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We Played At Love

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 Once we played at love together—

  Played it smartly, if you please;

Lightly, as a windblown feather,

    Did we stake a heart apiece.


Oh, it was delicious fooling!

    In the hottest of the game,

Without thought of future cooling,

    All too quickly burned Life’s flame.


We Played At Love 

The books were heavy in Bilbo's arms and he gratefully deposited the pile on the ground, kneeling down so that he was at the right height to stack the shelf. The books were falling apart as he picked them up so he handled them carefully, trying not to ruin them further as he wondered how far this month's library budget would stretch and whether they could afford new copies.

He was focused on the job at hand, carefully slotting away the titles, when a well-polished shoe appeared in the corner of his eye.

'Good morning,' a voice said, and Bilbo glanced up at the figure it belonged to.

'Good morning,' he greeted cordially, internally groaning - wasn't it lunch time yet? - before adding, 'I'll be with you in just a moment.'

There was no reply as he finished replacing the last book, and then he straightened up, cringing as his knees cricked. When had his knees got so stiff? Perhaps he'd better start getting Drogo doing this job. Quickly he returned his attention to the person in front of him.

The man was exceedingly tall and wore a long,  dark grey coat. He had a neat little white beard tucked under his scarf - also grey - and Bilbo could see grey suit trousers under the coat. He wore glasses, and his eyebrows were white and bushy over the frames.

'Can I help you, sir?' he asked politely.

'I hope that you can,' the man replied, but made no elaboration.

Bilbo frowned. 'Well, if you're looking for anything in particular I can direct you to the section, or we can look it up on the system-'

'I don't need a book,' the man said.

'A computer then? We can give you a pass-'

'I don't need a computer, thank you,' he said.

'Well then I beg your pardon, sir, but I don't understand-'

'So it seems,' the man said with a heavy sigh. 'Do you not remember me, Bilbo Baggins? I remember you, no doubt about it, although you've grown quite considerably since I last saw you.'

'I'm sorry, who are you? I'm afraid I don't...'

'I was a particular friend of your mother's, Bilbo, and I once came to your  fifth birthday party with fireworks. I seem to recall you were particularly fond of those.' The man was looking at Bilbo from under his bushy eyebrows and then he removed the glasses; the sudden revelation of sharp, shrewd blue eyes and the mention of fireworks suddenly triggered a memory of a golden dragon dispersing into little showers of sparks amongst the happy yells of a group of five year olds one autumn evening.

'Gandalf?' Bilbo gasped, disbelieving. 'Is that you?' The man - Gandalf - nodded and grinned. 'Well I never - I'm sorry it took me so long to recognise you, but after you disappeared ten years ago everyone has quite given up hope,' Bilbo said, laughing and feeling much happier now that his mother's old friend and his sort-of-godfather (more of an honorary one) had walked into his life again from nowhere.

'Given up hope of what?' Gandalf said, confused. 'I was off on business.' He sounded vaguely offended.

'Well, ten years is rather a long time to be on business...' Bilbo started, but trailed off when Gandalf looked at him piercingly. 'But what can I do for you, Gandalf?' Bilbo said,  deciding that changing the subject was probably the best course of action here.

'I need help,' he said, suddenly business-like and efficient.

Bilbo looked at him. 'Well, are you sure a library is where you need to be?' he asked uncertainly, but Gandalf waved his question away.

'Not that kind of help (secretly Bilbo was beginning to think that actually, yes he did need that kind of help). I have a proposal for you: I have a...a pet project, if you will, and I need someone to help with it. I need you to help with it.'

'I'm not sure that I-'

'I'll meet you for lunch,' Gandalf interrupted. 'When does your lunch break start?'

'Erm, one o'clock; but Gandalf -'

'I'll explain everything later,' he said, flashing Bilbo a smile before replacing his cap (also grey, Bilbo noted; Gandalf really played up his surname) on his head and turning and walking out.

Bilbo stood for a little while longer, astounded and more than a little confused. He shook his head and returned to the desk where Drogo, his cousin and the library's newest recruit, sat at the computer entering books onto the system.

'What was that about?' he asked, nodding in the direction Gandalf had left.

'Oh, just a difficult customer, you know,' Bilbo muttered, running a hand through his hair. 'Couldn't work out what he wanted and then blamed me.'

Drogo sniffed and looked a bit disgruntled. 'I'd have told him what for if I were you, Bilbo. You shouldn't have to deal with that...'

'And that, Drogo, is why you are not library manager and I am. The first rule is that the customer is always right.' Drogo looked slightly chastened (only a little, however) and returned to his work. Even if they are batty old pyromaniacs, Bilbo added to himself.

Well, today was certainly not going to be boring; not if Gandalf had a say.

As Bilbo found out, Gandalf had more than a say. The man was practically calling the shots.

The hours went past, entirely too slowly for Bilbo's tastes but surely and with each tick of the clock Bilbo's lunch break drew nearer. Bilbo spent the intervening hours archiving the latest newspapers and he gave himself a serious headache when he tried to use the photocopier (why couldn't the thing understand he only wanted one copy?) until Drogo took pity on him and took over.

When finally the hour hand reached the one, indicating it was one o'clock, Bilbo grabbed his satchel and patted Drogo on the shoulder as he walked out, muttering that he was going out for lunch and could the lad please remember to update the member details on the system.

Bilbo stepped out of the old building, with its domed roof and built partially underground, and saw no trace of Gandalf. He looked around a bit, confused, and when the man continued to elude Bilbo's gaze Bilbo started walking away down the street towards the coffee shops, shrugging.

A small whistle from an alley he passed made him jump and he saw Gandalf peering round the corner of the narrow alley, looking entirely too much like a drug-dealer or some other such shifty character for Bilbo's liking.

He joined Bilbo on the main road, stuffing his hands in his pockets and smiling nonchalantly as if there was absolutely nothing unusual about hiding down an alleyway. Bilbo was beginning to doubt his mother's sanity at counting this man as one of her close friends; the man was an eccentric at best and on the wrong side of the law at worst. Bilbo suddenly felt a little uneasy at whatever idea Gandalf wanted him to get involved in.

'I had thought we might get something a little more substantial,' he said as Bilbo made to enter the coffee and sandwich shop nearest the library. Instead he guided Bilbo firmly down the road in the opposite direction and so it was that Bilbo found himself in a posh restaurant he'd never even known existed until now. Mithlond, it had said above the door in fancy letters and the restaurant sigil appeared to be a boat sailing into a sunset. It was all very formal and fancy but Gandalf seemed right at home amongst the elaborate furnishings and harp music playing in the background.

He smiled at Bilbo, a smile Bilbo knew could mean anything, and he swallowed nervously.

'What is it that I can possibly help with, Gandalf?' he said, trying to take control of the situation. He took a sip of the dark red wine Gandalf had ordered for him (he claimed it went well with the chicken and mushroom risotto Bilbo had ordered due to its "fruity bouquet". Bilbo was damned if he knew what that actually meant) and then set it down firmly, the strength of it burning his throat. Egad, of course Gandalf would drink something like that; no doubt it would go to Bilbo's head within about ten minutes, so he stopped there.

Gandalf looked thoughtful and rested his head on his hands, looking at Bilbo as if sizing him up. Bilbo resisted the urge to reach for the wine glass again.

'It's quite a delicate matter,' Gandalf began thoughtfully, 'and as a result I'd appreciate it if you'd listen to me without any interruptions.'

Bilbo felt a sense of foreboding settle on him - if it was something he'd interrupt at, it was almost certainly something he'd disagree with - but he agreed anyway with a curt nod of the head.

'Have you ever heard of Khazad?' Gandalf asked, and Bilbo was momentarily confused by the question.

'Isn't it somewhere in Europe?'

'Indeed it is. Your geography is as good as  ever, I see,' Gandalf said drily and Bilbo flushed. 'But yes, it's a tiny little island country just north of Norway.'

Bilbo nodded, still not sure where this was going.

'Its government is pretty similar to ours, although they no longer have a monarchy, but I'll explain that later. They do have some nice mountains in Khazad...'

'Gandalf, what is this all about?' Bilbo interrupted. Gandalf looked at him thoughtfully, tilting his head to one side and resting his chin on his hands.

'Bilbo, my lad, how's your boyfriend?'

Bilbo spluttered. 'My - My boyfriend?' Gandalf nodded, his eyes twinkling. Bilbo took a gulp of wine so that he didn't have to look at the man in front of him. 'I don't have a boyfriend, Gandalf,' he said when he'd calmed a little.

'I know,' Gandalf said lightly, 'that's why I'm here.' Bilbo was completely flustered and confused and he had no idea what was going on anymore. 'I know just the chap for you.'

'No! No, Gandalf. I don't want anything to do with this - I don't need you to start trying to matchmake -'

'You'd be doing me a great favour,' Gandalf said, cutting Bilbo off easily.

'What?' Bilbo asked weakly, frowning up at Gandalf.

'Well, this fellow's a friend of mine - well, perhaps that's a little forward of me. We've known one another a number of years, however, so when I found out his dilemma I offered my services.'

'Gandalf, I have no idea what this has got to do with you suddenly trying to matchmake,' Bilbo said. 'And in fact, I really don't want to. So please, I've got to get back to work but maybe next time you visit we can talk about something... Less personal?' He stood and scooped up his bag, running a hand through his curls.

'Are you sure you don't want to know more?' Gandalf asked quietly.

'I'm sure, thank you,' Bilbo said firmly.

'Not even if I told you he was incredibly good-looking?' Gandalf's eyes were twinkling.

Just for the tiniest moment, Bilbo was almost ready to sit back down and ask more, but he strengthened his resolve and refused again. 'Now if you'll excuse me, Gandalf, I must go. Why don't you pop around for tea tonight?'

'Maybe I shall,' he smiled, and Bilbo quickly rushed out of the restaurant, glad to leave the fancy, elegant furnishings behind and breathe in the fresh air. His cheeks were burning and must have been bright red; his phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out to see. He saw the time and increased his stride, but he stopped short suddenly when he read the message that came through.

Let me know if you change your mind. G.G.

He was just about to send a polite but very much disinterested retort saying how little chance of that there was when the phone buzzed again. Bilbo opened the message and this time he knew he was blushing beetroot red and tried to stop it, but it was of no use.

His name is Thorin Durin. G.G.

And the attachment was an image of the most gorgeous-looking man Bilbo had ever seen. He was dark-haired, brooding, and looked as if smiles were almost unknown to him, but Bilbo would be lying if he said that the man wasn't incredibly attractive.

He shook himself irritably. No! He wasn't going to get involved in this! Even so, he didn't delete the message. It wasn't until he was back in the computer chair helping Drogo update details on the library data-system and fending off the lad's questions about if he was feeling well that the thought occurred to him.

How on earth had Gandalf got hold of his mobile number?

Bilbo was grateful when five o'clock finally came around and he could go home. Drogo had already gone, as had Mrs Rumble, the slightly out-of-it but kindly old lady who worked part time, which meant it was Bilbo's responsibility to lock up. He did so and his journey home on the bus was fairly uneventful, even if his mind did keep returning to that photo sent from Gandalf.

When he got home he sighed and slumped against the door, dropping his satchel down on the floor and dumping his keys on the side table. He shook himself irritably; he shouldn't let one visit from a slightly deluded old man affect him so.

With another sigh he stood straight and headed to the kitchen, where he decided to take out his frustration at Gandalf and the whole situation (the dark-haired man's eyes wouldn't leave his mind) on some poor innocent vegetables, slicing the carrots with ferocity and veritably ripping the leaves of the cabbage off. He left them in a pan of water but didn't turn the hob on; he'd do that later. Instead he went to the tiny little room he used a study and was just turning on his laptop when the house phone rang, alarmingly loud in the small space.

'Hello?' he answered it, sitting down in the computer chair and waiting for the laptop to warm up. 'Oh, hello mum... I've just got back from work. Yes, it was good...' He didn't say anything about Gandalf's visit. No sir. 'How are dad's tomatoes doing?...' The laptop had finally woken up as his mother passed him over to his dad, who started waxing poetic about his tomatoes, before starting to talk about the visit they'd got from his cousin Lobelia. Bilbo had opened up his email and was waiting for it to load as he chuckled with his dad about the insufferable Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. His father soon returned it to his mother who started asking him if he was eating enough - just as his email finally opened.

He was just reassuring her that yes, he'd had second breakfast and yes, he'd taken a break for lunch when he caught sight of Gandalf's email. Its subject header was Quest for Khazad and Bilbo frowned as he clicked it, a strange foreboding stealing up on him.

'Bilbo? Are you alright?'

'Oh yes, I'm fine, sorry mum. What were you saying?' Belladonna started talking about an excellent meal her sisters had made for her and her brothers (all eleven Took siblings had got together, Bilbo didn't want to imagine what that had been like) and Bilbo nodded along, murmuring and laughing at all the right points, until his stomach began to grumble and he excused himself, wishing her and his father love before hanging up. But Gandalf's message had unnerved him:

I hope you've got lots of food. We have a lot to discuss. G.G.

Bilbo typed a quick reply. Gandalf, I don't know what you're planning but I told you that I want no part in this. What makes you think I would consider being part of this crack-pot idea of yours?

The laptop pinged not two minutes later, making Bilbo jump.

You're a Took. You'll consider it. G.G.

Yes, but I'm also a Baggins and as such I have more common sense than some! I do not wish to let you try and matchmake me with some man I've never met!

Bilbo was letting himself get a little riled by Gandalf's self-confident tone, and he glared at the laptop when he noticed another email from the old man pop up. But there was no message, only a link.

Bilbo snorted. A link to Khazad's tourism site.

A final note, Gandalf. Calling it a "Quest" will not make it more appealing; neither do the mountains.

Feeling very pleased with himself, Bilbo got up and went to put the vegetables on to steam and started grilling his pork chops. He sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a book, listening to the chops sizzle under the grill and the whistle of the steam and feeling quite content. He'd managed to avoid getting caught up in Gandalf's nonsense, he had tea and food and books. Life was, in that moment, good.

He should have known it wasn't going to last.

He was interrupted from his reverie by a loud thumping on his door.

Startled, he nearly dropped his book as he straightened and ran a hand through his unruly curls. Who would be calling on him at this time in the evening? He really didn't have the energy to be dealing with Lobelia that evening, and the pounding on the door sounded particularly grumpy, and not a little rude.

He sighed and got up, reluctantly turning down the grill as he passed. Wouldn't want perfectly good pork chops to burn, now. He stepped carefully down the corridor to the green front door and did up the safety latch before he opened it. Tentatively he peeked around the door...

'Gandalf,' he breathed when he saw the grey-clothed man, his blue eyes twinkling in the April dusk. 'You scared me for a moment there, I thought... Wait,' Bilbo paused from where he'd been undoing the safety latch. 'Why are you here?'

'I wish to merely share an evening of food and good pipeweed with an old friend,' Gandalf said, sounding mildly hurt.

'Does this mean you won't talk about this silly idea of yours, Gandalf?' Bilbo said, crossing his arms and still peering through the crack between the door and the door frame. He really didn't want to hear any more about it, especially as this Thorin person had lodged himself in Bilbo's brain and he couldn't forget those piercing eyes.

'If you so wish it,' Gandalf sighed. 'I will talk no more of it...'

'Good,' Bilbo said firmly and undid the latch, pulling the door wide for Gandalf to step inside.

'...But these two might. In fact, they certainly will.' Gandalf had stepped inside and revealed the presence of two men standing on the bottom steps. One was glowering at Bilbo, who gulped as he took in the amount of pure muscle he carried and the knuckle-dusters he wore; at least the other, white-haired man was smiling in what seemed to be an encouraging way. Gandalf just twinkled at Bilbo, mirth  evident on his face. 'Come, Dwalin, Balin,' he said, and only then did Bilbo move, scurrying out of the way of the two men now entering his home.

'Is there food?' the taller, gangster-type man asked. He sniffed, deep, before he grinned and the look he sent Bilbo made the poor thing veritably quiver in fright. 'Smells like meat.'

Bilbo didn't think he'd ever eat pork chops again.

The older man elbowed the other. 'Dwalin!' he hissed. 'Don't go scaring the lad before we've even got him signed up!'

Bilbo was about to protest at being called "lad" but then the rest of the man's - Balin's - words sank in. Oh sweet Yavanna, why did he have the misfortune to be in any way connected to Gandalf? This evening was not going to end well. He felt Gandalf - the irritating old busybody - place a hand on his shoulder and Bilbo was almost tempted to shrug it off out of spite, except that he was quite out of his depth with these strangers in his home and he was really quite grateful to Gandalf for taking over.

The old man directed the others to the kitchen where Dwalin seemed to delight in the sight of the pork chops under the grill (there were only two, and Bilbo thought rather mournfully that he'd have to offer them to his guests and miss out himself. At least he'd done plenty of vegetables.)

Dwalin and Balin sat down at Bilbo's kitchen table, Dwalin picking up Bilbo's book that was lying on his seat; he peered at it before dropping it on the floor behind him. Bilbo was outraged - that was finest Old Took literature and an antique! - but before he could do more than give an irritated squeak Balin had elbowed his brother and given him a warning look. 'What would Ori think if he saw that?' Balin whispered, and it made Dwalin pause and look contrite. He didn't apologise though.

Bilbo took a few deep breaths as he watched his uninvited guests get out a few plates and mugs and cutlery and finally, spurred on by his indignation, Bilbo put his hands on his hips and spoke. The others all looked at him and no one was more surprised than Bilbo at their sudden attention.

'I'm sorry, but could someone please explain what a madman and two strangers are doing in my house?'

'Eat now, talk later,' Balin promised, ignoring Bilbo's jibe. 'Then we'll explain everything we can.' And Bilbo had to be satisfied with that even if the men's table manners were truly appalling. Bilbo just sat there, at the end of his own table, nibbling on a toasted teacake (with extra butter - nothing like butter for comfort food) while his 'guests' polished off his food.

When they were done Bilbo - knowing he was being incredibly rude - stomped over and took their plates, heading to the sink and plonking them into the hot water. He was just pouring washing-up liquid in when a pair of hands snatched the cloth and soap out of his hands and he was guided gently but firmly to the table by another. Bewildered, he looked around to see Dwalin at the sink washing the dishes, humming to himself, and Balin sitting opposite him next to Gandalf and smiling kindly. Bilbo felt ashamed of his poor manners there and he made to apologise, but Balin waved it away.

'We have more important things to discuss,' he said, and he and Gandalf seemed to lean in ever so slightly at that, which made Bilbo feel very unnerved. Dwalin was soon finished and he joined them at the table, fixing his eyes on Bilbo. He cleared his throat self-consciously.

'So,' he said. 'What's this all a-' he was cut off by another loud banging on the door. Bilbo stood, frowning, but Gandalf beat him to it and rushed to the door first. 'That'll be the lads,' he heard him say as he stood and Bilbo internally groaned. More visitors? What would he feed them?

Sure enough, as the door opened noisy greetings were exchanged as two new voices sounded through the house. The newcomers appeared in the doorway, Gandalf following just behind and they both bowed to Bilbo formally. They were two young men, no older than twenty, and one was as fair as the other was dark. They both grinned cheekily at Bilbo.

'Fíli,' the blonde one said.

'And Kíli,' the other interjected, and then they both bowed low again. 'At your service,' they chorused before settling themselves around the table. They were all taller than him and Bilbo was beginning to feel very oppressed, sitting at his end of the table hemmed in by the others. He cleared his throat again and stood up abruptly, asking the younger men what they'd like to eat. He made a large plate of sandwiches and when he finally sat back down in his seat Gandalf sat up and began talking.

'Bilbo Baggins,' he said solemnly, and Bilbo nearly flinched at hearing his full name spoken so. 'Myself and my companions here have gathered to talk to you a little more about our proposition to you.'

Bilbo nodded and Balin took over. 'Our cousin is Thorin Durin. His father has always been... A little on the strict side, shall we say,' he glanced at Dwalin, who grimaced. 'Even now that Thorin is a fully grown adult of forty-two.'

A small voice in the back of his head was waving that piece of information in the air. You're thirty-five! It crowed. That's not such a huge age gap! Bilbo immediately quashed it, although he kept his face neutral.

'And recently, Thorin's father has become a little too overbearing our cousin needs someone to just pretend to be his partner, to get his father off his back for a while...'

Bilbo finally registered what the white-haired man was saying. 'Wait,' he said. 'Let me clarify this. Your cousin wants to pretend he's in a relationship just to appease his daddy?' Dwalin scowled at the slight derision in Bilbo's voice. 'And he's sent you lot to find someone? That doesn't say much about him - is he too frightened people won't like him? If he's the sort of person who gets others to woo people on his behalf then I'm inclined to agree.'

Balin looked as if he was about to talk but Bilbo spoke over him, indignation and more than a little outrage at the cheek of some people driving him on. 'And if all that wasn't bad enough, why on earth would you ask someone from the backwater area of the Shire, of all places? Why not someone from your own country?' After all, the Shire was just a tiny corner of the country, made up of one small town and a couple of hamlets.

The dark haired young man started to answer, saying something about 'run them out of town', before the blonde one stomped on his foot under the table.

'He likes the accent,' Fíli said quickly, and Bilbo narrowed his eyes before leaning back in his chair.

'Alright,' he said slowly. 'Say I was to agree - which I don't plan to, Gandalf, so don't say anything! - what would I have to do?'

'Oh, very little, really. Just act as though you and Thorin are a perfectly happy couple whenever you see his father; the rest of the time you can ignore each other as much as you like, ' Balin said, looking hopeful.

Bilbo snorted. That was a little? He was meant to just get along with this man who he'd never met in his whole life and pretend they were soul mates? What a ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, notion.

Bilbo shook his head. 'I'm sorry, Gandalf, but I won't do this. Find yourself another substitute, a better actor next time.'

The lads looked crestfallen; Dwalin scowled while Balin just looked disheartened. 'We'd pay you a very generous sum-' he began, but Bilbo laughed mirthlessly.

'You'd pay me? Even worse.'

Balin slumped and Bilbo tried to ignore the part of him squirming at their obvious upset. But then Gandalf reached into his jacket pocket and threw something onto the table. There was the slap of paper hitting the polished wood and an envelope lay there. Bilbo reached for it, not betraying the pounding of blood in his ears as he opened it.

Inside the envelope there was a document granting him a holiday visa to Khazad, insurance documents, a contract to sign and - this made Bilbo's heart really start thumping - more pictures of Thorin.

Oh goodness, the man was more than good-looking. He was beautiful. His hair raven black, the grey strands denoting a maturity that Bilbo couldn't deny he found attractive; he had a slight beard and his hair was longer than usual but on him it looked perfect - not trampy or messy. It just looked... Good. But it was the eyes that caught Bilbo's attention. So clear and blue, like sapphires; and piercing as the sharp cut of diamond. Bilbo noticed how he wasn't smiling in a single one of the photos in his hand.

When he looked up, all five of the others were looking at him hopefully, but he shook his head.

'You won't change my mind by showing me a few pretty pictures,' he said, standing. 'You can't change my mind. I'm sorry.' The others looked defeated once again and Bilbo just sighed wearily.

'I'm terribly sorry to be so rude, but I am going to bed. Gandalf, I trust you will see to our guests-'

'No need, Bilbo. We're staying at the Green Dragon.'

'Oh. Good. Well then,' Bilbo said. 'Good night all, and sleep well. Good luck with finding someone.' And then he disappeared around the corner to his bedroom, weariness suddenly setting in. It had been a long day.

He got into bed and he could hear the men's muted chatter through the wall, buzzing on his skin from the vibrations as he listened. He heard Dwalin's growl, lower than the rest, and then they were gone, leaving Bilbo with an empty house

Adrenaline was coursing through his veins still - the idea of doing something so scandalous had quite appealed to him, actually - like something out of a book; but he was a Baggins and he couldn't just run off like that. He tried to push away the thoughts and eventually he fell into a disjointed and restless sleep, filled with the looming shadows of great mountains and sharp blue eyes.

It was early still when he woke up the next morning, yawning and eyes sore and tired. That was probably the worst sleep he'd had in ages. He groaned as he got up, thinking about the night before.

Just as he thought how relieved he was to be out of that silly situation, a teeny tiny part of him clung to the part that told him to be ashamed of himself for his cowardice.

He walked to the kitchen and started making himself a cup of tea, staring out at the trees and rain-heavy skies; so focused was he on his tea that he almost didn't see the package on the table.


It was the envelope from yesterday, complete with visa and insurance and photos. He stared at it for a long, long time; the sight of one half of Thorin's face on the photo decided him and he dumped his tea in the sink.

Where did he keep his passport?

In record time he was dressed and had packed a single case, small enough for hand luggage and filled to the brim with clothes and shoes and a couple of tea-cakes. He slipped the envelope inside too.

When he was ready and had locked up, he banged on Hamfast Gamgee's door next door and dropped the keys off, fairly astonishing the sleepy man but he promised to bring him something back, and then he practically flew down the road. The Green Dragon B&B wasn't far, only a couple of streets away. He just hoped the others hadn't left yet. As he ran he fished his phone out of his pocket and made two phone calls.

The first was to Drogo, letting him know he'd taken emergency annual leave and wasn't sure when he'd be back;  the second number he dialled was his parents' house.

