Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.
The sound the knife made as it separated apple from peel filled up the silence of the massive tent. Bilbo held it delicately, fingers braced on the sections he hadn't got to yet, and let the remainder fall away in one unbroken chain. The nibbled cores of his two previous victims had been lined up by his feet, with the rest of the basket waiting beside them. He'd thought perhaps Thorin would be hungry, but every time Bilbo had finished peeling and cutting the fruit the dwarf had dropped back off to sleep again. If this continued for long, Bilbo would eat his way through the whole bushel.
"I hope you're pleased with yourself," he said to the prone form in the bed beside him. "Charging into the thick of the fray all banners flying and armor glinting, nearly getting yourself killed." Bilbo gestured emphatically with the knife. "Honestly I'm tempted to kill you myself for doing something so stupid."
Thorin said nothing, his eyes shut and his mouth hanging open ever so slightly. It was strange to see him looking so vulnerable. It wasn't like Bilbo hadn't seen him sleeping before; there'd been plenty of opportunity for that. But there was always something tensed in Thorin, some knot that refused to relax away. Bilbo got the feeling that part of Thorin never really slept at all; when he dreamt, it was normally with a troubled frown on his face. But now Thorin's face was smoother than Bilbo had ever seen it, hard lines relaxing into creases and his arms lying bonelessly by his side. It was as though Bilbo was sitting beside an entirely different person. That was Óin's drugs at work. It was still rather unnerving.
He remembered how Thorin had looked when Fili and Kili pulled him out of the savage wreck of the battlefield. Bilbo had thought him dead from the paleness of his face and the blood dripping from the rents in his armor, but after a few hours of uncertainty that had probably knocked a few decades off Bilbo's life, he'd pulled through. Bilbo spent hours by Thorin's side with his fingers gently resting on his pulse, drifting in and out of sleep but never losing that contact, watching Thorin's chest for hours, scrutinizing the rise and fall as if he were daring it to do anything differently. Bilbo had almost lost him so many times, and quite frankly he was sick of it. So for now he'd stick to peeling apples, but if Thorin tried anything even close to dying then Bilbo would have some very choice words for him.
By now the color had returned to Thorin's face and his wounds had been cleaned and bandaged, though the cuts on his face still made him look as if he'd stuck his face down a badger den. He'd spent the past couple days drooling into his pillow, knocked out by Óin's sleeping herbs while he healed. It would be just like Thorin to leap up from what had nearly been his deathbed and go charging off to rule a kingdom, after all. But as Óin had said to him that morning, there was only so long they could keep Thorin under. He'd been drifting in and out of consciousness all morning; mostly he just mumbled and stared, bleary-eyed and silent, watching Bilbo peel his apples and then conveniently falling asleep.
"You're going to want to be with him when he wakes up, laddie," Óin had said that morning. "He'll be disoriented, and it'll help to see a familiar face. It may take him a while to come back to himself."
"What do you mean?" Bilbo had asked, visions of Thorin lying helpless and delirious with pain flashing through his head.
"Not to fear, little hobbit," Óin said, adjusting his hearing trumpet to pat Bilbo reassuringly on the shoulder. "His head will just be a wee bit muddled, is all. Just answer any questions he might have and keep him company." Another thought seemed to occur to him. "Oh, also, in the event that he tries to leap out of bed and go dashing to his throne—don't let him." That last bit hadn't exactly eased Bilbo's nerves, but a couple hours filled with nothing but sleeping and staring had convinced him Thorin wasn't going anywhere.
As if on cue, a low groan sounded from the bed beside him as Thorin stirred. His eyes cracked open, struggling to focus on the roof of the tent as his brow constricted. He muttered something unintelligible, wrapping his mouth around the sounds before spitting them out like peach pits. His head lolled from side to side before eventually his eyes found Bilbo. By now this was a familiar ritual—Thorin staring him down with an odd intensity, and Bilbo hurrying his peeling in the hopes Thorin would stay awake long enough to eat.
"Don't go falling back asleep just yet," Bilbo said sternly as the knife worked quickly in his fingers. " Óin says I've got to get some food in you." He didn't expect a response. Thorin's face was still mostly slack, with the tiny shadow of a frown gathered between his brows. Still, Bilbo could feel Thorin's eyes on him as if they'd been glued there. The staring was becoming quite unnerving, really. Bilbo knew it would take time for him to be himself again, but being pinned by Thorin's silent and utterly unabashed scrutiny was no laughing matter.
