“What do you mean he’s asking for me? He shouldn’t be asking for anyone! He should be asleep, healing.” Bilbo Baggins propped his fists on his hips and glared up at Dwalin, his entire body trembling under the stress of the day, The Battle, Thorin’s condition.
“Laddie, you need to face it. He may not pull through. He wants to see you, just in case he doesn’t.” Dwalin placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to steer the hobbit towards the king’s tent where healers still worked diligently to save Thorin’s life and those of his nephews.
Bilbo froze at Dwalin’s words. His trembling increased and blood rushed loudly through his ears. “Right then,” he said. “Right. I’m coming.” He let his hands fall down to his sides and walked into the tent.
Chaos reigned inside the fabric walls and roof. Oin worked diligently over Fili, trying to save the prince. Others worked on Kili, including the elf maid he’d taken a shine to. Neither prince was awake, their skin pale as the ice and snow they’d been found on, and blood drying on their skin as fresh was quickly staunched as healers applied pressure to wounds.
He fought to turn his gaze over to the king. Thorin lay prone on his back, thick bandages making his body bulkier than normal under the furs of his cot. They’d cleaned the blood from his face and arms and hands. Evidence of Oin’s work showed in all the bindings and stitches littering the dwarf’s body. The parts of it he could see at least.
“I’m here,” Bilbo said and knelt next to the cot, reaching for the hand struggling to rise. “None of that now. Save your strength,” he ordered.
Thorin’s smile bordered on a grimace. “I will try, but first I must make sure my kingdom will be secure in the event of my death and that of my heirs.”
“No. No.” Bilbo shook his head violently. “Don’t you even consider that a possibility. You’re going to get better.” He could feel his mouth setting in the hard, mulish line that had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion during their journey and after, before the. Well. Before everything went pear-shaped.
“I must,” Thorin rasped. “Erebor needs someone to lead. I am told Fili and Kili’s chances are worse than my own so I must find a way to be sure Erebor will survive and thrive in our absences. Will you help me with this?”
Bilbo squared his shoulders. “What do you need?” he asked.
Thorin’s eyes drifted to the side and Balin stepped forward, mouth a grim line. Watching him, Bilbo knew the old advisor did not agree with the current course of action. Balin handed a wooden box to Bilbo. He opened it and peered inside.
“Beads,” he said as a spark of alarm flashed through his head. “Why are you giving me beads? They look important. Thorin why are there beads?”
“I entrust my kingdom to you, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End,” Thorin said and coughed. Blood flecked his lips. He raised his hands, motioning for Bilbo to come closer. He did so, leaning over the injured and quite possibly dying king. “There is only one way to make sure Erebor goes to your hands and not to another not directly in my line, such as Dain.” He fell silent, as he clenched his jaw as if unable to continue.
“What? What is it?” Bilbo asked glancing between Thorin and Balin. “What must I do?”
“Marry him, laddie,” Balin said, his shoulders sagging under the weight of the admission.
“Ma-? Marry‽” Bilbo stammered. “I can’t- I’m not- Marry? But we’re both males!”
Balin tucked his thumbs into his belt. “We’ve told you how scarce dwarrowdams are,” he reminded Bilbo. “For us, such a relationship is entirely respectable and accepted. I take it hobbits are different?”
“I should say so!” Bilbo said and swallowed back the sudden tremor trying to infect his voice. “I mean, they exist, but they’re not acknowledged or spoken about. Completely unrespectable for us. No offense to your people.”
“I thought as much,” Balin said with a nod and a sigh.
Thorin closed his eyes, agony marring his features momentarily. “Then Erebor will fall into Dain’s hands, to be managed and ruled by the Iron Hills,” he sighed and another racking cough surged through him.
Bilbo stared at the dwarf, a strange pain flaring inside his chest. Thorin had worked so very hard to reclaim Erebor for his people, not for those in the Iron Hills. The sacrifices he’d made, the pain he’d endured, the humiliation, the degradation, everything to keep his people and his family alive. “It can just be a marriage in name, right?” he asked, his eyes shifting from the dwarf lying prone in front of him to Balin.
