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Apple of My Eye

Chapter Text

When Bilbo Baggins was born, people lined out the door of Bag End to catch a glimpse of him. His auburn curls nestle like a halo around his head and his eyes, a bright green-blue, shine brightly and charmingly. Only a few hours old, he was already winning hearts. Within the day’s end there had been numerous offers from families- offering their own children for marriage. They give Belladonna and Bungo bouquets of Alstroemeria, of Apple Blossom, of Gloxinia.

Belladonna waves them all away.

“Nonsense,” she says to her son, rocking him in her arms, “you’ll do better than some Hobbit whose garden in their greatest achievement. No, you are destined for greater things, little one. I just know it,” she sighs.

“I would rather he wasn’t,” Bungo utters unhappily, coming to sit beside her. He smiles down at Bilbo. “I would rather him live a long and happy life with no strife or trouble… and there is nothing wrong with having a good garden,” he adds, his brow furrowing.

Belladonna rolls her eyes. “Would you really be pleased if he were to marry Fatty Bolger?” Bungo pulls a face, making her laugh. “No one will be good enough for him,” she continues, voice soft. “Not our boy.”

“No,” Bungo agrees, smiling at her. “No one will.”

Bilbo just coos and reaches up to grab her hair and tug happily.

 


 

 

When Thorin Oakenshield was born, they had a week-long feast to celebrate. Men and women toast to his health and happiness- they cheer to Mahal for allowing such a gift to be brought into the world. Marriages were talked about in a tactical way: long, arduous conversations about families and bloodlines following.

Frerya sighs and shifts her newborn son in her arms. “I do not wish for us to decide his future for him.”

“He is the heir to one of the greatest kingdoms in Middle Earth,” one of the many advisors declares now. “It is important he marries well.”

“I believe you said the same to my husband, Druro,” Frerya remarks dryly, “and you insisted he married someone with more of a title than I. But he did not.”

Druro falls silent.

“We will consider all offers,” Prince Thrain announces now, putting a hand up to silence the room. “But we will make no choices until our son is old enough to consider them also.”

Frerya is pleased.

 


 

 

Bilbo goes on many adventures as the next few years pass. He trawls through mud and dirt in the forests, getting sticky and dirty, leaves and sticks tangling in his hair. On one such occasion he appears out the far side of the forest, near the paddocks where the larger farms are, and blinks his pretty eyes up at the Big People passing by, wooing them immediately. The Rangers take him on their horses, bringing him home, much to the delight of Belladonna and the anger of Bungo.

The neighbours whisper about it for weeks.

Bilbo learns to swim, with the help of Saradoc Brandybuck, who everyone calls Scattergold. He lives in Buckland where the Hobbits grow stranger and enjoy the water. Scattergold waxes poetical about Esmeralda Took, and Bilbo allows himself to be dragged off to help his friend spy on her.

She catches them and laughs, skipping off happily with her brother.

“I’ll marry her one day,” Scattergold announces, and Bilbo believes him.

When a Brandybuck says they’re going to do something, they’ll certainly go through with it.

That year at the dance, Scattergold picks her a Viscaria from the gardens around the Party Tree and tucks it into her hair.

Bilbo has so many Viscaria’s by the end of the night he can make himself three flower crowns. His mother tells him not to brag about it.

 


 

 

Prince Thorin does not like Princess Ruuda. And Princess Ruuda does not like Thorin.

Thorin puts a mouse into Princess Ruuda’s soup as a joke. She screams, and he laughs for an hour afterwards, even when his parents scold him.

In reply, Princess Ruuda gets Prince Frerin to help her sneak a toad into Thorin’s room. And he does not scream when he finds it. He does not.

The next time she visits, Thorin gets Dis to help him put draught into her ale that makes her hiccup for two days straight. She sneaks into his room and cuts holes into his favourite tunic.

They are meant to be married. At least, that is what is being discussed, but Frerin is besotted by her, and insists that if Thorin is betrothed to her then he will duel his brother for the right to her hand.

Thror busts into laughter while Thrain just rolls his eyes.

Thorin does not, in the end, become betrothed to Princess Ruuda. Frerin follows her like a warg pup for a year and a half before she becomes sick and dies.

They do not play pranks for a long while after that.

 


 

 

Bilbo is ten when he sees Elves for the first time. He hides behind his mother’s skirts and listens to them speak softly and kindly, and when he is finally coaxed out into the open they sing to him and pat his hair and cheeks.

They are so big, and Bilbo is so small, and he watches them with wide, awed eyes as they move with ease and grace.

He tries to copy them, but only ends up falling over his own feet, and their laughter (though a little upsetting) is light and tinkling, like the sound of chimes. It reminds him of stars winking in the night sky.

One even lets him ride their shoulders, and he delights in being so tall, if only for a short amount of time.

Bilbo cries when they have to leave, but the Elves give him puzzle boxes and books and poems to keep him entertained, so he does not feel so bad.

He tells Scattergold all about it, and Hamfast Gamgee, as they sit at the edge of the river, swinging their legs, trying to catch fish.

“They can’t be that beautiful,” scoffs Scattergold, head held high in the air. For one so young he looks remarkably mature when he makes that face. He calls it his ‘adult face’.

Bilbo thinks it’s very good. He wishes he had an adult face, but the most he can do it frown. His father frowns a lot, but Bilbo’s not sure if that makes it an ‘adult face’.

“You’re only saying that because you love Esmeralda,” Hamfast says, before sighing far too wistfully for a ten-year-old. “Elves.” He shakes his head. “Can you imagine it?”

Bilbo doesn’t need to.

 


 

 

There are whispers about his grandfather. Thorin doesn’t like it, but when he voices that his mother just pats his head affectionately and tells him not to worry about it. She’s got a serious look in her eye that Thorin doesn’t understand, but he does what she asks anyway, and tries his best to push it from his mind.

He takes his lessons with Balin, and spars with Dwalin in the afternoons, and wonders why they have such an audience for such a trivial thing. Dwalin just laughs when he comments about it out loud and cuffs Thorin round the back of the head. “Moron,” he says, but it’s fond and friendly.

Thror is removed from the throne three days later, declared mad, and Thrain is crowned King. Thorin doesn’t know how to feel about it.

 


 

 

When Bilbo is twelve his mother goes on an adventure with a wizard, and does not return. His father, heart-broken, fades away like mist in the morning light and dies in his sleep days after word of her death reaches them.

The wizard comes back, however, and tells Bilbo stories of a dragon attacking a great kingdom and his brave mother, who helped destroy it. He speaks in a kind voice, with a head bowed in sadness.

Bilbo just blinks up at him and listens, his heart no longer eager for adventure like it used to be.

The Thain takes him in until he is of age to become the Master of Bag End, and Bilbo Baggins does not see the Wizard again for a long time after that.

And each year, on the day that he was told of his mother death, he receives a large envelope, delicately embossed and lined in what looks like gold, with elegant writing on the front. There is a strange rune pressed onto the back, in the wax seal, and Bilbo cannot read it or recognise it.

But inside is an invitation, from a King of all people, for Bilbo to feast in the great halls of Erebor, to celebrate his mother’s actions and the defeat of a dragon.

Bilbo does not reply to the letter.

He buries himself in books, pouring over languages and maps and history. He learns the language of the Elves, learns how to write elegantly in their cursive script. He learns their medicines and their songs. He reads about Dwarves, as well, but Dwarves are greedy creatures. They do not share their stories or their language, and their voracity for gold, gold that attracted a dragon, was responsible for taking his mother’s life. So Bilbo does not like Dwarves.

At his coming-of-age, Bilbo receives twenty marriage proposals. He is given bouquets of roses with snapdragons nestled in the sides. Letters are sent to him with Arbutus tucked into the envelopes, and Forget Me Not’s are left at his front door. Camellia’s of pink and white and blue are tied with string and wrapped elegantly around courting gifts.

He declines them all politely, and delicately strings a handful of Anemone together and hangs it on his knocker for all to see.

He feels empty, and alone, and afraid, but most of all he feels like he’s let his mother down. She always told him he’d do something important in the world, that he wouldn’t be the kind of Hobbit that hides away and does nothing with their life. But that is exactly what he’s becoming. And he can feel it closing in, the complacency. If he doesn’t do something now he may become so stuck in his ways that he never does anything at all.

Then Gandalf arrives.

 


 

 

Bilbo is twenty and shooing a wizard off of his doorstep. He never thought he’d ever do that. But Gandalf keeps coming back, each time with a curious little story that Bilbo can’t help but listen to.

He casually drops into conversation that there is an opening in Ered Luin for a translator and cultural advisor. Bilbo’s rapport has apparently impressed them, and they have sent Gandalf to offer him the position.

Bilbo is going to decline, but then he catches sight of his mother’s portrait on the wall, smiling down at him, and the words catch in his throat.

He sighs. “I do not even know what I would do,” he tells Gandalf wearily.

Gandalf smiles. “You will learn.”

 


 

 

Thorin is ninety-seven and refuses to dance with anyone during celebrations. He can dance, of course, Balin has taught him to, as is required. But he has no wish to.

Dis snorts and tells him not to be such a spoilsport, and he watches her dance around that emissary from the Blue Mountains all night. He seems a respectable dwarf, with a thick and well-kept beard, so Thorin does not object.

His father, perhaps, might. “Imagine, my daughter with an emissary!” he scoffs.

“Father,” Frerin rolls his eyes. “I would not worry about Nili. I once saw him throw an axe so hard that it decapitated an Orc, he is a good warrior.”

Thrain looks impressed, but refuses to admit so.

“Besides,” his brother goes on now, “they have only known each other for three days. You ought not worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet.”

Yet,” Thrain counters. “That is exactly my point. And I see the way he looks at her. If you see him even going to touch her, Dwalin, I trust you’ll remove his hands.”

Dwalin grunts, an amused look on his face. “Of course, Your Highness.”

“And why are you not dancing?” Thrain turns to Frerin. “Thorin insists on being unreasonable, but that is usual for him on these occasions. You usually have to be pulled off of the floor by the night’s end.”

Frerin shrugs. “I did not feel like dancing tonight.”

It doesn’t seem true, and Thorin has caught Frerin staring at one of the Dwarrowdams across the room, so he knows it is not.

Thrain doesn’t seem convinced either. “What has become of my sons,” he sighs, “that they do not want to dance at celebrations or marry?” He puts a hand on his head, kneading, as if they have given him a headache. “Your mother is probably laughing at me from the halls of our ancestors.”

Frerin grins. “That is because we are so amusing.”

Thrain just groans.

 


 

 

It does not take Bilbo much to pack his things. He has surprisingly little he wishes to take with him. His books, of course, although he knows he can’t have that much. His mother’s journal, as well, and the courting ring his father had carved for his mother among other knick-knacks. His favourite waistcoats and his trousers (minus the one with a hole in the knee, of course).

He doesn’t have any warm coats, but he figures he can always just buy some while he’s there. He ends up with two bags and a small trunk, and instructions for Hamfast to keep an eye out on his place (and his silver spoons) while he’s gone because he might be leaving but there is no way he’ll ever sell Bag End to anyone.

He says his goodbyes to his family, pointedly ignoring the whispers from his neighbours, and sets off on an adventure that his mother would have wanted him to have.

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo is in his forties and speaks fluent Khuzdul now. Although, admittedly, he still writes it atrociously. It is a subject that never ceases to get him incessantly teased when he asks his friends to read over his letters to make sure they’re correct.

