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He stuck close to Thorin as they made their way down from the Carrock. In fact, he side-eyed the dwarf so much he nearly lost his balance half a dozen times, not even remotely convinced the man was as healed as he claimed as the King suppressed a wince every other step.

But surprisingly, Thorin tolerated his closeness, giving no sign he either noticed or hugely minded his fussing when he reached up, keeping a hand on the man's elbow – just in case - as they navigated around a particularly narrow section. Instead, Thorin just sent him a series of fond, if not heatedly assessing looks that he pretended he couldn't see as they quickly lost the daylight.

If the man were a hobbit, he'd know for sure what that look meant. For a gentle-hobbit, a look like that meant a slow, languorous tumble in one's back garden. Crushing the sweet grass and spring tulips as clothes were quickly shed. It meant the scent of fresh soil as it was smeared across your skin and the harsh pants of your lover – loud in your ear – as you came apart together. It meant a long season of courting and a lap full of babes come mid-summer's eve. It meant, well – a promise.

But to a dwarf?

He shook his head minutely, breathing a sigh of relief when they made it back to solid ground. Pleased to hear Thorin's voice come out strong as he bid the others to make camp and prepare supper. He pretended he was looking elsewhere when the man paused, touching heads with his nephews for a long moment, before calling for Balin and Gloin to go over what supplies they had left.

It was something he'd noticed often during their journey, mostly it was the subtle touches here and there, a head knock, a pat on the back, the pressing of foreheads. Dwarves might not express themselves as hobbits did, but the feelings were there and no less strong – of that he had no doubt.

He pursed his lips, trying to make himself useful as he helped Ori collect firewood. Still, he had to admit he wasn't as confident in his ability to read his friends well enough to make any assumptions on the matter.

Especially one so, well, sensitive - intimate?

Oh bother.

He nose twitched when Thorin settled himself on a fallen log, watching from behind veiled lids as Oin began unbuckling his armor, striping him down to just a thin tunic and jerkin as the healer began probing at the worst of the wounds. He had to look away quickly, lest the man see his interest when the last layer was lifted. Finding himself quite taken by the strong line of the dwarf's chest and the broadness of his shoulders as the muscles flexed and rippled, peppered under such a fine pelt of dark sable that his mouth went dry. And while he was as courteous as the next hobbit, even he couldn't help but wonder how far down the trail went.


He stayed close as night fell, eventually settling on the log when Oin puttered off to tend to the others. He was secretly pleased when Thorin remained where he was, conversing quietly with Gandalf over his head as the others started whinging about supper.

And as always, Bombur didn't disappoint, somehow working miracles with nothing more than a quick foraging mission and what they'd managed to keep after their ordeal in the goblin tunnels. He slurped distractedly at his bowl of stew, licking his fingers for any wayward crumbs as he chased the taste of the coal-roasted corn bread they'd divided between them.

Thorin, however, seemed to be savoring his portion just to spite him. Delicately picking it apart piece by piece and dipping each morsel in his stew. Sopping up the juices with slow, languorous circles around the rim until every muscle in his body was practically singing with anticipation. It was positively indecent and most definitely on purpose.

He squirmed in his seat, huffing as the man's upper lip curled, blossoming into a full blown smirk when he glared at him. Half tempted to swipe the rest and run, king or not.

It would be the man's own fault too. Teasing him like he was! And about food nonetheless! No self-respecting hobbit would ever dare do such a thing!

He was drawn from his thoughts by a sudden disturbance in the center of camp. And with some reluctance, he tore his eyes away from the chunk of cornbread and looked up to see Fili and Kili messing around with Gandalf's staff.

"I can see why he favors it," Fili remarked, balancing it in one hand before flipping it above his head and catching it smoothly behind his back. Dwalin ducked out of range, not even looking up as he fished a piece of meat out of his bowl – apparently used to it as Thorin looked up, observing the antics of his nephews with a resigned sort of air before shaking his head and turning his attention back to his food.

He looked to his right, starting when he realized that Gandalf was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't even seen him leave. He looked around worriedly, unable to spot him as the staff did another neat flip, the very tip skimming across the ground as Fili whipped it around like a broad-sword.

Confound that wizard! Where had he gotten off to now?

He certainly wouldn't be too amused if he knew what Kili and Fili were up to.

His eyes narrowed as the thought settled in and dug roots. Indeed, the timing seemed rather suspect. After the day they'd all had and the fact that the wizard barely slept apart from it, it struck him as rather unlikely he'd leave it so obviously unattended.

"It has surprisingly good balance for being so top heavy," Fili remarked, one hand running admiringly down the smooth elder-wood before Kili darted forward and stole it.

"Oy, I was looking at that!"

