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That Which Begets Affection (Is Silent)

Chapter Text

The day that Bilbo found his Dwarf was a miserable one.

By the time he'd heard the slight whimpered moan off to the left of his walking path, he'd managed to become wet and muddy near to the seat of his breeches, and his jacket was not doing as well as he had hoped at keeping the biting wind from nipping at his sensitive skin. It was a terrible time for Bilbo to have been travelling from Scary, but he'd not wanted to stay in the area any longer than he'd had to, his irritation at having to take the time to travel there in the first place transferring to a need to leave as soon as possible, even when the weather had turned sour and ominous, and he'd trudged on even when the skies had broken and the rain had turned the path to sludge.

He'd not got near as far through the Brockenbores as he'd planned before he'd heard the noise.

Really, if he'd been sensible, he'd have turned right back around and gone back to Scary, and sent for the Bounders to take the pitiful creature off to the Rangers to deal with.

But. But.

Oh, it was a wretched thing, and Bilbo at first thought he'd stumbled upon a Goblin or some such, as scarred and sickly as he looked. That, really, is when he should have scarpered back to Scary with a healthy dose of Hobbity fear, but as it was, he instead found himself divesting himself of his cloak to wrap around the miserable creature, and try to figure out why it was whining so terribly. By the state of what Bilbo was going to assume was a him, it was a combination of sheer neglect and harm, that equalled a soul that just could not continue another step, and Bilbo rummaged quickly in his own pack for a sweet roll to feed the poor fellow, if only to give him the energy to get him out of the muddy, half-filled ditch he was huddled in.

They weren't near enough to the town of Brockenborings to get there easily, not with the Dwarf in the condition he was in, and so Bilbo had huffed and hauled and grumbled and got the fellow on his feet -bare and blistered, no sign of the customary clompers the fellows called boots- and haul him along to one of the old burrowing tunnels he knew of along the path.

When he was a lad, he and his distant cousins from amongst the North Tooks would camp amongst the hilly region Bilbo was traversing now. The old borings were the source of good camping spots, excellent for young lads intent on exploring and adventuring, and the perfect subject for ghostly tales of who could have built such Hobbit-like burrows deep into the stone, long before Hobbits came to live in the region.

Now, Bilbo would have to find a burrow that would get them out of weather, where he could build a fire and give what aid he could to fixing the fellow’s wounds and try and feed him something. Long enough to last the storm that was surely moving in, until they could get away to Brockenborings and find someone more capable of looking after a person in such a terrible state.

That is what Bilbo did. Look after the fellow, that is. He never did end up finding anyone to take the Dwarf off Bilbo's hands.

The Dwarf had not spoken, not in all the time -a whole day and two nights!- that they had rested in the old borings he'd found for them, but he'd looked so pathetically grateful for Bilbo's care and attention, the warmth, the blankets from Bilbo's pack, the food that he'd rationed out for them, the broth he'd put together with foraged mushrooms and herbs and fed to the fellow as often as he could stomach it. So very grateful for Bilbo's non-stop rambling chatter that had begun almost as soon as he'd got them settled, chatting and tutting and telling every story that came to mind to fill the silence between him and this stranger.

Bilbo and His Dwarf In The Borings

When Bilbo had finally led the fellow to the town further down the valley, he'd somehow found himself hiring a cart, rather than calling for the Bounders.

A mere few hours later, and Bilbo had been helping the Dwarrow into Bag End, and sending a few local lads to return the cart and fetch him in supplies, and sending for the Hobcotton lass that served as a sort of healer for the locals.

In the space of a few days, Bilbo found that he was quite in the possession of a Dwarf.

***
The days pass fairly quickly for Bilbo, caring for this visitor that he never expected, and can't quite seem to rid himself of. Or even, really, find any reason to not care for the fellow.

His Dwarf does not speak, and Bilbo doesn't mind. The damage he has come to understand across the Dwarf's body is harsh, and inflicted by something cruel. Bilbo has ceased to think of the thing that has done this to his Dwarrow as a person- a person would not do such to another. No, this was done to his Dwarrow by a thing, and whatever it is, Bilbo hopes that the reason his Dwarf is free now, is because he killed the thing that had done such damage to him.

Bilbo does not push him to speak, but he does worry on what to call the fellow. The first few days, he flinches when Bilbo calls him 'Dwarf', a slight thing that most would miss, but Bilbo sees that slight tension it brings, and ceases to call him 'Mister Dwarf'. Instead he settles for 'sir' and 'dearest visitor', and on one memorably occasion, 'you stubborn, grey-haired git', which actually brings the ghost of a smile to his Dwarrow's face. Bilbo allows a few 'Mister Dwarf's' to slip in after that, and it only occasionally brings a flinch. Eventually, Bilbo settles on a name for him, scolding him heartily, that if the fellow does not wish to tell his name to Bilbo, then Bilbo shall name him what he pleases!

He calls him Furlo, a fine Hobbitish name indeed, and smiles brightly when his Dwarrow grumbles and pouts, the closest to talking Bilbo has ever heard from the fellow. If he wants a Dwarrow name, Bilbo tells him, he ought to speak up and tell him one he would prefer.

Furlo doesn't, but it still feels like a victory.

After near three weeks (nineteen days, actually- Bilbo's counting) Bilbo has his new friend out in the garden with him, gnarled fingers dug happily into the earth, and there is something there, in Furlo's face, that is both content and also surprised, and Bilbo hands him tools and lets him loose on old beds that need digging up anyway, and leaves him to find peace in the dirt and the old brambles.

Furlo's body is healing well, as well as one can after what seems to be years’ and years’ worth of torment and badly healed tortures, righted through simple care and good feeding, and taking ease with his own body, and Dwarves truly are the hardiest of beings, if Furlo is anything to go with. Bilbo doesn't know quite what to do with that. Really, there's no good reason for Furlo to stay with him if he's healed, but so far, he's given no indication that he wants to leave, and Bilbo doesn't ask.

He's quite grown fond of the fellow.

As it is, Bilbo knows that Furlo's mind is the part that is far from healed, and Bilbo would never ask him to go if staying with Bilbo helps him to find peace.

More than that, though, Bilbo finds himself growing more than a little attached to his Dwarf, and he wonders at himself, that perhaps he was so lonely here in his big family-sized Hobbit hole, that just the company of a half-broken Dwarrow who does not speak is enough to make him so pathetically grateful for someone to share a home with.

And he is- grateful, that is. Bilbo can see the gratitude in Furlo's face almost every day, that he is fed, warm, clean, and not hurt, treated as a sentient being with rights to his person, and Bilbo does not know how to express to this fellow that Bilbo, too, is so very grateful.

Maybe that was why Bilbo was the one to find him. Maybe they needed each other.

Bilbo, however, is not one to be over thinking things, really. As much as he loves his books, his romantic tales of great deeds and valour, Bilbo is still a Hobbit to the core, and when he starts thinking along the lines of fate and destiny, he smartly raps himself over the head and applies himself to more practical endeavours. Like baking a few more of those apple pies that bring Furlo so much pleasure.

(The approving sounds Furlo makes with each new sweet presented him warm Bilbo's heart to the core, especially given how they become stronger and more free with every supper he serves him. Bilbo knows Furlo has a voice, knows that his lack of speech now is from some terrible thing from before. Knows that his lack of speech is either from being taught in the most cruel of ways not to speak, or from a part of Furlo himself that has refused to speak in the face of cruelty for so long that part of himself still compels him to hold that silence- Bilbo favours the second theory. Furlo is too quick to heal, too stubborn, too determined, for it to be anything but.)

With every day, Bilbo watches Furlo straighten a little more, another wound scarring, but fading. Less pain, more freedom of movement. The hesitancy of a new place while injured and hurt was there for a while, but Bilbo sees the stubborn set of those shoulders, and wants to clap and cheer. Furlo's steps grow strong and sure, and Bilbo pulls out every book with even the most basic pictures of Dwarrow, and designs new boots for Furlo, setting the designs in front of the Dwarrow with charcoal for him to pick and amend as he chooses, before he takes the designs to the sempster- Hobbits being quite a little thin on the ground in terms of cobblers.

Furlo also supplies him with some designs for tunics and breeches, and Bilbo finds amongst a pile of scribbles finely detailed drawings of quilted gambesons and leather brigandines with finely designed metal plates sewn to them, vambraces and hoods. Bilbo promptly and discreetly appropriates the designs to visit every worker of fabric, leather, fur, and metal in the village, cajoling embroiderers and tanners into every unhobbitly colour and angled stitch he can, yarn workers into weaving blocky designs into knitted gloves and scarves, even sending a letter to a cousin in Tuckborough for help and a few purchases from foreign traders, until he can finally present Furlo with a pile of clothes and armour, a full wardrobe of choices, down to braies, that are distinctly dwarvish.

The look upon Furlo's face when he sees himself in the mirror, dressed once more as a Dwarrow, all but breaks Bilbo's heart, if not for the fact that he is laughing and clapping for the joy of it, and Furlo takes him for an impromptu jig about the halls of Bag End, and Bilbo laughs and laughs, and wishes that everything from this day forth be able to bring forth the jubilant person with the hearty laugh that Bilbo sees now.

Furlo's New Groove

(Later, Bilbo shows him designs he had in mind for a sword, or an axe, and Furlo touches them with a reverence that he did not expect from such a thing. Furlo's designs are a far cry from Bilbo's poor attempts, and Bilbo very carefully copies every last line and angle to several different letters, and sends them off, with the designs for plates for the brigandines and vambrances, and for the boots.

No Hobbit smith will do, for this. For this, he will pay a Dwarven smith handsomely in gold, should he find one willing.)

Autumn gives way to Winter, and then all the way through Spring, and Bilbo realises it's been months and months since he found Furlo, and he barely even remembers what life was like before this wonderful dwarrow came to live with him. By Summer, Furlo is answering his chatter with grunts and sighs, gesturing to things, rolling his eyes -well, eye- and gently bopping Bilbo around the head when he tends to fret.

Sometimes, Furlo's humming fills their warm, cosy parlour in the evenings, safe and well fed by the fire, while Furlo whittles away at a new piece of wood (Mrs Brownwell down the lane had taken up the habit of feeding 'the poor wee lamb of a Dwarf' -a description that always leaves Bilbo a little wide eyed- with handfuls of her brown sugar biscuits, and Furlo, after a while, had returned the favour with a set of finely carved and polished knitting needles- Mrs Brownwell being known for her beautifully done bonnets and blankets across the whole village. Mrs Brownwell had been so very pleased, she had fair squeezed the very stuffing out of the Dwarrow in her excitement, and now biscuits and knitting needles in various sizes and shapes changed hands on a fair regular basis. Mrs Brownwell was well on her way to becoming the most envied matron in the village).

By Mid-Summer, Furlo is well and truly embroiled in the family business, stomping along with Bilbo on day trips to this or that property, visiting tenants and seeing to various repairs and services that are the Baggins leaser’s (i.e. Bilbo's) responsibility. Furlo has a sharp mind, and nudges and pokes at Bilbo at any opportunity to make his opinion known without speaking, and on one occasion, his gestures turn into something sharp and distinct that seems more a pattern of something than random waves of the hand, and he seems infinitely frustrated when Bilbo merely stares at him bemused.

The gestures are indeed a sort of language formed with hands, and sometimes the body, and Furlo patiently begins to teach him, again, without speaking, which means many a rolled eye on both their parts as they go. Eventually, Furlo takes to jotting out basic words, and then full sentences, in sharp, angular script, and Bilbo finds his eyes welling at Furlo working to find his voice, even if it is a more silent sort of voice than one would normally think.

(The writing remains an occasional event, and Bilbo knows without Furlo saying a word that he views writing out his thoughts as just as heavy a burden as he seems to see speaking, but Bilbo treasures the moments when Furlo absently reaches for instruments to speak to Bilbo, and doubly so when the gestures he teaches become more familiar, and Bilbo can feel honoured enough to be the one that may 'listen' to Furlo express himself.)

The accounts, Furlo also takes over, as it seems to bring him great delight to struggle through rows and rows of numbers, invoices and tally logs and spreadsheets, balancing the figures with satisfied hums. For Bilbo, indeed, it would be some small struggle, it being a somewhat necessary evil to the life of a Gentlehobbit, but for Furlo the job seems quite simple, if satisfying, and as long as it brings Furlo contentedness and a sense of achievement, then Bilbo will never deny him of it. (It doesn't hurt that Furlo is quite the businessman, and Bilbo's coffers do well under his input.) Instead, Bilbo devotes that time to the kitchen, in the hopes that may express his appreciation while also bringing more satisfaction to his friend.

Bilbo does, also, add Furlo to the employee records as his accounts man, and issues a wage, and quite ignores the full tantrum Furlo has at that. Fair is fair, and even if Furlo is trading and selling some of his whittled works at the markets, he deserves his own secure income, and he is doing the work, after all, Bilbo argues, and ignores the hand waving and stomping and the glares that Bilbo will never call pouts- at least, not out loud. Eventually Furlo gives in, as Bilbo can be as stubborn as any Dwarf, please and thank you very much, and takes his wages grudgingly, though he does tend to stomp off with his money pouch every pay day to the markets, and come home with groceries before Bilbo has a chance to even order them.

The git.

Autumn seems to fly past without notice, but for Bilbo's birthday and a grand party under the party tree, Furlo happily jigging with faunts and matrons, and fellows he's knocked a few pints with at the Green Dragon over the last few months. He manages to devour a good portion of the banquet, and a full six slices of the goodly sized birthday cake, covered with candied fruit and sweetmeats and sugared blossoms, and entertains the littlest of faunts greatly with his juggling of six empty plates and a potato.

(Furlo is startled, and more than a little weepy at the gift Bilbo presents to him- his own tobacco pouch in fine, buttery soft leather, stitched with some of the same designs that had gone into his cloak, all done in Bilbo's own hand to go with the pipe they had bought Furlo at the markets some months ago. Bilbo finds himself, too, a bit weepy when Furlo hugs him tightly, but puts their emotional display down to a few too many pints of the fine ale on hand for the evening.)

From there, Autumn seems one long party, what with the harvest being ample and well celebrated this year, and before Bilbo knows it, they are well into Winter. Bilbo is shopping at the markets for a Yule gift for Furlo when he realises with a start that his temporary Dwarven guest has been with him well over a year.

The time they have been together has been a joy for Bilbo, not counting the terrible first few weeks when his friend had been all but a stranger, and one so terribly wracked with pain and suffering at that. There had even been a satisfaction, then, though, to see, and be able to help, this fellow grow strong and healthy again, slowly heal in body, and then mind, and in turn find him growing so dear to Bilbo. There was not a moment that Bilbo regretted over the year and some that Furlo had lived at Bag End, but rather than leaving him aglow, it was a somewhat droopy Hobbit that trudged home from the market, even after successfully collecting the new commissioned fur-lined gloves, and good, new, Dwarvish steel carving set.

(Bilbo did not mind Furlo using his da's old carving tools, not at all- it was wonderful, seeing them used again when Bilbo was not the most enthusiastic of whittlers. But Furlo deserved a set of his own to love, and Bilbo does so love to find things of Furlo's people for him.)

Furlo gives him a glare when Bilbo arrives home looking so very glum, and Bilbo almost smiles, because he knows that glare to be concern, and busies himself in the kitchen to try to appear normal, but Furlo has more than come to the point of knowing when Bilbo is fretting, and makes a nuisance of himself while Bilbo attempts to bake, until Bilbo caves and wonders aloud as to whether Furlo has considered going to find what family he probably has, or other Dwarves, at the very least.

Furlo stomps off after that, and Bilbo sulks and mopes and bakes and peels taters enough to prepare three different kinds for their supper, and is mixing finely chopped pickled onions and small bits of ham into a bowl of mashed spuds to form into patties to fry in the pan when Furlo comes stomping back and gruffly takes over the pan of sausages on the back burner with not a look to Bilbo, glower still firmly in place.

He spends the rest of the evening glaring at Bilbo, until Bilbo finally snaps and quite tells Furlo off, because he does not want him to leave, and while the life Bilbo leads is more than good enough for Bilbo, surely there is more to be had elsewhere for a Dwarf, and he just wants Furlo to be happy, confound it all-

Furlo cuts him off with a cuff to the head and the most firm, encompassing hug, something a little desperate in the gesture, and Bilbo returns it just as fiercely. He tells no lie; he doesn't wish to lose his greatest friend, the one he counts as family, now, and he whispers that into Furlo's heavily clothed shoulder, and says nothing when Furlo's arms tighten.

The days leading up to Yule are somewhat dimmer. Furlo makes no move to suddenly pack and leave, but he is quieter -for a fellow that does not speak aloud- and is absent in mind at some meals. He's taken to sitting looking off into the distance, and Bilbo's heart thumps in his chest when he realises that Furlo always looks west- to the mountains, blue against the distant horizon.

There are evenings where Furlo will ignore his whittling, and Bilbo sitting in his own armchair across from Furlo's, a new book at hand ready to read aloud for them both, and instead take over Bilbo's study and his parchments, muttering and growling to himself as he jots pages and pages, all that go to the wastebasket nearby, or to the fire, when Furlo is particularly upset with his writings.

Bilbo does not mean to intrude on Furlo's privacy.... but he does it anyway, and unscrunches a sheet of paper that has made it to the wastepaper basket one eve. The writings within, though, are in no scripts Bilbo can read, the letters being sharp and angular scripts that Bilbo recognises as some of the patterning to garments and such that Furlo had scribbled out before, but none that Bilbo may read, and so he returns the parchments to the basket and lets himself worry and worry, late into the night.

He will not prevent Furlo from ever leaving, never do anything to dissuade him, but Bilbo knows his own heart, and knows he will mourn the loss of this person that has quite become his definition of home.

Yule morn is subdued, as much as Bilbo tries very hard to put forward a front of joyous celebration. Furlo knows better, and frowns all the more, but Bilbo ignores him and serves him warm fruit pies and elaborate pastries for breakfast, and brings him a great pile of gifts.

Furlo disappears without eating or opening his gifts for long enough that Bilbo feels his heart drop clear to his toes.

He does reappear again soon after, though, soon enough even that the breakfast is still warm, and with him, he brings his own pile of presents, including a beautiful new desk chair for Bilbo's study, of fine oak, with a pattern that is both Dwarven and Hobbit, and Bilbo feels his eyes well at the sight.

It's the knowing that the chair represents them, their odd little family, a blending of Dwarrow and Hobbit that is twining wood vines around blocky, ornate spokes, that Bilbo finally understands what Furlo is most upset about, himself.

Bilbo will not lose him, even if Furlo goes. They are quite beyond that.

It's in the whispered "Bilbo" in his hair when he hugs Furlo tight.

Chapter Text

Bilbo sighed in frustration, and threw down the latest letter in dismay.

He wasn't quite sure what was happening to make all these Dwarven smiths so leery, but they all seemed perfectly happy to provide him with a Dwarven weapon. Right up until they saw the designs, and then they were suddenly closed mouth, but for the demands for where he might have found designs like that.

So far, he'd not answered any of them, but for vague mutterings of 'saw it in a book'. His cousin Aldagrim had been making enquiries in person on his behalf, with traders passing through Tuckborough, and reported the same sort of response; friendly enough fellows, quite willing to supply his Hobbit cousin with a 'proper' weapon, until the designs were presented. Then came the oddest of responses, questions and great reluctance to help him with his order.

Bilbo couldn't understand it; there must be something within the designs that worried these Dwarrow so. Perhaps Bilbo had copied the designs down in the wrong way, and they made marking that were considered quite rude, or omens of bad luck?

It frustrated him so. Every picture within his books had shown Dwarrows with weapons of some sort, or even tools for mining and such, and Furlo himself had made sketches, even if he might never have intended for Bilbo to take them so seriously. Bilbo's cousins had confirmed that the few Dwarrow traders that came through Tuckborough were always armed in some way.

Bilbo could just get Furlo some other weaponry, he was sure. Any Dwarf weapon the traders were willing to sell, certainly.

It just did not feel right. Furlo had made very specific sketches. Everything else he had found according to those sketches had brought great joy to the older Dwarrow, had helped to light his eyes in a way that warmed Bilbo the core to see, and he did not want to take any chances with this.

He sighed, and hid the letter away amongst a book of Elvish poetry with the other 'rejection letters' as Bilbo had taken to calling them. He was sure that if Furlo was to see them, he may be hurt by it, to see that his fellows were so unwilling to make the sword and axe, and two short daggers he had sketched in such detail. And Bilbo would do anything to keep Furlo from taking on that sort of hurt.

Nothing for it, though, and he ought just write a letter to Aldagrim tomorrow, asking him to see about the purchase of any sort of Dwarrow daggers of good make, to start, and perhaps an axe. Furlo had already appropriated Bilbo's wood axe, just this past few weeks. The Winter had grown more than a little cruel since Yule, and for a solid two weeks, there had been the howl of wolves in the distance all through the night. Furlo had taken one look at Bilbo's ashen face and shaking hands the first night as he'd set the locks for the first time in years, and gone and fetched the axe from the wood pile. He'd carried it ever since.

(But for the few occasions that the sun had come out enough for Furlo to pull Bilbo outside and hand him the axe and coax him through some decent swings of the thing, and Bilbo tried, for the sake of Furlo, more than anything. A warrior, Bilbo was not.)

Bilbo hated to make Furlo worry. His nose scrunched in a certain way when he pulled that scowl that was, Bilbo knew, pure worry, and his funny tattoo that was almost the shape of a mountain haunched over in the most peculiar way.

It's how Bilbo always knew when he was worried. His mountain nose tattoo scrunched like it had a tummy ache.

Speaking of tummies, Bilbo's was making itself known with quite a few rumbles, and so he took himself off to the kitchen to check on the dinner, and wondered what time Furlo might be back from his jaunts down to the market- which had more than likely ended up at the Green Dragon for a pint and a smoke with some of the regular old fellows, that quite appreciated Furlo's retiring manner and excellent listening skills.

His skills with carving didn't hurt any, either, as Furlo had expanded from the world of haberdashery tools and into the area of smoking pipes. His designs were quite unhobbitly, but for the flower motifs that he copied from Bilbo's books, and a few bits of carving that Bilbo's father had done around their home, and despite their unique style, they were stunningly wrought, and produced a good, strong smoke from a standard pinch of pipeweed, and had become quite popular all the way around the village. Especially amongst the regulars of the Green Dragon, who were happy to tap pots with him if he were in.

Furlo had also found himself a bit of work in the local smithy's, that Bilbo had later discovered, had not so much been a case of offered work, as old Arlo the smithy looking up from his work to find Furlo sitting quietly in the corner watching him work with a rather intense expression on his face, and the next time Arlo looked, to find him equally as quietly finishing the horse shoes that Arlo had been working through all afternoon. Since then, Furlo had sort of just decided to visit to work occasionally, and Arlo, being quite pleased with the exceptional skills being applied within his shed for free, was only too pleased to leave him be, especially when demand for their work increased, and with it, profits.

