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Til Stone is Dust

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Bilbo Baggins was never one for romance - perhaps he enjoyed the odd tear-jerker and sometimes dreamt of finding someone to curl up on a sofa with a book with, but for the most part he was perfectly happy.

Except for the man who lived opposite him.

It would be alright, if not for the fact that their doors were really rather close together, just on opposite sides of their landing, and Bilbo always seemed to be doing something embarrassing whenever the man appeared from his own flat. Whether it was helping a staggering Bofur home to collapse on his couch one night or tripping over his own feet and dropping his books everywhere, he always came out looking like the most inept fool who ever lived.

And the man next door was gorgeous, with his raven hair and close cropped beard. His looks were the sort that Bilbo was secretly mad for - not the classic, prim, clean sort like an Austen hero; no, the man was more of a Heathcliff, dark and rugged, brooding and wild and passionate -

At least, he was in Bilbo's imagination. Bilbo didn't even know his name. He'd moved in only a year ago when Mr. Dark and Handsome had apparently been living there for quite some time already. He hadn't even knocked just to say hello, and instead it had been Bilbo who'd been forced to cross the landing with a box of biscuits and the intention of friendly overtures; when a man with tattoos on his bald head and a grim face who most definitely wasn't his next-door neighbour opened it, Bilbo had squeaked and nearly dropped the tin before hastily backing away and hiding in the safety of his own flat. He hadn't tried again.

And so Bilbo existed in this way, secretly entertaining day-dreams about Mr. Next-Door popping over just to say hello, telling Bilbo his name, saying Bilbo's own... Well, maybe he wasn't a Heathcliff. Perhaps he was more of a Mr. Rochester, stand-offish and aloof. That fit him more correctly, Bilbo decided happily.

And he was so busy wondering if Mr. Dreamboat had children of any sort - the flat Bilbo got brief glimpses of always seemed too clinically clean to be the abode of children, let alone too quiet - that he was quite unprepared for the knock on the door, three sharp raps in quick succession. Startled, he dropped the book and bent to retrieve it, frowning when the pounds on the door were repeated.

'I'm coming,' he grumbled, knowing full well whoever was at the door wouldn't hear. 'Goodness knows I'm not busy, I'm not doing anything important, so you continue banging on that door like some brutish troll-'

He punctuated the last word as he pulled the door open, then froze at the sight that met him - Mr. Tall Handsome Neighbour, looking - if it were possible - both unimpressed and at the same time desperate.

'Oh,' Bilbo peeped, embarrassment flooding through him - he'd called him a troll! 'Hello.'

'I need your help,' the other man said, cutting straight to the point without even a greeting, which if it had been anyone else Bilbo would have had quite something to say about it, but currently his brain was too caught up in the fact that his own Mr. Rochester was on the other side of his door requesting his help. It was quite enough to stun a man.

'Help?' he repeated stupidly. He saw the other man's face sharpen as he nodded, the unimpressed look gradually overtaking the desperation and Bilbo quickly pulled himself together before Mr. Anti-hero changed his mind. 'Right, help. What can I do?'

The other man said nothing, only pointed to something Bilbo hadn't noticed before, sitting in front of the man's open front door. Bilbo pointedly curbed his curiosity about the man's front hall and focused on the object - a cat carry-box. He looked at his neighbour curiously.

'It's a cat,' the man said gruffly. Bilbo just about refrained from rolling his eyes.

'I can see that,' he said. 'It's very quiet. Is it alright?'

'He's sulking,' the other man said. 'He doesn't like me and I've got to look after him until my sister gets back.'

'Oh,' Bilbo nodded. 'Can I...?'

At his neighbour's nod Bilbo crossed the short gap of the landing and bent to peer through the gap. Inside was a large cat, his fur a mish-mash of browns and white and reddish undertones, and indeed he seemed to be staring up through the bars, whiskers drooping and a baleful expression on his face. Bilbo couldn't keep the smile that melted onto his face as he looked at the cat; he looked back up at his neighbour and the smile instantly fell from his face at the dark scowl Mr. McBrooding was wearing. Hastily he stood back up, not quite looking at the man.

'Well, um, what's the problem?' he asked. The cat didn't look to be too problematic to him.

