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The Many Moods of Thorin Oakenshield

Chapter Text

For the first few months, Bilbo had been woken by Thorin’s screams.

He would jerk awake as soon as the noise began, throwing off the sleepy confusion which lay about his shoulders like a cloak, before scrabbling for the oil wick which was now always on hand. Sometimes the shouts would evolve to crashes and he would force his usually-nimble feet to move faster, faster, tripping over himself in his haste. The halls of Bag End, made for comfortable silence, would echo with the keening cries of the once-king’s night terrors.

When he reached Thorin’s rooms, he had a routine.

If the dwarf was holding some sort of sharp object (getting more creative each time, after Bilbo confiscated the last one) the hobbit would edge as close as he could around his wild swinging before pinning his arms to his sides in a tight embrace. Usually he would thrash a little before calming, though then he would begin to shake as if he was coming apart, which was almost worse. When Bilbo wondered why, he thought it was the vulnerability, the wrongness of seeing such a strong and stubborn creature felled by ink-black memories, reduced to a child frightened by the storm outside. He would lead Thorin away, out of the room, outside to let the dwarf breathe beneath the endless sky.

‘The drums,’ he would always whisper, almost whimper, over and over in a broken stream. ‘The drums. The drums. They’re coming.’

He would sit the dwarf down on the bench outside, and pull his head onto his own small shoulder (so small, to offer comfort to someone so great) and bury his hands in his night-dark hair, and press his cheek to Thorin’s ear.

‘Shh, Thorin,’ he would murmur softly. ‘I’ve got you. You’re safe. You’re not alone.’

Bilbo would repeat this until the dwarf’s shoulders were still, and Bilbo’s neck had dried, and the early morning breeze had swept away the poison stench of sweat and fear and tears. For the shortest moment Thorin would let out a long breath and melt into his hold, before standing swiftly and going inside without looking at him once.

The hobbit would stay on the bench for a long time. His insides would ache with a phantom pain, like the gutted fishes he sees at the market. Usually he would wish that he could ask Thorin about whether he did the right thing or not, because the dwarf, he felt so fragile, and what if Bilbo was cracking him further with his clumsy care? But he never dared to ask, never spoke of it, because that was the understanding they had.

Thorin would come back out with his eyes fresh and his hair braided and two pipes in his hand, and they would sit together in comfortable silence until the loud complaining of the hobbit’s stomach broke it and they went inside with a shared grin, Bilbo to prepare breakfast, Thorin to continue whichever book he’d bought him from the markets last week.

Bilbo would glance at the once-king over his shoulder, surreptitiously. There was always an intense crease between Thorin’s dark brows as he stared down at the page, somewhat reminiscent of his expression in battle, and it never failed to bring a small, awfully fond smile to his face as he turned back to the eggs.

He was in deep, and he knew it.

(Because, whatever the dwarf might think, his night terrors didn’t make him weaker in Bilbo’s eyes. They made him so much stronger; that he lived every day, with this burden, and continued to live with it, meant more than any prowess in battle.)

But it wasn’t like he’d ever do anything about it.

(Because Thorin relied on him. He relied on him and that was something so deep, so precious, that Bilbo would never risk it. He felt guilty for even feeling those things, because Thorin needed him, as a friend, and his feelings were a betrayal.)

Still, that didn’t stop the feathers which tickled his stomach whenever the king smiled. Didn’t soothe the ache in his chest when they sat on armchairs before the fireplace and the flames gilded his strong profile. Didn’t cool the warmth flooding his chest when he scowled down at the trowel Bilbo was trying to teach him to use. Didn’t make his knees any stronger on the rare occasions when Thorin sang, eyes misty as the mountains they travelled to. Didn’t mean it felt any less right to see him beneath the bright blue sky of Hobbiton.

Didn’t stop him from comparing those eyes to that sky.

Bilbo reflected on this as he tapped the ash from his pipe, watching the tiny flakes settle amid the blades of grass by his feet. The vines of the plant behind him brushed at his curls; it really out to be trimmed back, he thought absently. Perhaps he would get Thorin to do it.

He easily pictured the once-king, shears in hand, glaring awfully at the bush. He always seemed to adopt the same expression whenever Bilbo attempted to rope him into gardening.

‘Those things are possessed,’ he’d insisted once. ‘Demonic.’

His temper had finally snapped after he’d been holding down a rosebush branch, attempting to prune it, and it had promptly sprung back up and smacked him in the face. Thorin still maintained that he had not shrieked – it had only been a kingly sound of surprise.

Bilbo snickered.

‘What amuses you?’ asked the dwarf in question, glancing over with a curious smile hovering about his mouth. He seemed much more relaxed than usual today: his dreams had been nowhere near as bad the night before, after all.

‘Your green thumb,’ Bilbo replied, then paused. ‘Or lack thereof.’

Thorin snorted inelegantly.

‘If I ever once had a green thumb, it was chopped off many years before.’

Letting out a merry laugh, the hobbit leaned back contentedly – into the vine’s embrace. Blast.

Well, he could live with a few leaves in his hair.

‘With that I can agree,’ he replied archly, seeing Thorin’s teeth flash in a grin. The sun’s warmth was trickling down his neck, and the rather excellent Longbottom Leaf had considerably mellowed his temper; both seemed to have worked their magic on the dwarf as well, who was studying the Shire before him with an almost affectionate gaze. It did the hobbit’s heart good to see. Barely a year had passed since the Battle of the Five Armies had torn the fabric of Middle Earth, and Bilbo had slipped away to destroy a certain Ring, only to return to Fili and Kili injured and Thorin on his deathbed.

His nephews’ hurts still troubled him the most, Bilbo knew. Often he rambled of black arrows and a massive double-bladed axe in the fevered grips of his dreams. Even though Fili had survived with his only penance blindness, and most of Kili’s leg had been saved, they may as well have died. In the once-king’s eyes, he had failed them.

‘You are troubled,’ Thorin announced suddenly, and Bilbo almost fell off the bench. He had not realised that he’d been so deep in thought, nor that the dwarf had been watching him.

‘Oh, I’m fine,’ he replied airily as he resettled, waving the idea away with the rest of his pipe-smoke. He tried not to watch Thorin’s eyes narrow, but he still saw when they suddenly softened.

‘You have helped me enough, Bilbo,’ the once-king said softly. ‘Allow me to return the favour.’

Bilbo glanced at him, shocked. It was the first time that he’d mentioned the existence of his nightmares, let alone the hobbit’s inept attempts at soothing them. It was therefore understandable that when he spoke, he stumbled over his words a little, like he’d stumbled over his feet that morning in the loud darkness.

‘There– there is no favour to return! I did that – do that – of my own free will,’ he sputtered.

‘I know that you do,’ Thorin replied calmly. ‘And that is why I ask.’

‘That makes no sense whatsoever,’ Bilbo muttered beneath his breath. He frowned down at his pipe, a much safer option than those thrice-damnable eyes. As he waited for the dwarf’s interest to run out, he merely continued to watch him silently, and when Bilbo could no longer ignore it he released a soft sigh.

Curse the stubbornness of dwarves!

‘I am…not yet ready to speak of it,’ he said honestly.

He was prepared to speak more, explain further, but Thorin accepted this with a simple nod, and if Bilbo thought he might have caught a glimpse of frown lines on his brow, he must have been mistaken.

‘As you wish.’

Seeking to dissolve the tension which had settled around the both of them, the hobbit stood and stretched.

‘Well,’ he said, barely having to look down at the (unnecessarily) tall dwarf, ‘I’d best be started with dinner.’

He managed a smile, but Thorin’s expression remained serious. There was an odd tint to his eyes, a discordant note in a familiar tune, and Bilbo hastily looked down at his feet. That look threw him, he would readily admit – if only to himself – even if he couldn’t quite place what it was.

‘You have a leaf in your hair.’

‘Oh,’ Bilbo said absently, ruffling his curls with his free hand. He didn’t notice how close the dwarf was until a light touch brushed against his head, and his eyes snapped up to see Thorin regarding him with an expression carefully neutral.

‘There,’ he said quietly, flicking the speck of green away. With a muttered thanks, Bilbo slipped around him and up to the round green door of Bag End, scrubbing viciously at his red cheeks all the way.

Chapter Text

Bilbo fruitlessly wiped at the sheen of sweat adorning his brow, eyes narrowed to an irritable squint as they jumped from stall to stall. He skirted around a passing mother and her faunt, striving to ignore the prickling discomfort of his best waistcoat (well, second-best; his best had been destroyed in an absolutely mad jaunt across the countryside with a certain irritating wizard and thirteen completely horrific dwarves). The markets were unnaturally crowded this week, perhaps due to the encroaching of Midsummer, and most especially the Midsummer Party. Hobbits were predictable creatures after all.

As he made his way down the street, a vender called out a cheery greeting. He tipped his hat and gave an equally merry reply – no matter how hot the day, a Baggins was a Baggins, and he would damn well act like it. At any rate, he was sure that his Took half had been allowed enough free rein for an entire lifetime by this point.

‘Would you care for some respite from the sun, Master Bilbo?’

The call came from Reginald Proudfoot, an elderly hobbit who had been good friends with his father. Bilbo swiftly made his way over to his stall, posture folding with relief as shade swept over him with a cooling wing.

‘Good morning, Master Reginald,’ he greeted with a rather tired smile. Seeing this, Reg chuckled genially and offered him a handkerchief.

‘And a fine hot one it is too!’

‘Truer words have never been spoken,’ agreed Bilbo gravely. The old hobbit’s eyes crinkled with amusement, the warmth of his expression befitting his white curls and bright yellow weskit. Reg was undoubtedly one of the more accepting of his species – a rare sort these days, Bilbo reflected gloomily. The few times Thorin had accompanied him to the markets, Reg had been pleasant and welcoming, which was more than could be said for most hobbits to meet the once-king. Most gawked shamelessly and scuttled away when he neared, and those were the polite ones.

(Although, Thorin certainly didn’t help the situation with his constant glowering.)

‘And how is your dwarf?’ Reg asked jovially, seeming to follow the younger hobbit’s thought pattern as he flopped down on a nearby chair.

Bilbo pushed away a large lute and sighed.

‘The others are all so…so unwelcoming,’ he said petulantly, feeling like a faunt once more in the presence of his oldest friend. Reg had been quite the parental figure after the death of Bungo and Belladonna, and his familiar actions certainly sent Bilbo back.

‘Well, you have to be patient with them,’ Reg replied archly, flitting around the small square of space. He was oddly spry for his years; in fact, he often reminded the younger hobbit of a shorter, portly Gandalf.  Bilbo watched Reg adjust a stand of fiddle-bows with a brooding cast to his expression.

‘I suppose; it is very frustrating, though. Times are so much brighter now, yet still we fear outsiders! Has nothing changed?’

‘Not yet, perhaps,’ Reg said, patting him on the shoulder. ‘But it will, my boy. It will.’

‘Thank you,’ Bilbo replied, his attention snared by an instrument half-obscured by a star-shaped tambourine. When he’d first seen the tambourine after returning, it had reminded him irresistibly of Nori, and he had laughed rather helplessly for an improperly long while.

Reginald seemed to catch the distracted tone to his voice and turned, eyebrows rising at the source of Bilbo’s interest. For a moment his gaze jumped between the instrument and the younger hobbit, before a keen spark took up residence in his eye.

‘Master Oakenshield play the harp, does he?’ he asked shrewdly.

Bilbo squeaked like a fieldmouse.

‘No! Well, yes. But that isn’t the point!’

‘Are you sure?’ Reg queried, eyebrow climbing higher in a familiar expression. Bilbo had seen it often as a fauntling, usually when he had an apple pie or a batch of cookies in his chubby grip and the confused voices of some avid baker echoed through the Shire. Such instances usually ended in Bilbo confessing his crime, and the two hobbits having a good laugh about it later as they polished off the baked goods.

Bilbo felt a stab of guilt, and sighed once more.

‘Very well, Reg, you old fox, it is. You are much too wily for your own good.’

Reginald Proudfoot smiled down at his old foster-faunt.

‘You always have been an atrocious liar, my boy.’

‘Thank you,’ Bilbo said again, the term this time laced with irony. Reg guffawed and ruffled his curls.

‘Come now, you know it’s true. But here, have the harp; I have no use for it, and nobody seems to want the old thing. It’ll just sit there gathering dust if you don’t take it away.’

‘I couldn’t possibly! That is much too generous,’ said the younger, taken aback.

‘What are you insinuating, hmm? Calling old Reg a coin-counter?’

‘No, no,’ Bilbo fumbled, looking more horrified by the second. ‘I just–’

‘Oh, Bilbo, I’m teasing,’ Reg chuckled, shaking his head fondly. ‘Just take the silly thing. It would look much fairer beneath a dwarf’s skilled touch.’

Here he winked quite suggestively at Bilbo, who groaned and buried his face in his hands, his fingers not quite able to hide the redness splashed across his cheeks. ‘You will be the death of me, Reginald Proudfoot,’ he muttered into his palm.

Reginald’s laugh was crass and booming, and the memory of it followed him all the way up to Bag End, the unwieldy brown-wrapped package nestled among the groceries in Bilbo’s arms doing nothing to banish it away.