In exchange for the work, Arlo let Furlo free access to the tools and materials he wanted for his own projects, and Furlo had added beautiful decorative metal additions to his pipes and knitting needles, and added a line of fine, steel, pointed needles for sewing, and some dulled tips for embroidery, and later, having watched some of the Hobbit lasses making lace, their nimble fingers flying to and fro across their pillows, he had devised the most exquisite sets of wooden bobbins, each pair with intricate metal twists at the shaft and there was again much a twittering of excitement from the matrons and those with a fair hand for needle work, Bilbo included. Bilbo's pantries had filled to bulging with traded biscuits, cakes, sausages, dressed fowl, jars of honey and jams, and Furlo had even come home with parcels of crocheted doilies and rolls of tanned leather. He'd quite the bartering system at work, and the market was always atwitter waiting for him to come stomping in with a bundle to trade.

(Bilbo had received the very first batch of shiny little sewing and embroidery needles, all lined up in a velvet pouch, and had come down with a serious case of the sniffles at the sight of them. Furlo had scowled but hugged him tightly, and neither had said anything of it since. Bilbo had used them first to make Furlo his own set of monogrammed handkerchiefs, with the initials F and B, and told the confused faced Dwarf on presentation that they stood for Furlo Baggins, silly nitwit. There'd been more scowls, teary eyes, and hugs, but Bilbo could not find it in himself to worry much over the excess of emotional displays he was prone to, these days.)

The latest tinkerings in the forge had been a series of funny little blocky beads, which Furlo had so far offered to none, and refused to take to market, and instead strung on a chord and brooded over for a while. One in particular he had spent many a night polishing and frowning, sitting by Bilbo in the parlour whilst Bilbo read stories aloud to them both, or mused over a shopping list, or a meal plan for the week, and after a full nine nights of polishing and scowling, he'd finally shoved it into Bilbo's hand with a rather embarrassed look upon his face, and stomped off.

Bilbo was fairly certain it was to be used for hair, but his was far too short, so he'd done as Furlo had done and strung it onto a nicely crocheted cord and hung it in his room, occasionally wearing it around his neck when Furlo was in a bit of a mood, as the sight of him wearing it seemed to cheer him greatly. Bilbo had just recently skipped his latest appointment to have his hair trimmed, as he was certain that if he were to weave the thing into his hair, it would please Furlo greatly. The length of his hair was a trivial thing in the face of making his friend so happy, after all.

In fact, Bilbo would like nothing more than to have some of those same metal beads made for him to give Furlo. He'd seen them on paper alongside some of Furlo's other sketches, but been quite puzzled by them at the time, but now he was sure he knew what they were, and if he could find a Dwarrow smith willing to do the work on the weapons, he'd have them do the beads as well.

If he could find someone to do the work.

At that fresh reminder of his strange lack of smith, Bilbo grumbled anew into the simple stew he'd made for their dinner; the dreary cold was stew weather, for sure, and they'd fill it out with mashed taters -already mashed with some garlic and cream and kept warm in a covered pot on the stove- and a nice loaf of warm bread smeared with good creamy butter Furlo had brought back from the market that morning. And dumplings. Nothing made a simple stew into a full meal quite like dumplings. Large and fluffy and with a little ‘something’ hidden in the centre- a small piece of toasted bread, a knob of herb cheese, or maybe a small morsel of ham… the last time these had been in the stew Furlo had devoured EIGHT of them!

'Speak too loudly of wolves and sure enough one’ll come howling at your door', his mother used to say (well, more like warned during her scariest of tales told in front of the fire, but the words spoke true, regardless), and in stomped Furlo, axe swinging at his hip, a brace of conies tossed over one shoulder, and a bulging parcel under one arm, that he took straight through to the pantry.

"I hope you're not expecting me to skin those rabbits," Bilbo sighed at his back, and received only a grunt in reply. Bilbo was not sure what Furlo had in mind for the skins, but he'd been bringing home the odd coney or two for weeks, now, and taken the furs down to be cured each time. Bilbo had enough rabbit meat down in the cold cellar, now, to do them clear through to Spring.

"Stew's almost ready," he called a while later, after Furlo had taken himself off somewhere, no doubt to clean up for dinner, by the thuds and squeaks down the hall, and Bilbo rummaged in the pantry for the bread and butter he wanted, noting the new jars on the shelf, and a nice basket of turnips that would do nicely in a soup later in the week.

There was also a rather large covered basket that Bilbo took a discreet peek into, and almost giggled at the sight of the large pile of small cakes. "Been trading with Miss Brownlow again, have you," he called innocently, and stuffed a hand over his mouth to cover any sound of amusement on his part when the silence seemed particularly embarrassed.

Miss Poppy Brownlow was certainly quite taken with Furlo's goods, as well as his, well, goods, if Bilbo were to put it somewhat politely, and Furlo, in turn seemed equally taken with Miss Brownlow's muffins. And perhaps, the confirmed spinster herself. And her muffins. Every encounter between the two was an embarrassingly odd meeting consisting of blushing, stammering, staring at the ground, and shoving nice things at each other. Bilbo thought the whole mess an absolute riot, but was attempting to stay diplomatic in his amusement.

He often failed.

Still, any opportunity to subtly needle his friend was one to be seized, and so he added a few muffins to their dinner menu, and carried the lot out to the table, where Furlo was busy setting out silverware and bowls, ears a deep red, deepening even further when Bilbo placed the muffins on the table with the bread, and Bilbo had to hastily grab up the bowls and return to the stew pot with them lest he ruin the whole thing by cackling like a loon.

He hummed as he scooped mash into the centre of their bowls, and then topped the bowls up to the rim with the thick, meaty stew, and a few dumplings a piece, sniffing appreciatively. It had been a long, cold afternoon, with no small amount of frustration, and a nice big bowl of warm stew was just the ticket.

Furlo was still looking quite surly, attention riveted on the muffins, and Bilbo could not stop himself from chuckling, plonking their bowls down and nudging Furlo until he rolled his eyes and tucked into the dinner, halfway through his bowl before Bilbo even had the bread sliced, and he must have had a good afternoon, then, to be tucking in so happily.

"There's a crumble, for afters," he said idly around a mouthful. "And perhaps a few more muffins," he added slyly, and then let it go when it looked like Furlo might go head first into his bowl of stew.

He grinned into his bowl, and pushed the platter with the muffins and the bread and butter closer to Furlo, and chose not to notice when Furlo slid three muffins straight onto his own plate.

Git.

"Ol' Garl's coming by tomorrow. He wants to change around his lease agreement- he thinks the three south fields should have a rotation of cover crops for a few seasons, maybe a few run of cattle pasture them for a bit. I've checked over the harvest logs, and I'm inclined to agree with his decision, but if you have any suggestions on renegotiation for the new fields, well, he's coming for tea."

Furlo grunted an acknowledgement, and stood to refill his bowl, collecting Bilbo's to refill as he went, and Bilbo sliced a few more pieces of bread. Weather like this was made for filling up on a good meal.

"Hmm, thank you," he said when his bowl was replaced, absently wondering what to serve for tea the following afternoon. The weather truly was dismal, and perhaps Garl and his aged bones might appreciate a warm tea, perhaps a thick soup, even.

His attention snapped back to the table when it occurred to him that Furlo wasn't eating, instead fiddling awkwardly with his silverware.

Bilbo raised an eyebrow, but waited him out, taking another slice of bread and dipping it into his stew while he waited for Furlo to decide whether he was going to express what was bothering him or not.

"Bilbo," he said, low and gruff, and then stopped, frowning, and Bilbo put his bread down, covering Furlo's hand with his own instead.

Furlo sighed and took his hand and held it for a long time, staring hard at his bowl, before he sighed again, and reached for his pocket, pushing a scraggly piece of paper across the table at Bilbo and then descending on his congealing meal with ferocity.

Bilbo stared at him a moment, and then carefully took the paper.

It was a list, and Bilbo read through it a few times, frowning all the while, because it did not seem to make a terrible lot of sense, at first.

"Are these... names?" he asked tentatively, after a moment, and Furlo shrugged, and then nodded hesitantly.

"Important names?" Bilbo tried, and read them through when Furlo kept his face to his bowl.

"Frís," Bilbo read slowly, and Furlo's entire being seemed to slow at the sound of the name, breath a little raspy in the back of his throat. He shoved another spoonful of food into his mouth before Bilbo could ask him about it, though, and so he read through the names, all over the place, really, lists within lists, and another list off to the side, names off all on their own, all in carefully formed -though oddly blocky- Westron.

"Goff, Half, Rifur, Nor, Modur. Káir. Jún, Frerís, Belfurís. Náin, Kuln. Thorin, Dís, Frerin. Fundin, Varn, Shoba, Calgún, Gróin. Thrór. Thráin. Furlo, what is this? Are these your people? Is this your family?"

Furlo said nothing at first, scraping his bowl clean, and all but ignoring Bilbo, but when Bilbo ran through the names again, reading the lot, this time, another dozen or so names, Furlo sighed, running a bit of bread around his bowl for the sops, and waving it in the air in a somewhat meaningful nature, before he shoved the whole piece in his mouth and chewed, nose scrunching.

Oh dear. The mountain was all doubled up again, Bilbo thought in dismay.

"Would you like to write some of these people, then? Let them know you are well?"

Furlo's chewing slowed and he swallowed and then looked so terribly sad, and Bilbo, Bilbo did not like that look, not at all. For all that Furlo had been through, Bilbo did not like seeing that sort of defeat written clear across his face.

"I'll bet they miss you something fierce," he said softly, looking at the page again. There were a lot of names.

Furlo only prodded at a muffin, still slumped and morose, and Bilbo nodded.

"Oh, dearest one, I am sure they do. I think that hearing from you would only ever truly bring them joy and relief."

Furlo's nose twitched, but the poor mountain tattoo eased up a bit, and Bilbo sighed a bit.

"I know if it were me, I would be overjoyed to know you safe and whole," Bilbo said, and that made the tattoo ease right out, much to Bilbo's relief. Furlo's face twitched when he noticed where Bilbo was looking, and Bilbo could not resist, he couldn't, and he prodded at it with one finger until Furlo rolled his eye and swatted at him and promptly swiped the last muffin.

"Greedy," Bilbo tutted, but couldn't keep the smile from his face. "Well, you know where the writing implements are kept, my friend. Write as many letters as you like. We'll find someone to take them to Bree, perhaps, to pass to the Rangers that pass through there. They never turn away a delivery."

Furlo rolled his eye again, but seemed happy enough to eat his way through the remains of the dinner, and Bilbo let him, far too busy reading through the list a few more times, repeating them back to himself a few times.

There was a family, somewhere, that Furlo was worried for- Bilbo was not a fool, and while Furlo did not talk, he was as expressive being as any, and Bilbo knew the fellow, now, after all this time. Furlo was a worrier, and he was worried. About his family's acceptance, Bilbo was sure, but also because Furlo was one to care deeply, if grumpily, and he would want to know the health and happiness of the ones that had mattered to him before.

Well. Another thing for Bilbo to see done for him.

Discreet enquiries could be made, surely, in the Spring.

****

As Winter slowly passed, and Spring was in sight, it wasn't odd for Bilbo to see Furlo take himself off to the study for an hour or two every once in a while Indeed, while the first attempts were hesitant, and Furlo would often abandon the work with a growl after a mere few minutes, as time went on, he spent longer and longer in the study, scribbling longer and longer letters as he went, but none were finished, and often he would storm from the study in frustration after a time, and when he returned, the letters would go into the fire.

One of Furlo's abandoned attempts was left on his table at the end of an eve, and though Bilbo could not read a whit of it, the layout was definitely that of a letter, Bilbo was sure, in those odd, angled lines that Bilbo was sure was a language, but not one that he had seen in any book, outside of decorations along pictures of Dwarves and their tools, that he had always thought of as just that: angled decoration.

Not so, it seemed, and every few nights would find Furlo muttering to himself over parchment and ink, starting letters that were always thrown away, and staring into the fire that Bilbo kept built for warmth in the little study for long, long hours.

Bilbo wasn't terribly worried- well, not as much as he had been before. Furlo was his family no matter who else out there also had call to say the same, and if Furlo woke one day, happy and whole and ready to return to his people, then Bilbo had done as he had set out to do, and seen him well, and that could only be a good thing, couldn't it?

(Besides, Bilbo was becoming more and more certain these days, that if that were to happen, then Furlo would find himself in possession of a Hobbit follower, because Bilbo was rather sure that home had become a grumpy old Dwarf with one single eye and a bit of a sour nature.)

As the days had passed, Furlo had seemed to be making an effort to show Bilbo what he meant to him, or as much as a surly Dwarf who didn't speak could; actually, that had been half of how he had showed it. Bilbo's name had made a few more appearances, and on one highly memorable occasion, a resounding 'No!' in response to whether they should take half their rather large batch of sugar biscuits down the lane for the children of their neighbours, and Bilbo had gone wide eyed and open mouthed silent at the unexpected response. Furlo had blushed as deep red as Bilbo had ever seen, and stalked off to sulkily work his way through said sugar biscuits, while Bilbo had laughed himself sick in the parlour.

Few words were working their way in here and there, and even the occasional scribbled note, though Furlo quite refused outright to answer questions on a whim, the nosier of their acquaintances had come to find, and merely glared fiercely at anyone cheeky enough to plonk writing implements in front of him and start asking questions.

Furlo would not be speaking until he was good and proper ready, it seemed, and Bilbo could not be anything but distinctly amused by this. His silly, stubborn dwarf.

Still, Bilbo did worry a tad, for Furlo, who was working himself into a state over the letter-writing process, and also for himself, as he was so terribly apprehensive at the idea of family coming to the Shire to take Furlo away.

It was foolish, and it served none to think on it, so Bilbo did what he liked to do best. He found ways to cheer his grump of a Dwarf up.

His hair was still not very long at all, but just long enough for Bilbo to commandeer a Dwarf and a spot on the floor, and hand him the bead and his brush.

Furlo was stunned still for all of about thirty seconds, before Bilbo was gathered up in the closest of hugs that he really could only describe as a snuggle.

Bilbo didn't mind.

That, since, had become somewhat of a 'thing', now. Every few nights, Bilbo would be on one of the low foot stools, reading aloud while Furlo hummed away and combed through his hair, eventually braiding a little strip in some section or another, though he never put the bead in until morning, which Bilbo was quite grateful for, actually; his hair really was not long enough to be sleeping with metal bits attached without them poking him in uncomfortable spots on his cranium.

Bilbo had done Furlo's hair before, of course he had- there had been a time when Furlo had not been able to lift his arm to scratch his own nose, so of course Bilbo had helped him with washing it before, and combing, and tying the whole lot back, plenty of times.

When he had offered to do the same for Furlo this time, however, when Furlo was healthy and had been taking care of himself for well over a year, now, well, that face was the shyest thing that Bilbo had ever seen, and so ridiculously pleased, and so Bilbo started by merely combing his hair a few evenings here and there, but soon that morphed into every morning, and most evenings, if Furlo was not too late coming in for supper after he'd prowled the local streets.

Which was another thing. Bilbo had been exceptionally lucky to have a Dwarf trader pass through Tuckborough, lost, actually, on his way to the Blue Mountains (in the middle of Winter, dear me! Aldagrim assured him the fellow had been sent off with many a food package and an extra fur blanket for the trouble- and a very specific map) and taken the wrong road, and spent a few days riding out a storm in the Shire village. Aldagrim had set him up in the local inn -owned by their uncle- and taken no payment from the fellow but for some work. Furlo was now the proud owner of a set of short daggers and a good, sturdy, Dwarf sized axe.

Of course, Bilbo had not been sure initially, that Furlo liked them at all, as while he had seemed thrilled to start, he'd become quite morose for a time, after examining them, rubbing his thumb back and forth across a series of marks set near the hilt of the daggers, lost in thought for so long that Bilbo had hurried to assure him that they would get him better, if these would not suffice.

He'd seemed startled, and stared at Bilbo a long moment, before his head shook, and strapped them on, and sat with them for so long, that Bilbo had wrapped his arms around Furlo's shoulders and held on until the Dwarf had a hold of himself, and Furlo had finally shaken off whatever had taken a hold of him, and clutched back, whispering a reverent "thank you" into Bilbo's shoulder.

As he'd barely been seen without them for the month since past, Bilbo could only assume that he did indeed like them somewhat, and Furlo had taken to, well, Bilbo could only call it 'patrolling' the local area for a half hour in the evening before bed- especially on nights when howls could be heard in the distance.

When he returned, though, brushing snow of his shoulders and stamping his wet boots all over their front mat, Bilbo would chuff him off to the washroom for a bath, and see to the supper, and then spend a good ten minutes brushing out the long locks, mostly dark grey, now, but will a few streaks of black still here and there. It was thick and tough -as Bilbo quite thought that Dwarf hair ought to- but when kept clean and brushed, was surprisingly soft, and Furlo seemed pleased to have Bilbo's attention, even when initially, his braids were somewhat... comical looking.

Bilbo did grow better at it. He did. It was just the first week or three that things looked somewhat off balance.

As time went on, though, the braids were even, and even a little elaborate, as Furlo taught him more and more patterns. They worked, they ate, they relaxed, they cared for one another in their awkward little ways, and Bilbo thought, that honestly, things were just about as perfect as could be.

***

Spring came as most Shire springs arrived; gentle and lovely, snow melting away to lush green in an easy transition, as the days began to lengthen, and the skies cleared, and the air lost its bite.

Bilbo found himself in the garden, more often than not, and Furlo joined him happily enough, digging out encroaching grass roots from the old beds, and happily working in buckets of compost for Bilbo when told.

They planted new tomatoes in a dozen different varieties, three types of beans and two of peas, and three different types of carrots, pumpkins, cabbages and more, and as many flowers as Bilbo could fit into his patches. He was feeling joyful, he told Furlo, when the dwarrow shot him odd looks at the trilling over new baby plants from the local hothouses, and packets of seeds in all shapes and sizes.

The prospect of Bilbo's joy seemed to be enough for Furlo, who dutifully joined him in caring for the new little plants dotted in excess about the place, watering just the right amount, piling up the compost and spreading out the layers of old, soiled hay the local lads brought in bales and wagonloads around from the winter barns.

It was somewhat of a smelly task, and not the easiest, but the work gave Bilbo a special sort of satisfaction that he could attribute to nothing less than being a Hobbit, and that seemed explanation enough for Furlo.

Besides, Furlo did like to eat, and the plants were sure to offer up an abundant supply of such, so he was happy enough to putter alongside Bilbo each morning before second breakfast.

Furlo spent the late morning at the markets, and then took himself off to the smithy for the afternoons, or squirreled away with Bilbo's accounting books and a plate of biscuits, humming to himself happily. Bilbo would bake, or write, or drag Furlo off to tea with some relative or another, or spend some more time in the garden. Their dinner they'd prepare and eat together, and their supper, too, and read or see to mending together by the fire, when Furlo was not glaring at letters in the study, of course.

It was a peaceful life, and one that Bilbo had grown quite accustomed to, and really did not expect in any way to change much, even with the prospect of letters to be sent off to Dwarf relatives, soon enough.

"Mister Bilbo, Mister Bilbo!" the lad puffing up the lane pulled Bilbo from a lovely little daydream that might soon become a story, and he coughed a little around his pipe, a little miffed at being so disturbed during his peaceful morning smoke.

"What is it, lad," he asked the faunt jumping up and down at his gate, and the lad near burst out of his skin.

"There's a Dwarf down at the Green Dragon," the lad said, words tumbling from his mouth in excitement.

Bilbo hummed around his pipe, eyes all but sliding shut again.

"Hmm? Had a bit much, has he? Well, lad, tell them to send him home, and I'll bring a pie down tomo-"

"Not Mister Furlo, a different Dwarf!!" the lad interrupted, and his hopping up and down was making Bilbo a bit dizzy, to be honest. "A Dwarf that wants to talk to you!"

A Dwarf? In Hobbiton?

"Me?" Bilbo wondered, and shifted a little on the bench, a vague sense of unease drifting through him.

"He's got one of your letters and all, showed my da, wanted to know where to go. Da said he'd send for you instead. He don't trust him," the lad confided, almost bursting with the importance of the news he had to share. "He's made him wait for you to come."

"Well, then," Bilbo huffed, and knocked his pipe out on the end of the bench, and propping it up for when he came back. No doubt the letter in question was one of his requests for a commission, and hopefully he'd be returning home with some good news and a reason for a celebratory pipe. "Mustn't keep the fellow waiting."

The lad rushed off, quick as a flash, but Bilbo was a genteel Hobbit, thank you very much, and he took his time, strolling at a more respectable pace through the village to the Green Dragon, nodding to folk genially along the way.

The Green Dragon was almost empty, a little odd for the time of day, as there should have been at least a few dozen folk come in for an early lunch or late elevensies with a pot or two, but the place was near to empty.

Except for not just the one Dwarrow -who was pacing back and forth near the end of the bar- but what looked like a half dozen more plonked in the shadowy corner at the end of the room.

Bilbo quailed a little at the sight, as goodness, they were big fellows, a few bigger even than Furlo, but the thought of his own Dwarrow and the pleasure finally holding his own weapon would bring brought a bit of starch to Bilbo's spine, and he straightened and marched to the bar.

"Ah, hello there, my good fellow," he said to the pacing Dwarf, as it was he that was brandishing Bilbo's letter in his fist and muttering over it fiercely, even if he was terribly tall, and very imposing. All that dark mane of hair and sharp nose. "I believe you wanted to speak to me? Did you receive my letter about the-"

Later, he would defend himself fiercely when the bartender would tell everyone of the indelicate squeak he let loose when the Dwarf rounded on him, but as none of his later mockers would have known what it was to be rounded on by a giant of a Dwarrow at the height of a towering rage, he refused to find fault within himself for the sound. Especially as the bar keep had been busy hiding himself behind the bar in fright.

Giant Dwarrow. With sword. And angry. Ordinarily Bilbo would have laughed at his own confused language. ‘Giant Dwarrow’ was after all something of an oxymoron, and Bilbo was uncommonly fond of word-play. But seriously, that scowl was enough to oust all such light-hearted thoughts to the far corners of a Hobbit’s brain.

"You, " the overly bulky Dwarf hissed, and grabbed the front of Bilbo's weskit with one, meaty fist. "Did you write this?" the Dwarf demanded, voice a deep and furious thing, shaking the letter -still crumpled tightly in the other fist- in Bilbo's face, icy blue eyes shining with rage. "Answer me, Halfling! Did you write this?"

"Excuse me?" Bilbo asked, his feet coming up off the floor a bit from the force of the Dwarrow's grip, forcing him to stand on his toes. "Unhand me, this instance!"

"Where," the Dwarrow asked again, through gritted teeth, and shook him, "did you get these drawings, worm?"

Bilbo's eyes narrowed and he huffed. That was quite enough of that, thank you very much.

He kicked out, catching the Dwarf right centre of his shin, and the fellow cursed, his grip loosening in his pain, and Bilbo copped him on the other leg, and straightened his weskit with a frown when the Dwarf buckled with a strangled noise of pain.

"How rude," Bilbo muttered crossly, backing up a step and glaring fiercely at the half dozen Dwarrows that shot to their feet across the room. "Are any of you capable of a civilised conversation?" he snapped, nose wrinkling.

There was a tear down the side of his favourite blue weskit. This was the fabric that Furlo had chosen last season; Furlo did favour blues.

His tailor was a fussy thing, and no doubt when Bilbo returned to have this lovely piece he'd made restored, Bilbo would be hearing about it forever. Likely, the tiny, horrible little fellow would deny him the choicest cuts of fabric for a time, until Bilbo proved he was worthy of the creations again.