“What is this?” taunts Bofur as he looks over Bilbo’s last letter before he leaves. “It looks like a child’s scrawl.”

Bilbo slaps him over the back of the head with a scroll. “Don’t tease,” he scolds, but he’s smiling fondly.

Bofur has become Bilbo’s best friend since Bilbo had gotten lost in his first week in the Blue Mountains and the soot-covered miner had shown him the way back. Bilbo had been thankful, mainly because the only people he’d talked to up until that point had been dignitaries who had no interest of making Bilbo feel comfortable.

It had been a relief to find someone who smiled and joked. Up to that point Bilbo had begun to think that maybe Dwarves didn’t smile at all.

“I’m nervous,” Bilbo admits.

“What, about your letter?” Bofur waves it off. “It’s alright: perfectly readable, you know.”

Bilbo laughs. “Not that,” he shakes his head, “I mean about this trip. I’ve never been that far East before. Is it very different?”

Bofur shrugs. “Not really. A bit richer, definitely. Prosperity and all that. There’s only Iron to be mined here but over in the Lonely Mountain there’s all kind of jewels buried deep in the stone.”

Bilbo hums thoughtfully. “And their dignitaries? What are they like?”

Bofur guffaws. “You’d know more about that than me, I’d bet.”

Bilbo shrugs casually. “I thought the ones that I met were stuffy and pompous, but I was afraid I might be biased.” His words only serve to make Bofur laugh more. “Well, it’s true! I thought those dignitaries who were in meetings with us last month were completely rude. And haughty,” he adds. “Like the Dwarves here were just the scum under their boots.”

Bofur shrugs himself now. “Some Dwarrow are like that, you know. ‘Specially the ones in the richer mountains.”

Bilbo doesn’t like that, but there’s nothing he can really do about it. “Hilarious, though,” he goes on, recalling the story he was going to share with his friend.

“Oh?” Bofur asks, raising an eyebrow.

“They were even ruder to me,” he explains, “but as soon as Uuki introduced me as Baggins they were reverent. I swear it’s the most polite anyone’s ever been to me.”

Bofur snorts. “Of course. A name goes a long way and yours is just as good as gold. But you’d better promise to write to me,” he continues, pointing at Bilbo. “I want letters about the splendour of Erebor daily.”

Daily?!” Bilbo exclaims.

Bofur nods seriously. “Daily.”

“I don’t know if I can do that, Bofur. But I will try to write to you at least once a week.” He’ll only be gone for two weeks, between travelling, but that’s not the point.

Bofur sighs dramatically. “Why I put up with your friendship is beyond me.”

Bilbo laughs at him.

He’s not going as an emissary this year. He was going to last year, but the winter sickness had gotten to him so he didn’t end up going. This year he’s doing something he’s never done before. He’s accepting the invitation from Erebor to feast on the anniversary of his mother’s death.

He doesn’t know how he’ll cope with all of it, but he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

The envelope had come as it always had- elegantly written with that strange rune in the wax stamp on the back, inviting him to celebrate the defeat of the dragon. Bilbo, who had felt surprisingly light for the time of year, had decided it was perhaps about time to meet the people his mother died for.

He wasn’t bitter anymore, that had passed. He’d accepted what had happened and moved on a long time ago. But he was still nervous. He’d been to Rivendell, he’d gone with his mother when he was a child, but he hadn’t gone past that. He’d been terrified to after his parents had died.

He figures he’s spent enough time being terrified of things.

And he won’t be alone; Ori Ri will be with him.

They’d bonded over a love for literature, and Ori had been personally responsible for helping Bilbo learn Khuzdul. When he’d gotten the invitation, he’d offered for Ori to come as his plus one, because Ori had been going on for forever about how wonderful the libraries in Erebor were, how they had the largest collection of Dwarven literature in all of the kingdoms and Bilbo just had to invite him. Besides which, the company would be welcome.

Ori had cried when Bilbo had asked him.

“Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be experiencin’ the world class hospitality of the Dwarves of Erebor- it’s second to none, I hear,” Bofur throws an arm around Bilbo’s shoulders. “Ale pours frequently and the food doesn’t run out…”

“Sounds wasteful,” Bilbo remarks with a wry smile.

“You Hobbits,” Bofur grouses, shaking his head in pity, “don’t know how to enjoy food.”

“We eat twice as much as you Dwarves do- and more frequently as well.”

“Come on, come on,” Bofur pulls at him, “enough of your posturin’. Let’s go and get somethin’ to eat. A goodbye feast, that’s what it is!”

Bilbo allows himself to be pulled away from his work. It’s all finished, anyway.

 


 

 

He wakes before the sun rises and grabs his pack. They’re leaving with the Rangers and will ride with them until they reach their camp in Fornost, with promises of sending another ranger with them until they reach Rivendell, to ensure their safe arrival. He leaves a letter for Bofur, Bombur and Bifur and meets Ori in the stables where the Rangers are saddling the horses.

Ori’s bright eyed and bushy tailed, and Bilbo’s not sure he’s even had any sleep at all.

“I’m just so excited!” Ori says, practically vibrating. “I’ve never been out of the mountain before- Dori always said it was too dangerous.”

“Yes, well, now you are.” Bilbo ushers him to their own ponies so they can get ready themselves.

They leave just as the sun rises, and it blinds Bilbo. He shields his eyes and wonders if heading towards East as the sun rises is such a good idea. The Rangers don’t seem to have a problem with it, however, so he doesn’t complain.

They pass through The Shire sometime after midday, and Bilbo waves at Hamfast, who is pottering about, carrying a heavy sack of soil. He drops it on his toe in his hurry to wave back.

He tells Ori about gardening for the next few hours, about what soil is best for what kinds of plants, and how often you should water. He talks about the flowers that line the meadows as they pass by, and their meanings, like the Bittersweet which is sprouting despite the unseasonal weather.

They don’t stop when it gets dark- in fact; they carry on, following the main road, until they’re well past Buckland and nearing Bree.

It’s late when they arrive, and Bilbo barely manages to down some stew for supper before heading off to his bed in the Inn.

He’s asleep as soon as he hits the sheets.

 


 

 

He knows that beds will be few and far between on this journey, so when he wakes the next morning he makes himself lie in for a few minutes, breathing deeply and enjoying something soft beneath him. Then he sighs, and rolls out of bed in search of food.

Ori is yawning sleepily, looking quite like he might fall asleep in his porridge, when Bilbo pulls the chair beside him out and takes a seat.

“Is it bad that I’m not liking this already?” Ori asks, sheepish.

“Two early mornings in a row does that to a person,” Bilbo agrees. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

Ori pouts. “I’m not sure I want to.”

They leave while they’re still yawning, and Ori falls asleep on his pony and almost falls off, only to be teased incessantly by the Rangers for the rest of the day. They reach Fornost by nightfall, and are up again before sunrise the next day for the long haul East.

They’re only joined by two Rangers now, who were due to head to Imladris anyway.

Rangers are taller than most men, and darker, and are said to have skills in understanding the languages of beasts and monsters that roam in the darker parts of Middle Earth.

They’re not exactly talkers, these new Rangers, but they’re kind, and when there were strange howls in the distance on the second night the taller one, Strider he says his name is, goes off and comes back in the early hours of the morning with blood over his clothes.

Ori is absolutely terrified, and every snap of twigs and rustle in the distance makes him jump until they reach Rivendell.

Bilbo doesn’t recall much from his first visit- only the daze and awe he’d felt. Everything else was a bit of a blur, so coming across the valley once more and seeing the towering, elegant pillars and sweeping stairs. Everything is open to the air, the wind gently blowing a breeze through the whole place, and it’s even as if the air is sweeter and the grass is softer and greener.

There’s some sort of ballad wafting through the air, gentle on his ears, like a kindly welcome from the Elves.

Bilbo feels contentment and peace wash over him, and when they are led to their rooms for the night he finds Anthurium’s by his bed.

 


 

 

They do not dally for long, and soon after they arrive they leave once more, with yet again other guides, this time sons of Lord Elrond himself, Elladan and Elrohir. They are quite alike in demeanour and looks, and they both share the same pleasant smile, although one curls perhaps a bit more than the other. Bilbo has heard that they are never seen apart: always together, like one organism living in two bodies.

They take the High Pass over the mountains, and the kind smiles and entertaining stories of the brothers make their travels lighter, and all of a sudden they have crossed the Misty Mountains.

Elladan and Elrohirleave them at the Old Ford, however, needing to travel south towards Lorien instead. They part with fond words and promises to meet again, and then disappear into the distance, leaving Bilbo and Ori to finish their travels on their own.

But the road they must take is there in front of them, and it stretches across the fields and down into the forests of Greenwood, so they do not need any more guides. Two Elven guards greet them at the lip of the wood, nodding politely, and when Bilbo pays their toll they sweep aside, letting them pass.

The route is wide and busy, but Bilbo had been warned of that before leaving Rivendell. They ride slowly, gazing up at awe at the trees that stretch so high they don’t seem to end. And they whisper- or, at least, it seems they do. They close out the sun, so all sense of time is lost, and the lamps lit either side of the path every few metres are the only light that guides travellers forward or backward. And it is beautiful, even in the dark. The air is not as sweet as it is n Rivendell, but it is sweet nonetheless, and clean, and the hum of travellers talking as they pass by flows and levels out into a relaxing background noise.

“I’ve never seen so many Elves before,” Ori declares quietly, leaning over so he can whisper to Bilbo. “Not even in Rivendell.”

“Perhaps they are taking a pilgrimage,” Bilbo muses. “Many seem to be travelling to Lorien as of late.” Elladan and Elrohir had said something about a festivity of sorts, and it leaves Bilbo to wonder what an Elven party is like.

“I wonder why,” Ori muses, and they fall into a companionable silence once more.

The Elves sing as they ride: a beautiful ballad that Bilbo would do no justice in translating to Westron, and their robes flow behind them as they walk, eerily silent, with not a sound beneath their feet.

If Bilbo was ever been asked to give an example of grace embodied on earth, he would name the Elves.

It is dark when they exit Greenwood, but they continue on up the river, following it until it widens and stretches into Esgaroth. There are a few Inns around the bottom of the lake, taking advantage of weary travellers, and Bilbo and Ori check in for the night (although they have to share a room because there are no others left). The bed is made for a Man, though, so there is enough room for the both of them with plenty to spare.

“What do you think the celebration will be like?” Bilbo asks as they lay there in silence.

Ori takes a while to reply, so long that Bilbo is supposing he’s asleep before he speaks. “I hear they’re awe inspiring. Their halls are twice as big as ours, and there’s so much food on the table that you can barely fit your plate on it, and there’s singing and shouting. Last year I heard they had a man juggle knives while balancing on one leg. And the dancing,” Ori sighs wistfully.

Bilbo clicks his tongue. “Don’t say that around Dori, if he were here he’d probably drag you right back to Ered Luin if he knew you’d be dancing.”

Ori laughs into his pillow. “I do hope I dance, though,” he tells Bilbo. “Dori never lets anyone dance with me at the feasts back home.” Bilbo knows this. He’s seen Dori smack large and scary Dwarves over the head with plates just for looking at Ori in the wrong way. “It would be nice not to worry about him for one night. And I can just dance with whomever I want.” He rolls onto his side to ace Bilbo, even though it’s too dark for them to see each other. “Will you dance?” he wonders.

Bilbo finds himself shrugging. “I don’t know. It seems strange to celebrate on the anniversary of my mother’s death, but if she could she’d probably smack me in the head for letting an opportunity pass me by. She’s probably angry enough as it is with me waiting so long to come and see Erebor.”