"You're certainly looking at me a whole lot," Bilbo commented to fill up the silence. "Not that I mind. It's just usually you'd be glaring, or doing that thing with your eyebrows when you're concerned but don't want to show it. I'm not really sure what you mean by all…that," he said, glancing up at the soft, open interest on Thorin's face. Openness was not a common factor in their relationship. That just wasn't who Thorin was.
"Did the healers send you?" The voice nearly made Bilbo fumble the apple and knife alike. It's one of the first well-constructed and comprehensible sentences Thorin has managed so far, a bit slurred and thick-tongued but proper words all the same. Bilbo hadn't expected him to start talking until the medicine's effects wore off. There was no spark of recognition in Thorin's eyes as he stared at Bilbo curiously. For a moment, Bilbo wasn't sure whether he should respond.
"In a way," he said eventually. "How are you feeling?"
"Strange," Thorin said with a wince. He gave his head a slow shake as if to dislodge something inside it. "My head…" Thorin glanced down at his chest as his hands drifted over the bandages peeking out from under the blankets. "What happened to me?"
"You don't remember?" Thorin shook his head. "Well. You did something incredibly stupid, and are suffering the consequences," Bilbo said a tad peevishly. He doubted Thorin would even remember anything he said, based on the foggy look in his eyes. Clearly he was still in the process of climbing back into his own head.
Those eyes turned back to Bilbo. The concern vanished almost instantly, replaced with an expression that almost resembled amazement. For a moment Bilbo thought he was seeing things. There was a pause. Then: "You're beautiful." When he looked up Thorin's eyes were half-lidded but open, a bleary smile plastered across his face.
Bilbo stared at him, equal parts skepticism and disbelief. "Erm. Thanks." This wasn't Thorin, he reminded himself, not really—or perhaps it was, but with none of the careful filters or walls Thorin had spent so long building, barriers that had become a part of who he was.
"You must be the most beautiful creature in all of Arda." Thorin's voice was growing clearer with every word, still lazy and sleepy but more and more himself.
Bilbo kept his eyes carefully on his work, while internally his mind was racing. Thorin was in a compromised position here, and Bilbo couldn't help but get the feeling that he was seeing something Thorin might not want him to see. He felt the sudden urge that he should leave, give Thorin his privacy until his wits returned. The peel curled off the apple. "You shouldn't speak."
Thorin looked bewildered. "Any why should I not?"
"Because I don't want you to go saying something you don't mean to," Bilbo replied.
"Oh, but I do mean to," Thorin insisted, the fervent edge in his voice undermined by the yawn halfway through his sentence. "I have never laid eyes on a more radiant being in all my life. Your hair is so…" his hand waved in the air vaguely. "…Undulating."
"Alright, I'm getting Óin," Bilbo said with determination as he rose to his feet. Thorin describing his hair as 'undulating' definitely qualified as a health hazard in his book.
"Wait," Thorin said hurriedly, his hand reaching out to grasp weakly at Bilbo's shirt. "Please. Do not leave me."
Staring down at the muddled, pleading look in Thorin's eyes, Bilbo's stomach twisted. He should go. Staying with Thorin in this state would be like letting himself into Thorin's chambers and pawing through all his things while he was gone. But the desperate tone of Thorin's voice kept his feet firmly planted. He couldn't leave him alone with no clue of where he was or what had happened. Óin had told him to stay, and Thorin needed him here. With a sigh, Bilbo settled back down.
Once Thorin saw Bilbo was staying, he, relaxed back into the pillow and smiled faintly. "Who are you?" he asked, nuzzling the side of his face into his pillow so he could better fix his eyes on Bilbo. "I feel certain I must have seen you before, but I cannot imagine forgetting such a face."
What romantic sentiments. Bilbo wouldn't have guessed Thorin had them in him. All in all, this was too bizarre. "My name is Bilbo. I'm a hobbit, and certainly not the most beautiful of the lot no matter what you might think. I'm here to make sure you eat your apples and don’t hurt yourself."
"Do we know each other?"
The question gave Bilbo pause. There was no real reason to hide the truth other than fear of how Thorin might react to it. His free hand brushed unconsciously through his hair, feeling the thick strands braided there with the beads that had been woven in so carefully that night in Laketown. Bilbo could practically still feel Thorin's fingers there, working with more dexterity than he might have thought them capable of. Once Erebor is ours, I will braid your hair with strands of gold, Thorin had promised. It was always 'once' when they talked about it, never 'if'. The only ifs they allowed themselves were the braids in each other's hair, the whispered vows spoken under the rainy eaves as the rest of the Company slept inside. If the dragon lived. If they didn’t make it. There'd be no more ifs about what they meant to each other, or what was to happen should they survive.
