The first time the company stopped by a stream to bathe, Bilbo was abhorred to find all the dwarves stripping down to nothing and plowing into the water, bare to the world. With a chuckle, Gandalf slipped off and disappeared, leaving Bilbo to stand, frozen, on the bank. Increasingly naked dwarves rushed around him and jumped into the stream, sending up waves of crystal clear water.
“Oi! Watch it!” Bilbo cried, jumping back as the spray caught his toes. The perpetrator, Kili, laughed. He and his brother were both bare, but thankfully covered from the waist down by the water. Bilbo refused to look any lower, keeping his glare pinned to their faces.
“Come in, Mister Boggins!” Kili cheered.
“The water is nice and cool,” Fili added.
Bilbo huffed and crossed his arms. His lips parted before a heavy presence fell at his shoulder. Bilbo stiffened. He didn’t have to look over to see who it was before Thorin spoke.
“What is the matter, Master Baggins? Are you too good to bathe among dwarves?”
Bilbo scoffed, his defenses shooting up.
“That’s—that’s not it at all! I just… we do things differently in the Shire. We have our own baths, thank you very much. And being naked in public is… is… it’s unheard of. It’s highly inappropriate.”
Oh, Aule help Lobelia if she'd caught sight of these dwarves, bathing and romping around the woods in not but their skin. Her heart would stop, no doubt. Bilbo tried to ignore the grim amusement that came with the image.
Beside him, Thorin grunted, pulling Bilbo from his thoughts.
“We are a company, Master Baggins,” he said. Bilbo caught his intense gaze. Everything about Thorin was intense; his dark eyes, his thick build, his very presence. Though he wore not a crown or piece of gold, Thorin held himself like a king. An odd shudder ran down Bilbo’s spine. “You may as well forget privacy now. We bathe together.”
Ignoring Bilbo’s squawk of protest, Thorin pushed past him and to the stream. Heat flushed through Bilbo’s cheeks and all protest died on his lips as Thorin began to strip.
The Hobbit couldn’t help as his eyes followed each movement. The heavy fur cloak dropped in a soft pile on the grass bank, followed swiftly by a tunic and an undershirt. Bilbo was shocked to see Thorin’s chest was covered in coarse, thick black hair, his shoulders even broader without layers to cover them. His waist narrowed only slightly, a hint of fat hanging on his hips. Seeing the dwarf so bare, so vulnerable, made something flourish through Bilbo, and his toes unknowingly curled into the soft grass. Even without his clothes or his sword, however, every movement breathed power. Control.
Thorin’s hands hooked in his trousers and tugged.
“Staring’s not nice, laddie.”
Bilbo leapt, tearing his eyes away as Thorin stripped completely and dipped into the water. At his side, Bofur grinned. Beside him, Ori and Nori watched curiously. They were only half-undressed, apparently taking more time than their friends and siblings.
“I wasn’t—“ Bilbo babbled. “It wasn’t—I wasn’t staring at anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Bofur arched an eyebrow and Ori gave a tight smile.
“We know you’re kind, but we just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to say anything.”
Bilbo’s embarrassment swirled, but confusion cut it off.
“Say anything?” he echoed.
Did they think he was thinking of propositioning Thorin? Bilbo squeaked at the thought. He, a hobbit from the Shire, proposition a king? The audacity!
Yet, the grim looks of the other dwarves put a pause to Bilbo’s panic.
“He’s not the most handsome fellow, we’ll grant,” Bofur said with a nod, “but he’s a great king. We all know our faults and our virtues.”
Bilbo blinked. His mind slowly circled, trying to catch up.
“Not the most handsome… I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”
All three dwarves turned to him. The others hadn’t seemed to notice, splashing and yelling and tackling in the stream. Thorin stood off to the side, waist-deep in the water and scrubbing at the long curtain of dark hair that ran down his back. His muscles rippled with each movement.
“You were staring at Thorin, weren’t you?” Bofur asked, and Bilbo nearly gasped at his unsubtly. “As long as you don’t insult him by telling him he’s ugly or anythin’ like that, it’s okay. But he’ll notice you starin’ sooner or later.”
“Ugly?” Bilbo choked out. He couldn’t help but release a startled laugh. “Why on Middle Earth would I call Thorin ugly?”
The three dwarves exchanged confused looks.
“Well,” Ori began, twiddling his thumbs. He’d abandoned his shirt, but his suspenders still hung on his thin shoulders. “Thorin isn’t exactly… he’s not the most handsome. He’s thin, and with his beard gone…”
“By dwarf standards, he’s not very desirable,” Bofur finished.
Bilbo gaped at them.
Those words and the name Thorin Oakenshield didn’t seem to belong in the same sentence. The dwarves stared at him with open understanding. Finally, Bilbo stuttered.
“I—I thank you for your, uh, concern, but that is not why—“ Heat flushed up Bilbo’s neck. “I can guarantee that I do not think Thorin is ugly. If he is ugly by dwarf standards, then I can’t even imagine what you think is attractive! Do dwarves not value—value muscle? Or long hair? Or… or…”
Bilbo trailed off.
Eyes were on him, but more than those of the three baffled dwarves before him. Dread curling in his gut, Bilbo turned. Nearly every dwarf in the river stared at the hobbit with varying mixtures of shock and confusion. Kili and Fili stared, open-mouthed, the former with growing (and alarming) delight. Stomach clenching, Bilbo forced his eyes to flicker to Thorin. The dwarf king was still half-submerged, but he watched Bilbo with an unreadable look.
Humiliation swept over Bilbo in a wave and he stepped back.
“Ah—I—“ He cleared his throat. “I’m just—I’m going to bathe downstream. No, I don’t need assistance, so don’t bother me!”
Bilbo grabbed his spare clothes and rushed off, disappearing into the trees.
The dwarves stared after him.
Finally, Kili let out a cackle.
“Uncle, someone thinks you’re desirable! It was bound to happen sometime—“
Fili wacked his brother on the back of the head, enticing the other to wrestle him under the water before Thorin could even answer.
The dwarves chuckled and turned back to their tasks, scrubbing the dirt and grime from their skin.
And if any of them noticed Thorin’s gaze lingering after where Bilbo had disappeared to before he did the same, well…
No one said a thing.