patiently. “But, ah… why are you not working as a blacksmith at your home?”

Thorin’s chewing slows down and he peers at Bilbo until he has swallowed. “There is not enough work to be done in Ered Luin,” he says. “With winter on its way, I will need more coin to get through it.”

Bilbo nods, cradling his tea cup close. “What’s a winter like in the mountains?”

“Harsh.”

Bilbo remains quiet for a time, then hums. “Do you have a family there?” he asks, cautious.

Thorin hesitates, then purses his lips, his eyes narrowed. He nods.

“Children?”

A beat, then another nod.

Bilbo feels resigned. Thorin has a family, has children, and he has been selling himself on the road to earn coin for them. He feels hot, boiling anger roil in his gut and has to take a few calming breaths before he can continue. “Will you go back to them before the storms come down?”

“Aye,” Thorin answers, and he is staring at Bilbo as if he is assessing him as much as he is being assessed.

“If… if you had more work here, perhaps even as a blacksmith, would you stay in the Shire until then?” Bilbo asks carefully, lifting his tea and cursing the tremble in his hand that likely gives him away.

Thorin’s brow furrows. “There is no work as a blacksmith here. I have already tried-”

“No no,” Bilbo interrupts, waving his hand. “I know. I know that but, ah… we’re hobbits, you see. Outsiders are frowned upon most of the time, so not many hobbits would say they needed a blacksmith even if they did. But… but I was thinking that even I could do with a new set of gardening tools and good Angus is getting rather old, so he doesn’t take as many commissions these days. And when we were at the market earlier, a few of my neighbors asked about you.” Thorin’s eyes darken here and Bilbo hastily continues, “About the work you’re doing on my smial. A few expressed interest in hiring you to work on theirs, if I thought you did a well enough job. And, and you’ve certainly done that, and I suspect you could do most anything anyone asked for…”

“You would have me stay here and work out of pity,” Thorin says, and his voice is hard, his jaw working.

Bilbo feels a flare of irritation but tamps it down as well as he can. “I would have you stay here and work to earn coin for you and your family,” he corrects. “We don’t have dwarven strength at our disposal at any good time. I know plenty of hobbits that would hire you as soon as I say your work is good. The Shire is a better place than Bree, in my opinion, and you will certainly be safe from bandits.”

Thorin stares at him for a while and Bilbo traces his finger along the rim of his tea cup, staring between the cooling liquid and Thorin’s startlingly blue eyes. He doesn’t really know where to look and wishes he could stare back at Thorin but he has a piercing gaze and Bilbo is feeling self-conscious.

“You cannot guarantee I would see enough work to gather coin for the winter,” Thorin says. “I know that I can get coin in Bree.”

Bilbo purses his lips. “I think that you’d receive a fair amount of work here. And I know that we’re much more fair with our coin than Men in Bree,” he argues. And you don’t have to sell yourself, he thinks, but doesn’t dare say it. “There are more than enough smials in Hobbiton alone that likely need small jobs here and there. You could stay at the Green Dragon or, or even here.” Thorin lowers his head to look at him from under his brow and he quickly says, “Or not. I do like the company and I’ve always enjoyed feeding others, which is why I offer. But the Green Dragon is a fine place.”

Thorin stares some more, then lowers his eyes to the table and grips the edges of it, not too hard. He doesn’t say anything and Bilbo knows he cannot speak here, that he must wait for him.

Then Thorin meets his eye again and inclines his head. “If you can tell your kin that I do fair work and can see to it that I have enough of it, I will stay for a time. If work does not come easily, I must move on."

“That’s fair,” Bilbo says. “Thank you.” He hums a little and bites his lip, wondering how far he can push until Thorin either gets angry or shuts down. “How many children do you have?”

Thorin does not answer immediately and Bilbo thinks that they have already reached that point. But then he shifts in his seat. “Two,” he says and there is something infinitely more soft about his tone.

“Your wife must miss you fiercely,” Bilbo says, his stomach still churning. She cannot know what he has done.

Thorin lets out a sigh and shakes his head once. “I am not married. They are not my children,” he says. “They are my sister's children and it is her waiting for my return. I help to raise them the best that I can.”