"I just want to see how it works, Fi," Kili wheedled, braids flying as he danced off to the side. "Did you see how the crystal brightened when he lit that pine-cone on fire?" Kili exclaimed, excitedly twirling the staff to keep it out of his brother's reach - trying to get a look at the pointy end without having to give up his prize.

Ori looked up from his journal as the two whirled by; chewing hesitantly on a hangnail as a vicious game of keep-away broke out. But it wasn't until Kili scampered around Balin, doing a low, looping circuit that forced the scribe to duck every other loop, that the youngest Ri finally spoke up.

"I really don't think you two should be playing around with Mister Gandalf's staff, what if-"

And naturally, that was the exactly moment a bright bolt of light shot from the tip of the staff – arrowing clear across camp – right towards where he and Thorin were sitting.

The others scattered. Bofur hit the ground, having the foresight to take Fili and Bifur with him. Bombur tripped over the stew pot in his haste to get away. Gloin did a two-footed back flip behind a boulder, snagging Oin by the collar as he went. There was a moment of chaos when Balin accidentally kicked the ladle into the fire - jumping sideways, narrowly missing Kili as the dwarf dropped the staff and dove for cover, using Dori and Nori as shields as the three of them scrambled backwards.

Dwalin, however, just snatched Ori clear off his perch by the fire in mid-lunge. He tumbled the younger dwarf safely into his lap, moving so fast he swore the scribe's braids snapped back. Journal and quill flopping dejectedly where the lad's feet had been only seconds earlier.

Thorin had just enough time to whirl, dark hair flaring out around him as the broad weight of the man's arm caught him hard in the chest. It was only due to the way he fell that he was able to witness the moment in all its terrible clarity. Because in the same beat, the beam caught the dwarf high in the gut and exploded outwards - filling the intervening space with a million panning arcs of the purest silver-grey before he slipped off the log and out of sight.

The shockwave sent anyone still standing tumbling to the ground, flattening them right down to the rocky soil as a sound, not unlike a hurricane, whipped through the air above their heads. He cried out, fisting his hands in the long grass as a sudden, unearthly wind sucked at his toes.

Thorin! He had to be alright, he had to be-

He pressed his face into the underside of the log as the air grew sparse and heavy – almost like the weight of the spell had stolen the very life from the air. He tried to pull himself up, to scramble over the log to where he'd seen Thorin fall, but the weight of the white was too much. He couldn't get to him, he couldn't-

He heard someone cry out. Fili to Kili maybe before - just as quickly as it'd started – the bright light dimmed, shuddering down to a tiny little hiccup of mist before vanishing completely.

He raised his head slowly, blinking away the white spots and spitting out a mouthful of moss as he picked himself out of the dirt. He patted his pockets, happy to find all limbs and possessions accounted for as he straightened his waistcoat. It was only when his shoulder throbbed; kicking up a fuss from the force of the man's push, that he realized Thorin was not amongst the others.

His heart plummeted when he peered over the log and caught sight of the pile of clothes and empty boots that marked where the dwarf had stood. Thorin! He scrambled up and over the log in an instant, one hand already reaching out – uncomprehending as a collective intake from around the fire told him the others had come to the same realization he had.

He had half a breath to think the worst before a sudden wriggling issued from the center of the pile, trapped underneath an unsteady mountain of thick cotton and shucked armor plating. It took a moment but just as he was about to kneel down and help free whatever was stuck inside, a furry little face popped out from under an over sized shirt sleeve.


The meow was just pitiful enough that it made his heart ache. Finding himself unable to do anything else but stare as a ball of black and silver fur popped out from under the mound of clothes – all wobbly kitten legs and a distinct lack of poise as the man – dwarf - cat– whatever – looked up at him in clear confusion.

His mouth opened and closed, stuck between disbelief and a sinking sort of finality as big yellow eyes blinked up at him uncertainly. The expression on its furry face in that moment was so unquestionably Thorin he hardly knew what to do with himself.

In the end he settled on sinking down on his haunches, taking it as a good sign when Thorin simply stared, momentarily distracted by the flick-flick of his stubby tail - trying to twist around to catch sight of it. Half-afraid the tiny creature would bolt, he used the moment to grasp the kitten by the neck, holding him aloft as the light from the fire highlighted the distinguished peppering of silver streaked through the creature's thick black coat.

He pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand as the others gathered around – wordless. Thickening the air with unanswered questions as Gandalf chose that moment to emerge from the treeline just off to his right, clearing his throat significantly. Wizened hands firm on his hips as he eyed down the youngest heirs of Durin with a suspicious – if not surprisingly indulgent – glare.

Kili let go of a sound, something between a laugh and a whimper.

Dwalin rolled his eyes.

Nori sneezed.

But he just groaned.

One fourteenth of a share was simply not worth this kind of aggravation.