::::

That evening, Bilbo was curled quite comfortably in his imprudently massive armchair, dozing before the warmth of the fire as he reflected on his current perch. Before his journey There and Back Again, the hobbit had much preferred the smaller Halfling-sized chair to the one his mother had installed for the occasional visiting Big Folk; yet when the second occupant of Bag End had joined him, he’d gravitated towards the smaller chair, and Bilbo had gladly let him have it. He was even coming to appreciate his ridiculously enormous perching spot.

It was almost like his love for Thorin, he reflected with a snort, amused at the comparison. At first he’d been uncomfortable and hated it a little – it had come rather out of the blue, of course. Then he’d come to endure it, and existed thus for a time. Then he came to view it as rather exciting, a change, a chance for a fresh view on the world. Then suddenly he was comfortable.

Too comfortable.

Bilbo huffed and stretched out a little, exasperated with himself. The occurrence of Thorin’s nightmares had been patchy lately; he’d been wondering if there was perhaps something behind it, and should be devoting his thoughts to that, not mooning like a lovestruck toad.  His stretching hand found the book on the nearby table, which he latched onto and began to read, hoping for a distraction.

The hobbit wasn’t sure how much time passed before the sound of a slamming door echoed through the hobbit hole, announcing the presence of a certain dwarf. Bilbo sighed and wondered whether to lecture him yet again on the proper treatment of doors, especially when they have been freshly painted. Yavanna knows he’d done it enough times. It seemed that Thorin rather forgot himself after a hard day of work.

A few months ago, Saradoc Brandybuck from down the road had offered up his father’s old tool-shed for Thorin’s use. It was disconnected from the hobbit-hole, and impractically large; it seemed that his father had been a rather avid hoarder of tools (an odd choice in mathoms, to be sure, but Bilbo wasn’t the sort to judge another gentlehobbit’s mathoms). So as his own personal project, Thorin had fixed up the shed and converted it to a forge, and gradually hobbit customers had begun to trickle in with a broken lock or a bent poker or a faulty hinge to be fixed, wealthier and less respectable hobbits – usually Tooks or Brandybucks – even asking for jewellery or weapons. Bilbo took it as the sign of acceptance that it was and tried to console himself with that whenever he caught some Bolger giving the dwarf a gormlessly alarmed look.  Bilbo himself couldn’t see the appeal of bashing away at a hunk of metal all day, but apparently it was relaxing, or something of the like.

As the shadow that was Thorin stormed past, Bilbo absently said ‘Don’t slam the door.’

He received a grunt in reply. Well, it was frankly more than he had been expecting.

A short while later, the dwarf returned, tiredness tugging at his eyes. He wasted no time in collapsing into his armchair and letting out the most indecent groan, his head falling back to expose the cable of his neck.  Bilbo stared at it stupidly for a moment. He noticed Thorin’s eyes slip open and hurriedly returned to his book, perhaps ruffling the pages a tad more than necessary.

‘How was the forge?’ he asked before Thorin could comment upon his odd behaviour.

‘Tiring,’ replied the dwarf, idly turning his head to study the hobbit. Again, Bilbo would very much like everyone to know that he very desperately tried not to notice the way in which the firelight played across the planes of Thorin’s face and picked out the strands of mithril in his hair. ‘And the markets?’

Bilbo cleared his throat and looked back to his page. ‘Uneventful.’

The hobbit couldn’t help wondering if Thorin was actually as heart-breakingly gorgeous as he seemed to his eyes, or if his love for the dwarf distorted his view. He then only realised that his eyes were fixed on the same sentence after he’d read over it seventeen times.

‘Oh, yes,’ he recalled suddenly after a minute, seeming to startle Thorin out of some reverie. ‘I bought you something.’  He gestured to the still-wrapped harp waiting by the fireplace. Thorin’s eyes didn’t move from where they lay on Bilbo and he began to feel flustered beneath that luminous gaze.

‘Well,’ he continued, beginning to ramble, as he did when nervous. ‘I didn’t really buy it. It was given to me. By a friend. I didn’t steal it. Not that there’s anything wrong with stealing – well, in the right context that is, in the wrong one it’s a little immoral, but–’ Bilbo cut himself off abruptly and looked away with a small cough. ‘Sorry. Go on, then.’

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Thorin briefly raise an amused eyebrow before making his way to the instrument. When the coverings fell away, Bilbo didn’t miss the look of startled wonder on his face, nor how it faded to wistfulness; they were private expressions, and he should have looked away, but really he was a greedy hobbit and would take what he could get.

Thorin ran his fingers over the polished wood of the instrument with an almost reverential grace. When the rough pads brushed against the strings, they gave a sweet murmur, and the sadness fell from his eyes like dust shaken from an old coat.

‘You don’t have to–’

‘I will play,’ the dwarf interrupted gently, before looking up at him with a soft smile, and oh, that really wasn’t fair. ‘Thank you.’

‘It – My pleasure,’ Bilbo stuttered, pressing a hand to his chest. It didn’t ease the ache inside, and really he hadn’t expected it to. Thorin’s smiles were impossible, because the ice of his eyes melted to water clear and warm and sweet, and his cheeks pulled up with childlike happiness, and his teeth shone through his beard, and really they were so rare and precious and they made him into an entirely different person, and, well, Bilbo valued them more than he ever could gems or jewels or even a smooth golden Ring, and they made him want to clutch onto the dwarf and never let go, basking in his warmth like a flower turned to the sun.

It was that smile, after all, that he had thought of, when the heat of Orodruin seared his skin and his mind was poisoned and inky, after Gollum tore at his finger and he clung desperately to a ledge as the Ring sank into the embrace of molten rock.

Thorin had taken the harp back to his chair and sat with it, the handheld instrument seeming almost at home in his careful hold. He was lengthwise to Bilbo, and the hobbit watched his profile as he leaned forwards, engaged in his task, a thick curtain of black hair falling before his ear. The itch to brush it back tickled through his fingers, and Bilbo laced them together to prevent any accidents.  After a few plucked notes, and a little adjustment (the instrument was almost perfectly in tune, and obviously new – Reginald Proudfoot, the dirty liar who lies) Thorin began to play.

Bilbo thought he knew what to expect. After hearing the once-king sing, slow and deep and mourning for a sadness which the hobbit could not quite grasp, he had been expecting something similar; he had certainly not expected a tune as warm and comforting as the fire before him, pouring from Thorin’s fingers like liquid gold. In a rare, unguarded moment, he allowed his head to fall to the side and watched the play of emotion across the dwarf’s peaceful face.

‘Did you like it?’ Thorin asked later, when the sky outside was black as coal and the harp was carefully wrapped and stowed away the largest guestroom.

‘Oh, yes,’ the hobbit replied. ‘It was beautiful.’

Thorin smiled at him, and he returned it, because he was a foolish young hobbit with a weak heart.

Then he pushed his wistfulness away with no small amount of irritation, and allowed his smile to become more natural as he looked to the fire. The flames licked warmly at the blackened log, dancing shades of crimson and amber, nothing at all like those of Mount Doom. The fact that he could look at the fire without remembering soothed the somewhat tense line of his body and he melted into his chair.

‘Midsummer is approaching,’ Thorin said, his deep voice weaving with the crackle of the flames.

‘Yes,’ Bilbo replied absently. ‘And that brings the Party. Will you come?’

‘I…am not sure.’

A frown creased Bilbo’s brow and he cast the dwarf a quick look. He was staring into the fire, expression unreadable.

‘Why?’

‘I do not think it would be proper.’

Bilbo ran this through his Thorin-to-Westron translator and shot up, sleepiness forgotten in his outrage. ‘You mean for us to be seen together? You think I am embarrassed of you? Ashamed?’

‘The other hobbits think badly of me, and you have a good reputation to uphold,’ he replied, turning his gaze to the hobbit earnestly. ‘I do not want to put you through more trouble than I already have–’

‘Thorin Oakenshield, you complete idiot of a dwarf!’ Bilbo barked, because shouting was always more likely to get through his thick skull. Honestly, it was denser than the stone he came from. ‘I made the decision to allow you to live with me, and I will bear the consequences – which I am perfectly able to do! I’ve faced a dragon, for Yavanna’s sake. Do you truly think I care about propriety or my reputation? I thought that you regarded me better, but I must have been mistaken!’

The dwarf opened his mouth to reply, but before he could get out a word Bilbo leaned over and smacked him on the arm – gently, because even though he was an absolute sodding blockhead he was an honest and kind one.

‘You are much more important than what the Shire thinks of me,’ he maintained staunchly. ‘Even if they don’t know how you are, I do, and I think it’s about time you earned some peace. You came here to get away from your responsibilities – no, don’t look like that, you well should have, you deserved to – and I don’t want you…brooding over the most birdbrained of things. I know it’s hard, but cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to constantly torture yourself, you know, even if you think it terribly majestic to do so.’

Thorin nodded silently, the look on his face rather similar to his nephews’ after they received one of Balin’s especially resounding dressing-downs. He looked a little intimidated, in fact, and Bilbo couldn’t help a small glow of smugness. It would seem that all those years lecturing sticky-fingered fauntlings paid off after all. 

‘As you wish, Bilbo,’ he said eventually.

‘You’ll come? Only if you want to.’

‘…I’ll come.’

‘Good.’

Bilbo twitched his nose and looked away to glower at the fire, quite missing the soft colour which lingered about the once-king’s eyes.

 

Chapter Text

Much to the apprehension and concern of the inhabitants of the Shire, the week leading up to Midsummer’s Day were plagued by raging storms and a veritable deluge of rain. The possibility of cancellation, an unprecedented event in the history of Hobbiton, was heavy in the Shirelings’ hearts – the Party Tree was barely even visible through the thick curtain of rain, and faunts cowered beneath the tables at the flash and rumble of thunder.

Bilbo himself spent his days sulking and eyeing his battered garden longingly. Thorin, on the other hand, was perfectly content to sit and read one of his books, chin in hand, a cup of tea beside him. How the dwarf had amassed so much patience, Bilbo had no idea. He himself almost unbearably missed the touch of the sun and the wind on his face; he had been unable to leave Bag End for days, being drenched within seconds if he so much as stepped outside. The hobbit was ready to admit that he was being driven a little stir-crazy and the fact certainly did not escape his companion’s attention.

‘You’re sulking,’ Thorin observed as he serenely turned a page. Bilbo merely sped up his pace where he travelled from left door to right door and back again, forging a line through the warm living room.

‘I am not.’

‘You are so.’

‘You’re a child.’

The dwarf rolled his eyes.

‘You have been pacing since dawnbreak, I hardly think that I am the child in this situation.’

‘Well, I’ve been stuck inside for days! It isn’t natural, I tell you!’

‘Our miners spend months below ground without seeing the merest glimmer of sunlight. I believe you will survive.’

I am not a dwarf,’ he said pointedly. Thorin merely raised a calm eyebrow and turned a page.

You are overdramatic.’

‘Says you! Who’s the one who threatened to slay Thranduil, his entire army, and every last one of his kin after he called you a goose? Hmm?’

‘I do not speak that foul tongue! For all I knew, it could have been a grave insult!’

‘And you couldn’t spare three seconds for it to be translated?’

Thorin’s eyes narrowed, his facade of calm finally shattered, and drew himself up regally. Most unfortunately the move did nothing but remind Bilbo of an affronted pigeon puffing himself up and he couldn’t quite hide his snickering (which also may or may not have been fuelled by the memory of that most eventful day, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Five Armies, when Thorin had been in the middle of a rather impressive tirade of swearing when the bandage around his head had fallen to cover one eye. Thranduil's smirk had not helped in the least). The dwarf rolled his eyes again at the sound, but despite himself the tension disappeared from his jawline.‘We do not all possess your rationale, Bilbo.’

‘Oh?’ Bilbo asked, his eyes glinting teasingly. ‘What was that? The mighty Thorin Oakenshield admitting one of his shortcomings? Well, I never!’ He clutched a hand dramatically to his chest. The dwarf snorted and shook his head, his blackberry-dark hair shifting about his ears; his simple cotton shirt gave a soft rustle at the movement.

‘You have been spending far too much time with my nephews. They are becoming a bad influence.’

‘I haven’t seen them for a year, you paranoid old dwarf – and letters don’t count, by the way,’ the hobbit sniffed. Thorin chuckled lowly and Bilbo staunchly ignored the shivers which jangled down his spine at the sound. Sometimes it still surprised him, would hit him at the oddest of moments, how he felt that he was only now beginning to see the real Thorin Oakenshield, not a disgraced, angry prince or a gold-mad king.

‘How go your preparations for the Party?’ asked Thorin curiously. He had tried to assist with the process a number of times, but Bilbo had always fussily herded him away, refusing to let him so much as choose his clothing for the occasion. He was a dwarf, after all, and a dwarf with the style of a half-blind orc at that. Bilbo was perfectly fine being seen with him, but most certainly not if he wore one of those atrocious coats. The Party stretched for three days and three nights, and the entirety of the Shire would be there, after all. The first day was dedicated to feasting, the second to drinking, and the third to dancing. When the sun fell the massive bonfire provided illumination, any hobbits with musical talent revealing their instruments, and on rare occasions Gandalf’s fireworks would shower the sky.