“I’m sure you’ll have suitors lining up to dance with you,” Ori says, and Bilbo just laughs at him. “No, really!” he insists. “You don’t have a beard, but you’re really very attractive. I swear Uuki was one second away from asking you to marry him the week you arrived. He certainly would have if I’d told him it wasn’t a good idea.”

“He hated me when I first arrived!” Bilbo declares.

“He was embarrassed,” Ori maintains.

Bilbo waves his words off. “It does not matter,” he says now. “I do not wish to marry Uuki.”

“I knew that, silly,” Ori tells him. “Do you not like dancing?” he wonders now. “I know that Hobbits dance- you’ve told me as much, but you never accept any offers back home. Is it because they’re from Dwarves?”

“No,” Bilbo says, “not really, anyway. It’s my feet that do it.”

“Your feet?” Ori asks, baffled.

“Yes,” Bilbo wiggles his toes as he speaks. “They’re so big and you Dwarves have such little feet, and always in those big heavy boots that protect them. I’m afraid I’ll fumble and break one of your poor toes.”

“Oh, Bilbo,” Ori giggles. “I don’t think you’d do that.”

“And you’re all rather tall. Not that much bigger than me, of course, but it’s still odd dancing with people who aren’t my size.”

Ori doesn’t argue. “Do you think you’ll meet the King straight away?”

“I don’t know,” Bilbo answers. “I hope I at least have time to put on my good waistcoat before that.”

Ori giggles again.

 


 

 

They cross the Long Lake and pass through Laketown without issue. It’s still very early, so the only people awake and moving at this time are the fishermen, gliding along the rapidly narrowing lake in their small boats, disappearing in and out of the morning mist.

The river leads right up to Dale, and they dock, much to the irritation of the sleepy Man who is supposed to be taking the toll. He grouses and takes their money, letting them pass, before glancing at what the trader is bringing into the city. He waves him on, and goes back to sleep while the man unloads his crates and barrels.

Bilbo wonders what kind of a security system that is as they walk through Dale, but doesn’t bother to dwell on it too much. Dale is just starting to wake up, Men and Dwarves wandering, bleary eyed- some even staggering home from a night spent drinking too much.

“It’s rather big, isn’t it,” Bilbo muses as they walk, looking up at the stretching mountain. “I… I’d heard it was rather intimidating, but I’d never thought about it until now.” His stomach is tied into knots now, and he feels rather like he’s walking to the gallows rather than to a warm and welcome greeting that he’s supposed to receive. It might have something to do with the massive stone statues of Dwarves that stand on each side of the gates that lead into Erebor.

They stand with their axes bared, as if readying for a fight: ready to leap straight from the stone they are carved from and into a battle. The sheer size of them makes Bilbo’s stomach turn. And then, when they reach the gate, he realises that the wall is lined with more stone sculptures. More stony eyes looking down upon them. Flag-bearers, they seem to be, with bright blue fabric flapping in the wind.

Bilbo wonders how long it took to carve such an elaborate thing when the guards step out to greet them. “What is your business in Erebor?” the first one asks.

Bilbo pulls the invitation out from his pocket and hands it over. “I’m here for the celebrations. I’m Bilbo Baggins.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Erebor glows. Quite literally.

There’s some kind of luminescent mineral in the rocks that make the walls, and the torches that are hung on them only make it glow all the brighter. The light winks on the railings that keep people from falling hundreds of metres below, and upon closer inspection Bilbo realises the railings are made from gold.

Bilbo cannot do much more but stare at it all with an open mouth.

Ori does much the same. “Mahal,” he breathes.

It reminds Bilbo of a beehive in some ways- the way the walls are carved into buildings, stacked one on top of another as the mountain goes higher and higher. Some of the pathways on the higher levels don’t even have railings at all- and aren’t those just an accident waiting to happen.

Their packs are taken from them with the assurances that they will be taken care of and set into their rooms while they meet the King.

“Why do I have to be there too?” Ori asks, panicking slightly. “I’m just your friend.”

Bilbo manages a shrug before they’re ushered into the throne room and someone announces their arrival, voice booming. The room goes silent.

“Wonderful,” Bilbo utters to himself.

“Bilbo Baggins,” the King regards him with a warm smile, and Bilbo can hear people whispering now, and feels eyes on him. “It is nice to finally meet you.” Before Bilbo can open his mouth in reply, the King goes on. “I am glad you could join us in our celebrations.”

Bilbo nods politely. “I am happy to be here. Erebor is just as splendid as I have been told. I would apologise for not having accepted your invitation sooner.”

The King looks pleased. “You are here now,” he waves Bilbo’s apology off, “and we will make sure you want for nothing.”

“That is very kind of you, Your Majesty,” Bilbo bows politely before speaking again. “This is my friend, Ori Ri,” he waves a hand at Ori, before looking at him pointedly.

It takes a moment or two, but Ori’s eyes widen in understanding. “Oh!” he says. “Yes,” he turns his attention to the throne. “I’ve heard wonderful things about your library, Your Highness. I was quite unable to say no when Bilbo invited me.”

The King chuckles. “If you are interested in our literature, Master Ri, I will have someone show it to you. But you must be tired,” he goes on, “your trip was long. I will have one of my men show you to your rooms and you can refresh yourselves before lunch.”

The second they’re led out of the room, Bilbo can hear gossiping erupt.

He feels like he’s back in The Shire again.

 


 

 

They have time to look at the library before lunch, and when they find the place Bilbo doesn’t regret the decision in the slightest.

It’s got multiple levels, and the walls are lined high with great tomes and scrolls. There are ladders reaching right up to the top that rolls along so the librarians can reach each and every book, and Ori looks like he’s going to burst. “Oh!”

Bilbo has to grab him to prevent him from barrelling into a poor old Dwarf carrying a large pile of books. He gives the Dwarf an apologetic look and the Dwarf gives him a thankful one in return.

He follows Ori around, quite content to let him ooh and ah over the books, and doing his best to prevent any accidents caused by Ori’s clumsiness.

The one he doesn’t prevent, however, isn’t exactly Ori’s fault anyway. The Dwarf comes around the corner, not looking where he’s going at all, and Ori (who’s got his nose buried in something very dusty that he’d dug out of one of the bookcases) walks right into him. It’s almost comical, the way it happens- because it’s like Ori’s run straight into a brick wall.

“Watch it!” The Dwarf grouses, pushing past.

Ori shrinks into himself. “Sorry, sorry,” he stumbles backwards into Bilbo, who catches him before he falls into the bookshelf.

“How rude!” Bilbo exclaims, making the Dwarf stop.

He turns to look at them both and cocks an eyebrow. “Excuse me?” he asks, like he’s surprised Bilbo’s even speaking to him.

Ori tugs on his sleeve. “Bilbo, no,” he says quietly. “It’s fine.”

“No, no,” Bilbo pulls from Ori’s grip and rounds on the other Dwarf, “I refuse to let some rock-headed dwarf act like such a… such a…” he splutters, searching for the right adjective.

“Such a what?” The Dwarf prods, looking both irritated and amused.

“Such a pompous moron!” Bilbo finishes with heat.

His eyebrows rise in surprise. “Pompous?” the stranger asks, infuriated. “How dare you-”

“No- how dare you!” Bilbo says, cutting him off. “You were unnecessarily rude to my friend here when his actions were a complete accident. And I daresay if you’d been looking where you were going this wouldn’t have happened. So you’d better… you know.”

“Better what?”

“Apologise,” Bilbo tells him, like it should be obvious- because it should, “for your discourteous behaviour.”

The Dwarf scoffs. “You are unbelievable. I do not come to the libraries to be harassed by a…” he takes stock of Bilbo now, properly, as if for the first time, and frowns when he glances at his feet. “Hobbit?”

“Yes, indeed,” Bilbo tells him, hands on his hips. “And we do not stand for such nonsense where I come from, so you’d better apologise now-”

“Or what?” The Dwarf asks, goading. He crosses his arms over his chest. “What will you do?”

Bilbo narrows his eyes at him. “Well, I’m not sure,” he admits, “but I’ll certainly think of something, believe you me.”

The Dwarf rolls his eyes.

“You’d think a Dwarf from Erebor would have better manners,” Bilbo snaps now. “But clearly not. You are not worth the hair on your chin, sir.” He grabs Ori’s arm. “Come on, Ori. I’ve had enough of boorish and surly Dwarves.”

“Boorish!” The Dwarf calls after him, affronted. “If anyone is behaving uncouthly, it is you, Hobbit!”

“I have a name you know, Dwarf!” Bilbo returns unkindly. “Perhaps if you weren’t so rude you might have learnt it.”

“I have a name as well,” the Dwarf returns, just as heated, “if you had not overreacted to such a trivial thing you might have known mine as well.”

Bilbo spins so they come face-to-face. Well… face-to-chest, actually, because this Dwarf is rather tall. “I would not wish to know the name of such an insolent man, anyway. So there is no loss for me.”

“And I would not wish to know the name of such a dramatic Hobbit, either!”

“Good, because you won’t.” And then he spins on his heel and leaves the dwarf there, spluttering after him.

“Bilbo!” Ori is smothering laughter into his shirtsleeve. “You oughtn’t get into fights with Dwarves. They never end well.”

Bilbo sniffs. “Well, he was rude,” he states. “I still think he ought to apologise.”

“You’ll never get a Dwarf to apologise, Bilbo,” Ori says now. “You should know that by now.”

“Yes, well, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.”

“Come on,” Ori nudges at him, “let’s get some food. If we stay in here any longer I fear I may never let myself leave.” Bilbo laughs at him, and allows himself to be ushered out. “Quickly,” Ori declares, “while my will is still strong!”

 


 

 

“…the most frustrating Hobbit I’ve ever met,” Thorin finishes with a huff.

“You’ve only met two of them,” Frerin points out, mouth full of food. “And the first one was only for…” Frerin seems to consider it, “maybe twelve hours, before she died. So…” he ends with a shrug.

“That still makes him the most frustrating Hobbit I’ve ever met,” he grouses.

Frerin rolls his eyes. “I think you’re just being a little dramatic about all this. I know you and your temper and I know you would have probably said something offensive, so I’m sure his anger wasn’t totally unfounded.”

“You are the worst brother ever; you do know that, right? You’re supposed to side with me and not with someone we’ve never met before.”

“He’s a Baggins!” Frerin says now. “His mother helped slay a dragon. Did you expect him to be a demur little thing? And hey, hey,” he tugs at Thorin’s furs to stop him from leaving like he was intending to. He refuses to listen to Frerin be logical- that is not something that should happen. Besides, he’s got a meeting to get to. “What does he look like?”

“What do you mean?” Thorin asks his brother. He doesn’t have the time for this.

“Well, I’ve been hearing a lot about him- gossip, you see: lots of nonsense about eyes like spring and hair like autumn. You know, like the elegiac nonsense they started saying about his mother.”

“So you’re asking me?” he wonders, utterly baffled.

“Well, you’ve seen him. And I thought it’d be best to ask someone who isn’t romantic in the slightest bit so I’d get an answer that wasn’t obscured by poetry.”

Thorin smacks him on the back of the head.

 

 

Chapter Text

He’s on his way to breakfast the next morning when he crosses paths with his library nemesis. There’s no one in the hall but them and they circle each other like warriors in a battle.

“Well, look who is it.” Bilbo crosses his arms over his chest.