Chapter Text

"Uncle is going to kill us," Kili groaned, watching as Bilbo picked the kitten up by the nape, holding him aloft - not unlike how a mother cat does with her kittens - as everyone crowded around, shocked into a choking sort of calm as the youngest Durin bemoaned his fate – well used to punishments concerning ill-timed shenanigans and general misbehavior.

"Mew," Thorin echoed, sounding ridiculously serious about the matter as a tiny black paw flailed around, hanging motionless in the halfling's gentle grip as Gandalf collected his fallen staff and marched towards them.

"He only needs one heir," Balin pointed out, looking resigned – if not slightly hysterical as the kitten mewled again.

"Uncle is going to kill one of us," Fili echoed, if anything, even more gloomily. As if the prospect of continuing life bereft of a brother was on par with the worst fate imaginable.

"Aye, if your mother doesn't get her hands on you first," Dwalin grunted, quickly retracting his arms when he realized he was still holding Ori tight to his chest. Looking slightly gobsmacked when, after finally loosening his grip from around the lad's hips, Ori made no move to escape. Indeed, the scribe just blushed, looking up at him shyly as Dori made a choking noise in the background.

Kili just meeped in fear.

Uncle was one thing.

But mother?


There was nothing else for it. Their King was a cat and surprisingly, save for a few minor hiccups, everyone dealt with it remarkably well. Especially after being assured by Gandalf that while he had no idea how Kili and Fili had managed to make his staff do anything or more pointedly, how to fix it, the spell itself was undoubtedly temporary. At this point it was simply a matter of waiting it out.

In the meantime there was a journey to continue and a time table to keep. The decision to move on was unanimous. And if there was a pudgy ball of black fur and sharp baby claws zooming around underfoot - well, they would just have to deal with it.

And they did, after a fashion.

In truth, they basically pretended nothing was wrong at all.

Admittedly, Thorin made it easy. Because after a quiet, almost shell-shocked night of adjustment, where in which Thorin alternated between hissing at his heirs and trying his best to wriggle back into the reaches of his abandoned furs and armor, he seemed to take to his new state with surprising vigor and curiosity.

Soon the Kitten Under the Mountain could be found in any number of places. Perched on top of Gandalf's shoulder at the front of the company, batting at his nephew's braids, tangling himself in Ori's yarn or investigating the scribe's many pockets – often taking to napping inside one of the larger ones as they walked.

But, by far, his preferred spot seemed to be curled around the halfling's neck. Bilbo tried not to look too pleased about it whenever the little creature would shimmy up his leg or cry to be picked up and placed there.

Days passed this way.

It was during the second night, after they'd set up camp for the evening, that he forgot himself. He was halfway into his pipe, nursing a full belly and fond thoughts of a rare day that hadn't involved any fighting or running when Thorin brushed up against him.

He supposed it would have happened sooner or later but it didn't make the lapse any less embarrassing when he picked him up and placed him in his lap, petting him absentmindedly as a strangled-sounding mew aired out at the abrupt change in scenery.

He wasn't sure which of them were more surprised when a rattling little purr sounded out in mid scritch-scritch. His fingers stilled their scratching as wide yellow eyes met equally startled blue. He pulled away, ducking his head, utterly mortified.

He'd just scratched Thorin behind the ears! Mercy! He'd gone and treated him like a common alley cat!

Thorin just blinked from his place in his lap, tilting his head this way and that, as if assessing the situation. Looking stately and regal despite the circumstances as the quivering ball of fur seemed to come to some sort of decision.

It wasn't until Thorin meowed rather pointedly, stretching and butting his head against his hand that he realized what the feline wanted. A relieved smile broke out across his face, not unlike the dawn breaking over the Lonely Mountain when Thorin settled back down in his lap.

"Oh, well, if you insist," he returned, nearly swallowing his tongue in his haste as he carded his fingers through the short, luxurious fur. Sparing a moment to wonder if the man's beard would feel quite so fine as the feline went utterly boneless underneath him.

The rumbling purr he got in return seemed answer enough.

They were on the path to Mirkwood, Thorin balancing easily on his shoulder when he noticed a change in the kitten's stance. His stubby little tail whipped back and forth, flicking against the point of his ear like a metronome.

That was his first hint that something less than wise was about to happen.

He had only a moment to put two and two together. Noticing how the point of Gandalf's hat was flapping enticingly just in front of them. Then how Thorin was stirring on his shoulder, fuzzy little rear wriggling like he was readying himself to pounce. He stopped dead, catching the little twat by the scruff of the neck before he could even so much as try.

"Oh no you don't!" He said firmly, totting the puff ball well out of reach, letting Balin and Bifur carry on without him as he put a few dwarfs in between them and temptation.