'Bilbo? Are you running?' came Bella's voice from down the phone. 'What on earth are you doing?'

'To be perfectly honest, mum,' he said as he paused at a red light, trying to catch his breath. He still couldn't believe he was doing this. 'I've done something extremely stupid, but it might make you proud.'

'Bilbo?' Belladonna sounded genuinely confused.

'I'm going on an adventure.' He took her silence as a cue and he hung up as he reached the Green Dragon.

The others were already gathered outside and seemed to be waiting for something; Fíli and Kíli saw him first and they elbowed each other and Gandalf.

'You came,' was all Balin said, looking ecstatic (if he had been aware, Bilbo might have been worried by the fact this man was so desperate for someone to play along with this Durin person's pretence).

'Yes. Yes I did,' he declared, still breathing heavily from his run. He caught his breath for a couple of minutes, and when his breathing had returned to normal he looked up. 'So, how are we getting to Khazad?'

'By car,' Gandalf said, and he ushered Bilbo over to a black people-carrier with tinted windows. Bilbo looked at it doubtfully.

'All the way? Not by plane? It'll take ages to get to Khazad by car, surely?'

'Indeed; that's why we're getting a ferry partway. But the rest we will be driving,' Gandalf said smiling. Bilbo sighed. If he'd known he'd have to sit in a car for stupid number of hours, he might have reconsidered; but it was too late now and Gandalf opened the door to the back seats and Bilbo had no choice but to climb in. Dwalin took the driver's seat and Balin the other front seat, while Fíli and Kíli took the two in the very back. Gandalf had taken his case and put it in the boot by the lads' seats after checking that Bilbo had the documents and his passport with him; when everyone was ready Gandalf got in the back with Bilbo and they set off.

Bilbo watched as the town of Hobbiton gave way to green fields and he saw the hills over which lay Tuckborough, and the forest after which was Buckland. The further away they got the roads became larger and followed the little river of the Brandywine until it joined the motorway properly. Bilbo felt a pang of nervousness and homesickness wash over him - he hadn't left the Shire since his university days - and he wondered what on earth he was doing.

But then he thought - he hadn't left the Shire since his university days. This was as good an opportunity as any, even if it was ridiculous and foolhardy. But he'd been safe for far too long and the thrum of adrenaline in his veins was a welcome sensation even in its unfamiliarity, and he stifled a small chuckle.

He retrieved the envelope and asked Gandalf for a pen; he read through the contract briefly and then signed his name at the bottom, before handing it to Balin in the front, who looked pleased and slipped it safely away.

'So Mister Boggins,' Kíli began.

'It's Baggins,' he corrected gently. The lad shrugged.

'Mister Baggins then. What is it you do?'

'I'm a librarian,' Bilbo replied.

'So you like books?' Fíli asked, leaning his chin on the back of the empty middle seat so that he could look at Bilbo.

'Well, yes, that is rather necessary if one is to work with them-'

'Thorin likes books,' Kíli said. 'Doesn't he, Fee?' They  both grinned and looked at Bilbo, their gazes making him quite uncomfortable.

'What's your favourite food?'

'Um, well, I'm not really very fussed. I like most things...'

The morning wore on in such a fashion, the boys questioning Bilbo on anything and everything and by the time they'd stopped for lunch, Bilbo was exhausted. When they stopped at a motorway service station, Bilbo tumbled gracelessly out of the car and breathed deeply, raking his hand through his curls. Gandalf led them all inside to buy food and he walked with a hand on Bilbo's shoulder.

'You'll get used to them,' he said quietly, eyes alight with mirth.

'I'm not sure I want to,' Bilbo muttered to himself. They bought sandwiches and ate them outside in the mild April sunshine, and after a quick trip to the bathroom they were on their way again. This time Balin was driving, and the afternoon was spent with Fíli and Kíli describing their country to Bilbo.

They reached the port just as the sun was beginning its descent, burning a fierce orange which reflected in the calm water. Bilbo had been to the seaside before but not in a while, and his stomach knotted again in anticipation at the sight. Balin drove them to the ferry and they joined the queue of cars waiting to board.

Gradually they inched forward and Balin handed over their ticket. The assistant frowned. 'It says you're supposed to have seven passengers. You're missing one.'

'He's on his way,' Balin said, and the ticket assistant shrugged and indicated  they should drive on. Balin started the car again and they reached their space, behind a small car out of which the sounds of a screaming toddler could be heard.

'Let's get out and stretch our legs, shall we, Bilbo?' Gandalf asked and Bilbo agreed. As he climbed out, he heard Dwalin ask, 'Can you see him?' and Balin shook his head as he peered out of his window.

'Who?' Bilbo asked, and was thoroughly ignored. Well. Rude.

A wind was whipping around the deck, flicking Bilbo's curls into his face and stinging his eyes a little. He breathed deeply, the smell of brine and salt heavy in the air and filling his lungs with the sharp scent with each breath. He walked over to the edge, a little way from the car, and saw the water below him, but then his legs suddenly felt shaky and he pulled back, keeping his breathing steady. Oh, he hoped he wasn't going to be seasick...

'You look a little green,' a voice said behind him, deep and baritone. Bilbo immediately span around, startled, and then wished he hadn't. Not only did it upset his stomach, but he was currently faced with something he wasn't ready for. Not at all.

The voice belonged to none other than this Thorin Durin person himself. His "boyfriend". He felt his knees go weak and he gripped the handrail, concentrating on his breathing.

'I'm - I'm -'

'Do you need a bucket?' The man sounded vaguely amused and it raised a prickle of irritation.

'No, thank you,' Bilbo said stiffly, after regaining control over his breathing. 'I'm perfectly fine.'

'Good. I'm not good with people throwing up.' Well that was nice, Bilbo thought. The man was tall, towering over Bilbo, and his gaze was just as sharp as in the photos he'd seen. He was ridiculously attractive, but Bilbo found him to be...not the most endearing person he'd ever met.

'Then why did you bother to ask?' he asked shortly, turning away from the man and back to the sea. The ferry had begun moving now and a sudden blast of the horn made him jump.

'You're Bilbo. Mr Baggins,' the man said, looking at Bilbo with his sharp eyes. Bilbo had the strangest sensation that he was looking through him, right through to his very core. He didn't like the feeling, and he turned away.

'Yes. And you're Thorin. Care to explain why I'm here, perhaps?'

Thorin looked a little uncomfortable then. 'Not really. When you meet my father, you'll understand.'

Bilbo snorted. 'Why don't you just tell him to sod off?'

Thorin's face hardened. 'It's not that simple.'

'It really is.'

'It's really not,' Thorin insisted. 'My father is not the sort of person you tell to "sod off", alright? Don't try giving me advice when you know nothing-'

'I wonder why that is,' Bilbo interrupted angrily, 'that I know nothing about this whole ridiculous situation? Perhaps because no one has told me anything,' he snapped. 'So stop behaving like such a child.'

'A child! I am not-'

'Yes you are,' Bilbo retorted and he turned to face Thorin, who looked angry, drawing himself up to his full height (which really wasn't very impressive compared to him). 'And for someone who needs my help, you're not going the right way about getting it!'

And with that he turned from looking out at the sea and stomped back over to the car, where the others were gathered anxiously and had obviously been watching his and Thorin's  interaction.

'What an insufferable prick,' Bilbo muttered as he pushed past Fíli to get back into his seat in the car, ignoring the way he felt a little nauseous again. How on earth was he going to pretend to be in love with that man? He was rude and arrogant and -

'I see you've met our Thorin,' Gandalf said as he got into the car on the other side.

'You could have told me what an arrogant little-' Bilbo began angrily, but Gandalf smiled and cut him off. 'Indeed he is, admittedly. But he has never been one for first impressions. Give him a chance, Bilbo, please.'

Bilbo glared at the back of Thorin's head as the dark-haired man stalked off, striding away down a corridor marked "cafe this way". Damn, he could have done with a tea...

He huffed when he realised Gandalf was still looking at him pointedly, so he uncrossed his arms and sighed. 'Fine. Fine. But promise me I can give him a kick up the ass if he doesn't change?'

Gandalf's eyes just had that merry glint and he settled back in the car seat, humming to himself. Bilbo leant back too and got out his phone. He had five messages from Drogo.

Good luck with whatever you're doing, although it's certainly unexpected!

Mrs Rumble says hello too.

Mrs Rumble is trying to water the fake flowers. Bilbo, did you ever tell her they were fake? Now I know why you always 'watered' them.

Where will I find books on "geriatric science and its use in modern medicine"?!

Bilbo, you're going to die when you come back. Lobelia came looking for you. Not sure who'll do the honours though - her or me.

Bilbo chuckled his way through the first four, but as he read the last one he couldn't stop the wave of relief that thank god, he'd missed her! Last time Lobelia had turned up at the library looking for him, she'd started airing her figurative laundry and by the end of her rant, the whole of Hobbiton Library knew of Bilbo's cousin Tulip's indiscretions with a boy from Tuckborough.

He sent Drogo a message of encouragement and asked if he really wanted to know what Lobelia had said to him.

He had a message from his mother too, checking that he was alright and not delirious (Bilbo wasn't sure if he should be ashamed that his mother thought he was so unadventurous that he could be delusional) but she also told him she was so proud and could he please remember to send a postcard?

Bilbo sent back his reassurances that he was perfectly fine and she could blame Gandalf for it all when he got back, before turning the phone off as it unsettled his stomach too much. He sat by the window in the back of the car, tucking his legs up and curling in on himself as he rested, keeping his eyes fastidiously shut to keep the sea-sickness at bay. After an hour, during which Bilbo slept just a little, Gandalf brought him tea in a paper cup and Bilbo accepted it gratefully, the warm liquid soothing his stomach and his nerves.

Gandalf assured him there was only another half an hour to go and then he disappeared; Bilbo could see Fíli and Kíli over by the rail, the wind whipping their hair about their faces. He sighed and fiddled with his jacket buttons, opening the window so that what breeze there was could circulate. He couldn't see Balin or Dwalin - or Thorin - but Fíli and Kíli noticed he was awake and came to join him, resuming their seats behind him and chatting amicably, letting him merely listen (they seemed more than happy to do so).

After a while land came into sight and Fíli informed there wasn't long left at all, perhaps ten minutes at tops and that the others should all be returning soon. True to the lad's words, Balin appeared carrying a bag with sandwiches, which he handed to Kíli to pass around before resuming his place in the driver's seat.

Dwalin appeared not long after, and once he glimpsed Balin in the front and Fíli and Kíli in the back he grinned slyly at Balin. 'I see you've got the right of it,' he said, and Balin chuckled.

'Aye. That we do.'.

Bilbo didn't bother to ask what who was right about and instead watched the rapidly growing coastline, thinking that Gandalf and Thorin had better hurry (much as Bilbo wouldn't mind leaving the arrogant man behind, he was rather the reason for Bilbo's being there). The captain announced over the loudspeakers that they'd be docking in five minutes and then Bilbo spotted Thorin walking towards the car.

He was scowling and it only deepened when he saw the car. He looked at Dwalin pointedly, but Dwalin just shook his head minutely; Balin pretended to fiddle with the sat-nav when Thorin's gaze turned to him and Fíli and Kíli grew suddenly very interested in their trainers. Bilbo looked resolutely away, out of the window, when Thorin sighed and climbed into the back seat, the both of them keeping as close to the door as possible. Bilbo refused to look at Thorin, who in turn completely ignored Bilbo.

This would have worked well enough, for the time being, but just at the very last minute before the ferry docked Gandalf came striding around the corner, relaxed as can be, and he pulled open the door to the back seat.

'Thorin, you're going to have to move up,' he said briskly.

Bilbo saw Thorin clench his teeth before he quickly looked away again, back out at the busy town they were docking at.

'Quickly, Thorin,' Gandalf urged and then Bilbo heard with agonising clarity the click of the seat belt, the groan of the leather car seat and he felt the bulky warmth of Thorin as he moved along to the middle seat, and tried not to jump when Thorin's arm brushed his as he reached for the seat belt.

'Come now, you'll have to move just a little more,' Gandalf said as he settled in, just as the first cars began to disembark from the ferry. 'Give an old man his space!'

Thorin breathed heavily again but he did as asked and inched the tiniest amount further along the seat, so close to Bilbo that he could feel the searing heat of Thorin's leg against his own, only the tiniest of gaps left between them. Bilbo continued to stare resolutely out of the window, trying not to smile when he heard Thorin mutter 'you're not old, only mad' under his breath.

Balin began to drive, leaving the ferry and heading into the little Norwegian port they'd arrived at. The roads weren't very smooth and when the car ran over the occasional pothole it made them lurch in their seats, and once Thorin was thrown back against Bilbo, their shoulders colliding before Bilbo quickly shifted, pressing closer to the door.

Soon they'd left the town behind and were driving along the motorway, urban suburbs giving way to green rolling fields and cattle pastures. Bilbo could almost have believed he was back at home in the Shire, if he hadn't been cramped in the back of a car next to a man he barely knew and was dedicated to ignoring.

Bilbo let out a little sigh - wary of breathing too deeply, lest it make his arm brush Thorin's. Really, Gandalf was taking up far too much space than was necessary for one person... The atmosphere was suffocating in the car, the stubborn silence between Bilbo and Thorin after their disastrous first meeting making Gandalf smile in amusement and the others all kept their thoughts to themselves, Fíli and Kíli whispering together and laughing.

Bilbo knew that he and Thorin had to patch up this...argument, for want of a better word, or else this whole plan, fool's idea as it was, would fail before it even began.

He cleared his throat after a while, as they seemed to be passing through the deepest countryside and Gandalf appeared to have fallen asleep. He glanced at Thorin, who was staring resolutely ahead, his body tensed, before Bilbo quickly looked back out of his own window.

'I'm, er, I'm sorry about...earlier,' he muttered, glancing quickly at Thorin to see if he'd heard. Thorin gave no outward indication that he noticed Bilbo's words and the younger man huffed softly as he returned to staring out at the gradually hillier landscape. It was beginning to get dark, the sky becoming a dusky blue.

'I too apologise,' Thorin murmured suddenly, his voice so deep that Bilbo almost felt it vibrating through his body; it made him shiver. 'I was too hasty in snapping at you.'

'You're not the only one,' Bilbo said, a small smile playing on his lips. He had been quick to anger too.

'I'm still sorry for it,' Thorin said, and they lapsed into silence again, Bilbo staring out of the window and Thorin straight ahead until Bilbo finally asked,

'So, other than your father - who I won't ask about, I promise!' he hastily added, feeling Thorin tense beside him. 'Apart from him, what other family do you have?'

'One sister,' Thorin said quietly. 'She's younger than me. We used to have a brother, but...' There was silence for a moment and Bilbo felt bad when he heard Thorin swallow. 'My sister has two boys-'

'Oh! That's lovely. Will I get to meet them?' Bilbo asked, looking at Thorin and only just being able to make out his face in the now fully dark car, the only light being the blinking lights on the dashboard.

'You already have.'

Bilbo stopped and looked behind him, at where Fíli and Kíli seemed completely oblivious to his and Thorin's conversation as they peered at a dimmed phone screen. As if on cue, Kíli gave a burst of laughter, almost snorting at something on the phone.

'Oh,' was all Bilbo said. 'Fíli and Kíli?'

'Hard to believe, but yes.'

Bilbo made a non-commital noise and returned to looking out of the window to find they were now driving alongside a river, wide and slow-moving. Bilbo could see the shapes of mountains ahead in the distance, a deep indigo against the night sky.

'I have a lot of cousins, too,' Thorin added. 'Dwalin and Balin are my closest, but I have more. You'll meet them all soon enough.'

'Do they...know?' Bilbo asked. 'That we're not really... You know?'

Thorin's silence spoke louder than any words, and Bilbo groaned. 'Great,' he huffed. 'That's just fantastic.'

Thorin shifted uneasily before immediately stopping as his leg touched Bilbo's. 'Well, they can't know, can they? I don't trust any of them not to tell my father-'

'Oh, just use him as an excuse again,' Bilbo bit out

'What's that supposed to mean?' Thorin shot back, and even in the dark of the car Bilbo could see his eyes flash dangerously in a way that made his stomach leap in the most distracting of ways. Fíli and Kíli looked up at the sound of their uncle's raised voice and watched the enfolding argument with interest.

'I mean that you keep avoiding the matter at hand-'

'I am not avoiding this - it's you who-'

'Thorin!' Gandalf's loud voice filled the car. 'Bilbo! Enough, both of you! Can't an old man get any rest? Balin, could you pull over? You and Dwalin need to swap, and I need to separate these two if we're to get to Khazad in one piece!'

As Balin began to manoeuvre the car to the lay by, Thorin muttered that he'd drive before Gandalf immediately shot that suggestion down, stating that he'd no sooner trust Thorin not to go the wrong way than he would trust Bilbo with his tea supply. When both looked about to protest, he merely shushed them and got out of the car, making Thorin follow and then switching places while Dwalin took the wheel. Bilbo hadn't felt like sulking in years, but right then he wanted to and he did, a little, crossing his arms and ignoring Gandalf completely.

Honestly, this was turning into Bilbo's worst nightmare and he regretted every foolish Took he was even distantly related to for giving him such reckless genes, because here he was in a situation he couldn't leave with a man he couldn't stand. He glared at Fíli and Kíli, both laughing a little too loudly and a little too often for Bilbo to believe it was merely something on the phone. He could only stare out of the window some more, watching as the mountains got even larger as they grew closer.

The atmosphere in the car was stifling, indignation rolling off Thorin - and Bilbo - in waves but the other occupants of the car seemed unaffected by it; if Balin caught Gandalf's eye in the rear view mirror and the two shared a knowing look, well, that was their business.

They sat like that for another hour, the sky outside inky black, before Bilbo began to see lights on the horizon. They reached the mountains and the road began to steadily incline until they were many metres above sea level and the yellow haze of light Bilbo saw had sharpened into the blare of hundred of street lamps lighting the town before them. Dwalin navigated them off the motorway and onto the inward bound roads, their speed decreasing as the traffic swelled and traffic lights stopped them at intervals.

From what Bilbo could see of the city, it was all rather quaint - houses built of white stone with red tile roofs; little narrow streets branching off the main roads and white picket fences circling neat little gardens. It became busier and less green as they moved closer to the centre of town and Bilbo forgot the stale atmosphere in the car in favour of peering out of his window.

'Where are we?' he asked Gandalf. The old man opened an eye blearily from his half-sleep and looked out.

'Ah. We've reached Dale. We're stopping here for the night.'

Bilbo continued his observation through the window, watching the roadsigns as they sailed past written in a language he couldn't read. He'd always lamented his lack of proficiency in languages - French was fine, he had a smattering of German and a bit of Italian, but that was only because he enjoyed the food. The rest of Europe, he was afraid, he'd neglected in learning their languages.

Dwalin had turned off the main road and they drove for a while down a quiet little street until eventually they drew up outside a building - white stone, just as all the others were but cleaner and well-maintained - with a little wooden sign outside. Dwalin turned off the engine and everyone got out, Bilbo wincing at the stiffness in his legs after so long cooped up in the car. The night air was chilly and Bilbo shivered - a product of their being so much further north than he was used to. Fíli and Kíli passed out the bags from the boot of the car and Gandalf ushered Bilbo inside, the others following. Bilbo ignored Thorin still, petty childishness refusing to allow him to acknowledge that he maybe - really rather a lot - overreacted.

A friendly looking man stood behind a desk in a warmly furnished room, worn leather sofas and soft lamps creating a warm glow in the room and a distinctly homey atmosphere.

'Gandalf!' the man said cheerfully when he noticed the old man. 'And who's this?' he asked, looking at Bilbo thoughtfully. Fíli and Kíli appeared behind them and said a few words in the unintelligible language and the man responded warmly. Thorin, Balin and Dwalin crowded in as well, the small room suddenly very full.

'Hello, Bard,' Gandalf said. 'This is Bilbo, a...friend,' he continued, shooting a knowing look at Bard, who grinned. 'Bilbo, this is Bard, an old friend and proprietor of the best bed and breakfast in Dale.'

Bilbo gave a small smile and shook the man's hand nervously. 'A pleasure to meet you,' Bard said sincerely in a heavily accepted voice. 'I have your rooms all ready and sorted for you; if you follow me... Sigrid!' Bard called out again in his language and a girl appeared in the doorway, taking in the new arrivals. She muttered something which made Balin and Dwalin laugh before grinning and hurrying off. 'She's gone to get some food for you,' Bard informed Bilbo, whose stomach decided to make its appreciation known.

Bard moved from out behind the desk and led them over to a narrow staircase, the others following behind. He reached a room on the first floor and presented it to Balin and Dwalin, who entered and set down their bags, thanking Bard. Around the corner from them was another room for Fíli and Kíli. Up another flight of stairs and Bard gestured to two doors.

'Gandalf, you're on the right, and Thorin, you and your...friend are on the left,' Bard said, looking pleased.

'What?' Bilbo asked, voice flat as he registered. Behind him Thorin stiffened at the same time, revealing he hadn't known of this either. 'Gandalf, I don't think -'

'Don't worry, Bilbo lad. There's no one else other than myself on this floor and I assure you, I'm a heavy sleeper,' Gandalf said, sending a lewd wink in Bilbo's direction while the smaller man squeaked in protest and shock. 'I'll see you both in the morning,' he said, and after wishing Bard goodnight he shut the door behind him, leaving a fuming Bilbo and mildly amused Bard outside. Thorin was still frozen behind Bilbo.

'Well, I'll leave you to it. My daughter will be up in a bit with food but after that... Sleep well,' Bard grinned before turning and heading back downstairs.

Bilbo glared at his retreating back and took a deep, calming breath, not sure of his ability to face Thorin while this fuming and embarrassed. Finally Thorin seemed to come alive again and he coughed; Bilbo shot him a sideways glance and was gratified to see that his face was at least as red as Bilbo's.

'Well. Erm. I suppose we should go in,' he said awkwardly. Bilbo turned to him, about to protest, but Thorin looked at him plaintively as he said, 'not out here, please?'

Bilbo huffed but complied, pushing open the door and stepping inside. There was a soft rug underfoot and the room was lit with small lamps. Bilbo's gaze fell on the big double bed in the room, luxurious throws on top, and immediately he turned away, sure his face was completely crimson.

He moved over to the window and set his bag down before crossing his arms to face Thorin. The older man looked completely discomfited and it was with no small amount of satisfaction that Bilbo noticed he was shuffling his feet slightly, ill at ease. Thorin placed his bag down on a chair, looking anywhere except at Bilbo; they both started at the knock on the door but Thorin was there immediately, pulling it open and accepting the tray of food from a grinning Sigrid. The girl said something and smiled before turning and leaving, calling out a 'good night!' to Bilbo, still standing by the window. When Thorin shut the door and turned back to Bilbo, he was red-faced and Bilbo wasn't sure he wanted to know what Sigrid had said.

Thorin cleared his throat. 'Shall we, er, eat?'

Bilbo's stomach rumbled again and he nodded shortly, joining Thorin at the small table set up in one corner of the room. He paused before he sat down. 'Do you mind if I at least put some slippers on? Seeing as we're sharing a room.' His voice was accusatory but he was surprised when instead of getting riled, Thorin looked at him in surprise.

'You managed to fit slippers in there?' he asked, surprised, gesturing at Bilbo's small bag.

Bilbo nodded, straightening a little. 'I never go anywhere without slippers.'

Thorin shrugged as if that was perfectly reasonable and Bilbo returned to his bag and pulled out a pair of worn maroon slippers, the woolly lining worn down to felt with the indents of his feet, but they were warm and comfortable. He slipped them on and then joined Thorin at the table, settling down and trying to ignore the way the table was so small their knees nearly touched.

Sigrid had brought them up two bowls of steaming broth filled with bits of tender meat and soft vegetables, and a basket of crusty, warm bread rolls and a pat of butter in a little china dish. Bilbo concentrated on eating, determined not to spill any of the soup down himself and make a mess - not that he was worried about giving a bad impression to Thorin. Not at all. It was simply a case of uncertainty about when he'd be able to wash his clothes again. Of course.

He finished a little before Thorin, his stomach warmed from the broth and pleasantly full. He fiddled with his spoon a little until Thorin set his down and cleared the bowls back onto the tray. They sat for a moment like that, on either side of the table, until Bilbo narrowed his eyes at the dark haired man in front of him.

'So,' he began. Thorin looked up at him defiantly. 'Seeing as we're both stuck here together, you'd best do some explaining. Don't try and fob me off with excuses this time,' Bilbo warned him. 'Trust me, I'm no happier about this arrangement than you.'

Thorin opened his mouth as if to say something but nothing came out and he shut his mouth again. Bilbo waited and eventually Thorin cleared his throat again and spoke.

'As I have told you, my father can be rather...overbearing at times,' Thorin began, and Bilbo had to stop himself from sighing. 'The reason I need you...need your help, is, well,' he paused and cleared his throat again, 'My father is trying to get me to marry. He doesn't think I should still be a bachelor at forty two years old and as such has taken to trying to matchmake, you might say.'

'Can't you just tell him no?' Bilbo asked, leaning back in his chair. 'Your father can't make your life choices for you. It's your life.'

