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Intricate Rituals

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It is cold, under-the-mountain.

The dwarves, stocky and hirsute, didn’t mind; they were made for dark and bitter mountain winters.

But hobbits? Hobbits minded.

Bilbo could not pretend to miss the gentle hills of the shire. As his days under the mountain turned into weeks, he began to appreciate the jagged and inhospitable planes of rock, and the howling wind that would get to your skin no matter how many layers you had on. Really, the only thing he missed about the shire was his fireplace.

As the days get shorter, Bilbo spends more time on a mezzanine overlooking the furnaces. He wraps himself in luxurious, thick dwarven quilts and the dense furs of mountain creatures, and it helps a little.

Dwarf homes aren’t built with fireplaces, however, and his nights are spent shivering and sleepless. When he wakes up in the morning his body is sore from shivering unconsciously, and he can only force himself to leave the not-even-warm bed when his stomach starts growling.

But he manages.

For a while.

But on an exceptionally cold night, where he can see his breath even as he curls under the blankets, he can’t stand it anymore. He begrudgingly gets out of bed, too restless and crotchety to sleep. He means to go down to the kitchens— he’ll grab a pan or two, heat them in the fire, and stick them under the sheets. And he’ll grab a snack, too. A cup of tea would be nice...

But his feet lead him to Thorin’s chambers.

He blinks, wondering why he subconsciously steered himself here. Would this even be allowed, sneaking into the King’s chambers at midnight? Probably not.

He turns to go back, but he hears a sharp gust of bone-chilling wind begins to howl down the corridor, and before he can blink he finds himself standing on the other side of the door.

With a small shrug, he quietly pushes the door closed. It swings easily despite it’s mass, and he remembers Dwalin telling him once that all the doors are enchanted here to let in friend and not foe. Which, he is, but he's probably breaking all sorts of laws.

But it’s bone-deep cold, and being the king, he probably has some blankets he’ll be able to burgle.

He hesitates, but another violent shiver sends him padding across the room. He’s wearing socks, rare for a hobbit but necessary in the mountain, that nearly send him tumbling across the polished floor. He regains his balance, never once losing his deathgrip on the blanket clasped around his shoulders, and pushes open the next door.

This room is smaller, and warmer. He can hear Thorin’s steady breathing. There’s a nearly imperceptible light coming from somewhere, but he’s not exactly sure where. After his eyes adjust, he sneaks over to a wooden chest at the foot of the enormous bed. He lifts the lid barely an inch. It creaks, just slightly, and he waits with bated breath.

Thorin doesn’t wake up.

He lifts more.

Another creak.

Thorin shifts.

Bilbo freezes.

Thorin sits up.

Bilbo internally curses.

“Who’s there?” The king says. His voice is thick with sleep.

“… It’s me. Bilbo. B-baggins,” The shivers have, apparently, reached his mouth.

“Oh,” Thorin says, and Bilbo watches him set a knife back down on the nightstand. “What are you doing?”

“I…” Bilbo slowly closes the lid to the chest. “It’s too cold for me to sleep, and I thought you would have extra b-blankets.” He pulls a face in the dark. “I didn’t mean to wake yo-ou.”

“Lousy burglar, you are,” He says, and Bilbo can hear the smile in his voice, even if he can’t see it.

“I must be rusty.”

“There are p—“ A yawn cuts him off.

Bilbo feels his heart shiver. “Sorry, I— I’ll go. Goodnight, Th—“

“No. Stay.”

“Wh-why?”

“I… Come here,” Thorin says, and Bilbo can see that the vague dark shape of him has held its arms out.

He pads over to the side of the bed, and Thorin’s hands find his face. His hands, so hot they nearly burn, feel his cheeks, his neck, his forehead.

“You really are cold,” Thorin murmurs. “Does The Shire not have winter?”

“It h-has firep-places.”

Thorin’s hands drift down his shoulders, like his shivers are wrinkles in a sheet and Thorin is trying to smooth them out.

The room is silent for a few moments, though Thorin does not let him go.

“Come on, then,” Thorin eventually decides. He moves away from Bilbo and his arms instantly ache for the warmth of his hands again.

Bilbo blinks. “What?”

On bitter nights on their journey, the twelve of them would often sleep in a massive pile of warm bodies. Bilbo, smallest and shire-bred, always elbowed his way into the middle, where it was warmest. Once, when Kíli slipped on a treacherous river crossing in the dead of winter, they had to beg refuge in a hay loft; Fíli, Bombur, and Thorin had stripped down to their underclothes and curled around him (apparently, cold sickness happened a lot in the Blue Mountains). But the months that had passed since felt like years, and Thorin is a real king now, and Bilbo is no longer shiny and new to the world. He no longer needs protecting.

“Just sleep here. It’ll be warm.” Thorin lays down and holds the pile of blankets open for him. The warmth emanating from them erases all of his hesitations, and he clambers up the bedframe and nestles down into the mattress. It’s softer than his by far.

They lay in silence for a minute or two, the only sounds that of Bilbo’s shaky breath from the cold. He shivers so hard that he’s pretty sure he's shaking the bed.

Thorin sits back up. “Sweaters off.”

Bilbo makes a noise of protests, but begrudgingly sits up and peels off a sweater.

“How many of those do you have on?”

“Four,” Bilbo answers. His voice is muffled as he pulls sweater two over his head.