Bilbo is surprised but tries not to show it. “Oh,” he says, nodding. “Of course. I imagine they’re all eager to see you. Hopefully this winter will not be so harsh but they’ll be glad when you’re home.”

Thorin says nothing to this and they sit in silence again. Then Thorin pushes himself back from the table and stands, turning to the oven. He kneels and Bilbo knows that he is going to go to work on it. He watches him for a moment, then stands and begins to clear their plates up, and washes them in the washbasin.

It doesn’t take long for Thorin to inspect the oven; he merely works the metal a bit with the strength of his own hands and that is apparently that. Bilbo hopes that’s all there is to it and thanks him.

“Is there anything else that you need?” Thorin asks and for once does not sound like he is reluctantly opening his mouth.

“I need firewood,” Bilbo says, glad he has thought of it. “I’m running low. I have stores still but it needs chopping. Do you think you’d be able…?”

Thorin is already nodding. “Aye,” he says. “Show me to your axe.”

Bilbo motions for him to follow and they leave the smial, heading around to the back of the garden, where Bilbo has his firewood stores. He grabs the axe from where it is leaning between the wood and the smial, handing it to Thorin.

He takes it, inspecting it, and does not look overly pleased.

“It does the job fine for me,” Bilbo says, mildly amused. He supposes Thorin is a blacksmith and prefers his own work.

“It is dull,” Thorin says, fingering the blade, and he sounds resigned. “I will sharpen it first. You could do with a better axe; you would see the difference.”

“Perhaps if you take up residence in the forge, you can make me a better one,” Bilbo says, smiling a bit. It widens when Thorin inclines his head and he motions at the firewood pile. “Well, have at it then. You can do the whole pile, if you’d like, and I’ll order more wood next week for the winter. When you’re done here, we can have afternoon tea.”

Thorin’s mouth twists a little and he looks vaguely as if he is in pain, which sends Bilbo into happy laughter.

“A joke, Thorin. I won’t force food on you for at least another few hours,” he says, smiling.

Thorin does not smile but his cheeks turn pink and Bilbo grins at him.

“Let me know if you need anything."

“My whetstone is in my pack,” Thorin mumbles, and they walk back into the smial together.

Bilbo goes into the sitting room and sits in his armchair, taking up his book and opening it, listening to Thorin’s footsteps as he walks down to his bedroom. He smiles to himself as he settles in to read a few chapters, hoping that reading will get him into the mood to write, as it so often does. Then he can spend a while not hovering over Thorin and will feel accomplished by the end of the day. He feels as if his only remaining battle will be to ask Thorin to stay at least one more night with him before he leaves for the inn.

He would like it if Thorin stayed with him for much longer but he chooses not to delve too much into why he wants that. It seems like a dangerous road to travel down. He still does not know Thorin, not really.

He is invested in his book and is only brought out of its winding tale when the log in the fireplace splits in half and embers burst into his field of vision. He looks at the hearth, blinking as he realizes the amount of time that has had to have passed, and glances toward the hall to get a good judge on the light. It has likely been almost two hours and he realizes that he no longer hears the beat of an axe.

Wondering where Thorin has gone, because surely he had not reentered the smial, Bilbo stands and goes into the kitchen. He peers out of the window into the garden and frowns at the perfectly chopped pile of wood but no Thorin.

Bilbo leaves his kitchen and then slips into the warm afternoon, walking through his garden and humming in confusion. Thorin is gone but so is the axe and neither are anywhere to be seen when he looks up and down the lane. He walks back to his gate and pauses as he hears the thunk of an axe through wood down the hill. He leaves his garden and walks further down the road, peering at the smials down Bagshot Row.

Thorin is in Missus Boffin’s garden and tending to her own wood pile. The elderly hobbit herself is on her smoking bench with a pipe, watching Thorin and with the way her hand occasionally flutters through the air, speaking with him too.

Bilbo watches for a while, smiling to himself. By morning at the latest rumor will have spread of a dwarf willing to chop wood and work on smials as grand as Bag End and Thorin will receive requests. Bilbo knows this as well as he knows any hobbit goings-on and nods, satisfied. He stays where he’s at until Missus Boffin sees him and waves grandly, which brings a hot flush to Bilbo’s cheeks.