'Well, that's, um. That's where the difficulty lies,' Thorin said, and Bilbo would almost have said he looked sheepish. 'He does have a bit of a say...'

'Why?' Bilbo was confused. He'd always thought his parents were bad - his mother always pushing him to try new things while his father just wanted him to settle down and be comfortable - but Bilbo knew they'd always agree to what he decided.

'I'm... Well, that is to say he is...' he muttered something and Bilbo frowned.

'I didn't hear that,' he said unamusedly.

Thorin rubbed the back of his neck and looked at Bilbo...apologetically? Bilbo was terribly confused - until Thorin uttered his next words.

'My father is the prime minister of Khazad.'

Bilbo just stared at him, and in the ensuing silence Thorin started talking. 'Obviously that doesn't mean I will be necessarily, but a prime minister's son has certain expectations to live up to, and I will become party leader after him so you see-'

'Your father is the most important man in your country,' Bilbo deadpanned, staring at Thorin, who nodded. 'Well that is just brilliant. That is just bloody brilliant.

Bilbo slapped a hand over his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. Yavanna, this was...just made a million times worse. He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked at Thorin again.

'That still doesn't really explain why you need me,' he said, forcing himself to be calm.

'Well, my father - Thráin, his name is - he wants me to be married but he's always promised  his children that he wouldn't interfere if we believed we'd found the one we wished to spend our life with. When he started making me meet potential candidates to marry, I... I didn't want that. I didn't want my spouse to be decided by my father, so  I told him I'd already found someone. That I'd found my one.' Thorin paused and looked at Bilbo, who was breathing deeply and glaring at him. Common sense told him that Thorin's actions were justifiable, if a bit stupid, but the Took in him was blind to all such sense. Seeing the dark look levelled at him Thorin hastily continued. 'I told him I'd found my one and when he asked where they were and why he'd never met them, I told him it was a young man from England I'd met while there last year but he was too busy to come to Khazad. Too busy and not a little apprehensive. So my father said to bring him to Khazad and that he'd welcome him into his house...' Thorin trailed off and looked at his hands.

'I'm sorry,' he offered, and that was it for Bilbo.

'You're sorry?' he said loudly as he stood up. 'So I've got to pretend to have known and been in love with you for a year, that we want to marry and settle down and - and everything -'

'You knew all that when you signed the contract!' Thorin replied, his volume easily matching Bilbo's without even trying. They stood, each on their respective sides of the table facing each other off (Bilbo feeling quite ridiculous in his fluffy slippers, but he tried not to let that show).

'I didn't know I was having to pretend to a prime minister! No doubt you're the nation's darling, always on a front page or two - that's not me! I'm a librarian from a little backwater town,' Bilbo shouted, his breath hitching as he spoke the last words, a spike of homesickness striking through him. 'I can't do media and newspapers and cameras!'

'If we'd told you, you'd never have agreed,' Thorin argued and Bilbo rounded on him.

'Why ever not, I wonder,' he laughed mirthlessly. 'I'll have you know-'

A sudden knock at the door quietened them both and they stood there, Bilbo quivering with anger and emotion and Thorin seemed to have grown in his rage. Neither of them looked at the door, both too angry to cease glaring at the other first until Bilbo gave an ungainly snort and turned to open the door, striding across the floor and yanking the door open.

Fíli stood on the other side of the door. He looked at Bilbo, taking in the no doubt flushed cheeks and heavy breathing and Thorin's unceasing glare. 'Am I interrupting something?' he asked, glancing at his uncle (because oh yes, Fíli and Kíli were his nephews, and everyone had neglected to tell him that, too) and then back to Bilbo. 'Only because Kíli and I were wondering...'

Fíli took in the way Thorin was still glaring at Bilbo and made an executive decision. 'Actually, it doesn't matter. It can wait until the morning... Sleep well,' he grinned crudely in Bilbo's direction before scarpering off down stairs, leaving Bilbo blushing in the doorway again. With a loud huff of frustration Bilbo shut the door - no amount of Took in him could make him slam it, however - and returned to glaring at Thorin, not noticing how the other man's gaze hadn't left him at all.

'You're lucky it's too far for me to go back now,' he said grimly. 'More importantly, you're lucky that I'm a Baggins, and a Baggins is nothing if not dependable.'

'There's no shame in turning back,' Thorin mumbled.

'Well, there is when you gave your word!' Bilbo said irritably. 'Now stop moping about all this and sort out-'

'I am not moping!' Thorin interrupted but Bilbo just gave him a withering glance.

'Fine. But the most important problem here is the sleeping arrangements;  whatever happens I'm not sharing a bed with you so-'

'You can take the bed,' Thorin said. 'The sofa is fine.'

Bilbo paused, momentarily taken aback. 'Well, thank you. But are you sure that Khazad's prime minister's son shouldn't take it? Only the best, after all-'

'Are you going to use that against me in everything?' Thorin said flatly, staring at Bilbo. Bilbo just gave a smile so close to a sneer it always was one before kneeling down and fetching his night clothes and wash bag and heading into the bathroom. Once in he quickly changed and rested his head against the cool mirror, his breath misting over it and blurring his reflection. He stared at his foggied face in the glass and wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time, what the hell he'd got himself into.

Sighing heavily he brushed his teeth and washed his face and then decided he couldn't delay the inevitable any more. He had to go out there at some point... He was just thankful he'd brought decent pyjamas, not his old ratty ones. Gingerly he turned the lock and stepped back into the main room, clutching his clothes and wash bag to him as if for protection. He was relieved to see that Thorin was by the window, staring out at the city and not at all looking at Bilbo.

Bilbo dumped his clothes by his bag and jumped into the large bed, sinking down into the soft mattress. He pulled the covers up around his shoulders, shivering as the air trapped in the blankets warmed up gradually, until his hands and feet were pleasantly warm. Thorin turned to him as he sat in the bed, covers drawn up about him, and their eyes met for the tiniest fraction of a second before Thorin turned away again, grabbing his own bag and locking himself in the bathroom.

Bilbo let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding as he heard the lock click and he slumped down onto the pillows behind him. He stared up at the ceiling and snorted shortly at himself. This was crazy and stupid and he couldn't believe what was going on - not to mention the fact that the man he was supposed to be in love with just riled him up the wrong way - but strangely, he found that it wasn't all terrible. For a start, at least the bed was comfortable; the company so far had been slightly lacking and he was still stiff from sitting so long, but he'd seen more from the back of a car today than he had in all his time as a librarian.

The bathroom door suddenly opened, startling Bilbo back to full consciousness from where he'd been drifting, and Thorin stepped out, immediately making for the sofa. He stood there for a moment and immediately Bilbo was alert. He lifted himself up and reached at the end of the bed, picking up a couple of the plush throws.

'You'll need blankets,' he said, kneeling and throwing them to Thorin, who caught them easily and immediately settled down on the sofa, plumping the cushions to make a pillow. Bilbo tried not to let the way Thorin's arms - now revealed to be very muscular indeed - seemed to ripple under the white cotton shirt he wore.

'Pillow,' Bilbo said, and immediately flushed a little when Thorin looked at him piercingly. 'I mean, do you want a pillow? You'll hurt your neck, otherwise...' he trailed off, but Thorin nodded.

'Thank you,' he said, and Bilbo had just enough sense of mind to throw him one before he lay back down, covering himself in the blanket. He heard Thorin shifting around on the sofa until eventually they both stilled, ready to fall asleep. Except the light was still on, and neither of them looked particularly ready to jump up and flick the switch. Bilbo sat up again, and he could see the top of Thorin's head on the arm of the sofa.

'Thorin?' he asked, and the older man turned his head to look at Bilbo as he made a questioning noise.

'Do you want the light off?'

Thorin was silent for just a moment before he pulled back the blankets and made as if to get up. Bilbo immediately did the same. 'I'm closer, let me do it,' he said as he jumped down from the bed - he hadn't thought he was that short - and hurrying to the light switch by the door and turning it off, before being plunged into darkness.

'Perhaps I should have turned a lamp on,' he said thoughtfully as he began to navigate his way back to the bed. Thorin's hum of agreement was more of a huff and was muffled by blankets, and Bilbo saw Thorin had drawn the covers up over himself. He sighed as he got back into bed, curling up under the covers. They both lay still in the darkness, Thorin eventually removing the blankets from covering his face but apart from that the only sound was their breathing and the sound of far off traffic. After so long on his own, to  have another person breathing in the same room was both strange and comforting to Bilbo.

'You know,' he said into the darkness,  'if I wake up to find you in the bed, I will hit you.' Thorin gave a snort but said nothing, and Bilo began to fidget. He fiddled with the tassels on the woollen blanket and his foot began to tap softly against the mattress, before realising it and he stopped.

He couldn't sleep; he was dog tired but his brain was whirring and jumbled with thoughts. He needed to sleep... He was sorely tempted to call out Thorin's name and ask if they could form a truce for a bit, just until Bilbo could fall asleep, but the sounds of Thorin's heavy breathing, slow and steady with sleep, were heard from the sofa and Bilbo sighed, resigned to sleeplessness at least for a little longer. Thankfully he was not doomed to be a walking zombie the next day and it wasn't too much longer until he was asleep, his breathing regulating as he drifted into unconsciousness.

He was so warm, cocooned up in his nest of blankets and pillows, but something was trying to wake him, to pull him from sweet sleep. He grumbled as he felt a hand on his shoulder shake him gently and burrowed deeper under his covers. A voice started calling his name and he tried to ignore it but the hand on his shoulder began shaking him a little harder and he grudgingly opened an eye.

Kíli was sitting in front of him, wide grin on his face. 'Morning, Bilbo,' he said cheerfully and Bilbo groaned and made to hide under the covers again, turning onto his other side only to be greeted by Fíli grinning at him.

'What do you two want?' he grumbled.

'You'd better get up soon if you want any breakfast,' Fíli said. Bilbo perked up at the thought of food.

'Uncle Thorin was going to let you sleep but then all the food would be gone,' Kíli added.

Bilbo immediately sat up, running a hand through his sleep-mussed curls and shot a cursory glance at the sofa. It was indeed empty, only the neatly folded blankets and pillow stacked on top showed that anyone had slept there at all. 'How long do I have?' he asked.

'About fifteen minutes,' Fíli said and Bilbo was up immediately, pushing them both off the bed and ushering them to the door, saying to wait just a moment and he'd be ready. When the door was safely shut behind them he pulled out clothes at random from his bag and threw them on before hurriedly washing his face in the bathroom, clearing the sleep from his eyes.

He was outside in five minutes and the boys led him downstairs to the dining room. As he entered he saw Gandalf, Balin and Dwalin at one table with a map and Thorin sat at another, a plate of toast in front of him. His expression didn't change when he saw Bilbo, who scowled at him. He was going to let him miss breakfast!

Bilbo went to the large central table where cereal and toast and jam and tea was laid out and made himself a cup of the hot drink, the familiar smell soothing. He got a bowl of cereal and a plate of toast and joined Thorin at his table. Thorin looked up at him quickly before returning his gaze to his plate.

Bilbo sipped at his tea and for a moment there was quiet between them.

'The first rule in this relationship, or whatever it is we're supposed to have,' Bilbo said quietly, causing Thorin to look at him sharply, 'is that I get to eat breakfast. Twice if I can, but I never miss first breakfast.' He narrowed his eyes at Thorin. 'So none of this "let him sleep" business.'

Thorin looked slightly confused. 'I didn't-'

'Fíli and Kíli told me,' Bilbo interrupted, and Thorin looked resigned. He sighed.

'Those two aren't - they're - Breakfast isn't over for another hour,' Thorin said. 'It's only eight o'clock.'

Bilbo frowned. 'They said fifteen minutes,' he said. 'Why would they...' he looked around and noticed that the dining room was empty. 'Bugger it,' was all he said, and Thorin looked as if he agreed. He looked at his toast and then pushed it away.

'I'll - leave you be -' he started to say but Bilbo fixed him with a glare.

'You'd leave me here to eat breakfast alone? You're not very good at being a boyfriend.'

'But you don't-'

'No, I don't, but you obviously need some practice if you're going to convince your father. I'd imagine he's got quite good at seeing through lies, so we'd better be convincing.' The thought made Bilbo's stomach lurch uncomfortably but he didn't show it, instead remaining impassive. Thorin nodded at his words and sat down.

'Fine,' he said. 'I'll stay.'

Bilbo smirked. 'Try not to sound so hard done by, love. This was your idea, after all.' Thorin just glared at him.

Bilbo returned to his cereal, now turning slightly soggy, and there was silence between them for a minute as Thorin attended to his toast. When Bilbo had finished his cereal he turned to his toast, spreading butter and jam on it liberally.

'You know, for a couple who've been together for a year, we know nothing about each other,' Bilbo said, looking thoughtfully at his toast before glancing at Thorin, who looked at him closely. 'Other than your family, I know nothing personal about you, or you about me. Things that any proper -' he emphasised the word - 'couple would know. I don't know what food you like, what your favourite colour is, your hobbies...'

'I like most food, although my favourite is steak. Dark blue is my favourite colour, and I like hiking in the mountains,' Thorin said quickly.

'Well, I've never been up any mountains,' Bilbo said, 'but I've hiked plenty in the countryside of the Shire. I like the blue of the sky on a summer's day, and I think bacon is my favourite food. Although maybe it's a nice fried trout... I don't know,' he finished. 'I'm not fussy when it comes to food.'

Once again silence fell and Bilbo snorted with laughter in the sudden quiet, narrowly avoiding choking on toast crumbs. When he was breathing normally again, he looked at Thorin again. 'Are you feeling couple-y yet? I'm not.'

Thorin was just about to say something when the dining room door opened and Bard walked in, a grin on his face as he saw Bilbo and Thorin sitting together. 'Gandalf wanted me to let you know that you're leaving in half an hour,' he said. 'I hope your room was to your liking.' With that he smiled again and left, and Bilbo quickly hurried to finish eating his toast, ignoring the way his ears had turned pink at the man's parting comment.

The two hurriedly finished breakfast and hurried upstairs back to their room, to repack and get ready to go. It was a quick job and soon enough everyone was outside by the car, lifting bags into the boot and arguing over car seats - well, Fíli and Kíli were arguing, while everyone else just looked resigned. Gandalf offered to drive and then the two lads both wanted to sit in the spare front seat until Gandalf finally cracked and just shouted for Bilbo to get in, so Bilbo complied, taking the seat next to the grumpy old man as once again Fíli and Kíli took their places in the back, grumbling, and Thorin, Balin and Dwalin sat in the middle.

They set off after saying a warm goodbye to Bard, who shook Bilbo's hand particularly enthusiastically and stood outside to wave them off until they turned the corner and Bilbo saw Dale by daylight. It was just as charming in the sun and Bilbo could see all the little window-boxes and brightly painted shutters in reds and greens and blues, and it was like something out of a story book. Soon however they were leaving the quaint little town behind and once more they were on the motorway, Gandalf driving a little more recklessly than was perhaps safe.

A couple of hours passed, during which Bilbo began to grow hungry for second breakfast and was delighted when Gandalf directed him to the brunch bars he'd packed in the glove box, and Bilbo's mood only improved as they drove through lush green mountainous countryside; the only thing marring it the slight prickle that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on and every time Thorin, who sat directly behind him, seemed to look at him. With the sun streaming in through the car window, Bilbo had noticed when he'd reached around the car seat to offer him food that Thorin's eyes were the exact colour of the sky on a summer's day; his stomach tightened for a moment when he realised. In all their numerous glares and black stares at each other, how hadn't he noticed?

Bilbo began to feel nervous when Gandalf announced they were nearing the sea, and the port where they'd catch the ferry to Khazad. He wasn't ready for this, not at all...

It was another hour before the dark blue of the ocean appeared on the horizon as they descended from the mountains, and then all too soon it was upon them as they drove into a little tiny port town; Bilbo could see the numerous boats docked in its harbour. The town was slightly more dilapidated than Dale and there were a lot of buildings made of wood, or with thatched straw roofs. The sign with the name of the town was Esgaroth, which Balin explained translated, rather ironically, to Lake-town.

'Why "Lake"?' Bilbo asked, bemused.

'No one really knows. Perhaps they just liked a joke.'

They drew up at the harbour and Gandalf announced that they'd have lunch before they boarded the ferry and they found a quaint little Italian restaurant, where Bilbo had some of the best pasta he'd ever eaten (he had no trouble finishing his portion, despite his gradually mounting nerves).

When they'd finished and paid they stepped back out into the afternoon sun and walked leisurely along the streets back to the harbour. Their group seemed to get a few looks of recognition and a couple of excited waves, and Fíli and Kíli preened a little. Bilbo realised that Khazadean politics and politicians must be well-known over here, as all the glances seemed directed at Thorin and his nephews. The thought only reminded him of his nerves and he could feel his pasta sink into a heavy lump in his stomach.

When they reached the harbour they stopped at a large boat, her name painted in deep blue letters on the side. Barrel Rider, it said, and Bilbo decided not to ask into the origins of the name. It was probably long and complicated and he didn't want to have to concentrate on following the story; instead his thoughts were on how this was evidently a private ferry, for Durins or Khazad's politicians only. They had retrieved their bags from the car on the way there and now they prepared to board, Thorin calling up in his strange, guttural language and suddenly a head leaned over the side.

Whoever the face belonged to wore a funny hat and had moustaches dropping down over a wide grin. He called out a greeting and then moved away from the  side, only to appear again at the ladder on the side of the boat which Bilbo hadn't noticed before, and now began to have heart palpitations over. He was expected to climb that?!

As the hatted man descended Thorin turned to Bilbo. 'This is Bofur. He's one of our more distant cousins, and he's in charge of our boat.'

The man reached the pier and approached the group, greeting the others all cheerfully and peering at Bilbo with interest. He bowed low, and Bilbo was unsure how to respond.

'You must be Mr Baggins,' Bofur grinned. 'It's such a pleasure to meet you, although I can tell you it was certainly a surprise to learn that old Thorin had a boyfriend! I can see why he kept you a secret though,' he said, his grin turning a little lewd until he chuckled. 'Don't worry, I'm not trying to steal you away! Thorin would probably kill me first, wouldn't you?' he looked at Thorin, who didn't say anything and merely moved closer to Bilbo, his hand touching Bilbo's arm and Bilbo jumped at the contact.

When Bofur began loading their luggage onto the pulley to be lifted up Thorin drew Bilbo aside. 'They don't know,' he said, and Bilbo nodded.

'I can see that,' he commented drily.

'It all...starts now. The pretending to be us.' Thorin rubbed a hand on his neck. 'I'm sorry about that, just there. Bofur's always been a bit forward, and I'm sorry if he offended you-'

'Offended me?' Bilbo laughed. 'I think he's rather nice.' At Thorin's slight frown Bilbo patted Thorin's arm gently. 'Don't worry, I won't do anything to jeopardise the pretence.'

Thorin nodded and they rejoined the group. Their bags were loaded up on deck and now it was time to climb the ladder to get up. 'Is there, um, another way up?' Bilbo asked as Fíli and Kíli began the vertical climb up the side of the boat.

'Nope,' Bofur chuckled. 'This is the only way, 'mfraid.'

'Oh. Oh, well, that's...' Bilbo gulped, his heart hammering and palms becoming sweaty as he watched Dwalin and Balin starting to climb. 'That's not good...' he whispered. Thorin looked at him in concern.

'Bilbo, are you alright?'

'I, er, I don't like heights,' he said, letting out a shaky breath. 'Never have done, really, and especially not on a boat...' he trailed off, staring blankly at the ladder. Bofur joined the two, concern also evident on his face.

Suddenly Gandalf's hand appeared on his shoulder. 'It's fine, Bilbo. You can do it. Thorin will be behind you every step of the way,' he said and Bilbo could only nod. He stepped up to the ladder and gripped it, taking a few deep breaths before ever so slowly stepping up onto the first rung. And then the next. And the next. Slowly, he made his steady way up and he heard Thorin murmuring comforting words from below.

If he hadn't been clinging so desperately to the metal rungs he would have laughed at himself, so readily accepting comfort from the very man he was determined to dislike.

'You'd better not be staring at my arse,' Bilbo managed to bite out even as he gripped at the ladder for dear life.

'Wouldn't dream of it, my dear,' Thorin replied tightly, and Bilbo could practically feel him gritting his teeth.

Finally he reached the top and Fíli and Kíli were helping him up on deck and he clutched at them while he found his feet on the gently swaying boat. Thorin arrived behind him and made for Bilbo, wrapping an arm around his waist to hold him up. Bilbo finally managed to catch his breath.

'You can let go of me now, you know,' he said through gritted teeth, Thorin's arm warm and heavy on his waist. 'I'm not going to fall over.'

Thorin removed his arm immediately.

Gandalf appeared on deck and he smiled at Bilbo before placing a hand on each of his shoulders as he faced him. He looked at Bilbo closely for a minute, then nodded and let him go. 'Yes, I do believe everything is in order,' he said, and straightened.


'Bilbo, my lad, you'll be fine from here on in. I'm leaving you now; I'm going on a detour to-'

'You're leaving?' Bilbo repeated, aghast. 'Why? Gandalf, how am I meant to-'

'You'll be fine, Bilbo Baggins. I promise you will; I wouldn't leave you if I wasn't certain of that fact.'

'But where are you going?' he asked desperately. 'Why can't you come with us?'.

'I'm meeting a very old friend of mine, Radagast. We're going to Holland for a bit - Radagast has always enjoyed wearing clogs. In fact I think he still wears them to this day. As to why I can't come with you... I've been labelled a bit of a trouble maker in Khazad,' he said. 'It's wisest I stay away a little while longer.'

'But Gandalf! I don't know these people! I don't know Thorin - how am I meant to pretend to be his boyfriend?' Bilbo hissed, grabbing the old man's sleeve.

'You seemed to be managing pretty well this morning,' he said, eyes twinkling, and Bilbo scowled. 'Goodbye, Bilbo,' he said, and drew him in for a quick hug before calling out his farewells to the rest of the party and disembarking. When Gandalf reached the pier Bofur called out and the boat began to move, engine revving; as it pulled out of its bay Thorin came and stood next to Bilbo as he gripped the railing desperately. He didn't like heights, and he didn't like boats. The two together were a nightmare.

'We will be in Khazad soon enough,' he said, and Bilbo could only nod, not trusting himself to speak. He was absolutely terrified, but they couldn't reach dry land soon enough for him.

'You know, you can still back out if you want to,' Thorin said. 'I wouldn't hold it against you if you decided to do so.'

'Just because I'm seasick,' Bilbo said shortly, and then took a deep breath to chase away the nausea that stole up on him, 'doesn't mean I'm going to give up.' The more Thorin told him he could give up, the more determined he was not to. Bilbo was a Baggins, and he'd see this through to the end.

They lapsed into silence and it was thankfully only fifteen minutes later that Bofur was calling out that they would be in Khazad in the next ten minutes, and Bilbo watched as Khazad appeared out of the mist, acting as a focal point and keeping the seasickness away.

The first things to appear were the mountains, great hulking masses the colour of a bruise. The dark shadow of the mountain range on the horizon sharpened and defined as they got closer, and Bilbo could see a city nestled in the great valley between two mountains.

'Erebor,' Thorin said from beside Bilbo. 'The capital city, and my home town.' Thorin's voice was almost husky with emotion and Bilbo couldn't help but steal a small glance at the man beside him, his face softened into a smile as he watched his country draw closer.

It was not ten minutes later that Bofur was steering the boat into the huge harbour and Bilbo was assaulted by sights and smells and sounds. There were shouts from harbour men, the sighing of the wind through the sails on the yachts and the gentle tinkling of bells; he could hear the bang of hammers on heated metal from somewhere and the sounds of a market. Somewhere fish was frying and the smell carried on the breeze, along with the tang of brine. Everywhere there was people, and they were all busy doing something or other.

The huge boat drew gently to a stop and when people noticed the name on the side there was a bit of commotion, as people called out and shouted, waving to the occupants of the boat. Bilbo felt miserable - not because he didn't like where he was - on the contrary, it seemed like a lovely place - but because he was inevitably going to embarrass himself in front of all these people who'd gathered to see Thorin and the other Durins; that was exactly what Bilbo needed. He turned accusingly to Thorin.

'So maybe they're not journalists but you're still being followed.'

Thorin didn't change his facial expression but merely said, 'my father is popular. As was my grandfather before him.'

Bilbo sighed and merely made a mental note to kill Thorin later, when the man drew him in close with an arm around his waist again as he continued to wave at the gathered crowds. No doubt they made quite the picture, Thorin all dark good looks and Bilbo still slightly green with nausea. But true to his word he didn't push him away.

When the time came for them to disembark it was with no small amount of apprehension that Bilbo approached the ladder. Thorin went first - to catch him if he fell, he said with a smirk, which did nothing to make Bilbo feel better - and Bofur called down encouragements. When Bilbo eventually reached the wooden pier he allowed himself to collapse into Thorin's arms, grateful he wasn't dead, but quickly stood straight again, ears burning.

Fíli and Kíli sped down the ladder like little monkeys and Bofur did so too after getting their luggage out. Balin and Dwalin followed at a more sedate pace.