The other man said nothing and merely moved closer to the cat box - and Bilbo - and immediately a fierce hissing emerged from the carrier and the sound of claws scrabbling against the side of the thing. Bilbo knelt down making hushing noises while his neighbour moved back again, rubbing at his temples.

'I can't get him out of that carrier,' he said in clipped tones. 'Once the thing's out he can ignore me as much as he wants but I need him out.'

'He's not a thing,' Bilbo said defensively. 'What's his name?'

The other man seemed to hesitate for a minute but eventually spoke. 'Arkie.'

'Surely the best thing would be to leave the door open and let him come out when he's ready?' Bilbo said, peering back down at the cat. 'He's frightened, that's all.'

The other man shrugged, so Bilbo gestured that he should take the cat carrier inside. The dark-haired man moved forward again to pick it up - and Bilbo certainly did not look at the way his trousers clung very nicely indeed to his shapely behind, not at all - and took it inside. Bilbo was unsure if he was meant to follow or not, so settled for stopping one step past the door, subtly admiring the flat (he was pleased to note that there was at least one very full bookshelf).

Mr. Dreamy set the carrier down and looked at Bilbo, who gestured that he should open the lid - Arkie must have been trying to scratch again because the man pulled a finger away hastily and began sucking on it, and Bilbo remained completely unruffled by that, of course; when he was done he looked at Bilbo again.

It was Bilbo's turn to shrug. 'Put some food down for him, I guess, and let him come out in his own time. You do have food and water and somewhere for him to use the toilet, don't you?' he asked.

'Yes,' the other man said defensively.

'Well then, I'll just be off...' Bilbo started to say, backing out of the flat so he was back on the landing, but a voice made him freeze.

'Thorin.'

'What?' he asked, completely lost. His neighbour was looking at him darkly, though his cheeks looked to be almost pinker than usual.

'Thorin,' the man repeated, this time sounding less angry. 'I... That's my name.'

'Oh,' was all Bilbo could say, blinking stupidly. 'Oh. Thorin. Well, nice to meet you, I'm-'

'Bilbo, I know,' the man - Thorin - said, and he must be in shadows because Mr. Ancient-Greek-Sculpture would never blush that darkly. 'I - heard your friends, once or twice.'

'Right...' Bilbo said slowly, still reeling from the fact that he now knew Sexy Neighbour's name but also from the fact that Sexy Neighbour had known his name all along. A man could only take so many surprises in one day. 'Well. Just...let me know if you need anything else. Goodbye.'

And with that he turned on his heel and hurried back inside his own door, shutting it firmly behind him.

***

Bilbo thought that would be the end of it. He heard nothing from Thorin for a few days, not even bumping into him outside as they were previously wont to do, though sometimes as he was locking up he'd hear a fierce meow from Thorin's flat and he assumed Arkie was giving him a hard time.

But then Thorin started knocking on his door in the evenings.

He was sitting on his sofa with a book when the doorbell rang; surprised and wondering who'd be calling on him at this hour, he got up and opened the door, only to find a rather frazzled-looking Thorin on the other side.

'Um, hello, Thorin,' he said, stumbling over his words as he marvelled how the man could look so good even frazzled and more unkempt than usual.

'Arkie's not eating,' was all Thorin said, with not even a greeting. So Bilbo dutifully followed him across the landing and into Thorin's flat properly and secretly taking in every detail of it in interest, before helping Thorin get Arkie to eat, resorting to hand-feeding him, which Thorin looked mightily unimpressed with but Bilbo enjoyed himself - Arkie was a very affectionate cat and when he'd finished the food Bilbo had, he proceeded to climb into his lap and settle himself there to be petted.

The next day, Thorin was at the door claiming that Arkie looked ill, which Bilbo checked and decided he was just tired; if he wasn't better then Thorin should take him to the vet's. Not that he was qualified to decide if the cat was ill or not, but he knew taking the cat to the vet's unnecessarily would just traumatise the poor thing.

The next evening Thorin needed help getting Arkie down from on top of a wardrobe, and the evening after that he seemed even more harried than usual as he told Bilbo Arkie was missing. Bilbo immediately complied and rushed over to help Thorin search.

'Does he do this to your sister?' he asked Thorin in exasperation as he peered underneath the sofa Thorin was currently lifting for him.