Bugger it. He'd have to hope he could acquire some matching thread and attempt a subtle repair himself, or resign himself to retiring the poor thing.

"I love this weskit," he told the room mournfully.

The downed Dwarf took a swipe at him from the floor, hand sweeping out to attempt to grab him by the ankle, but Bilbo yelped and hopped back a pace and kicked out again when the Dwarrow threw himself forward in another attempt.

He managed to clock the fellow on the nose, and was quite surprised that the Dwarrow merely fell back cursing, blood dripping down his nose. Bilbo had seen a Man accidentally kicked by a cousin once, and that fellow had been knocked clear out, and addled in the head for a year or so after, apparently.

Dwarrow were definitely tough. This one was barely winded. Just, somewhat... leaky, now.

(Which Bilbo had to admit, was something of a bit of a shame. He was quite a handsome fellow, for a Dwarrow, and the blood leaking everywhere was quite taking away some of his lovely bearing, with red leaking all through a dark, quite dignified, grey streaked beard.

His mother always had said to be wary of the pretty ones.)

"Will you stop that?" he barked at the bleeding Dwarrow, and huffed when the fellow cursed at him, and lunged at him again.

He skipped back and glared at the gawking crowd of Dwarrow across the room that seemed quite flabbergasted at the whole debacle, and sniffed.

"When somebody here is ready to discuss my commission request with some sort of attempt at even temper, you may ask for me again," he said snottily, and stomped from the inn.

"In all my years," he muttered to himself, storming up the path. "Disgraceful behaviour, just disgraceful!"

All this fuss over a few drawings, why, Bilbo had no idea what was on them that was so offensive to the fellows, but this about solved things for him. Bilbo would have to confess to Furlo that he had sent the drawings away, and find out what had gone into them that shouldn't have.

Hopefully, they could rework the drawings together, and see about trying for a commission again, through his cousins, if his good name was not already completely ruined with every Dwarf from Bree to the West Sea.

It was supposed to have been a surprise.

Bilbo huffed again, gait slowing somewhat in disappointment, fingering the tear in his weskit with a scowl. He'd have to change before Furlo came home, or those Dwarrow in the inn would have another of their kind after them, furious and brandishing his axe.

While Furlo was lovely and healthy again, with a good, strong, thick body, muscled from the work he busied himself with, and certainly the most tenacious bugger Bilbo had ever encountered, Bilbo was still not certain that Furlo could take on a whole group of Dwarrow in a fight, and was in no way inclined to find out either way.

"Wait!"

The voice behind him was deep and commanding, and when Bilbo turned, he was surprised to see the dwarf he had kicked on his feet again, and without blood dripping every which way.

He was doubly surprised to be seeing the fellow in, well, double.

Wait, no, there were simply two of them, looking surprisingly alike, and when they came closer, Bilbo was even further surprised that neither of them were actually the fellow with the bleeding nose. Just exceptionally like him, with their dark hair with liberal streaks of silver, short cropped beards, and the same startling eyes.

(Perhaps the eyes were a race trait, for of the now four Dwarrow Bilbo had encountered face to face, all had the same crystal clear blue eyes.)

However, just because they were different fellows, did not mean that they weren't equally likely to tear a piece of clothing, or worse, and Bilbo took a hesitant step back, wondering if he might drop all manner of propriety and rabbit.

"Wait, please," the one in front called, hands held aloft in the oddest of manners. "We wish only to discuss your letter. I guarantee that hands will not be placed on your person again."

"Yes, well," Bilbo said with another huff, and an irritated tug of his weskit, moving to the side of the path to speak with the determined gits.

"We were wishing to speak about the drawings you included in your commission request," the same Dwarf asked, with a modicum of calm, what a blessing, though the eyes were sharp and assessing. "They are oddly specific."

"Are they?" There was absolutely no way that Bilbo was going to be rushing to spill his secrets, thank you very much. At least this one was somewhat of a smooth talker. Them, Bilbo could deal with.

The Dwarf studied him carefully, while the one behind her -and goodness, he was a big fellow, wasn't he?- shifted impatiently. He looked very much like the one Bilbo had kicked in the face when he did that, impatient and suspicious.

"We would like to know how you came by the design," the Dwarf asked him bluntly, after a long moment of narrowed gaze, where Bilbo had simply rocked on his heels and waited. Good. They were not very good at the patient game, then.

Bilbo was an expert.

"Read it in a book," Bilbo replied as pleasantly as he could, smiling benignly.

The silent Dwarrow in the back narrowed his gaze, and Bilbo shifted ever so slightly. My, he was a bit of something, wasn't he?

"Might I ask what may be all the hubbub over a simple drawing or two?" Bilbo asked, smiling again when that silent Dwarrow continued to glare.

"No," the silent one said, finally, and that was that, wasn't it? Bilbo stared at them for a long moment, whilst they stared back, and finally, Bilbo clapped his hands decisively.

"Well, if that is all, then, I must be going," he said, and turned to leave.

"We are not done," the first Dwarrow snapped, and ah, there was the family resemblance, then, the impatient glaring. All three must be brothers, surely?

"I think we are," Bilbo decided, and turned away again.

"What book?" silent Dwarf suddenly asked, and Bilbo's foot hesitated in the step it was to take.

"Pardon?"

"What book?" silent Dwarf asked again, stepping forward, gaze intent. "What tome did you find these particular designs within? I would be very interested in viewing such a volume of work."

"Can't quite remember," Bilbo demurred, suddenly wary. This one, this brother, was quite off putting.

Silent Dwarf cocked his head to the side, studying him like Bilbo had seen the local tomcats do when small creatures were fool enough to venture forth. Bilbo felt himself gulp ever so slightly.

Realisation flashed like a light in his head, and Bilbo felt himself backing away again.

He'd assumed, all this time, that Furlo had been hurt by some foul creature that dwelt in terrible places, come down from the Misty Mountains, perhaps. Bilbo had never considered the possibility that such damage had been done to him by his own kind.

Bilbo had been sending out drawings that were specific to Furlo. And led them right to him.

"Yes, well," Bilbo said, and turned to finally run like the proper cowardly Hobbit he was, but ran smack bang into Dwarf the Bleeder.

"Gochya," Bleeding Dwarrow said, looking distinctly ruffled, and somewhat ridiculous, with two wads of blood soaked fabric hanging from his great pointed beak of a nose (that Bilbo was pleased to note was now distinctly crooked. Served the bugger right).

Bilbo kicked him in the shin.

Bleeder wasn't very bright, as he looked shocked to be put through that again, and there was rolled eyes all round from the three Dwarrow with him that had managed to sneak up behind Bilbo (Bilbo was not certain how they had done that with those great clomping boots of theirs, but he supposed that Furlo managed it at times, so it must be something they practiced).

Unfortunately, despite the crumpling of the kicked leg, and the small grunt of pain, the grip holding him did not loosen, and Bilbo kicked out again, nailing the stupid bleeding sod a good three blows before he was shook like a dog.

"Cut that out, you little blighter!"

"Frerin, put him down," Silent Dwarrow finally commanded, and Bilbo stilled, eyes widening.

He knew that name.

"Frerin?" he asked, as he was released, stumbling a little before the Dwarf that had questioned him steadied Bilbo before he fell.

Bleeder glared at him, and Bilbo looked him up and down.

He was tall. Same sort of muscled bulk, but then, most of those behind him that looked not a whit like these three had similar builds. There was that dark hair with the grey. Furlo's was somewhat the other way around, mostly grey, now, but with that same rich dark streaked through. And the eyes. The same icy blue.

Same ridiculous nose.

"Oh," he said, and then looked again at Questioner and Silent Dwarrow. There were those funny side braids that Furlo favoured, as well. Sometimes he attempted to put them in Bilbo's hair, as well. Perhaps that was a specific placement.

"Frerin, Dís, Thorin," he recited, absently. Questioner lifted both chin and brow, the only sign of surprise, while Silent narrowed his eyes at Bilbo again.

"I see," Bilbo said, slumping a little. Well. It was bound to happen one day, wasn't it.

"Where did you hear those names, little Hobbit?" Questioner asked. "In your book?"

"No," Bilbo said, eyes running across the three of them again. Well. He'd failed to find axe and sword for Furlo. Perhaps family would be well received instead?

"Frís. Goff, Half, Rifur, Nor, Modur. Káir. Jún, Frerís, Belfurís. Náin, Kuln. Thorin, Dís, Frerin. Fundin, Varn, Shoba, Calgún, Gróin. Thrór. Thráin. Badran, Sunní, Bari. Hahna, Burd. Kut, Geem, Sahli, Kirm, Durta, Durnú, Tarn," he recited absently. He'd been over the list enough these past months to know the names well. All six of the buggers looked slightly stunned, and Bilbo sighed again.

There really was no delaying the inevitable.

"I think you'd better come with me," he said, and turned to lead them all to Bag End.

***

Miraculously, the group followed along behind him benignly enough, save for one moment when Bleeder (Frerin, his brain ever so helpfully reminded him) had seemed on the verge of demanding something, before the Silent one (Dís or Thorin, Bilbo was now sure) had thumped him, and that had been the end of it.

Bag End was quiet when they arrived back at the Smial, and Bilbo knew that Furlo was not yet back from the markets- likely not to return for a while. Well. What was he to do with the gits till then?

"Pointy things in the cupboard there," he decided, pointing to the unused cupboard built into the wood panelling along the entrance way wall of Bag End, where Furlo tended to store the wood axe and his occasional bits and bobs he brought home with him from the smithy.

(Furlo's axe and daggers Bilbo had never ever tried to part him from, and Bilbo was well aware that Furlo slept with them, and slept better for it to boot. Bilbo would never ask him to put his safety net in the cupboard, but then, Bilbo trusted Furlo.)

"Pointy things?" one of the Dwarrow Bilbo had not yet identified asked, glaring in a way that was perhaps quite insulted, but Bilbo was fair strung to his limit, so he pointed to the cupboard again, and scowled right back.

"It's terribly bad manners to be armed in a Hobbit's home," he made up on the spot, tone suitably stroppy, for they at least rid themselves of all visible weaponry, and did not complain much beyond that when he insisted they part with coats, packs and boots as well.

Silent Dwarrow stared at Furlo's spare boots for a long, long time in a way that Bilbo was not willing to call hope.

If all else failed, then there was always a good feed to smooth the awkward moments, and so Bilbo directed them to the parlour, and hurried off to the kitchen.

The gits did not stay in the parlour, however, and followed him into his kitchen, sitting themselves at his kitchen table and leaning against walls like great, glaring mops. Hairy enough, too, even.

Bilbo ignored them, beyond his own glare, and started to pull bits from his pantries, smacking at the paw of one very large Dwarf that almost instantly reached for the scones.

"Wait until I serve," he scolded, though when the large bugger pouted, pouted, Bilbo sighed and handed over a single scone, which the large fellow took with a small grunt, before stuffing it in his mouth near whole.

Bilbo felt his eye twitch.

The oven was still warm from baking bread that morning, and he had a large bowl of pottage simmering on the back burner, and it was the work of a few minutes to reload the oven with some meat pies and cold roasted chickens to warm, and chop generous hunks of cured ham into the bean and barley soup. The plate of scones was joined by a large basket of buns, a few loaves of the honey rye bread Furlo was so fond of, and some jars of the same honey that had made it. Bilbo hesitated over the covered basket of the latest batch of muffins from Miss Brownlow, but added them, in the end, as if these folk were indeed who Bilbo thought they were, then this was a family gift, and Bilbo would share them and hope Furlo did not mind.

(He put a few back on the shelf, just in case, though.)

Bleeder- Frerin- was pacing back and forth across the kitchen and looking terribly impatient, and Bilbo sighed, and turned his back on him, when Frerin turned to glare. Instead, Bilbo put together a platter of cold cut roast beef, tomatoes, a few nice rounds of cheese, and some wonderful pickled onions that Furlo had received as part of a trade for one of his more spectacular pipes.

The big one, the pouter, was edging back towards the scones by the time that Bilbo had done all he could to prepare a meal for them, and he dithered a moment, checking on the warming items in the oven. They would not be long.

Furlo was not yet back, and likely wouldn't, as it was just come on to lunch, and most days, he ate at the market or the Green Dragon, and went straight to the smithy, and did not return until tea time.

"He... won't be back for a while," Bilbo admitted, shrugging when they all stilled in a most ominous of ways at that. "He doesn't usually return until tea time."

"And when, exactly, is tea time?" Questioner asked, and Bilbo stared at him for a long, long moment.

"Four," he answered, when he looked impatient, and then waved a hand dismissively when he opened his mouth to speak again. "Look, sorry, we seemed to have skipped a part, terribly bad mannered of me. I am Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, of Bag End. My home," he clarified, when Questioner looked puzzled. "I assume that you are either Dís or Thorin?" he asked, quite unable to help himself. "Or some other name off the list, perhaps?"

"Why do you assume that she is one of those names?" Frerin asked snidely, and Bilbo bit his lip. She?

Best not to mention that he thought her a fellow, then.

"The names were grouped. Frerin was listed with Dís and Thorin, and you all look so much alike. I assumed, then, that the list might group siblings."

"I am indeed Dís," Questioner answered, and right, Bilbo had to wonder, then, if the handsome one, most probably Thorin, was a girl as well, and then promptly decided it was none of his business.

"Thorin," Silent Dwarrow said, then, and yes, look at that, the big one was Thorin, "Son of Thráin," he emphasised, inclining his head in the snootiest of manners.

That was alright, Bilbo decided. He was feeling decidedly snooty himself.

"A pleasure," he said a little snottily, bobbing his head at them. They none of them looked terribly impressed, but, well...

Tough.

Bilbo reached out and smacked the hand sneaking back towards the scones, glaring a little at the big Dwarrow. Bilbo would be terribly irked, but for the longing looks the fellow continued to send the treats after Bilbo had moved them away.

He looked expectantly at the pouter for long moments, while the big fellow stood all but willing the scones into his mouth with the intensity with which he looked at them, until Bilbo cleared his throat noisily, and the fellow actually looked up long enough to give Bilbo a grunt.

"Dwalin," he offered grudgingly, eyes dropping back to the scones. "Son of Fundin."

Another name off the list. Fundin. Bilbo rewarded Dwalin with a scone, and turned to fetch the last of the goods from the oven. The way the rest of the unnamed Dwarrow were looking at Dwalin and his scone made Bilbo certain that if he didn't feed them soon, there would be a rebellion.

He set the table quickly, while the Dwarrow all looked on quietly.

It was funny; Furlo was a quiet sort of person, but Bilbo had always sort of assumed that was not the natural state of Dwarrow to be, really. He'd assumed more noise, more excitement. From all the books he had read since Furlo had become a part of his household, he'd got the feeling that hosting a horde of Dwarrow was a somewhat trying endeavour, but so far, they'd been content enough to peer at him suspiciously.

Though Bilbo suspected that if Frerin had his way, he'd be reverting back to the more physical form of talking he seemed to favour. Only his siblings shooting him warning glares, and on one occasion, a rap upside the head, did Frerin appear to be behaving enough to content himself with glares and impatient huffs.

"Well, come now, do sit," he said, when all the food was laid out, and they all stood looking at him like numpties. "The pies will grow cold again at this rate."

The four Dwarrow he had actually been introduced to at this stage moved to sit at the table, if a little dubiously, but the other two remained standing, and turned to him to bow in unison.

"Glóin, son of Gróin, at your service," the big fellow with the rather impressive beard said, and disappeared to the table when Bilbo nodded his head at him.

"Bifur ai-menu duzhuk." Bilbo quailed a little at the sight of him- did this Dwarf know there was an axe sticking out of his forehead? But the fellow shot him a sympathetic look and patted him gently on the shoulder, and trotted off to join his feasting kin.

Which, Bilbo now noted, was decidedly more animated affair than he had expected from them before.

Bilbo was certain that he'd never seen feasting quite like this, and he'd been to many a farmer's festival, thank you very much.

What was the worst of it, Bilbo thought, is that he was sure that they were doing their best to be someone subdued, but if tearing chickens apart with their teeth and throwing bones back and forth whilst belching was restrained, well then Bilbo could see how many of his books might imply heavily that Dwarrow visitors were a trying sort of affair.

"Is something the matter, wor-, ow!" Frerin rubbed the back of his head where both siblings had smacked him.

Dís hissed something at him, and he at least had the grace to look somewhat contrite, and whilst Bilbo would like to snicker at the glaring thunder of which Thorin was aiming at Frerin, he took pity on him and gestured around the table.

"Do forgive me," he said pleasantly (because as cantankerous as Frerin seemed to be, Bilbo was a better player at the game of snark, and he was far more likely to be irritating if he remained unaffected by Frerin's bluster). "Furlo is about the only person I regularly dine with. While he's not much one for manners, I've not quite seen anybody devour a plate of scones with such... gusto, before."

"They're good scones," the big one, Dwalin, said, only looking a little sheepish.

"Furlo?" Dís asked, and Bilbo knew how it was; she was the diplomatic one, asking all the questions in just the right way to be mild and unassuming whilst analysing his every word and gesture.

However, Bilbo was not a fool, thank you very much, and he would not have mentioned his friend if he did not want to be asked of him.

And bugger it all, but Bilbo did not think that springing any of this on either his new Dwarven guests, or Furlo, would be a good thing.

He looked around the table. They were all but done eating- truly they had devoured the food as if things starving. Looking somewhat more contented and calmer than when they had started, at the very least.

"Let's leave the dishes and go for a smoke in the parlour, eh?" Bilbo sighed, looking at Dís seriously, when her gaze narrowed on him. "And I'll show you a portrait of Furlo. You can tell me if he is who I suspect he is."

He didn't wait for a response to that, just padded off to find his pipe (still stood on the front bench, of course) and chuffed them off to go and sit in his comfortable chairs, watching in astonishment as Thorin folded himself into Furlo's chair, looking so very much like Furlo at that moment, that Bilbo sighed.

There really was little doubt when you looked at them in the right light.

He waited until they were all puffing on good Old Toby he shared out amongst them, and then moved to a cupboard off to the side.

"This was meant to be a gift for Furlo," he half complained, but reached for the parcel regardless, and unwrapped the picture he had commissioned carefully.

It was of the two of them, done by Marissa Goold. The older lady was a genius, Bilbo had always thought, and while Bilbo was a fair hand at sketching when presented with a subject -and had done many of Furlo over the years- ol' Marissa could paint the most vivid of portraits from memory, and give them life and vibrancy that Bilbo had just never seen in any other painting. It was astounding, and while she did not take work much these days, she'd agreed to Bilbo's request to a commission easily enough, and Bilbo had treated that with the honour it was.

Bilbo smiled down at the painting in his hand for a long moment; just the two of them, together and happy as their own little family.

That was all going to change now.

"I found him in a ditch," he told them, looking up and finding Dís watching him so very seriously. "I think it's important that you come to understand that simple fact. He was in a ditch. So sick, so beaten, that he hadn't a speck of his own steam left to go on."

Not one of the Dwarrow in the room made a peep, and Bilbo sighed, sitting on the little bench off to the side, and clutching the picture to his chest.

"I think you must think on that. I know that Dwarrow are hardy folk, built to endure. It must take a lot, then, to really beat down a Dwarf to the point that he cannot get his own feet beneath him. Where he can do no more than lie in a ditch and... nothing. Lie in a ditch."

Bilbo was fairly sure that Thorin already understood. His face was all but lined with grief, and a bit like resignation. Bilbo had to wonder about that.

"Now, I need you to take the knowledge of what it would take to beat down a good, strong Dwarrow, and contemplate the sort of damage that can do to a body. The missing finger here and there. Whip marks and gnarled scars of knife wounds badly healed. The bite marks along a side- the toes bitten clean off-"

Frerin hissed, on his feet now, furious, but Bilbo pushed on, because they had to understand, they had to know.

"I could barely recognise him as a Dwarf, at first, so starved and filthy and barely alive. Now take all of that, and think about the things that can be done to a person. And then understand that amongst all that horrific damage, that a person could be gnawed upon, and still be in possession of their tongue."

Thorin definitely understood, and so did the scary one, Bifur. They all had varying looks of horror and understanding, but Frerin, he was still looking furious and stubborn.

"Speak clearly-"

"I'm saying that strength is not just in the body, but even the more immeasurable strengths may be tested, and some scars are not physical. Imagine, if you will, spending so long resisting all things horrific in an effort not to speak, and then imagine how hard it must be to come back from that sort of silence."

He sighed, then, when Frerin looked stunned, letting the painting fall far enough back from his body to look at Furlo's face for a long moment.

"I don't know what they wanted from him. Why they kept him alive for so very long, what they wanted him to say. I don't know if you're what he needs to break that silence he's put upon himself, to help him find his words again. But please, I'm begging you, please be easy on him."

He stood then. Dís was looking quite shell shocked, where she sat next to Thorin, hand clenched around her brother's, and Bilbo was sorry for that, he really was. But they had to understand. Sometimes what you went looking for, just wasn't really there anymore. They needed to be ready for that.

"I don't think it was ever a matter of not wanting to go home," he warned them. They were bound to discover how long Furlo had been in the Shire at some point, and Bilbo needed them to understand just how much Furlo needed to not be pressured on this. "I imagine it was quite a bit more like not wanting to return until he could be more of what you remember."

Bilbo propped the portrait gently on the shelf beside him, and nodded to himself when it earned him gasps and inhalations, though Dís' choked sobbing sound was the hardest to endure.

He took his pipe with him when he went to sit back on his front step, leaving the Dwarrow all staring hard at the portrait. Though Bilbo wasn't sure if this was quite the celebratory pipe he had planned, it was certainly needed.

***

Bilbo had worked his way through one packed bowl of Toby, and a second, and was considering a third, when his front door opened and Thorin stepped out, and again Bilbo sighed, because honestly, now he had seen the resemblance, it was clear in every step and gesture.

Thorin hesitated a few steps from him, and Bilbo shifted to make room, a clear invitation that Thorin took, folding himself carefully onto the bench beside Bilbo.

He said nothing, though, and Bilbo packed his pipe for the third time, offering up the weed to Thorin until the Dwarf took it with hands that shook slightly.

"You must forgive Frerin," Thorin said after a while. "He still blames himself. He was quite convinced that our father was dead."

Bilbo nodded. He really did understand that this must be a terrible shock to all of them. Furlo had been with him for close to two years, now, and had surely spend quite a bit of time imprisoned before that, by the state of him. It was a long time to be missing somebody.

"We lost our home," Thorin said, all but blurted, and Bilbo eyed him for a moment, before he relaxed and leant into Thorin's close-by arm for a moment. It was easy to be familiar with him; the likeness in appearance and manner to Furlo made it a natural, easy thing. Thorin looked startled for a moment, and then grateful. He took a breath.

"Our grandfather was quite mad, you see. And he was beyond crazed at the loss of our home. He wandered where he should not have, and was killed. Murdered by Orc."

"I'm sorry," Bilbo said, when Thorin paused, frowning. The frown eased somewhat, and Bilbo had to wonder how much of a tummy ache a mountain would have painted on Thorin's brow.

"My father-" Thorin stopped, and he gnawed on the bit of his pipe for a moment, before he relaxed again. "He was mad with grief. We... went to war. War with the Orcs of the Misty Mountains."