“Hobbit,” The Dwarf greets, eyes narrowed.

Dwarf,” Bilbo returns curtly, giving a mock bow. “How nice it is to see that you’re capable of not growling at someone.”

“And how disappointing to see that you aren’t capable of being amicable with someone for more than five seconds,” the Dwarf shoots back, bowing deeply.

“Why, you-”

“Oh, you’ll excuse me,” the Dwarf casually brushes past Bilbo as he speaks, “I’m far too busy and important to spend time listening to a poor little Hobbit bicker.”

“Your… beard is unkempt!” Bilbo calls after him, frustrated.

“Your feet aren’t nearly as hairy as you think they are,” he shouts back.

Bilbo stomps his foot and lets out an enraged sound. He’s certain he can hear the Dwarf laughing around the corner.

“You look annoyed,” Ori remarks as they sit down for breakfast.

“I ran into our Dwarf-friend this morning,” Bilbo looks for tea, knowing it’s very unlikely that he’ll find it. He sighs and contents himself with his warm oatmeal instead.

“Oh? You didn’t yell at him again, did you?”

“I did not yell,” Bilbo promises. “Not that I yelled the first time we met, mind you. I only spoke strongly. There is a difference.”

Ori just shrugs.

Bilbo sniffles now, pouting. “He said my feet weren’t hairy,” he announces.

“He didn’t!” Ori cries.

“He did,” Bilbo insists. “He is the rudest Dwarf I have ever met. And that includes Nori.”

“Oh dear,” Ori’s fighting back a smile, so Bilbo shoves him playfully.

 


 

 

He’s concentrating wholeheartedly on the task in front of him when there’s suddenly a head poking around his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

Thorin smacks Frerin’s hand away from the wood he’s carving before returning back to the task. “None of your business,” is all he says in reply.

“I haven’t seen you carve anything in years, brother,” Frerin remarks, amused. “Any particular reason you’re taking it up again all of a sudden?”

“Not really,” Thorin lies breezily, gently whittling away the wood, bit by bit. “Perhaps I was just bored.”

“You don’t have the time to be bored,” Frerin mocks. “Is this perhaps something for Fili’s twentieth birthday? It is coming up, you know. But I have to say, a little carved toy will be nothing in comparison to what I’m getting him- no matter how expertly it’s carved. There can only be one better uncle, Thorin, and it is certainly not you.”

“They only like you better because you let them misbehave. And it’s not a toy,” Thorin says with a frown. “It’s a puzzle box.”

“Why would you make Fili a puzzle box?” Frerin wonders, baffled. “He’s a sweet boy, he is. But he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to that sort of thing.”

“It’s not for Fili,” Thorin murmurs absently.

“For me, then? Brother!” Frerin pretends to swoon. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Get off of my table, brother, or Fili and Kili’s ‘favourite uncle’ will have his life tragically cut short by a shocking disembowelment.”

Frerin rolls his eyes but gets off the table anyway. “What are you going to put in it?” he asks, relaxing against the wall nearby.

Thorin thinks about it. “I don’t know,” he says after a while.

“Well, you can think about it while we greet the ambassadors from the Iron Hills.”

“They’ve arrived already?” Thorin asks, irritated.

Frerin nods. “Father sent me to get you.”

Thorin sighs and sets the knife and the wood down. “Alright,” he stands. “Let’s go.”

 


 

 

There’s some sort of fuss being made at the front gate.

“Maybe going to the market wasn’t the best idea in the world,” he muses, barely loud enough for Ori to hear. They’re waiting to get out, but there’s obviously someone very important coming in, if the fanfare’s anything to go by.

“Well, we’re already partway there,” Ori returns. “Come on.” He takes a tight hold of Bilbo’s shirtsleeve, so they don’t lose each other, and begins to push past the spectators.

They’re managing to squeeze between the guards, who nod politely to them, when Bilbo catches sight of the King at the same time the King catches sight of Bilbo.

“Bilbo Baggins,” he raises an arm in greeting. There’s another man, dressed in elegant clothes that could only be worn by a King or a Prince, and he nods towards Bilbo.

Bilbo, unable to do much else, reciprocates the action, waving back at them.

The mention of his name catches a few looks, and then the crowd just separates: like a wave washing out, and suddenly there’s a path for them.

There are whispers, but Bilbo smiles anyway. “Oh. Thank you.” There are a few bows, and many quiet greetings, and someone even reaches out and touches his nose when he passes by.

“His hair looks like sunshine,” comes a small voice from his side, and he notices a Dwarrow child on the ground who’s trying to touch his feet.

“Thank Mahal for that,” Ori utters once they’ve gotten by the most crowded part of the group, “I was certain I was going to get crushed soon.”

Bilbo almost trips over someone’s leg. “Let’s just get to Dale,” he tells his friend. “A bit of space is just what I think I need.”

Ori agrees and quickly drags Bilbo away from the attentions of a leering older Dwarrow with wandering hands.

 


 

 

“That is the Hobbit, then,” remarks Dain, watching Bilbo Baggins and his friend leave. “I had not known he was joining us this year.”

“We only got the reply soon before he arrived,” Thorin’s father explains. “But it is good that he is here to celebrate with us.”

“He seems to be causing quite the stir,” Mori muses, stretching onto the tips of his toes to catch a glimpse of him once more.

Suddenly, there’s a hand on Thorin’s shoulder. “What are you doing down there?” Thrain is looking down at him with confusion on his face, and Thorin looks up at his father from where he’s crouched on the ground.

The other dignitaries are watching with curious eyes and his siblings are regarding him with raised eyebrows. His nephews are snickering, but he is not surprised by that.

Thorin clears his throat. “I was, ah, just tightening my boots,” he informs his father before standing straight and offering a hand to Dain. “I apologise.”

Dain waves it off. “It is nothing.”

Frerin isn’t even bothering to try and hide his laughter now.

Thorin glances back at the gate as they begin to walk back into Erebor once more, trying to catch sight of the Hobbit again. If they see Dain off to his rooms fast enough, maybe Thorin would have time to go down to Dale himself…

 


 

 

Bilbo has got a bit of a sniffle, which wouldn’t be a problem if he could find his damn handkerchief.

“I know you are here somewhere,” he says out loud, stalking through the teashop Ori had dragged him into, looking for it. “I remember putting you in my pocket this morning.”

“Do all your kind talk to the ground, or is it just you?”

Bilbo jumps, almost knocking a very expensive teapot off of its display stand, and puts a heart to his chest. “That was highly unnecessary, sir,” he declares, stepping backwards. “Do I know you?”

The Dwarf pulls his cloak back to reveal his face. “You do, indeed, Hobbit.”

So it’s him then.

Bilbo huffs. “Oh, I don’t have time for you right now,” he waves the Dwarf off. “Go and torment someone else’s feet.”

The replying smile Bilbo gets is enough to stall him for a moment, but he pointedly ignores it, instead continuing the search for his missing handkerchief. “Oh dear,” he says, spinning around and looking at the ground. “Oh dear…”

“And what’s wrong with you?” The Dwarf asks.

“I haven’t got my handkerchief, if you must know.” He searches his pockets for the umpteenth time. “I’m sure I had it with me… I must have dropped it.”

“You seemed rather panicked over something as trivial as a handkerchief,” his arch nemesis remarks dryly.

Bilbo huffs. “Of course you would not understand, you dunder-headed…”

He raises an eyebrow, waiting for Bilbo to finish.

“…Dwarf.”

“Very creative,” the aforementioned dunder-headed Dwarf compliments, “I’m impressed, really.”

“And yes,” Bilbo says now, peering under a table.

“Yes, what?”

“Yes,” Bilbo straightens back up now to look at the Dwarf. “My kind do talk to the ground. You meant it teasingly, I know,” he goes on when the Dwarf looks upon him, perplexed. “But it is true. We speak to our gardens and the trees and the rivers and ponds. We speak to our plants while we tend to them because it helps them grow.”

The look on his face is utterly hilarious, and if he wasn’t so earnest Bilbo would have laughed. “Does it?”

“Yes,” he answers, just as fervent.

But then the Dunder-headed Dwarf decides to go and ruin their friendly moment. “That is utterly ridiculous,” he scoffs.

Bilbo lets out an insulted sound now. “You are the rudest Dwarf I have ever met,” he declares, “making jokes of my people and our culture.” He goes on before the Dwarf has a chance to open his mouth. “And why are you here, anyway?” he demands. “Do you not have other people you could be annoying instead?”

“Oh, but what use is there in annoying someone if I do not annoy you?”

Bilbo feels oddly flustered at his words. “I… I- You insulted my feet!” he manages after a few tries, and it’s all he can think of. His mind has gone surprisingly blank.

“You insulted my beard,” he counters.

“You’ve been nothing but insulting to me since we’ve met.”

The Dwarf points at him accusingly. “You yelled at me.”

“You teased me. I don’t know what you Ereborian Dwarves are like but we Hobbits don’t like teasing.”

“What do Hobbits like, then?”

“I…” Bilbo blinks now, completely floored by the sudden change of subject. “What?” he asks.

“What do Hobbits like?” the Dwarf reiterates.

“Are you asking that so you can tease me more, or because you genuinely wish to know?” Bilbo queries, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

The Dwarf is smiling that strange smile again. “Perhaps both,” he admits.

“Bilbo! A little help?” He turns to the voice to find Ori struggling to carry something heavy, obviously having been roped into helping the shop owner. Ori always was a bit of a pushover.

“One moment!” But when he looks back, the Dwarf is already leaving. “Flowers,” he says, absentmindedly.

The Dwarf turns, brow furrowed. “I’m sorry?” He looks as if he isn’t sure of whether Bilbo was speaking to him or not.

“You asked what Hobbits liked,” Bilbo says. “Flowers.”

His face clears, and he gives a polite but still somehow mocking bow. “Thank you, Hairless Hobbit. I appreciate your help.”

“You’re welcome, Dirty Dwarf.”

The Dwarf laughs, and then leaves the store, pulling his cloak over his head and disappearing within the crowd of people.

Bilbo,” Ori is still struggling.

“Yes, sorry, coming!”

 

 

Chapter Text

He’s being followed around by a boy. Well, two, in fact. He can’t quite tell for sure, but he can certainly hear the giggling behind him. It’s rather annoying when he’s trying to pen a letter to Bofur.

“You go,” one voice urges.

“No, you go,” another argues.

There’s a huff, and just as Bilbo is about to stand and find somewhere more peaceful to write when a blur rushes past him and there’s suddenly a Dwarf depositing himself on the table, almost knocking Bilbo’s quill and ink pot onto the ground.

“Hello,” the cheery Dwarf greets.

“Hello,” Bilbo returns politely. “Is there any particular reason you’re sprawled out on the table I’m using?”

“He likes to take up space,” another voice answers before the first Dwarf can answer for himself. “Makes him feel more important than he is.”

“Fili!” the first Dwarf squawks, affronted. “Don’t be so rude in front of our guest!”

“Oh, please,” the one called Fili rolls his eyes. “If anyone’s being rude, it was you.”

“You told me to go and say hello first!”

Fili just shrugs.

“If I may interject,” Bilbo sighs now. “Who even are you?”

“Oh!” The first Dwarf, for whom Bilbo had no name yet, slid off the table and gave a deep bow. “I am Prince Kili, son of Nili, and this is my brother Fili, but that doesn’t matter.”

Fili smacks Kili’s arm. “Now who’s being rude?” he says.

KilI doesn’t answer, instead keeps his attention on Bilbo. “We thought we’d come and say hello and give you a warm welcome to Erebor!”