"You want somewhere, you ask. I'm not going to be the one to explain to your sister why you're stuck as a kitten for your grand entrance into Erebor just because you broke your legs trying to do something you shouldn't," he chastened wiggling a finger accusingly as Thorin's paws wind-milled, trying to gain traction in empty air.

"Besides, I don't think Oin is qualified to knit cat bones," he added, more like an afterthought than anything as he plunked the kitten back on his shoulder and started off again - muttering under his breath about medical licences and Kings that should know better.

Thorin just bristled, looking rather disgusted with him as he jumped up onto an overhanging branch. Seeming to make a point of keeping pace with them through the branches, winding this way and that, before disappearing completely

But it seemed as though the kitten's foul humor was not to last, because before he could get too worried, Thorin was suddenly threading between his legs – meowing - having apparently relented for the sake of attaining his prize the proper way.

It wasn't until the meows took on a particularly annoying pitch that he sighed and scooped him up. Rolling his eyes as the kitten nuzzled apologetically into the curve of his neck.

"Suck up."

He made sure to wait a few extra minutes on principal alone before he handed him off to Gandalf. Smirking a bit at the victorious little growl when Thorin batted at the floppy point of the man's hat, going about it with the air of a child long denied a particularly scrumptious looking sweet.

He tried not to laugh when Thorin nearly preened, looking down at them happily as he fixed his gaze towards the Lonely mountain, balancing on the brim of the wizard's hat like he belonged there.

He shook his head.

Dwarves, honesty.

Call him a mother hen, but he fretted every time the jet-black fur ball was out of sight.

Despite Gandalf and the others doing their best to allay his fears, he couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for Thorin's current predicament. Taking to worrying as the King spent the next few days flickering here and there, disappearing for hours at a time only to come flying back and make a general nuisance of himself. The way cats are prone to do.

"Do you think he knows? What happened to him, I mean?" he asked Gandalf on the third day. Moodily setting out the dwarf's clothes, like he did every night, in the hopes that come dawn the spell would be lifted.

Wouldn't do for the man to come to only to find his bits in the breeze. That would hardly be a kingly state of affairs, after all.

"What Thorin knows or does not know is uncertain," Gandalf replied, puffing contentedly on his pipe. "But in either case, accident or not, I imagine this is actually quite good for him. There is nothing quite like giving up one's worldly cares - gaining some appreciation for the simpler things in life. Out of everyone here, Master Hobbit, I'm sure you understand."

"His life has never been one of ease and pleasure, my dear Bilbo," Gandalf continued after a pause, watching with no small measure of amusement as Thorin lost interest in the butterfly he'd been stalking, in favor of crouching down, belly to the long grass when a particularly fat looking rat scuttled out from under a thatch of undergrowth.

"Even when his grandfather ruled under the mountain, his duties and the expectations placed upon him as heir apparent were weighty indeed," the wizard explained. "Who knows, perhaps his nephews have done him a favor," Gandalf added, chewing on the end of his pipe thoughtfully, chuckling lightly when Thorin finally pounced, losing the rat down a hole in a flurry of stubby legs and a rather unintimidating growl.

"Behold the mighty hunter," Dwalin called out, twisting around in a mock bow as Thorin slunk back into camp, fur puffed up, looking thoroughly put out by recent events as he ignored the warrior and made a beeline for Bombur and the stew pot.

"Then again, hunting has never really been Thorin's strong suit, or so I am told," Gandalf said with a smile. Watching with no small stretch of amusement as the cat jumped atop Bombur's shoulder, looking for all the world like joining them for supper had been his plan all along.


There was a beat or two before the kitten shimmied, butting up against the man's ear until the dwarf stopped what he was doing and favored him with a scratch. Eventually accepting the bits of meat the dwarf sent his way with the air of someone who was doing Bombur a favor.

"He is just a kitten," Bilbo pointed out, automatically rallying to Thorin's defense as he repacked his pipe, feeling the need for another snifter of Old Toby as the thought aired out. Finding himself rather unsure of what to make of the assessing look he got in return.

Chapter Text

He knew Thorin was up to something a few days later when the kitten settled down beside him after dinner. In no time whatsoever his paws were tucked underneath him, tail lashing back and forth in a way he'd come to recognize as the calm before the storm. He followed the feline's gaze idly, only half paying attention until he realized it seemed fixed on where Ori and Dwalin were sitting.

What was he up to now?

He watched them a bit longer under the guise of mending a tear in his coat, figuring that Thorin might actually be onto something rather titillating when he realized Dwalin had been making a big production out of sitting next to Ori by the fire for the past three hours -sharpening axes that already looked fine enough to split the warrior's arm hair clean in two with barely a lick of effort.