Bilbo sat for a while, turning that over in his mind.

"You mean a proper war, don't you? Like, armies and such?" he asked, a little incredulous at the casual way Thorin spoke of such a thing.

"Yes," was all Thorin said, and was silent for a long, long time.

Bilbo traced the path of a bee, meandering across the garden, settling gently for a bare second on each of the emerging blossoms of the yard, more of the bee’s friends making their way along the lane to Bilbo's garden, zigzagging across the garden in a blissful, bumbling pattern, laden down with their heavy pollen loads. It was a good sign. The tomatoes would be blooming properly any day now, and the more bees he tempted into the yard with his flowers, the more lush the crop of tomatoes. Furlo did so love his tomatoes.

"My brother, he was leading a squadron," Thorin finally said, done with his pipe, now, and knocking out the bowl into the garden. "He was to take his forces to a passage, and collapse it. There was information... we thought ourselves far cleverer than any Orc." He shook his head, brow furrowed again. "We paid for that arrogance. Father, he figured it out sooner than us, that it was a trap, and he went for Frerin."

"I take it that didn't go so well," Bilbo said softly, when Thorin's glare was in danger of blasting his flagstone path under its power.

"He saved Frerin's life," Thorin said shortly, and then sighed. "But, he was lost to us. Frerin saw him dragged away before the passage collapsed."

"And you've not seen him since," Bilbo surmised, and sighed when Thorin looked stricken.

Bilbo wondered if he might start a fourth pipe.

"It was the drawings, wasn't it?" Bilbo asked, gesturing with his pipe in place of filling it anew.

Thorin grunted, fiddling with his own pipe.

"Father's weapons... they were relics of Erebor. Thrór's before him. They were never recovered. When I returned home this year, late in the season, there were many of my people waiting for me, those that had been fervent in their claims that Thráin had been amongst the fallen of our long battles, now convinced of this new lead... It is the first time that there had been any sign at all, in years, so many years. Even if all we found were his sword and axe, then it would have been something."

"But now you have more than just something," Bilbo said, and Thorin looked at him for a long time. Bilbo resisted the urge to look back at him, and watched the bees continue their busy collection.

"I do seem to have found much more than that," Thorin agreed softly, and they said nothing more.

***

Bilbo sat in mostly silence with Thorin for most the afternoon, occasionally passing the pipeweed across when it looked like the Dwarf was looking a little tense, and indulging in a few more himself. Bilbo was not normally one to overindulge much, but it seemed the day for it.

At three o'clock, he disappeared inside to ensure there was food enough for tea for the lot of them, and set a stew to ever so slightly simmer on the stove for supper, and brought a few good cuts of meat up from his cellar to prepare dinner, and then took himself back to the front bench, where soon after, Dís and Frerin joined him and Thorin in the wait.

Bilbo was assuming that the others had decided to make themselves scarce for the afternoon, and Bilbo was grateful. Best not to overwhelm Furlo (Thráin, his mind whispered, but he ignored that for now) until he was used to the idea of other Dwarrow around.

As four o'clock moved closer and closer, Frerin started to jitter and then pace, nervously gnawing away at his thumb nails, and Bilbo felt himself shift uncomfortably at the constant pacing.

"It will be alright," Bilbo said, more to sooth himself than Frerin, though Frerin paused in his pacing, gaze startled as he whipped around to look at Bilbo, and Bilbo could not help but smile at the fellow. He did look so terribly worried, and it occurred to Bilbo, all of a sudden, that despite Frerin being quite the rude little sod, he was still a rude little sod that had probably missed his father quite terribly, and Bilbo could sympathise with that.

"He's missed you too, you know," he found himself saying, and all three Dwarrow looked terribly uncertain then. "No, he has. You're all on his list, and that list meant something to him. He likes me reciting the names, sometimes, see, when he's a bit down. Like just hearing the names on it are a comfort."

Bilbo sighed then, eyes drifting off down the lane. Furlo would come trudging up any minute, and that wonderful sight wouldn't be just Bilbo's anymore, and there was really no way to begrudge these people that. This was their beloved father, returned to them from beyond the grave, to them.

Bilbo would do anything to have his own father back, after all. How could he possibly be angry with them for wanting their own father?

"He writes letters, many nights a week. To all of you, I suppose," he told them. "Most go in the fire. A few he's kept. We were going to send some of them off, soon. Don't think he didn't want to be with you, that he was content here without you all," he told them, turning back to where Frerin stood, looking so very, very lost. "He's missed you terribly. I think he just wanted to be more the Dwarf you remembered, before he sent for you."

"How long..." Dís started, and then trailed off, uncertain again.

Bilbo sighed again.

"Autumn before last, was when I found him. His recovery was a long one," he tried, when they all looked somewhat disheartened by that news. "This last Autumn, it had been a year, and he was starting to turn his gaze towards the West a lot. I assume that is where he thought you might be found?"

"It is, now," Dís said, and the three of them said no more, heads down, now.

Bilbo shifted, and knocked Thorin's arm quite by accident, but he grinned at Thorin when he looked up at Bilbo.

"He's going to be ever so pleased to see you!"

Gifting Furlo things of his people, familiar things, things of his own, that had always brought such joy to Bilbo to see Furlo happier by the day to become himself again, and this, well. Bilbo would not be able to top this gift for a while, he was sure. Furlo's children! Hopefully, this would add more happiness and contentment to his friend, and Bilbo would do anything for that.

"Do you really think so?" It was Frerin that asked, voice so uncertain, and Bilbo could forgive him his earlier actions for that alone, the yearning in his voice for his father to be happy to see them.

"I am sure of it," he reassured him, and then took to his feet. "I think, though, that as much as I would like to surprise him, I might toddle down the lane a bit, make sure he knows what a good thing waits for him here."

"But-" Dís started, frowning, and Bilbo shoved the almost empty pouch into her hands with his pipe.

"I'll be right there on the lane, you'll be able to see me, I promise!"

He didn't wait for a response, just took off out his gate and down the lane, hurried trot turning to an all-out -completely ungentlehobbitly- pelt down the hill, because Furlo would be turning that corner any moment now, and while his family had some warning, had some time to prepare themselves for this meeting, Furlo had no such warning, and Bilbo was not entirely certain what sort of hunched-over mountain frown that may equate to. None too good, surely.

The hedgerow at the bottom of the lane was where he made himself pull up short, because he had promised the three Dwarrow sitting in his front yard that he would be right here, and he did not want them to think he was running off to warn Furlo away or some such nonsense, for they'd come tearing off after him, Bilbo was sure of it.

None too soon, though, his appearance at the corner, as there was Furlo, trudging up the road, looking as grumpily pleased as he could be with a basket of something clutched in his hands, and Bilbo could not help but laugh and laugh at the sight, because honestly, it had already been one frightfully turned-around day, and Furlo, being the sole reason for such a day, had been off flirting.

"Oh I see!" he called, when Furlo looked up in surprise at his laughter. "Been getting your hands on some muffins have you?"

Furlo turned a bright, vivid red, and growled at him, but his face glowed with more than embarrassment, and his hand tucked under the pretty cloth of the basket for a moment, and withdrew a small cake that he ate with great pride.

"You git," Bilbo laughed, and then sobered, for Furlo was almost to the corner, now, and in a moment, Bag End would be in sight, and then, well.

Furlo sobered as well, seeing the look on his face, and slowed, a frown making itself known when he realised that Bilbo was waiting for him on the corner of Bagshot Row, rather sweaty and flustered, rather than preparing tea for them at home.

"Oh, my dearest," Bilbo sighed, feeling somewhat sheepish now. Bilbo had brought this whole situation on them himself, and hopefully, Furlo would forgive him his interference. "I've done something foolish."

Furlo stepped up to him, that worried frown curling his mountain, and then glanced past Bilbo, and froze.

"It was those drawings you did, of the axe, and the sword and daggers, and all the metal doodads? I, well. I borrowed them, and copied them, you see. And sent them off to be made- I didn't realise that they would be somewhat unique to you."

Furlo did not do much beyond stare behind Bilbo, face something like wonder, yearning, and quite a bit of fear, and no, Bilbo couldn't let that be.

"They've missed you so fiercely, silly dwarf," he scolded gently, and chuckled as best he could when Furlo finally turned back to him, face uncertain. "They're so happy. So very relieved to have found you."

Furlo shifted, and then seemed like he was trying to take several breaths at once, and shoved the muffins into Bilbo's hands, and Bilbo beamed at him.

"Exactly. Go on, then!"

His steps were hesitant, for all of a few seconds, until the three Dwarrow waiting impatiently by Bilbo's gate took Furlo's movement as permission to move themselves, and started down the lane, and Furlo's steps thudded urgently forward, and then he was upon them, and they all but clanged together, the four of them tangled together in the most ungainly and forceful reunion that Bilbo had ever witnessed, and he shoved a self-congratulatory muffin in his mouth and tried to blink back the full feeling in his chest that threatened to bring forth tears that Bilbo might not quell for hours.

***

As much as a tiny part of Bilbo -the most Bagginsish part of his Baggins heritage, Bilbo was sure- was quite embarrassed for them to be having such an emotional reunion in public, there really was no way that Bilbo could conceive of attempting to break apart the tight hold they all had on each other, and as pleased as Bilbo was to see Furlo so very tightly holding to his children, he quite could not bring himself to watch much longer, and so took himself off, going so far as to cut through the back of the neighbour’s yard and over the fence into his own, rather than walking past the group in the lane, and let himself in the back door to the kitchen, to put the muffins away.

Before he ate them all, that was. Bilbo had never much counted himself as an emotional eater, but there was already a significant portion of the tasty little cakes missing, and if Bilbo were to have his way, he'd be sitting morosely eating them until they were gone.

That would just be mean.

So the muffins went away, and Bilbo set out tea, and moped about the kitchen, quite wondering what to do with himself.

He about jumped a mile, though, when Furlo stormed in the kitchen, and grasped Bilbo by the wrist.

"Bilbo!" he growled, and stormed back towards the front of the smial, tugging a yelping Bilbo behind him.

His children -and it was odd to call them that in his mind, Bilbo admitted, as they were quite well grown- were hovering by the door to the parlour, and Furlo tugged him forward, and pushed them all towards the low set of couches where they normally received guests, growling until all four of them moved obediently to do as he wanted of them.

Bilbo, regrettably, ended up squished up next to Frerin, arranged in an order that seemed to suit Furlo just fine, and he sat opposite them and viewed the arrangement with a pleased expression for a moment.

"Thorin, Dís, Frerin, Bilbo," he said, quite possibly the longest string of sounds that Bilbo had ever heard from his mouth, and Bilbo beamed to see him so very excited.

"As you say, love," Bilbo said softly, heart fit to burst, and they all sat silently for a moment, while Furlo beamed at them all.

"Do I have to sit next to the halfling?" Frerin said plaintively, all of a sudden, and Bilbo kicked out and got him in the shin, grinning smugly when Frerin yelped.

"Stop doing that!" Frerin whined, and Bilbo huffed.

"You started it!"

"I did not-"

"You absolutely did."

Bilbo wasn't certain that Frerin would not have tackled him there and then, if not for Furlo bursting into great bellowing gales of laughter, and Bilbo stared, because although he had heard his Dwarrow laugh before, never so free and happy before, like his soul could barely contain its joy, and he stopped and stared and grinned himself to see it. And then the other three Dwarrow stomped into the room to greet Furlo, and Bilbo slipped away to stand in his third pantry and grin some more, tears slipping down his cheeks.

Chapter Text

It went without saying that these Dwarrow were to stay; Bilbo would not hear of them going back to the Green Dragon. (Not least because he wasn't sure the Inn Keep would take them after their little altercation that morn.) As it were, he had plenty of space, rooms for all their party, and he hummed a little as he went room to room, starting fires and making up beds, and opening up the windows to the still-crisp evening air to freshen the rooms.

Mister Silent, Thorin, found him in one of those rooms after tea, and Bilbo motioned him in, and gestured to the cupboard to place his pack, and handed him a pile of towels for himself, and then set about lighting the wall sconces.

"You are kind," Thorin said hesitantly, while Bilbo worked. "To take us into your home," he clarified, when Bilbo glanced his way.

"You are Furlo's family, and this is his home, as well," Bilbo said, with great finality, because he meant that. He would never turn away family, and these were Furlo's family.

Thorin was quiet for a long minute, and Bilbo stirred up the small fire he had going, and spread it across the logs piled below, poking and prodding until the fire caught the logs and blazed a lovely bright glow, the warmth a quite enjoyable contrast to the bite of chill the early spring air still held of an eve.

"Thráin," Thorin said suddenly, though hesitantly. "You know that his name is Thráin?"

Bilbo stilled, and then sighed, standing to start closing off the flue a fair bit, letting the flames die back from bright burn of heat rushing up the chimney to a gentler warmth that lingered.

"I know," he said, after a moment, hating how hesitant his voice sounded. "But, he's been Furlo for me, for so long, well. He's just... he's Furlo."

He turned then, and Thorin's face held no censure, only the same uncertain hesitance as Bilbo, and he moved across to perch on the bed beside Thorin for a moment.

Bilbo supposed they were somewhat in the same boat. They knew parts of Furlo -Thráin- but neither really knew all of him. It was unsettling, to be discovering this person that was so dear to them both, each discovering different parts of him, and Bilbo understood the uncertainty.

"It's partly selfish," Bilbo admitted in a rush. "I didn't expect things to change so quickly. I don't want to..."

"Let go of that one thing," Thorin said, and nodded, as if he understood all too well. "I don't know that I truly really expected to find father alive," he admitted, quietly, quietly, like it was a shameful thing, and then sighed, and they sat together for a long time, both scowling at the floor.

"Father should be the one to ask you to call him otherwise, if he wants that," Thorin decided, still staring at the floor, and Bilbo turned and looked at him. He looked tired, all of a sudden, and Bilbo touched his arm gently, until he looked at Bilbo.

"Thank you," Bilbo said. "But if it makes you uncomfortable-"

"That is not what disturbs me," Thorin said, before he could say more. "The name itself is not the issue. It's just-"

He stopped and sighed in frustration, raking his hair back from his face, and Bilbo patted the warm arm under his hand.

"It's a reminder of all that you've missed," Bilbo realised, and Thorin looked startled.

"I suppose so," he said, and they fell to silence for a long while. Bilbo supposed he ought to be uncomfortable, perhaps leave Thorin be for the eve, but, well, Thorin really was so very like his father. It was easy to be comfortable with him, and Bilbo felt no real need to leave just yet.

"It's a fine name, to be given to him, when he had none," Thorin said quietly, after a moment. "It is a comfort to know that he had one, a place, a voice, in a time when he, he..."

"He's safe now. He's safe, and we won't let anyone else harm him, ever again," Bilbo promised, and Thorin's next breath was a gasp, and he trembled where he sat, and Bilbo moved closer and flung an arm around the bigger body, and sat quietly while Thorin gasped and shook.

***

The Dwarrow were easy enough to settle for the night, after a rather oddly silent and somewhat awkward dinner, and an even more awkward supper, and Bilbo took himself off to bed as soon as he'd closed the house for the night, heartsore and uncertain, though he found sleep easily enough.

Coward that he was, in the morning, he busied himself with chores, and set a fine breakfast for them all, and then took himself back to the kitchen to attend to the dishes and a flurry of baking to cover all the needs of a housefull of guests, and made himself just unavailable enough that Furlo could take his children off to reconnect with them, and the rest of his guests wandered off to entertain themselves.

By lunch time, there was not much left to do, as Bilbo had stocked enough baked goods for three times their number for the next few days, and had prepared and organised all the meals for the rest of the day. The rooms he had set aside for the Dwarrow were all surprisingly neat, and they seemed to be making an effort to clean up after themselves as they went, and so Bilbo, with nothing else to do, and still feeling quite unbalanced and unwilling to interrupt Furlo and his children, decided to tackle a few of the more difficult chores.

Being that he was now hosting a whole group of Dwarrow, and the early Spring air was still truly quite nippy in the evening, and with all the extra cooking that was sure to need doing, Bilbo took himself off to the back yard with the wood axe to restock the dwindling pile by the back door. Often, Furlo would insist on taking over, but Bilbo had been taking care of the woodpile since he was a tween, and was quite capable, thank you very much, though that argument didn't often stand- at times because Bilbo truly did not really relish the task. Being that he was a rather stubborn fellow, though, Bilbo either took care of it while Furlo was at market, or let his friend have his way and do the chore himself and enjoyed the respite from sweating and aching over the silly pile. There was no way, however, that Bilbo was separating his Dwarrow from his family, for now, though, and so he'd roll his sleeves up and get a good pile ready, enough to light the fires in all the bedrooms he'd opened up for them to stay in and keep the main fires going for the week.

How long they would stay, Bilbo was not quite sure of. Bilbo desperately hoped that they had not planned to leave too soon.

"Do you need some help with that?"

Bilbo almost dropped the axe on his foot in surprise, and he leapt about with a cry, because he had certainly not heard Thorin appear at the back door to the Smial.

"I am quite capable," he said, slightly snotty at being caught by surprise; Dwarrow had such big boots, there was no way they should be able to sneak about in those great clompers. What was worse, was that they definitely made plenty of noise when they did walk, so Bilbo was certain that any sneaking was most certainly deliberate, thank you very much.

"I can see that," Thorin said, somewhat amused, stepping out to sit at a nearby bench. "I could take over for you, though, if you tire."

"As bad as your father," Bilbo grumbled, though not meanly, and Thorin chuckled a little and leaned back on the bench, relaxing in the dappled shade of the garden.

"Speaking of," Bilbo said, moving another short stub of log to the chopping block, "I would have thought you'd be spending time with him again this afternoon?"

"Frerin is attempting to retell every single moment of his existence from the last fifteen years," Thorin said, looking terribly amused. "Father and Dís are humouring him. I, though, just needed..."

His smile slipped as he trailed off, and Bilbo paused after the next swing to wipe the sweat building across his brow away.

"Needed a moment to get your bearings?" Bilbo offered, propping the axe against the block for a moment whilst he meandered into the shade for a moment of rest. It was warm in the sun.

"Take a breath," Thorin agreed, sighing. He stretched his legs out in front of him, and Bilbo slumped a little into the spot next to him. Their shoulders and arms were pressed together, but neither moved from that position. "It feels a bit.... odd. Overwhelming, a bit."

"It's been a long time. As much as you hoped to find him again someday, it's strange to actually have finally done so," Bilbo guessed, and Thorin sighed again.

"Exactly. I am grateful, so very happy. I just need to, take stock, perhaps?"

Bilbo hummed.

"Understandable," he agreed, and let the peaceful quiet of the garden be the only sound for a while, resting easily against Thorin.

It really was so very easy to be casually affectionate with Furlo's eldest. He was a lot like Furlo, though so different, as well, but just enough alike that Bilbo felt himself very at home with Thorin.

"You have a nice garden," Thorin said after a while, comfortable and easy. "It's a good place to linger."

He sounded almost surprised by that, and Bilbo hummed. He had a feeling it wasn't his Hobbity garden that was surprising him.

"Don't get much time to linger, do you?" Bilbo mused, and grinned a little when Thorin made a noise that was distinctly a hurumph.

"Too many duties," he admitted, and grinned when Bilbo laughed a bit. "It's nice, to sit a while, with nothing pressing to be done."

"Just need a pipe, or a good cup of tea," Bilbo agreed, digging his toes into the soft grass beneath them. It truly was a lovely day.

Thorin hummed and grinned with a fair amount of mischief, and a pipe appeared from amongst the many layers the fellows favoured, and a neat little pouch of leaf, both of which Thorin was happy enough to share, and though it wasn't Longbottom Leaf, it was quite good stuff, and Bilbo thanked him quietly while passing the pipe back.

"Has anybody.... " Thorin made a huffed sort of noise and glared at the ground for a moment, before he looked back at Bilbo. "None of us have thanked you yet, have we?"

"For what?" Bilbo asked blankly, taking the pipe back for another turn. It was actually rather good. Bilbo might have to find out where this lot came from.

Thorin huffed again, and took the pipe when Bilbo passed it.

"You don't count saving our father from death a thing to be thanked for? Nor seeing him through some few years of recuperation?"

Bilbo thought for a second, blowing a rather crooked smoke ring, while Thorin looked somewhere between amused, and perhaps a little befuddled.

"Not really," Bilbo said after a moment. "You have to understand," he continued, when Thorin frowned, "that most of it was rather selfish."

Thorin watched him quietly, waving away his turn at the pipe in favour of studying Bilbo quietly.

"I don't understand," he said after a moment, when Bilbo did nothing more than tilt his head back and enjoy the peace of the garden.

Bilbo blew another smoke ring, thinking it through, and then pressed the pipe back into Thorin's hands. Poor fellow was starting to look a little tense, and Bilbo liked him far better when he was relaxed.

"I was lonely," he said, bluntly, after a moment. "I didn't realise how much until I was with the decision to leave Furlo with the bounders or take him home with me. It was nice to talk to someone, to have someone to be there when I woke in the morning. Do you know that feeling?"

Thorin was watching him carefully when Bilbo looked up, and he nodded slowly.

"I do," was all he said.

"Yes, well," Bilbo said, shifting a little uncomfortably. "Then, of course, your father quite grew on me, and then, well. I love that old git. I couldn't bear for him to leave. Oh, don't get me wrong," he said, though Thorin showed no sign of protest. "I would never prevent him from leaving, if he so desired. It's just, I'll never ask him to go. Home just would not be the same, anymore."

He trailed off there, wondering, really, what was to happen now. Because Furlo's family were here, now, and they would not be able to stay in Hobbiton forever. Could they?

"I'll... miss him. When you take him."

Bilbo hadn't meant to say that, and he frowned at his feet when he did, but Thorin said nothing to that, but sat and smoked his pipe, and Bilbo got to his feet and retrieved his axe, and started again on the wood pile.

"Thank you," Thorin said abruptly, in between one log and the next. "Whether you believe yourself worthy of it or not, you have our unending gratitude for all that you've done for my family."

Bilbo really did not know what to say to that, so he swung down and split the next bit of wood, and moved to collect another.

Thorin finished his pipe in silence, and then rose to help Bilbo collect all the split wood, piling it up by the kitchen door in the racks.

"We aren't going to take him from you," Thorin said, all of a sudden. "Father thinks you family, now, and so family you are. We don't abandon our own."

Bilbo flushed, and concentrated on the woodpile, stacking everything neatly and ignoring the flush that worked its way up his cheeks.

"Saddling me with Frerin," was all he could think to mumble in response, but smiled when that earned him the loveliest of rumbling laughs.

It truly was terribly unfair how handsome Thorin was.

"Is there anything we may do?" Thorin asked, all of a sudden, and Bilbo raised one confused brow at him. "To assist you, repay you, at the very least for our room and board? We have little coin, but-"

"Don't be ridiculous," Bilbo spluttered, and waved a hand when Thorin looked mildly offended. "No, honestly, Furlo already does so much around here, I at times feel redundant myself! I bake a lot more these days," he said dryly, and Thorin smiled ruefully, which was a relief. "I kid you not, I should say. Furlo practically runs my estate, now, and he grumbles and grumbles if I don't leave him housework to be done, let me tell you. With his carving, and his smithing, I feel like quite the layabout!"