“Ah,” Bilbo looks from one to the other. “Well, thank you.”

“What are you writing?” Kili wonders, nosing his way over the table to look at Bilbo’s letter

“Just a letter to a friend, if you must know- which you do not,” Bilbo pulls the paper up to his chest as he speaks. “And I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever met such nosy Princes before.”

Kili looks pleased, but Fili at least has the decency to look sheepish. “Grandfather asked us to make sure you were seen to,” he goes on, as if trying to change the subject.

“And,” chirps Kili, “we’ve never seen a Hobbit before,” he says it so reverently, like Bilbo’s some sort of mystical creature. “Do all of you fight dragons?”

Bilbo bursts into laughter, unable to imagine Lobelia or even Hamfast facing down a dragon. Lobelia would perhaps shout at it until it went away, he supposes. Just the thought of it, however, is enough to keep him laughing for so long that his sides are aching and he’s gasping for breath but he just can’t stop.

“Should we call for help?” Kili asks, looking awful concerned.

Bilbo raises a hand. “No, no, I-I’m fine. It’s just…” he breaks into another fit of laughter, before managing to smother it down. He wipes his eyes. “No we don’t all fight dragons.”

“Oh,” Kili says, “alright.”

Bilbo folds the letter in his hands and shoves it into his pocket, still trying to stop himself from breaking into any more paroxysms. “I think I need some fresh air.”

“We can show you around!” Fili announces, jumping at the chance. “Grandfather made a garden in your mother’s honour- do you want to see it?”

This is the first Bilbo’s hearing of it. “He did?”

Kili nods. “It’s a memorial, between the gates and Dale. You would have passed by it on your way in.”

Bilbo doesn’t recall seeing any gardens, but then again he’d been more preoccupied with the cavernous gates of Erebor upon his arrival than anything else, so he can be forgiven for that.

“Would you like to see it?” Fili asks, sounding a little more tentative than his brother.

Bilbo inhales deeply before nodding. “Yes,” he says. “I would.”

 


 

 

“Balin,” Thorin begins, feeling somewhat awkward.

“Yes?”

“What do you know about flowers?”

Balin appears baffled. Thorin doesn’t blame him. “Flowers?” he repeats.

“Aye,” Dwalin says from the doorway, “flowers? Really?”

Thorin sighs, and ignores Dwalin completely. “Yes, flowers.”

“Well,” Balin scratches his chin, “not much, I’ll admit. But there should be some books on the subject in the library, if you-”

Thorin is already on his way, pushing past Dwalin and out the door. “Great, thank you.”

“What was that about?” he hears Dwalin ask.

He’s nosing through a book on botany half an hour later when he hears his nephews causing a fuss nearby.

“And we’ve never seen a Hobbit before,” comes Kili’s reverent voice, and then there’s bouts of laughter filling the air. Thorin peers around a bookcase to find the Hobbit almost on the ground, quite unable to stop laughing.

“Should we call for help?”

Fili looks about as his brother speaks, looking for anyone who could help, and he catches sight of Thorin, and goes to wave him over. But Thorin just shakes his head and disappears back around the corner again while Bilbo composes himself.

He watches them leave soon after before going to the librarian to ask for help finding a book he could use.

 


 

 

Bilbo comes back to his room sometime before lunch feeling drained of all energy and more than a little miserable. The garden was beautiful, and was taken care of by the Men of Dale, who knew far more about gardens than Dwarves did. Among the plant life that grew there naturally there were a number of plants that grew more commonly in the West and The Shire, and Bilbo wondered how they would have transported them so far East without them dying on the way.

“Grandfather had people bring all the seeds over from Ered Luin,” Kili had said, like he’d been reading Bilbo’s mind at the time. “The Elves helped,” he sounded loathe to admit it.

Bilbo is too busy wondering if he’ll be able to handle being here on the day that his mother died that he doesn’t notice the objects obstructing the doorway until he’s tripped over them and ends up smacking his head against his own door.

“Oh!”

There are flowers everywhere. Well, not everywhere. They would have been held together in a nice bouquet if Bilbo hadn’t of tripped over them and sent them everywhere. And there’s something heavy digging into his back. He rolls over, reaching to grab it, and pulls out a box that sits neatly in is palm.

It’s expertly carved; with delicate patterns lining the sides and looks like it’s entwined together by multiple pieces of wood, twisting into each other and locking together. It’s light, but Bilbo can hear that there’s something inside when he shakes it. He turns it in his hands, feeling the wooden twists slip a little when he pushes at them with his fingers.

“It’s a puzzle box,” he says, almost to himself, before realizing he’s still on the ground, probably looking like a moron.

One of the guards is kind enough to help him to his feet, and he assists him in bringing in all of the flowers. When Bilbo asks if he’s seen anyone come through and leave them, the Dwarf shakes his head- although there’s a smile on his face so Bilbo thinks he does know and isn’t allowed to tell.

The bouquet (or, at least, what’s left of it after Bilbo crushed it) consists of Bougainvillea’s and Hibiscus with Caladium Leaves tucked in the sides. Bilbo reddens when the Dwarf sets them on the bedside table and he gets a proper look.

“What are these?” he asks the guard before he leaves. “Why were they left at my door? Are they welcome gifts?”

The Dwarf grins. “No, Mister Baggins,” he replies, “Dwarves do not give welcome gifts of flowers- even to Hobbits.”

“What are they then?” Bilbo demands, curt but not unkind.

The guard appears a little uncomfortable when pressured to explain it. “Gifts of adoration,” he says, gruffly. “I must return to my work, if you’ll excuse me, Master Hobbit.” He bows and leaves Bilbo to stare at the puzzle box, wondering why someone would go to all this fuss for him.

“You had three Dwarrows following you like puppies on the way here and you’re really asking that?” Ori guffaws when Bilbo tells him about it during dinner that night.

Bilbo just frowns down at the puzzle box he has in his hands, pushing at the twists in it, trying to work out how to open it. “There’s something inside,” he declares, instead of dignifying Ori with an answer.

“Maybe it’s a priceless jewel.”

Bilbo glances at his friend before shaking the box. “Does it sound like a priceless jewel?”

“It sounds like there’s some paper in there- like a note or a letter, oh!” He sits up straight. “A love letter!”

Bilbo rolls his eyes. “I’ve had far too many of those,” he sighs, “I do hope it’s something a little more interesting.”

“Only you would say that,” Ori tells him with a grin. “If it were me I’d be delighted to receive a love letter.”

“That depends on who it is,” Bilbo points out.

“Well… I suppose,” agrees Ori. “I certainly wouldn’t want one from Bofur.”

Bilbo snorts. “I’m sure Bofur writes lovely poetry.” Speaking of Bofur... he needs to finish that letter he started writing to him this morning.

They’re interrupted before they can start the conversation up again, and a portly Dwarf with a long (and somewhat scraggly) beard speaks to them. Well… to Bilbo. “Master Baggins,” the Dwarf bows his head politely. “The King has invited you to dine with him and his daughter at the Royal Table,” he waves a hand in the direction of it as he speaks.

“Oh,” Bilbo glances from the Dwarf, to the King, to Ori. “Would it be very much to ask if my friend could join me? I’d hate to make him sit on his own.”

The Dwarf considers it with a frown. “I would have to ask,” he begins, looking apologetic.

“Of course,” Bilbo tells him, and he leaves to ask the King.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Ori says now. “I don’t mind sitting here-”

“On your own?” Bilbo finishes, rolling his eyes. “Nonsense. If he doesn’t wish for you to sit with him, then I will not sit with him.”

Ori flushes in delight as the Dwarf comes back. “The King says it is fine for your friend to join him as well,” he announces, and stretches out an arm, as if to lead Bilbo there. “If you would be so kind?”

“Of course,” Bilbo gets to his feet. “Come on, Ori.”

They come to a stop in front of the Royal Table and bow. “Your Highness,” Bilbo greets.

“Master Baggins,” the King returns. “This is my youngest child, Dis. Her sons, I believe you have already met,” he waves his arm further down the table where Fili and Kili are waving and grinning while simultaneously stuffing food into their mouths. “My sons are unable to join us tonight, but they send their greetings.”

“It is lovely to meet you, Princess,” Bilbo says to Dis as they sit down.

“Just Dis, please,” the Princess tells him with a charming but mischievous grin that matches the ones her sons wear. “And I am sure you’d like to be just called Bilbo.”

“Yes,” Bilbo agrees. “This is Ori Ri,” he introduces his friend, “he is a translator and scribe for the dignitaries and royalty in Ered Luin.”

“A very impressive job for one so young,” Dis remarks.

Ori goes even redder at her words than he had before with Bilbo’s. “Oh, well, I-I…” he stutters, quite unable to finish a sentence properly.

“Tell me, Bilbo,” Dis cuts in smoothly, saving Ori from any more embarrassment, “are you enjoying it here so far?”

“Oh, yes,” Bilbo tells her, “everyone has been very welcoming and kind. Not that I expected anything else, of course.”

“Of course,” Dis repeats, smiling wide. “It is nice that you can feel comfortable here. We were worried you would not, as it took you so long to accept our invitations.”

“Yes, well…” It was Bilbo’s turn to redden now. “I meant no insult, of course,” he promises. “Only I wasn’t sure if I could…” cope.

Dis looks at him with understanding eyes. “It is understandable,” she tells him. “We lost our own mother in the attack. Your actions are not insulting in the slightest.”

“I did not know about your mother,” Bilbo says now. “I am sorry for your loss.”

Dis her head politely. “We will all grieve together on the day, and then celebrate the lives that were spared.”

Bilbo nods solemnly, and they speak no more of it for the rest of the night.

 

Chapter Text

Dear Bofur,

 

As you requested I am making attempts to write to you each week I am here. Although, admittedly, I am finding it difficult already. There is so much to do and see here that my writing time is becoming smaller and smaller. This is my third attempt at writing you correspondence, and already I’ve been interrupted twice!

 

“Make that three times,” he sighs when one of the stones being lobbed in his direction to catch his attention smack him in the back.

“Sorry, Bilbo!” chirps Kili. “I wasn’t meant to throw it so hard.”

“It’s perfectly fine, Kili. What did you want?” Bilbo’s not so sure if Kili should be allowed to walk alone by himself, being a royal and also such a young age, but he thinks he can see a royal guard nearby, watching carefully, so he figures it’s alright.

“Oh, you know, just…” he waves vaguely before throwing himself down next to Bilbo in the garden.

Bilbo looks at him with a raised eyebrow. “Yes?” he prods, amused.

“You haven’t met our Uncles yet, have you?” Kili says ‘our’ like Fili is here, even though he isn’t, although Bilbo’s pretty sure they’re close enough as two people can be to being one unit. He thinks back to Elladan and Elrohir.

Bilbo shakes his head. “No, I have not,” he answers. “Should I be worried?”

“Oh, no!” Kili insists, shaking his head. “It’s nothing, really. I was just wondering.”

Bilbo just makes a small affirmative noise, delicately capping his ink pot. “What are they like?”

“Uncle Frerin and Uncle Thorin?” Kili asks, looking genuinely thoughtful about it. “They’re nice. Well, when they’re not in meetings, that is. Meetings always make them cranky.”

“Well, I can’t blame them,” Bilbo sympathises. “I’d be cranky if I had to go to meetings all the time as well.”

Kili shrugs. “I suppose so,” he agrees. “Uncle Thorin is the older brother, so he’s the heir. He’s a lot more serious than Uncle Frerin is. He’s kind of like Fili.”