He waves hastily back, then turns and flees back into his home, hoping that Thorin will at least join him in time for dinner.

When tea time comes, Bilbo sits at his table and drinks a fresh pot of tea while munching on salted meats, cheeses and crackers. He’s a little miffed that he can’t offer Thorin anything but he knows that he needs coin above all else and to see that the Shire is willing to offer it, so he abolishes his irritation.

And if he stares out of the window in his study, hoping to see a dwarf of significant stature ambling up the lane, well, only two of his neighbors see him. He pretends to flip through his journals and notes for a while, not really seeing them, his mind stuck on other things. Namely, one thing, but he is beginning to suspect that his newfound occupation might be bordering on unhealthy and tries to get absorbed in writing.

It doesn’t work but he still tries.

It is not until the sun truly begins to set that he sees Thorin crest the hill and knocks half of his papers off his desk in his scramble to stand. He ignores the mess and hurries to his front door, opening it and holding onto the wood as he watches Thorin come to his gate. He takes notice of him and pauses at the fence, as if he doesn’t know if he can enter or not.

For whatever reason this saddens Bilbo and he waves. “Come in, come in! I was beginning to worry you’d miss dinner and then I would have to give you two suppers,” he says, smiling as Thorin enters his garden and ascends the steps. He ushers him inside, then takes notice of a package he has in his hands. “What do you have there?”

Thorin holds the package a little closer, as if he thinks Bilbo might try to snag it from him. “Missus Boffin insisted I take blackberry tarts in addition to the payment she gave me for chopping wood for her,” he says, looking around the smial and not quite meeting Bilbo’s eye.

“Goodness, you’ll be sick of blackberries by the end of today,” Bilbo says, reaching up to pull off a few splinters of wood sticking to Thorin’s shoulder. He feels him stiffen and belatedly realizes what he’s done, and freezes, carefully pulling his hands back. “Sorry, you- you had a bit of… oh never mind, sorry. Come to the kitchen and wash up. Perhaps you can help me with dinner. I was going to ask you to repaint my door, if it was something you wouldn’t mind doing, but now we’ve lost the light. Can I convince you to do it in the morning?”

Thorin follows him obediently through Bag End, still clutching his package. “Aye, I can do that,” he answers, stepping into the kitchen behind Bilbo. He seems reluctant to give up his tarts but sets them down and goes to the washbasin to clean up from his day. “I have been asked to three more homes tomorrow but I will paint your door before I go.”

“Three more!” Bilbo repeats, refraining from clapping his hands in delight. “That’s wonderful, Thorin. What sort of work are they asking you to do?”

“Missus Boffin requests that I look at her plumbing in preparation for winter and her neighbor… I am not certain what his name was but he requested the same. I have been asked to help move heavy items and to fix latches on fences as well as chop more wood,” Thorin answers, and there is something to his tone. Something that almost sounds like, dare Bilbo think it, contentment. As if he is pleased by the outcome of his day.

“I’m glad to hear it. They’ll likely think of more things for you to do by sun up, too. You’ll have another full day ahead of you,” he says, smiling as he watches Thorin dry his hands. “What are your thoughts on dinner? I can make a beef stew or perhaps a roast with potatoes and vegetables. I also have a chicken, which we can have in a soup or a pie.”

Thorin is staring at him, looking a little lost. “I will eat whatever you make,” he says hesitantly, then frowns when Bilbo purses his lips. “I am not…” he trails off, then sighs. “The roast?”

He poses it as a question and Bilbo chuckles a bit. “We can certainly make a roast,” he says. “I’d like help in the kitchen, if you wouldn’t mind. Are you a cook?”

Thorin shakes his head. “I fare well enough for myself and my family on occasion but I am nothing compared to the cooks in the kitchens,” he says, his heavy brow drawn down. “I do not wish to get in your way, Master Baggins.”

“You won’t,” Bilbo assures. “I’ll put you on vegetable cleaning and chopping duty. Give me a moment and then we’ll get started.” He does clap his hands this time and hurries to his pantry, where he pulls out what he needs for supper from the shelves and the cold box. He rejoins Thorin in the kitchen and they begin to go to work.