“Aye, it can be,” Balin said. “In times like these, our people would accept you as Prince Consort Under the Mountain, no matter the circumstances of your union as long as you both are willing.”
Bilbo’s nose twitched as he thought through the implications. He could marry Thorin. It could just be a marriage in name. No romance. No love. No nothing. Just a title given to save a kingdom. He fought down the choking feeling in the back of his throat. “I’ll do it,” he said and looked back down at Thorin in time to see a smile stretch across his lips, “but you must promise to try to live. I’d really rather not have to rule an entire mountain all on my own if you don’t mind.”
Thorin huffed a laugh and then grimaced in pain as the muscles around his lungs tried to contract in their half-destroyed state. “Balin will be by your side,” he promised, looking at his old friend who nodded in return.
“You have my word,” Balin said.
“Good. Good.” Bilbo said, nodding his head and trying to ignore the nervous butterflies battering the walls of his stomach. He looked down at his hands, at the box. “So, uh, why the beads?” he asked.
Thorin reached for the box and Balin took one of the beads out and handed it to him. “Come closer, Burglar,” Thorin ordered and Bilbo did as he was told.
“Weddings can be simple for us,” Balin explained as Thorin reached up and pulled out a section of Bilbo’s hair that sat next to his ear. It was getting long. The hobbit had intended to cut it once things settled down after they reached the mountain. He hadn’t had a chance yet. “All that must be done is a set of specific braids put in each other’s hair.”
Thorin tugged at his hair a bit, arms trembling from the effort of setting the braid in Bilbo’s hair. He held still, doing his best to make the process easy on Thorin, bending closer still. Finally, Thorin secured the bead to his new braid and his arms dropped to his sides, exhaustion pulling him into unconsciousness.
“So that’s it?” Bilbo asked, blinking in confusion. “Why is there another bead?”
“I’ll show you how to do the braid,” Balin said, “but you must put it in Thorin’s hair yourself.”
Bilbo watched as Balin went over to a bag and pulled out nine lengths of bandaging. He tied one set of the ends together on the rail of Thorin’s cot and told Bilbo to take the braid already near Thorin’s left ear and unravel it. Once Bilbo had done that, Balin started a complicated braid, going slowly so Bilbo could match the movements, combining some of the nine bandages into a single piece at times and separating it out at others. “Our marriage braids show who we are and to whom we are married. The first pattern is the braid that describes Thorin. King Under the Mountain, eldest brother, fighter, Oakenshield, master blacksmith, Azanulbizar survivor, and so on. He can tell you all of them when he recovers. The second pattern describes you. He has put together a very good start for yours,” Balin said and glanced at the braid in Bilbo’s hair. “Undoubtedly he’ll expand on it once he’s prepared to do so.”
“What does it mean now?” Bilbo asked, scrutinizing Balin’s work as they talked. He struggled to keep Thorin’s hair in order, to keep all the strands in his fingers. It was odd handling the king’s hair. As far as Bilbo knew, none of the others had touched each other’s hair except maybe Dori had done something with Ori’s a time or two.
“Not much,” Balin admitted. “Prince Consort to King Under the Mountain, sword fighter, story-teller, landowner, dwarf friend, fighter, shield braid, husband. A good start, as I said.” They worked in silence for a while. “Now you just repeat the patterns over until you reach the end of his hair.”
“Thanks,” Bilbo said, still concentrating on the hair in his fingers. He was careful not to pull. He wished he were better at this. He’d rather be taking the time to study his new husband, keep an eye on him and make sure he slept easily.
Finally, he reached the end of Thorin’s hair and placed the bead.
“I hate to drag you away laddie,” Balin said, “but there is work to be done and you must do it, now that you’re Prince Consort.”
Bilbo nodded, patted Thorin’s hand once, and left the tent, feeling a bit sick to his stomach. What had he just done?