Bilbo couldn’t help wondering if the wizard would turn up for this year’s celebration. He wouldn’t put it past him. He hadn’t seen his old friend since they’d parted ways at the corners of the Shire, nor any of the dwarves for that matter – aside for Thorin, of course.

It was safe to say that Bilbo had received a bit of a shock when the once-king appeared on his doorstep one early Spring morning, grumbling about the winding streets and confusing architecture. It had taken all the hobbit had not to throw himself at him on the spot, either to kiss him or hit him he wasn’t entirely sure, though after Thorin’s exceedingly rare apology he’d found the latter urge swiftly dissolving.

‘They’re almost complete,’ Bilbo replied as he turned on his heel. ‘I’m just waiting on the spun-sugar treats from Mistress Burrows; they should arrive soon, though perhaps the storm has impeded her journey…she is getting on in years. Oh, I do hope she’s alright…’

He then proceeded to descend into indecipherable chunnering. Thorin watched him, badly restraining a laugh as the hobbit paced and muttered beneath his breath; Bilbo deigned to ignore this, instead wrinkling his nose in concentration and counting on his fingers. While it was not mandatory for attendees of the Party to bring gifts, the gentlehobbit greatly enjoyed buying treats for all the small fauntlings…and perhaps a certain dwarf whose raging sweet tooth Bilbo had discovered after he devoured an entire jar of his best lavender cupcakes.

Bilbo had actually found it rather adorable – as if he would ever admit that to Thorin. And if he surreptitiously bought three more cookbooks on baking sweets that was his business and nobody else’s.

‘The rain seems to be abating,’ Thorin observed casually. Bilbo’s head snapped around like a warg on the hunt, staring out the window to see that the sun’s light was clearer, the clouds a softer shade of white. The fresh smell of the earth after rain skipped in through the open window; Bilbo breathed in deeply and grinned as a cheerful breeze combed through his curls. The childlike urge to run and yell and whoop and do other such immature things was stronger than it had been for a good many years, and suddenly, he could see no reason whatsoever to suppress it. 

‘Thank the Valar,’ the hobbit rejoiced. ‘The Party’s still on!’ He turned to Thorin, mood effervescent with the return of blue sky. ‘Come on! We are most certainly not wasting a bright summer’s day, not ever again!’

With that he took Thorin’s wrist in a surprisingly strong grip and tugged him outside, the dwarf sighing a little but complying. One should never keep a hobbit from the sunlight, after all; not if they like all of their limbs where they are.

 

 

Chapter Text

Three days later found Bilbo and Thorin in the kitchen, Thorin furiously kneading a lump of dough with the concentration of a hundred Elven scholars, Bilbo trying to keep an eye on the cookies already in the oven but mostly ogling the dwarf’s muscular forearms where his sleeves were rolled up. Really, such a view was entirely distracting, so he could not be faulted for being unable to tear his eyes away.

He most certainly could be faulted, however, for allowing the cookies to burn.

‘Blast,’ he scowled, levelling his glare at the twelve lumps of charcoal. Thorin frowned at him from where he was still concertedly kneading the dough, and it took all of the hobbit’s self-control to maintain his glower.

‘This isn’t like you, Bilbo,’ said the dwarf. ‘What were you so distracted by?’

The hobbit coughed to dispel his discomfort and turned to the waiting batch of scones. ‘Nothing.’

‘Really?’ he asked, arching an eyebrow.

‘Yes, really!’

Thorin hummed. ‘If you say so.’

He returned to his task, and Bilbo heaved a silent sigh of relief, thanking the Valar beneath his breath. For some odd reason, it hurt him to lie to his companion – even for the most innocent of reasons, even if he would never in a thousand summers admit what he was distracted by. Thorin was just so open these days, so trusting, almost a completely different dwarf from the one on the road. Even though he’d sometimes wake up screaming in the dark hours of the morning, his shoulders were looser, his forehead smoother, his eyes more peaceful than he had ever seen them. Bilbo didn’t really know what he’d done to earn such a sight but soft wings still brushed by his ribcage.

Butterflies, he scoffed inwardly. What are you, a love-struck faunt?

Then he saw Thorin sneaking one of the ruined cookies from the corner of his eye, even though they must have tasted dreadful, his dark blue eyes lighting like a child’s as soon as he bit in to it, and he thought, maybe.

He laughed softly at himself and reached for the tray.

After a few hours of hard work, the final treat was removed from the oven – a large pecan pie – and Bilbo was having a hard time keeping Thorin away from the things cooling by the window. There were only so many times you could smack a once-king’s wandering hand with a wooden spoon, after all. Luckily the hobbit had grown immune to his puppy eyes (dear Yavanna, it must run in the family) and the fruit of their labours was relatively safe. Bilbo had to admit that the scents of freshly-baked treats were immensely tempting, but he was determined to set a good example, as the evidently more mature inhabitant of Bag End. Really, it was almost hilarious, the manner in which the dwarf seemed to have de-aged at least a century while in the Shire. It would have been hilarious, if hadn't been so immensely lovely. Thorin deserved some levity in his life; and, from what Bilbo understood of his childhood - or, rather, lack thereof - a chance to be immature, for once.

It was how Bilbo knew that he was in fact in love with Thorin. That strange, foreign urge to protect both body and mind, consequences be damned, that had first flared up when he'd been dangling off a burning pine tree, and had never quite left. To see Thorin finally happy had the inevitable consequence of making Bilbo himself happy... though some less pleasant side-effects came along with Thorin's new bliss, as would shortly be in evidence.

As he flung the tea-towel over his shoulder, he noticed Thorin giving him a rather worrying grin from across the counter-top.

‘What?’ Bilbo asked suspiciously.

The dwarf’s smile only grew, and he leaned further forward on his stool.

‘I redact my earlier statement.’

‘Which one?’

‘You do not look more like a grocer than a burglar; in fact, I would have to say you currently most resemble a snowman.’

Bilbo paused for a moment, before narrowing his eyes warningly at him and ruffling a hand through his curls. A cloud of flour spiralled around him; he pointed a threatening finger at the widely grinning dwarf.

‘Not a word, Thorin Oakenshield! Not one single word!’

‘Of course,’ he said innocently, then after a moment the façade cracked and he snickered. ‘I knew that you were keen on flowers, but I never thought it went quite so far.’

Briefly, Bilbo stilled, suspicious. The smug curl to Thorin's smirk and the anticipatory set of his eyebrows cued the hobbit to suspect that there was something more to his comment - then it clicked. He sputtered with indignation, offended purely on principle by that absolutely terrible excuse for a jest.

‘Oh – why, you–’

At his incoherent protesting, Thorin threw his head back and laughed unabashedly, sharp jawline on display. Bilbo ignored how his heart squeezed at the sight and instead chose to snatch a handful of flour and fling it at the dwarf.

He stared at the hobbit, stunned, hair and eyebrows encrusted with white powder.

‘You look so old,’ Bilbo choked, descending into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. ‘Grandpa Thorin!’

Thorin raised a frosted eyebrow with great dignity and poise, which of course only served to increase the strength of Bilbo’s paroxysms. There was only one avenue left to the dwarf: retaliation. He and Frerin had once been known to rival Fíli and Kíli in mischievousness and that part of his spirit drove him to shower the hobbit in a massive handful of flour.

Bilbo glared up at him with curls now entirely white.

‘You’ll pay for that,’ he said calmly, before his fists were suddenly full of flour and he was chasing the once-king around Bag End, both middle-aged, both respected warriors, both giggling like tiny fauntlings.The oft-silent halls of Bag End echoed with breathless, giddy laughter and childish threats. There were, of course, occasional refuels of ammunition, which happened to be the perfect opportunity for ambushes; Bilbo took advantage of this to pour sticky syrup all over Thorin's dark mane. Eventually the dwarf got his own back and managed to ensnare Bilbo in his grip, firmly holding the squirming hobbit still as he smeared leftover dough all over his hair and neck. Breathless with mirth, he kicked at Thorin’s shins.

‘Let me go, you great brute! I’ll write to your sister!’

‘Oh no, not Dís,’ Thorin drawled sardonically, but he released his hold, betraying his fear of his admittedly terrifying kin. Bilbo stumbled backwards and clutched onto the kitchen table, the racing of his heart not entirely from exertion; he’d felt the full force of the dwarf’s strength and furnace-like heart once before, on the Carrock, but experiencing it again was just as shocking as it had been the first time.

Bilbo scraped at his forehead while throwing Thorin a deadly stink-eye. He was now very well-versed at hiding his innermost feelings, and was beginning to hope that he might actually be able to survive the year without his heart giving out.

‘Do not glare at me, you started it,’ the once-king said childishly. Bilbo heaved a deep sigh speaking of countless years of exasperation and turned to the sink.

‘Come over here and get cleaned up, you’re most certainly not walking around Bag End in such a state,’ he admonished. He really couldn’t help flicking a bit of water at the dwarf, which was met with a crooked smirk, and before long both of them were soaking wet. At least it was confined to the tiled kitchen this time - though the two somehow still managed to make a quite fantastic mess.

‘Truce!’ Thorin finally called, raising his empty hands. ‘Truce. I call truce.’

Bilbo threw him a wicked grin from above his massive bucket of water, but relented and placed it on the floor. His chest was raw and tight from laughter and exertion but he revelled in it, in the adrenaline beating through his body and the happy thrum of his heart and the smile lines carved deeply around Thorin's shining eyes.

‘If you say so,’ Bilbo replied cheerily.  Thorin tutted in a stunning imitation of Dori and Bilbo laughed, ruffling a hand through his wet curls. His expression became a wince when his now-clinging shirt dragged across his skin, and he surveyed the damage. The wooden floor was covered in a light dusting of flour, which had missed the nearby rug by a stroke of luck; the kitchen was strewn with icing sugar, water spotted the wallpaper, and both fireside chairs had somehow managed to be smothered in dried dough. The hobbit groaned at the sight. They would be absolutely unsalvageable; he would have to buy replacements. Not that he minded, really. It was worth it to see the once-king laugh that freely, and for so long. He did regret the state of his shirt, however, tugging at the transparent material with a scowl.

Looking back at Thorin, Bilbo frowned to see that he was staring intently at a spot just above his curly hair, and that his otherwise stoic expression was ruined by the dark flush reddening his cheeks.

‘Thorin?’ he asked, concerned. ‘Are you quite alright?’

‘Fine,’ the dwarf said shortly, before whirling and storming off to the bathroom.

Bilbo merely shook his head and fetched his tea-towel, having long since given up trying to decipher the many moods of Thorin Oakenshield.

 

Chapter Text

The first day of the Party dawned bright and fair, Bilbo waking with equal good cheer. Thorin’s rest had been peaceful for the past week or so, both companions finally able to sleep through the night in the absence of night-terrors. Even in waking the dwarf was more carefree, smiles and even laughter coming easier with each passing day.

(Not that Bilbo was keeping count. He wasn’t. He wasn’t. Really.)

After carefully dressing in his own outfit – a soft white cotton shirt, brown velvet pants, and a handsome blue waistcoat with gold stitching – Bilbo burst unashamedly into Thorin’s rooms, throwing the dwarf’s clothes at his head. He ignored the stream of curses which followed him out, being well-used to Thorin’s early-morning cavebear impersonations, and checked through the baskets holding the delicate spun sugar treats. They all seemed to be in order, none of the elegant confections misshapen or cracked, and he moved on to preparing breakfast.

When Thorin finally entered with clothes askew and hair dishevelled, he cast a scowl at the hissing frying pan as if it were the spawn of Smaug himself.

‘We are to be feasting all day,’ he said, ‘and you’re making breakfast?’

‘Well, obviously. I wouldn’t be a proper hobbit without my first morning meal! Nutrition is very important, you know,’ Bilbo replied huffily.

Thorin mumbled something unintelligible and scratched at the birdsnest that was his hair. Bilbo sighed at the sight, not quite as immune as he would have liked to the glimpses of a darkly furred chest revealed by a very wrongly buttoned shirt.

‘Oh, come here, you silly dwarf.’

At least Bilbo’s hands didn’t shake too visibly while he fixed the fine cotton shirt, and when he carded his fingers through Thorin’s dark mane he was fairly sure that his expression was suitably exasperated. Luckily Thorin had managed to put on his sable pants correctly, as Bilbo feared he would have suffered an aneurysm in any other situation.

‘Honestly,’ Bilbo tutted. ‘What on Middle Earth would you do without me?’

‘Sleep in far later,’ the dwarf grumbled, and  roughly scrubbed at one eye with the knuckles of his right hand.

In that moment, Bilbo suspected that had Thorin possessed any talent for mind-reading, he would've found himself in quite the sticky situation; the once-king was unlikely to particularly appreciate Bilbo thinking of him as sweet

Nevertheless, there it was.

Thorin seemed to revive somewhat after scarfing down an entire plate of scrambled eggs (and he’d dared complain about it, the dirty hypocrite), the fog of sleep clearing slowly from his eyes. It was an uncommon sight to behold. These days, the only time Bilbo would usually see him before sunhigh was in the throes one of his nightmares. It was quite amusing to the hobbit, in fact, the contrast between Thorin on the road and Thorin in the Shire; while travelling, he could wake at the snap of a twig, but find him a comfortable bed and he was like a bear in hibernation.