'It was lovely to meet you, Mr Baggins,' he said with a grin. 'No doubt we'll be seeing more of each other soon. But ah - here's the car! That's Bifur driving - he's my cousin - and the big one's my brother Bombur. They'll get you safe to the house!'

Bilbo smiled back at the hatted man, his open friendliness refreshing in the face of Thorin's stony silence.

They lifted their bags - Thorin insisted on carrying Bilbo's as well as his own - and headed to the two men stood by a large, smart black car, both smiling. Bifur picked up their bags and loaded them into the car while Bilbo was introduced; he smiled and laughed and did quite a good job, if he thought so himself, as he rested a hand in the crook of Thorin's arm. They all piled in and then they were off, navigating the busy streets of Erebor as they made their way to the house.

The Prime Minister's house, Bilbo reminded himself.

Bilbo busied himself with soaking in the view through the tinted windows, watching the city go by. It was magnificent - all medieval architecture and buildings of grey stone; but what surprised Bilbo about it was the amount if gilding that was present on many of the buildings. Khazad must be a fairly rich country, he supposed. They passed many blacksmiths and metal craft ware shops, as well as plenty of taverns.

It wasn't a long drive and soon enough the houses began to get grander, the road wider and gardens bigger. Then they turned down one particularly lush cul-de-sac, large oak trees lining the road, and then they drew up at the end of the road outside a huge, iron-wrought gate behind which Bilbo could was more of a mansion than anything else, a huge red-brick house set in green grounds, more oak trees dotted around.

Bilbo went stiff because this was it, they were here, and he was so nervous he thought he might be sick. Thorin looked at him in concern but he stayed seated next to Bilbo as the others all left the car, Bifur and Bombur  unloading the bags and Fíli and Kíli excitedly dialling the intercom and laughing.

'Bilbo,' Thorin said when they were alone in the car. 'It'll be fine, I promise. If we our parts, just for a week or two, and then you'll go home and you can forget all about me.'

'How would that - won't people wonder about that?'

'I'll tell my father we argued. Make something up, a plausible reason as to why we're no longer together, and you can go back to your life.'

Bilbo nodded and gave a tight smile and was just about to open his car door when Kíli's voice broke in. 'Come on, lovebirds, Grandpa and  Mother want to meet Mr Baggins!'

Bilbo thought wryly that the boys were going to be very good actors, for their part. It just rested on him and Thorin.

Bombur and Bifur led them up the path to the house and there was a moment of tension when they knocked on the door before it was opened almost immediately by a woman with dark hair, who immediately pulled Fíli and Kíli into a hug right there on the doorstep. She pulled them inside and then looked up at the others, her eyes instantly finding Bilbo and she smiled.

'Mr Baggins?' she said, and a smile broke out across her face when Bilbo nodded. She pulled him in for a hug as well and then released him. 'My brother has always had impeccable taste. Welcome to Khazad,' she grinned. 'I'm Dís.'

'Thorin's, ah, told me about you,' he said, internally panicking. 'It's a pleasure to meet you at last.'

Dís' grin only got wider and she looked at Thorin, her eyes sparkling with mirth. 'I don't know why Thorin didn't tell us about you sooner,' she said. 'Perhaps he was worried we'd frighten you away.'

Bilbo wasn't sure what to say but he was spared having to when Thorin stood next to him, arm pulling him close and Bilbo tried to look as if he was perfectly comfortable like that. 'It's a perfectly logical fear, Dís,' Thorin was saying. 'But we'd like to freshen up quickly before we meet Father-'

'Here he is!' a loud voice interrupted him and Thorin muttered 'too late'. Bilbo stiffened. Dís finished greeting the others and then a man appeared on the staircase, dressed in a neat navy suit. His hair was grey and his face was mapped with fine wrinkles but he exuded vitality and energy. 'Here's my Thorin! And you must be Mr Baggins!' the man reached the bottom of the stairs and walked forward, catching Bilbo's hand in both of his own warm ones and shaking it firmly.

'Father,' Thorin greeted rather stiffly. 'This is Bilbo, my boyfriend. Bilbo, my father, Thráin.'

Thráin was still looking boyishly excitedly at Bilbo, as if he was truly happy to meet him. 'I'm so glad you could come,' he said. 'It was a bit of a shock when Thorin told me about you but I tell you, I couldn't be more glad that he's finally found someone! Perhaps you'll manage to make him a little less grumpy, eh?' he said, and once more Bilbo found himself blushing furiously as yet another suggestive eyebrow was raised in his direction. It seemed that the rest of the world wasn't quite so...polite (prudish, his brain supplied) about more private matters.

'I'm sure I'll do my best, sir,' Bilbo just managed to choke out and Thráin laughed.

'No need to "sir" me, really. Just Thráin, if you would. Now I suppose you'll all want to rest a little before dinner?'

Thorin and Bilbo both nodded. Balin and Dwalin both said their goodbyes to Bilbo before heading off down one of the corridors branching off the main hall and Bilbo felt slightly sad to see them go. Dís and Thráin led them up the staircase, Thorin once again carrying both their bags. Maybe he was a fake boyfriend, but at least he was a gentlemanly fake boyfriend.

Dís started chatting about Erebor and all the wonderful things there were to do in the city, and Bilbo responded as best he could what with nerves twisting his stomach up into a tight heavy ball, but if either Dís or Thráin noticed anything they didn't let on. They reached a door and before they went in Dís spoke.

'If you come down in half an hour you can meet the rest of the family. They're all dying to meet you, Bilbo. Dinner will be served after that,' she said, and  Bilbo smiled and nodded and then Dís and Thráin left and Thorin opened the door for Bilbo. He stepped inside and stopped, looking around at the plush surroundings. The room was lovely, large and with lots of soft rugs covering a marble floor. There was a stone fireplace, no fire currently lit, and a large comfy sofa in front of it. The bed was... The bed was huge and covered with soft pillows and cushions and luxurious quilts. It looked like there was one of real fur lying there amongst the wools and velvets. A large window opened out onto a balcony, looking out over the grounds and the city.

Thorin stepped in behind Bilbo and shut the door softly before moving over to the sofa and setting down their bags beside it.

'Do you like it?' he asked, and Bilbo looked at him quickly.

'Yes, it's, um. It's very different from my home, I can tell you that,' Bilbo said, incredulity making him want to laugh. His childhood room had been a small little room in the attic of his parents' cottage, large enough for his bed, wardrobe and toybox and a desk when he got older. Nothing like...this.

'You can have the bed again,' Thorin said, and Bilbo protested.

'But it's your room -'

'You're the guest,' he said firmly. 'And you're doing me a favour, therefore you have the bed.'

Bilbo shrugged and thanked Thorin, who was sitting down on the sofa. 'What are we expected to actually do?' Bilbo asked. 'In terms of affection, I mean, in front of your family.'

Thorin shrugged ever so slightly. 'Nothing that you don't feel comfortable with,' Thorin said. 'Seeing me just holding hands will probably be enough for most of them, but I can't promise anything about my sister. She's a bit... She likes to stick her nose in.'

'I gathered,' Bilbo chuckled. 'I'd imagine your father might need a bit more proof that we're "serious", though,' Bilbo said. God, this was a surreal experience, talking about his 'relationship' with a man he barely knew. He found himself laughing and Thorin's lips twitched.

'I'm sure we'll work something out. If you want to freshen up, the bathroom's there,' Thorin said, gesturing to a door Bilbo hadn't noticed before.

'Do we need to dress up for dinner, at all?' he asked as he walked to the bathroom.

'No,' Thorin reassured him. 'But no doubt Father will want to have a special dinner at some point before you leave, to celebrate.' Bilbo bit his lip at those words; not because he was worried about what a 'special dinner' would entail but because he'd met Thráin and the man seemed so pleased that his son had finally found someone, and it seemed unfair that he was just a fake and he was going to end up disappointing him. Disappointing them all, when he and Thorin were to have this inexplicable 'break-up' and never speak to each other again.

'Are you alright, Bilbo?' Thorin asked, frowning as Bilbo stood there.

Bilbo jumped at his voice, lost in thought as he was. 'Yes, yes, I'm - I'm fine. I'll just wash up a little, quickly.' He scurried into the bathroom and shut the door, once again marvelling at the luxury of the marble bath tub and huge mirror in the large bathroom.

He washed his face and brushed his curls, staring at himself in the glass of the mirror and breathing deep as he tried to get his breathing and nerves under control. So far the Durins that he'd met had been only completely pleasant, but he couldn't help but feel slightly nervous.

He finished soon after and returned to the bedroom. Thorin had opened the window and was standing on the balcony, the wind ruffling his dark hair slightly and Bilbo was struck by how attractive Thorin was. It wasn't that he hadn't noticed it before, but that he hadn't allowed himself to notice it; of all people, why was it him, Bilbo Baggins, Thorin had settled on as a fake boyfriend? Probably because he was the only one stupid enough to accept this stupid plan.

He sighed and Thorin looked back at him, gesturing that he should join him on the balcony. Bilbo did so and they stood in silence for a minute before Bilbo asked if he could use a phone to ring his parents - his mobile would have no coverage, after all. Thorin nodded and handed him his, before retreating inside and leaving Bilbo outside on the balcony in privacy. Bilbo dialled his parents' number and waited for his mother to pick up; he forgot that he was a few hours ahead of home now.

'Hello?' Belladonna asked curiously. Her voice made Bilbo feel both instantly better and just a little homesick.

'Mum, it's me. It's Bilbo.'

'Bilbo? Why are you ringing me in the middle of the afternoon?'

'Oh. Well it's the evening here and I forgot about time zones... I just wanted to let you know that I'm still alive.'

'That's very nice dear. Where are you, exactly?'

'Um, Khazad? I'm staying in the capital, Erebor, and it's really rather nice actually-'

'Why are you there? I mean, what made you leave so suddenly?'


'Gandalf? You mean he was here and he didn't even stop in to say hello? The cheeky sod. Why was he here? What's he got to do with all this?'

'Well...' Bilbo wasn't sure what to say. 'I'm doing him a favour, I guess. He needed someone's help and I was the best one for the job, so here I am. I don't suppose you could make Drogo some of those chocolate nut biscuits, could you? I rather deserted him yesterday.'

'Oh Bilbo. Of course I will. Are you eating enough?'

'Yes, mum, don't worry! In fact, we're just about to have dinner now, so I'd better go.' Thorin had poked his head out of the window and was gesturing that they should go.

'Alright, Bilbo. I love you! And don't forget that postcard!'

'I won't! I love you too. Bye mum.'

'Goodbye, love.'

Bilbo handed Thorin back his phone and rejoined him in the bedroom. Thorin closed the window against the sinking sun and the two made their way downstairs. When they approached the staircase and voices could be heard, Thorin looked at Bilbo for permission and took his hand, and they descended the stairs. A group of people were gathered in the hall, chatting, and when they saw them everyone went quiet.

Bilbo's stomach was in knots and he glanced around nervously, Thorin's hand tightening around his ever so gently. They reached the group and Bilbo tried not to flush under the weight of all those stares - but he was grateful when he recognised Fíli and Kíli's grins, Bofur's cheerful smile and Dwalin and Balin too. Thorin cleared his throat and announced to the room at large,  'everyone, this is Bilbo, my boyfriend.' As he said it he pulled Bilbo closer to him and once again Bilbo had to make sure to keep his face smiling and not letting on that he was anything but happy to be there.

Then the introductions began and Bilbo was suddenly occupied with trying to remember which face went with which name - made much more difficult, of course, by the fact that all the names rhymed. Blooming hell, Bilbo had thought his family tree was bad... There was Ori, a lad in his twenties who stood close to Dwalin's side (Bilbo remembered Balin's comment back in his kitchen what felt like a lifetime ago, and judging by the book Ori had tucked under his arm he was fond of them too), his older brothers Nori and Dori; Óin and Glóin, and then Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Fíli, Kíli, Dwalin and Balin as well, who he all knew already.

When he'd made everyone's acquaintance Dís led them all to a large dining room where Thráin took the seat at the head of the table and Thorin the one on his right, Bilbo next to him. The others piled in wherever and Bilbo found Bofur next to him while Dís was opposite.

While Thráin was a prime minister, he was remarkably normal and they just used simple cutlery - none of the from-the-outside-in business - and they served themselves from serving dishes. It was a bit like one of his Took family reunion, really, all noise and laughter and good food. Bilbo was particularly pleased about the last part, because the food really was excellent and he tucked in enthusiastically.

Thorin was quiet beside him and Bilbo wondered if he should say or do anything, so far having let Thorin take the lead, but Bofur drew him into conversation then.

'So Bilbo,' he said cheerfully. 'How did you and Thorin meet?'

Beside Bilbo, Thorin froze. Drat it; they had forgotten this teensy, tiny, vital point - the meeting story.

'Well, what has Thorin told you already?' Bilbo asked, putting his fork down. ' Only because he's very likely...embellished it a little. And by that I mean changed it completely, haven't you, dear?' he said lightly, looking at Thorin and patting his hand but the look in his eyes made Thorin squirm.

'Oh, he said that he met you in a library. Apparently it was like something out of a novel, that he looked at you and it was love at first sight,' Ori sighed, looking at Dwalin beside him with a smile before looking back to Bilbo, who had to hide his smirk behind his napkin. He looked at Thorin, who was bright pink.

'Did he now?' Bilbo said slowly, his Took daring coming out. 'Well it's true that we met in a library, but that's about it.'

'Bilbo, I don't think -' Thorin tried to interject but Bilbo cut him off, and Thorin looked at his plate of food with renewed interest.

'What actually happened is that he came into the library where I work. He spoke to one of my colleagues and when something wasn't right, he stormed out of the library but not before knocking into me as he stalked off, dropping my pile of books on my feet. And he didn't even stop to apologise.' Bilbo sighed theatrically, enjoying Thorin's discomfort. 'So I spent the rest of the day nursing sore toes and just before closing time, who should turn up but Thorin himself, looking contrite and very apologetic.'

'I apologised, and then I asked Bilbo out for a drink to say sorry,' Thorin said shortly, and Bilbo could feel the embarrassment rolling off him in waves.

'Yes, you did,' Bilbo conceded, grinning at his audience. 'Then he kept turning up at the library just before closing time to ask me out for a drink. I refused him the first couple of times, but Thorin has the most ridiculously adorable hurt face, so I gave in.' Bilbo rested his hand on Thorin's arm again, leaning against him ever so slightly as he finished his tale. 'And once became twice and then after the fourth  time, I let him walk me home.'

There were a couple of knowing chuckles and Fíli and Kíli protested, saying there were some things they really didn't want to know. Bilbo just smiled serenely while Thorin stayed still as rock beside him, still staring intently at his plate.

'That does sound more like Thorin,' Dís said. 'He's not really very romantic.'

'Oh, I wouldn't say that,' Bilbo said. 'I think it was romantic, waiting for me every day even when I refused at first. I think he's just shy,' he said, rubbing his thumb in a circle on Thorin's wrist and noting how Dís' eyes zeroed in on the gesture with glee.

'It must have been so hard, being apart,' Ori sighed again. Bilbo nodded slowly, a little uncertain here. How long were they supposed to have been apart for?

'Yes, but he's always rung me, or sometimes I him. He even writes me letters,' Bilbo said giving Thorin an indulging smile. The dark haired man had returned to his normal colour and he was looking at Bilbo intensely, warning in his eyes. But if everyone else saw Bilbo flush after looking at his boyfriend, well, they thought they had a pretty good idea of what was on their minds.

'And you keep them all in a little wooden box tied up with a ribbon, don't you, my love?' Thorin said pointedly.

'Of course,' Bilbo replied smoothly. 'I'm a librarian and therefore a romantic. Of course I keep all your letters safe. Do you know, he even wrote me a poem once?'

Dís' eyes gleamed with mirth. 'He did?'

'Oh yes. What was it, darling? That my eyes are "the finest of gems, sweeter than the apples they so resemble"? And my hair "more golden than the flax in field, fairer than the gold you wield" - No, that's definitely not it. I'm not doing you justice, love.'

Dís let out a cackle of laughter and Balin next to her had to pat her on the back when she inhaled her drink. 'Oh Thorin, I like him! He's a keeper, by Mahal!' she dissolved into sniggering while Thorin smiled stiffly and Bilbo grinned, both knowing that come bedtime they would be at loggerheads with one another.

'I don't think I've told you about Bilbo's particular hobby, have I?' Thorin said loudly. Fíli, Kíli, Balin and Dwalin were aware that this was no loving pride and that some sort of power play was taking place, and Fíli and Kíli were eagerly watching. The others, however, were completely unaware and thought that it was all rather sweet; but at Thorin's words Bilbo froze.

'I have many hobbies,' he quickly put in, and Thorin looked at him.

'But your special hobby is really rather magnificent, dearest. Do you want to tell everyone?'

'Why don't you?' Bilbo said weakly. 'I know how much you love it so.' Thráin was looking at them in interest, looking extremely happy.

'Bilbo collects dried flowers. He has a little album filled with little pressed daisies and buttercups, don't you, my sweet?' Thorin's grin was wicked.

'My mother was a florist,' Bilbo said. 'I inherited it from her. And I think you should be grateful, Thorin - perhaps that four-leaf clover I found as a child brought me luck, which led you to me.' Glóin let out a little sigh and Ori looked positively dreamy.

'Of course. I thank my stars for it every day, Bilbo,' he said, pressing a quick kiss to Bilbo's head before drawing away, smiling at his sister who looked on at the gesture of affection with a gleam in her eye. Bilbo flushed and the various people at the table chuckled to see their Thorin so utterly besotted.

They were interrupted then by the arrival of dessert, a rich chocolate cake with sweet vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries. A period of truce arose while Bilbo tucked into the food, even after everything he'd eaten for the main course, and  for a moment there was only a bit of chatter from the other end of the table and sniggering from Fíli and Kíli, until their uncle glared at them. Not long after that they decided to withdraw to the drawing room for a smoke and conversation, and Bilbo was led by Thorin to a lamp-lit room with leather sofas where everyone settled down. Bilbo and Thorin sat on one sofa and Bilbo allowed Thorin to draw him in with an arm encircling his waist.

'This doesn't change anything,' Bilbo muttered.

'Bilbo?' Thráin called Bilbo from where he was standing at the drinks cabinet. 'Help me pour these, would you?' Bilbo figured that Thráin wanted to talk to him without Thorin and that was his reason for enlisting his help; he stood up and went to join him, nerves twisting his stomach uncomfortably.

'Bilbo, would you have a brandy or a sherry?' he asked, a tray of crystal tumblers set out.

'Oh, er, a brandy, please,' Bilbo said, uncertainly and accepted the shot of amber liquid from the older man.

Thráin poured himself a shot and held it out to Bilbo. 'To yours and my son's good health.'

'And to yours,' Bilbo replied. Thráin downed his shot and looked at Bilbo thoughtfully before returning to pouring drinks.

'Do you know,' he began, 'how happy it makes me to see Thorin so happy with you?' Bilbo looked at his glass, unable to meet the man's eye. 'Ever since his brother's death a few years ago,  he's been even more reserved and stony than usual and I admit, I feared losing him too.' Bilbo was having trouble keeping his breathing under control. 'But then he told me he'd found you, and seeing you together... It warms my heart in a way I haven't felt since Fíli and Kíli were small. Are you going to drink that?' he asked suddenly, gesturing at Bilbo's glass.

'Oh, yes. Sorry,' Bilbo swallowed it quickly, not having much of a taste for strong alcoholic drinks.

'I'm so glad that you make him happy, Bilbo,' Thráin continued, smiling at Bilbo before his eyes narrowed and he became serious. 'No doubt my daughter will say the same, but... Don't hurt him, Bilbo. He's a good man but he feels strongly; from the way he looks at you I think it'd break him. Don't do that to him.'

Bilbo could only nod, his throat gone dry. 'I assure you, sir,' he said roughly, 'I don't intend to hurt him. Thorin is...he's more important to me than anything.' Bilbo's voice felt false as it uttered the lie, the words tasting bitter on his lips.

'Good,' Thráin's eyes crinkled in a smile. 'Now, have a little more!' He poured another shot of brandy into Bilbo's glass and sent him back to Thorin, who looked at him as he sat back down next to him.

'What was that about?'

'Nothing,' he said. 'Just wanted me to know that he's happy for us.' Thorin nodded slowly and he was grateful when Fíli handed him a glass of sherry, downing it in one.

'Thorin!' Dís said loudly, and everyone looked at him. 'Aren't you and Bilbo going to kiss for us?' she said with a perfectly innocent grin on her face, but her eyes sparkling. Bilbo flushed bright red and they both tried to protest, but Dís waved their protests away. 'Nonsense; you two could barely keep your hands off each other at dinner! Just a little kiss?'

Bilbo was bright red but he knew that too much protesting would only raise suspicion, so he turned to Thorin and wrapped his own arm around his waist. 'We can do a little kiss, can't we, love?'

Thorin didn't say anything but his eyes locked with Bilbo's and then they were leaning in towards each other ever so slightly until they could press their lips gently against the other's before quickly turning back around to face the rest of the room, Bilbo's face completely crimson. But the others were all booing and a couple were laughing.

'That's not a kiss; that's like being given gruel when you were promised pheasant!' Óin called, and there were hearty mumurs of agreement. 'Do it properly, now.'

Oh god, no, Bilbo wanted to run away that point;  his stomach was all over the place and it only got worse when he looked back at Thorin. He quickly licked his lips, not noticing the way Thorin stiffened ever so slightly at that, and closed his eyes as they inched their faces closer. And then suddenly Thorin's lips were on his, pressing gently and Bilbo returned the kiss, tasting the sherry from Thorin's shot as his fingers seemed to tingle with the fire that lit his belly, the weight of Thorin's hand on his waist warm and heavy and fuelling the sparks that shot through him. Then quickly they broke apart, Bilbo avoiding Thorin's eye as the gathered company cheered its approval. Bilbo and Thorin just smiled and Bilbo laid his head on Thorin's shoulder so he wouldn't have to look at the man, unsettled as he was.

Dís and Thráin looked at each other happily while Bilbo just blushed crimson. He was relieved when he was drawn into conversation by Bombur, who had noticed Bilbo's enthusiasm for the food and was himself a bit of a connoisseur. Bilbo spent a very pleasant time chatting with him, his neck prickling as he felt the weight of Thorin's gaze on him.

All too soon everyone was getting up and heading to bed and Bilbo had no choice but to follow suit, holding Thorin's hand as he led him out and upstairs until they were out of the sight of prying eyes when Thorin dropped his hand and reverted to stony silence. Bilbo too refused to speak, but more because he didn't trust his voice not to betray his anxiety than because he was cross. Thorin was cross, however; Bilbo could see the tension in his stiff neck and the set line of his jaw.

They reached their shared bedroom and while Thorin was perfectly polite in his actions, opening the door for Bilbo and letting him in first, Thorin made straight for the wardrobe where his clothes were unpacked. He snatched up his pyjamas and locked himself in the bathroom, leaving Bilbo outside slightly bemused but not surprised. He knew Thorin would be unhappy about what had happened at dinner.

Bilbo got changed extremely quickly while Thorin was in the bathroom and then pulled some of the blankets off the bed and dragged them to the sofa, where he began to make up Thorin's bed. He made a comfy little nest and retrieved some pillows too; he was arranging them neatly and making sure the covers were perfect when the bathroom door unlocked. Bilbo didn't look up but finished what he was doing, and then glanced at Thorin, who was looking at the sofa bed. Bilbo stepped back and hurried past Thorin to get his wash bag and go to the bathroom, but Thorin stopped him as he tried to pass him.

'What are you doing?'

'I made your bed up for you. I'm sorry about earlier, Thorin, I am; but -'

Thorin seemed to realise he'd grabbed hold of Bilbo's wrist and he let go, and suddenly Bilbo was all too aware that he was only in his thin pyjamas. Oh, he missed his dressing gown!

'Why did you make up that story about how we met?' Thorin asked.

Bilbo looked at him incredulously. 'Well I couldn't tell them the truth, could I?'

'My story was fine, they believed it-'

'Thorin,' Bilbo hissed, aware of the time and the need to be quiet. 'I've known you for what - two days? You're not exactly easy to get along with so somehow I doubt the whole love at first sight story -'

'In case you didn't notice, I told them that it was me who looked at you!' Thorin said vehemently, and his cheeks slowly became slightly pink. He huffed and threw himself down on the sofa, covering himself with the blankets. 'Goodnight Bilbo. Please turn the light off when you're done.' And Thorin pulled the cover up over his head as if in a cocoon, and Bilbo had no choice but to go and brush his teeth and turn the light off before climbing into bed. It was such a vast bed, with so much cold empty space on either side of him; he tried taking up as much space as possible, stretching out, but in the end he just curled up on one edge and tried to ignore the sound of Thorin's breathing from the sofa. Eventually he gave up and he called out to the darkness.

'Thorin, I'm sorry about dinner. Please don't be mad, it'll just make things more difficult.'

There was nothing but silence as an answer, and Bilbo sighed as he turned onto his side.

'S' alright,' Thorin's voice suddenly broke the silence, muffled from being under the covers. 'Although it wouldn't have been so bad, except your poetry's goddam awful.'