Indeed, one would almost think the warrior was looking for an excuse to sit next to him considering-

He looked down at the kitten with wide eyes when he realized that the sight was actually not as uncommon as he'd originally thought. Indeed, since Bag End, whether by accident or design, Ori and Dwalin had never seemed far apart. They seemed to gravitate towards each other effortlessly – an honest attraction of the most natural sort.

"Really?" he mouthed, only to see it proven when Dwalin seemed to inch just a bit closer, huffing under his breath about needing the light from the fire, as Ori scribbled away, oblivious.

The pointed jerk of a tail was the only answer he got.

They watched in silence for a moment – observing the subtle play of emotions passing over each dwarf's face when they thought the other wasn't looking. He sighed, setting his mending aside, too invested in the thick-headed idiots to let it pass. Thorin was right, something had to be done. For the sake of his own sanity at the very least.

Thorin sniffed, a near sneeze to anyone not paying attention, but he wasn't falling for it. If Thorin expected him to meddle in matters that didn't concern him, he had another thing coming. He barely had a handle on dwarvish behavior and customs as it was, but even with what little he did know, he was by no means an expert! He wasn't going to be responsible for committing some unfortunate cultural incident and drive the two skittish dwarrow even further apart!

"If you're so sure, why don't you do something about it? It's now or never really," he whispered, feeling a bit silly as he looked around, relieved when it appeared no one had noticed their one-sided conversation.

Most of the others held onto the belief that their king had taken a well-deserved leave from his senses, being more animal than a man during his – ah – vacation. He, however, was not so easily convinced. He'd seen too many hints; there were too many pieces of the final puzzle missing to say for sure.

The look he got in reply was all manner of disdain. Certainly enough to make him second guess himself before the feline got to his feet, daintily giving one of his paws a wash. His nose twitched as he watched the display, recovering his mending and muttering under his breath as the kitten stretched - acting like he had all the time in the world and would get around to it when he felt like it. It was a temperament so akin to the dwarf and to cats in general, that he couldn't help but grin into his stitches.

The cat gave him a meaningful look, something that seemed to infer a shared confidence before sashaying away. Thorin picked his way towards the two dwarves with such casualness that he had to suppress a smirk, watching him pause before stepping into the damp grass, acting like every wet leaf that dared to touch his pads was a grievous offence indeed.

Once over the wet undergrowth, Thorin wasted no time hurrying over to Ori, butting up against his legs and purring loudly as the scribe looked up from his pages, startled. It was only when he had the dwarf's undivided attention that – with a rather dramatic sigh - the cat went ahead and flomped in the dust at the scribe's feet.

Ori giggled, looking up from his writing as the kitten wriggled, uttering a playful little meow before nipping at one of the scribe's bootlaces, teasing out the knots with careful claws and tangling them hopelessly as the dwarf flicked his fingers playfully.

And like clockwork, Ori was quick to set aside his journal to rub at his soft belly, grinning from ear to ear as Thorin purred so obnoxiously loud that even Dwalin looked up from his task. Snorting as Thorin stretched, sending dirt and dust puffing up in every direction, until his fine black coat was tinged grey.

Ori just clucked his tongue.

"Oh, look at you!" Ori cooed, "all covered in dust," untangling a bit of bramble from around Thorin's leg before settling him in his lap. The young dwarf rooted through his pack for his combs as Thorin all but melted into him, laying it on thick as he butted up against him, mewling, long whiskers twitching up a storm as Dwalin went red around the ears.

He just raised a brow from his seat by the fire. The jealousy play? Not exactly subtle, but then, he supposed it would do the job nicely. Dwarves could be rather thick-headed, after all.

It took a few expectant moments, and a certain air of smugness on Thorin's part for Dwalin to finally break the silence.

"You handle a comb well, lad."

Ori blushed, but didn't look up from his task, seeming to use the repetitive motion as a sort of shield from the man's gaze even as the dwarf's pleasure at Dwalin's attention became obvious. Indeed, the lad was a flushing mess of happy pride just from that simple sentence.

Maker above!

It had to be love.

"Nori lets me help him with his braids all the time," Ori replied proudly, tongue poking out in concentration as he worked the dirt out of the cat's chest fur, mindful to use one of his finer toothed combs to separate the dirt from the soft sable strands.

"I doubt Thorin would be impressed with your talents if he were to walk away with beads tangled in his fur," Dwalin observed, winking as Thorin gave a pointed mew of agreement from the depths of the young dwarf's lap.

The tinkling laugh that rose up threatened to put an indulgent smile on even his face as Ori carried on, talking about this one time in Eres Lund, when he'd been nothing more than a dwarfling and Dori had caught him trying to tie Nori's mustache braids to his headboard while he slept. And quite soon, Dwalin's guffaws - rough yet soul-warmingly genuine - rose and fell as the fire crackled merrily.