Thorin proves himself to be competent enough in the kitchen and readily follows all of Bilbo’s instructions. He chops vegetables as well as Bilbo does and watches from the corner of his eye as Bilbo browns the meat above the fire. They combine the roast and vegetables in a pot together with some broth, then put it in the oven to cook. They then share a pot of tea and some light conversation before they begin on the potatoes. Thorin again proves himself to be quite the hero with the way he effortlessly mashes the potatoes but still gets a good scolding for sneaking a fingerful of them once they have been creamed and buttered.

He looks properly abashed but Bilbo suspects he does it again when he turns his back on him.

Dinner is ready in short order and Bilbo serves them both steaming, heaping platefuls of roast, potatoes, and late summer vegetables. He notices that Thorin pushes his vegetables further from his meat and raises his eyebrows until Thorin notices and looks guilty, moving them back to a less precarious position on his plate. He needs all the food he can get, Bilbo knows, and certainly will not see vegetables go to waste, dwarven eating habits or no.

They tuck in and the only conversation to be had is when their forks scrape across their plates.

Bilbo wants to ask Thorin a thousand questions but he doesn’t know the best way to go about it. He is not the most open or friendly of fellows but they are getting on better than they have so far and there are no more misunderstandings between them that Bilbo is aware of. He begins to think that simplicity is the answer.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” he asks and immediately regrets it. Thorin pauses with a forkful of mashed potatoes hovering at his mouth and peers at Bilbo with slightly wide eyes. “I mean, erm. Stay- stay in my smial one more night, that is. So you don’t have to go to the inn and walk around the Bywater tomorrow. You’ll be able to start on work straightaway again. You are more than welcome, Thorin.”

Thorin polishes off his dinner and doesn’t answer for a few moments. When he has rudely wiped his mouth off with his hand, ignoring Bilbo’s pointed looks at his napkin, he inclines his head. “I do not yet have the coin to afford a room at the inn. Staying here would be preferable to camping but I cannot pay you for it.”

“You don’t have to,” Bilbo is quick to say. “I don’t want any coin. Being able to cook for someone other than myself is payment enough.” He smiles, pleased that Thorin will be under his roof again. “You are more than welcome to stay until you gather the coin for the inn. I know you aren’t keen on the idea but I’ll extend the offer beyond that as well. Then you will save more coin for the winter.”

Thorin stares at him. “Why?” he asks, and there is something harder to his tone again.

Out of pity, yes. Because he feels dreadfully sorry for Thorin, certainly. But he cannot say these things or he will risk sending Thorin out to camp somewhere in the Shire by himself. He knows that he’s prideful to a fault, that is easy to see, but he doesn’t know what he can say to appease Thorin; he doesn’t know what sides he has to appease.

“Well,” Bilbo begins, tapping his fingers against the table. “I’ve enjoyed your company today, our earlier misunderstandings aside. I think you’d continue to be good company the longer you’re my guest. I’m also a hobbit and if you are to get to know hobbits in any way, you will see that we like to be exceptional hosts. We enjoy guests quite a lot and I’m no exception. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to tend to any, you’ll be doing me a favor. And if at any time you find that you don’t want to be here, the Green Dragon will always be there, though I do hope you find Bag End pleasant enough.”

Thorin is watching him intently and stays quiet for a time, which never fails to make Bilbo nervous. Then he frowns and looks around the kitchen. “Your… hole is pleasing,” he says. “And it will keep me closer to my work. Is the forge located nearby?”

“It’s actually closer to the Bywater so I suppose if you start to work there staying at the Green Dragon will make it… simpler but you still won’t have all the comforts of home,” Bilbo says, not sure why he is arguing the point as strongly as he is. He only knows that he wishes for Thorin to stay. “And it will still cost you far less. My meals aren’t two silvers a plate.” He smiles a little.

Thorin does not return it but he inclines his head. “I will stay until I cannot."

Bilbo knows that that can mean a number of things and decides not to push it. “Good,” he answers, breathing easier. “Very good. I’ll be glad to have you. If Angus gives you rein of the forge, will you craft your own sword?”

“I will need good iron for it,” Thorin answers. “I will need to purchase metal from Bree if I am to see to the forge. If I can then aye, I will. I have made all my swords since I was a lad.”