Thorin was laughing by the end of his mini rant, a quiet, deep thing, that made Bilbo's stomach glow, and he grinned crookedly back, and then ducked his head at the fond look Thorin was casting him, cursing himself for behaving like a mooning tween.

Well. A lot like Furlo, but his old grump of a dwarf had never made him stir in that way.

Thorin was really very attractive.

"You're welcome here," Bilbo said, instead of dwelling on the idea of jumping the fellow. "You and your family are welcome here, to stay, and if you are, well, bored, or need to do something, I'm sure Furlo will put you to work soon enough," he said with a grin, and Thorin grinned right back, and Bilbo just did not know what to do with what that smile did to him, so he excused himself to the bathroom to wash up, and wondered what it was that he had got himself into now.

***

Furlo found him after tea time, skulking off to avoid everyone again, and promptly hauled him out to the garden, shoving the watering can into Bilbo's hands and retrieving the fork for himself, grumbling all the way.

"Oh, don’t be like that, love," Bilbo sighed, moving to do as commanded and check over the beds, while Furlo tackled the job of forking up all the weeds that had popped up in the empty bed they were to plant into this week. "I thought you could do with some time with your family."

Furlo shot him a look that was anything but pleased, and Bilbo shrugged and tackled his own set of weeds, stubborn grasses creeping their way into the mulch around the newest tomato plants; he was somewhat behind on his gardening tasks now, he really ought to have some ground covering herbs planted around them by now, probably thyme, and some marjoram.

"Bilbo," Furlo said, not sounding pleased at all, and Bilbo pulled the last of the weeds from the patch, and sighed, moving over to stand with Furlo, ignoring the scowl.

"I know, I know, but they've missed you terribly! They deserve your time and your attention. And Frerin seems as if he needs a lot of attention," Bilbo grumbled, and that, at least, brought a rueful smile to Furlo's face. "That one is a brat, I hope you know," he said, and Furlo grinned, and tugged Bilbo in to his side.

"Bilbo," Furlo said, voice filled with affection, and Bilbo grinned and hugged him tight for a moment, and then pulled away.

"I suppose if we ever want to actually plant this bed, we might have to get a move on," he mused, going for his own hand tools. "Now that we've more mouths to feed, we best get it cleared so we can get the compost turned in. I'm thinking a few more beans, and some cabbages, carrots, I think I have some spinach seedlings in the greenhouse..."

Furlo smiled some more as he got back to work, listening to Bilbo ramble on with that same smile that made Bilbo glow a little to know that whatever may have changed, some things were not so different after all.

***

Frerin, Bilbo decided, was exactly as Bilbo first thought. A brat.

By supper time, he was in the kitchen angrily telling Bilbo not to have Frerin's father (emphasis very clear) grubbing about in the dirt like an animal, anymore, thank you very much, and had stormed off before Bilbo could even look away from the bread he was buttering.

Breakfast the next day, he implied heavily that Bilbo should take himself elsewhere (from his own home) so that the family could spend quality time together. And at elevensies, he called Bilbo's scones 'dry and tasteless', though Bilbo had not had to respond to that one, as Dwalin had knocked him clear off his chair, and then taken the rest of the scones for himself. Bilbo had retrieved three cream cakes and a pile of sweet honey biscuits from the pantry to slide onto Dwalin's plate for that.

There was probably more than that, as every time the siblings were in a room together with him, Bilbo seemed to catch Dís or Thorin smacking Frerin firmly upside the head, or stamping on his unbooted foot, or pinching his ears. Bilbo appreciated the sentiment, but he was quite capable of taking care of himself, and if Frerin did not watch himself, he'd be finding some unpleasant things occurring around him.

Furlo had not seemed to notice the mostly-quiet antagonism between the two, and Bilbo had no intention of going whining to his friend about it. Furlo had enough to contend with as it was.

So far, nobody had mentioned anything as to what would happen now. No talk of packing Furlo up and taking him back to where they had all come from, and none of them seemed in any particular hurry to leave. Bilbo was not complaining- the last thing he wanted to do was send any of them on their way.

Except maybe Frerin.

After lunch, Furlo took Thorin and Frerin with him when he went off to the forge, and Bifur and Glóin drifted off with him, leaving Dwalin sharpening his axes in Bilbo's parlour, and Dís hovering around the place looking slightly uncomfortable, so Bilbo set her at the table with a cup of tea and a pile of biscuits, and set himself to mopping his kitchen floor.

"Hobbits... eat a lot," Dís mentioned, when Bilbo set out the biscuits, though her tone was not unkind, and Bilbo bobbed his head, because yes, really there was no denying that one.

"A bountiful table is a large part of the measurable wealth of a Hobbit. A family large enough to share in a good meal is another. A good home with a warm hearth to enjoy a meal by is another. I suppose that might be odd to a race that values a more quantifiable wealth," Bilbo mused, intent on his floors. Even with berating them all to be bootless in his home, often they were not, and there was quite often mud and dirt tracked across his floors in quantities that dismayed Bilbo greatly.

"I meant no disrespect," Dís said carefully.

"None taken," Bilbo said, shooting her an easy smile whist he rinsed his mop in the bucket of suds. "I too, mean no disparagement upon your race when I speak of our differences, I should say."

Dís nodded and acknowledgement whilst she slurped at her tea, and Bilbo worked his way across the stone tile until all traces of boot prints and the usual layer or kitchen grime was all washed away. He gave the floor one more swipe, and then pushed his bucket and mop to the scullery to deal with later, and wiped the sweat from his brow, and decided on a cup of tea for himself.

Dís did not seem to object to him joining her, pouring a cup and doctoring it with a good splash of milk, and sitting back in his seat with a sigh of satisfaction.

Since meeting this lot, Bilbo had not spoken more than a few cursory words with Dís, and whilst she seemed far more likeable than her brother -Frerin the terror- Bilbo had not really found it easy to fall into a comfortable rapport with her, not nearly like he had with Thorin.

(Thorin was so very easy to know, so very easy to want to spend time with, and Bilbo did not really know what to think of that.)

There was also the slight lingering embarrassment Bilbo still felt from mistakenly thinking of Dís as a fellow. Now that he had spent some small time with her, it was far easier to see her as feminine, and he was still vaguely ashamed that he'd not seen that to begin with, though he did admit, the beard was somewhat confusing. Not to mention, that after witnessing what the others had called a 'slight disagreement' between her and Frerin -and that Bilbo was more inclined to just call brawling- Bilbo had quite discovered that Dís had one mean right hook that Bilbo was morally certain could coldcock a Hobbit, not that he ever wanted to try out that theory… no indeedy.

He was mostly glad that Dís didn't know what he had thought in regards to her gender. But still, it made things a teensy bit awkward, and Bilbo wondered how it was that he could feel so differently about each of these three siblings that really did look awfully alike.

"You seem uncomfortable, around me," Dís said, curiosity in her voice, speculative gaze running over him. "It is... odd."

"It is?" Bilbo frowned a little. Was he making her uncomfortable himself? "I don't mean to offend-"

"You do not," she said, and sniffed. "It is odd, because you seem to have no trouble at all getting along well with Thorin. And you don't get along with Frerin at all."

"Frerin is a nightmare," Bilbo grumbled, flushing lightly at her observation of Bilbo's regard for Thorin.

"That right there, that's odd," Dís pronounced, pointing a biscuit at him in some sort of triumphant satisfaction, and crunched into the biscuit with great finality.

Bilbo eyed her oddly for a long moment, because honestly, Frerin was the rudest Dwarrow that Bilbo had ever met -admittedly, the number he had actually met sat below a dozen- and quite deserved the title of nightmare.

"Frerin is one of the most well-liked Dwarrow of our people," Dís said, eyeing the biscuit plate for a moment and then taking two more. "Everybody loves Frerin."

Bilbo's brows were surely in his hair line as he stared at her in disbelief.

"Are you certain I've not confused the two?" Bilbo asked uncertainly. "Frerin is a rude, brash, stubborn, pouting, horrible git of a Dwarrow; stand-offish, when he's not being an unreasonable git. Thorin is tolerable, quite lovely, actually. Very amicable, easy to speak to, with a wonderful sense of humour..." He trailed off when Dís stared at him in some amazement, hoping he did not sound like he was gushing like a love-struck idiot. "What?"

"It's like you have indeed confused them, and had I not witnessed your interactions with them myself, I'd be gently correcting you on which of my brother's is which. It's quite odd."

Bilbo wasn't quite sure what to do with that, and so he buried his nose into his tea to hide his blush. Really, it was quite odd to think of Frerin as the amicable of the two brothers. Thorin was the loveliest, in personality and looks, if Bilbo did so say himself.

"Thorin is not disliked," Dís said thoughtfully, helping herself to the last of the biscuits, and Bilbo grinned into his tea. They were one of Furlo's favourites as well. "But he's quieter, more serious, and the weight of his responsibilities is a heavy burden to carry; it separates him from others sometimes, I think. Proud, too. He is respected, yes, well liked, but not like Frerin."

Bilbo frowned at that. Thorin was too lovely a person to be outshone by the Brat.

"To watch as you find the best in Thorin, bring out the wonderful person he is... I appreciate that. Knowing what you have done for my father, what you do for my brother. You have my thanks, Master Baggins. For my family, for the people I love."

Well. That was, that...

Bilbo cleared his throat, and shifted awkwardly under her intense gaze.

"You're family, to me, Furlo- He is family, and you are his, so you are family to me. No thanks necessary, when it comes to family," he settled for, fidgeting under that gaze.

Dís stared at him for a long moment more, whilst he straightened the tea pot, and the cosy, and the empty biscuit plate, and then she nodded, with a grin that reminded Bilbo of Thorin's (though Thorin's was lovelier; goodness, he was behaving like a love-struck idiot!).

"Please do call me Bilbo, though," he added, and she grinned all the wider.

"Adad has all but named you son, and so we are brothers, now, Bilbo," she said, smile as wide as could be, and Bilbo spluttered.

Brother!

"And brothers," she continued, with the most wicked of smiles, now, "are good brothers when they share the recipe for their wonderful biscuits."

Bilbo threw his hands up, and stomped to get his recipe book, while Dís burst to laughter behind him.

Brother, well, really.

His thoughts truly were terribly inappropriate if Thorin could now be called his brother.

***

Bilbo had just about had enough, he really had.

Frerin totally deserved everything he had coming to him, but that didn't mean that Bilbo was a fool, and so when he fixed his retaliation in mind, he was sure to take the back door, and creep through the back hallways to the bedrooms. He'd almost made it without being spotted; the others were all supposed to be out on the front stoop for an evening smoke before bed, but coming around the corner, Bilbo almost ran smack bang into Thorin.

"What-"

Bilbo shushed him quickly, and yanked him back into the dark of the end of the hall, peering around the frame for anybody watching. Thorin's nose wrinkled at the smell of Bilbo's bucket, and he pointed one finger at it with a raised brow of confusion.

"It's pig shit," Bilbo said quietly, and Thorin's face crinkled even more. "It's for Frerin."

Thorin stared at him for a long, long moment, and then slapped a hand over his own mouth, a keening laugh threatening to escape and give them away to anybody that might be passing by.

Bilbo shrugged, because honestly, Frerin bloody deserved it, the little rotter, and he was pretty sure that Thorin wouldn't rat him out.

"His boots," Thorin managed, after a moment, though his face was strained under the force of restraining his laughter. "We'll put it in his boots."

"You'll help?" Bilbo eyed Thorin with no amount of surprise, and a fair whack of pleasure. He half expected Thorin to forbid it.

"He stuck hog shit in my boots when we were lads," Thorin said, and grinned again. "This is long awaited revenge. And he is being enough of a shit to deserve some squishing his toes," Thorin admitted, and then grinned again when Bilbo huffed a laugh.

Thorin took the bucket, and they snuck down the hall, and Bilbo eased the door to the room Frerin was sleeping in slowly open, and then shut it equally as carefully behind him. Thorin was already carefully pulling Frerin's boots out from under the low dresser across the room, and they shared one wicked grin between them, before Bilbo reached for the small spade he'd brought with him.

"Shove it right down to the toes so he doesn't realise until too late," Thorin said quietly, and Bilbo muffled his own laughs, and eased a scoop of stinky shit into the boot Thorin held.

Footsteps in the hall had them both freezing, especially when the steps paused outside of the room they were in, and both gulped when the door swung open.

Furlo took one look at them -Thorin clutching Frerin's boot tightly, and Bilbo with a scoop of shit halfway in- and sighed, turning and shutting the door firmly (but quietly) behind him.

Bilbo shared a long look with Thorin, and they both shrugged, and Bilbo carefully eased the crap into the boot, pushing it back into the toe.

"He'd left these over by the window; hopefully he won't notice the smell enough to realise, though it might bother him through the night," Thorin mused, looking far too pleased with himself, and they exchanged another grin, and filled the second boot, putting them back exactly where they had found them under the table by the window, and taking the bucket with them as they scampered out and back the way they had come.

They were both laughing breathlessly by the time they made it to the garden, and back over the neighbour’s fence to return the remaining shit to the compost heaps.

"We'd best be elsewhere, when he discovers it, I suppose," Thorin said, but Bilbo tossed his head back and laughed and laughed.

"And miss the fireworks? Never," Bilbo said, which set Thorin to laughing again. "It will be worth it, no matter how much he will know it was definitely me."

Thorin settled into a contented sort of chuckling, and Bilbo nudged his arm happily with his own, and tugged Thorin further down the neighbour's yard to the benched area under the apple trees. The Goodchild family would not mind finding him here. Their faunts were free to run through Bilbo's yard as they liked, as well.

"I've not done anything like that in such a time," Thorin admitted after a moment.

"What, played with pig shit?"

Thorin started to laugh again, and Bilbo joined him, and they settled close on the bench, Bilbo shivering in the cool night air. Thorin threw his coat around Bilbo's shoulders, his arm settling about him, and Bilbo hoped his flush was not too evident in the dark.

"No," Thorin said after a moment. "I've not played tricks on my brother for many a year, is what I meant."

Bilbo thought for a long moment.

"Well, that seems as if it were a mistake," he settled on, somewhat grumpily, and Thorin began to laugh again, a deep thing that thrummed against Bilbo's skin everywhere he was pressed to him, and Bilbo could not help his own easy chuckles from joining in.

"He's a brat, to be sure," Thorin said, and then sobered, and sighed, and Bilbo nudged a little closer under his arm. Thorin gave him a grateful smile for it, and seemed to understand that Bilbo was willing to listen, and settled in, gathering his words.

"I was, when I was younger, somewhat of a brat, myself," he admitted after a moment, and Bilbo chuffed a laugh of mock disbelief.

"What, you? No!"

"Shut it," Thorin said with a short bark of laughter. "Yes, I was somewhat of a spoiled little prince. My parents were terribly indulgent, and I was the only child for many years."

He trailed off, eyes distant in memory, and Bilbo waited him out, while Thorin smiled, though there was a hint of loss in the look.

"Frerin and Dís... they were miracles. My mother wanted more children, and she was blessed twice in a very short period of time. I thought I would resent more children, sharing my parent's affection, but, they were so very beautiful, tiny wonders, and I was so very in love from the beginning."

Bilbo put a hand on Thorin's without thought, and Thorin smiled at him, a gentle sort of thing, and turned his hand to hold Bilbo's carefully.

"Frerin... he was bright and inquisitive, always looking, always asking, always needing watching. I was only too happy to take him with me wherever I went. Toted him about when he was tiny, much to the amusement of all those around us."

"Your own little puppy," Bilbo teased, and Thorin laughed again, head tilting back a bit in amusement, moonlight playing across his face, and Bilbo wondered at how beautiful he was.

"With eyes to match," Thorin laughed. "Both of them, really, I loved to carry both of them high and low, and I'm afraid I was just as indulgent as our parents. It didn't take them long to settle in to the role of bratty younger siblings, though, and they were terribly mischievous."

"I can imagine," Bilbo grumped, and Thorin laughed again and tucked him a little closer.

"He truly is not that bad," Thorin said, and Bilbo shot him an unconvinced look. "Alright, he is at the moment, but...."

Bilbo hurrumphed in the most grumpy way he could manage, being that he was quite cosy and comfortable, held warm and snug under Thorin's arm and coat, and quite incapable of being very grumpy in such circumstances at all. Thorin only shot him an indulgent smile, though, so he snuggled a bit deeper when a cool breeze nipped past them, and poked Thorin in the side.

"Indulgent older brother Thorin no doubt taught Frerin many awful tricks, I assume?"

"I did," Thorin said, looking far too smug. "He was a right terror, though it was my responsibility to put him back in his place on a regular basis."

"Heads in chamber pots and such, sort of thing?" Bilbo guessed.

"My solemn duty as older brother," Thorin said, with a small wicked grin.

"Tell me you didn't try that on with Dís," Bilbo said with a laugh, and Thorin looked decidedly shifty.

"Only if there was no chance of ever being blamed," he admitted, and Bilbo laughed and laughed. "She's vicious when angered, but so very hysterical when caught off balance. Sometimes it was worth it."

Bilbo's laughs turned to something deeper, and he leant into Thorin while he clutched at his belly, picturing a young Thorin setting Dís up to be furious and screaming, and innocently passing the blame.

"Oh, you were a terror," Bilbo said around his laughs, and Thorin shrugged ruefully, still grinning. Oh that smile, it would melt Bilbo's heart.

"What changed?" Bilbo asked, and regretted it, when that smile melted away to a flick of sorrow.

"Our home," Thorin said. "It was lost. Things became a struggle, after that. We were so busy, trying so hard to stay alive, to keep as many of us alive as possible. I don't remember much laughter, for the first few years. And when father was lost, Frerin.... he blamed himself. Was angry, for such a long time, that father had sacrificed himself for Frerin. And I-" he started, and then stopped.

Bilbo waited, taking that big warm hand again, while Thorin mused to himself.

"I mourned the loss of our father," he said slowly, "but I never thought him dead. Well, at the time, I had convinced myself he was alive. It was still a shock to find him here, alive, I was surprised to find. But Frerin? If I had lost him... I am so very grateful. So grateful, that father saved him. No matter how angry, how much it weighed on Frerin's soul to be responsible for the loss of our father, I was so relieved to keep my brother."

Bilbo squeezed Thorin's hand tight for a moment, and they sat in silence for a while, watching the stars, listening to the breeze rustle through the tree tops.

"You have both of them, now. Though why you'd want to keep Frerin is beyond me."

That earned him some more laughter, warm and rumbling, Thorin's eyes light again, and Bilbo almost did something foolish, then, Thorin so very beautiful in the moonlight, it would be easy to lean up and attempt to taste that laughter-

But, for a shrill scream, followed by a howl of pure fury echoing through the night air, and Bilbo turned and looked back towards the glow of the windows of Bag End.

"Bother and Confusicate the ridiculousness of Dwarrow!" he cried. "We've gone and missed it!"

Thorin's laughter was a bright, unrestrained thing, and would surely be heard one end of the lane to the other, but such a sound could not be repressed, and Bilbo just grinned right back at him.

"Honey," Thorin eventually managed.

"Honey?"

"In his scabbard." Thorin got out, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.

"And here's me thinking that weapons would be off limits," Bilbo said, reluctantly wiggling his way out from under Thorin's arm, and hauling the Dwarf to his feet. They really ought to get back, if Bilbo was to catch -and revel in- some of Frerin's dismay.

"Honey won't damage a blade, but it's hell to clean," Thorin said. "And right before Dwalin and Bifur drag us for training with father tomorrow. He'll be shrill, you watch."

Bilbo hummed, considering it. He did have a wonderful supply of honey at the moment.

"Have you heard of an apple pie bed?" he asked Thorin as they made their way back to Bag End, Thorin chuckling all the way.

***

Frerin, it turned out, had been asked by Furlo to accompany him on a walk, his reasons for pulling boots on so late in the eve, and Bilbo and Thorin had excused themselves to cackle in the hallway. The sly old coot.

That same sly old coot, though, had managed the most innocent of acts, whilst seeming completely annoyed on Frerin's behalf, and had gently smacked his son upside the head every time he had (shrilly, hilariously) insisted that it had to have been 'that worm of a halfling' that had filled his boots with half-rotted manure.

Bilbo affected the most fussily innocent expression he could manage, throwing the most snottiest of strops over the shit-prints across his lovely wooden floorboards when Frerin had stomped around looking for someone to blame for the disgusting mess squishing through the weave of his socks and between his toes, and that more than anything had made Frerin look for other perpetrators.

In the end, somehow Thorin had managed to take responsibility for the prank, though Bilbo blamed that on the fact that Thorin had been quite unable to keep from dissolving into laughter every few seconds, and Frerin was successfully diffused from his Hobbit-focused anger under the impression that Thorin had for some unknown reason decided to play a prank on him for the first time in decades, even while Thorin heartily denied it. Frerin was sent to wash himself -and his boots- thoroughly, while Bifur and Glóin helped Bilbo mop the floors. Thoroughly.

(The slight lingering smell was worth it, and a wipe down with Lavender and Rosemary oils the next day did wonders. Bilbo could live with the faint smell of pig shit for the pleasure of Frerin's discomfort alone, though.)

It was a highly successful prank, in Bilbo's opinion, and as he and Thorin -and also Dís, who had spent just as much time as Thorin dissolved into helpless cackles- had filled Frerin's sword AND dagger sheaths with honey while Frerin bathed, well, it had been a fine evening indeed, and he went to bed with the memory of Furlo twinkling in delight at the scene of his children in such a ridiculous situation, and Thorin's low, deep laugh curling around him like a warm blanket.

The following morning after breakfast, however, Furlo again dragged Bilbo off to the garden, and eyed him with amusement while Bilbo dug in new seedlings, and sprinkled carrot seeds across the new patch, and Furlo carefully poured water around some of the younger plants that were still establishing.

"Bilbo," he said, after a while, and there was a slight note of reproach there, though mostly amusement.

"Frerin started it," Bilbo said, wrinkling his nose. "He did!" he insisted, when Furlo's mountain curled over a little. "He's mean."

Furlo stared at him for a long moment, and Bilbo flushed.

"Bilbo," Furlo said, all but chuckling into his beard.

"I'm not apologising unless he apologises," Bilbo said, blowing a stray curl out of his face, and concentrating on his digging. "He's rude, brash, insulting! He's- oh, dratted Frerin."

Bilbo almost told Furlo about the 'tearing of the weskit' business when they had first met, but that felt an awful lot like telling on a sibling- and as dismaying as it was to consider Frerin a brother, he would not be the tattle-tale of the family. Bilbo had a feeling that would take Furlo from amused at their contention, to upset, and Bilbo did not like to make Furlo upset, or think of ruining all of this for him, especially as Bilbo could handle Frerin just fine on his own.

Furlo laughed some more, and went to fetch some more water for the seedlings that Bilbo was planting in, and Bilbo looked up to find that the three siblings had taken up various posts at the windows lining the back of the Smial. For Dís and Thorin, he favoured them with a smile (and perhaps, Bilbo's smile for Thorin was a bit warmer, though hopefully the blush could be written off by the warmth of the sun he worked in) but Frerin he could not help himself, and poked his tongue out with a grimace of dislike, and promptly cursed himself when Thorin and Dís immediately burst into laughter, and he turned back to his seedlings with a huff.