The flirtation was subtle – for a dwarf – but no less as delicious to behold. There was something tangible to be felt when two people got like this. It was an emotional, sexual, physical connection that charged the very air. It was light and heavy at the same time – alive with pleasure and possibility.

The feeling was infectious, infusing everything with an undeniable hum of well-being and good humor that made Gandalf positively beam from his place beside Dori and Bofur across the fire. His mind wandered as he pursued the feeling, smiling to himself as an image took shape in the back of his mind. It reminded him of Hobbiton in early spring.

It was the same feeling that had quickened his breath on the Carrock when Thorin's embrace had inexplicably lingered. It had been present on his skin even when the dwarf had pulled away – if only a fraction, eyes roving across him, assessing - caressing.

He'd been so sure that Thorin had felt it too.

That charge.

That spark.

He shook himself out of his thoughts when Thorin's tail flicked-flicked in the dust, looking all sorts of pleased with himself as the rest of the company exchanged knowing grins around the fire. It took him a moment to realize that the others were watching the burgeoning conversation much like he was – silently and under the guise of doing other things.

Balin looked all sorts of content as he made a point to pack Dori's pipe, deeming it wise to keep the elder Ri distracted as the silver-haired dwarf tried to glare a hole through Dwalin's head from the opposite side of the clearing. Nori was safety sandwiched between Kili and Fili – watching the proceedings from behind slitted eyes as purses of gold exchanged hands unobtrusively. And while there was some grumbling, Bofur, the clear winner in the wagering, was grinning wide enough for the lot of them.


He watched with interest as the comb-strokes gradually slowed, soon fully enveloped in conversation as Ori inquired about Dwalin's last campaign and suddenly the other dwarf was all manner of talkative. Exchanging military histories and bantering about ancient battle tactics as Ori brought his education and enthusiasm to the forefront - challenging Dwalin's personal experience and the hearsay of past commanders with relish.

They were hip deep in some sort of discussion involving the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and the actual size of the Hill of the Slain when Thorin struck. To anyone else it would have looked like the kitten was irritated - jealous with Dwalin for dividing Ori's attention. But he knew better.

"Abzagel! You fickle little beast!" Dwalin roared, kicking backwards as sharp claws made a mess of his beard, batting Thorin away as the feline hissed in triumph, nearly taking a good chunk of rough black hair with him as the kitten hit the ground running.

Dwalin was on his feet, revenge chief in his gaze before Ori stopped him. Thorin was gone in a flash and before Dwalin could even think about giving chase, Ori was talking again.

"Oh dear! Let me!" Ori exclaimed, brow puckered in concentration as he began teasing the worst snarls out with his fingers, "we must get this sorted out before it tangles!"

He wasn't exactly sure what the significance of combing and braiding were in Dwarvish culture. But he figured he knew enough when all the activity around the fire stopped dead. There was a range of different reactions as Ori worked out the tangles. Dori looked like he'd swallowed a lemon. Kili and Fili were nudging each other, smirking. Bofur and Bombur seemed to be trying to explain the entire affair to Bifur who'd lost track of the conversation somewhere between Thorin's pounce and Dwalin's initial overture. Balin's pleased expression had only widened – huffing - pleased as punch into his beard as he offered Nori a drag of long bottom leaf over Fili's shoulder. And while he'd never seen someone look so murderous while puffing on Old Toby, somehow the dwarf managed it.

Indeed, it wasn't until Ori was half a hand deep in the man's beard that he froze, coloring becomingly. Like a deer caught in the lamp-light, the young dwarf stilled, staring up at the man uncertainly through the cover of his ginger fringe.

The pause was positively painful.

But then, just as he figured it was all for not, Dwalin finally found his tongue. Seeming to come to some sort of decision before he dipped his head minutely, offering his bald crown for the scribes consideration.

"I'd be honored lad."

Ori flushed, pleased, fumbling around with his comb before a meaty paw, gentle but firm, stopped him in mid-motion.

"That is, if you're truly offering…" it wasn't exactly a question, just enough of a statement that the warrior didn't have his pride on the line, but present enough that deep down, everyone knew the truth of it.

The sudden silence was heavy considering not one of the actual company seemed to be looking at the couple. Everyone's attention seemed rather pointedly elsewhere in fact. Giving the illusion of privacy, where in truth, there was none.

"Yes, Mister Dwalin, if you're not opposed, I'm honestly offering."

He didn't realize he was holding his breath until a pleased rumble and an equally happy flush from the couple in question aired out into the evening air. He sighed, tension trickling out of him as he set his mending aside and patted around for his pipe, deciding in that moment two rather startling things.

