The beads were presented to Bilbo inside an ornate box of carved wood, a gift in itself, a heirloom of Thorin’s family line -- passed on, guarded and used only for one single purpose whenever a joyous announcement was imminent. The beads were brand-new, grafted by Thorin himself for this occasion alone. These beads would never be re-used or passed on, like most other beads were, for that would have been bad luck.
Bilbo, after he had stared at the pair of beads laying on a bit of Durin-blue fabric and not quite daring to touch them, looked up at Thorin, who shifted a little on the bed they were both sitting on.
Thorin looked exuberant. He reached out over the scant distance between them to caress Bilbo’s hair, now rather long, if still curly, which already had a number of braids in it. Bilbo pressed his head into Thorin’s big palm, enjoying the contact, the intimate gesture the caress was. A log crackled in their hearth, more for extra comfort than any real need, the heating systems of the Mountain having been properly repaired years ago.
Finally, Thorin parted a section of Bilbo’s hair. ‘Here.’
Bilbo gave him a smile of his own. He knew what he needed to do, had learned the braid, was quietly excited over getting to braid this one. ‘I know how,’ he chided softly and Thorin nodded his assent.
The right section of hair was easily parted from Thorin’s hair, freshly combed and oiled after his morning ablutions, and Thorin picked up and handed the bead to Bilbo, according to custom. Only one bearing could craft and present beads to the one who had sired the pebble they were forging, as had been explained to Bilbo before. He had seen enough of the world to not have been too flabbergasted by the knowledge that he and Thorin might have a child of their own but neither had he hoped too much after he had been made aware, for they might not be compatible, although Kíli having had to make use of the box, loaning it for Tauriel and having a wee pebbling of their own now, had given both Bilbo and Thorin hope of success.
Bilbo brought the section of hair to his lips to press a reverent kiss there, thinking briefly of the future, of their hopes and dreams, then he gently and precisely sectioned the hair, going slow with the weave as not to mess it up too terribly. Thorin stayed still under his ministrations, even if he had to feel a little bit nervous, this being the first time such a braid was ever braided into his hair.
‘It is the intent and the beads which matter most, ghivashel.’
Bilbo sighed. ‘Thorin...’
‘I meant only to allay any nerves you might have.’
‘You have shown me often enough and I am no novice in braiding, after all.’ Bilbo punctuated his words by touching each of the braids in Thorin’s hair that he’d braided with a lingering hand.
‘I know, amrâlimê .’
The braid was not entirely neat, but Bilbo was sure that he had created the pattern of three strands, two bigger and one smaller, right and the bead was in place, which was the most important thing. Bilbo secured it and held it for a moment, looking at the markings proclaiming that the pebble Thorin bore was his and Bilbo’s. Bilbo kissed the braid, as he always did the first time one was braided in and then kissed the bead.
Then he kissed Thorin’s lips, winding his hands around his neck and lingering, completely happy and joyous in the moment.
They pressed their foreheads together in further intimacy and Bilbo stared at Thorin’s middle, which he had noticed growing. Over half left, still, if everything went right. And everything would go right, he couldn’t even briefly think that it wouldn’t.
Thorin now looked at him with that piercing blue gaze of his. ‘Now you.’
His hands were not steady and Bilbo knew why, yet that did not make the braid come out uneven or slow the process. Often enough, Bilbo was convinced that Thorin could do any braid in his sleep, he was so practised and deft with his skill.
When the kissing and admiring was done, they sat apart on the bed, staring at one another. Then Thorin grasped Bilbo’s hands, bringing them to his middle. His voice was hushed and hopeful. ‘Spring.’
The word always brought images of growing green things and being able to wander out of doors and of life into Bilbo’s mind. Now, it brought forth a tentative image of Thorin with a bundle, their bundle , in his arms. There had been pebbles enough in the last decade that Bilbo didn’t have to imagine too hard to see one in Thorin’s arms. But this time it would be theirs .
Bilbo squeezed Thorin’s hands holding his. ‘Spring.’
‘Well worth the wait.’
They took a quiet moment together to think of might-have-beens and tomorrows which had come to nothing and were grateful that they had come this far this time.
‘Are you ready to face the family?’ Thorin finally asked.
‘Couldn’t we just spend the rest of the day here?’
‘My dear hobbit, are you suggesting of forgoing breakfast on Solstice morning?’
‘We could always claim we are too overjoyed to share with others and have something brought to us?’
Thorin looked at him.
‘Claim you’re unwell?’
Thorin looked longer.
‘If you think my sister has not noticed what has been happening and would not drag everyone here, you have been sampling mulled wine from dawn, I think.’
After a long cold winter spring brought with it life, turning the fields green and showing to all that there would be a new addition to the royal family before summer, even if braids, beads ands smiles had not given it out long before.
Over a decade to the day that Bilbo met Thorin at the doorstep of Bag End, and was swept off his feet, losing his heart in the process, their long wait is over.
Bilbo’s hands shook as he held their very own pebble, a dark-haired wee thing, red-faced yet perfect. He had not understood the perils of parenthood until that very moment, the moment he realized he was in over his head more than he had ever been before.
Thorin was lying in the bed, propped up with pillows and looking tired yet smug. ‘A new braid needs braiding.’
Bilbo smiled. His eyes were damp. ‘My hands are full.’
And Bilbo did, carefully climbing onto the bed next to Thorin, trying not to jostle him too much. He settled next to Thorin so they could both look at the pebble in Bilbo’s arms.
Thorin reached to caress a small chubby cheek. ‘Perfect.’
‘Yes. Ours at last.’