Bilbo couldn't help but smile. 'Eyes like apples indeed. Can't say I've actually heard that one before.'

'Because it's rubbish. Maybe one day I'll show you one of my actual poems.'

'I'd like that,' Bilbo said softly. 'I didn't think you were a poetry kind of man.' Thorin snorted and Bilbo heard the rustle of covers moving as Thorin shifted in his blanket nest. 'Oh, and Thorin? I do actually have an album full of pressed flowers, but I didn't collect them. It was my grandmother's.'

Thorin gave a chuckle, his baritone voice almost rumbling rather than sounding and Bilbo couldn't help but join in, letting out an undignified snort and nearly giggling before turning it into a cough.

Neither said anything more and Bilbo was soon asleep, the faint sound of the strong sea breeze whipping around the house and lulling him to restfulness.

 Bilbo was woken by knocking on the door.

'Mister Durin? Mister Baggins?' The person on the other side of the door called their names and continued knocking. Bilbo panicked.

'Thorin!' he hissed, but the man just grumbled in his sleep. 'Thorin!' Bilbo called again and threw a pillow at him, and Thorin woke up with an exclamation as he looked at Bilbo accusingly. 'Thorin, there's someone at the door!' he said, and Thorin seemed to become aware of the knocking and their names being called and he looked at the door in alarm; he was up in a flash and the next thing Bilbo knew he was climbing into the bed next to him.

'What-' he spluttered as Thorin drew him back against the pillows and wrapped a heavy arm around his waist, pulling him close.

'I'm sorry, but we can't let anyone know. Come in!' he called to the person outside, and just as the door began to open Bilbo froze as he felt...something.

'Oh my god. Thorin.'

'I'm sorry,' Thorin said again, sheepishly. 'But it's the morning!'

Bilbo tried to wriggle away but at that moment a maid stepped inside with a huge tray of food and Thorin's grip closed about his waist as the maid spotted them together and smiled. Bilbo tried to force himself to stay still and smile serenely as the old lady brought the tray over and placed it on the bedside table.

She said something in their language, guttural and complete nonsense to Bilbo, who in Thorin's brief distraction tried to inch away from the other man but found that Thorin's arm over his waist was gripped too tightly for him to move and he instead tried to ignore the certain part of the other's anatomy that was poking him. He also tried to ignore it when Thorin replied to the maid in his native language, and how his deep voice sounded around the harsh consonants.

As soon as the maid had left Bilbo forced Thorin's arm off him and moved over to the other side of the bed, glaring at him. But then the smell of the food proved far more interesting than his current bed mate and he pulled the tray onto his lap, sighing with pleasure at the feast that was presented to them.

Eggs and bacon and sausages and - hash browns! Bilbo was in heaven as he served them both a plate, Bilbo taking an extra hash brown as compensation for having to deal with things like that so early in the morning. Thorin had a slight blush gracing his cheeks and he accepted his plate of food wordlessly from Bilbo, who took in the blush and paused.

'What did - um - what did she say?' assuming - correctly - that it was something the old maid had said.

'Oh, well. Nothing really. But she was here when I was a child and she, well. Just wanted to offer her...congratulations.'

Bilbo stifled a laugh at Thorin's embarrassment and shook his head as he turned back to the bedside table and poured himself a cup of tea. He offered one to Thorin, who accepted gratefully. There was silence while they ate, sitting on opposite sides of the bed as far from each other as possible.

When Bilbo had nearly finished, he asked, 'What's happening today?'

Thorin paused for a moment. 'I expect we'll be showing you around Erebor so that you can see the city. If you want to, of course.'

Bilbo smiled at the still discomfited Thorin. 'I'd like to very much, I think.'

Thorin looked slightly pleased and they lapsed back into silence. When they'd both finished Bilbo stacked up the plates and now empty cups and slipped off the bed.

'I'm going to have a bath,' he said. 'I won't be long.' Thorin made a noise of assent and Bilbo grabbed the necessary clothes from the wardrobe before locking himself in the bathroom. He placed his neatly folded clothes in the corner, far away from the bath, which he began to fill. For such a huge tub it filled extremely fast, and it wasn't long before he slipped into the hot water, gasping at the initial heat before he acclimatised and it became extremely nice indeed.

He washed quickly, knowing he couldn't spend too long there as Thorin needed to wash too, so he washed his hair, the blonde curls straightening and darkening with the water, and scrubbed himself down. He got out, pulling an incredibly soft and fluffy towel off the heated rail and wrapping it around himself. He pulled the plug from the bath and rinsed it out before getting dressed, pulling on a smart plaid shirt and blue trousers, and a woolly jumper. He looked every inch the librarian he was and he sighed.

He left the bathroom and found that Thorin was nowhere to be found. He shrugged and began combing his hair, ridding himself of any knots. He was sorting a particularly stubborn one when the door opened behind him and he jumped, comb catching and making him wince as he whirled around, to see Thorin closing the door behind him, fully dressed.

'You scared me!' Bilbo said, rubbing his scalp. 'Where did you go?'

'Sorry. I didn't want to rush you, so I used a different bathroom,' Thorin replied and Bilbo pointedly didn't look at how tight his shirt sleeves were, instead focusing back on his hair.

'That was nice of you,' he smirked.

Thorin snorted at that. 'I bumped into Father on my way back. He needs to go to work and he could give us a lift to the city centre if you're ready soon.'

'Oh,' Bilbo said. 'Yes, I just need to put my shoes on, hang on.' He sat on the bed and pulled on a pair of socks while Thorin put on a navy pullover, and Bilbo slipped his shoes on. Thorin looked at him and Bilbo smiled and the two left the room. Thráin was in the main hall and he smiled when he saw them approach, Dís appearing suddenly and joining them too.

'Morning, you two,' Thráin smiled and Bilbo and Thorin returned the greeting, Bilbo not even flinching when Thorin's arm found its accustomed place on Bilbo's waist.

'Have you seen the paper today?' Thráin asked, handing them his folded newspaper with a grin on his face, Dís also looking terribly pleased. Thorin took it uncertainly and straightened it out and Bilbo groaned internally at the front page.

There, taking up half the page on the very front of the paper, was a picture of himself and Thorin. It had been taken at the moment Bilbo had descended the ladder and collapsed into Thorin's arms, because there he was, his face nestled into Thorin's chest and the taller man's arms tight around him. Oh, this was... He forced himself to smile and laugh lightly, wrapping his own arm around Thorin and poking him none too gently to remind him to smile.

'It's us,' Bilbo said, keeping his voice cheerful. 'What does it say, love?'

Thorin cleared his throat and pulled the paper closer, avoiding looking at Bilbo, and began to read bits out for Bilbo. 'Erm, let me see... "Thorin Durin, the son of The Khuzdul Prime Minister, has been seen with a young man, believed to be his partner... The young man in question is from England, witnesses say, and his name is Baggins. His first name is currently not known... Eyewitnesses report that they make a very handsome couple."' Thorin cleared his throat again and handed the paper back to his father, who looked pleased as punch.

Dís grinned. 'You must be wondering why this is important enough to warrant a front page feature, Bilbo?'

Bilbo agreed that yes, he was, and he felt Thorin stiffen beside him. Dís just looked gleeful. 'Well, I was married twenty years ago and I have two beautiful boys; our brother Frerin had a different girl on his arm every week, but Thorin... Thorin's never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend of any sort - either that or he's just been very secretive. So understandably the nation is excited at this turn of events.' She shot a happy smile at the two of them and Bilbo looked up  at Thorin, smiling sweetly but mirth and no small amount of accusation in his eyes. He'd known the newspapers would come, but he hadn't thought so soon.

Thráin sighed happily. 'Khazad's morale has never quite recovered after Frerin's death, and I think this may be just what the country needs. Thank you, Bilbo,' he said sincerely, and once again Bilbo felt the guilt sink heavy in his stomach. 'Now, I need to go but I can take you to the city centre. Dwalin and some of the others will meet you in a couple of hours, Thorin.'

They nodded and followed Thráin outside to a smart black car and they both sat in the back, Thráin in the front next to the chauffeur. They pulled out of the large drive and began the journey.

'Thorin, we're going to the Iron Hills tomorrow,' Thráin said carefully and beside Bilbo, Thorin muttered something he couldn't hear before he asked, 'Why?'

'Because, Thorin, we haven't seen your cousin Dáin in a long time and he's still part of the family.'

'He's annoying.'

'Thorin, you're just jealous that he was always able to beat you at chess.'

'No, I'm not jealous.' Bilbo couldn't help the smile that crept onto his face at Thorin's contempt and denial. 'I just think he's irritating.'

'Well no doubt he thinks the same of you,' Thráin said smoothly. 'But that's neither here nor there. I doubt Bilbo has any dress clothes so today you need to go and get some. Only the best, of course,' Thráin smiled at Bilbo in the rear view mirror. Bilbo tried to protest but Thráin cut him off, saying that Bilbo was a guest and would be treated as what he was - Thorin's One. 

Bilbo allowed himself to smile in thanks at Thráin and then the car was stopping and he and Thorin got out. Thráin called to them through the window that he'd see them later and to Thorin to make sure that he showed Bilbo the city.

When his car pulled off Bilbo and Thorin stood on a crowded pavement in the centre of Erebor, crowds milling around them going about their business.

'Don't you have any security or anything?' Bilbo asked curiously. 'Seeing as your father is the Prime Minister?'

'Erebor is safe. It's a small city; we're safe. But Dwalin and the others will join us in a couple of hours, if it appeases you.'

Bilbo shrugged. 'So what are we doing?' They were obviously in the commercial district of the city as there were department stores and clothes and shoe shops everywhere along this street.

'What would you like to do?'

'I'm hungry,' Bilbo said seriously, ignoring Thorin's chuckle. 'Second breakfast is important!'

Thorin raised his hands in defeat. 'Alright! I know an excellent café for brunch. This way...' he motioned for Bilbo to follow him and they set off down the main road. Bilbo saw people looking in their direction curiously and many excited mutterings; he knew that they were all probably discussing that morning's news article. He quickly hooked his arm through Thorin's, making him jump.

'You lied to me,' Bilbo said. 'You said we'd only have to act for your father; not only do we have to pretend to your cousins but your whole country.' He raised an eyebrow and Thorin looked around, noticing the looks being sent their way.

'I'm sorry about that. But if it's any consolation, at least they seem to like you...' he said uncertainly and Bilbo snorted.

'Let's just hurry up and get the food.'

They turned off down a side street, mercifully more deserted and Bilbo unlinked his arm from Thorin's. Thorin stopped outside a small food shop, which to Bilbo's delight looked full to the brim with breads and cheeses and hams and the smell of roasted coffee permeated out into the chilly air. They stepped in and were greeted by a short, jovial looking man in a white baker's coat behind the counter.

'Thorin!' the man greeted.

'Bert,' Thorin nodded. The short man caught sight of Bilbo and he broke out into a huge smile.

'Here he is,' he said cheerfully. 'It was so bad of Thorin to keep you a secret! Tom, William, come on out! You've gotta meet someone!' he called behind him, and a small door opened to reveal another two men, both thick-set and brawny, and they greeted Thorin happily and looked at Bilbo curiously. 'Mr Baggins, it's a pleasure to finally meet you,' Bert said solemnly.

'Isn't he the one from the paper today?' the smaller one whispered none too quietly and  the last one elbowed him.

'Course it is, Tom,' he said, and smiled at Bilbo.

Thorin smiled and rested a hand on the small of Bilbo's back as he introduced him to the men properly, and all three seemed absolutely chuffed to have them there. They were ushered upstairs to where comfy sofas and little tables for two were squashed up cosily, a couple of them already taken, and they sat on a low sofa, Bilbo almost sinking right into it. Bert left them with a menu and promised to come up in a few minutes.

After a few cursory glances around from the other couples and groups quietly chatting, Bilbo busied himself with choosing something from the menu. He settled back against the cushions of the sofa while Thorin stayed sitting upright. Bilbo sighed.

'Thorin, you have to at least look as if you want to be here, you know,' he whispered, looking at him sideways.

'I do want to be here.'

'No, I mean here with me,' Bilbo clarified before returning to the menu. He missed the look that passed over Thorin's face but the next thing he knew Thorin had also settled back, appearing more relaxed as they sat together on the sofa.

'I fancy the bacon and brie sandwich,' Bilbo said. 'What do you think?' he handed Thorin the menu and he looked over it briefly before settling on the roast beef. When Bert came back up they gave their order and also asked for a pot of tea, which was brought up a couple of minutes later.

Bilbo sipped at his cup, tapping his fingers on the side of it. 'How do the guys know you so well?' he asked. 'It's just, you don't really strike me as the sort to like places like this.'

'My grandfather used to bring us here sometimes as children. They do the best hot chocolate - you should try it, Bilbo - and the cake is to die for.'

Bilbo smiled to see Thorin so enthusiastic about something. 'Maybe I should, then,' he chuckled and Thorin smiled. Then their sandwiches were brought up and Bilbo's gently grumbling stomach was finally satisfied, the melting brie and hot bacon in warm bread filling him up. It was utterly delicious and there was little to no conversation between them as they ate, although Bilbo made sure to grace Thorin with a few smiles to keep the watchers satisfied. When they were done and Tom came to collect their plates, Thorin ordered a mug of their hot chocolate and Bilbo laughed.

While they waited for it, it was evidently getting closer to lunch time and the little café space was filling up fast; the number of glances and whispers in their direction increased too and it made Bilbo nervous. Thorin took his hand at one point and he was almost too distracted to notice it, but he smiled. And then his hot chocolate arrived and Bilbo was distracted but for an entirely different reason - Thorin hadn't been lying. It was magnificent, cream and froth on top and a spiced syrup drizzled over it all and it smelt utterly divine.

He grinned at Thorin as he lifted it to his lips, eyebrows raised as if in contest before he took a sip. It was - it was rich and hot and thick and absolutely incredible, and Bilbo had to pause before he could drink any more. He just stared at Thorin, the taste of chocolate still heavy on his tongue as he set the cup down.

'Well,' he said, licking his lips,  'that's certainly-'

What it was, he never got to say because Thorin had leaned in and kissed him, his tongue chasing the last remnants of cream from Bilbo's lips in a kiss that was heady and hot, for all its brevity, as he sat there astonished before Thorin broke away.

'They were looking at us,' he said quietly, and sure enough the whole café was looking at them in fond amusement and Bilbo blushed.

'I was only going to tell you how good the hot chocolate was,' Bilbo smirked. 'Didn't think it meant that much to you.'

Thorin was a bit pink and it made Bilbo laugh, but he hid it by returning to his drink and ignoring the glances they were still receiving from the others in the café. He finished the hot chocolate soon after and they made their way downstairs again, where Thorin paid and Tom, William and Bert urged them to come back soon.

They left the little café and made their way back to the main road, where Thorin suggested they get the clothes and then they could walk around the city for a bit. Bilbo agreed and Thorin showed him to a very upmarket, posh tailor's shop. A little bell tinkled as they opened the door and a tall, slim blonde man greeted them.

'Mister Durin,' he nodded politely. 'What can I do for you today?'

'Mister Oropherion,' Thorin replied. 'I need a fitting for Mister Baggins here. He needs dress clothes.'

The man's eyes caught Bilbo's in sudden curiosity before he quickly veiled it. 'Mister Baggins, welcome. If you'd like to step this way, I can take your measurements and we can begin.'

Bilbo noddes, unnerved by the grace of the tall man. Bilbo could tell nothing about the man, dressed impeccably as he was in a suit of grey with a dark crimson tie. He sensed that Thorin didn't like him, but that was more from the prickly glance Thorin sent him rather than from the man. But he did as he was told, raising his arms and turning as Mr Oropherion ordered, until he disappeared for a moment. Bilbo breathed deeply and then he was back, a suit over one arm.

At that moment Thorin's phone rang and he stepped outside to answer it, leaving Bilbo alone. The man smiled. 'Mister Durin does not like me, I'm afraid. But I am Thranduil, Thranduil Oropherion,' he said. 'I am truly glad for the two of you, Mister Baggins - I recognise you from today's paper.'

'Bilbo, please,' Bilbo said, smiling. 'Yes, it seems everyone has seen the article. Thank you, Thranduil - I know Thorin appreciates it really.'

Thranduil made a humming noise and led Bilbo round the back to the changing rooms and handed him the fancy suit. 'Put this on and when you're done, call me and I'll take a look at what needs doing.' Bilbo nodded and undressed so that he could put the suit on. It was a little large on the shoulders and  the waist but for the most part it fit well.

He pulled back the plush crimson curtain of the cubicle and stepped out. 'Thranduil? Mr Oropherion?' he called out and Thranduil appeared from around the corner. He looked pleased as he took in the fit.

'That's not bad,' he said to himself. 'Not bad at all...' He pulled out a box of pins and began pinning the suit into place where it was too big, noting where it would have to be stitched. Bilbo stood still to allow him to do so but then the sound of the door opening made them both jump and Thranduil nearly stabbed his finger on the pin. Bofur's head appeared round the corner and he grinned.

'Bilbo! Don't you look fine in that suit?'

'Oh, hello Bofur!' Bilbo smiled. 'What are you doing here?'

'A couple of the others and myself came with Dwalin to meet yerself an' Thorin. He's outside with 'em now.'

'Excuse me, sir, but I am in the middle of a fitting here, so if you wouldn't mind-' Thranduil said stiffly and Bofur raised his hands and grinned.

'I'll wait round the front,' he said, and backed away back to the front of the shop. They heard the bell tinkle again a couple of times and voices, but they were uninterrupted until Thranduil had finished his pinning. When done he smiled in satisfaction and clasped his hands together.

'I must agree with your friend, Mr Baggins. You do look well in this cut,' he said, and Bilbo flushed a little and thanked him. 'Would you like to show Thorin?' Thranduil asked. 

'Oh, um, not really,' Bilbo tried to protest but Thranduil just said 'Nonsense!' and pushed Bilbo forward so that he had no choice but to move forward, towards the front of the shop.

'Thorin?' he said quietly, noticing Bofur, Dwalin, Nori and Balin all staring around the place. Thorin was standing tense in the middle of the shop and he jumped when Bilbo said his name. His eyes locked onto Bilbo and he quickly looked at the adjusted suit, the way it fit his body perfectly and he nodded slowly.

'I told you he looked fine,' Bofur said from by the window and Thorin shot him an unreadable look.

'You look lovely, Bilbo,' Thorin said gently. 'It's perfect.' He nodded at Thranduil, who looked smug as he ushered Bilbo back behind. He helped him take the suit off carefully and let him get changed again while he took the clothes away to be altered. Bilbo finished dressing and went back out front to rejoin Thorin and the others, slotting into his space under Thorin's arm. It was funny, Bilbo thought as Thorin's hand settled at his waist,  how  easy it was to become accustomed to this, to Thorin...

He shook his head. He couldn't grow accustomed to this; he was here for a week and no longer and then he was going to get on with his life at home, with his little library and his little flat and his huge family. That was where he belonged.

Thranduil announced that he'd have someone drop the suit off at the house later that evening and once Thorin paid - not letting Bilbo see the price - they left, on what Bofur dubbed 'The magic Tour of Erebor'.

'Why is it magic?' Bilbo asked, curious. Bofur beamed at him from under his hat.

'Because I'm here! If we'd let Thorin give it, you'd end up wandering round the entire city as he tried to find the right way.'

Bilbo laughed as Dwalin agreed. 'Aye, our cousin's a little directionally challenged.' He noticed Thorin was scowling and he smirked up at him, wrapping his hands around one of Thorin's in a gesture that was, to everyone else, perfectly loving but for the sarcasm in his eyes.

'Now, my dear, don't spoil it for me by sulking,' he said, mirth in his eyes as Thorin had no choice but to smile. 'He's a terrible sulker, isn't he?' he said cheerfully, and the others burst out laughing.

'You bet he is!' Dwalin agreed, while Bofur and Nori joined in with little anecdotes from their childhoods where Thorin had sulked for one reason or another.

'Oh, the worst was when he and Dáin were ten - d'ye remember, Nori? They'd both been given a wooden sword for Christmas this one year, and they were ever so desperate to try it out-'

'I really don't think Bilbo needs to know,' Thorin interrupted, but Bilbo looked at him.

'Would you deny me the boyfriend experience, of hearing your embarrassing stories?' Bilbo asked. Thorin looked about to say yes before Dwalin broke in.

'Yer in for a treat, Bilbo - Dís was going through all the old photo albums when we left.'

Thorin groaned and Bilbo laughed. 'So Thorin was given a wooden sword for Christmas...?' he prompted Bofur again, and he continued with his story as they walked around the city.

The sun was beginning to set when they returned home, and it was time for dinner. They sat at the table all together again, Thráin having finished his work early too. Dís was looking particularly gleeful and after the meal she spent a good hour showing Bilbo Thorin's embarrassing childhood photos, which Bilbo found far too funny. Thorin was especially silent and had been throughout the meal, and Bilbo found it easier to throw himself into laughing with Dís and Bofur and Balin than it was to tiptoe around him.

Over the evening Bilbo found himself blushing a lot - something he wasn't surprised about any more, having spent time with these people - as they made thinly veiled jokes about his and Thorin's (supposed) relationship. When Dís found a picture of a young Thorin in the bath, it was 'I'm sure he's grown a lot in that department since - but you'd know all about that, Bilbo'; when a picture of Thorin with the previously mentioned wooden sword Bofur grinned suggestively as he said, 'I'll bet he wields his sword a lot more skilfully now, eh?' They were unstoppable and Bilbo was glad that they seemed to find his flushing endearing, rather than suspicious.

When the time came for them to retire Thorin was still silent and Bilbo sighed as they made their way upstairs. He changed in the bathroom and Thorin had also changed when he came out, sitting stoically silent on his sofa.

Bilbo perched at the end of the bed as Thorin refused to look at him.

'Thorin, what have I done this time?' There was no answer. 'Thorin, why are you being an arse again? What have I done?'

Thorin shot him an unreadable look. He turned to face Bilbo, the two of them staring each other off and neither willing to break eye contact.

'You're... You're too friendly.'

'I'm too friendly,' Bilbo repeated, unimpressed. 'That is rather the point, so that they'll like me - although this whole thing would be easier if they hated me; it might make it better later-'

'No,' Thorin interrupted crossly. 'I mean that you get along too well with them. Especially with Bofur. You shouldn't be so open with him.'

Bilbo just stared at him, Thorin narrowing his eyes and Bilbo realised he was perfectly serious.

'Oh my god,' he laughed to himself. 'Thorin, can I please just remind you that you're not actually my boyfriend? And as such you have no right to-'

'All the while you're here, you're my boyfriend, and as such you have to be faithful,' Thorin retorted.

'I had a laugh with your cousin! How does that make me "unfaithful"? And Thorin, if this whole thing is a lie anyway, why would you even care!' Bilbo was honestly flummoxed and more than a little angry and in his emotion had stood up.

'You might jeopardise everything!' Thorin shouted, forgetting the need to be silent, and Bilbo threw his hands in the air.

'Fine. You know what, fine, Thorin. I won't talk to a single member of your family again and then let's see how well that goes down!' Bilbo said vehemently as he got into bed, intending to get under the covers and drown out Thorin's voice.

'You're overreacting, Bilbo-'

'Me?' Bilbo snorted in disbelief. 'You're the one who's jealous because your fake boyfriend might actually enjoy other people's company!' he too shouted, and threw his pillow at Thorin. It missed spectacularly, instead hitting the back of the sofa, but he didn't care. He threw himself down and covered himself with the blankets. 'Goodnight, Mr Durin. Please turn the light off when you're done,' he said bitingly, echoing Thorin's words from last night.

There was silence for a moment before Bilbo heard Thorin get up and then it grew darker under the covers. He didn't move, and nothing more was said between either of them, both ignoring the other's presence. Bilbo licked his lips in the warm darkness under the covers and he thought back to the kiss in the café earlier that morning. Funny, how one minute Thorin was sweet like he had been then and the next he was this.

The air was stale between them as they fell asleep, so many words unspoken by both and tense with the weight of them.

Bilbo woke early the next morning, Thorin still breathing deeply in sleep when Bilbo sat up, the covers all rucked up around him. He sighed quietly as he leant his head back against the headboard, remembering the argument. He was never going to get to sleep again now, so he silently slipped out of bed and gathered his clothes, deciding he might as well have his bath now; it might mean he wouldn't have to face Thorin when the other man woke.

While he lay in the hot water, steam making his hair curl before he dipped his head under the water, he heard the sound of the bedroom door opening and a moment later clicking shut; Bilbo paused in his bathing, but when he heard nothing more he thought no more of it. He finished in the bath and got out and dressed and returned to the bedroom. He was surprised to see Thorin still sound asleep on the sofa - who had opened the door? He had a slight moment of panic before shrugging it off and throwing a pillow at Thorin again.

He woke with a start, spluttering against the feather pillow.

'Get up, Thorin. It's time for breakfast soon,' Bilbo said shortly, and he turned back to sit on the bed and put his shoes and socks on. Thorin stalked past him and went into the bathroom, neither saying a word to the other. While Thorin finished getting ready there was an awkward silence between them until Dís knocked on the door to tell them that breakfast was ready downstairs. They followed her down but before Bilbo could enter the dining room, Dís had grabbed his arm  and pulled him to one side.