‘Alive now?’ Bilbo asked cheerily, and rhetorically, as he relieved the dwarf of his plate, sliding it into the sink. He knew better than to expect an answer this early in the morning. As he flitted around, completing one last check of the house — and ensuring that his silverware was firmly stowed away (he put nothing past Lobelia) — he could feel Thorin’s gaze following him.

‘You are looking forward to this very much, are you not?’

Bilbo turned on his heel to face the source of the voice, barely holding back a flinch as he noticed the dwarf’s proximity. He planted his hands on his hips, and, to his ire, was forced to crane his head back in order to meet Thorin’s eyes. For a hobbit he was perfectly tall, he reminded himself — the dwarf’s frankly freakish height was not his problem.

‘Of course I am! The Midsummer Party is a big deal, you know, and it was cut short last year, what with Tobias Bolger fainting and all.’

Bilbo rolled his eyes at the memory of the incident. The old hobbit’s collapse had caused a massive stir, putting the Party on hold as he was whisked away to the healers — they’d thought he’d had a heart attack! — only to discover that he’d merely had a few tankards too many and toppled off his chair. Thorin hadn’t yet arrived then; at the thought Bilbo felt a cold thread trail down his spine, recalling those long three months of near-complete isolation. Bag End simply wasn’t a home without his dwarves. No, it was a memorial, holding far too many ghosts for one lonely hobbit to deal with alone.

‘Well,’ he said firmly, clapping his hands together. ‘We’d best be off! The food is waiting!’

With that he scooped up one basket (unashamedly leaving the other three to Thorin) and scampered off down the hill. Thorin followed his path at a more sedate pace, shaking his head at his companion’s eagerness.

Hobbits,’ he sighed to himself. ‘He’s just eaten, for Mahal’s sake.’

The dwarf’s disbelief at the deceptively small creatures’ stomach capacity only grew over the course of the day. When he caught up with Bilbo, the gentlehobbit was already cheerfully greeting a number of his distant relatives, making sure to glare fiercely at any and all who dared give Thorin an odd look. (His glares were famed across the Shire, and for good reason). The Party Tree, the immense oak presiding over a gentle green field, seemed to be the centre point of a massive web of benches; and each bench was laden with food until the wood groaned like a put-upon old Gaffer. Colourful streamers stretched overhead, fastened to poles scattered between the tables; the same decorations adorned the many branches of the Tree, more still being arranged by giggling hobbit children.

From the corner of his eye, Bilbo caught Thorin watching the fauntlings with a small smile. He turned away so swiftly that his neck cracked.

‘Are you quite alright, Bilbo?’ questioned his mother’s cousin’s uncle’s step-daughter’s distant relation Hilda Mugwort in a voice laced with both concern and suspicion. Hilda was a terrifying example of a hobbit, able to both experience and demonstrate multiple emotions at the same time, sometimes switching between the two with an unnerving speed.

‘Yes, yes, fine,’ he replied, rubbing at his neck. ‘But please, show me your famed Mugwort Pies, I remember them as delicious and cannot wait to sample them again.’

The younger hobbit’s expression instantly fell to a preening pleasure and she complied with a flick of her chocolate locks, latching onto Bilbo’s arm and towing him away. As they wound their way through the crowds of finely-dressed hobbits he found himself the unwilling target of a fair few sour looks; Hilda was considered a beauty in the Shire, after all, what with her skin of hazelnut and eyes of fresh Spring leaves. Bilbo himself had never seen the appeal, though that was perhaps because he’d always been more interested in her older brother Thierry.

‘So, Bilbo,’ Hilda began sweetly, and elbowed young Angilbart Sandheaver in the ribs with a force both vicious and awe-inspiring. The poor boy gasped for breath and fell off the bench, his spot swiftly occupied by the ladyhobbit with a flounce of her emerald skirts. ‘I hear that you have a visitor over in Bag End?’

‘I do indeed. Your knowledge is extensive as ever,’ he replied courteously, retaining his composure with skill only a Baggins possessed.

Hilda huffed impatiently and waved a hand. ‘By which you mean, I’m still nosy. Spare me the theatrics, dear, I know you far too well for any of that.’

Bilbo smiled indulgently and joined her on the bench, finding his old friend’s antics to be just as amusing as ever. She had always rather reminded him of Dís, both females sharing brutal honesty, frightening beauty, and a penchant for sharp objects. At the thought of the dwarven Queen Under the Mountain he recalled her brother, sweeping the crowd of short curly heads for a tall dark one. As expected, it didn’t take long to find; he bit back a grin when he saw Thorin being swarmed by a squad of curious fauntlings, the parents standing nearby wearing expressions ranging from amused to horrified. A little hobbit lass tugged on one of Thorin’s braids and the once-king laughed loudly.

‘The faunts always did love climbing frames,’ said Hilda blithely, having traced the direction of his gaze. ‘His hair will be torn off by sundown.’

Bilbo shuddered at the notion. Dwarves were fiercely defensive of their hair — and by extension his own, going as far as attempting to hide the shears from him on the journey to Erebor. He couldn’t begin to imagine Thorin’s wrath if he lost even a hair on his kingly head, though he knew the old sap would rather eat Orcrist than direct it at the fauntlings.

‘That would be most unfortunate, Hilda.’

‘Hmm. He’d still be quite pretty, though.’

Here Hilda cast him a thoroughly mysterious gaze, contained in which he managed to decipher amusement, curiosity, greed, resignation and a plethora of other unreadable emotions before she turned it away once more.

‘I would pursue it, but knowing you he’d be much more interested in the oak than the holly, if you get my meaning. Oh, come now, Bilbo!’ she exclaimed at his stunned look. ‘Surely you didn’t think me unaware of your preferences? I knew since the moment I asked you whether Thierry’s eyes were cinnamon or tawny, and you said that they were russet. You’re very transparent, my dear. Frankly it’s about time you settled down, and your reputation is so ruined that I don’t think it would matter if the husband was a half-blind orc. A pretty dwarf isn’t so bad in comparison.’

Bilbo blinked rapidly, a little overwhelmed by this veritable flood of words, before shaking his head with a somewhat overwhelmed chuckle. ‘You are entirely correct, of course. I forgot how stunningly astute you were.’

The ladyhobbit fluttered her eyelashes quite genuinely at this. ‘Oh, Bilbo, you old charmer. If you weren’t the entirely wrong tree to bark around I would have snapped you up long ago.’

‘You likely would have,’ he acknowledged, and she snorted and stabbed her fork into a slice of blueberry tart.

Dusk had long since spread her inky wings across the sky by the time Bilbo managed to extricate himself from Hilda’s clutches, his stomach full to bursting with hearty hobbit food, the belt on his waist loosened a fair few notches. The encounter left him in good humour, yet missing Queen Dís and her sons to a surprising degree. He meandered slowly through the packs of contentedly grazing hobbits, the grass cool beneath his feet, searching for a certain dwarf. It was not until he rounded the massive trunk of the Party Tree that he found him.

What he did find was so extremely unexpected that he quite painfully wished to have an artist on hand to capture the moment; Ori, perhaps. As it was, he merely watched with a constricted sensation in his chest.

Thorin was propped up against the Tree, dozing, his hair a tumbling silver-streaked curtain about his startlingly defenceless features. The four fauntlings that had latched onto him were sprawled all around his person, most with their curly heads in his lap, though one lay propped up against his shoulder. The berry on the trifle was the woven flower-crowns which each of them sported, a coronet of daisies in stark contrast to Thorin’s dark head. Where his fingers lay laced in his lap, a number of the small white blooms were also stuck, and it was evident that the dwarf had fallen asleep and the children had decided to have some fun with him before they themselves dropped like leaves in the autumn.

‘Yavanna,’ Bilbo whispered, and in that moment any lingering resentment he still held against the once-king disappeared with a stunning swiftness.

::::

Three hours later, the sun had completely disappeared beneath one of the gentle rolling hills of Hobbiton, and the stars were brightly glinting, a carelessly cast handful of diamond-dust strewn across black velvet. A massive bonfire roared grandly and spat tiny ember fireflies to spin into the warm summer air, illuminating the delighted faces of hobbits old and young alike. Bilbo was seated on one of the few benches left on the Party Field, the remainder having been dragged back to old Folcart Bracegirdle’s massive backyard. Before him clustered a group of wide-eyed fauntlings who leaned closer and closer with each word he spoke, the ‘o’ of their small mouths widening as he embellished his tale.

‘—and just when I was absolutely certain that the end of my days were upon me, BANG!’ he shouted, throwing out his arms illustratively, and the children jumped. ‘Gandalf clove a massive boulder right in two with but a single strike of his staff, and in came flooding the morning light! The instant it touched them, the trolls began to transform, but in vain they continued to move.’

‘But what did they turn to, Mister Bilbo?’ shouted young Peregrin Took, his partner-in-crime nodding along impatiently at his side.

‘Hush, you, I’ll get to that,’ scolded Bilbo, jabbing his pipe-stem at the troublemakers. A laugh ran through the fauntling’s ranks and both Merry and Pippin scowled darkly. The older hobbit noted with no small degree of amusement that both boys had flower crowns perched rakishly in their hair.

‘Anyway — the three stinking brutes continued to move, more and more slowly, their movements becoming halting and jerky — one pointing down, the others slouching and glaring at him — and there they still stand, to this very day!’

This announcement was greeted by a round of gasps and murmurs, and leaning in for the next part (purely for effect, mind you) Bilbo lowered his voice to a hushed whisper, building with each word.

‘Frozen by the day’s light, doomed by their encompassing greed, the trio of fearsome mountain trolls stand, moss-encrusted and cracked, turned to stone cold and hard by the sun’s gentle touch. And thus they will remain, until the end of time!’

Bilbo leaned back, quite pleased with himself, as the fauntlings cheered and clapped and chorused ‘Thank you, Mister Bilbo!’ and scampered off to find their parents.

‘I never knew that you had such a flair for tales,’ came a deep voice from behind him, its amused lilt mirrored in Thorin’s raised eyebrow and gently teasing half-smile. Somewhat to his disappointment, the dwarf had removed his crown (but Bilbo was sure that it was stowed in one of his pockets somewhere, the soft lump) and was now wearing the rough blue coat that the hobbit had just barely deemed acceptable. He himself was rather wishing for a jacket, the bonfire too far to warm his chilled skin.

Pushing this away, he smiled drily at the dwarf. ‘Why thank you, O stubborn and majestic King. Your praise makes my heart veritably sing for joy.’

‘I am beginning to wish I could curb that sharp tongue of yours,’ Thorin replied darkly, his presence warm as he took a seat. Bilbo shifted almost imperceptibly towards him, drinking in his heat and perhaps wishing he could be just a tad closer.

‘You wouldn’t dare,’ he replied archly, tapping ash from his pipe.

‘Mm, indeed,’ the dwarf mused. ‘It would be quite the loss.’

Bilbo did his utmost not to visibly react to this, and wondered whether Thorin had meant to unsettle him. Judging by his unmoving features and unruffled appearance, he supposed not…and found himself, oddly enough, a little disappointed.

‘I did not know that you had such a fondness for fauntlings,’ he said after a pause, wickedness hidden by his innocent tone. He chanced a quick look at Thorin and found himself robbed of breath (and they called him the burglar) because he was flushing, a faint red dusting the line of his cheekbones and highlighting the blue of his eyes, disappearing into his beard before creeping down his neck. Very much like the last time he’d been caught blushing, his expression remained desperately grave, though it was cracking around the edges.

‘Yes, well,’ Thorin replied haltingly, ‘they’re not so disparaging as their elders.’

The hobbit allowed a warm smile to creep across his face, his eyes falling shut. The image of the usually-staunch dwarf sprawled on the grass with four tiny fauntlings was painted upon the backs of his eyelids, and he would never, ever let such a treasure fade.

‘No, indeed they aren’t,’ he replied softly, a warmth which had everything to do with the dwarf beside him spreading through his veins.

 

Chapter Text

Rather understandably, both Bilbo and Thorin retained very little memory of the second day of the Midsummer Party. Between them, the hobbit recalled much more (this largely due to the dwarf’s ill-advised attempt to outdrink the ever-venerable Granma Baggins) yet even the memories that remained were veiled by the golden sheen of Hobbiton’s finest ale, transported specially from the Green Dragon itself. He could very hazily recall downing three tankards in quick succession, to the delight of his Took cousins, defusing a fistfight between Berno Chubb and Marmadoc Underhill, and just barely managing to stop Merry and Pippin from dumping a great bucket of pig’s feed on crabby old Marigold Longfoot. Nothing less than the memory of his father’s dear face had prevented him from simply allowing them to go through with it, and perhaps cheering them on to boot.

Bilbo was absolutely exhausted by the time he stumbled into Bag End’s front hall, a half-conscious dwarf’s arm slung over his shoulder, curls dishevelled, cheeks flushed with exertion and perhaps something more. The source of the very something in question being very nearly embracing him, dark head drooping onto his shoulder, the scent of pine and mead and spices driving him just a little mad. It was therefore with a distinct lack of ceremony that Bilbo shoved Thorin onto his new settee, bought to replace his ruined armchairs, and collapsed down next to him.