It was the sun. Not embarrassment at all.

"Oh, Bilbo," Furlo said, laughing again as he carried back the watering cans, and Bilbo would have liked nothing better than to bury himself into the dirt with the seedlings, honestly.

"Bloody Frerin," he muttered. At least the siblings were gone from the windows.

Furlo chuffed another laugh, and left the watering cans in favour of a shovel, which he used to cut back the grasses attempting to grow over the edges of the gardens, chuckling to himself now and then as he went.

It was another good hour of planting to get the latest vegetable bed how he liked, marked off, mulched, trellis ready for the little bean plants to grow up to, and he was aching from all the bending when he was done, a good ache of solid hard work that would soon reward them nicely.

Furlo looked at him speculatively, though, as he went over some of the tomato plants, picking the ripest, adding a few bunches of herbs to his harvest basket.

"Hmm," Furlo finally said. "Thorin?"

Bilbo blushed.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," he said with a huff, and Furlo snickered, and then waggled his eyebrows at him.

"What-" Bilbo spluttered, and Furlo's snickers turned to full belly laughter, and Bilbo had to put the basket aside in favour of covering his poor red face with his hands.

"Bilbo," Furlo said between laughter, "Bilbo."

"Oh, shush," he moaned, and Furlo's laughter was almost burbled hiccups of pain, doubled over where he stood.

"It's ridiculous. He'd not... ugh," Bilbo mumbled, and despondently yanked leaves off the spinach, tossing them into his basket.

That, at least, seemed to sober Furlo somewhat, though he still was grinning as he hunkered down next to Bilbo and knocked his arm against Bilbo's until Bilbo took his eyes off the plants.

"Bilbo," Furlo said, and gestured a little, seeming frustrated for a moment, though still amused. "Raspberries," he said, finally.

Bilbo stared at him, and then at the raspberry brambles climbing over the fence, separating the back of his hill with the paddocks beyond.

"For Thorin," Furlo said, and raised a brow in a way that Bilbo did not want to think of as suggestive.

"I could make a fool?" he mused, but Furlo's face was not quite the face of one completely convinced, and Bilbo eyed the brambles again. "Perhaps the tarts with the sugared cobnut topping?"

Furlo grinned and nodded, and brought another basket out for him to fill, and Bilbo made a face whilst Furlo began to chuckle again.

"This is revenge for every time you've brought home Ms Brownlow's muffins, isn't it?" he asked with no small amount of dismay, and Furlo blushed right to the tips of his ears, and then dissolved into a great booming laughter that had Bilbo fleeing to the raspberry patch and cursing Dwarrow at the top of his lungs.

***

The berry tarts, served warm after dinner -browned sugar still melted and the cobnuts fragrant- with a scoop of fresh cream had gone exceptionally well, but for the way Bilbo'd had to excuse himself abruptly when Thorin had taken to moaning around each mouthful, and Bilbo spent a good hour before bed that night locked in his study with every recipe book he owned spread out as he worked out how many recipes he might serve with raspberries in.

(Furlo had already pointed out a recipe he was most fond of; another tart with a delicate biscuit base, layered with soft, mellow cheese mixed with sweet herbs, and usually topped with strawberries and honey, though Bilbo saw no reason he could not adapt the recipe to include raspberries, with perhaps a honey and raspberry sauce poured over. Perhaps even swirled into the cheese, also.)

The study door required locking largely because Frerin had come stomping back at tea time all but howling for blood after he'd discovered his own sweet surprise during sparring. Bilbo had given him his best blank stare and uncomprehending 'what sheath mean- Hobbit no speak pointy things?' and slipped off while Frerin was busy yelling something in Khuzdul that Bilbo could only interpret a sixth of- he sort of figured most of it was cursing, in any case, and left him to it while he prepared dinner. The best part, however, had been the three guards giving Frerin a good dressing down, as it seemed to be the unanimous agreement between Dwalin, Glóin and Bifur, that he deserved to be chewed out for allowing his weapons to be compromised without his knowledge. Dís spent that lecture looking smug, and Thorin'd had to leave and stand in the kitchen, where he and Bilbo had smooshed close to the door to listen whilst they muffled their triumphant laughter in their hands.

Thorin was ever so much fun.

Furlo had rolled his eyes, shot all his children reproachful looks, and then wandered off with the last of the biscuits from tea, which he probably thought punishment enough for them all. Dwalin certainly thought so, and Bilbo was sure that had only added fuel to his fiery reproach.

It was hysterical, but Bilbo knew when a strategic retreat was in order, and so he locked the door and let the family be for the moment, and concentrated on dishes that could make Thorin moan like that again. (There was a recipe for a salad, and Bilbo knew that Dwarrow weren't on the whole terribly taken with salad, but served with a fresh raspberry dressing perhaps may be taken well. There was his mother’s recipe for sponge fingers liberally soaked in wine before being layered with raspberries and custard and topped with a featherbed of whipped cream. Nobody made a trifle like Belladonna Took! Or perhaps he would dig out that recipe for Bakewell tart, he had plenty of almonds in his stores. He knew he had a recipe for raspberry mead somewhere, and what Dwarrow had ever refused a mug of mead? And perhaps the fools, after all, but served with sweets of honey and whipped egg white, baked crisp and fluffy light in the oven, or biscuits with raspberry jam filling...)

He'd expected, after compiling a lovely list of recipes, to have to creep off to bed, and perhaps check his room for unpleasant surprises, knowing how irate Frerin had been, but Furlo was still in their cosy sitting room, staring pensively into the fire, and so Bilbo changed course and sat in his chair for a while until Furlo noticed him, and then brought out the hairbrushes.

It seemed Furlo was in the mood to be fussy, and not fussed over, because it was a mere minute before Bilbo was chuffed onto the low foot stool pulled up to Furlo's chair, and brushed and braided for the first time since this disruptive lot had arrived in the Shire. Bilbo had not realised how reassuring wearing such braids was, then, until they were back in his hair, and he felt himself let go of some small amount of tension he'd not noticed he'd been carrying.

"Thank you, my Dwarf," he said quietly when Furlo was done, and rapped the old Dwarf on the knee until he let him switch places with Furlo and comb out all that long grey mane, until it was glossy and Furlo was relaxed and content. Bilbo wove in a few frivolous braids, though after seeing the braids that some of his guests wore, he wondered both at if any of them held meaning, and also at how one became both skilled and dedicated enough to create the marvellous things.

Furlo was happy enough to sit on the foot stool with his pipe when Bilbo was done, and was preoccupied enough with whatever consumed his thoughts, that Bilbo eventually left him to it, and slipped off down the hall to his room.

Frerin was in the door to his own room, and watched Bilbo walk to his room with eyes that were stormy with repressed emotion, and Bilbo would have indulged in another tongue stuck out at him, but for the seriousness in which Frerin watched him, and so Bilbo restrained himself and left Frerin alone, and slipped away to his room and shut the door with a conclusive snap.

He checked his bed and wardrobe carefully, though.

***

Bilbo half expected to be yanked back to the garden the next morning after breakfast (in which Bilbo had included raspberries piled on warmed scones- not really the most appropriate of breakfasts, but Thorin had certainly appreciated them, and that was enough of a reason, really), but Thorin had come and asked him quite seriously if Bilbo would go for a walk with him, and how was he to say no to that?

(Actually, he almost had said no, purely because Furlo had been there making the most ridiculously annoying faces behind Thorin's back, and the old git knew that such a request for walking phrased thusly was a serious courting gesture for Hobbits, and laughed without compunction at Bilbo's flushed countenance.)

So of course, he'd stuttered out the most embarrassing of acceptance, looking quite foolish he was sure, and wandered off with Thorin down the lane in the direction of the one of the more popular walking tracks in the district.

(Alright, so it was also popular because it was often taken by young lovers looking to be alone, but it was a scenic walk that would take them through some lovely wooded areas, and along beside the stream, and it was a beautiful walk, was all Bilbo was really thinking. Honestly.)

His slight embarrassment kept him silent for the first ten minutes, and Bilbo felt badly for that, as Thorin did look somewhat uncomfortable at the silence, but really, Bilbo could not quite figure out what to say, and so stayed silent.

The turn along the road that took them through a small track that wove amongst the oaks had Bilbo sighing, because lover's lane or not, he'd walked this path more than a few times before, and it was truly a beautiful place to walk, and Thorin relaxed beside him when Bilbo slowed to enjoy the walk, meandering amongst the trees.

"This is... lovely," Thorin said, though he sounded a little awkward saying so. When Bilbo discreetly eyed him, Thorin was shifting a little, and Bilbo wondered if it were uncomfortable for a Dwarrow to be outside of a mountain, after all. Furlo had never seemed too discomforted, but perhaps it were so. Might account for the full weaponry at all times.

“Why do Dwarrow wear weapons and armour everywhere?” Bilbo blurted without thought, and then promptly wished he hadn’t. Bilbo had taken a number of romantic walks in his younger years, although none of them had been that serious -and certainly none of them with such a distractingly handsome companion- and he was fairly certain that there were ‘accepted’ topics of conversation for these occasions. One talked about the scenery, or some upcoming social event. What one most assuredly did not do was interogate their companion on their wardrobe choices!

"Well," Thorin said, voice hesitant, but not unhappy, as he touched one of his vambrances lightly. "Habit, I suppose, at least here, in your peaceful Shire. The last few years have not been... kind. We are always prepared, outside of our mountains. People can be cruel."

Bilbo hummed in thought for a moment, and took Thorin's arm to lead him on the lower path, when it looked like he might take the higher. Thorin looked startled, but covered Bilbo's hand with his own, and Bilbo left his hand where it was, as they walked.

"Do you not wear armour at home? In your mountains, then?" he asked, wondering to himself why he was so curious.

Thorin opened his mouth, and then shut it, and grinned ruefully.

"I would like to say no, I do not, but really, more often than not, I do. You have to understand," he continued, when Bilbo gave him a disbelieving look. "Some of it is ceremonial; there are times and circumstances where it is required. If I am to be in the training rings at some point, I will also be armed for the day. If outsiders come to the mountain, we remain armed and ready, for we have learned, as I said, that people can be cruel, and greedy, too. Some armour may be beneficial to working- Miners have their own sorts of protection for their work. And also..." He paused, and drew Bilbo to a stop with a particularly nice view of Hobbiton, visible through a gap in the trees.

"Also," he said, hesitantly. "We take pride in our ability to protect what is most valuable to us. Our homes, our treasures. Our families. Loved ones." His voice dipped deeply at the end, and he gave Bilbo an incomprehensible look, and shrugged a little when Bilbo raised an enquiring brow. "We cannot protect if we are not ready, and what is important may be lost in an instant. All train, all make themselves ready to hold safe what is most dear. Armour and weapons are simply one of the basics of this."

Bilbo mulled that over as they set off walking once more, slowly, relaxed and meandering, and Bilbo leaned into Thorin a bit and thought that over.

"I am glad, then," he decided. "That I was able to secure some weaponry for Furlo, this past Winter. I did not want to acquire him anything Mannish, it did not seem to suit. We have smiths, in the Shire, who outfit the Bounders, but again, it did not seem right."

Thorin hummed and blushed, for some reason.

"My cousin encountered a smith, near the beginning of winter. A Dwarf, lost on his way home. I do hope that fellow got home safely," Bilbo wondered, brow wrinkling at the thought. "Aldagrim assured me he was sent with some extra goods, and warm blankets, but he did such wonderful work on the things I gave to Furlo, he loved them so much, I do hope the fellow- what?" he asked, when Thorin slowed, and then stopped completely, face all but glowing.

"Ah," was all he said, and then shrugged, looking quite contrite. "I thought somebody might have informed you by now."

"Informed me of what?"

"I... may have taken the wrong road home, this year," Thorin all but mumbled. "I have taken the right road many times, but this year, I was late setting out, and the paths were covered in snow, and I travelled late into the evening, trying to make up time..."

Bilbo stared at him for a long, long moment.

"It was you?" he asked. "Oh dear, you could have frozen to death, Thorin! How terrible! You are alright, though, now, aren't you? Goodness," he said, quite flustered to think of Thorin stamping through the wilds in the midst of winter, and Thorin flushed, though Bilbo hoped it was not in any sort of anger. A thought occurred, then, and he felt his own eyes widen quite comically. "There was something on them, wasn't there? Furlo looked at the marks on them for such a long time, I didn't know what was wrong! Did he know they were yours?"

"He did," Thorin said, gaze on the ground, now, and he was truly adorable when abashed. "They were stamped with my Master's mark, as all my work is."

"Master's mark?" Bilbo wondered, and Thorin reached carefully for the small throwing dagger tucked into the back of his gambeson.

"This here," he showed Bilbo, the stamp a collection of lines and shapes huddled together in a knot shape at the base of the blade. "It shows any that see it, that this is my work, and that I am a Master of my craft."

"So it's sort of like a signature?" Bilbo asked, running his fingers over the indentations. Those meant Thorin, and Bilbo did his best to memorise the shape and layout of the lines, so he might draw them down later.

"It is," Thorin confirmed, and handed Bilbo the blade for him to examine it more closely, looking terribly pleased.

"How does one come about a Master's mark?" Bilbo wondered. The pattern must be particular to Thorin, surely? Was it his name?

"Much like one comes by a signature, I suppose. Make one up," Thorin said, and grinned when Bilbo looked his way. "Honestly. See that part there? The downward slash, with the two lines through it? My father's mark began with the same, and so I adopted it to match. My mother always used that particular symbol in the middle there, so I adopted that, also. And the triangle that joins that part there, with that bit, with the patterned edge? That is the mark of a metalsmith Master. My specialty was in Silver," he said, and here his smile dimmed somewhat. "But I have learnt other metals well enough to work as a Master Blacksmith."

"I'm certain that your work is beautiful, no matter the metal," Bilbo said, and would have kicked himself for being so obviously mooning, if not for the grateful, shy smile Thorin graced him with.

"So, you just chose a bunch of things at random, for your mark," Bilbo said hurriedly, tearing his eyes from that smile before he did something stupid. "So using your mother and father's marks are not compulsory?"

"No, not at all," Thorin said. "The collection appealed to me. Part of a Mastery is designing a stamp to seal your work, and the mark is recorded after the Mastery achieved. This is what I came up with."

"It's lovely," Bilbo declared. Honestly, would his embarrassing declarations not end today? Thorin still looked pleased, though, and Bilbo handed back the blade and then nudged them both to walking, when Thorin put it away. "And so lovely to honour your parents in such a way, as well."

"They were always my most stringent supporters in my craft," Thorin admitted. "Mother preferred gold, but supported my fascination with the properties of silver. Father had organised for my work to be seen by some Masters to see about me earning the right to experiment with what precious true-silver our mountain still retained, but that was before we lost our home. They supported my crafting to no end."

"That's lovely," Bilbo sighed, because it was, even if Bilbo did not understand the fascination with metal and working with it, he understood the love of making things -though Bilbo's making tended to be more along the edible line of things- and he appreciated the thought of such supportive parents to Thorin, especially if one of those was Furlo.

"Where is your mother now, if you don't mind me asking?" Bilbo asked, and then could kick himself. It had just occurred to him that he'd not once thought on the subject of Furlo's wife before this, and he'd blurted it out without thought like a numpty.

Thorin did not seem to mind, though.

"She died a long time ago," Thorin said simply. "She'd be pleased to meet you, though. Amad would be very grateful for all you've done for our father. She was one of father's closest friends."

Bilbo said nothing, though Thorin must have noticed his silence as odd, as he raised an enquiring brow down at Bilbo, and Bilbo shrugged a little, uncomfortable in his confusion.

"An odd way to put it," he said, wondering at the phrasing. "Most would say 'love of his life' or some such. It's nice to know they were as good a friends as they were partners. My own parents, now that you say it, I suppose they were the best of friends as well."

Thorin hummed and nodded, and sighed.

"Dwarrow may be... different?" he wondered aloud. "My parents did love each other," he clarified, when Bilbo looked confused. "As the greatest of friends, yes. Theirs was a marriage of arrangement, for the binding of political allegiance. They grew to be very close, but were not zu-âzyung, the..." he trailed off, looking for words, and motioned, with his hands. "The place, where two pieces may fit against each other in the most perfect of ways. The one person that may fit with your soul?"

"Like a heart call?" Bilbo wondered. "A person that completes your song in the great tune of the universe?"

"Yes," Thorin said, with no small amount of relief. "I know that the Men... they talk of a mate to their souls, sometimes, but seem to be more..."

"Picking at random?" Bilbo asked, amused, and Thorin huffed.

"I can understand, and even envy them, at times. They are all but free to love as they will, and make their mates as they choose. That must be... freeing."

Bilbo steered them towards a little bench sat in the great curve of an oak tree, a little sign nearby declaring it 'Walker's Retreat'. (Bilbo hoped that Thorin did not know enough about Hobbits to recognise the chaff that was.)

"Hobbits are a little similar to Men, I suppose," Bilbo mused, choosing to ignore for the moment that he had led Thorin to a cuddlers' bench and the current topic at hand. It had a beautiful view of the river, after all. "We have no immediate flash of recognition in ourselves on meeting the one song that harmonises with our own, though some claim that if you find the one you are meant for, it is like coming home- an immediate sense of comfort. For most, though, it takes time, really, spending time with others to find the one that compliments the song you were born with. Ultimately, though, there is always a particular one, harmonised for us before we were born for us to find, though there is much debate as to whether such things are decided long before we do, or if harmonising is an offshoot of love."

"And have you?" Thorin asked, eyes intent, but then shook himself and looked away. "Forgive me, I should not have asked that."

Bilbo studied the face all but turned from his for a while, and hummed. It was hard to ignore that whilst none had ever caught the tune of his heart before, he had no small desire to attempt to harmonise with the song closest to him now.

"Never before," he settled on, picking his phrasing carefully and cursing his silly heart, but Thorin relaxed a little against his side. "How did it work for your parents, being married to each other without finding their, zu-zu-whatsit?"

"Zu-âzyung," Thorin said, amused again. "My parents were, as I said, the very best of friends, and were parents together, which is a close bond of itself. They were allies, and azaghâl-baruful, hmm, ones who fought together in battle? This creates a very close bond, as well. They had much affection and trust in each other.

"My mother, she did indeed meet her zu-âzyung later in their marriage, though, and Káir became our second father."

"What?"

"They married, my mother and her zu-âzyung, and Káir became my second father, though he was lost, when Erebor fell." Thorin fell silent at that, and a frown marred his face at the memory.

Bilbo wanted to ask, but Thorin shook his head and smiled grimly.

"Ask me of Erebor on another occasion," he asked quietly, and Bilbo nodded, and Thorin sat for a moment until he had shaken off the dour mood that had taken him for a moment.

"Káir was a good Dwarf, and he and my father were good friends. I suppose that Hobbits have no need for political marriages, and so have no need for many marriages between them?" he guessed, when Bilbo still looked bewildered.

"No, well, we marry only for love. Occasionally, three Hobbits will find harmony amongst each other, but the marriage will be an equal meeting, not, many people married to the same person," he said, trying to imagine it. "Did this not cause contention, at all?"

"No," Thorin said, and seemed amused again. "Perhaps though, because it is so part of us, and how we see the world, that it is not so strange to us. Marriage is a sacred thing, and not to be broken. Alliances and contract between nation or house are sacred also, but the call of a zu-âzyung is sacred like no other. There must be room for us to adjust and maintain the sanctity of our promises, while allowing the bonds forged by Mahal to become strong as mithril."

Bilbo thought for a long time, and it really was none of his business, not his business at all, but-

"Will you, erm, have to, do that? Marry for the good of your house, I mean? What if you meet your zuazy-thingy?"

Thorin was quiet in the oddest of ways for a moment, but then he turned himself, and looked at Bilbo with the most serious expression he'd ever given him, short of their oddest of first meetings.

"I promise you, I will forge bond with none other than my zu-âzyung. There will be none other cleaved to me."

"That's, erm, good?" Bilbo offered, flushing under the intensity of Thorin's stare.

Thorin stared at him a long moment more, before he seemed to take note of Bilbo's discomfort, and blushed a fiery red himself, looking away with a mumble that Bilbo could not quite make out, and decided not to try.

Bilbo sat awkwardly for a long moment, struggling for something to say, and was just about to distract Thorin with a disparaging comment aimed at Frerin, when voices came from back along the path, and Bilbo and Thorin both shot looks at the couple that rounded the bend, both of them stopping dead at the sight of Bilbo now a deep tomato red having been caught -completely innocently, thank you very much- sitting on the lover's bench with a lovely handsome dwarf.

It wasn't as if this particular walk, and it's lovely bench, were only for lovers out for a private canoodle, and Bilbo had walked this way, and sat at this very bench himself many a time, but on this occasion, being that he was so very ridiculously stupid over Thorin, he knew he looked terribly guilty to the two young Hobbits looking at them now with raised brows, and Bilbo just knew that this would be around the market by that afternoon, see if it didn't, and he nudged Thorin to stand, stuttering out some polite sounding apologies to the couple watching in silent amazement at the confirmed bachelor making time at Walkers' Retreat.

"How terribly embarrassing," he muttered to Thorin as they continued their walk along the path that would take them back along close to Bagshot row, and then promptly regretted saying anything, when Thorin looked confused.

"Best to hurry, if we're to make tea time!" Bilbo said brightly, hoping to distract Thorin from any enquiries that Bilbo really did not want to answer, and Thorin did not push for more, and let Bilbo lead him towards home in something that was a comfortable silence.

All in all, it had been a lovely walk, and Thorin hummed in a contented sort of way as they headed up the hill, and Bilbo realised that he was quite disappointed for the walk to be ending, and they both seemed to slow a bit as the front door of Bag End appeared ahead.

"Bilbo..." Thorin said lowly, but then said no more, and had no such opportunity in any case, when Dís and Frerin exploded out the door talking a mile a minute, and dragging Thorin back along with them. Bilbo followed with no small amount of amusement, as even if Frerin was a terrible little bastard, he was Thorin's adored younger brother, and Furlo's youngest son besides, and so Bilbo would try harder not to feel burning ire in his heart for the idiot.

Furlo was in place of pride by the fire, watching his children with an indulgent sort of smile whilst he puffed on a pipe and smoothed a new wood piece with his little pot of rottenwood and cloth. Bilbo shared a look of fond amusement with him, and wandered over and plonked himself onto the padded stool at Furlo's foot.

An eyebrow raised in silent enquiry was enough for Bilbo to know that Furlo was, in fact, positively dying to enquire as to how it went, but Bilbo shrugged and played vague, as he had no desire to admit that he was a smitten idiot that was quite taken with this ridiculous handsome dwarf son of Furlo's, being quite moony eyed over a silly walk that honestly meant very little to Thorin.

Furlo instead turned the eyebrow on Thorin, and it was quite gratifying to see how his children had picked up on his non-vocal mannerisms in such a small amount of time, as Thorin detached himself from whatever had his siblings worked up, and wandered over to join them.

"It was a lovely walk," Thorin said, half to Bilbo, half to Furlo. "I especially appreciated the view from that particular bench, Walkers' Retreat, wasn't it?"

Furlo's smooth motions across his wood stopped for a moment, and both eyebrows went up, his very amused gaze turned on Bilbo, who was silently dying in place.