“Fili is more serious because he’s heir as well?”

He nods in reply. “He’s not as fun as he used to be, but I know he can’t have fun like I can sometimes, so I don’t blame him. He’s just sort of groomed that way, you know?”

“You aren’t jealous?” Bilbo wonders, thinking (belatedly, of course) that maybe he’s being a bit nosy here.

“Nah,” Kili answers honestly. “I mean, being King would be kind of nice, but it’s a lot of work, and the throne isn’t comfortable at all. And there’s a lot of talking about boring things, and you barely get a spare moment to yourself…”

“It’s not for the light-hearted,” Bilbo agrees.

“But that’s what makes being the brother of the heir to the throne even better,” Kili declares, completely serious and sincere. “All the perks of being royalty with none of the drawbacks.”

Bilbo can’t help but laugh, and Kili looks positively wounded. “Oh, don’t be upset,” Bilbo tells him gently. “I don’t laugh at you. I think you’re funny.”

“Is that a compliment or an insult?” Kili wants to know.

“A compliment,” he assures the Dwarf. “I promise.”

He looks pleased. “Do you think that’s why the Elves laugh at me, too?”

“Uh…” More than likely not, but Bilbo doesn’t want to be rude. “I don’t know,” he says, honestly. “I’ve never seen Elves interact with you, so I couldn’t answer for sure, you see.”

Kili seems placated enough with his reply, thankfully enough. “The Elves laugh at everyone,” he sighs, making a face.

“That they do,” Bilbo agrees. “I think it’s just an Elf thing.”

“An Elf thing,” Kili repeats, nodding with brow furrowed in concentration. “Yes, that sounds about right.” He glances over at Bilbo now. “Mister Bilbo,” he begins, a little hesitant.

“Yes?”

“Did you like the gifts?”

“The gifts?”

“The flowers and everything,” Kili explains.

“Oh,” he shoots the Dwarf a suspicious look. “Did you send it to me?” Bilbo demands.

“Oh, no,” Kili insists. “I’m not really into flowers and all that. Only, I heard about it, and I wanted to know if you liked it.”

“How did you know, then? Did you know who did it?”

“Oh, everyone’s talking about it.” He doesn’t answer Bilbo’s second question, however. Instead he leans in, as if about to whisper a secret. “The guards like to gossip- but don’t tell them I told you.”

“Ah.”

“So did you?” he queries after a moment’s silence.

Bilbo blinks. “Did I what?”

“Like it,” Kili elaborates. “The flowers and all that, I mean.”

Bilbo feels his eyebrows quirk downwards. “Well… it was very nice. I don’t know who sent it, but they seemed to have put a lot of thought into it. I still can’t open that puzzle box, though,” he ends on a huff.

Kili looks oddly pleased, and Bilbo finds it all very suspicious.

 


 

 

There are more flowers waiting for him when he returns to his room. This time they are not at the door, and instead inside the room, set neatly on top of the study table in the corner. This bouquet is just as large as the last one, if not larger, but it consists only of Fuschia. Bilbo smiles at them, running his fingers over the petal for a small moment, before sitting down to finish his letter to Bofur.

It doesn’t take long when he has silence about him, and he folds it and stamps it in wax before heading off to send it. They have messengers waiting to send such letters, and Bilbo was hoping to catch one before he headed towards Ered Luin, but there’s no on in the Message Room, and Bilbo supposes he might have missed him. He could send it by Raven, of course, but his letter is not that important so he doesn’t think it would be right to use that method.

“Hobbit,” the voice comes from behind him, surprised.

“My,” Bilbo says, turning to look at him, “anyone would think you were following me about.”

There’s a Dwarf beside him who snorts in amusement. Bilbo recognises him, but does not know his name. “You are a royal guard,” he remarks, turning his attention fully to him.

He bows far too politely for one who looks like he beats men up for a living. He supposes that is what guards do for a living, though. “I am Dwalin, son of Fundin,” he introduces.

“I saw you with the King…”

The Dwarf nods. “Aye, you did.” He glances at Bilbo’s hands now. “You wish to send a letter?”

“Oh, yes.” Bilbo waves it about. “Just a letter for a friend, but I think I must have missed the envoy to Ered Luin.”

“You did,” Dwalin tells him.

“Surely you could just send it by Raven?” The Dwarf suggests. And yes, Bilbo is calling him The Dwarf now. Or perhaps The Annoying Dwarf would be more fitting.

“It is not that important,” Bilbo returns. “I’d hate to use a Raven just to pass on fanciful letters to my friends.”

Dwalin snorts in amusement. “It is perfectly fine, Master Baggins,” he assures Bilbo now. “You are a guest here and you are more than welcome to use our Ravens for your letters.”

Bilbo hesitates, unsure, but Dwalin waves a hand for him to follow him to the back of the message room where the Ravens are.

Bilbo shoots a glower in the other Dwarf’s direction before following him in. “Where is everyone?” he asks Dwalin, coming to a stop behind him as he picks a Raven.

“They’re sending out the last of the messages of the celebrations,” the Annoying Dwarf announces from the doorway.

“Ah,” Bilbo says, rolling his letter so it is small enough to be carried by the Raven.

“This is Ednoch,” Dwalin tells Bilbo, stroking the silky back of the bird. “Who is your letter addressed to?”

“Bofur son of Drodur.”

The Raven screeches and stretches out his wings, and Bilbo watches Dwalin carry the bird to the balcony and release it.

“You friend will have the letter by nightfall,” Annoying Dwarf tells him.

“Thank you,” Bilbo tells them both. “I do appreciate it. It took me so long to write that letter.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t important?” the Dwarf asks, his eyebrows knitting together.

“Oh, it isn’t. Only, I just kept getting interrupted while I was writing it. It was all rather frustrating. I’m just glad to have sent it off.”

“Interrupted?” The Dwarf repeats.

“Prince Fili and Kili,” Bilbo explains, “they are very nice but they seem to have the annoying habit of finding you at the worst time.”

Dwalin snorts. “You have no idea,” he says, and Bilbo is glad it’s not only him.

“They’re children,” says the other Dwarf with a shrug. “They’ll understand when they’re older.”

“How old are they exactly?” Bilbo wants to know.

“Fili is turning twenty in a few months,” the Dwarf explains. “And Kili is two years younger than him.”

Bilbo laughs. “I always get confused with you Dwarves calling twenty-year olds children. I forget sometimes that you live for so much longer than the rest of us.”

The Dwarf looks confused, sweetly so (not that Bilbo would admit that verbally, of course). “How long do Hobbits live for?”

“It is usual for a Hobbit to live to a little over a hundred, but not usually for much longer than that.”

“A hundred?!” exclaims Dwalin. “So young!”

“You can understand my confusion, now, of course,” Bilbo tells them both. “An adult by our standards is twenty. Fili would be considered of age in the Shire.”

“Such a small amount of time,” the Dwarf says with a frown. “And how old are you?”

“Well, that is a rather rude question,” Bilbo crosses his arms over his chest. “But I am forty, if you must know.”

“Forty?” The Dwarf pales as he speaks. Even Dwain looks surprised.

“Oh, please,” Bilbo rolls his eyes now. “I am almost into my middle age, I would not have you lot treating me as some child. I am not a Dwarf, you’ll remember.”

“I suppose not…” The Dwarf allows. “But it is still alarming to know that an emissary working for our kin in Ered Luin is so young.”

Bilbo laughs. “I am not young at all. My body simply wears out quicker than yours, that is all.” The thought of death seems to make them all uncomfortable, so Bilbo goes on. “And how old are you, then, if we’re going into it.”

“I am a hundred and seventeen.”

“One hundred seventeen years!” Bilbo is begrudgingly impressed, even though he’s met older Dwarrows. “If you were a Hobbit you’d be very grey by now.”

The Dwarf rolls his eyes. “I do not think I’d want to be a Hobbit,” he remarks now, dryly.

“And what is wrong with Hobbits?” Bilbo demands, offended once more. “We may not have beards but we are every bit as good as you Dwarves.”

“I’m sure he meant no offence, Master Baggins,” Dwalin cuts in, giving his friend a look. The Dwarf looks like he’s going to say something else, but just snaps his mouth shut instead.

Bilbo harrumphs, and bids them good day.

“Nice work,” he can hear Dwalin saying as he leaves.

“Oh, enough of that,” comes the hardly scathing reply.

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo has to admit he likes receiving the flowers. He’s received flowers before- been given them by the hundreds. He’s had them thrown at him, left at his door, handed to him shyly. But there’s something about this situation that makes it so different. And maybe it’s because of who it is that’s giving them to him. Or, at least, who he thinks is giving them to him. Who he hopes is giving them to him. There, he’s said it. He’s admitted it.

He likes the annoying Dwarf whose name he doesn’t know. He likes him, and Bilbo hasn’t liked anyone before.

Not like this, anyway.

Not only does he think it’s his annoying Dwarf, he wants it to be him.

There are little hints, maybe. Well, he thinks there are little hints. Their meetings have a teasing and playful manner, and the Dwarf asks about the flowers, but then again- everyone asks about the flowers. It seems everyone knows about them: Bilbo supposes it should be obvious, though, because Kili had been correct in saying that the guards like to gossip (he’s overheard them talking about all the happenings about the royal halls a few times now).

But Bilbo is sure it’s the Petunia’s that give it away. It’s the Petunias that make him think that it’s certain his Dwarf that’s sending them.

He’s doubtful that his admirer would have used Petunia’s unless they had met him face-to-face, or spent time around each other- so surely that means something, right? To find his presence soothing, as the flowers declare, one would have to spend time around Bilbo.

Right in the centre of the bouquet, however, is perhaps the brightest and most beautiful sunflower Bilbo has ever seen. So much so that he picks it out of the bunch and gives it pride of place on his bedside table.

Then he sits on his bed, crosses his legs and gives the puzzle box another attempt. He likes the challenge, and the thought that someone perhaps knew that and made this for him thinking that makes him quite flattered. It is frustrating though, because as soon as he thinks he’s got it, the wood locks again and he’s stuck once more.

He’s perhaps even more frustrated because tomorrow is the anniversary of his mother’s death, and the slaying of the dragon. Usually he’d be locked away in Bag End, having taken a few days off from his duties in Ered Luin, to ride the day through and pretend it isn’t happening, trying to keep himself busy. But he can’t do that here. Fili and Kili want to spend time with him, and Ori is asking him all kinds of advice about how to tell if someone’s interested in you, and isn’t that interesting- far too interesting for Bilbo to not look into it. And then there’s the Dwarf who still refuses to tell Bilbo his name, even though it’s clear he knows Bilbo’s. He runs into him every day, as if he stalks around waiting for Bilbo to cross his path, and Bilbo has to admit that he himself has walked down a few halls more than once with the hopes of bumping into him.

No one talks to Bilbo the way this Dwarf does. He doesn’t know if it’s because he’s not a Dwarf, or because he confuses others, but they just don’t talk to him normally. And with the addition of his name- a name that all Dwarrows know because of the brave actions of his mother- it makes things difficult. People don’t treat him like a normal person. So it’s refreshing to have someone talk to him like… well, like he’s a nobody. It’s nice having someone who isn’t reverent towards him because of something his mother did: someone who gauges Bilbo’s personality and his worthiness from his own actions. That having been said, his Dwarf is ignorant and belligerent and rude and completely snobbish. But Bilbo likes him anyway. He thinks he’s funny, albeit a little infuriating. But he likes that, too. That he’s difficult, and doesn’t pretend he isn’t. Of course there is a thin line between being honest about your personality and being a completely rock-headed and insulting dunderhead– and his Dwarf definitely jumps from one part of the line to the other quite often.