'No,' Thorin replied, setting it back down carefully once Bilbo had ascertained there was no cat hiding underneath. 'Not that I know of, at least.'

'And yet he does for you,' Bilbo gave a tiny smile, more just a quirk of his lips, as he turned to check the cat wasn't trapped behind the bookshelf.

'He doesn't like me,' Thorin said, checking the boiler cupboard. 'I told you.'

Bilbo just hummed in agreement as he moved to the kitchen.

They eventually found him hidden behind the television, yowling at being removed from his warm spot. Bilbo gave him a kiss on his furry forehead to make him feel better before passing him to Thorin, who looked vaguely confused for a minute before setting the cat on the sofa; Arkie immediately jumped down and ran off again.

They were left alone in Thorin's living room for a moment before Bilbo got self-conscious and rubbed at his neck, looking anywhere but at Thorin. 'I won't be here for a couple of days,' he piped up after a pause. Thorin's gaze locked onto his and sharpened.

'Why?'

'I'm visiting my parents,' he explained, neck itching with heat as he flushed. 'My mother's birthday at the weekend, so I won't be back until next week.'

'Oh.' Thorin said nothing else for a long while. 'Alright.'

'Will you be alright with Arkie?' he asked, suddenly worried about the safety of the cat without him.

'I've survived worse,' Thorin said, a small smile playing on his lips.

'I meant will he be alright with just you,' Bilbo said, returning the smile; Thorin looked mildly embarrassed for just a moment before replying in the affirmative. Bilbo smiled and headed for the door, going home and packing up what he'd need for his weekend away.

***

It was a nice trip to see his parents - dodging questions about his non-existent love-life aside - but he was certainly glad to get home, arriving late in the evening and just about ready to fall into bed. He wasn't ready for the knock on his door and considered ignoring it, but good manners instilled into him since childhood made him get up and answer it.

'Hello,' Thorin greeted sheepishly. Bilbo didn't say anything, instead just letting him get to the point. 'I know you've just got back, but Arkie - he's very quiet. I don't know if he's ill or not.' Thorin looked so genuinely concerned for the cat and apologetic for disturbing Bilbo that Bilbo knew he'd agree to go and see what was wrong. He didn't think he'd refuse Thorin anything, if he was honest.

'How long has he been like this?' he asked as he found Arkie draped over the back of the sofa, his ears barely flicking as he and Thorin approached.

'The entire weekend,' Thorin said. Bilbo stepped forward to go and pet Arkie, standing in front of him and moving to kneel when the cat gave a loud meow and immediately jumped down to land on Bilbo's lap. Bilbo just about managed to catch himself and fell onto the sofa rather than the floor, chuckling as Arkie started treddling at his skin as he turned around and around in a circle before sitting on Bilbo and refusing to move.

Thorin looked a little shell-shocked and Bilbo was simultaneously pleased Arkie wasn't ill and amused that he'd only - apparently - been missing Bilbo.

'Well,' was all he said.

'Well indeed,' Thorin said in agreement, rubbing at his neck. Bilbo tickled Arkie behind the ears for a bit before trying to move him so he could go home and sleep, but the cat gave a low growl as Bilbo did so and Bilbo gave up. 'I'm sorry,' Thorin said, what face that wasn't hidden by his beard definitely pink, and Bilbo just chuckled. He was too tired to be annoyed, and if he was honest, there were worse things than having a sleeping cat on one's lap.

'It's alright,' he said. 'But I'd kill for a cup of tea,' he said hopefully and Thorin graced him with one of his small smiles Bilbo very rarely saw.

'It's the least I can do,' he said and Bilbo sighed and leant back as he listened to the sound of Arkie's purring and Thorin's clattering around in the kitchen. His eyes were so heavy; he'd just shut them for a moment...

He was shaken awake gently by Thorin, a mug of hot strong tea in his large hands and a cat still on Bilbo's lap.

'Here's your tea,' Thorin offered and Bilbo sat up a little, careful not to displace the cat. He must be blushing nine to the dozen - he'd fallen asleep on Thorin's sofa! - but Thorin only smiled before grabbing his own cup and sitting on the end of the sofa. They sat in a relatively companionable silence as they sipped at their respective hot drinks - except for Arkie, who seemed to be dreaming of catching mice, if his paw-twitches were worth anything.