Sapphires too, Thorin had said. To bring out your eyes.
I can't go walking around with half the treasure room in my hair, Bilbo replied. I'd like to be able to lift my head occasionally, thanks very much.
That's what I'm here for. Thorin had cupped Bilbo's head in his hands and tilted it up for a kiss.
Smiling despite himself, Bilbo shook himself out of the memory. "Yes, we do know each other. Very well, in fact. I'm your intended."
The effect on Thorin was instantaneous. His eyes widened in disbelief. His mouth fell open. "You're my intended?!"
Bilbo couldn't help but laugh at that—really it was quite flattering in its own strange way. "Yes, Thorin. We're to be married." He turned his head so that Thorin could inspect the braid himself.
Thorin stared at it as if it were the only star in the sky before leaning back and dragging his palms over his face. "My own intended. Mahal has smiled on me today." Even thick-tongued and halfway out of sleep, Thorin sounded ridiculously grateful. He grinned up at Bilbo, who was trying very hard not to be utterly charmed by this whole situation. "However did I manage to win your favor?" Thorin asked, sinking back into his pillow but losing none of the intensity in his stare.
"Well, mostly you just made gruff comments about the best place to pitch my bedroll for the night, and stared at me when you thought I wasn't looking," Bilbo said with a smile. It was a miracle Thorin had managed to confess his feelings at all without accidentally biting his own tongue off, but he'd managed it somehow all the same.
Thorin nodded his head in sleepy approval. "And did I give you a good proposal? Did I shower you with gold and jewels?"
"You just sort of asked, actually," Bilbo said wryly.
Thorin's eyes slowly closed in self-admonition. "And you still said yes?"
"I certainly did, and would again in a heartbeat," Bilbo replied honestly. To see the dedication in Thorin's eyes as he held out the simple beads which would be braided into their hair had been more than Bilbo could have ever asked for.
"How incredibly lucky I am…" Thorin sighed. The smile seeped back on to his face as his eyes raked over Bilbo from head to toe with a more roguish eye. "Would you mind… spinning around?"
"Whatever Óin's given you has certainly made you more forward," Bilbo cried. The apple was almost completely peeled in his hand. "I should have had him administer some at the beginning of our trip, and saved us both a lot of pining."
Thorin winced playfully. "I see you have a sense of humor."
"That's something you're less fond of," Bilbo teased. Finally the last of the peel dropped away, and Bilbo cut a small slice of apple away. He held it over Thorin's lips with a stern look. "Now eat your apple."
Thorin complied, parting his lips to accept the morsel and chewing it dutifully. "So, we're to be married." Bilbo nodded. "When?"
"We haven't picked a time. It's all been very last-minute, mostly due to the high chance of failure, and then incineration."
Thorin's expression turned more sly. "Have we kissed yet?"
Bilbo tucked his chin to hide a smile as he sliced off another piece of apple. "Yes."
"Hmm." His heavy-lidded eyes studied Bilbo with a spark of mischief. "That's something to look forward to in the future."
"Eat your apple," Bilbo repeated with fond exasperation as he slipped another piece of fruit between Thorin's lips. His eyes were already beginning to droop again, his words coming slower and further apart.
"I am glad to have you with me," Thorin said, taking Bilbo's hand in his own clumsy one with a sigh. "Will you still be here when I wake up?"
"I will be." Bilbo lifted their entwined hands to press a kiss to each of Thorin's knuckles. With each one, Thorin's eyes lowered a little further. "I promise."
Thorin let his hand fall back onto the bed with a sigh, turning to face the ceiling and smiling like an idiot. "My intended…" he muttered again, his eyes drifting close. A few dreamy words of Khuzdul passed his lips. Then he was asleep again.
Sitting back and blowing a breath of relief out of his cheeks, Bilbo studied Thorin's peaceful face once more. Bilbo had never doubted Thorin's feelings for him, despite his future husband's consistent inability to articulate them in words. Thorin had told him he loved him hundreds of times, in the squeeze of a hand, the lingering of a look. Still, it was quite nice to get something like that in actual language for a change. Just this once.
Bilbo gathered up the remaining apple cores and headed for the tent's exit. He'd discard them and get a little fresh air—try to clear his own head from the charming insanity of the past few minutes.
Just as he was stepping out he nearly collided with something heavy and hard. Staggering back, he looked up straight into Bofur's surprised and sheepish face. From the looks of it, he'd been outside the tent the whole time.
Bilbo paused. He and Bofur stared each other down. "…So you heard all of that, then?"
"…You're never going to let him forget this, are you?"
Bofur grinned. "Oh, definitely not."