“Why did you not tell me about the cold before? I could’ve done something weeks ago.”

“It’s fine, really. A night of good r-rest and I’ll be good as new in the morning.” Finally, left in just a nightshirt, he wriggles back down under the covers. Thorin has prewarmed the sheets and pillows around him, and everything smells like dwarf.

“If you say so,” Thorin sighs, and joins him under the blankets. “Are you still cold?”

Bereft of layers, the warmth is starting to penetrate his skin already. He stifles a yawn. “No,” he mumbles. He must be more tired than he thought.

His eyes are heavy and halfway closed when Thorin reaches out under the covers. Bilbo is too tired to say anything when Thorin grabs his wrists and presses his cold hands to the sides of his neck, under his chin. He makes a noise of thanks, and a minute later feeling starts to come back to his palms.

He drifts off like that, cozy and warm, cold hands trapped between Thorin’s own and his pulse. He feels his throat rumble as he murmurs something Bilbo can’t hear.

He falls asleep right after.

For the first time in two months, he feels good as he awakens. He’s not more tired from shivering, and he slept the whole night through (a rare occurrence, these days). It takes him a moment to remember the events of the night before. Everything is fuzzy and warm and it would take too much effort to move, so he doesn’t.

He blinks in the dim light, and finds that he’s lying more on Thorin than on the mattress. He winces, thinking how uncomfortable that must have been for Thorin, and only then notices that Thorin’s looking at him.

He smiles bemusedly. “Awake?”

“I think,” he answers, not sure how inappropriate it is to lay on top of the king. Probably very, he assumes, but Thorin has not pushed him away in the night, and acts as if this is all perfectly normal.

Thorin hesitates, then cards his fingers through Bilbo’s sleep-wild curls, as if to assuage his concerns. It shocks Bilbo into scooting off of him and sitting up.

“What... what time is it?” He asks, rubbing his hands over his face, partially so Thorin can’t see the panicked face he’s making. According to his stomach, it’s time for elevensies, and according to his heartbeat it’s time to run away.

Thorin sits up as well. “Around two, I think.”

Bilbo freezes. “Two.”

Thorin nods.

“In the afternoon.”

Thorin nods again.

Bilbo groans and curses, this concern engulfing his previous worries. “I’m sorry, Thorin, I— I didn’t mean to sleep so long.”

Thorin shakes his head. “No, you needed it. You haven’t been sleeping at all.”

“Still!” He frets. “Don’t you have... kingly duties?” He waves his hands in the air.

“Nothing that couldn’t wait,” Thorin dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

“You wouldn’t have woken me,” Bilbo frantically claims.

Thorin gives him a look, and Bilbo remembers that Thorin had doubled as both a king and a mattress in the night. “Oh,” he says. “Right.”

Bilbo slides out of bed and puts back on his four sweaters. Someone— Thorin, he’s assuming— had shoved them under the quilts, and they’re pleasantly warm. Thorin puts on outerclothes and a heavy fur cloak. They part ways where the hallway splits, Bilbo to the kitchens and Thorin to his kingly duties. Thorin claps him on the shoulder as he leaves, with a reminder that supper is at seven tonight in the drawing room.

Supper that night is, as usual, a lively affair: The whole company is there (except Glóin, who is having dinner with his family; they have a standing invitation, but Glóin says he doesn’t want Gimli to pick up their foul language). Ori refuses to believe that Fíli can play his fiddle blindfolded, so then Fíli has to prove him wrong; Ori refuses to believe that he and his brother can play in harmony, each fingering one fiddle and bowing another, so they have to prove him wrong again. Balin peels off first, followed by his brother.

Bilbo, as if the sleeping in hadn’t happened at all, grows drowsy at his normal bedtime. The company will be drinking and laughing long into the night, but a quiet cup of tea sounds awfully nice. As he pads down the halls, he sees Thorin striding along in front of him. He hesitates, remembering the night— and day, actually— before, but he’s pretty sure Thorin won’t bring it up and they can let it lie in hazy, cozy memory. It was nothing, just a matter of comfort, a simple favor (that he feels strangely conflicted about), so he speeds up to catch up with him.

Thorin greets him with a cheerful smile. He’s been smiling more, since they’ve reclaimed the mountain, and Bilbo wonders if he smiled like that in Ered Luin. They make polite conversation until Bilbo turns to the right instead of the left.

“Where are you going?” Thorin asks.

“To... bed?” Bilbo says, stopping in his tracks and slowly turning to face him.

“It’s this way,” Thorin says.

Bilbo purses his lips. “What?”

“This way. My rooms,” Thorin says with a meaningful look.

So much for letting it lie.

“Oh! Oh, no, Thorin, I wouldn’t want to keep you awake for another night, and much less keep you from your kingly duties, and I know it can’t be comfortable to sleep with me because I hog the blankets and wallow everywhere...” He trails off, hoping that the list of excuses would satisfy him. He strongly doubts that his heart can handle another night like last, and who knows what kind of compromising position he’d wake up in this time?

“You won’t interrupt my sleep, I assure you,” Thorin says. “But very well then. The invitation is open, if you get too cold.”

Bilbo nods and smiles tightly. “Goodnight, Thorin.”

“Goodnight, Bilbo.”

When he gets to his rooms, he finds four thick blankets neatly folded at the foot of the bed.