Only to screech rather embarrassingly as the dwarf became abruptly boneless and flopped onto his lap.

Thorin!’ Bilbo yelped, his hands flying into the air as if burned. The dwarf merely glared up at him with reproachful blue eyes, looking unfairly gorgeous in the silver moonlight slanting in through the windows.

‘Cease your squealing, Bilbo,’ he ordered hoarsely, and promptly went to sleep.

The gentlehobbit sat absolutely still. For a moment, he was torn between overwhelming irritation (The nerve of him! Arrogant dwarf!) and overwhelming…something-else, because that half-asleep tone did a strange thing to his insides. Not to mention the sheer amount of trust involved in Thorin falling asleep on him, which Bilbo could both identify and appreciate, even in his intoxicated state.

Eventually he settled on sniffing disdainfully before drifting off, head falling back against the dark velvet cushions, fingers wound in soft curling hair, because Thorin had been the one to fall asleep on his lap, and frankly Bilbo felt that he deserved a little repayment.

::::

Bilbo’s morning experience could be described by four sensations.

Throbbing temples.

Parched throat.

Swollen eyelids.

A warm weight on his thighs.

For a handful of pain-filled minutes, he simply kept his head as still as possible and pitied himself, before the final sensation fully registered and his eyes snapped open.

‘Oh, Yavanna’s dirty socks,’ he cursed, staring disbelievingly down at the dwarven once-king currently fast asleep in his lap.

As Bilbo watched, mind racing in vain to concoct a way of discretely slipping away without Thorin noticing, a soft murmur slipped from the dwarf’s lips. His brows briefly contracted, head stirring, before he breathed out in a tiny puff of air and fell back asleep. This left Bilbo, who’d frozen still on instinct, studying him with eyes soft and sad; because that tiny movement had reminded him of another time, a year and a half before, when he’d seen Thorin’s face slack in a sleep as heavy as death.

Blood had tangled the hair now spread across Bilbo’s thighs, stained the corner of the mouth now soft and still, bled through the bandages across the chest now rising and falling with slow, deep breaths.

It reminded him of a moment in which he’d thought the king dead, and all thoughts of their victory in battle, of the destruction of the Ring, of the reclamation of Erebor, had vanished, and all that had mattered was the love that Bilbo Baggins had only in that moment acknowledged.

Hesitantly he raised a hand – his right; his four remaining fingers hovered inches above the dwarf’s skin for a suspended moment, before he allowed them to fall gently against his cheek. Thorin’s beard prickled beneath the feather-light touch, his skin unexpectedly soft, but most incredible of all was the warmth – the strong and stubborn heat of Thorin Oakenshield, so different to that awful leeching cold of eighteen months past.

Bilbo briskly twitched his nose in an effort to throw off any lingering sorrow, glancing away abruptly, before his eyes were drawn back as if compelled. There it remained, stronger than ever: the need to touch, to reassure, to banish the last few memories which shadowed his mind.

He traced his fingers down, past the rasp of the dwarf’s short beard and to the smooth column of his neck. Bilbo’s smallest finger brushed against Thorin’s earlobe, his thumb running down the line of his strong jaw. He could feel it move beneath his touch, muscles bunching and shifting, warm with life.

Bilbo’s touch found the pulse at Thorin’s neck and stayed there for a long, long time. Each second that he sat he thought of shifting away, of how he most likely should, but something told him that moving would break the gentle easy warmth of the moment and despite everything else he didn’t want to let that happen. Yes, he was helping Thorin, but he…he deserved some things, too, surely, after all of the ridiculous experiences he’d endured.

The beat of Thorin’s heart surged beneath Bilbo’s fingertips. No more did he ponder how to escape, instead reaching for Thorin’s current book and settling back comfortably, not quite smiling but not quite sad, either.

When, an unidentifiable amount of time later, the sun’s newly-forged rays shone through the lounge-room window, Thorin stirred. He seemed to regret this course of action almost instantaneously, if the tangled string of dwarvish curses which he unleashed was any indication. Bilbo watched with no small amount of amusement – and perhaps a little fondness – as Thorin pawed for a blanket, found nothing but empty air and his own clothing, and made a noise which could very nearly be called a whine.

‘Yes, yes,’ Bilbo said, patting his cheek, gently. ‘This is the consequence of challenging Granma Baggins to a drinking contest, though, you silly dwarf.’

Thorin gave an unnecessarily dramatic sound. Bilbo huffed a quiet laugh.

‘I’ll make us some tea,’ he said, and carefully negotiated himself out from under Thorin’s head. At the dark grumble which the dwarf gave at the loss of his pillow, Bilbo added: ‘Now, stop your whining, you great lump. My legs were going numb beneath that overgrown head of yours.’

By the time the water had been boiled, and the special leaves located, and the tea steeped, enough time had passed for Thorin to revive somewhat, evidently; Bilbo returned to find him slouched in something approximating a sit, the black hair spiralling all over his face not entirely concealing his thunderous frown.

‘Oh, you big baby,’ Bilbo chuckled. Said thunderous frown was then transferred to him. He merely arched his eyebrows and offered the mug, which Thorin accepted – though not before glaring at it for a long moment.

After a moment’s consideration, Bilbo rejoined him on the settee. There were no other seats available after the tragic flour-based demise of his armchairs, after all, and he didn’t want to leave Thorin alone, just in case the dwarf decided to try throwing up on his nice new rug. He did look rather pale, and his mouth was tightly closed.

‘Are you feeling all right, Thorin?’ Bilbo asked, feeling a little remorseful about his less-than-compassionate behaviour.

Thorin grunted.

Bilbo rolled his eyes, was rudely reminded of his own less-than-abstinent night, and winced. Well, that’s what he deserves for daring to address hungover dwarvish royalty, he supposes. Silly him.

A soft rustle of clothing was the only warning he was provided before something pressed firmly against his arm. He looked down, mildly surprised, to see that Thorin had twisted to rest his forehead against Bilbo’s shoulder. He must have been feeling wretched indeed at that moment, to allow himself to be quite so vulnerable.

Bilbo gave a sympathetic hum. He had been in the dwarf’s position more times than he would prefer, after all…Granma Baggins always had been very fond of challenging brash young things to drinking competitions. Honestly, he was impressed that Thorin was even somewhat vertical.

‘Drink your tea,’ he said, kindly.

This was met with another inarticulate grumble, but there soon came the sound of a quiet sip. Intending to pat his back in silent solidarity, Bilbo raised his arm, which of course resulted in Thorin being dislodged and slipping forwards until his head was pressed into Bilbo’s neck.

For a moment, Thorin distantly considered being embarrassed by this. However, his head was really far too heavy to bother moving, and the curve of Bilbo’s neck felt very nice against his burning skin, and he could always blame it on the lingering effects of alcohol later, if necessary.

Bilbo merely tried not to do something ridiculously humiliating. Sigh longingly, for instance. And, well, if he kept his arm around Thorin, and perhaps even rubbed a few gentle circles into the dwarf’s broad back, he certainly didn’t hear any complaints.

That quiet morning, in which Bilbo sat and drank his tea, dark hair brushing past his jaw, the only sounds birdsong and soft breathing and the occasional distant burst of youthful laughter drifting in on the languid breeze, was the first time that he thought:

What if?

::::

Despite Bilbo’s best efforts to firmly dispel it, and thus return to the realm of reason and sanity, the idea persisted. It lurked at the back of his mind, sifting through his memories and pointing out certain moments, words, looks, actions.

And Bilbo, despite his better judgement, listened.

After all, while he himself would be the first to admit that he was not especially well-versed in matters of the heart, he was not a complete fool.

And surely — surely, while there were differences between the respective cultures of dwarves and hobbits, some exchanges between he and Thorin had left the realm of casual friendship and entered…well, something else.

(Unless Bilbo was simply deluding himself, which was, of course, equally likely.)

As he tended to his prize-winning tomatoes, he considered the matter with the single-minded sort of dedication which he usually would’ve dedicated to the produce. Acorns, mithril shirts, wayward leaves, harps, the aftermath of water-fights, and the sensation of a warm forehead pressed into his neck all fed the whirling storm which his mind became, while his hands busied themselves with plucking and pruning, heedless of the pair of perplexed blue eyes which rested upon him.

Thorin scratched at his beard.

What was Bilbo muttering beneath his breath?

Something about ice-blue melting to the shade of sky, and the flash of white, and flowing strands of midnight, he thought. Likely some sort of hobbitish growing chant. Bilbo certainly seemed very focused; there was a deep furrow between his brows, and his eyes, shadowed by the wide straw brim of his hat, burned with a zealous ferocity.

With a final parting scowl at the cheerfully blazing mid-morning sun, Thorin made a tactical retreat into Bag End’s welcoming shadow. He had reached the conclusion that it was best not to question too closely the gardening practices of certain warrior hobbits.

(Especially not when such hobbits had, mere days before, visited the markets to replenish their stocks of flour.)

 

Chapter Text

For allowing him the boon of having his day-long distraction remain unremarked upon, Bilbo thanked the Valar first, and the famed constitution of Granma Berylla Baggins second.

Thorin remained largely monosyllabic throughout their preparations for the third and final day of the Party — well, night, really. The festivities didn’t truly begin until late evening, when the worst of the revellers’ nasty headaches had been dispelled by the miraculous cure known as copious amounts of herbal tea. And said remedy did, eventually, have an effect upon Thorin himself: by luncheon, his disgruntled mutters had morphed into actual, discernible sentences; by afternoon tea, he had desisted in glowering at any bright thread of sunlight that dared sneak past the barrier of Bilbo’s curtains; and by the time Evening ran his aureate fingers through the luminous blue of the sky, thinly veiled excitement had brightened Thorin’s eyes to the same colour.

‘Remind me,’ he began with careful nonchalance, fingers brushing over the strings of his harp as he shot a covert look over at Bilbo, ‘what is the subject of tonight’s festivities?’

It was an absolutely terrible act, really, and Bilbo had to hide a smile. Hopefully he managed a better job of concealing his emotions than Thorin did. Yes, the dwarf certainly appeared the perfect image of indolence, lazing by the fireplace, one leg stretched before him, the other crooked to the side, an elbow propped on the latter as he plucked at Reginald Proudfoot’s perfectly new harp. (Bilbo would never let that go). His facade was quickly and decisively undermined upon any closer inspection, however; there was a current of excitement running through his body, clear as day, setting his fingers to incessant fiddling and his eyes to gleaming.

It was as amusing as it was endearing. Bilbo had been required to forcibly drag his attention back to the belt he was trying to mend upon a displeasingly high number of occasions.

‘Dancing,’ Bilbo replied. He then couldn’t resist adding, with something approaching an unseemly smirk, ‘As you know perfectly well.’

Thorin pursed his lips in an expression that he had almost certainly learned from Balin. ‘I have no idea what you mean, Master Baggins,’ he said loftily, and looked back to his harp.

‘Hmm,’ was Bilbo’s response to that particular bit of absurdity.

He returned to his sewing.

Thorin plucked a string.

Bilbo pierced the brown leather with his needle.

Thorin plucked the string again.

Bilbo tugged the needle through.

Thorin plucked the same string, with slightly more force.

Raising his eyebrows, Bilbo did his best to adopt a neutral expression — amusement would serve only to encourage such childish behaviour, he was sure — and set the belt aside.

‘Thorin,’ he said, very patiently. ‘Would you, by any chance, care to go down to the Field early?’

The manner in which the dwarf’s head snapped around at that, like a fox on the scent, proved too much for the last of Bilbo’s composure. A loud and very impolite snort escaped him, chased by an unseemly giggle which was not quite stifled by the hand he’d slapped over his mouth.

Thorin’s beatific expression fell into a scowl. However, as Bilbo continued to snicker helplessly into his fingers, the sight of the hobbit, hazel eyes bright with mirth and wrinkled beautifully, had his irritation slipping away like sand through his unresisting fingers.

‘I do not see what is so amusing,’ he grumbled regardless. He did have a reputation to uphold, after all; and something must be done to distract attention from the pesky, traitorous smile trying to wrest control of his features.

‘Quite,’ Bilbo agreed, after having cleared his throat a handful of times. ‘The Midsummer Party is a very serious business, after all.’

‘Indeed,’ Thorin replied solemnly.

‘It is a dignified and venerable tradition, you know.’

‘Of course.’

‘Not at all the Shire’s collective excuse for dancing, drinking, and eating far too much.’

‘Never.’

‘…Or a certain dwarf’s excuse for playing with a crowd of children?’

In response, Thorin gave a small, vague hum and looked away, but Bilbo was far from done with that particular vein of conversation.

‘I found your flower crown,’ he persisted ruthlessly, biting back a grin when the dwarf stiffened. ‘It’s very nice, if a little squashed, but it’ll start wilting soon. Would you like me to preserve it?’

For a moment, he waited out the internal battle which he knew to be currently raging between those large round ears.

One the one hand, Thorin could deny the very existence of said crown, and thereby retain some shred of his royal dignity, while losing the chance to keep the fauntlings’ creation. On the other, he could assent, and keep the crown indefinitely, at the cost of his pride.