“I’m sorry your last sword was taken from you,” Bilbo says hesitantly.

Thorin’s lips thin and he nods. “They robbed me of my bow as well but I am thankful they did not find my coin purse. The sword was crafted mere months ago and drew the eye,” he says, his hand resting on the table clenching into a fist. He pauses, looking as if he wants to say more, then lowers his eyes. “I chose to veer off road in an attempt to hunt my own game rather than purchase a meal at an inn. I was inviting trouble.”

Bilbo is surprised Thorin has offered this but tries not to show it. “You didn’t deserve it,” he says and feel a bit angry on Thorin’s behalf. “The world needs far less bandits. They steal and they pillage and they burn villages to the ground or so I’m told by the Rangers. You won’t find anything like that here. These borders are protected.”

“Aye. You live a serene, peaceful life,” Thorin says but there is something wrong with his words.

They sound snide and bitter. Bilbo frowns at him and Thorin glares at the table until he lifts his gaze and blinks a few times. He shakes his head, looking as if he might be sorry for it.

“There is nothing wrong with your life,” he says slowly.

“I should think not. Hobbits once knew hard times, back when we were wanderers a few Ages ago, but we are a peaceful people now with little to worry of. Most of us might take that for granted but I know I’m lucky where I am and I know others certainly are not lucky where they are,” Bilbo returns. “Even if they deserve better. I’m hoping that your time in the Shire will grant you a better life through the winter.”

Thorin doesn’t quite meet his eye again and fingers the edge of his plate like a scolded fauntling. “Aye,” he murmurs. “I am sure that it will, if the work is steady. Better than the last few winters.”

Bilbo softens and leans back in his seat. “Are your sister’s children very young?”

“Aye,” Thorin answers, and there is something gentle to his tone again. “They are 25 and 30.”

Bilbo blinks, raising his eyebrows. “That’s, ah… that’s considered quite young?” he ventures, bewildered.

Thorin looks at him and frowns. “Dwarflings yet. They will be in schooling until they are of age,” he says. At Bilbo’s continued bemusement, Thorin’s frown deepens. “When they are 70."

“70!” Bilbo repeats, resting his hand over his heart as it picks up pace. “Good gracious, you lot aren’t of age until you’re 70?”

Thorin’s eyebrows make their way toward his hairline. “Aye,” he affirms. “Halflings are not the same?”

“Hobbits,” Bilbo says, shaking his finger. “We’re half of nothing and I’ll thank you to remember that.”

“I meant no offense,” Thorin says quickly, looking rather worried suddenly. “Hobbits. Hobbits age differently.”

Bilbo chuckles. “That we do,” he says, smiling. He quite likes Thorin, he has decided. “We’re of age at 33, you see. So your nieces and nephews would be nearly adults if they were hobbits. Goodness, you lot must live until you’re 300!”

Thorin nods. “Aye, we can, though that is considered very old,” he says, and there is a slight curve to his mouth that was not there before. “Life in the Blue Mountains is rougher than dwarves of years past were used to. We are not as long-lived.”

Bilbo thinks that that explains a few things. “Does the mountain not produce any gold or gems like other dwarven realms do? I’m afraid I don’t know much about Ered Luin."

Thorin’s eyebrows raise, as if he is surprised, but then his expression clears. “We mine coal. If there are veins of gold, we have not found them,” he says, sighing. “This mountain has yielded little but it is enough to get our citizens by.” He pauses, then clears his throat. “Mostly.”

“Mostly,” Bilbo repeats, biting his lip, and forcing himself to keep meeting Thorin’s eye. He feels it would be an insult to look elsewhere. “Where did dwarves of years past live, that were used to something other than Ered Luin?”

“East,” Thorin answers vaguely and does not seem as if he is going to expand on it.

“Oh,” Bilbo says, because he feels he must say something but he doesn’t think now is the time to push Thorin. He wonders if they will get to a point that he won’t have to worry about such things with his houseguest but it seems more than dwarven heads are made of stone.

They sit in silence for a few moments, then Thorin shifts a little. “Nephews,” he says.

“Sorry?” Bilbo asks, frowning for a moment, then starting. “Oh! Nephews! You have nephews. Young nephews.” He smiles. “May I ask their names?”