'Bilbo, one of the maids told me what she saw this morning,' Dís said in a low voice. 'She said she saw my brother sleeping on the sofa.' She paused for a minute and Bilbo could feel the panic settling in. 'I can't say that I'm not disappointed-'

'Oh god, Dís, I know it's bad - I'm sorry -'

'Oh, I don't blame you!' Dís looked affronted at even the thought.


'God no. Thorin can be a total ass sometimes - quite a lot of the time, actually - I don't blame you for chucking him out of the bed.'

'For chucking him - oh,' Bilbo almost laughed in relief. 'Yes, well. Last night was particularly bad - he was sulking over the photos, I think,' Bilbo said, a little breathlessly with relief that Dís was under the impression that it was only a domestic, not...anything else.

Dís chuckled. 'He would. I'm glad you stand up to Thorin; show him he's not the one who wears the trousers in your relationship. But then, I'm sure you do already.' She grinned.

Bilbo just smiled. 'Oh, Thorin's just a bit like a kitten.  Sulks if he's ignored but give him a little pet and he's happy again.'

Dís laughed at that and Bilbo grinned. 'Well, you continue with your petting but maybe save it for later!' She paused and looked at him thoughtfully. 'You're good for him, Bilbo. I'm truly happy he found you.'

Bilbo just nodded and followed Dís into the dining room, taking his space next to Thorin, who gave him a cursory glance before turning back to his toast. Bilbo set about eating too, boiled eggs and toast and crumpets, and black bread with cheese. As they ate Thráin told them that they'd be leaving for the Iron Hills in an hour's time, so once they were done to go and finish packing. The suit that they had ordered from Thranduil had indeed arrived last night and Bilbo packed it carefully when they went back up, the meal having been spent mostly in silence between the two of them. Thráin had appeared only slightly concerned, but he'd given Bilbo an appraising look so Bilbo assumed that Dís had told him about their little "spat" last night.

Thorin was still being stubbornly silent even just before they went down stairs to pile into the waiting cars and Bilbo sighed before stopping him walking out.


'What?' he replied churlishly.

'You need to stop sulking. You'll be the one to jeopardise everything at this rate!'

Thorin still said nothing.

'Fine,' Bilbo huffed. 'Fine. Continue acting like a child if that's what you want but you aren't my boyfriend, Thorin, and I'm not going to pander to you,' Bilbo said shortly, and picking up his bag stalked to the door, only for it to fly open in his face, making him stumble back and only Thorin's hand catching him saving him from falling. Bilbo quickly shrugged out of his grip and stood to face the newcomer.

Newcomers, that should be. Fíli and Kíli stood there, both looking slightly perplexed. Fíli looked straight past Bilbo, glaring instead at his uncle.

'You're making them suspicious,' he accused. He stepped into the room, pulling Bilbo's bag from his grasp even as he protested and thrust it at Thorin, who had no choice to catch it against his chest. 'You need to act like the happy couple you two are meant to be and not the child you're currently imitating.'

There was silence for a moment as uncle and nephew stared each other down, until Thorin snorted and switched Bilbo's bag to one hand, picked up his own with the other and stalked towards the door. Kíli stopped him from leaving however, bracing an arm across the doorway.

'But don't take it out on Bilbo,' he warned. 'We've grown quite fond of Uncle Bilbo, haven't we Fee?' he asked, smirking when Bilbo choked at being referred to as such. Thorin too looked unimpressed, but he sighed and nodded. He looked at Bilbo who scurried to join him and Kíli let them through, grinning at Bilbo; Thorin still said nothing to Bilbo as they walked through the house to the main doors, where he stopped and turned to him.

'I am sorry, Bilbo,' he said gruffly. 'I didn't...I wasn't nice, yesterday, and I'm sorry.'

Bilbo patted his arm lightly. 'Let's forget about last night.  I won't hold a grudge if you stop sulking.'

Thorin gave more of a grimace than a smile, but the sentiment was there; they stepped outside to the drive and multiple waiting cars, all ready to carry the various Durins to the Iron Hills. They approached one where Dís stood, beckoning them over; their bags were loaded and they got in the car. It was another twenty minutes later that the train of cars left the house grounds, after two emergency last-minute trips to the toilet and a dash to the kitchen on Bombur's part,  and Bilbo this time got to see the outskirts of the city; the large houses nestled into the valley.

Gradually it gave way to farmland,  swift mountain rivers cutting through the landscape. Bilbo was awed by it and soaked in the sights, to Thráin's absolute delight. The journey was made slightly awkward, as Bilbo was pressed in the middle between Thorin and Dís - no doubt to stop them arguing, as Bilbo was certain that they would - and Thorin's thigh was entirely too warm against his.

After perhaps an hour of driving, Bilbo began to feel slightly car sick. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes, willing his stomach to remain calm and settle. He breathed out a shaky sigh and then startled when he felt Thorin's warm hands on his cheek.

'Are you feeling well, Bilbo?' he murmered softly; Bilbo could feel Dís' gaze on him and he wasn't sure if his cheeks were warm from the heat of the car or Thorin's hand. Perhaps it was both.

'I'm sick,' Bilbo said quickly, feeling a powerful wave of nausea rise up as he opened his mouth and he had to breathe deeply through his nose again for a moment.

'Sleep,' Thorin said softly, and he shuffled slightly closer to Bilbo so that he could rest his head on his shoulder. Bilbo was reluctant to do so - somehow such gentle gestures seemed too intimate - but when he breathed just a little too deeply and the fear of being sick became very real indeed, he had no choice but to lay a flushed cheek against Thorin's broad shoulder and close his eyes. Besides, Dís and Thráin would surely have thought it odd, had he refused.

It was nice, actually, not that Bilbo would admit it. It was nice for someone to be looking out for him, to not have to be in control at that moment. And Thorin's aftershave was most certainly not one of the reasons it was so pleasant.

The nausea disappeared gradually as Bilbo kept his eyes shut tight and breathed in small, shallow breaths and soon he was asleep. He wasn't sur how long he slept for but when he woke up the shadows were beginning to lengthen. He didn't move immediately, his head-rest very warm and comfy and he was unwilling to move from it just yet.

He became aware that someone was talking, until he recognised that voice as Thorin.

'You should know, Dís; you must have felt it with Víli. And you with Mother, Father. I just know that when I met Bilbo - please, Dís, don't say anything about that! - I just knew there was something about him... I still can't explain it,' he was saying, and Bilbo kept his eyes resolutely shut, sure his burning ears would give him away.

'Thorin, the last time I saw you look at something that besottedly was at Arkie the kitten when you were ten,' Dís said fondly. 'You love him; you can't explain that.'

'I do,' Thirin muttered and then Bilbo felt a gentle hand stroke the curls by his ear where Thorin had wrapped an arm around his shoulders as he slept.

Bilbo was definitely blushing now. Oh, Thorin was good! That had sounded real, and Bilbo would have believed it too, if he hadn't known better.

He was uncertain now of what to do - at all costs, he didn't want them to know he'd heard - but he couldn't stay asleep. He settled on burying hsis face deeper into Thorin's shoulder for a moment as he stretched, in what hopefully looked like someone waking up from a very deep sleep, and then turned his sleep-bleary face up. Thorin's face looked slightly pink but he only smiled at Bilbo, who smiled back and allowed Thorin to pull him close again. He looked at Dís, who was smiling as she regarded him; she grinned at Bilbo and then looked away out of the window.

Thorin didn't say anything about what he'd said a moment ago so neither did Bilbo. Instead he sat up, straightening and in the process extricating himself from Thorin a little.

'We're nearly there,' Thorin said quietly. 'You've been asleep for hours.'

'I have? What's the time?' Bilbo asked, surprised. He felt a hundred times better than before though.

'It's just after four,' Thráin said from the front. 'It'll be another half an hour at most.'

Beside Bilbo, Thorin gave a tiny snort and Bilbo turned to look at him. 'I suppose that means I'll meet Dáin very soon then?' he said, smiling. Thorin nodded.

Bilbo turned to stare out of the window, and was surprised to see that the mountain sides were snow-covered and even the ground was frosty, with large pinetrees most numerous. They must be very far north, for it  to be so in April. Bilbo could see a town nestled in amongst the mountains and assumed that that was where Dáin lived. It grew steadily bigger and soon - too soon, Bilbo thought, as his stomach knotted at the thought of yet another family member to pretend to - they were entering the town.

The town was quaint - more like Dale had been than Erebor - and it was like something off those postcards with images of mountain villages that nobody thought actually existed any more, except perhaps for show. This town was definitely not just for show, and it was busy and bustling with people and cars and Bilbo thought at one point he saw a goatherderbchivvying his herd of mountain goats down one of the narrow streets.

They soon pulled up outside what Bilbo assumed was Dáin's house. To his relief it was a lot smaller than the Durin mansion in Erebor and looked more like a home, with even a humorous welcome mat on the front step. Theirs was the only car there and as Thorin helped Bilbo out of the car, Bilbo asked, 'Where are the others?'

'Still on their way. They won't be too long. And it's probably best for Dáin that we arrive in installments anyway.'

Bilbo made a noise of agreement and was just about to get his bag from the car when someone called Thorin's name loudly, making him jump.

'Thorin! Long time no see! How are you?' a man with fair hair and ruddy cheeks said as he approached them, looking genuinely pleased to see them. Thorin stood straighter and stiffly and Bilbo knew it was Dáin. He too straightened up and offered a nervous smile in the man's direction.  Dáin didn't seem at all perturbed by Thorin's stoniness and instead drew him in for a hug, slapping him heartily on the back before turning to Bilbo and giving him the same treatment, quite startling Bilbo.

'So you're the one who's managed to tame my cousin,' Dáin said, studying Bilbo at arm's length.

'Well,' Bilbo said a little awkwardly,  'I don't think-'

'It's so good to finally meet you!' Dáin said, laughing and ignoring Bilbo's protests. 'Even if you were kept a secret.' Dáin looked at Thorin accusingly, and Thorin just pulled Bilbo to him, holding him to his side.

'So I understand,' Bilbo chuckled weakly, and Dáin looked pleased.

'Now come on in, out of the cold! My wife and son are very much looking forward to meeting you, and seeing Thorin again.'

They followed Dáin into the house, Thorin still keeping a tight hold on Bilbo, and Bilbo was relieved to see that the house was as homey as it looked from outside. It was pleasantly cluttered and he could hear Dís and Thráin chatting with someone in the front room, where Bilbo could see the remnants of a train set still lying out.

'Hana, come and meet Mr Baggins,' Dáin called as he took their coats and hung them up. A woman with darker hair than Dáin appeared in the doorway and she smiled brightly.

'Thorin! So nice to see you again. And you, my dear,' she greeted Bilbo, 'it's lovely to finally meet you!'

Bilbo smiled back and accepted the warm handshake Dáin's wife offered, and she was just ushering them into the living room when a high-pitched cry rent the air.

'Oaky!' it shouted, and a small bundle of child launched itself at Thorin, attaching itself to his middle.

'Hey there, Stoney,' he laughed, and the child looked up and beamed at Thorin. He detached the child from his midriff and gestured to Bilbo. 'Are you going to say hello to Bilbo?'

'This is my son,' Dáin explained. 'Also called Thorin.'

'I'm not Thorin,' the child complained. 'I'm Stonehelm, Da, and this is my uncle Oakenshield,' the boy said crossly to his father, before turning to Bilbo and bowing. 'It's nice to meet you, Mr Bilbo.'

'And you, er..Stonehelm,' Bilbo said, sketching a quick bow in return and following Thorin's whispered example. The child looked ecstatic and latched himself onto Bilbo, grabbing his hand and leading him to a seat in the living room, where Dís and Thráin sat. The chair he made Bilbo sit on was well-worn and comfy, and Bilbo sat down gratefully until Little-Thorin sat himself down on Bilbo's lap.

Hana looked at the boy and sighed. 'Thorin, aren't you going to let your Uncle sit next to his boyfriend?' she said, gesturing to the leather sofa. But Little-Thorin shook his head.

'Uncle Oaky can sit next to Da. I want to sit with Mr Bilbo.'

'It's fine, really, Mrs Durin,' Bilbo said, and she shrugged and smiled.

'If you're sure. Now, who'd like tea or coffee?...'

After about ten minutes another car load arrived, and five minutes after that the last car drew up. When everyone was inside the living room was getting quite cramped, but it was nice. Little-Thorin had spent the time while his parents got everyone comfortable chattering to Bilbo, so long as he called him Stonehelm, not Thorin, and even explained why he liked the nickname so much.

'When I was little I hit my head when I fell over, and Uncle Oaky was there and he said I was a brave boy and then he nicknamed me Stonehelm,' the lad said, and Bilbo's Thorin - wait, not his! - nodded and smiled as he watched Bilbo and Little-Thorin from where he sat on the sofa nearby.

'So why is your Uncle called Oakenshield?' Bilbo asked, grinning at Thorin. At that moment Fíli and Kíli joined them, handing Bilbo and Thorin a cup of tea and Little-Thorin a glass of juice.

'Well, that's a fun story,' Kíli said. 'I do believe this has its roots in something that happened many years ago.'

'You know about the wooden sword incident, Bilbo, don't you?' Fíli asked, and Bilbo agreed and looked at Thorin, who was looking slightly embarrassed. 'Well, he and Dáin were really going for it - lads of ten, mind you, so I doubt it was really that bad - and Uncle Thorin had his sword knocked out of his hand.'

'But rather than giving up,' Kíli continued from his brother, 'he grabbed a wooden branch that had fallen from the tree and wielded that as a sword and a shield as needed.'

'And the name stuck,' Fíli agreed, and Bilbo smirked.

'You really are stubborn as a mule, aren't you?' he said to Thorin, who didn't say anything and instead took a long sip of his tea, ignoring Bilbo.

There was a little while longer of quietly comfortable chaos, during which Little-Thorin continued to sit on Bilbo's lap until Fíli and Kíli coerced him into going outside and climbing up into the tree house. Once the lads had run off Bilbo went and joined Thorin on the sofa.

'You look as though you were having fun,' Thorin said in amusement and Bilbo elbowed him.

'Just because you were enjoying watching your nephews torture me. But Thorin, I promised my mother I'd send her a post card and you evidently don't want to be here - maybe you and I could go for a quick walk to the post office?' Bilbo suggested, and Thorin looked relieved at the suggestion. He agreed immediately and quickly spoke to Dáin, who waved them off cheerily after warning Thorin not to get lost.

It was still light but evening was definitely approaching, and the air outside was much chillier for it. Bilbo shivered in the cold and accepted Thorin's arm merely for the heat it provided him. They walked in silence mostly, but for the sound of the occasional cars that drove nearby. It was about a ten-minute walk to the post office and Bilbo was grateful for the warmth of the little old-fashioned shop, the little old lady behind the counter smiling kindly at them.

Bilbo picked a card with a selection of pictures of Khazad the front, including of Erebor and the Iron Hills. He wrote a quick note to his parents, telling them of how nice  the country was, how beautiful the mountains were and yes he was keeping warm, and then addressed it while Thorin stood behind him, looking around the shop. The lady seemed chuffed to recognise Thorin and as such when they bought the stamp from her, she pressed two little wrapped chocolates into his hand and sent them off with a wave.

Bilbo smiled at the uncomfortable look on Thorin's face as he gave him the chocolates as they stepped out into the evening. It was amusing to see Thorin so discomfited. The walk was pleasant and Bilbo enjoyed the crispness of the mountain air, sharp and cold in his nose and  lungs. Thorin was quiet beside him and Bilbo sighed.

'Thorin, I do hope you're not sulking again.'

Thorin looked offended. 'I'm not, actually. I'm just thinking.'

'You should probably stop; you look pained,' Bilbo chuckled, and was pleased to note that Thorin smiled too.

The rest of the walk they spent in quiet conversation, Thorin pointing out to Bilbo various landmarks and explaining a little more about Khazad's history, which Bilbo listened to eagerly. The country had never featured much in any school curriculum he'd ever experienced and he wondered why, when it evidently was rich in history, resources and culture. It was all rather lovely, and Bilbo thought that under different circumstances, it was the sort of place he'd be quite happy there.

When they got back it was nearly time for dinner and Bilbo tried to help make up the dining table and gather enough chairs for everyone to sit, before Dáin firmly refused to let his guest help and instead whipped Fíli and Kíli into being useful, much to their regret and Dís' delight. When everything was ready Hana served up a delicious meal to the guests crowded tightly around the table, and Bilbo was so cramped he could barely cut up his meat without elbowing Thorin in the side, but the older man bore it with patience and a grin, knowing after just a few days together of Bilbo's devotion to his food.

When everyone was pleasantly full and they had sat around chatting for a while, Dáin showed them all to their bedrooms, Thorin and Bilbo of course being put together. Bilbo let on nothing of the discomfort he still felt about it but smiled and thanked Dáin graciously for having them, although his stomach did sink slightly when he saw the room.

It was lovely, no doubt about that, but it was small. There was a fireplace with a roaring fire comfortably crackling away and a large bed, covered with farmhouse blankets and thick throws, but no sofa. After Dáin had gone and directed them to the nearest bathroom, should they need it, Thorin and Bilbo studied the room for a while.

'I'll just sleep on the floor-' Thorin said, at the same moment as Bilbo said with a half-grimace, 'There's only one thing for it-'

They both stopped and Bilbo hastily backtracked. 'I mean, you can sleep on the floor but I thought it wouldn't really be fair - so if you wanted,  but it doesn't mean anything-'

Thorin cut him off. 'Thank you, Bilbo. The bed would be better than the floor, and I don't expect anything to change because of it.'

Bilbo nodded, cheeks still a little flushed. He hoped to god he hadn't sounded too eager for Thorin to share the bed - it was the last thing he wanted, but it would be unfair and he knew Thorin wouldn't try anything. Nothing changed the fact that they weren't actually together, whether they shared a bed or not. (He thought with wry amusement back to their first night 'together', and how determined he'd been not to be anywhere near Thorin then. At least now he wasn't a complete stranger.)

The bathroom was right down the end of the hall so Bilbo took his pyjamas and toothbrush and quickly changed and washed, before hurrying back to his room. He nearly bumped into Thráin on the way, however, but thankfully the man didn't notice his clothes bundled up with his wash bag, and only smiled at him broadly before continuing on his way to the bathroom himself.

Bilbo quickly scurried the rest of the way to his room and found Thorin already sitting on the edge of the bed, in his pyjamas too (which Bilbo of course didn't notice clung to his broad shoulders very nicely. Very nicely indeed) and he sent a quick smile at Bilbo when he saw him. While Bilbo put his things away Thorin climbed into bed and Bilbo turned the light off, before finding his way by feel back to the bed. As he climbed under the covers he couldn't help but laugh, and Thorin made a questioning noise in his throat.

'I'm sorry,' Bilbo said as he tried to control the snickers, 'but this just reminds me of my last sleepover. When I was nine.' He muffled the laughter until he could breathe again and shifted under the covers. If being in the same room as someone as they slept was different, being in the same bed was downright strange for Bilbo. They lay there in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, Bilbo feeling the heat that Thorin constantly emanated and Thorin's hair occasionally tickling his ear.

He heard Thorin's breathing slow and thought he was asleep; he was just about to roll over onto his other side when suddenly Thorin spoke.

'I never asked you about your family.' His voice was rough from fatigue and Bilbo had to concentrate in order not to shiver.

'My family?' he asked. 'Why would you?'

'You know mine, but I know nothing of yours.' He heard Thorin turn his head to face him, and Bilbo kept his gaze fixed on the lamp on the ceiling. 'Would you tell me about them?'

'Well,' Bilbo began. 'I'm an only child, but the only one of all my cousins and second cousins and extended family,' Bilbo said, picking at the quilt cover. 'My mother is one of eleven, if you can believe it.' Thorin gave a low whistle and Bilbo chuckled. 'My sentiments exactly, especially considering how gruff Grandma Adamanta was!'

'Then, well, let me see. There's my cousin Drogo, who works with me at the library, and he's quite set his cap at my other cousin Primula... And one of my older cousins married Lobelia Bracegirdle - dreadful woman, the worst sort, but family dictates I can't ignore her, unfortunately...'

Bilbo recited parts of his family tree, probably quite scaring Thorin with the sheer number of relatives he had, and then he spoke fondly about his parents - how his mother had seemed glad he was doing something unusual and his father, who for all his comfortable, tomato-growing ways had been quite the explorer in his youth too...

Bilbo trailed off after a while, thinking about his father holed up in his greenhouse while his mother sang as she rustled up dinner, and he smiled.

'And what do your parents think about your reasons for being in Khazad?' Thorin asked, the light from outside throwing his grey hairs into relief.

Bilbo glanced at him, swallowing. 'Well, I didn't tell them. Somehow I don't think they'd approve of it.'

Thorin was silent for a moment. 'That was probably wise.' He turned back onto his back and they were silent for a few minutes, the air suddenly tense between them. 'Goodnight, Bilbo. Sleep well,' Thorin said then, turning onto his side facing away from Bilbo. Confused at the abruption, Bilbo followed suit, trying to work out why he felt so confused and hurt by Thorin's curtness - and more so, the reason for said curtness. Had he said something? Done something? He sighed in frustration; Thorin could be so nice but Bilbo couldn't for the life of him work the man out.

They fell asleep not long after that, facing opposite walls even as they shared body heat, each unbeknownst to the other that they were in the other's thoughts, in one way or another.

At breakfast the next morning, a cramped but cheerful affair, Dáin and Thráin announced that they'd be visiting the nearby iron mine. Them, Dís and Thorin (and therefore Bilbo) were to go while the others could stay and amuse themselves. Bilbo froze in his toast-munching as they announced this, his stomach dropping. This was s public event that he was expected to attend as Thorin's partner... An official presentation? His eyes found Thorin's, and the other man's stormy expression said that he hadn't known of this before that moment either. When he glanced at Bilbo apologetically, Bilbo was distracted for the tiniest moment by the way Thorin's eyes had gone dark as a stormy sea before they returned to their usual sky.

After breakfast he hurried up to his room to see what he had that was appropriate for such an occasion. Thorin came in after and found him fretting over his bag; he put a hand on Bilbo's shoulder, making him jump, before moving off to his own bag and pulling out what he would wear. Jeans and a plaid shirt... Bilbo relaxed a little. He had jeans and a shirt. He could do this.

They got dressed quickly and Bilbo spent extra time on his hair, trying to coax his curls into some semblance of order, until he gave up and followed Thorin downstairs. The others were waiting for them, Thráin in a suit while Dáin was dressed more casually, like them. Dís was in a smart dress and she'd managed to force Fíli and Kíli into dressing smartly as well, much to their evident displeasure. Bilbo was pleased to see Bofur there, however, and he winked at Bilbo as he approached. Balin and Dwalin looked gruff but Bilbo was glad of their presence too.

They all piled into cars and set off; it wasn't a long journey but it was made awkward enough by Thorin's surly questions to his father.

'How long had you planned this for? Why didn't you tell me? Who else knew?'

Thráin answered with a long-suffering sigh and for the first time Bilbo saw a side to Thráin that made him believe Thorin's reasons for this stupid fake-boyfriend idea in the first place.

They arrived not long after and Bilbo was utterly gobsmacked at quite how public and official this really was. There was dark blue bunting fluttering from the trees and a small stage set up; a crowd had gathered and there was a line of miners in uniform. There were - oh god, photographers - and Bilbo felt more than a little disgruntled that no one had told him about this! But he forced a smile onto his face as they all exited the cars and made their way to the stage. Bilbo was kept close by Thorin's side and he worked on keeping his face impassive as Thráin gave his speech in Khuzdûl and photographers clicked away.

Dáin said a couple of words after, and after that they left the stage to supposedly speak to the miners. As they climbed down the stage steps Thorin had let go of him, to Bilbo's relief, but he felt a hand on his arm. He glanced at it in surprise - it was long and bony, and not at all like Thorin's. The face of the man it belonged to was also long and skinny, and the man's eyes darted about constantly.

'Mr Baggins, I presume?' the man said, his voice quiet and deep.

'Yes,' Bilbo agreed, more than a little warily. 'Who are you?'

'I'm the official photographer and reporter for the prime minister of Khazad. I would speak with you,' he said, and his fingers tightened infinitesimally on Bilbo's sleeve. Bilbo looked at the others, Thorin drawing away, not having noticed that Bilbo had dropped behind. 'They know,' the man assured him. 'You will be quite safe.'

That was an odd thing to assure him, but... 'Why do you want to talk to me?' The tall, skinny man was dressed in a suit of dark burgundy and he smiled. Bilbo allowed himself to be pulled away from the crowds a little way as the other man spoke.

'The nation is very fond of our prime minister, but of course they are still curious. I hoped you might be able to give me an...outsider's view, as it were. After all, you're not one of them, are you?'

Bilbo thought how true that really was. The man had led him to a secluded spot behind some trees, away from the main event. Bilbo wondered how they hadn't noticed he'd gone yet. The man's words reminded him of his situation, that no, he really wasn't one of them; as such he couldn't speak to this man about the Durins.