Bilbo propped his chin upon his hand and smiled at the back of Thorin’s dark head, very pleased with himself. Yes, Fíli and Kíli would have been proud…would be proud, he corrected himself with a quiet chuckle, thinking of the half-finished letter currently sitting on his writing-desk. Perhaps Thorin was right to be paranoid about Bilbo's correspondence with his nephews - not that the hobbit would ever admit as much.

After a fair few minutes of stewing, Thorin released a defeated sigh.

‘Yes, thank you,’ he muttered, very audibly.

‘Sorry,’ Bilbo said innocently, ‘I didn’t quite catch that?’

The dwarf shifted his head slightly to glare at him from behind silver-streaked curls. ‘I said yes,’ he replied. The glower transformed into an arched eyebrow and he added, dry as the stone of Erebor, ‘As you know perfectly well.’

Unaffected both by being caught at his game and having his own words thrown back at him, Bilbo said nothing else, but raised a returning brow so eloquent that he might as well have. In response, Thorin gave him the expression which he usually reserved for those treasured occasions upon which his nephews did something particularly horrifying, and, like the mature and fully-grown adults they were, they traded small shoves all the way down to the Party Field.

 

Chapter Text

‘And just what,’ Bilbo said, tone sharp, expression forbidding, the dull pain of his fingernails digging into his palms the only thing preventing him from devolving into hysterical laughter, ‘do you think you’re doing?’

‘We’re teaching Mister Thorin our hobbit dances, of course,’ replied Merry Brandybuck, without an ounce of shame. He then quickly hopped to the side, to avoid the teetering, stumbling tower of fauntlings that was Pippin Took, Fatty Bolger, and Sam Gamgee. Before disaster struck the precarious construction was stabilised by a pair of strong hands; when met with their owner's harried expression, Bilbo was forced to draw in a deep, shaking breath to repress an inappropriate giggle.

‘You’ll break your necks,’ he chided, in his final attempt at being a responsible adult.

‘No, we won’t,’ the small child said, with the patient air of a teacher faced with a particularly dull student. ‘Sam’s real strong, see.’ Illustratively, he pointed at the youngest son of Bilbo’s gardener, upon whose shoulders sat Fatty, with Pippin atop him in turn. Bilbo eyed the alarming shade of red which Sam’s round face was turning and found himself thoroughly unconvinced.

Not that the boys were in any real danger, of course. Thorin was hovering over them like a particularly large and hairy mother hen, ready to sweep them up at the first sign of trouble, and the Party Field was liberally carpeted with springy grass. Still, Bilbo didn’t particularly fancy having a horde of incensed parents banging at his door later on, demanding to know why they were cleaning grass stains out of their child’s best party-wear.

As Bilbo watched, Merry shoved at Thorin, bossily rearranging the once-king’s stance to suit his whims, to which Thorin complied with good grace. For his trouble, he received a prod to his ribs and an enthusiastic scolding.

Bilbo tilted his head contemplatively.

Perhaps the show was worth it, all things considered. And it certainly would provide ample subject matter for his next letter to Fíli and Kíli. (And he could rather imagine Dís having a good chuckle over it, as well).

Mind made up, Bilbo settled down with his back comfortably propped against the gnarled bark of the Party Tree. It really was quite the sight: the combined heights of all three faunts seated atop each other barely passed the dwarf’s elbow. Nevertheless, they were clearly trying their utmost to lead him through one of the simpler dances, tiny faces screwed up in concentration as they staggered and swayed. Thorin, for his part, could do little but meekly follow Merry’s directions — and try not to crush any growing hobbit feet beneath his great clomping boots.

The dwarf appeared equally assiduous in his efforts. His thick brows were set into an expression that Bilbo had previously glimpsed only upon the battlefield (or whenever he was confronted with a map, and subsequently expected to interpret it). The tree’s latticed shadow played across his clothing, his simple forest-green tunic and brown pants a world away from the heavy furs and armours that he had previously favoured. He slotted in perfectly with the tableau of gentle hills and soft skies, as if he fitted into a space which Bilbo hadn’t even known existed. As if he belonged.

Bilbo propped his elbows upon his knees and caught himself before his smile could become too wistful, choosing to concentrate upon the hilarity of the spectacle before him, rather than its enchanting sweetness.

‘Your elbows are far too high, you know,’ he remarked idly. ‘You should bring them down.’

‘Yes, thank you, Master Baggins,’ Thorin gritted out, and shoved his wayward hair back from his forehead. ‘Your input is so deeply appreciated.’

‘Now, now, Mister Oakenshield, don’t be testy.’

‘Testy? How absurd, I am the embodiment of good humour.’

Considering all that he knew about the grumpy, brooding, emotionally inept clod of a dwarf, Bilbo couldn’t help but laugh. Thorin’s returning smile told him that such had been the desired outcome of his comment, and something warm and sweet as the breeze twisting through his curls blossomed within him.

He really was in ridiculously deep — though, considering who he had to put up with, Bilbo couldn’t blame himself all too much.

A distant call tugged him from his woolgathering. He squinted across the near-empty field, raising a hand in response to the enthusiastic wave of the approaching dot that was his cousin Primula.

‘Best get down, lads,’ he told the fauntlings. While Prim was a Brandybuck in both name and nature, her husband Drogo, who was trailing a few steps behind her, was a Baggins — and a significantly more proper one than Bilbo. The tower of children disassembled itself obediently as he pushed himself to his feet, accepting Thorin’s helping hand.

His touch was gentle and lingering, chased by a feather-light brush to the back of Bilbo’s knuckles that could’ve easily been accidental, but also could’ve not.

Bilbo mentally added another score to his tally of not-quite-platonic moments.

‘Hullo, Prim, Drogo!’ he exclaimed, as they neared. They returned the greeting with equal cheer; Bilbo hadn’t seen them for the best part of a year, as they had numerous responsibilities at home, and he hadn’t yet had the heart to drag Thorin over to Buckland. Nevertheless, they were his favoured relations for many reasons (not the least being that they didn’t so much as bat an eye at the sight of a dwarf beside him).

Bilbo transferred his smile to the fauntling lurking behind Prim’s bright skirts. ‘And Frodo, I see. How are you, my lad?’

The boy peered around his mother, casting a slightly wary glance at both Thorin and the children clustering about his legs. He could be quite reserved around strangers, as Bilbo had noticed, though as soon as his trust was earned he could not be matched for cheer — or curiosity. Bilbo could see a healthy dose of the latter flaring within dark blue eyes as the faunt took the dwarf in from braids to boots.

‘I’m good, Uncle Bilbo,’ Frodo replied, and after his father’s subtle nudge, ‘thank you.’

‘You’re very welcome.’

Bilbo then bent in with a conspiratorial air. As if reeled by a fishing line, Frodo stepped closer, the strangers forgotten for the moment.

‘Would I be correct in supposing that you are still partial to my peanut cookies?’ he whispered to the boy, and watched his small face light up. He nodded so enthusiastically that his dark curls bounced. ‘Good. Now, my friend there, Thorin—’ Bilbo pointed over to the dwarf, who pretended not to notice— ‘his favourites are the lavender cupcakes. In fact, he once ate an entire jar of them.’

‘Wow,’ Frodo breathed. ‘I couldn’t do that. I can’t ever eat more than three without getting a tummy ache. I suppose he is very big, though.’

Judging by his expression, Thorin might have been as tall as the Lonely Mountain itself. Bilbo watched with no small amount of fondness as awe rapidly sharpened into interest.

‘Is he really a dwarf?’

‘Yes, lad, he is.’

Frodo squinted. ‘Why does he have hair on his face?’

‘Do you know, I’m not entirely sure,’ Bilbo replied. ‘How about you ask him, and we’ll find out?’

An encouraging smile and a nod from his uncle was all it took for Frodo’s curiosity to triumph over his reticence. He straightened his back, smoothed his hands down his smart blue waistcoat, and approached Thorin with determination.

‘Good evening, Mister Thorin,’ he said, politely, if a little quickly. Pleasantries summarily dealt with, he dove straight into business. ‘Why do you have hair on your face?’

Drogo’s horrified gasp had Bilbo smirking, and he waved his cousin away when he made to intervene. ‘It’s quite alright,’ Bilbo assured him in an undertone, patting the gentlehobbit on the arm. ‘Dwarves have no sense of propriety whatsoever, he won’t be offended.’

He was of course correct. Thorin merely appeared to consider the question for a moment, gaze solemn where it rested upon Bilbo’s nephew. Frodo was not the only faunt interested in his upcoming answer, if the four other pairs of eyes trained upon him with an eagle-like precision were any indication.

‘Well, young Master Hobbit,’ Thorin said at last, ‘we dwarves tend to live in, or beneath, the mountains, as I am sure you are aware. It is always bitterly cold, even during summer. We may wear layers to warm our arms and legs, but not so our faces; thus we grow our beards, to stave off the chill.’

He ran an illustrative hand down his own beard, and, as the faunts exclaimed in comprehension, winked at Bilbo over the tops of their curly heads.

Bilbo snorted. Really, he was worse than Fíli and Kíli combined! And he had the audacity to call them troublemakers — Bilbo could only shudder to think what Thorin had been like as a tween.

‘Quite the storyteller, isn’t he?’ Prim remarked wryly.

‘Yes, indeed,’ Bilbo replied with equal dry humour. ‘Do you know, he once almost managed to convince me that children of his kind are fashioned from stone by their parents?’

‘Did he now?’ Drogo shook his head and scratched at his brown curls. ‘Strange folk, dwarves.’

‘Well, I certainly won’t debate that.’ Bilbo’s eyes drifted over to where the subject of their conversation was now seated on the grass, allowing Frodo to examine his braids with an uncommon patience. None who’d witnessed him dealing with elves (especially the Elvenking) would ever possibly believe it.

The other faunts were less reserved, clambering all over his body; Pippin was even lounging quite royally in his lap. At first, Bilbo (who had in fact been privy to multiple interactions between Thorin and Thranduil) had indeed been a little surprised by the once-king’s unreserved fondness for children. Then he had recalled Fíli and Kíli, and the fierce love which Thorin had tried to hide upon their Journey beneath barked orders and weary exasperation.

He must have been missing them quite terribly, Bilbo had realised, and suddenly Thorin’s eagerness to play with the fauntlings had made a saddening amount of sense.

‘The faunts certainly seem to have taken to him,’ Prim said then, unknowingly echoing Bilbo’s thoughts. She smoothed a few errant sandy-yellow locks back behind her ears and swept up her skirts, taking a seat on one of the benches scattered around the Field, left over from the night before. Already, hobbits were appearing to move them back to the Field’s edges; the honey of evening was beginning to darken to the treacle of twilight, and a handful of stars had emerged to glitter in the sky’s dusky mantle.

‘They have, yes,’ Bilbo agreed, and joined her. ‘Though their parents are, by and large, a different matter.’

‘Ah, they’ll come around,’ Drogo said wisely. ‘’Specially after eating, drinking, and dancing with him, I expect. A good healthy respect for all three endears any sort of folk to a hobbit, whether they be Elf, Man, or Dwarf.’

Yes, Drogo was most certainly a Baggins, and one that made Bilbo proud to share the name.

‘You may be right, and it’s very kind of you to say so, my dear cousin.’ Bilbo’s affectionate smile widened further when Drogo huffed and muttered and turned a little red. ‘Though I must say, as welcome a surprise as it is, I wasn’t expecting to see you two here.’

‘No,’ Prim sighed. ‘We were planning on going away, in fact — boating on the Brandywine. But then Frodo caught wind of your visitor, and of course he was absolutely insufferable about wanting to visit. He couldn’t be discouraged in the least, the cheeky little lad!’

Here Prim directed a fond smile over at her son, who seemed to have gained a good deal of courage in the past few minutes. He was now seated upon Thorin’s shoulders, small fists grasping his braids like reins. The dwarf did not appear overly perturbed by this undoubtedly horrific breach of etiquette; he merely chuckled, brightly amused, as the three other boys tugged impatiently at his tunic. If Thorin wasn’t careful he’d soon become the fauntlings’ glorified pony. Not that he seemed concerned about it in the least.

He did not look like a once-king who had lost his family and his home, who had led his people through destitution and almost died in regaining their city, who still occasionally woke haunted by the bloodstained ghosts of all he had very nearly lost.

He looked like a dwarf who enjoyed poetry books and love songs, who stole burned cookies and made terrible jokes about flour, who couldn’t truly wake until sunhigh and preserved the crooked daisy-crowns made for him by fauntlings.

He looked at peace.

Bilbo’s heart burned.

When Thorin’s gaze fell upon him, he felt it, and met it; watched as something about the lines of Thorin’s face softened almost imperceptibly, and his smile became heartbreakingly gorgeous.

And Bilbo thought:

Maybe.

::::

Bilbo decided to perform a little…investigation.

Just for the sake of idle curiosity, of course.

It was harmless.

Thorin would never even have to know.