One, Thorin had somehow curled up against the small of his back without him noticing and he was really in no hurry to move him. And second, that he was going to have to talk to Bofur and figure out how to get in on the next betting pool – as considering the amount of gold that seemed to be changing hands yet again all around him, if he won the next wager, he'd likely have enough to purchase a new waistcoat by the time they reached Laketown.

And if, come the next morning, Dwalin wasn't sporting an intricate and undeniably fetching looking braid that somehow seemed to incorporate both the long hair on his head and the outer edges of his beard, well, everyone was careful not to mention it.

…To his face.

Chapter Text

Beorn just quirked a brow when Thorin emerged out of the folds of Gandalf's robe, looking ruffled and unhappy from the long dash across the rocky plains. Still, the kitten managed a regal nod once the proper introductions and explanations were made. The Kitten under the Mountain pulled himself up to his full height as Beorn cocked his head, inhaling deeply through his nose before shaking himself like a dog coming in from the rain – muttering about dwarflings and magic as Fili and Kili quailed under his watchful eye.

All in all, he figured the introductions had gone about as well as they could have, considering the shape-shifter had been the one doing the chasing. That was, at least until Thorin had puffed up like an affronted porky-pig when the man offered him a finger to sniff, stubby little tail whipping back and forth in irritation. But since Beorn had only looked amused, wagging the finger before he straightened and offered them dinner, he figured that despite appearances, good will ran deep in the massive man.

A dinner invitation was nothing to be sneered at, after all.

Indeed, despite their less than successful greeting, Beorn took an immediate liking to the fussy feline. Plying him with fresh fish and honey until Thorin eventually tossed old grudges to the wind and dug into his supper with relish.

It wasn't until after dinner and Beorn's promise of aiding them to the borders of Mirkwood, that they hit another snag. Because after what seemed like a great effort to warm it under the fire, the bowl of milk the skin-changer set beside the kitten - as everyone took to their pipes - earned him nothing more than a nasty look.

Indeed, Thorin was positively fuming as he prodded the side with a disdainful glare, clearly affronted at the assumption that he'd take to it like some back alley tom cat. That is, until Beorn tapped the table pointedly.

"Good for you," the man grunted, fixing the cat with a look that broached no argument as the entire table fell silent. He snuck a look at Gandalf, unsurprised to find the wizard smiling serenely. He narrowed his eyes. More convinced than ever that leaving his staff unattended had not been a coincidence.

It only took one tentative lick and a mildly surprised purr before the cat was lapping at the thick cream with enthusiasm. Beorn had just looked unerringly fond as he stoked the fire, nodding quietly to himself as Thorin's eyes started to droop in unabashed pleasure.

And if Fili and Kili had snorted at the milk-beard and the plaintive little mewl for more when the bowl was not immediately refilled, well, Thorin was sure to leave a less than tasteful little gift in each of their bed rolls that evening.

By the end of the week he had to admit he missed the man.

Ardently, even.

It was truly a sad state of affairs when one considered that while he'd been busy making a fool of himself, trying not to make his growing attraction for the man any more obvious than it already was, Thorin had spent the majority of their journey disenchanted with the entire idea of him. Indeed, it was only after the battle and the moment on the Carrock that they'd actually started making progress - and naturally, even that had only been about a quarter of an hour before this whole mess, so – yeah.

He snorted, shaking his head at his own foolishness.

He was no better than a love struck tween.

There was no sign that his feelings for the man had been even noticed, let alone reciprocated. Their embrace on the Carrock could have been nothing more than a declaration of kinship and respect. The same bond Thorin and the members of the company seemed to share in spades. It was everything he'd yearned for since they'd left the Shire, and now that he had it, he couldn't help but feel greedy for more. For it was not simply friendship and respect he desired from Thorin – no – he was in far too deep to stop there.

He was setting himself up for disappointment; he knew that, but hell if he could find it in him to stop.

Still, he couldn't help but smile when Thorin cuddled close that night. The cat appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to butt against his cheek, almost if the animal sensed the melancholic nature of his thoughts. He was accosted with a flurry of tickling whiskers and a decidedly chill little nose until he gave in and smiled, digging his fingers into the soft fur as a rattling purr rose up to fill the silence.

He smirked as the silver-spattered puff-ball wormed his way deeper into his lap. Kneading contentedly, eyes closed in apparent bliss as he smoothed his thumb between the kitten's ears.

At least Thorin had turned into something small and cuddly. Unkingly as his current form might be, he vastly preferred it over that of a warg or even a wild boar. Indeed, Thorin had gotten off remarkably light considering the circumstances. He suppressed a chuckle when he considered the indignity of being stuck as a warg pup or a pot-bellied pig could have produced.

He was decidedly glad the creature couldn't read his thoughts when piercing yellow eyes fixed on him suspiciously. Some things were better left private after all.