"Bilbo?" Furlo said, voice filled with amusement.

"Shut it," Bilbo grumbled, and Furlo's grin deepened around his pipe, and he put his wood piece down to take a hold of his pipe so it did not spill as deep chortles made themselves known, becoming more and more audible as Bilbo's face was buried into his hands and Furlo practically howled with laughter.

Bilbo muttered something that might have been an excuse, and hurried from the room, hoping Thorin wouldn't question what exactly about Walkers' Retreat had sent Furlo into fits.

Definitely revenge for Ms Brownlow.

***

Dwarves, Bilbo was sure, must have some sort of innate magic, an ability to endear themselves to others so terribly quickly. It hadn't, after all, taken Furlo long to become so very dear to Bilbo, and now the rest of this sorry lot of Dwarrow had turned up, and, well.

Bilbo's heart was well and truly endeared.

Days had quickly turned into weeks with an additional six visitors residing at Bag End, and Bilbo really at times had difficulty remembering life without the lot of them. How they had become such a normal part of Bag End life was a mystery.

Bifur was a reader, Bilbo had come to discover, and it had not taken long for a daily ritual of reading in the mid-morning on the front bench to come about, Bifur joining Bilbo with a book and a pipe and spending a lovely hour ignoring each other save for the occasional hum of thought or a nudge to show off a particular passage. It was peaceful and lovely, and gave Bilbo a lovely break from what could be quite the noisy chaos, living with so many Dwarrow. Especially as Bifur did not appreciate his reading time being disturbed, and sent Frerin well on his way if the bugger attempted to badger them. Bilbo made sure to make sure that nobody bothered Bifur about his love of some of the edible blooms in his garden, and made sure there was always a ready supply of dandelions with the greens, and sugared violets and rose petals on his tea cakes.

Glóin was also very good at keeping Frerin under control, and had no compunction about smacking Furlo's youngest upside the head and dragging him off for either a lecture, or some enthusiastic 'training' with himself and Dwalin- training that seemed more like an excuse to get a few good thumps in whilst being stern and somewhat disapproving, but as it quite earnt more peace for Bilbo, who was he to question the Dwarrow method of keeping stubborn idiots in line?

As well as a good buffer, Glóin also was somewhat handy in the kitchen, and rather keen to assist, something that Bilbo rather thought was a by-product of how much the fellow obviously missed his wife and son, whom he was all too pleased to tell Bilbo of. Bilbo quite enjoyed the stories, to the point where Bilbo had begun to hope to meet the two at some point.

(And wonder to himself at how it was that Glóin stayed for so long in the Shire, when it was apparent that he had a family that meant a great deal to him to return to, which had Bilbo wondering if perhaps the Dwarrow were all merely staying waiting for Furlo to be ready to leave with them, which then in turn made Bilbo worry about, well. Other things.)

Glóin rather reminded Bilbo of Furlo, actually, and Bilbo could not really help how inordinately fond he'd become of the fellow.

Whilst he was no good at food preparation at all, Dwalin was only too pleased to spend time in the kitchen as well, and after Bilbo persisted in keeping the biggest of his guest well supplied with sweet biscuits and pastries, had loosened up enough to interject his own sly comments and witty stories amongst Glóin's, and also keep Frerin well behaved at most meal times.

(Dwalin had also turned out to be quite the beneficial partner in crime when it came to subtle pranks on Frerin. The first time that Frerin had turned up at breakfast with hair white as a ghost, someone having rather thoroughly powdered it with cornflour in the night, Bilbo had stared stunned for a moment -he'd not set up this particular prank, after all- and cast a quick look around the table for the culprit. While most of his horde had been watching Frerin shriek with no small amount of amusement, Dwalin had calmly continued to munch his way through tea and scones, and if not for the lightning fast wink in Bilbo's direction, would have seemed almost disinterested in the proceedings. Bilbo greatly admired his ability to glare and seem completely unimpressed with the proceedings when things turned noisy and chaotic, and had rewarded every subtle and not-so-subtle joke with a cream cake as big as the fellow's head.)

Dís was a dry wit and mischievous nature, and was everything Bilbo had ever wanted in a sister. An elder sister, even, as she was gently encouraging, sternly reproachful, mischievous and capable of participating in the wickedest of pranks, and dispensed advice and fussing care in equal amounts. Bilbo was smitten, no doubt about it.

From Dís he was hearing all the best and juiciest of family stories, as good elder sisters were obviously best at keeping younger siblings informed on all the truly important details of the family. All the fellows of the family had spent time looking shame faced and quite red along to some of Dís' more lurid tellings, and Bilbo was certain he had never laughed so hard in his life.

The stories of her two sons and her husband were Bilbo's favourite, as they were Furlo's, and the whole family -for that was what they were, now- would sit roaring with laughter in the evening by the parlour fire whilst Dís (or Thorin or Frerin, or at times Glóin and Dwalin) told terrible terrible tales of the most rascally family Bilbo had ever heard of (and he was related to the Tooks, thank you very much). Dís no doubt fit in with them perfectly, and more than matched them, Bilbo guessed, and Thorin and Frerin swore by as well.

Frerin... well. He was growing on Bilbo, though more along the lines of a terrible fungal disease, than anything. He was at least living up to the title of git of a brother, and Bilbo had taken great delight in pulling pranks from subtle to very obvious, though Frerin gave as good as he got, now. His first prank had not been the success he had no doubt hoped it would be, though. Bilbo had risen at his usual hour and come to the kitchen to bake bread for breakfast, only to find Frerin busying himself with laying the table. This was of and by itself suspicious as Frerin was usually the last to rise in the morning – often needing a cold pig to get him out of his warm bed. In addition, Frerin had been looking supremely innocent, which Bilbo had come to see as firm evidence of mischief in the making. Before retiring to bed, Bilbo had set a jug of milk in a bowl of cool water and placed it in the darkest corner of the pantry to stay fresh and sweet for this morning’s baking. As he retrieved the jug, Bilbo noticed the curds floating atop the milk and a judicious sniff showed that vinegar had been deliberately added to the milk. A shadow at the door and a low snicker confirmed Frerin as the perpetrator. Bilbo had merely chuckled to himself, and made pancakes for breakfast – they were best made with soured milk. He even gave credit to Frerin for ‘helping’ with breakfast – thus letting the little brat know that his prank had failed spectacularily!

(Previously, the title of bitter rival had gone Lobelia, though she was quite possibly stupider than Frerin, as at least Frerin knew who was tormenting him, and worked hard to give as hard as he got, whereas Bilbo had been taking potshots at Lobelia for years, and she still had never caught on most of them, or that any of those unfortunate accidents involving her atrocious umbrellas might be more malicious. Served her right, though; the moment she had nicked off with Belladonna's favourite cake knife, it had been war, whether Lobelia knew it or not.)

Still, Bilbo quite found himself wearing a whole bucket of trouble -literally, sometimes, if that was the way the prank had gone- with this war of mischief he had started with the youngest Durin. Frerin had only spent the first few times whining about being a victim, before he started taking his revenge, and he was quite good at it, if Bilbo did say so. If only Frerin weren't such an arse, Bilbo was sure they would be the firmest of friends.

Furlo, though, found the entire mess exceptionally amusing, and was the most innocently horrible git at assisting a prank along if it had potential to amuse him. While this might benefit Bilbo more often than not, he had found himself led innocently into traps he should have seen coming a mile away, and quite unable to find it in himself to rouse terribly hard at Furlo for leading him into them. After all, the pleased look the ridiculous creature often sported in the wake of another disaster was quite impossible to be angry with.

All in all, Bilbo couldn't be happier with the guests he was hosting in his smial, and what they were to Furlo's happiness and his continuing recovery, if not to Bilbo's own sense of belonging in Furlo's life. Every one of them was becoming quite dear to him. Even bloody Frerin.

And then there was Thorin.

Really, Bilbo did not know what to do with himself. If Furlo's smiles made his heart warm, Thorin's were enough to set his heart to racing like it might burst from his chest, and set his cheeks warm with pleased heat. Thorin's attention made his chest ache in the very best of ways, and want things that he'd never wanted before with a burn that was almost too much to bear. Thorin's fond smiles, the way his arm curled around his belly when he laughed, the way his eyes fell shut and he hummed around his spoon of raspberry tart, Thorin's hair falling across his face, nodding off by the fire full of satisfaction at the presence of family and comfort, the thump of his thump of boots when he was chasing Frerin, his careful eagerness for his father's attention, his, well, everything...

Bilbo ached with love for the git. It was completely infuriating.

It was completely impossible.

Bilbo would like to believe that there could come something of it, he really would! Oh, fine, there were now nightly walks, the two of them slowly making their way around the village, Bilbo's hand tucked into the crook of Thorin's arm, the two pressed side by side as they comfortably strolled through the dim twilight eve, and that was just so very lovely. Thorin was warm and funny and gentle and seemed so very pleased to spend that time with Bilbo every eve, he really did.

No matter how many dishes Bilbo loaded down with raspberries, Thorin did not seem to be growing sick of them yet, and seemed appropriately appreciative of Bilbo's efforts, but Bilbo had to rather sternly remind himself that Thorin was not a Hobbit, and really did not know that Bilbo was most certainly being rather inappropriate, using such blatant Hobbitly seduction techniques on him, when he truly had no idea Bilbo was doing so! Not on top of the walks, and the flowers Thorin brought him from the market, and the beautiful little gifts he would bring him from the forge- little trinkets he made from scrap metal and such whilst he watched or assisted his father in his work.

It was all terribly ridiculous, how smitten Bilbo was, and how very clueless Thorin was of his own behaviour. Worse yet, that Bilbo knew that he was being so very deceitful, allowing it all to continue when Thorin knew nothing of Hobbit ways, and how much Bilbo was enjoying pretending that it was real.

What was becoming increasingly hard to ignore, however, was the small signs that although the Spring was passing so very pleasantly with them all tucked up in his Smial, they -all the Dwarrow of Bag End- really had no intention of staying much longer.

It was the little things, really. A few extra sides of cured and smoked meats squirrelled into the dimmest corners of his cold cellar, and a basket of wrapped waybreads in the back of a cupboard. The ponies that the lot of them had brought with them and stabled with the Rumble's mares were now freshly shod, though Bilbo had not heard this from his Dwarrow, oh no; this he had heard from the blacksmith's cousin's sister at the market.

There was a lot more to be heard at the market, all inconsequential comments, really, but that which gave Bilbo a rather troubling picture. A new oilskin, a repair on a saddle, new flint stones sold to Glóin.

No, Bilbo was becoming more and more aware that whatever he might be feeling for Thorin, whatever he might dream of blooming, there was nothing to come of it, as it was becoming more than a little clear that the Dwarrow of Bag End were preparing for a journey.

Furlo was most certainly involved.

So, too, was Thorin, Bilbo was sure, as he'd seen Thorin working away at repairing a saddle bag when Bilbo was supposed to be off gardening, and Bilbo had backed away slowly and left before Thorin could see him, because the last thing that Bilbo wanted right now was to have Thorin look up at him and admit that he was preparing to leave.

After all, if they all left, what was there here that would compel them to ever return?

That thought hurt, as did the thought that nothing he had with any of these stupid lummoxes was enough to convince them to stay, or even enough for them to want Bilbo to come with them, and so he rather chose not to say anything on the matter at all. Or think on it, even.

One thought that he just could not seem to escape, however, was how ridiculously in love he was, and how absolutely impossible a thing that was, when Thorin would be leaving the Shire soon.

Bilbo could not seem to help himself, though, and his eyes followed Thorin, traced his form carefully so he could try and get that form down on paper when alone, charcoal or ink tracing out the curve of a shoulder, or the dip in a cheek, the perfect stance of his firm legs when he stood by the fire, leant against the mantle and smoking his pipe. Bilbo just could not help himself.

After all, his song was well and truly singing along with the deep timbre of Thorin's melody.

Impossible.

If only Furlo was not being so very... encouraging. He, even if Thorin had no clue, was certainly aware of what all of Bilbo's actions might mean, and what Thorin's innocuous gestures meant to Bilbo, and he seemed far from displeased at the happenings between his eldest son and his... Bilbo. Furlo was going out of his way to encourage things along, and Bilbo was certain that Furlo would not be so cruel as to do so if he knew there was no hope for anything to come of it.

Would he?

So here Bilbo was stuck. Completely besotted with the whole stinking herd of Dwarrow invading his home and his life, caught in the melody of his newly discovered heart call, and utterly terrified of losing the lot of them. And quite at a loss as to what to do about it.

Ignoring his problems was really working well for him.

***

Bilbo was sure he could have continued for quite a while with ignoring how things if Thorin had not suddenly decided to go and escalate things.

It was quite out of the blue, Bilbo thought. One moment they had been taking a short break on Walkers' Retreat, and Bilbo had absently mentioned a raspberry sponge he had made for tea, and next thing he had known, Thorin's mouth was on his, and Bilbo was fairly certain it was not himself that had initiated things.

Bilbo found himself fool enough to be pulling back in shock, before Thorin's disappointed face spurred his thought processes enough to reach for Thorin to pull him back in.

Their lips slotted together easily, Thorin's head tilting just so, and Bilbo sighed, and slumped into Thorin's hold, letting that big frame that he admired so much take all of his weight for a moment whilst he lingered in the taste and feel of Thorin, Thorin's lips, that beautiful mouth.

Thorin groaned a little, dipping a bit deeper, tugging at Bilbo until he was all but in Thorin's lap, and Bilbo let himself be held up by Thorin, and finally let himself slide his fingers into that ridiculously lovely mop of hair, tugging at those braids when Thorin's tongue ran teasingly against his lower lip, and fisting great handfuls at the base of Thorin's neck when Thorin nipped at his lips.

He gasped and pressed closer. Thorin was all heat, fire everywhere he touched Bilbo, nerves sparking at the contact in a way that was almost unbearable in its intensity.

"What?" Bilbo managed to gasp, between one kiss and the next. "You-"

A grumbling sort of sound was his only reply, before Thorin slid one of his giant hands into the curls at the base of Bilbo's neck and used the grip to tilt Bilbo's head at such an angle that they could delve deeper, and honestly, Bilbo might have lost track of things a little there, but for the sudden noise of chattering voices coming up the track nearby, and it startled him enough to pull back, cheeks flushed and breath unsteady.

Thorin said nothing, but took Bilbo's hand carefully, gently, and tugged him to his feet, leading Bilbo back along the path. He said nothing, the entire way home, though when they came to the lane back to Bag End, he tugged Bilbo around the back way, skipping over the neighbour's fence to tug him quietly in the back door, and tiptoed along the hall, avoiding the others, and stopping in front of Thorin's own bedroom door.

Bilbo gulped, and Thorin said nothing, only regarding him solemnly as he eased his door open and stepped aside.

Well, Bilbo thought. If nothing else, perhaps he could at least have this.

He followed.

***

There were people in the world that had no idea the therapeutic properties of gardening, and that was a sad thing indeed, Bilbo had always thought, for if there was something to be thought over and pondered (it wasn't brooding, no matter what Furlo said) then there was no better thing in the world than to take oneself off to the garden and find something to do. Usually involving shoving ones hands in the dirt.

As much as shoving his hands in dirt was normally a rather relaxing endeavour, Bilbo could not quite reach that lovely state of calm that he liked to experience from the joy of helping things to grow. His mind was in turmoil, and his body aching just enough -pleasantly aching, mind- to remind him of his conflict whenever he did manage to distract himself.

When these gits left -and Bilbo was almost certain, now, that they were preparing, even if they were careful to keep it from him- when they did leave, Bilbo would lose even more.

Now that he'd had Thorin, even for just a night, Bilbo was not sure what he was going to do with himself, once that wonderful harmony of his heart walked away and left him in silence.

Furlo, Bilbo had seen folding and organising his clothing, next to a new leather pack sat on his bed, and Bilbo had taken one quiet look and fled before Furlo could notice him, and tried not to consider that as it was. Really, it could be coincidence. Taking care of one's laundry whilst a travel pack sat on the bed was no confirmation of anything.

Thorin, after Bilbo had quietly left his bed that morning, he had heard with Bifur after breakfast, discussing ponies and saddle bags, and Bilbo again had fled, because really, it didn't mean anything did it?

They were surely not leaving?

Where, Bilbo wondered, would that leave him.

Bilbo sighed and dug a shallow hole, carefully placing the last of his marigold seedlings into the dirt and mounding the soil firmly around the roots, and then half drowned the poor wee plantling with the watering can to settle the soil around the roots, smiling to himself. Furlo always did think it so very funny how careful Bilbo was with his plants, right up until planting time, and then the poor things were a bedraggled mess from the watering in! Kindness came in many forms, Bilbo always told him snottily.

Setting the watering can aside, Bilbo dug a few creeping grass roots free from the borders of the bed, absently wondering about the events that had occurred in an actual bed the previous evening, cheeks warming at the memory, when a shadow fell over him.

Bilbo sighed at the sight of Frerin's stormy gaze, as the git looked to be in a right mood.

"What?" Bilbo said with no amount of frustration. If there was anything he were not in the mood for, it was Frerin.

Frerin hissed, his fists clenched, and he all but stomped where he stood.

"Father sent me to fetch a sack from the second cellar," Frerin said around clenched teeth, and, oh.

Well. On second glance, Frerin's hair was rather damp, and the clothes he wore were definitely different from those of this morning. What a pity Bilbo had missed it.

He stifled a smile.

Not enough, as Frerin caught it, and he fair shook with anger.

"How dare you," he hissed, and Bilbo rolled his eyes.

"Oh, really, as if you had not just this past week played many similar tricks on me!" Bilbo said, irritated now.

"Because you have constantly tormented me!"

Tormented? Well, yes, alright, perhaps he had not really been easy on Frerin, but the git had not been nice at any stage of their association, so he could lump it.

"You were the one that started it!" Bilbo said, because he absolutely had.

"I never-"

"Oh yes you did!" Bilbo said, pointing a finger at the horrible bugger. "You've been a right pain since you arrived in Hobbiton!"

"Well it is you that's, that's..."

Frerin flailed in face, frustration writ across his face, and Bilbo scowled.

"That's what?"

"That's trying to steal my father from me!" Frerin's face was red with fury, now, and he paced back and forth across the short stretch of grass beside Bilbo's garden bed with barely restrained agitation. "Don't think that I don't know what you're doing, you worm of a halfling. You want to take his affections for your own and keep him from us! Take our father as your own so that he won't love us anymore!"

Both Bilbo's brows most surely hit his hair line, and he put his spade down and rubbed at his own forehead, because really?

Really?

"You're an usurper," Frerin hissed, pointing an accusatory finger in Bilbo's direction. "He was my father first, and now here you are, subverting him into only loving you and not us."

"I don't-"

"You are!," Frerin roared, and kicked out at a rock, sending it spinning into a fence with a sharp crack. "You treat him like he's some, some, pet, a tame Dwarrow for you to dress up as a Halfling, setting him to grubbing in the dirt, and chopping vegetables for you. Calling him a stupid, common Halfling name, treating him like he is not the noble born Dwarrow he is-"

"Frerin-"

"He braids your hair with beads from his own hands!" Frerin accused, eyed wild and hands shaking. "He sits and lets you braid him like he's yours and not ours! And you, braided by him like you are his family, when I, his son have not had that honour in almost twenty years! Like I am not fit for such-"

"That's not-"

"He teaches you our language, our signs, our sacred and secret language like you have earned the right, as if it is your right-"

"Wait-"

"Our culture, everything that we are, he offers to you!" Frerin's voice was approaching high pitched, almost rambling. "He helps you to play pranks on me. All the time! Is it punishment? Is it because it was my fault I lost him? I was the one to blame for his capture-"

"No!" Bilbo finally managed, taking to his feet to seize Frerin's hands with his own. "No, you foolish Dwarrow, that is not what is happening at all!"

"You aren't a Dwarf," Frerin said, shaking Bilbo away. "You'll never be a Dwarf, you don't belong with us. You can't have him, he has sons already, and we are enough, we are, I am-"

"Of course you are," Bilbo interrupted, grabbing Frerin again and shaking him as hard as he could. "Goodness me, of course you are, foolish fellow."

"I am no fool, Halfling-"

"I can assure you that you most certainly are," Bilbo interrupted with no small amount of irritation. "Honestly, you are the most irritating, annoying, stupid, infuriating Dwarf on all the land, I swear it."

Frerin drew himself up, all fierce anger and defensive rage, as if he weren't sporting frustrated tears, but Bilbo waved him off, tired all of a sudden, and kicked Frerin's legs out from under him, sending him sprawling. Frerin cursed, and would have come up cursing -and likely swinging- if Bilbo hadn't promptly sat on him.

"Shut up and listen, you idiot," Bilbo snapped, grinding his ample Hobbity bottom into Frerin's back in an attempt to make the idiot stop bucking. "If I were son enough for your father, do you think he would have agonised over letters to you for months on end? I am no replacement son for him, you moron. I'm nowhere near replacement for you."

Frerin growled and thumped the ground with his fists.

"Are you that oblivious?" Bilbo demanded. "Furlo worships the very sight of you! I've never seen one so very pleased at his offspring before. He talks more, smiles more, been happy in a way that I have never seen him before, and it is because you, and Dís and Thorin, are here. Because you are so very dear to him, his children, his real children! I am certainly no replacement for that!"

Bilbo's own fists furled, and he resisted the temptation to start pummelling at Frerin, because this complete numpty was so very foolish, Bilbo could scream.

"I'm not attempting to abscond with him, or something equally as nonsensical, you utter fool," he settled for, because name calling would have to do for now. "I'm not trying to steal your father from you, or whatever it is you think is going on."

"I'm not blind," Frerin hissed, scrabbling at the grass somewhat half-heartedly, Bilbo thought. "You are trying-"

"I'm trying nothing, you idiot," Bilbo shouted, and sighed, rolling off Frerin, though not without a good kick in his side. "Fine, I am trying, but not whatever you are thinking. You are more than enough child for Furlo, I know this! I know very soon that he will leave with you, because as much as I love him, want him to stay here with me always, he won't, now. He'll go home." This, Bilbo said almost to himself, heart sinking clear to his toes, because it was true.

Furlo would leave soon. He'd go home.

And with him, all Bilbo's new friends and family. Dís and Dwalin and Glóin and Bifur. Frerin would go, too, and good riddance.

Thorin would go.

"And I'll be all alone," Bilbo said, murmured to himself, frown fixed on the vivid green of the grass where they were sat.

"So yes," Bilbo said, straightening and glaring at Frerin fiercely. "I am trying, indeed I am; I'm trying to spend as much time with your father as I can, because soon he'll be gone, and I know that, I know..."

Bilbo stopped again, and he shuddered, head to toe.

"I meant to go with him," he said, fingers twisting anxiously in the grass. "I thought that maybe he might permit me to follow, when he left our home here. But I know, I mean, I saw..."

Bilbo sighed, sagging again.

"He's preparing to leave, and he's doing it behind my back," Bilbo admitted. "He's going with you, soon, and he doesn't want me to come. He doesn't want me."

For a moment, Bilbo wondered who he meant there, who it was he was talking about at that moment, before he rather realised that it didn't really matter, as however he thought of it, the words were true. Furlo did not want Bilbo to come away with him, and neither could Thorin. None of the Dwarrow he had within his home had talked about leaving in front of him, not even Frerin, and it was becoming increasingly clear that Bilbo, no matter how much he adored them all, was going to lose them.