As he moved to the lively tune of drums and fiddles, linking his arm with Hilda Mugwort and spinning until the world became a blur of yellow lanterns and flower-bright clothing, he snuck a glance over at Thorin. Who, he soon discovered, was scowling down at his shepherd’s pie as if it had insulted his entire family line. Unless the Valar had suddenly granted pastries the ability to speak, the true source of his irritation was something else.

Interesting, that.

The song reached its crescendo and Bilbo redirected his attention, releasing Hilda and stepping deftly to the beat. Another spin, two rapid stamps of his foot, a bow to his partner, and the song ended to uproarious applause.

‘Wonderful dancing, Hilda, thank you!’ Bilbo said somewhat breathlessly, into the short break between songs.

Hilda beamed. ‘Nonsense, it was my pleasure. Oh, is that Elanor — please do excuse me—’

After waving her away, Bilbo navigated a path through the crowd of somewhat winded hobbits, ducking and weaving until he reached the safety of Thorin’s side. Flopping down onto the bench beside him, Bilbo blew out a relieved breath and filched his full tankard of ale.

‘I’m parched,’ he told the dwarf’s offended scowl. ‘You try keeping up with that hanged song for over five minutes!’

He then drained the entire thing in one go, watching Thorin’s eyebrows climb slowly up towards his hairline the entire while, and slammed it back down onto the table with enthusiasm. The cutlery jumped, and so, though he would’ve denied it to the Halls of Mandos and back, did Thorin.

‘Honestly, you dwarves have wrought a terrible influence upon me,’ Bilbo lamented. 

The low huff of laughter with the dwarf gave at that seemed to have escaped entirely without his permission, if his subsequent frown was any indication. ‘Do not try to pass the blame onto us, Bilbo,’ he warned. ‘I do not remember so little of last night to believe such behaviour is the influence of dwarves.’

‘Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right…you lot are all terribly light-weight, after all,’ Bilbo said, wickedly.

‘As I believe I have once before had occasion to say to you, you should never underestimate dwarves, Master Baggins.’

‘And you should never underestimate hobbit grandmothers, Mister Oakenshield.’

‘Aye. As it so happens, I believe that I have learned that lesson quite thoroughly.’

He accompanied this with a wry twist of his mouth, though amusement glinted in his eyes; and Bilbo’s laugh kindled it to something brighter, wrinkles spreading across his temples as a small, inexorable smile curled his lips.

‘I should hope so! I’m almost out of herbal tea,’ Bilbo complained. In response, Thorin jostled him gently with his shoulder, and did not pull away. He remained a warm line at Bilbo’s side as the hobbit slowly regained his breath, while Thorin watched the dancers, absently tapping his knuckles to the tabletop in time to the lively tune. Indeed, he was so engrossed that he didn’t even notice Bilbo pilfering forkfuls of his (nonvocal, though delicious) pie.

‘That lady, the one you danced with,’ Thorin said, so suddenly that Bilbo flinched and almost inhaled out his stolen mouthful. The dwarf remained oblivious to his guilty glance and he swallowed the food down quickly, following the path of Thorin’s blue gaze. There, upon a bench lit by a string of jewel-bright lanterns, sat Hilda, laughing merrily with Elanor Hardbottle. ‘She’s very…pretty.’

The final word was said delicately indeed, and with equal politeness, though Bilbo thought he could discern a certain stiff edge to Thorin’s tone.

‘I daresay she is.’ Bilbo tried his best to not sound overtly amused; Thorin never had been all too subtle. ‘Hilda’s considered one of the great beauties of Hobbiton, in fact.’

‘Indeed?’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘You two seem quite close.’

‘Quite,’ Bilbo agreed amicably. He watched the dwarf’s mouth tighten and, deciding that he’d needled him long enough, relented. ‘Our mothers were very good friends, so we’ve known each other since tweenhood. She’s like family, really.’

‘I see.’ Thorin's expression cleared, the humour in his eyes becoming more authentic as they returned to the whirling dancers. With his attention thus diverted, Bilbo was safe to smile at him in peace, as something very nearly terrifying in its bittersweet intensity curled behind his ribs. He may indeed have felt terrified, had he not felt so very comfortable, so very safe within the encompassing warmth of the dwarf beside him; had he not suspected that he was, perhaps, not the only one sitting there with a strange bright feeling tugging at his heart.

It was that very thought — along with a healthy dose of Tookish cheek — which caused him to leap nimbly to his feet and hold his hand out to Thorin, beckoning.

‘Shall we?’ he asked, and watched Thorin smile, sweet and shining; until it faltered, becoming hesitant at the edges, and his gaze flickered to the surrounding hobbits.

‘Bilbo…what about your—’

‘Oh, hush!’ Bilbo’s offered hand joined his other where it was planted firmly upon his hips. ‘If I hear one single more word about my reputation out of you, Thorin Oakenshield, I’ll have your braids for braces, so help me!’

‘You would not dare!’ Thorin exclaimed, suitably horrified by such a notion.

His eyes then very nearly crossed trying to follow the path of Bilbo’s finger, which was waggling before a hawkish dwarven nose, as he would at a particularly cheeky fauntling. ‘Now, don’t test me, Mister Oakenshield.’

Thorin’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are such threats intended to endear me to the idea of dancing with you?’ he enquired, though there was a telling curve to his thin lips, and his tone leaned more towards playful than truly biting.

Bilbo sniffed. ‘How ridiculous. Dancing with me requires no endearing; it is a privilege, not a right, you know.’

At this, Thorin could not help but chuckle, and at last he accepted Bilbo’s re-offered hand. His fingers were warm where they curled around the hobbit's, firm but gentle. As he led his dwarf to a gap in the dancers Bilbo couldn’t help but give them a small squeeze…and come dangerously close to swooning like a besotted tween when the gesture was oh-so-carefully returned.

Perhaps Thorin felt as he did; and perhaps he did not.

Either way, he decided, as Thorin whirled, and clapped, and stomped his ridiculous boots, and laughed with an unadulterated, unembarrassed sort of joy that broke Bilbo’s poor abused heart into a thousand pieces and healed it again in the same moment — either way, what they had was precious, it was perfect, it was enough, and he was content to let it follow whichever path it might.

And if that path strayed somewhat from the bounds of friendship…

Well.

Bilbo certainly wouldn’t complain.

 

Chapter Text

As Bilbo quickly discovered, the resolution to be patient and let things sort themselves was, when it came down to it, rather more easily said than done.

The thing was this. Now that he was reasonably sure of Thorin’s returned interest, all of the irritating little urges which surfaced every now and again were far more difficult to shove away and ignore. He had his reasons for waiting, which he had solidified over the past couple of weeks — namely, not jeopardising their budding whatever-it-was by haste, though Bilbo was honest enough with himself to admit that he was also, simply, a little afraid. Of misstepping. Of rejection. Of having something real.

It had been a long while since Bilbo had last been involved, after all; in any case, he had never experienced anything more serious than a summer fling. And when he thought of Thorin Oakenshield, and what he wanted with Thorin Oakenshield, a fling was entirely inadequate. 

Yes, his reservations were perfectly understandable. Not to mention well-founded, reasonable, respectable, et cetera. Nevertheless, at certain times, they simply seemed…silly.

Right this moment, for instance.

Thorin was frowning down at the delicate silver device in his hands, his mouth ticked slightly to the side as it did whenever he perceived that his pride was threatened, a crease forming between his thick brows. This crease was the current subject of Bilbo’s consternation, as his fingers twitched with the desire to reach up and smooth it out, while he tried to remember why his reservations were not, in fact, idiotic.

‘I do not see why I need them,’ Thorin groused. Luckily, this was the dozenth or so time he’d made such a comment, and a response rose easily to Bilbo’s tongue.

‘Because you’ll go blind, you silly dwarf,’ he said, and returned his attention to the batter he was carefully pouring into a cupcake tray. ‘Do you want to walk around bashing into things for the rest of your life?’

For a moment, there was silence. Bilbo very nearly believed that his logic had finally penetrated that rock-hard skull.

You don’t need them,’ grumbled Thorin, and honestly. What had he expected? Bilbo had to either roll his eyes or smile fondly, and he settled on the former, twisting so that the expression was pointedly visible to the dwarf. He then turned back to his tray.

I am a hobbit, in whom the reading of small text is ingrained,’ Bilbo pointed out, voice muffled as he bent to slide the tray into the oven. ‘You are a dwarf, in whom random bestial hacking and the swinging of nasty pointy objects is ingrained. There is a marked difference,’ he finished primly, and straightened.

Thorin glowered.

This, unfortunately, merely intensified the itching in Bilbo’s traitorous fingers, and he busied them before they could do something ill-advised: first by pulling off his oven mitts, and then by gesturing at Thorin impatiently.

‘Try them on, then.’

The scowl deepened, but Thorin complied, unfolding the spectacles’ slender arms and shoving them onto his face unceremoniously. He was behaving as if his worsening near-sightedness was a personal affront, as if his body had betrayed him by weakening — and Bilbo had betrayed him by pointing it out.

It couldn’t be helped. After the third time the dwarf had walked straight into the glass door on Bag End’s easternmost side, Bilbo simply couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He had commissioned a pair of spectacles from old Melilot Roper, who’d also made a lovely golden pair for his father back in the day, and thrust them into Thorin’s hands before he could realise what they were.

‘Well?’ Thorin asked impatiently. His eyes were narrow and displeased. They also seemed especially vivid within their new silver frame, which just so happened to compliment the pale streaks in his hair quite beautifully.

Bilbo swallowed through the sudden dryness of his throat.

‘They look…er, good. Very good, in fact. Good.’

He could only hope that his subsequent wince wasn’t too noticeable. Less noticeable than his stuttering, at least, which had Thorin’s jaw tightening; clearly he was unconvinced. Bilbo couldn’t blame him, because he had lied, quite disgracefully at that — Thorin didn’t look good. He looked stunning. Dignified. Gorgeous. And a few other adjectives of a less savoury nature. It would almost have made Bilbo angry, if he hadn’t been so enamoured.

At that very moment, his mother was probably having hysterics within the Halls of Mandos at his disgusting besottedness. His father would be cooing.

‘I look ridiculous,’ Thorin huffed. He reached up as if to remove the spectacles, but Bilbo’s hands shot out before he could stop them. As they latched onto Thorin’s wrists and guided them back down, all he could really do was try to act natural, and that meant insults.

‘Oh, come now, Thorin, don’t be daft. I know how you adore noble sacrifices, but honestly, trading eyesight for vanity is a bit far! And besides, you look — fine.’

‘You hesitated.’

‘I didn’t!’ Bilbo snapped. ‘If you must know, I just noticed that they’re a little crooked.’

The worst part of it was that he wasn’t even lying.

They were crooked.

The blasted spectacles were crooked.

Bilbo suddenly sympathised with Thorin’s burning hatred of the damned things, because the sight was frankly too much for his crumbling restraint, and he watched his fingers rise to frame Thorin’s face with a weary sort of resignation. He fiddled with the spectacles, fingertips brushing the curve of a large ear and the smooth silver cuff that adorned it, trying desperately to ignore the way Thorin’s expression was turning owlish and a little flushed.

Blast, he thought heatedly. Damn and blast.

This was going to be the death of him.

‘There,’ he said, voice coming out horrifically uneven, and stepped away. Again, he tried quite ardently to ignore both the large part of his mind shouting at him to step back in — and perhaps take another step closer — and the manner in which Thorin had swayed into him ever so slightly.

Blast and damn.

And if he fled now, the cupcakes would burn.

Damned blasted…

Botheration.

There was something in the air, something between them, something in Thorin’s eyes and the set of his brows and the way his hands hung, open, at his sides, that made Bilbo unable to tear his gaze away. They simply watched each other, frozen; but he could feel the moment teetering on the cliff’s edge, and when it fell — when it fell—

A loud ringing ubiquitously shattered the silence, the clever little clockwork timer which Thorin had made for him rattling across the bench-top, and Bilbo gasped as if doused in ice-water.

‘The cupcakes!’ he exclaimed, with more vigour than was absolutely necessary, and spun on his heel. Thorin’s quiet, dazed mutter of ‘Oh’ was inaudible to the hobbit beneath the screech which the oven door gave as he wrenched it open. Equally unnoticed went the realisation that dawned its slow way across Thorin’s face, and the calloused hand that travelled up to bury itself in dark hair.

‘Oh,’ the once-king said again.

It made far too much sense, now, all of it, everything, and he, he — he—

He needed to sit down.

::::

Over the following handful of days, Thorin was noticeably quiet. Quieter than usual, at any rate. He could often be found staring down at his book with a faint frown that spoke of perplexity rather than concentration, twirling and untwirling one braid around his index finger with an almost painful slowness, eyes seeming to stare straight through the page rather than at it. He’d even stopped complaining about the spectacles.

As the days wore on, Bilbo had taken to absently staring at the play of ruddy firelight upon woven black strands, the metallic glint of their clasps inevitably diverting his attention from whichever pastime he had chosen in a futile attempt to distract himself. From the opposite end of the settee, he would watch the wink of red and orange and silver and sink down into a world of pallid ash and creeping shadow, a world with a sagging roof of sickly bruised clouds and an Eye, a tireless, unblinking, all-seeing, burning crimson Eye—

He would realise, sooner or later, and forcefully pull himself back to the bright and gentle familiarity of Bag End. Nose twitching briskly, he would look back to his book, or his letters, or his mending, until his eyes were once more caught by glimmering silver and the whole ordeal started all over again.