Thorin hesitates, appearing unsure, and Bilbo waves his hands.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he says softly.

Thorin says nothing so Bilbo stands, grabbing his plate and beginning to reach for the others when Thorin abruptly stands. He reaches out and pries the plates from Bilbo’s grasp, ignoring his squawking, and gathers the rest of them from the table. He takes them to the washbasin and begins to go to work as if it something he does every day and Bilbo wonders if he does, when he’s home with his family.

He frets a little, because that is his mother’s dining set, but he supposes he can only trust that Thorin won’t chip the plates. He makes another pot of tea while Thorin is cleaning and dares a peek inside of the package from Missus Boffin, eyeing the blackberry tarts dusted with sugar. He won’t touch them, as Thorin had seemed possessive, and because he has plenty of pie and cookies to go around. He sips his tea instead and watches the broad expanse of Thorin’s back as he finishes up at the washbasin.

When Thorin has finished, he dries his hands and looks at Bilbo. “I would like to bathe again before this day is done."

Bilbo nods. “Of course. You’re more than welcome to use the tub whenever you’d like, Thorin. Just be sure to wipe it down when you’re done,” he says with a smile. He sips his tea, then sets it aside and claps his hands together. “I’m going to continue my book in the sitting room with a pipe, if you’d like to join me when you’re finished.”

Thorin inclines his head, then fetches his blackberry tarts. He holds the package like one might hold an infant and takes his leave of the kitchen, disappearing down the hall.

Bilbo listens to ensure he goes the right way, as he does seem to get turned around easily, then nods to himself, satisfied. He is amused Thorin didn’t bother offering to share his tarts, as any hobbit would but supposes that he doesn’t blame him, not after starving the way that he has. Now that he will be a guest, Bilbo will see to it that he leaves fattened up for winter and smiles to himself at the thought.

He ventures into the sitting room and gets his pipe, lighting it, and settles back with his book, listening to the sounds of another in his smial. It has been a long time since he had anyone under his roof, mostly Took relations a few years ago, and he feels something warm and cozy settle in his heart at the thought. He thinks that perhaps he has been lonely without knowing it but quickly brushes that thought aside, not wishing to sour his good mood by thinking of the whys too closely.

He reads and he smokes and after a good while hears Thorin leave the washroom. He seems to go into his room first because it is still a few minutes more before Bilbo hears his footsteps down the hall. When he looks up from his book, Thorin appears at the doorway and looks in. He still hesitates and Bilbo doesn’t say anything but he does eventually come into the sitting room and sits in the chair across from Bilbo’s.

Bilbo notices he has a pipe in his hand and smiles. “Do you need any pipe-weed?”

Thorin shakes his head and produces a match, striking it and lighting up his pipe, which he had likely prepared in his bedroom. He inhales deeply and blows the smoke out and manages to look the most relaxed that Bilbo has seen him thus far. He stares at the fire and seems content enough to do so but Bilbo feels as if he must offer more.

“Would you like a book to read? I have many,” he says. “Fantastical tales and romantic ventures.”

“I am well,” Thorin says and it is certainly the most polite he has been. “Thank you,” he adds after a pause.

“You’re quite welcome. Let me know if you change your mind,” Bilbo says and settles back, chewing on the stem of his pipe and continuing to read.

They don’t speak after that but it is peaceful and Thorin seems content enough simply thinking. Bilbo looks at him now and then from over his book and wonders how it can be that he looks so regal. Thin and tired, perhaps, but he has a certain bearing that is hard to miss, even in his patched leathers. Bilbo fancies that he could have been a lord in another life, one that granted him good fortune.

When it begins to get on in the evening, Bilbo sets his book aside, and announces he’s going to get a bath in himself. Thorin stays where he’s at and Bilbo leaves him to his thoughts, going to his washroom and preparing himself a bath.

He still finds himself hoping Thorin doesn’t snoop about and feels guilty but they have only known each other for a day. He suspects trust will come in time and truly does not think that Thorin will be up to no good in his time in the Shire, as he hardly seems the type, but he still hurries through his bath quicker than he might otherwise.

After he has dried and dressed in his robe, he heads back into the sitting room and blinks at Thorin.