'Why do you need me, though? You could ask servants.'

The man gave a small, slow smile which made Bilbo feel very uncomfortable indeed. 'They don't have quite the same...intimacy, as the prime minister's son's intended,' he said, stepping closer to Bilbo, who was now very uncomfortable indeed.

'I - I wouldn't say that-' Bilbo stuttered, stepping back a bit from the man. 'I still don't even know your name,  and I really don't think-'

'Names are unimportant, don't you think?' the man said, his eyes still fixed on Bilbo as he cocked his head to one side. 'All that matters is gain. And wealth.' His eyes contorted in a sudden fury, flashing with an angry fire and he grabbed at Bilbo's wrist, tight enough to bruise as he held it tightly.

'Let go of me,' Bilbo gasped at the pain of the man's bony fingers around his wrist.

'At least, that is all that matters to our dear Durins.They don't care,' the man snarled, his furious eyes levelled at Bilbo but Bilbo was sure he was looking through him. 'They didn't care all those years ago, when the building went up; they didn't care about the people - the orphans -' his voice was rising in pitch and Bilbo desperately struggled against the tight hold on his arm, certain now that the man was insane and he had to get away, but all his actions did were to snap the man's eyes back to his as his other hand grabbed Bilbo's jacket tightly. 'They don't care,' the man bit out, 'what their actions cost-'

'Smaug.' The cold, strong voice sounded and Smaug let go of Bilbo as if burned, and Bilbo found himself being enclosed in strong arms. Thorin. Bilbo fought to keep his breathing steady; it wouldn't do to break down in hysterics now; he focused on the warm smell of Thorin's skin and closed his eyes against Smaug. 'What are you doing here?' Thorin was saying, his voice still icy and controlled in the face of Smaug's burning, simmering anger.

'Only my job, master Durin,' he replied, and Bilbo just kept his face turned firmly into Thorin's side.

'And that involves terrorising my intended, does it?' Even in Bilbo's shocked, quivering state he still nearly protested again at the use of the word.

'Mister Baggins and I were merely-'

'You have no right to say his name,' Thorin said, his voice suddenly full with anger burning as strongly as Smaug's. 'Remember, Smaug; we brought you low once before. We can do it again if you don't stop your miserable, sorry fued with us.'

Smaug said nothing, but his face remained emotionless until he gave a smile, his tongue darting out, lizard-like and quick. 'Of course, Mister Durin. As you say.'

And with that he left, sending a last scorching glare at them both as he sloped off into the trees. As soon as he was gone Thorin's hands were on Bilbo's shoulders as he span him around to look at him closely, and Bilbo felt sudden fire shoot through him at the intense look in Thorin's eyes and the way his warm hands were branding the shape and feel of themselves onto Bilbo's skin.

'Bilbo, are you alright? Did he hurt you?' he asked urgently, and it made Bilbo's stomach knot uncomfortably.

'Only - only my wrist,' Bilbo managed to get out, flinching when Thorin touched the bruised skin even as gently as he was doing. Thorin looked at the circlet of bruises ringing Bilbo's wrist and he stared at them, his own hands shaking.

'Mahal, Bilbo, I'm so sorry,' he said, his voice hoarse. 'He'll pay, I swear he will for even touching you - he shouldn't even be here-'

'Thorin,' Bilbo said, ignoring the way his stomach fluttered as he said the name - why now, why would he choose now to realise - 'Thorin, who was he? Why was he saying all that - stuff?'

Thorin straightened and gently let go of Bilbo's wrist. He said nothing as he pulled off his jacket and put it around Bilbo's shoulders.

'You're shaking,' he murmured, and Bilbo thought it might be for another reason entirely than shock. He said nothing for a while, staring at his coat collar, now on Bilbo. 'Smaug is a victim of one of my grandfather's mistakes. His parents were killed in an explosion at a forge and my grandfather didn't do enough to help those affected; Smaug has never forgotten, nor forgiven. In revenge he sabotaged one of our cars and it set alight. My brother... My fgrandfather too nearly died that day, but Frerin got the worst of it.' Thorin spoke quietly and emotionlessly, even at the mention of his brother, and Bilbo clasped his hand tightly until Thorin looked at him and gave a small, barely there smile. 'He was caught and put in prison, but released on grounds of his mental health. Since then he continues to plague us...'

Suddenly Bilbo had a thought, though it made him sick to voice it. 'Fíli and Kíli's father?' he whispered.

'Forest fire. They say no connection, but we know it was him.'

Bilbo closed his eyes for a moment. 'I'm sorry. I'm - I'm so stupid, I shouldn't have left, I should have known -'

'Bilbo, stop. You couldn't have known; this isn't your fault.' Thorin held his shoulders tightly and he looked at him with eyes that were burning, branding and Bilbo's stomach was jumping at the nearness. He nodded, not looking at Thorin, and was surprised when Thorin pulled him in for a hug, long enough that Bilbo felt weak but entirely too short. He was both disappointed and relieved when Thorin let go of him.

'I'm just glad you're not hurt,' Thorin said, entirely sincerely and Bilbo tried to smile it off but found he couldn't.

'I'm fine, really. We should get back to the others now, though - they must be wondering where we are.'

Thorin made a noise of agreement but he made no move to return to the others, and his staring at Bilbo was making him feel uncomfortable but for completely different reasons than before. 'Do you want your coat back?' Bilbo asked, more for the sake of saying something than because he wanted to take it off, but Thorin shook his head.

'Keep it on. They'll love it,' he said with a small smile, gesturing in the direction of the crowds.

Bilbo returned the smile and they walked back to the others, where they were indeed fretting over Bilbo and Thorin's whereabouts.

Yes, Bilbo thought. They'll love it. Unfortunately... so do I. Of all the Tookish problems to curse, his heart was most treacherous of all.

They returned to the others and left not long after, all of them deeply troubled that Smaug should venture so near them, and in so public a place. Dís was especially shaken up, her face going white at the news - not that Bilbo was surprised. She had after all lost her husband and her brother at Smaug’s hands. Even the fact that Bilbo was in Thorin’s jacket escaped her notice, although Bilbo noticed the cameras trained in their  direction and he made sure to resume his impassive face.

He couldn’t stop shivering, his stomach a quivering mess of nerves that he couldn’t get to settle, and Thorin’s comforting arm around him did nothing to make him feel better, instead only exacerbating the problem. He soundly cursed himself in his head; he tried to quash the fluttering in his stomach at Thorin’s touch but it was all to no avail and the only thing he could do was retreat into himself. Thorin noticed that he became withdrawn on the journey back, but if he was hurt or upset by it he didn’t say anything.

When they got back, Bilbo was ushered inside and although he protested against being treated like an invalid - he was regretful afterwards for being quite so snappy at Thorin about it, but the man made him feel so flustered and it wasn't helping him think rationally - but he was grateful when he was led to a comfy, sagging chair like his father's at home and a cup of tea pressed into his cold hands. The hot tea soothed him and he was able to calm himself down as he sipped gently at it.

Why, why, of all the foolish Tooks there were in the world was he the one to fall in love - with the very man he couldn't have? He was half Baggins, Shire's sake - he'd thought that made him immune to these sorts of foolish, reckless things. Thorin - and Bilbo himself - had made it abundantly clear that they were in merely an agreement: a contract, signed by both parties and dissolved after the week was up. Nothing more, nothing less.

And now here was Bilbo Baggins, heart stuttering and stomach fluttering at merely a touch - a look - from the sulky, brooding dark-haired man he couldn't stand at the beginning of their journey. And of course it had taken him being saved by said man that had made him realise it. He was more a fool than all his Took relations put together.

Of course, he let nothing of this show on his face. He kept his mask on, sipping steadily at his tea, looking up only when asked a question. Dís had recovered well too - although her restorative had been rather stronger than tea and served in a shot glass - and now they were asking him about Smaug. Bilbo didn't want to remember the man, his long, bony and skeletal body; the lizard-like look about his face and the way he'd run his tongue over dry chapped lips. Most of all he hated remembering the anger, the burning anger he'd felt directed at him, then at Thorin.

Óin had given him a salve for the bruises on his wrist and Thorin sat by him, kneeling on the floor next to him. He was studying Bilbo intently, sending  sparks through Bilbo's body that he did his best to ignore.

'Bilbo, are you alright?' he asked softly.

'Yes, yes! I'm fine, really, Thorin, please don't worry,' Bilbo said, just on this side of rude.

'But I do,' Thorin replied immediately. 'It's my fault you were put in danger-'

'Oh, really now!' Bilbo huffed quietly. 'I agreed to this. I signed my name, Thorin, so I'll thank you not to take all the blame for getting me into this situation.' He offered a small smile and Thorin returned it without reservation, the sight making Bilbo's heart ache momentarily, until he looked back at his tea cup and drained it.

'Let me get you more,' Thorin said, standing and taking Bilbo's cup and headed for the kitchen. Dís followed him out and Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone soon began to realise that he really didn't need - or want - coddling so they left him alone for a bit. It was now after three and Bilbo hadn't eaten in a while, so he stood and made to join Thorin in the kitchen. He stopped outside when he heard angry voices, trying to stay quiet.

'...You can't just go sticking your nose into other people's business, Dís!' That was Thorin, and his sister's name was punctuated by the sound of a cup being slammed against a counter.

'I can and I will, Thorin, all the time it's my brother's business,' she retorted.

'You're as bad as Father! Why can't you see that?'

'You take that back,' Dís said warningly. 'I'm only trying to help-'

'That is exactly what he said,' Thorin growled in return. Bilbo really didn't mean to keep listening, he was going to turn and go back to the living room and let them argue in peace; but that was before he heard his name.

'Why is Bilbo pushing you away?' Dís asked quietly, and Bilbo could almost feel the smothering silence that fell at her words.

After a while Thorin replied, 'He's not.'

Dís snorted. 'Thorin, please don't insult me. I have eyes, and I know that he barely touches you if he can help it; you don't kiss or look at each other lovingly. You don't -'

'Again, Dís, it's none of your business,' Thorin cut her off, and the slam of a fist on a counter made Bilbo jump.

'This all started before we came here. Please, Thorin, let me help! Why do you insist on suffering in silence-'

A sudden presence at Bilbo's side made him jump and his cheeks flush with embarrassment at being caught, his tongue already trying to form an excuse as to why he was lurking about outside, listening in to their conversation.

But Dáin's small smile in the dim hallway and his next words reassured him he didn't think badly of him. 'Don't mind them, Bilbo. They've always fought like cats and dogs.'

Bilbo nodded and looked back at the door. 'They're arguing about me,' he said in a small, tired voice. 'All I seem to be doing nowadays is causing distress and upset.'

'Bilbo, don't say that. Don't you say that at all. If you'd known my cousin before, you'd know he's a changed man because of you. You've done so much good, Bilbo; please don't doubt it.' Dáin sounded so sincere, so certain that it made Bilbo tear up again because it was all a lie, he wanted to shout, none of it's true!

But of course he didn't; he merely nodded and was about to ask about food when Bard's phone went off and he answered it, the voices in the kitchen going suddenly quiet as they became aware of their unintended audience.

Dáin was speaking Khuzdûl, his voice worried as he spoke. After a minute he disconnected.

'Looks like there will be no dinner tonight,' he said apologetically to Bilbo. 'That was the chief of police. There's a burning in the forest, an old house set alight. It's unclear if there are people inside.' He looked at Bilbo grimly, and Bilbo gasped.

'Smaug?' he whispered.

'They believe so,' Dáin confirmed, and he entered the kitchen were a still-fuming pair of Durins sat or stood at the table or by the kettle. They were neither looking at the other but both focused on Bilbo when he appeared behind Dáin, who began rushing around the kitchen to put together a quick sandwich.

'Dís, can you please go and let Uncle Thráin know that his presence is required?' Dáin asked, his voice tight, and Dís obliged. She looked at Bilbo closely before she left however, and he couldn't bring himself to meet her eye, staring at Thorin instead. When she'd gone Bilbo shuffled further into the kitchen, and Thorin let out a small exclamation.

'Ah, I'm sorry it took me so long to make the tea,' he said, busying himself with fishing a teabag out of a now very black cup of tea. 'I think it's stewed now; let me make you another cup-'

'It's fine,' Bilbo said. 'I actually came to look for some food,' he continued, a little sheepishly. Thorin just smiled and went to the cupboard, where he pulled out a packet of biscuits and even arranged some neatly on a plate for Bilbo. A good amount, too, Bilbo was pleased to note. At that moment Thráin came rushing in, making Bilbo jump and spill a bit of milk as he added it to his tea, before he hurriedly wiped it up with the cloth Thorin handed him.

'Dáin? What's happened?'

'There's a fire over in the Mirkwood. The old Hall's been set alight and the firefighters aren't certain if there are people there are not. They think it might be Smaug.'

A soft curse fell from Thráin's lips. 'So soon after his attempts today? I thought the man had more sense.'

'Well, we'll soon see. I'll meet you out by the car.' Dáin nodded a goodbye at the occupants of the kitchen and went off, presumably to see his wife and son before leaving. When Thráin left and joined Dáin in the car, Bilbo could only hope that no one was hurt and whoever was responsible, Smaug or not, felt the consequences.

He and Thorin stood in the kitchen for a moment, both silent and Bilbo drew his finger through the trail of water the damp cloth had left behind. They both jumped when Hana entered the kitchen, her face tight with worry, and said she was going to start cooking. Bilbo offered to help while Thorin went off to find Little-Thorin and keep him amused; Hana accepted Bilbo's help gratefully and not long after Bilbo had taken over, Hana's mind unfocused on what she was doing and nearly cutting herself twice with the knife.

Bilbo kept her chatting, keeping her mind off where her husband was and she warmed to him quickly enough until he managed to make her laugh. He chopped the vegetables and set them boiling while she seasoned the fish and began grilling it. It was ready soon after and dinner was a more solemn affair than before, not least because of Dáin and Thráin's absence but because Dís and Thorin were clearly still angry at each other.

When dinner was over they all withdrew to the living room and Little-Thorin turned on the television, watching a Khuzdûl cartoon which made him laugh and Fíli and Kíli joined him in staring at the screen; if the mood hadn't been so tense Bilbo would have laughed at these two young men indulging in children's cartoons.

Thankfully it was only about twenty minutes or so of relative awkwardness (at least for Bilbo, as he sat next to Thorin on the sofa and tried not to fidget) until Hana's phone rang and they heard Dáin's tired voice on the end of the phone.

'It's fine. It's all done. There was no one trapped and - Hana, we got Smaug!' There was a collective intake of breath at that. 'He'd burnt his leg as he set the house on fire and had only made it a few hundred yards before collapsing. One of the police officers found him and he's being taken away now.'

There were a few cheers from the younger members of the gathered company and the relief on Dís' and Thorin's faces was clear to see. Dáin and Thráin were home not fifteen minutes later and the mood was so relieved that a bottle of scotch was being brought out and generous shots poured; Bilbo paused before he drank, thinking of the insane man with something akin to pity before he downed the shot - and promptly choked, spluttering at the strength of it. That caused a few chuckles from the company and only served to make them provide him with more, and it wasn't long before Bilbo's head was buzzing lightly and he knew to refuse any more offers of drinks. He could almost forget his stupid feelings for Thorin - had it really only been a few hours since Thorin had found him and he'd realised? It felt as if it had been years, at least..

He could have forgotten, however, except for the fact that Thorin's family were Durins. Not only did they use the fact that their special dinner to celebrate Thorin and Bilbo had had to be cancelled as a reason to celebrate with drinks now, but all it took was one sly comment from Dáin that they hadn't actually seen the happy couple kiss, and everyone was clamouring for them to do so. Bilbo's stomach was in knots but he couldn't legitimately refuse without raising suspicions, so he allowed himself to kiss Thorin. If he enjoyed it just a little too much, no one had to know. The taste of the alcohol was strong on Thorin's tongue and it only served to go to Bilbo's head; he knew Thorin had perhaps drunk a little too much as well when he smiled at Bilbo after they broke apart.

Bilbo's stomach knotted even tighter at that and he had one more drink, hoping to chase off the blush that graced his cheeks but only serving to deepen it. Ah well, he figured - if people thought it was due to the alcohol then so much the better.

He sat heavily down on a chair then, his legs deciding they wanted to sit. His head was really buzzing now; he was a lightweight, he knew, but he didn't want to wake with a terrible hangover the next morning. Tapping Thorin's arm, he gestured upstairs.

'I'm going up to bed,' he said. 'Long day and all that.'

Thorin nodded. 'Me too.' He turned to the others and announced that they were going up to bed; with mercifully only a few cat calls they left and made it without any accidents up the stairs, although Bilbo did have to catch onto Thorin's shoulder to stop himself falling when he reached the top step. In his slightly drunken state he kept his hand there for just a second too long; he must have sighed or done something because the next thing he knew Thorin was kissing him again.

Bilbo was against the wall before he knew it, his mouth being plundered by Thorin's and his own hands fisting in Thorin's impossibly soft hair. Just as suddenly Thorin was off him and leading him to their bedroom; as soon as the door shut behind them their lips met again in kisses that were demanding and hot and searing, and Bilbo was left breathless as he gripped Thorin's broad shoulders, their bodies pressing together. Thorin was muttering something, over and over in Bilbo's ear, making him shiver at the intensity of it. 'Ghivashel,' he whispered, breath ghosting over the tip of Bilbo's ear.

'Thorin...' the broken gasp from Bilbo's own mouth made him suddenly freeze, one hand still in Thorin's hair. At Bilbo's sudden stillness Thorin stopped too, and the air between them was tense and electric until Bilbo gave a soft gasp, his head suddenly clear.

'Oh god,' he moaned softly, slipping out from Thorin's now rigid arms. 'I'm sorry,' he said, and pulled the door open and ran to the bathroom, not looking at Thorin at all as he covered his eyes. Once in the cool bathroom he sank to his knees and pressed his forehead to the cold metal of the bathtub, his breathing ragged and adrenaline still coursing through his veins.

How had he let that happen? How could he have done that? Thorin was drunk and Bilbo should not have let his own desires dictate his actions. Shire's sake, he'd only known he'd loved the man for all of a few hours and now here he was, his lips red from the kisses and cheeks scratched lightly from his beard. Bilbo didn't know how the insufferable prick he'd met first had managed to worm his way into his heart, but Bilbo had no doubt that he had and now he'd let himself take advantage of Thorin's inebriated state. Bilbo curled his hands into fists and gently hit his calves, banging his head softly against the bath. He sighed.

He'd have to go back sooner or later - he couldn't sleep in the bathroom. So he got up and blew his nose, washing his face to get rid of the tear tracks he hadn't even noticed had escaped and made his way back to their room. He flinched when the door opened, expecting a lecture on how depraved and wrong he had been; but now he found something else entirely. Thorin had taken some of the blankets from the bed and made a little nest in front of the fire, wrapped up in the throws on the hard floor. Bilbo felt awful seeing him like that while he got the bed, but he was grateful that Thorin had removed himself. Bilbo wasn't sure what he'd do if Thorin had been in the bed.

Bilbo didn't know if he was awake or asleep but decided not to risk it, and instead crept over to the bed and got under the covers, covering his eyes with the quilts so that he wouldn't - couldn't - look in Thorin's direction. He hoped Thorin was asleep; the alternative was that he was ignoring him; while Bilbo was used to it, he hoped Thorin wasn't angry at him.

Bilbo wondered where, on this fool's errand of a journey, his sanity had gone; and why it had deserted him quite so completely.

When Bilbo woke the next morning the blankets Thorin had used were back on the bed, tucked around Bilbo carefully. A small piece of paper lay on the pillow next to him and he picked it up with hands that shook ever so slightly before he mastered his breathing


I'm so sorry. I know it's cowardly of me to go out without saying goodbye, at least, but after last night I thought it best to let things rest for a bit.

I'm out with Dáin and my father to see what's to be done about Smaug; we will be back in time for dinner. Hana is determined to have her special dinner, and it would be a shame for you not to wear the new suit.

I've left my phone for you to use and call your parents. Take as long as you need and don't worry about the cost - Khazad's phone companies are very fair.

I will see you this evening, Bilbo. I hope you can forgive me for last night.


Bilbo exhaled as he read the note, secretly taking in the angular way in which Thorin wrote. He looked over and saw on the bedside table Thorin's phone, as he'd said; suddenly Bilbo was filled with a desperation to hear his mother's voice again. The phone said it was - ten o'clock! - which meant it was earlier at home. No doubt Belladonna would be up already, however, so Bilbo quickly got dressed in clean clothes and dialled the familiar number of his home.


Bilbo felt utter relief flow through him as he heard Bella's voice, muffled as it was after travelling so many miles.

'Mum,' he said softly, his face breaking out into a smile.

'Bilbo? Goodness, what are you doing up early on a Saturday? Something must be wrong,' she chuckled, but stopped when Bilbo didn't laugh; he couldn't - her words were too true. 'Bilbo, seeing as you're here, I have a question to ask.'

'Yes?' he asked - normally he was always the one consulting her, not the other way round. She'd even cottoned on to how to use a smart phone faster than he had, which he still hadn't lived down.

'Well, it's something I read in one of my magazines - you know the ones.'

'The silly reality ones full of diet tips you like to ignore and all that other nonsense, yes, I know the ones,' Bilbo agreed in amusement, wondering why on earth she was asking him about those.

Well, my copy was delivered today.'

'Isn't it always on a Saturday?' Bilbo asked, confused.

'Yes, but that's not important. What's important is that one of the articles is about this prime minister's son, in a country - Khazad, I think it is?'

Bilbo's stomach dropped and he felt winded.

'And the son's new boyfriend.'

Oh shit, was the only coherent thought Bilbo could muster.

'Apparently, he's English.' Her voice sharpened. 'And his last name is Baggins, and he looks surprisingly like you, Bilbo.'

Bilbo took a few deep breaths, trying to think beyond the litany of curses currently overtaking his brain.

'I, er, I take it the whole town's seen it by now,' he said shakily.

'Of course. It was Lobelia who came running round at ridiculous o'clock to show it to me. I just don't understand why you wouldn't tell us, Bilbo, we wouldn't have minded-'

'No, mum. I didn't tell you because - it's not what you think.'

'Well , it looks like it to me. You know there's even a picture of you kissing  this man, Bilbo - and I take it it is you?'

'Yes, it's me, but I'm not - we're not - Oh mum,' he said, tears leaking out. 'I've been so utterly, utterly stupid.'

'Bilbo darling, what's wrong? They're not keeping you there, are they? We can come and get you if you need us to-'

'No, no; its nothing like that,' he said, wiping his nose. 'I agreed to come here. I agreed - the favour I was doing Gandalf was actually to help Thorin, the prime minister's son, by pretending to be his boyfriend. Don't ask me to explain his logic, because it's really rather stupid, all things considered; but I agreed to be his fake boyfriend for a week.'

'Well this doesn't look very fake,' Bella sounded unconvinced.

'It is,' Bilbo assured her. 'Well, it was.' He blew his nose again. 'This is where my stupidity comes in.'

There was a pause from the other end of the phone and then a sudden 'Oh' from Bella. It was only quiet but Bilbo knew she could tell everything. He sniffled again as he felt his tear ducts fill again.

'Of all the people, mum, why did I have to fall for him? I'm just a - a means to an end for him - a way to put off getting married until he finds his One or whatever he calls it, and he's not even nice -' (Bilbo ignored the sudden montage of memories flashing across his mind - of Thorin making him tea, the way he'd looked after Bilbo's run-in with Smaug, his sleeping on the floor so that Bilbo had the bed and every other way he'd tried to make Bilbo more comfortable with what they were doing) '-so why did I have to be so stupid? '

'Bilbo, you're not stupid. You're my son,' Bella said softly. 'Just as much a Took as a Baggins, love, whether you like it or not.'

'Mum, it's worse than that. I... Yesterday we had a drink and he - I kissed him, mum, or at least didn't stop him and he's so mortified by it that he went out this morning without even saying goodbye. He left me a note. I've just spoilt everything,' he said, and he couldn't stop the tears that came leaking out then.

'Oh Bilbo, my love. Please, don't cry. If I was there I'd do what I could but it's up to you, darling. You can do what I'd do and talk to him about it later - you say you didn't stop him, which means he must have kissed you first-'

'He said someone else's name,' Bilbo said, biting his sleeve. 'He kept saying it. He thought I was them.' The name echoed tauntingly in his mind. Ghivashel, Ghivashel...

'So you still need to talk. Or you could choose the Baggins way of avoiding confrontation and never sorting things out, and pretend it'll all go away. But it won't, Bilbo, I promise you; you'll always regret what you didn't do more than what you did.'

Bilbo gave a sniff. 'You just told me that so that I'd join the Conkers team when I was six and beat Otho,' a smile playing on his face as he remembered.

'Of course.  And even though you broke your finger, it was worth it just to see  his parents' faces when they realised,' Bella said gleefully, and Bilbo chuckled.

His eyes found the small scrap of paper with Thorin's note on it and he sighed. 'I love you, mum. But I can't do it, I'm not -' he shook his head, even though he knew she couldn't see it. 'I'm not brave like you.'

Bella gave a sigh but she didn't argue. 'Just know that I love you, Bilbo.'