And really, he ought to stop thinking of the Dwarf as his Dwarf, but he can’t help it.

He blames the Petunias.

 


 

 

“I met your Hobbit today,” announces Frerin.

“He is not my Hobbit,” Thorin replies irritably.

“Well, regardless.”

Thorin throws his brother a suspicious look. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Frerin looks innocent, but he can be a very good liar when he wants to be. “He was trying to open your puzzle box.” Thorin doesn’t bother repressing a pleased smile at that. “He says it’s very difficult,” his brother goes on.

“Did he look annoyed?” Thorin asks.

Frerin just shrugs. “He says he likes difficult things,” and then, with a sly grin, he adds: “he’s perfect for you brother.”

Thorin says something to him in Khuzdul that has his father scolding him from the other side of the room.

“Sorry, Adad,” Thorin says, reply automatic.

Thrain just rolls his eyes while Frerin practically hangs off of Thorin’s arm. “Will you dance with him?” he wants to know.

“With who?” Thorin stalls.

“With the Hobbit,” Frerin tells him, “obviously.”

“I don’t know,” he tells his brother. “Now stop tugging at me- Princes aren’t supposed to behave so childishly.”

“What’s this about the Hobbit?” Dis’ voice comes from the doorway as Frerin stops latching onto Thorin’s arm.

“Bilbo?” Kili pokes his head around his mother’s side. “Is he here?”

Thorin sighs. “No, he is not. Must we talk about this now?”

“Talk about what?” Fili wants to know.

“The Hobbit,” Frerin explains.

“What about the Hobbit?” Fili frowns at his uncle.

“Yes, brother,” Dis adds now, taking a seat and looking at him, amused. “What about the Hobbit?”

“It’s nothing,” Thorin says.

“Thorin’s going to dance with him at the celebration.”

“He is?!” Kili lights up like a bonfire. “Is Bilbo going to stay, then, if you dance with him?”

“That’d be nice,” Fili declares, nodding with his brother.

“Mahal,” Thorin puts a hand to his head, “you’re all killing me.”

Dis just laughs at him.

 


 

 

“Hello, Hobbit.”

“Hello, Dwarf.”

“Your feet are looking positively small today.”

“And your beard is looking a little thin. Feeling old, are we?”

“Your hair is looking incredibly flat this morning, I have to say.”

“Your beads don’t look like they’ve been shined. And who on earth did your braids? They look ridiculous.”

The Dwarf speaks without missing a beat, “Dance with me tonight at the feast.”

“Is that a question or an order?” Bilbo returns just as quickly.

“Both.”

“Fine,” Bilbo tells him.

“Good.”

“Yes.”

“I will see you tonight then, Hobbit.”

“Perhaps I will see you first, Dwarf. Perhaps I will trip you over and embarrass you in front of everyone.”

“Then perhaps I will stand on your toes. They are always in the way, being so large.”

“Then perhaps I will pull your beard.”

“You would not wish to insult a Dwarf in such a public manner, Hobbit.”

Bilbo cocks an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t I?” he asks. “Are you very, very sure?”

The Dwarf scoffs. “Goodbye for now, Master Hobbit.”

He bows politely and walks off, and Bilbo watches him until he disappears around a corner before sighing and going to find Ori.

“Dori’s been nagging me,” he whines when Bilbo stumbles upon him stalking about the hall looking frustrated.

“He’s halfway across Middle Earth!” Bilbo exclaims.

“Yes, and he still has the ability to completely ruin all the fun in things for me.” Ori waves the letter he’s been carrying with him. “It’s like he has a sixth sense about these things.”

“You mean the dancing?” Bilbo asks.

“The dancing,” Ori verifies before sighing loudly. “What do I do? He’ll know that I danced when I come home- I just know he will.”

“You seem like you’ve already made up your mind about it,” Bilbo tells him. “Dash him, at least for the night. He can yell at you all he wants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the celebrations.”

Ori looks decided, but guilty. “I suppose you’re right…” he says. Then he grins. “I am excited.”

“Admittedly, I am as well,” Bilbo confides. “You might see me stepping on a few Dwarven boots myself tonight.”

“You’re dancing?” Ori looks positively delighted.

“I am,” Bilbo replies with a small smile. “But we aren’t talking about me- who is it you’re going to dance with, hmm? Is it the same person whose got you suddenly asking me how to tell if someone’s interested in you?”’

Ori reddens. “I don’t know if he’ll dance with me, but I’d sure like to ask him. I just hope he doesn’t embarrass me if he says no.”

“Oh, Ori, I doubt anyone would be mean enough to do that to you.” Ori was far too sweet for anyone to want to be so malice toward him. “I’m sure you’ll be dancing all night.”

“I hope so,” Ori says, rather dreamily. Bilbo can’t help but laugh. “Oh, stop it,” Ori shoves him playfully. “I’ve never been allowed to dance with anyone before- I’m excited. Oh!” He suddenly looks concerned. “What if I don’t do the dance right? What if I trip over? Oh, what if I do something stupid,” he puts his hands to his face and groans. “I’ve only ever done the dances for practice. I’ve never done them in front of people before.”

“Well, neither have I,” Bilbo says now. “Look, why don’t we find somewhere quiet and I can help you?”

“Oh, would you?” Ori looks like he might just cry. “I’d be terribly grateful.”

“You’d be helping me, too,” he replies, shrugging. “I think we could both use a little practice.”

Ori releases a great big breath. “Yes, I do think you’re right.”

“Of course,” Bilbo tells him. “When am I ever wrong about anything?”

They go to the garden, and on the way there Ori asks about twenty times if Bilbo is sure it’s alright for them to be there on this date. Because his mother died this day so long ago and the garden is a dedication to her, but all Bilbo can feel when he’s there is peace and comfort, and not grief.

So they dance, and they trip over, and find Fili and Kili spying on them. But Bilbo manages to convince them to help as well, much to Fili’s grousing.

“I don’t like dancing,” he mumbles when Bilbo asks him what’s wrong.

“I do!” Kili chimes in.

“Why don’t you like dancing, Fili?” Ori wonders.

Fili doesn’t look up from the ground. “I’m not good at it.”

“Don’t worry, brother! I’ll dance with you!”

Fili rolls his eyes and Kili dances with him about the garden to make him feel better, much to Ori and Bilbo’s entertainment.

Soon enough, however, they have to abandon their amusement in order to return back to the mountain and get ready for the celebrations.

Bilbo puts on his best waistcoat and smooths down his hair and combs his feet like a good Hobbit should, and on a whim as he’s stepping out the door he grabs the little wooden box he still can’t open and shoves it in the pocket of his trousers.

There certainly isn’t a man standing on one leg and juggling knives, but there are musicians and long tables pushed against the walls with food towering over them and there are already more than a few couples dancing in the large expanse of space between. The room is lit by hundreds of candles and torches, lining the walls and hanging from the roof, as if suspended in mid air. To the far end of the room there are high, well-carved chairs, obviously for the King and his family. Bilbo spots Ori near the doors that leads to the balcony, and greatly appreciates the feeling of knowing at least one person at a party.

Ori looks quite appreciative to not be standing alone anymore, as well, and is quite happy to wave off any suitors who wish to dance with Bilbo. “But I thought you were going to?”

“Not with them,” Bilbo insists. “Would you want to dance with any of them?”

Ori shakes his head. “They don’t want to dance with me anyway.”

Bilbo rolls his eyes.

“The King!” A strong voice announces at the door before Bilbo can get a word in, and the room turns silent. King Thrain steps inside now, followed by his children, and everyone bows. Bilbo can see Frerin, and Fili and Kili by their mother’s side, and… and… His Dwarf.

“Hail King Thrain, son of Thror, King Under the Mountain and his children Princess Dis, Prince Frerin and Prince Thorin.”

Prince Thorin.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo is hiding. Well, not hiding. Perhaps just trying to compose himself. Yes, that’s what he’s doing.

His annoying, confounding, insulting Dwarf is a Prince. Oh, and Bilbo’s been teasing his beard, Eru help him.

His face is hot with embarrassment and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the puzzle box, shifting it in his hands as he thinks.

He doesn’t think Thorin’s intentions were to be cruel, or to hurt Bilbo, and perhaps it was just ill judgement to not tell him. But Bilbo can’t blame him. It must be hard being a Prince and Bilbo would have certainly acted different towards him had he known. Although, he would have still yelled at him for being so rude to Ori: Prince or no.

He’s so lost in his thoughts that his grip on the box slackens a little and it slips from his fingers and falls to the ground, snapping neatly in two.

Bilbo, feeling relieved that it’s finally open, and a little guilty for dropping such a pretty thing, bends down and grabs it, pulling out the gift inside.

It makes him confused for some time, and he stares at it with a frown, fingers running over fabric, until he realises, and bursts into laughter.

“You opened it then?”

Bilbo jumps, although he expected Thorin to come and find him. “Only just now,” he admits. “I dropped it.”

Thorin laughs himself. “Frerin says I always make them too hard.”

“Frerin would be right,” Bilbo agreed, before looking down at the box in his hands. “But I don’t mind,” he tells Thorin. “There’s nothing worse than a puzzle that’s simple. It’s not a puzzle at all if it’s not hard.”

Thorin looks amused, he steps forward, but hesitates. “Are you very mad?”

Bilbo leans against the balcony, thinking about it. “A little,” he admits, shrugging.

“You must understand,” Thorin tells him now, earnest. “No one had ever spoken to me like you did. Perhaps my siblings, or my father, but certainly not someone I hardly knew. And I didn’t want to… ruin it. It seemed a pity to let reality get in the way of something enjoyable.”

“But I had to find out eventually,” Bilbo adds.

“You had to find out eventually,” Thorin agrees. “I thought perhaps I’d tell you before the dance, but time just slipped away from me. I had hoped you wouldn’t feel too…”

“Duped?” Bilbo suggests. “I should. But I don’t think I do. After all, I insisted I didn’t want to know your name, and you insisted you didn’t want to know mine (even though you already knew who I was) so I think it’s both our doings.”

Thorin grins, but he still looks sheepish. “I should have been more honest.”

“I don’t think you were actively avoiding me. Perhaps you would have been discovered sooner had our paths crossed, but they did not. There have been many tasks for you to complete during my time here, so we have not had the opportunity to meet officially yet. It is surprising, though,” he adds, “seeing as I’m a guest here, invited by your family. But our paths did not cross.”

“Well,” Thorin makes a face, “I did actively avoid you once, and I made a right cad of myself doing it. But I swear all other times our paths never crossed were not my doing.”

“And when was this?” Bilbo asks, amused. “How did you embarrass yourself?”

Thorin looks loath to admit it. “You were leaving the Mountain and we were greeting King Dain. I was forced to lunge to the ground in a rather dramatic manner to prevent you from seeing me.”

Bilbo might just fall over the balcony from laughing too hard. “And what did King Dain say?”

“I gave them the impression that I was fixing my boots,” Thorin declares.

“Oh, very quick thinking,” Bilbo tells him, impressed.

“Certainly,” Thorin agrees. “I am very good at thinking on my feet.”

Bilbo moves closer. “Oh yes?”

“Yes, indeed.”

Bilbo darts past him and trips him up before spinning and running back inside, laughing at Thorin as he curses in Khuzdul.