"So yes, I am trying," Bilbo said, glaring hard enough to hold back traitorous tears. "I am trying to have what time I can with him, and make what memories I can with him, because soon, that is all I will have, and then you, git that you are, will have him all to yourself!"

He kicked at the ground, then, because by all that was green and lovely, he had been trying not to think about this for a while, now, and here it was. Bilbo really had no choice but to face this truth that he'd been avoiding.

It would all be gone, soon.

"I fail to see how you can be out here pouting at me about stealing your father's time when I won't have any of it at all, soon!" he shouted then, and Frerin snarled, and got to his feet, growling and stomping away.

Bilbo let him go.

Arse.

He sighed and kicked at the ground again, and then shuffled over to the side of his shed, because the sun was quite warm, and Bilbo was all flushed from tussling in the grass with Frerin and getting all worked up. Propping himself up against the shed in the shadow of the structure for a sulk was about all Bilbo could work himself up for, now.

Bilbo sat there for some time. The shed gave some shelter from the heat of the day, but his cheeks still burned fiercely with the shame of it all. He had been so very,very naïve.

He was never going to get to keep them.

It was foolish, really, for him to have thought otherwise. Furlo -Thráin- was a dwarf, a fine dwarf, with a family of fine dwarves to go home to, and Bilbo should be pleased, so very pleased, that everything he had set out to accomplish had come full circle so nicely. Furlo was healed, was strong and happy and content again, safe and without burden again. Bilbo had done that. He'd set out to help Furlo, and he'd done that.

It didn't really help.

It should, but it didn't, because Bilbo was a fool who had taken his heart and tossed it freely at a bunch of hairy dwarves that would soon be gone from his life, and although Bilbo had no doubt that there would be letters exchanged freely for a time, they would taper quietly off, and his dwarves would not return to the Shire, and Bilbo would go back to a life that was quite fine, quite fine indeed, and quite, quite lonely.

Really, Bilbo knew that he had none but himself to blame for that, as he had relatives aplenty that had all volunteered to come and stay at Bag End over the years, keep him from being too reclusive. He'd turned them all away, confident that attending a few parties and occassionally inviting a few people to tea was enough to keep him social, so sure that he was happier alone in his Smial, thank you very much.

And then Furlo had come into his life, and it had become abundantly clear to Bilbo that even if that had been enough before, it wasn't enough anymore, and the company in his home had been welcome, very welcome.

Going back to what it had been before would be difficult.

Of course, that was not even counting the harmony of his song, the tune of his soul now singing joyfully alongside the deep timbre of Thorin's, and how awfully quiet it would be when he was gone.

Ridiculous.

Bilbo had quite thrown himself into this situation, without thinking sensibly about it, and he'd like to regret it, he really would, but he couldn't bring himself to regret a single moment.

He kicked at the ground again, and settled back against the side of the shed, watching the shadows slowly lengthen out in front of his feet, and contemplated just what life would be like, soon, turning the thoughts over and over in his head as the air around the shed cooled as the sun started to sink westerly once more, when Frerin suddenly stormed back out through Bilbo's garden gate, stomping towards Bilbo with a loaded plate and a cup of tea, which he held out with a glare until Bilbo took it from him.

He flopped on the ground next to Bilbo in the shade and stole a biscuit off the plate Bilbo now held, silent and glaring, and Bilbo peered first at the plate, and then suspiciously at the cup.

"Did you spit in this?" he asked, swirling the tea within the cup carefully.

"Not this time," Frerin said snottily, and Bilbo made a face, because really- he was not at all surprised. The first slurp tasted fine, and the warmth and familiarity of a good cuppa was a comfort, and so Bilbo took another large slurp and slumped back against the side of the shed, whilst Frerin took another biscuit off the overloaded plate.

"What's this, then?" he asked, working a chunk of hacked-upon jam slice from under a mountain of sweets piled atop it, and took a grudging bite.

"This is how Hobbits talk, isn't it?" Frerin mumbled around a mouthful. "With food? So... Unfuck you. Or, you know, whatever."

Bilbo shoved a rather indelicately sized -fine, giant- sweet into his mouth and chewed at it grudgingly for a while.

"Is this apology tea?" he asked, somewhat incredulously, after he'd managed to swallow, staring into his cup.

Frerin grumbled into his beard and took another biscuit, and Bilbo huffed, and sipped at his tea. Apology tea.

"We are..." Frerin started, and then sighed and kicked at the ground with a glare. "Fine, alright, so you're not... ugh."

Bilbo snorted and shoved another sweet in his mouth, more to keep his mouth occupied and unable to respond than anything.

"Father... loves you," Frerin said, and if it sounded as if it was said with great pain around gritted teeth, that was because it was, by the look of it. "No idea why, but you're blasted family now."

Bilbo kept his gaze on the grass and a good methodical chewing going.

"We are leaving. Soon," Frerin said, and took another biscuit, and Bilbo tried not to let on how much his chest was trying to squeeze his heart right out of his body at that. "And we've been hiding that from you."

Well, way to drive that dagger in.

"Father.. didn't want to worry you. So, the secrecy, and such," Frerin trailed off and sat silent for long enough that Bilbo could not stand the churning in his stomach at the news.

"Why are you telling me this?" he asked, swirling his tea around and around in the cup, eyes fixed on the swirl of the liquid.

Frerin sniffed, and did not answer for a long, long time. Bilbo ate another biscuit slowly, and then sipped at his tea until it was all gone, and then wondered about another, for he was still feeling quite upset, and a good cup of tea did wonders, it really did.

"I don't need another brother," Frerin said abruptly.

Bilbo frowned at him for a long moment.

"Alright," he settled for, because really, what else was he to say to that.

Frerin sighed, the sigh of the eternally frustrated, and Bilbo supressed a grin of satisfaction, because honestly, Frerin's frustration was something he took great pains to provide.

"Just, will you talk to father, please? And Thorin. Just, ew, but talk to Thorin, please?"

"What?"

Frerin scowled.

"Clueless numpties," he mumbled, and held the plate out for Bilbo to take the last sugar biscuit.

Bilbo eyed him as he munched his way through that last biscuit. Friends was completely out of the question for now.

But, well...

"That thing with the sugar and the butter last week was pretty good," he admitted, and Frerin's mouth twitched a bit in satisfaction.

"Your thing with the sheets and the hay bale was original," Frerin said, nodding to him.

"Not quite as good as the dagger and the sock," Bilbo said. "I was finding feathers in my unders for hours."

Frerin shrugged, but looked awfully pleased.

"Not my best, but I liked how that went," he admitted.

Bilbo felt himself relax all at once, and he leaned back onto the side of the shed and grinned.

"What was your best, then?" he asked, and felt something in him glow when Frerin returned the grin and relaxed back with him.

"Not just mine, I convinced Dís' lads to help me with the last one. We stole eight geese. Geese are evil," he said with grim satisfaction.

"I had noticed this myself," Bilbo said, and grinned when Frerin looked so very pleased. "What did you do with them?"

"Oh, we numbered them! Tagged them all with merchant batch numbers. By law, the batches have to be numbered to start and finish when out up for sale, and so we numbered the first one with the runic symbol we use for a batch start, and called him 71. Then the others were numbered 72, 73, 75, 76, 77, 78, and the last numbered 79 with the end batch code."

"What happened to 74?" Bilbo asked.

Frerin grinned, a feral sort of thing.

"Oh, there was no 74," he said airily. "Havoc is most fun when it causes maximum confusion. We set them loose in the Markets at peak trade time, of course, and then sat back to watch the fun- it was utter madness there for a while, until they rounded those birds up! Dwarves are excellent warriors, and are not easily surprised, but these birds caused the most hilarious confusion and hysteria I've ever paid witness to. The best bit came later, though."

Bilbo tried very hard not to laugh, he really did, but he could see the chaos in his mind's eye, and Frerin's grin was entirely too satisfied.

"Later?" he managed, and snorfled when Frerin looked even more pleased.

"Half the mountain spent three days trying to find number 74. Helped along by a few random goose sightings we cooked up, of course, but the frenzy the eight caused had a lot of people awfully keen to find that missing hell-bird. To this day, the bird has never been found, and people still tell horror stories about abandoned passages where 74 lurks, waiting to taste the blood of the lost."

Bilbo's laugh was a sharp barking sound that he had no hope of containing, and he curled around his own stomach as he wheezed, picturing the mayhem and upheaval wreaked so easily with a simple numerical trick, and he near cried, picturing the mob carefully skirting corners, looking for an imaginary goose ready to attack.

He keened anew.

"What have you done to him?" Thorin demanded, shouting from the kitchen door, and stomped up to where Frerin leaned back against the shed, lounging in satisfaction whilst Bilbo attempted to find his breath again.

"Just sharing stories, brother, no need to worry," Frerin said airily, waving a hand in dismissal. Bilbo hid his face in his hands, well aware that he was probably purple from lack of air, and quite beyond doing anything about it at the moment, still quite caught in hysterical laughter.

"What sort of story does this?" Thorin asked, half angry, half bemused, squatting down to pat at Bilbo's shoulder in comfort, which really, was making it much, much worse.

Geese.

"Was just telling him about the time the lads set those geese loose in the market," Frerin said innocently. "Since he likes pranks so much."

Thorin made a sort of pained noise at that, glaring a long moment, and then sighed.

"Never did find that bloody missing bird," he said, and Bilbo gurgled, tipping sideways until his nose smooshed into the grass, and he could shriek his laughter to the turf.

Dwarrows.

***

"So, it turns out that Frerin hates my guts because I'm stealing his papa," Bilbo said that night, handing wet dishes across to Furlo to dry, the rest of their mob wandered off for some post-dinner peace, leaving Bilbo free to perhaps finally face his fears and find out when it was that Furlo was leaving.

Furlo grunted, and then sighed, and shot Bilbo a strange sort of look, and set the bowls back up on the shelf.

"His tantrum, not mine," Bilbo said, suddenly defensive, and attacked a pile of bread plates with brush and suds.

"Bilbo," Furlo sighed, and then nudged him.

Bilbo snorted.

"Just thought you might want to know, is all," he mumbled at the sink more than Furlo, passing plates across with face down. "Reassure the lad that he's still your baby, that sort of thing."

"Bilbo," Furlo said, with no small amount of exasperation, and put the plates down. One large Dwarrow arm, bulky and warm, settled around Bilbo's shoulders, and Bilbo wilted.

"He's right, though," Bilbo said, gripping the edge of the sink. "Frerin is actually your family, and I'm not, not really, and I can't keep you anymore. You have to go home, I know that, I do, I was just so hoping that...."

He sighed then, ignoring how tight the grip on his shoulders had grown.

"I thought I'd be allowed to come too," he said, voice barely loud enough to be heard, because he was behaving like a mere tween of Hobbit, and he couldn't help it at all.

"Bilbo," Furlo sighed, and he gripped Bilbo tight enough to tug him away from the sink and out the back door to the bench across the yard, and tugged him to sit, pulling him tight under his arm.

"Bilbo," Furlo started, and then huffed, and sighed. "I am leaving soon... I'm sorry."

Bilbo's damp fingers curled into the front of his weskit and squeezed about as tightly as he felt his heart was squeezed, shuddering a little at the sudden shock of losing what little hope he'd had that he was wrong.

No, he was right. They were leaving.

Furlo sighed again.

"Thorin!" he bellowed at the back door, and Thorin appeared not a few seconds later, brought quickly to the door by his father's cry. His face went from enquiring to worried, though, when he caught sight of Bilbo, and he hurried across the grass to fall to his knees before Bilbo, reaching to grasp Bilbo's hands.

"What has happened?" Thorin asked, rubbing Bilbo's hands between his own.

Bilbo really didn't know what to say. Thorin's hands were pure warmth, as Bilbo's seemed to have turned to ice, and Bilbo concentrated on the heat of Thorin's big hands around his, as soon he would not feel that warmth anymore at all.

The thought made him a bit dizzy, and he swayed, and Furlo made a terrible sound next to him, arm tightening around his shoulders.

"Bilbo, no,, it's..." Furlo gestured, and growled, and poked at Thorin. "I'm leaving," he said, and poked at Thorin's shoulder in impatience, whilst Bilbo groaned at the statement again.

"Oh," Thorin said, and sighed, leaning in for a moment until his forehead touched Bilbo's. "Bilbo-"

"No, don't," Bilbo said, because he couldn't, he could not bear to hear Thorin gently excuse himself away, he couldn't, it was more than his poor heart could take. "It's alright. How long do I have? Before you both leave?"

"I'm not going," Thorin said firmly, and Furlo sighed, soft and sorry, and squeezed him once again. "Father is going so that I may stay."

Bilbo's breath caught and held for a moment, and he dared to meet Thorin's gaze, and then Furlo's.

"What?"

"I have responsibilities," Thorin said earnestly. "Well, I had responsibilities, being that Father was missing, but now he is back, I'm foisting some of them back on him. At least for a little while. So I might stay for a time. Here. With you?" Thorin's tone was earnest, and then uncertain, and he shot Bilbo a look that was hopeful and worried. "I suppose we did not think to consult you, but I had hoped to stay here a while with you. For, well. Us?"

"There is an..." Bilbo's voice caught, strangled around his emotion-thickened throat, and he took a breath. "There is an us, then?"

Thorin's hands tightened on his for a moment, and the sound Furlo made was disapproving, and his glare stern when Bilbo happened a glance in his direction, but Furlo's frowning mountain was turned on Thorin, who all but wilted under that gaze, and Bilbo's questioning one.

"I thought you had understood my intentions, Bilbo. We, after all, this past evening, you did allow me to, we-"

"I didn't know if I could hope that was what I thought it was," Bilbo said, blushing at the memory of losing himself in Thorin's arms.

Thorin looked dismayed, and Furlo grunted again in displeasure. Thorin took a deep breath, gaze falling to Bilbo's knees for a moment, a blush creeping across his neck and ears, before he gathered himself and met Bilbo's eyes firmly.

"Bilbo, it has ever been my intention to court you. I had approached this as I had understood Hobbit courting to proceed-" Here, he shot Furlo his own displeased glance before he turned back to Bilbo "-but I see now that I should have been clearer with my intent. I have found the call to my soul in you, for you are my zu-âzyung, and I will love no other for the rest of my days. I had hoped, too, that I might be as you have called it, your heart song, but if I am not, then-"

"Of course you are," Bilbo said, all in a rush, shaking now. "Of course you are, fool Dwarf, you, always you-"

"Good," Thorin said on an unsteady exhale. "Oh, that, Bilbo-"

Furlo grunted in impatience beside them, and sighed when they both looked at him, starry eyed.

"Just do the kissing thing," he said gruffly, and stood from the bench, turning back towards the kitchen. "You'll only bugger it up if you speak. Get to the kissing!"

With that he stomped off, disappearing through the back door which he closed pointedly, and Bilbo giggled a little, shaking still, clutching as tightly to Thorin's hands as Thorin was to him.

"Thorin, I-"

He was cut off by Thorin surging forward to kiss him, bumping noses, both tilting their heads the wrong way and pressing forward a bit too enthusiastically, and they both dissolved into chortles, brushing noses and bristly beard against naked chin for a moment, silliness an outlet for the nervous tension they were both carrying.

But then they both sobered at about the same time as they moved forward properly, and Bilbo touched his lips ever so slightly to Thorin's when Thorin paused a scant hair away, and the sigh it earned him was relief and joy and a lifetime of memories that Bilbo had fantasised of making with the silly lug, and Bilbo's soft kiss turned to another, and then another, each pressing a little firmer, surer, hotter.

Bilbo would get to keep this.

Thorin gasped his name a little, and his hands released Bilbo's and instead reached around to encircle his rump, pulling him forward. It was an awkward pose, with Thorin still kneeling on the grass at Bilbo's feet, and Bilbo's knees squished into Thorin's belly, but Bilbo wriggled forward as much as he could anyway, as he wanted just as much as Thorin to be closer, to hold tighter, and his own hands went around Thorin's shoulders, wrapping them tight.

Bilbo wasn't sure how long he would have been content to stay exactly that way, wasn't sure how long they did hunch forward to eagerly trade kisses, but Thorin abruptly pulled back, face flushed, breath a little unsteady, and eyes bright.

"I would have no confusion between us, Bilbo," he said, a little unsteadily, voice a low rumbling thing that made something low in Bilbo's belly flutter. "You are my One. I have come to love you, deeply admire you, cherish your company and your smiles. I would court you with the intent to marry you, and spend all my days proving myself worth the title of your husband."

"Oh, I do love you, silly Dwarf," Bilbo said quietly.

Thorin grinned at him for a long, long moment, wide and carefree, and Bilbo really could not find it in himself to do anything less himself, and the two sat grinning foolishly at each other for probably longer than was entirely sensible.

Bilbo wasn't really in the mood for sensible at the moment.

"Finally! Now talk to him about me leaving!" Furlo bellowed out the window, and Bilbo flipped him one, whilst Thorin buried his face in Bilbo's knees and laughed.

***

Barely a blink, it seemed, though it was a few weeks of flurried preparations in truth, but then Bilbo was stood at his doorstep watching Furlo check over a loaded pony, Thorin (and his friend Dwalin) stood at his side whilst the others prepared to depart.

Bilbo blinked back tears, because they were foolish; after all, as it wasn't to be forever. Furlo would spend the rest of Spring, and Summer as well, with his kin, taking back some of the duties of Thorin's (that all of them were a little vague about the particulars of, and Bilbo was starting to wonder if Thorin and Furlo might be Dwarves of some significance!) and return to spend a few weeks of Autumn with Bilbo, before returning to their mountain keep in the West for the Winter.

Spring the following year would bring the lot of them back, as a year would have passed by then, that Thorin had been courting Bilbo, and already Dís was drawing up lists and menus ready for the wedding she was hoping to attend- that would have to be repeated again at some point in their mountain as well, the reasons again his Dwarrow were rather vague about.

So Bilbo was aware that he was not, in fact, losing any of these gits forever- least of all Furlo.

That didn't stop the moistening of his eyes, of course, while watching Furlo prepare to ride away.

Furlo was not the most oblivious of creatures, however, and he abandoned his pony to stride over, clasping Bilbo firmly to his chest as soon as he were close enough.

"Oh, I am going to miss you," Bilbo mumbled into his mail-covered chest, and Furlo shook him gently and sighed.

"I'll be back soon, lad," he said quietly into Bilbo's curls, and hugged him all the tighter.

Bilbo really did not know what else there was to say to that, so he hung on all the tighter and savoured the last hug he would get from the ridiculous git for a while.

"I love you. You know that, don't you?" Bilbo said suddenly, and Furlo's grip tightened and then loosened, and Furlo pulled back far enough to look him in the eye.

"Of course," he said quietly. "Bilbo."

"I know. Hush," Bilbo said, because yes, he was being quite silly, very melodramatic indeed, for Furlo to be going for not very long at all- and through lovely, gentle country with no terrible creatures between here and there at all.

"Now, don't push yourself too hard, because you've not been travelling for many years now, and who knows how tiring it will be for you, fit as you may be now. Rest stops, if you please, for the ponies, goodness, don't give me that look. And for goodness sake, be careful," he scolded, and Thorin coughed beside him in the most suspicious of ways and turned away, while Furlo looked pained. "Are you sure we've packed enough food? OH, did you pack the basket of muffins that Ms Brownlow prepared for you? You didn't tell me how the big goodbye went, by the way. Am I to go take a cake to soothe her broken heart?"

Thorin's suspicious coughs turned to full belly-deep chortles, and Furlo shot him a murderous look, before he turned his mountain-with-a-belly-ache on Bilbo. Dwalin, Bilbo noticed, was facing away from them with shoulders shaking.

"Poppy and I have an understanding," Furlo said reluctantly, after a moment, when Bilbo continued to stare in innocent enquiry.

"Oh-ho, I see how it is. She's to be going home with you soon, but I can't. You sly old bugger. Oi, Dís!" he yelled. "How many weddings do you think we can squeeze in next Spring?"

Snickers broke out amongst the whole lot of them, and Dís gave her father the cheekiest smile Bilbo had ever seen. Honestly, her sons were most likely indeed nightmares.

"Oh, at least two!" she said chirpily, and pranced across to drag Bilbo into a great squeezing hug. "Depends how many heartfelt letters go flying back and forth between here and the mountains. Do keep a room ready for Dwarf messengers, won't you dearest Bilbo?" she said innocently, and then cackled, darting off to squeeze Thorin into a sisterly hug that looked quite violent.

Furlo sighed, and Bilbo grinned, poking him until Furlo smiled back.

"Best get on then, silly old grump."

Furlo sighed again and rolled his eyes, and then leaned forward to gently knock his head against Bilbo's.

"I'll see you soon," Furlo said quietly. "Be good."

"Always," Bilbo said with a grin, and would have watched Furlo turn to hug Thorin, but he might have had to take a swipe at his eyes again, and when he looked up again, Frerin was standing in front of him, peering at Bilbo oddly.

Bilbo wrinkled his nose at Frerin, and Frerin wrinkled his right back, and they looked at each other for a long moment.

"So," Frerin said, at the same time as Bilbo said "Look."

"Right," Frerin said firmly. "You've... looked after him for a good while, now. I'll take over for a bit then, shall I?"

"Don't bugger it up," Bilbo said snottily, and Frerin rolled his eyes.

They stood for a moment, Frerin scuffing at the edge of the path with his boot, and Bilbo fidgeting, and Frerin sighed.

"I'll look after him, I promise. Nothing will hurt him again," he said quietly, and Bilbo nodded, and stepped forward enough to knock elbows with Frerin, in an awkward sort of nudge that might be a little bit like a hug.

"I know," he said. "Be... be safe, yes?"

Frerin grunted, and gave Bilbo his own awkward knock that might be somehow affectionate if one squinted and turned away to say goodbye to Thorin, and Bilbo watched Furlo mount up.

"I'll see you when the winds turn," Bilbo said, and suddenly they were moving, Furlo sparing him one last fond smile and a wave, and then they were off, ponies loping carefully down the lane.

"I'll be going next year, won't I?" he mused, as Thorin came to curl an arm around his shoulders, and Dwalin hovered near his elbow. "Once we're married? Dís said that we would need a second ceremony in the mountains."

Thorin hummed noncommittedly, and Bilbo sighed exasperatedly.

"At some stage, you are going to have to let me in on whatever it is that you and Furlo don't want me to know," Bilbo huffed, but Thorin kept his eyes on the retreating ponies and pretended not to hear him.

"Your 'Furlo' is our king," Dwalin said abruptly beside him. "Thought that's been Thorin's job till now."

"What?" Bilbo gasped, head whipping around to stare at the big fellow, who was very good at looking stoically unimpressed, but Bilbo was no fool and was quite aware of the amused glint in his eye.

"The two of 'em thought it might scare ya off, so they've played mum."

Thorin made a pained noise, and aimed a punch at Dwalin's arm over Bilbo's shoulder, and then said several things in his own language that Bilbo mostly thought were swears. Dwalin merely looked pleased. Bilbo turned his glare on Thorin, who went slowly red.

"Furlo!" Bilbo bellowed down the lane. "Get back here! You have some explaining to do!"

-FIN-