'I love you too, mum. And dad - please say hello to him for me.'

'Of course. Good bye, love,' she said softly.

'Bye, mum, ' he said, and hung up. He sighed and then stood and went downstairs for breakfast. He'd need to be full today.

Dís and Hana were sitting chatting in the kitchen over coffee when he made it downstairs, after washing his face and making sure there were no traces of tears still tracking his cheeks. They smiled at him when he entered and Hana immediately stood and started bustling around making him breakfast. He thanked her and proceeded to eat, feeling Dís' gaze on him

'Bilbo, are you alright?' she asked quietly, making him jump. He looked at her quickly before returning his gaze to his breakfast.

'I'm fine, really,' he said.

'Really.' There was no question in it. 'Only you've been chewing that same mouthful of toast for the past few minutes now.' Bilbo swallowed it. 'Did something happen last night?' Dís asked, eyes narrowing.

'No. I'm just a bit tired, that's all,' he said, and the smile he gave must have been convincing enough because she sighed and left off, turning to the newspaper beside her. Hana had gone to find Little-Thorin and the silence was heavy  and Bilbo was grateful when he finished and Dís offered to take his plate for him.

He went out to find Bofur after that, the cheerful man the only one he felt might help him. Balin and Dwalin knew of his situation but they were loyal to Thorin and would try and diaauade him; he couldn't trust Fíli and Kíli not to say anything. So Bofur was the one he sought out, finding him out in the garden whittling away at a piece of wood.

'Bilbo! Mornin',' he grinned, but it slipped a little when Bilbo couldn't return it. 'Bilbo? What's wrong?'

'Bofur, I know we hardly know each other, but you're the only one I can tell. I need your help,' he said quietly, urgently, and Bofur frowned.

'Help?' he echoed.

'I need to leave,' Bilbo said, sinking to the ground opposite him and fiddling with the blades of new grass. 'I can't stay.'

'Leave? Why?' Bofur sounded confused. 'Whatever you've done, or has happened, Thorin can sort it-'

'No, no - Thorin is the problem. I...' Bilbo trailed off and then took a deep breath, looking ay Bofur guardedly. 'I'm not his boyfriend. We barely know each other - we met the day before we arrived here,' he said, looking back down at the ground for fear of the reproach he'd see on Bofur's face. 'We made an agreement that I'd pretend to be his boyfriend to get his father off his back, and then I'd go back to my life and him to his and we'd never see each other again. But I can't -'

Bilbo took a breath. 'Even though I have no right to be, I'm fond of all of you and I can't lie any  more.'

'There's more to it than that, isn't there?' Bofur said softly, and the look he wore was knowing. For all his cheerful tomfoolery, he was more observant than he let on.

Bilbo ducked his head. 'I... I feel for him too much. I can't let myself, because we can't - we're not-' he sighed with a huff of frustration. 'By staying, it just makes everything harder. Please, Bofur, will you help me?'

Bofur studied him closely  for a moment. 'Are ye sure, lad? Won't you try talking to Thorin?'

Bilbo gave a small, tight smile. 'I don't know if I can. I... I just want to go home.'

'Then I'll help ye,' Bofur said, returning the smile widely. 'I can drive ye to Ered Luin; ye can get a ferry from there.'

Bilbo sighed in absolute relief. 'Thank you, Bofur. Thank you so much.'

'S'alright, lad. Go get packed, and we'll leave after lunch.'

'Could - could you keep it a secret? Please?' Bilbo asked quietly, and Bofur just inclined his head.

Bilbo hurried back inside and went upstairs slowly, hurrying at the last, not wanting to remember the events of last night in this very hall. He repacked what clothes he'd brought with him, sighing over the fact that the rest were in Erebor. He hoped that Thorin would send the rest of his stuff over, providing he wasn't too angry with him. He was breaching all sorts of terms of the contract, but he couldn't bear to stay any longer while the rest of the Durins told him every so often that he was the best thing to happen since sliced bread. Better he leave before they grew too attached.

When he went back downstairs he felt lighter, although the worry was by no means gone. He let Fíli and Kíli pull him into their game of chess against Little-Thorin, Bilbo and Stonehelm against the brothers, and the little lad was delighted when Bilbo managed to beat them soundly, high-fiving Bilbo with glee. The rest of the morning passed with Fíli and Kíli doing their best to beat Bilbo at all of the children's games that Thorin owned, and they both grew increasingly frazzled but amazed at how good Bilbo was.

'Honestly, Bilbo,' they said incredulously as he (together with Stonehelm) beat them again at Ludo. 'How are you so good?'

'It comes with having to deal with large numbers of cousins,' he chuckled, and then got up to go and help Hana and Dís in the kitchen when he heard the sound of cutlery being gathered. Soon lunch was ready and they gathered in the kitchen to eat, a cheerful affair which Bilbo tried to enjoy but mostly was confused by all the conflicting feelings in his gut. Relief at going home was metered out with guilt at leaving them, which in turn was met by fear of seeing Thorin again. His cheeks heated as he remembered the kisses last night, all-consuming in the sudden heat of them; all too brief in his forbidden enjoyment of them. He quickly stopped those thoughts and forced himself to not keep glancing at Bofur, whose gaze was heavy on him, and to throw himself into his food and the conversation with all the gusto he used to.

His efforts seemed to pay off, to his relief, and no one noticed anything odd. He let himself chat with Bombur about Khuzdûl speciality foods, let Ori discuss his favourite books with him; he felt awful for running like this, and this was the least he could do before he broke their trust – even more than he already had, by going along with this lie.

After lunch Bofur mentioned going out to pick up some of his woodworking tools from the woodcarver in town, and Bilbo asked casually if he could accompany him – to see more of the town. Bofur readily agreed and Bilbo quickly ran upstairs, to get his coat. When in his bedroom he looked around the small room as he picked up his bag and put on his coat, and his eyes fell on the scrap of paper with Thorin’s note.

He picked it up, looking again at the scruffy, angular letters lining the page and pocketed it. He found a piece of paper and a pen and quickly composed his own note, heart in his mouth. He wouldn’t see Thorin again, if he was lucky; if he wasn’t, he would come and hunt him down for breach of contract. He’d worry about that later; for now he focused on the note.


You mustn’t ask forgiveness for what happened last night. It was not your fault, and instead it is I who must now beg your forgiveness, although it is entirely within your right not to grant me it.

I am leaving. I cannot divulge why – it is better you do not know – but please remember that I do not do it out of spite. Please don’t blame Bofur for helping me leave, I rather forced his hand in the whole matter. Your whole family is wonderful, Thorin, as are you; it has been a privilege to know you all.

Please forgive me,



Bilbo quickly read it through once more time and then left it there on the end of the bed before scurrying back downstairs to join Bofur outside, keeping his bag hidden.

‘See you later, Bilbo,’ Hana called from the living room, and Bilbo swallowed around the lump in his throat.

‘Of course,’ he called back, his tongue forming the lie far too easily. ‘We won’t be long.’

Bofur was waiting for him by the car and he hurried over to join him, throwing himself into the passenger seat and shutting the door gratefully behind him. When Bofur was ready they set off; the car clock said it was half past two.

‘It’s not that far to Ered Luin,’ Bofur said as they pulled out of the drive. ‘We can be there by six at the latest.’

‘Good,’ Bilbo nodded. There was silence for a while as Bofur manoeuvred the car into the main streams of traffic headed out of the town. Bilbo stared ahead of him as they went, watching the town slowly give way to countryside, and his hand found the piece of paper in his pocket and he touched it lightly.

‘Don’t be so down,’ Bofur said lightly from beside him, making him jump. ‘Thorin’ll understand, even though he doesn’t know why ye left.’ Bofur looked at him pointedly.

‘You must think I’m a terrible person,’ Bilbo said quietly, folding his hands in his lap and twisting them in agitation.

‘No I don’t,’ Bofur said, and smiled kindly. ‘It was brave of ye to even come ehre in the first place, and how ye put up with Thorin in the first place beats me-‘

Bilbo laughed. ‘I nearly didn’t. I nearly turned around and came home after I met him the first time – or at least, I would have done, if Gandalf hadn’t set it all up so I didn’t meet him until we were already on the ferry!’

It was Bofur’s turn to chuckle at that.

‘So it was Gandalf that got ye into this? Why am I not surprised! How’s the old fella doing anyway? We haven’t seen him in a while.’

‘Well, actually, for somone who’se surely a hundred years old by now! Hes been around since I was small, and that was thirty odd years ago now,’ Bilbo said, thinking of how spritely and energetic Gandalf always seemed to be. ‘He’s in Holland with his old friend Radagast.’

Bofur made an acknowledging noise in the back of his throat. ‘He’s always up to something or other!'

Bilbo hummed and they fell silent again, travelling through the mountainous countryside fast. It was half past three now, and Bilbo was sure the others would be wondering where they were by now. Sure enough, not five minutes later Bofur's phone went off; taking a hand off the wheel he handed it to Bilbo to indicate he should read it for him.

It was from Bombur. Bofur, where are you? It doesn't take you an hour to get to the woodwork shop.

Bilbo looked at Bofur. 'Tell him not to worry, we're fine.'

'That's all?'

'Unless you want to tell him where really are,' Bofur said pointedly. Bilbo did as instructed. A couple of minutes later it sounded again, and it read: That's not an answer. If you're not home soon Dís will get stressy, and none of us wants that. And you'd better not be doing anything that'll make Thorin angry, Bofur.

Bofur chuckled. 'I like you, Bilbo, and everyone seems to think I might try my luck with you. Please rest assured that that's the last thing I want to do - unless of course, seeing as you're not actually Thorin's boyfriend-' he flashed a flushing Bilbo a cheeky grin and chuckled as he avoided Bilbo's elbow aimed at his ribs.

Bofur didn't respond to that message and for a while they sat in calm in the car, Bofur turning the radio on and singing along rather tunelessly to an old Khuzdûl song - which he translated afterwards as an old drinking song. But just after four, Bofur received an explosive text from Dís, demanding to know where he'd gone, why was he so late, had anything happened. Again, Bofur told Bilbo to simply say they were both fine, and nothing else. The rest of the journey passed quickly as the sky grew steadily dimmer, although it was still light when Bofur announced they'd be in Ered Luin in half an hour. Nerves suddenly tightening his throat, Bilbo could only nod. His heart was in his mouth a moment later when Bofur's phone went off again, and this time it was from Thorin.

Bofur, where are you and Bilbo? What have you done with him? Why have you two gone off? I swear I will not be held responsible for my actions if you don't tell me.

Bofur ignored it until they were entering the inward bound traffic of Ered Luin, the sea a dark indigo line on the horizon. Then he spoke to Bilbo.

'Did you leave him a note to explain anything? It'd make it easier on me if you did.'

'Y - yes, I did,' Bilbo said. 'It's on the bed in our - in the room we were given.'

'Good,' Bofur nodded as he manoeuvred the car round a roundabout. 'Text him to tell him where to find it.'

Look on your bed, was all Bilbo typed, and let out a shaky breath. A sudden message pinged again from Dís - Bofur, if you've done what it looks like with Bilbo -

Bilbo didn't get to finish it, because at that moment another message came through. From Thorin.

I'm coming after him. Where did he go?

Bilbo looked at Bofur in panic. 'Don't worry,' he soothed. 'I won't tell him. And your ferry leaves in an hour; you'll be long gone before he even knows where you are.'

'How do I know there'll be a place for me?' Bilbo asked.

'There's always space for foot passengers,' Bofur said. 'And in any case, I know the captain.'

Satisfied with that, Bilbo returned back to staring out at the steadily approaching sea, jumping when the phone suddenly rang. Thorin. They both ignored it, and soon they were pulling up by the harbour with half an hour until departure. Bofur helped Bilbo buy his ticket and the two sat by the car for a while until passengers were called to board.

'Thank you so much, Bofur, for helping me,' Bilbo said quietly. 'I won't forget it.'

'No problem. I'll be sad to see you go, though. We all will, really, and you can tell Thorin is,' Bofur said, indicating his phone which had hardly stopped ringing with calls from Thorin ever since.

Bilbo looked at his feet. 'He won't mind all that much. He'll forget me soon enough and that'll be for the best,' Bilbo said, the strong sea breeze ruffling his curls and he looked at Bilbo, who was peering at him sharply.

'Will he, Bilbo?' he asked simply, and the implication - so desperately wanted by Bilbo but so far from the truth it was laughable - made him blush.

'He will. I'm just a librarian from a little town with nothing to offer except a knowledge of classics and a penchant for baking.'

'You're also the one he chose, in this scheme of his,' Bofur pointed out, and Bilbo had to force himself not to snap.

'Because I was the only one stupid enough to agree,' he bit out. 'You should have seen Balin's face when I agreed; they'd probably asked loads of people already and finally they found a sad, middle-aged man bored enough to go running off on the strength of a couple of photos.'

Bofur hummed noncommittally. 'If you say so. It could have been for a different reason entirely.'

'What's that supposed to mean?' Bilbo asked, but before Bofur could reply the loudspeakers sounded requesting all foot passengers line up to board.

Bilbo looked at Bofur. 'I guess this is it.'

'I guess so,' Bofur agreed. 'It was an absolute pleasure to meet you, Bilbo, and I know the others would agree that you were one of us, even if only for a little while. You're always welcome here, you know,' he finished, and Bilbo nodded, touched by his words.

'Thank you, Bofur. But I don't think the others will still think so if they find out about this.'

'We'll see,' Bofur said, before smiling warmly and clapping Bilbo on the back. 'I wish you all the luck in the world. I really do.'

Bilbo smiled tightly in return and then headed to the boarding area, walking up the ramp and onto the ferry, where he made for the handrail in the steadily darkening dusk and located Bofur, his funny hat like a beacon. He waved, and Bofur waved back; as the ferry began to leave the harbour Bilbo saw Bofur with a phone to his ear before he waved one last time and got into the car. Bilbo sighed and slumped against the handrail when he could no longer see Bofur's small form on land, and stared into the inky blackness of the choppy sea. He hoped he had enough of a head start on Thorin - no doubt he would be told. Bilbo just hoped he could evade him, and any difficult encounters that would be sure to follow.

The ferry crossing was short, although longer than that to Erebor, and they made dock in Lake-town again. Bilbo made use of the information desk nearby, desperately thankful that the assistants spoke English, and they gave him a list with a number of hotels listed. The lady pointed out the nearst hotel to the harbour. It was ten o'clock and Bilbo was tired, but he wanted to save his money (which he'd need to transfer to euros) for the hotel and ferry back to England, so he decided to walk to the nearest one

Thanking the receptionist he left the building, stepping out into the cold air with his bag on his shoulder, the address on a piece of paper clutched tightly in his hand. It was quiet, only a couple of stray dogs running around, but thankfully the hotel was extremely close - it wouldn't have been worth getting a taxi.

He stepped inside the hotel gratefully, warmth and light welcome after the chilly air. A man with slightly hunched shoulders and a grim face stood behind the desk, and while he didn't smile at Bilbo he didn't make him feel unwelcome. Bilbo would have preferred Bard, but he was too tired to try and make it to Dale tonight.

'Good evening, sir; I'm Alfrid. Would you be wanting a room for the night?' he asked in a slightly nasal voice which set Bilbo's teeth on edge.

'Yes, please,' Bilbo confirmed, and Alfrid gestured that he should sign the log book while he got a room key.

'You got a long journey?' Alfrid asked as he led Bilbo upstairs.

'Well, I've just come from Khazad and I've got to get to England, so yes, unfortunately,' Bilbo said, as Alfrid showed him to room number 14.

'Khazad. Can't say I'm fond of the place,' Alfrid said as he opened the door for him. 'Food will be brought up shortly, sir.'

'Thank you,' Bilbo nodded. When the man had gone, Bilbo settled onto the edge of the bed. Ut wasn't as nice as the hotel in Dale, but this would have to do. He wasn't sure how much he'd be sleeping though; he couldn't compare it to the others on the list but this place did feel almost dilapidated, but definitely neglected in part, and Alfrid made him feel uneasy.

He didn't complain, however, when he was brought up  nice plate of fried fish and potatoes, and he ate with gusto, alone in his little room, desperately trying not to think about the last time he'd been eating a hotel meal. He hadn't let himself think about Thorin, resolutely pushing away every thought of him, but now he was alone he let them come as he curled up under the covers.

His heart ached a little - at his betrayal, at his lying, at his traitorous heart and the man it had decided it wanted, even though he knew that Thorin didn't want him. His lip curled around the name as he repeated it - Ghivashel. He wondered what they looked like.

As he drifted into sleep he let himself remember all the little things he hadn't let himself notice before - how dazzling Thorin's smile was when he finally graced it, how his broad shoulders would hunch when they'd argued, as if nervous, and the way his blue eyes had always flashed with emotion. Yes, there was plenty of material for Bilbo to remember, the memories bittersweet as he knew he'd have to give them up sooner or later - he was a Baggins and a Took, and neither of these families moped - but if he lingered on the memories of their kisses, pretend as they had been, then there was no one there to know that.

Bilbo was started awake in the early hours of the morning. He hadn't realised he'd fallen asleep, but he evidently had and now that he'd established that fact, he was very cross that anyone would wake him. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table - it was three in the morning. He groaned and let his head flop down on the pillow again; at least it was early enough he could go back to sleep.

He was starting to drift again when he was woken again, and this time there ws definitely something there. He listened, and heard - his name. .

'Bilbo? Bilbo!' a voice was calling from downstairs, and Bilbo's blood ran cold at the sound. He recognised the voice: Thorin. He briefly considered hiding, but when Thorin started pounding on his door he knew it was futile. Thorin knew he was here anyway; although he could just ignore him.

'Please sir, I must insist! There are other guests here and your actions could be seen as harassment-' that was Aldrid.

'I need to speak to Mr Baggins,' Thorin said in a low voice, and Bilbo would almost have called it a growl. Alfrid grew silent and Bilbo heard the sound of feet running swiftly back downstairs. 'Bilbo, please don't ignore me,' Thorin said through the door, his voice muffled. 'I know you're there. I have to talk to you.'

Bilbo hesitated, but in the end he inched closer to the door and picked up the lamp before opening it.

The sight that met his eyes was Thorin, standing framed in the doorway, his unreadable gaze fixed on Bilbo, who stood wielding the lamp as a weapon. Thorin looked like he was about to say something but Bilbo interrupted.

'I know it's bad and you have every right to hate me but please, it's for the best that I -'

'Bilbo,' Thorin cut off his wave of babbling. 'Let me at least come in. Please.'

Bilbo nodded silently and moved aside to let Thorin in, trying not to look at him for fear his heart, already racing fit to burst, would give up the ghost at last.

When Thorin was inside Bilbo began again before Thorin could, still avoiding the other man's gaze and wringing his hands. 'I couldn't keep lying to your family, not when they were so nice to me from the start. I'm so sorry, Thorin, really I am but please,  you have to understand-'

What Thorin had to understand, he never knew, because Bilbo was silenced by a hand, gentle and warm suddenly touching his cheek, and he had to physically restrain himself from leaning into it. He bit his lip and kept his eyes on the ground because was this really happening,  was Thorin really touching him like this, his heart was going to give out any second-

And then Thorin was kissing him. Thorin was kissing him. Not for show, not for anyone other than Bilbo, whose lips he was tenderly capturing with his own and Bilbo thought he might die from happiness.

'This was why I left,' he whispered against Thorin when they paused for breath, and Thorin let out a groan and pushed Bilbo backwards until they were flush against the wall. Bilbo could only  sigh in happiness and pleasure. Thorin's lips were once more on his, requesting entry and Bilbo gladly granted it, giving back as good as he got.

Until Thorin starting whispering in his ear, his voice deep and husky but his words made tears spring to Bilbo's eyes and he pushed Thorin away, turning his back to him.

'You're despicable,'  he spat, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.

'What?' Thorin asked, sounding utterly confused but Bilbo didn't buy it.

'You know you think out loud when you kiss me,' Bilbo turned to him, his anger rising up. 'I don't appreciate being used, Thorin - a replacement for them-'

'Bilbo, I don't have a clue what you're talking about,' Thorin said, standing exactly where Bilbo had pushed him with hands turned out, placating.

'Do I have to spell it out?' Bilbo asked furiously. 'Why do you kiss me when you want another?'

'Bilbo, I... I only want you,' Thorin said, his own voice rising in volume and the low timbre making Bilbo want to believe him.

'My name is not Ghivashel,' Bilbo spat, and glared at Thorin, thinking his heart might break. Thorin was a monster, to lead him on so and then drop him again-

Thorin's face was contorting strangely and for a moment Bilbo worried for him, before he saw a flash of a smile appear before it was quickly smothered, only to break out again until Thorin started laughing.

Bilbo was furious. 'You are disgusting,' he made to say, but Thorin was looking at him with such softness in his eyes.

'Bilbo, I'm sorry,  I'm so sorry. Ghivashel isn't a name.  I wasn't thinking of anyone except you when I kissed you, not ever,' he said, and he stepped closer to Bilbo, who still kept him at arm's length.

'Then what...'

'Treasure,' Thorin said simply. 'Most precious treasure. That's what it means, and why I said it.'

'Treasure...' Bilbo repeated it, sudden joy spreading through him and making his toes curl. 'So you...'

'I love you, Bilbo. Mahal, I loved you before I even met you.'

'What?' Bilbo frowned. Thorin flushed pink a little.

'I... When Gandalf told me about you, I visited your library. I didn't speak to you, and you didn't see me, but I saw you. I saw you doing the children's story time, and I knew when I saw you that I loved you. I think I spoke to your cousin-'

'Drogo?' Bilbo asked, nonplussed. 'Why didn't he say...?'

'Why would he? I was just another customer.' Bilbo allowed Thorin to pull him in to an embrace and he sighed in Thorin's arms his heart feeling so full it couldn't possibly be true. But it was, he was here, Thorin loved him... 'so you see. I didn't lie.'

‘Hm?’ Bilbo asked, perfectly content in his warm Thorin blanket.

‘I didn’t lie when I said that I met you in a library and it was love at first sight.’

Bilbo laughed. ‘I suppose not.’

‘Bilbo, I can’t tell you what I felt when I found you gone. Dís rang me when Bofur refused to say where you were and I came home as fast as I could, and when he said to check the bed I honestly thought the worst. It hurt, Bilbo, even though you owed me no loyalty-‘

‘Ssh,’ Bilbo soothed, capturing Thorin’s lips in a quick kiss. Thorin returned it so tenderly that Bilbo’s knees turned to jelly.

‘Bofur rang me just after you got  on the ferry to tell me where you were, and I drove like a maniac to catch the next ferry. I had to know, Bilbo; I had to at least tell you…’

‘How did you find me?’ Bilbo asked, his hands soothing through Thorin’s short beard, enjoying the soft feel of it through his fingers – and judging from the way Thorin’s eyes closed, he was enjoying it too. ‘Were you going to go to every hotel in the town until you found me?’ he laughed, but when Thorin went pink and didn’t answer he froze. ‘Thorin. You weren’t, were you?’

‘I had to see you!’ he said defensively. I would have searched through every hotel in the whole Mahal-forsaken country if I needed to, Bilbo.’

Bilbo sighed and rested his head on Thorin’s chest. ‘Well, at least I made it easy for you.’

Thorin’s fingers were carding through Bilbo’s curls and he was whispering endearments in his ear, making him shiver. Bilbo, my Ghivashel, my One…

Their lips met again and it was passionate and hot, Thorin’s arms tightening around Bilbo’s smaller frame and Bilbo standing on his toes to reach better, their bodies pressing close. They started moving backwards again, towards the bed, and this time Bilbo had no reservations, no qualms. When he lay down, Thorin’s blue eyes so full of warmth staring down at him in love and tenderness and the searing kisses he trailed across Bilbo’s skin so gentle, Bilbo couldn’t care less that they were in a seedy, dingy hotel in a rundown little town, that Thorin’s family probably hated him right now, that his father would shake his head over his tomatoes at Bilbo’s behaviour. All that mattered then was the heat of their bodies, the feel of Thorin above him and the all-encompassing joy that coloured each kiss, each touch with gold and the blazing white pleasure.

They lay together after, entangled in each other’s arms, and Bilbo had never felt so happy; he could practically hear his mother jumping for joy. He fell asleep to the steady beat of Thorin’s heart thumping in time to his as they descended from the pleasure-filled hazy heights, their life beating out together, in sync, as they would be forever.

They returned to Erebor the next day, Bilbo still reeling and giddy from the events that had led to this moment. He felt light-headed with happiness – especially when Thorin couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off Bilbo, staring at him as if he really were the greatest treasure in the world; and more than once Bilbo had to remind him to keep his eyes on the road.

It was an incredible sense of déjà vu, stepping back inside the main entrance hall of the prime minister’s house, Thorin’s arm tucked firmly about his waist. Except that this time, it couldn’t have been more different.

This time, Bilbo knew the people on the other side of that door. This time, Bilbo’s heart was lighter and his smile hadn’t left his face once.

This time, Thorin was his boyfriend, no pretence about it.

 In this give-and-take of glances,

    Kisses sweet as honey dews,

When we played with equal chances,

Did you win, or did I lose?

- Mathilde Blind, "Once We Played"