He almost runs into a guard in his hurry to disappear into the crowd, and steps back politely, bowing and apologising. There’s some sort of complicated dance going on in the centre of the room, so there’s no way he can just run through the centre. Instead he twists and turns through the crowd, nodding and smiling at those who greet him. He runs into Kili near the doorway.

“And where are you off to, Bilbo?!” he wants to know. He’s clearly had far too much ale, but Bilbo can’t blame him. This is a celebration of life, after all.

“I was just going to get some air, Prince Kili,” Bilbo tells him politely.

“Nonsense!” Kili grabs hold of his arm. “You should dance with me.”

“Oh, I don’t know-”

“Oh, please!” Kili gives him a look that would melt even the strongest of resolves with his muddy, innocent eyes. “I’ll make Fili ever-so-jealous. He’s been dancing with people all night and no one’s been asking me.”

“Perhaps it’s because you’re too young,” Bilbo suggests helpfully. “Or perhaps they wish to dance more with your brother because he is your Uncle’s heir.”

Kili pouts. “Then they are missing out.”

Bilbo laughs at him. “Indeed. A dashing young Prince like you? Who wouldn’t want to dance? Come on, then,” he waves at Kili to get a move on, “let us make all of the gathering jealous, shall we?”

Kili lights up and drags Bilbo onto the floor eagerly.

He knows the dance well: it’s one of the same dances that he’d practiced with Ori not a few hours ago, and he doesn’t step on Kili’s feet at all- which he’s thankful for. Kili, however, steps on his quite a few times.

“I think I know why no one wishes to dance with you, Prince Kili,” he says when the dance is over. “My poor feet have been abused.”

Kili looks down at them apologetically. “I’m sorry!” he says, and Bilbo can see Thorin coming up behind his nephew, having obviously waited until the dance is over. “Balin says I stomp too much when I’m dancing.”

“Balin is correct,” Thorin announces, and Kili jumps like he’s just been stabbed.

“Uncle Thorin!” he presses a hand to his chest.

“You are a terrible dancer, Kili,” Thorin tells him, but the words are fond and not unkind in the slightest.

Kili just grins ruefully.

“But it is fine,” Bilbo adds now. “You are young. You just need practice.”

“Go and save your poor brother from the dignitary clawing at him,” Thorin instructs, before taking Bilbo’s hand and leading him back onto the dance floor.

“Very sure of yourself aren’t you?” Bilbo says as they start dancing. “To not even ask my permission.” He clicks his tongue.

“I am Prince,” Thorin replies, deadpan. “No one ever says no to me.”

Bilbo harrumphs. “Fine,” he says, like it’s a great torment for him to have to dance with Thorin. “Just do not stand on my feet and we shall have no problem.”

“Only if you do not pull my beard like you said you would,” Thorin returns teasingly.

In reply Bilbo reaches up and gives it a playful tug, too quick for anybody to notice. Well, everyone but Thorin that is. He quirks a smile and ‘accidentally’ stands on one of Bilbo’s toes.

“Did you like your gift?” Thorin asks as they spin.

Everyone about them is a blur but Bilbo can see them watching. “I did, yes.” He smiles up at Thorin. “It is just what I needed- the perfect gift.”

“Good,” Thorin’s smile turns wry, “I had thought perhaps you would think that I was making fun of you.”

“And were you?”

“No. Not really, anyway. It was a joke, but not one that was meant to upset you.”

“Well, I like it regardless,” Bilbo announces. “And I shall always keep it on my person.”

Thorin is clearly pleased, so much so that they finish their dance without any more teasing. Bilbo is surprised. But it doesn’t last for long.

“It was nice to dance with you, Hobbit,” Thorin declares, bowing.

“As it was for me, Dwarf. And your beard looks perhaps a little better today than it had yesterday.”

“The hair on your feet certainly looks thicker tonight than it had before.”

Bilbo is thinking of some witty reply when something catches his gaze and makes him forget it entirely. “Oh,” he says.

“What is it?” Thorin asks, following his gaze.

“Oh, Dori is certainly not going to like that.”

Thorin is confused. “Is there something wrong with my friend dancing with yours?”

“His eldest brother would have your friend’s head on a platter for even looking at Ori. And his hands are very far down on his waist- not that Ori appears to mind it.”

Thorin shrugs. “He has been talking about Master Ri all week,” he tells Bilbo, “wanting to know everything we knew about him.”

“Has he?” Bilbo grins. “Ori’s been asking me for advice- but I didn’t know who it was for.”

“And now you do,” Thorin says.

“Now I do,” Bilbo agrees. “And I am rather impressed: I do not know much of Dwalin, but he seems a decent fellow.” He shoots Thorin a look. “Is he your guard?”

“He is a royal guard,” Thorin explains, “he does spend a fair amount of time with me, but more oft than not he’s with my sister-sons, training them.”

“How brave he must be,” Bilbo teases, “to deal with such boys: a real warrior.”

Thorin snorts. “Indeed. Warg and Orc are easily slain,” he agrees, “but children are a far more difficult foe to conquer.”

Bilbo has dealt with many children: he’s considered the best Uncle anyone could ever have in The Shire, and he certainly agrees with him.

He smiles, and fiddles with the handkerchief in his pocket that had been in the puzzle box, and all he can think of is how his mother would have told him she was right.

“I told you so,” she would tease incessantly, pulling at his curls and pinching his cheeks. She would never let him live it down.

“I am glad I came this year,” Bilbo announces.

Thorin looks at him. “As am I.”

 


 

 

“I will write to you,” Thorin promises, “every day. And I will make sure you want for nothing- even if you are halfway across Middle Earth.”

“Even handkerchiefs?” Bilbo asks with a grin.

“Even handkerchiefs,” Thorin replies seriously, but he’s smiling as well.

“But I must go now. I am needed back home, and it would be a shame to deprive them of me for much longer.”

“I am sure Ered Luin is perishing without your presence.”

“You laugh,” Bilbo says now, “but it probably is. Dwarves can be terribly foolish when they don’t have the right guidance. It is a trait I have noticed you all share.”

Thorin rolls his eyes. “You insult me,” he puts a hand to his chest. “I have been mortally offended.”

“Oh dear. Shall I be executed?”

“Immediately,” he declares in reply.

Bilbo can’t help but grin. “Then I ought to make haste with my escape now.”

“Farewell, Hobbit. Perhaps when we next meet you will not be so offensive.”

“And farewell to you, Dwarf. But I would not get my hopes up- I’m afraid I can’t help but tease you.”

“Then I look forward to you teasing me at our next meeting.”

“And I you.”

Their goodbyes having been said, Thorin takes his leave, and Bilbo slings his pack over his shoulder and goes to find Ori who’s nervously picking at his jumper in the stables.

“Do you think Dori will be able to tell?” he asks once he catches sight of Bilbo, not bothering to give context.

Bilbo already knows what he’s speaking of anyway. “Oh, he will,” he tells his friend. “Dori has a strange sense about these things. And he will interrogate you until you crack, and then he will walk right across Middle Earth and break Dwalin’s face, I am sure of it.”

Ori looks miserable. “Oh, dear.”

“Oh, dear, indeed. But you ought not look so guilty, or feel so bad. You should never be ashamed of enjoying yourself, Ori.”

“It’s not that. I just…” Ori huffs. “I don’t like it when he yells at me.”

Bilbo laughs, and tugs him in the direction of the ponies. “That is something you’ll just have to deal with when the time comes. Now, let us hurry- we have a long journey ahead of us and we’d best get started.”

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo receives handkerchiefs every month, and he’s beginning to have so many that he doesn’t know what to do with them all. He receives other things as well, but he doesn’t speak of them- letters that are far too personal in nature to share. But he does still receive flowers, although Bilbo doesn’t know how Thorin manages it. He supposes that he just requests the florists near The Shire to collect them for him, but he doesn’t know for sure.

Veronicas and Primroses are handed to him by messengers, with long letters filled with all kinds of declarations that make Bilbo blush and laugh at the ridiculous romance of the content. He writes letters back when he can- teasing letters, loving letters, and he presses Ambrosia and Heather between the pages and lets them dry before sending them.

Autumn has ended now, and he's back home in The Shire, making scones and cakes for his cousins and aunts and uncles to get them through the long winter. He will travel back to Ered Luin soon, in a few weeks time, but for now he has all the free time in the world to sit and enjoy some pipeweed with Hamfast and talk about his award winning pumpkins, or to sit and sigh as Lobelia goes on about how Bilbo is never really in The Shire anymore as she pours him another tea.

There’s a quiet knock on the door just as he’s setting the scones on a plate to cool, and it’s too quiet to be any of his nosy neighbours, but he wasn’t expecting anyone else. So he walks to the door, patting crumbs and flour off of his hands, and opens the door with a frown on his face.

“Oh,” he says, and really, he should have suspected it but he didn’t. “Hello.”

They stand there in silence for some time, the icy wind blowing through the house, before he speaks. “May I come in?” he asks. “Only, it is quite cold out here, and I’m not sure if you’re forcing me to endure it longer than necessary because I have done something to anger you- or if you are simply just surprised.”

Bilbo steps aside. “Your beard is longer.”

“You said perhaps I ought to grow it more.” He takes his cloak off and looks about for a place to put it.

“Teasingly,” Bilbo replies, taking it from him and hanging it up.

“Besides,” he goes on, “beards do tend to grow: I’m sure you know this.”

Bilbo snorts. “Just don’t get your muddy boots all over the floor- I mopped it this morning.” He shuts the door tightly behind him, hoping the chill will be eroded quickly by the fire roaring in the sitting room. “You didn’t say you’d be coming.”

“We are passing through: I heard word of your being here instead of in Ered Luin, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to see what a Hobbit Hole was like.” He looks about. “It’s not what I was expecting, admittedly.”

Bilbo laughs. “You really are the rudest Dwarf I have ever met.”

“And you are the rudest Hobbit.”

Bilbo stretches up on his toes, wrapping his arms around his neck and kissing him. “Hello,” he says with a smile.

“Hello,” Thorin replies, looking amused, and then he pulls away, sniffing curiously. “Are those scones I smell?”

Bilbo groans. “You’re going to eat all of my food, aren’t you?”

“Perhaps.”

“Dwarves,” Bilbo grouses, huffing and following him into the kitchen. “You’d better not have brought me any more handkerchiefs!” he announces, and Thorin chuckles.

“Too bad,” he sighs at Bilbo, “I have a trunk load for you just outside.”

“Of course you do,” Bilbo rolls his eyes, but the words are spoken fondly. “I would not be surprised in the slightest.”

“I do delight in not surprising you,” Thorin replies. “I love your malcontent.”

Bilbo shoves at him. “Don’t be so silly, Dwarf. If you want you can help me make some soup, but there will be no feasts here tonight.”

“Not even a little one?”

“No.”

“Pity,” Thorin says. “I suppose I’ll just have to entertain myself in other ways.”

“Good luck with that,” Bilbo remarks dryly. “And you just wait- as soon as everyone hears about a Dwarf coming to my home, I’ll have nosy visitors coming round at all hours of the day.”

“Then I will send them away,” Thorin replies. “I am a Prince, after all.”

“Hobbits don’t listen to Princes,” Bilbo scoffs.

“Ah, I see. So that is not just you, then?”

Bilbo smacks him. “How long will you be here for?” he wonders, leaning against the cabinet.

“As long as you want me,” Thorin declares, throwing his arms wide.

Bilbo likes the sound of that.