He wasn't sure what to think when Thorin returned to his true form halfway through the night. He woke up to a bright flash and a sudden weight as Thorin stretched across him, all dark hair and muscle-bound curves as his hands came up instinctively - skating skittishly across the broad plane of the man's back, bracing him as Thorin all but wilted atop him.

It happened so quickly he'd scarcely had a moment to breathe, let alone wake the others. With the small weight of the kitten who'd been nesting, content on his belly only a few seconds before, suddenly giving way to a fully grown and very much naked, dwarf.

Frankly, Bilbo had never been more pleased to be so thoroughly crushed in his life.

He sucked in a breath.

Thorin did the same.

Thorin looked down at him with slitted, sleepy eyes, long hair draped down around them like an inky curtain. He couldn't help but stare. Internally cursing himself when he realized his thumbs were moving in lazy circles across the curve of the dwarf's hip – calming and sweet as a slight hitch entered the man's breathing.

Thorin's expression was uncomprehending for the barest of beats. In fact, he had just enough time to register the slow smile that'd spread across the man's lips - fond and heated before the dwarf stiffened above him. He shivered as the firm weight quivered, muscles flexing just underneath the skin, gasping a bit when his body recognized the not too subtle prod of a sweat-slicked cock nudging against the bulge in his own trousers.

Oh-oh gods.

He looked up; somehow finding the courage to meet the man's gaze, only to be thrown for a loop when he came face to face with what he figured was a mirror image of his own expression – a contradictory mixture of shock, surprise and undeniable arousal.

He could hear the fast-paced thrum of the man's heart through his skin as Thorin's hand came up, the curl of a dirty finger hovering just above his cheek, a hair's breadth from a stroke before he let it fall. Seeming to think better of it before a huff of air – almost a laugh, but not quite - ghosted across his nape.

Whatever self-control he had left to him was abruptly lost when the man leaned in; nosing across the curve of his neck, questioning until he finally bared it. Not even thinking the action through as a pleased rumble rose up, from deep in the dwarf's chest as a stubble-strewn cheek rasped against his. He bit down on the inside of his cheek to stop the moan when the dwarf buried his face into the curve of his neck and inhaled.

He couldn't help it. His hips jerked, grinding up against the man's hardness. The groan that resulted from the both of them was enough to draw the attention of Bifur, on watch, who leapt to his feet, blabbing excitedly in Khudzul.

After that, a bunch of things seemed to happen at once.

Because before he could do anything else – namely return the favor or nip up for a brave little kiss of his own - Thorin reared up. He could tell the exact moment the haze of arousal lifted because the second Thorin's gaze fell on his nephews, his spine arced.

It was so reminiscent of the feline he'd spent the better part of a few weeks stuck as that he couldn't help but laugh. Almost missing what happened next as Thorin's hair flared, whirling around like a thunder cloud as he leapt to his feet, crouching above him like he was readying for battle.

"You gibbering, milk-drinking rockrunts!" he roared, naked, fierce and utterly terrifying if one dismissed the fact that half the hair that was not in braids was currently fuzzed around his temples – almost as if it'd spent the better part of a few weeks being rubbed the wrong way.

The entire company jerked awake, untangling themselves from their blankets just in time to watch Thorin pounce. Dwalin didn't even bother with that much, he was up and doing the worm out of his blankets before Ori had even so much as peered out of the bedroll beside him. Kili and Fili however, were already moving, climbing over the others in their haste to escape their uncle's wrath.

"You willow-waisted cave-ins! By the time I'm done with you there will be nothing left for your amad to bury!

He couldn't help but laugh as Thorin chased Fili and Kili around and around the fire, cursing in Khudzul as the company hooted and hollered. Laughing uproaringly from their bedrolls as Thorin managed to get a hold of one of Kili's braids and yank him backward, throwing him up over his shoulder with a victorious bellow as Fili made for the tree-line, naked from the waist up and running like an entire army of fire drakes were nipping at his heels.

"You axe-breaking snotling-fondlers will wish you'd never been born!"

He grinned, propping himself up against a fallen log as he set about packing his pipe, content to stay awake and enjoy the show as Kili squealed – flailing around in his Uncle's grip as Thorin marched determinedly after Fili – roaring insults and death threats in Khudzul that had half the company howling.

"Fili! You ungrateful, nose-picking tunnel-worm! Get back here!"

He watched him go, privately marveling on the masterpiece that was the man's rear before the shadows swallowed him. Unable to stop himself from thinking about that sleepy smile and the warmth and heat that had come part and parcel with the subtle grind of their pricks and the unfettered groan that had risen up as hips had hitched upwards – deliberate and possible in the best of ways.

He grinned to himself, sly and considering as another string of curses rose up beyond the treeline.

Oh yes, he and Thorin definitely needed to have a talk about that.

The sooner, the better.