'You can sleep there if you like,' Thorin said quietly, startling Bilbo awake from where he'd been sliding into sleep again. 'Just - just so you don't have to move again-'

'It's alright,' Bilbo said, trying to ignore his own face flaming at the very idea. 'I've got to get back. But thank you for the offer though.'

Thorin merely nodded and said nothing, instead getting up and taking their cups to the kitchen. Bilbo sat up properly and removed Arkie from himself, ignoring the displeased yowl he made and setting him on the sofa, standing up before Arkie could try and jump on him again. He wobbled slightly and a warm hand on his shoulder steadied him; he blushed to know it was Thorin's and tried to keep his imagination in check.

'Thank you,' he said quickly; he turned to Arkie and gave him a kiss on his ear. 'I'll come back and see you tomorrow,' he said - he did not coo - before quickly turning to Thorin to check he didn't mind. Thorin just looked amused.

He made it back to his own flat and fell into bed, not even bothering with getting changed.

***

Bilbo did indeed go and see to Arkie's well-being the next day and Thorin told him as he sat on the sofa with Arkie purring contentedly on his lap that the cat would be gone by the end of the week. Bilbo tried not to let his disappointment show; he'd got used to spending time with Thorin, even if it was only because he could control the cat, and once Arkie was gone it'd be back to having Thorin only in his daydreams again.

Rather than mope he decided to simply enjoy the couple of days he had left with Arkie, even buying him a little catnip mouse he made Thorin promise would go home with him. Thorin seemed more tense in those last days, more frustrated about something than he had been earlier, and Bilbo was uncertain if he could do anything.

He made a point of being there when Thorin's sister came to take Arkie away - although the cat seemed to have brought out his dramatic side - knocking on Thorin's door a little before she was set to arrive to help Arkie into his carrier and whatnot.

Thorin's scowl was dark as Bilbo sighed and murmured sweet nothings at the cat to calm him down. Bilbo hovered while Thorin's sister took the carrier, teasing her brother and thanking Bilbo and eventually leaving. Bilbo would have thought Thorin would be happy now he was gone - he made no secret of his distaste for the fellow - but if anything his expression was even stormier.

'I suppose you're going to go now,' he said to Bilbo, startling him from his thoughts. Bilbo couldn't work out what his face was trying to say.

'I - yes, I suppose so,' he said, blinking; while he and Thorin had always been alone together there'd always been a cat around, so Bilbo had never truly felt as if he were alone with Thorin. Now, however, his insides were squirming and fluttering nervously at being properly alone with him.

'I knew it,' Thorin said, turning away, and Bilbo would have said he sounded almost glum.

'What, sorry?' he asked, more than a little confused.

'You only came for the cat,' was Thorin's reply.

'You... You only needed me for the...for Arkie,' Bilbo said, still confused and at a loss as to what Thorin was trying to say.

'I needed you here.' Thorin said nothing else, his shoulders hunched slightly, and suddenly Bilbo understood - though he had to be dreaming, surely, because this couldn't be real...

'Thorin.'

Thorin seemed to hunch in on himself even more. 'Yes.'

'You...'

Thorin rubbed at his neck, peering over his shoulder at Bilbo and hurriedly looking away again when he saw Bilbo still looking at him. 'I may have tried to use the cat to...to get to you,' he said quietly and Bilbo's heart just about burst from emotion.

'Well,' he said quietly, stepping closer to Thorin and marvelling at his own daring. 'It's a good thing it worked, then.'

Thorin looked almost startled to see Bilbo so close and looked at him closely as if searching for mockery or jesting; in a move that startled himself more than anything, Bilbo reached up on his tiptoes to press a gentle kiss on Thorin's lips, warmth shivering through him. Thorin seemed almost struck dumb at the first meeting of their lips, but after Bilbo drew away he didn't need telling twice and instead leaned down to meet him half way, for a kiss that was spine-tinglingly sweet and full of promise.

'So you weren't just after my cat,' Thorin said in wonderment and Bilbo had to stifle his laughter.

'Oh no,' he said, grinning against Thorin's mouth as his very own Mr. Byronic Hero's arms wrapped around him tightly, holding him close. 'I've been after you for ages.'