After the fourth time in one night that Bilbo had wrenched himself to reality, his temper was becoming dangerously frayed about the edges. He shook his head at himself, irritated by his own foolishness; one brooding fool was surely quite enough for a single dwelling, for Yavanna’s sake.Two would likely summon up a thunderstorm before long. And Bilbo was growing tired of heavy silences and mournful sighs — they were paltry in comparison to quiet conversation, or beautiful music, or even silences that were pleasant and cosy rather than loaded with far too many uncomfortable emotions.

Bilbo blinked down at his book, a collection of Elvish poetry that Thorin hadn’t even had the presence of mind to scowl at tonight. It was lovely, really; far too lovely to be used as a half-hearted distraction.

A distraction that wasn’t even working.

After muttering a curse vulgar enough to have shocked his father senseless — learned from his Took cousins, of course — Bilbo found himself yawning until his jaw cracked. He sniffled and allowed his head to fall against the backrest, only for it to jerk back down when Thorin suddenly spoke.

‘Are you tired?’

‘Yes, a little,’ Bilbo replied with some bewilderment, thrown by the sharp presence to Thorin’s stare, which had become so rare over the past few days. He watched that pale gaze briefly flit to the window, which yielded glimpses of pear-green hills and a marigold sky.

‘It is early yet,’ Thorin observed. ‘Are you ill?’

The concern in his voice did not abide hesitation or evasion, and Bilbo immediately sought to reassure him. ‘Oh, no, no. Of course not. It’s simply — I’m just…’ Giving a vague wave of his hand, he huffed in frustration when the dwarf’s frown did not waver. ‘It’s the time of year when, well…’ He flapped his hand again, with more direction, gesturing towards its four-fingered pair.

‘I see,’ was the soft response. ‘May I…is there anything I could do?’

‘That’s not—’

‘Bilbo.’ One of Thorin’s braids slipped over his shoulder when he leaned forwards, his expression painfully earnest. ‘Please, allow me to assist you as you have me, upon so many occasions.’

‘You do,’ Bilbo said. It had escaped before he could think better of it, and he looked down, running a finger along the book’s elegant cover as he gathered his thoughts. ‘You do,’ he repeated. ‘Bag End, it — well, it was built for a family, you see.’ He cleared his throat and moved on before those heavy words could hang alone for too long. ‘Not to mention how many times you’ve saved my life—’

‘And you mine,’ Thorin said quickly, but Bilbo merely huffed and waved him away.

‘Yes, yes, obviously. In any case, there’s absolutely nothing to repay me for, or, or to make amends for, you know,’ he said, voice rising as Thorin made to speak, ‘absolutely nothing. Not one thing. We’re — friends, and friends forgive each other, and help each other—’ Thorin opened his mouth again, but Bilbo was relentless— ‘without expectation of repayment, or anything so ridiculous, thank you very much.’

The dwarf eloquently raised his eyes to the ceiling for a moment. ‘May I speak now?’

‘I suppose.’

‘Thank you ever so kindly.’ There was a hint of a smirk playing about Thorin’s face, and Bilbo found that he had quite painfully missed those glimpses of dry humour over the past few days. It was replaced by a serious mien far too quickly, however. ‘You misunderstand me, Bilbo. I wish to assist you, not for the sake of repayment, but for the sake of the regard I hold for you.’

Oh.

Bilbo’s mouth twisted in his embarrassment. Did Thorin have to phrase it like — like that?

‘I know,’ the dwarf began slowly, ‘that you perhaps do not trust me to the extent I do you—’ and it was Bilbo’s turn to be shushed, by his upraised hand— ‘which is of course understandable, after all that has passed between us. Regardless, I would ask that you grant me this: allow me to be the one to ease your burdens, for once.’

His small smile was warm, so warm. In fact, so was the room. Far too warm. It was ridiculous. Bilbo would have to open a window.

‘Oh, alright,’ he huffed, simply to get Thorin to stop looking at him like that, because if he kept it up Bilbo wouldn’t be liable for what he might do to the poor dwarf. (Nothing to be stated in polite company, he was sure.) Unfortunately, his acquiescence only served to make that beautiful smile brighten, and Bilbo very nearly sighed aloud.

Instead, he said, somewhat waspishly: ‘Be useful and fetch your harp,’ to which Thorin merely chuckled and complied.

He was so patronising. Bilbo hated him, he really did.

Thorin returned, and settled comfortably back on the other side of the settee, and hummed quietly as he brushed his fingers across the harp strings, the glowing light of evening lacquering his skin.

Bother.

Bilbo didn’t hate him in the least.

 

Chapter Text

A melody wove through the night. At times, it was light and quick and joyous; at others, comfortably mellow, though it was never anything less than beautiful. Bilbo drifted quite happily through his dreams — hazy, fleeting things, which he would never be able to recall — until the tune shifted and changed, becoming something so sweetly heartbreaking that he woke with a stuttered gasp.

For a disconcerting moment, Bilbo thought that the Sun itself had been extinguished, as the world had suddenly become formless and shrouded with shadow. Then his sense abruptly returned and he inwardly scoffed at himself. The Sun extinguished! What an absurd notion. No, he had merely fallen asleep, entirely without his own permission — and for quite a long stretch indeed, if the darkness of his living room was any indication.

Not that the darkness was entirely complete. There was a small fire murmuring quietly in the hearth, which Thorin must have kindled while he slept. Its muted glow gilded the dwarf’s fingers where they plucked softly at his harp, weaving that wistful melody. He was singing, as well, Khuzdul’s harsh consonants somehow turned smooth as velvet by the low timbre of his voice; and he had forsaken the settee for the floor, leaning back against the armrest closest to Bilbo. Seeing as Bilbo had somehow managed to arrange himself (or, more embarrassingly, had been arranged) to lie lengthwise across the settee, the dwarf was distractingly close. A few spiralling wisps had escaped from the loose plait that Thorin had drawn his hair into, and they drifted mere inches from Bilbo’s nose. He noticed, inanely, that Thorin had also removed his spectacles.

‘What are you singing?’ he asked, voice soft and blurry with sleep. Thorin’s fingers paused. He angled his face towards Bilbo, though his eyes remained firmly affixed upon his harp.

‘Nothing of consequence.’

It was the small, uncomfortable twist to the corner of his mouth that betrayed him, and Bilbo felt his lips curve. Before he could manage to quash the small, amused smile, Thorin’s eyes darted up to him, and the dwarf’s expression quickly shuttered as he looked away.

Blast. Bilbo was absolutely sure that he didn’t want to know what sort of foolish notions were now churning away in that rock-hard skull. Words often seemed inadequate when it came to Thorin (and Bilbo was frankly far too drowsy to think of anything fitting, in any case) so instead he propped himself up on his elbow, reached out, and brushed back the awry strands of black hair, smoothing them carefully behind Thorin’s ear. Said ear promptly flushed red, but no protest or admonishment was voiced.

Bilbo allowed his hand to linger. He felt strangely comfortable, and heedlessly bold. The thick strand of silver that he slowly traced glinted beneath his fingers; it recalled the shine of the mithril shirt Thorin had gifted him…along with that of a certain pair of spectacles.

The silence had once more taken on that strange, expectant quality that had permeated the air earlier in the day — or yesterday, if the hour was as late as Bilbo suspected. This time, however, the panicked urge to escape from it remained absent. Indeed, Bilbo was quite content to trail his fingers through soft hair and wait.

He didn’t have to wait for very long.

In an abrupt movement, Thorin set his harp down heavily and twisted to face him. Upon being pinned by an extraordinarily intense scrutiny, Bilbo, thoughts still a little hazy and vague with exhaustion, could do nothing but blink beneath it.

There was then, rather suddenly, a hand on his jaw and a nose against his cheek and lips pressing at the corner of his own.

They disappeared with equal suddenness. Bilbo found himself staring down at a desperately crimson dwarf; who was, for his part, expecting a fist to the face (or worse, a very severe dressing-down).

There was a long moment of terrible, terrible silence.

Bilbo’s face was forbiddingly blank.

Thorin winced slightly, bracing himself for the coming storm.

Then Bilbo began to smile, slowly — and it was bright, and wide, and fond, and not surprised in the least.

Oh, Thorin thought.

‘You knew,’ he began, and felt his traitorous ears heat further. ‘You knew, that I…’ Unable to either form or articulate the words, he shook his head slightly, and cleared his throat. ‘You knew?’

The hobbit’s smile took on an impish tinge, though his eyes remained arrestingly soft. ‘Yes, I knew.’ His hand found the side of Thorin’s face, trailing feather-light down its side.

Perhaps Thorin would not be punched that night after all. Perhaps he would be gifted with something much more pleasant. But he could not quite dare to truly hope for such a thing, not yet. Not until it was clearly stated, openly and verbally, and a few days had passed after said statement for it to sink in…and perhaps a contract or two had been signed.

‘Then why did you not say anything?’

‘I was…’ Bilbo trailed off, considering all of his various reasons, and in the face of the tentative hope dawning in pale blue eyes found them exceedingly silly. ‘Well, I suppose I was scared.’

‘Scared?’ Thorin echoed, his frown almost incredulous. ‘You?’

He said it as if it were an entirely foreign concept; as if Bilbo had not, only days before, dove bodily into a hedge to avoid interaction with a certain relation, who wielded her umbrella like a quarterstaff and nursed a jealous love for silver spoons. It was more than a little flattering — and, of course, absolutely ridiculous. Bilbo huffed and poked at Thorin’s cheek and tried to focus on the latter.

‘Yes, me! Don’t be absurd.’

‘I hardly think it absurd,’ Thorin countered, gently ensnaring the hobbit’s prodding finger between two large hands. ‘However, that the undoing of Bilbo Baggins, Hero of Erebor, destroyer of the One Ring and saviour of Middle Earth, should be matters of the heart — that is absurd.’

His brow quirked teasingly, but the gentle kiss he pressed to Bilbo’s palm left him quite confusingly torn between exasperation, embarrassment, delight, and affection. Pursing his lips and petting at Thorin’s bearded cheek seemed a good compromise.

‘As if I’m the only fool under this roof, Thorin Oakenshield,’ he said snippily. ‘I didn’t notice you saying anything, either!’

‘Ah,’ Thorin replied, and averted his eyes. This, along with the discomfited jumping of his jaw beneath Bilbo’s fingers, left him a little suspicious, and his eyes narrowed as he swiftly put the pieces together.

‘You — you didn’t know yourself!’ he exclaimed. ‘Did you? You didn’t even realise how you felt until the incident with those hanged spectacles! That’s why you’ve been so quiet recently, isn’t it?’

When the dwarf’s mouth flattened into a disgruntled line Bilbo knew that he had hit the mark spot-on.

‘Yavanna’s leaves, Thorin,’ he said disbelievingly.

Yes, he had been aware that Thorin was in possession of an exceedingly dense skull, and had far more mastery over his sword than his emotions, but honestly. The fact that Bilbo had recognised his feelings before he himself did boggled the mind.

The corner of Thorin’s mouth twisted slightly. He only did that when he was very embarrassed, and Bilbo felt himself rapidly soften.

Of course Thorin would have little experience with such matters. Bilbo well knew how unreservedly dedicated he’d been to the leadership of his people — which he had, by the by, been burdened with before even coming of age. There would have been few thoughts in his mind of something so (as he would undoubtedly see it) selfish as love.

Bilbo pushed himself up to a sit and negotiated his limbs until both feet were on the floor, with Thorin kneeling between them. This allowed him to take a firm hold of the once-king’s face and force him to meet his eyes.

‘Well, we made it in the end, didn’t we?’ he said, as gently and kindly as he could manage. ‘Even if we have both been absolutely daft, we’re both here now — and that’s by far the most important part of it all, I daresay.’

When Thorin still appeared unconvinced, Bilbo rolled his eyes. He leaned down to brush a kiss to the faint line between thick brows, feeling a small giddy rush as he did so.

About time! shouted a distinctly Tookish part of his mind.

‘Ridiculous dwarf,’ he said fondly, and kissed Thorin’s brow again, because he could.

‘Impertinent hobbit,’ Thorin replied.

He could only smile at the offended scoffing that this provoked. For all that he scowled and protested and admonished, Bilbo never removed his hands from Thorin’s face; and every insult was chased by a gentle press of lips, to his forehead, his temple, the grey at his hairline, the bridge of his nose. (And for all that Thorin had never before experienced such touches, they felt comfortable, natural, nothing more than the next step along a path he had not known existed).

Looking up at Bilbo, Thorin patiently waited until he had finished his latest grumbled insult to say, soft but clear, ‘Amralizu’; because such things were, for the moment, easier to leave to Khuzdul.

Bilbo did not share the same opinion.

‘Oh, you know perfectly well that I cannot understand you,’ he groused. To his chagrin, this was merely met with a deceptively innocent smile — which had the irritating side-effect of dispersing any hint of irritation that he had managed to muster.

Honestly!

Bilbo simply had no other option but to kiss the hanged expression of the dwarf’s face, which was quite the ordeal, truly.