Thorin, Fili, and Kili survived the night and were moved into the mountain along with all other wounded the next day. The process took the entire day and into the night. Bilbo directed people towards the Hall of Kings where the least grievously wounded would remain in the large room. Other smaller rooms near the forges were cleared out as best as they could be due to the short notice for the more seriously injured, the royal family included. Once all the healers knew where to go, he turned his attention to the kitchens, going to Bombur to find out how many supplies they had and how long they would last. The situation did not sound very good. He went to Dain and requested he return to the Iron Hills with those that were able and send back a supply of goods. He left Balin to work with the Dwarf Lord over price.
Nori found him at lunchtime.
“You’re doing good,” the former thief said, dropping into the chair next to Bilbo and digging into his own portion of that afternoon’s stew. “Current atmosphere in the mountain indicates no issues with you acting in place of your husband.”
Bilbo almost choked at the last word. He swallowed thickly and cleared his throat. “Are you spying on people?” the hobbit hissed.
“What?” Nori asked. “You thought I was brought along to just look pretty?” He smirked. “No, My Prince. Ever since I went to Thorin after he signed Ori on, he’s planned for me to be his spymaster, which I’m not supposed to know. You know, if we all survived.”
“Which we did,” Bilbo said, his eyes involuntarily flicking in the direction of the infirmary. He hadn’t had a chance to check on Thorin or the boys yet. He wondered if he could sneak away for a few minutes after lunch to see them. He doubted it. Balin seemed to have tasks for him at every turn.
“Aye, that we did,” Nori said with a chuckle. “Still amazes me at times. Thought for sure this was going to be my last heist.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m glad you came along and I’m glad you’re now spymaster. I don’t think I would trust anyone else to do a better job.”
“Flatterer,” Nori accused. “Here comes Balin. Don’t work too hard.”
Bilbo wolfed down the last of his stew, using the chewy piece of flatbread he held to wipe up the last of the gravy in his bowl before Balin reached him.
“Come on laddie,” Balin said, “We’ve work yet to do this day.”
Bilbo nodded, going to pick up his bowl and return it to the kitchen staff.
Nori’s hand reached out and gathered the bowl towards him. “None of that now,” he said. “Let one of us lesser mortals take care of your dishes.” He winked up at Bilbo who huffed.
“That’s ridiculous. I can take care of my own things.”
“Worry about it later,” Balin ordered. “Bard is here to see you about aid for his people.”
The nights were the worst, Bilbo decided. He worked from sun up until well after sundown. When he was finally able to rest, he went to the infirmary where he would sit with Thorin, Fili, and Kili. More often than not, the elf maid Tauriel was there, hovering over the younger prince. He read to Thorin to pass some of the time. Sometimes, Bilbo fell asleep sitting in the chair next to Thorin’s bed, his schedule and the vigil he kept next to his friend, now husband (he still balked at the word) draining him of all energy. He dreamed of fire and gold and a dragon. He dreamed of dark caves and blood and a spindly creature that liked riddles. He dreamed of enormous spiders with burning blood and terrible voices. He dreamed of endless elven hallways and trapped friends he could hear but couldn’t find.
He woke one such night in the middle of facing down Smaug again, an ache in his back, but to the feel of fingers ghosting against his cheek. He blinked blearily in the dimmed lantern light, wondering if Balin was trying to gently wake him instead of the usual rough shake to the shoulder that usually earned the dwarf a solid hit to the arm or chest for his troubles.
“Am I late?” he asked groggily and rubbed his eyes, sitting upright.
“Can’t imagine you being late for something at three in the morning.”
The rough voice woke him entirely. He whipped his gaze up to meet tired, pained blue eyes.
“Thorin,” he breathed.
“Bilbo,” Thorin replied, a small smile tugging at his lips and removing some of the pained lines marring his features. His eyes shifted around the room. “Fili and Kili?” he asked.
“Still alive,” Bilbo said. “Tauriel has been helping. I hope you don’t mind I told her she could stay.”
“Tauriel?” Thorin asked, confused.
“The elf captain. Well, not captain anymore. Apparently threatening Thranduil is a good way to be banished from his court.”
“She threatened him?” There was a small amount of grudging glee in Thorin’s tone. Bilbo nodded. He sighed. “Must not be too bad a sort, as far as elves go.”