Thorin, who has fallen asleep with his head leant on the back of the armchair, his mouth open a little. Bilbo is frozen and watches Thorin until he has to scold himself and quietly creeps back to his chair, sitting down and picking up his book. He cannot seem to tear his eyes away from his guest and feels badly for it but Thorin is simply too handsome and the fact that he is comfortable enough to fall asleep makes Bilbo’s stomach feel pleasantly warm and full.

He reads and listens to Thorin’s gentle snoring and it is only when he is beginning to have trouble keeping his own eyelids open that he decides it is best they both turn in. Thorin will get an achy neck sooner rather than later and he will have an early morning (as will Bilbo, he notes) besides. He marks his page, nearly the end, and stands, bouncing on his toes as he eyes his guest.

He steps closer and lifts his hand, gently resting it over Thorin’s shoulder and gives it a light shake.

Thorin’s hand moves quickly enough that Bilbo hardly sees it but he certainly feels it as it tightens enough around his wrist to make the bones creak in warning.

Bilbo hisses but stays where he’s at, because he is pinned by a blue gaze that look hard and alarmed but still unfocused from sleep.

Thorin blinks once, then seems to come back to himself, and quickly lets go of Bilbo’s arm. “Master Baggins,” he says and sounds startled on top of sorry. “Forgive me, I did not expect… I am sorry. Are you hurt?”

Bilbo takes a step back and cradles his arm to his chest, rubbing it. “No… no,” he says, his heart racing considerably fast. “I’m very sorry, Thorin, I should have simply called for you. It’s, ah, it’s rather late and I think we’re both quite tired, so- so perhaps we should head in, yes?” He blinks and takes another step back as Thorin stands from the chair.

Thorin looks upset and almost angry and he frowns at Bilbo. “Are you hurt?” he asks again, then extends his hand, carefully, like one might do to an injured animal. His fingertips graze Bilbo’s arm and he hesitantly lets Thorin take his wrist in hand, watching him all the while.

“I’m alright,” he says quietly and hopes that this time it sounds reassuring. But Thorin’s large fingers begin to massage his wrist, the touch far more gentle than he seems capable of, and Bilbo’s breath stutters.

He lets Thorin rub his wrist until he begins to feel more heated than he should and lightly clears his throat. Thorin lifts his eyes from where he has been watching his work and meets Bilbo’s gaze, something soft in his expression.

“I am sorry. I will get used to being in a safe place again,” he says, letting go of Bilbo.

Bilbo nods. “I hope so,” he says, then smiles a bit when Thorin lowers his eyes. “More for your sake than mine. It was my fault, Thorin, don’t worry. Now come along before you fall asleep again. I imagine you’ll have another early start in the morning.”

Thorin inclines his head and takes up his pipe, knocking the ashes into the dying fire. He tamps it down a little more without being asked to and Bilbo goes around taking care of his oil lanterns until the smial is fairly dark.

They walk together down the hall and pause in front of Thorin’s door.

“I think I’ll be up with the sun again but if I’m not, you’re more than welcome to knock on my door. Then I can prepare breakfast for us before you begin your day,” Bilbo says. “I have a feeling I won’t get to feed you all of the most important meals tomorrow so it’ll be a very large breakfast.”

Thorin smiles. An honest to Eru smile. And it is one of the most beautiful smiles Bilbo has ever seen and he is glad that it is dark because he is certain his cheeks turn rosy.

“I do not think melekun serve anything but large meals,” Thorin says and arches his brow a little, almost as if he is teasing but Bilbo doesn’t dare to believe it.

“I should think not! We have quite the appetites,” Bilbo says and smiles. “I assume melekun means hobbits or halflings?”

“Aye,” Thorin says. “Halflings, though you are half of nothing.”

Bilbo chuckles and tries to will his heart into staying put in his chest. “Good of you to remember,” he says with a grin. “Well, I shall see you in the morning, Thorin. I hope you sleep well.”

“And you, Master Baggins,” Thorin says, inclining his head, and turns to his door. He steps inside of the room and closes it behind himself and Bilbo listens to him move around inside for a moment.

He eventually goes down to his own bedroom and stokes the fire, feeling rather light on his feet. He climbs into bed, nestling into the covers, and has time to smile before he falls asleep.