“Good,” Bilbo said, knowing better than to elaborate on the seeming devotion the elf had for Thorin’s youngest nephew. “Wait just a moment. I’ll send someone for Oin.”
He stood and started for the door but Thorin’s hand caught his wrist, the grasp weak but sure. “I did not dream it?” he asked, his eyes drifting over to the left side of Bilbo’s head. “We are married?”
Bilbo returned to his chair. “Yes, we are,” he said, as heat flooded his cheeks. Really? Thorin wakes up after days of unconsciousness and this is what he wants to talk about?
Thorin released him and relaxed back into his pillows. “Good,” he said.
With a raised eyebrow, Bilbo went to the door where one of Dain’s apprentice healers sat dozing in a chair, just in case something in the room happened. Bilbo roused him and sent him for the elderly healer before returning to Thorin’s side.
“Fili,” he said as he tried to look over at the young dwarf. “How is he?”
“He still sleeps,” Bilbo said. His throat tightened and hoped Thorin wouldn’t press for more. It would be better for Oin to tell him, knowing more in depth what was wrong with the two princes.
Thorin studied the sleeping pair. From here, Bilbo was sure that even Thorin would be able to hear the rattle that had settled into Fili’s chest whenever he breathed. “He’s worsening, isn’t he?”
Bilbo flinched. “Oin knows what-”
“Put them in the same bed.” Thorin turned back to Bilbo. “They have been together since Kili’s birth. Let them draw strength from each other or perish together.”
Bilbo nodded. “I’m sure we can arrange that.” He looked over at the boys. His nephews, he realized for the first time. He’d already thought of them as his family but now they were. He chuckled a little.
“What amuses you, Husband?” Thorin asked, fingers reaching out again, this time for Bilbo’s hand.
There’s that word again, Bilbo thought. Out loud, he told Thorin, “I was thinking of the boys. I’ve considered them family for months, but now they are. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner.”
“They will be pleased to know you are now their uncle,” Thorin said with a warm smile.
Bilbo opened his mouth to reply but Oin bustled in at that moment and set him to getting supplies to help in checking Thorin over. By the time Oin was satisfied with his improving condition, Thorin looked absolutely drained and ready to fall back into unconsciousness. He even seemed to doze for a moment while Oin looked at his foot, examining the stitches carefully. He startled awake when the healer started wrapping clean bandages across the injury, bumping it slightly.
“You’ll survive,” Oin finally decreed. “Give him this for the pain after he eats,” he said and handed Bilbo a little bottle. “I’ll have the kitchen send something up that he should be able to handle without problems. Send for me if anything changes. I’ll send someone in to move the princes.” He left.
Thorin looked up at Bilbo, eyelids already drooping as sleep pulled him back into oblivion. “Will you wake me when the food arrives? I’m starving.”
“Can’t have a starving king in his own kingdom, now can we?” Bilbo asked. “Sleep Thorin. I’ll wake you.” He placed his hand on Thorin’s forehead and drew it down his long nose. The dwarf’s eyes closed at the motion and remained that way until Bilbo woke him a short time later, only to eat, take the painkiller offered, and fall asleep once again.
He’ll live, Bilbo thought, relief surging through him as he watched the king sleep for a time. Anxiety chased the feeling. He was married to the King Under the Mountain who was now expected to survive his wounds from battle. How in Yavanna’s Garden was he supposed to explain that to his relatives back in the Shire? The breach in propriety was undoubtedly going to turn him into a social pariah. And what of Bag End? His books? His armchair? He was Prince Consort to a kingdom halfway across the world. Did he just leave it all behind? Clearly, he hadn’t thought everything through when he’d married Thorin.
“Well done Bilbo,” he murmured to himself and heaved himself up from his chair. He’d return to his own bed, really his bedroll on a cot but who really cared? He needed sleep if he was going to function through all the meetings and decisions he’d need to make the next day. Hopefully, his nephews would pull through now that they were together. He’d start his day by checking on them, no matter what Balin wanted him to do.