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A Heart of Red Roses and Diamonds

Chapter Text

There will be those who argue, in the days after the great battle for Erebor where dwarves, elves and Men fought side by side for the first time in centuries,that Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, is a fool for trusting once more in Bilbo Baggins. They will argue that Bilbo betrayed Thorin once and will do so again. They will argue that he is a fool because Bilbo owes nothing to the dwarves, that Bilbo isn't a dwarf. Thorin is not a fool to trust Bilbo. Not unless the entire company is made up of blind fools.

Those who will say that he shouldn't have any faith in Bilbo were not part of the quest. Most of them will not even have been part of the battle. They won't have seen Bilbo as he quietly lost hope and faith as his friends vanished before his eyes. They won't have seen the way that Thorin's obsession with the gold put the wellbeing of his companions and his sister's sons at risk. They weren't there to see Thorin dangle Bilbo from the battlements by his neck. They didn't watch as the hobbit tried to defend himself with words instead of a sword.

Those who will say that he shouldn't trust Bilbo will not have been there to have seen him come running, having crossed a battlefield, to warn Thorin of a trap set by his greatest enemy. They will not realise that Bilbo risked life and limb to bring that warning to a dwarf who might still have killed him anyway as a traitor. Bilbo, who came though he can hardly use a sword and has never seen battle. Bilbo who had even less business being there than Fili and Kili, who Thorin would have kept from such an experience if he could. Bilbo carried that warning about the second orc army. Bilbo killed the warg that would have removed Thorin's leg and caused him to bleed to death on the battlefield. Bilbo bandaged the wound and used his own belt to slow the bleeding as much as he could. Bilbo watched the way while Kili supported Thorin and Dwalin carried Fili.

If there is one in this world that Thorin can trust who is not of his blood it is Bilbo Baggins. A hobbit of all creatures.

These arguments, however, will all come later, once the battle is long over and cleared and Erebor has begun the long process of healing. This discussion will not happen in the immediate weeks or months after the slaughter at the base of the mountain, it will happen in the years following and for reasons that, at this precise moment, Thorin could not have foreseen. For in this moment the only thoughts Thorin has are for his hobbit as he is now. Thorin's hobbit, glorious as he demands the attention of a young healer with dark braids in the style of the Blacklocks. Thorin's hobbit who stares at him with concerned eyes as he pushes blood coated fingers back through matted honey curls. Thorin's hobbit who has a heart that slowly unfurled into a rose the same shade as the blood that drips onto the floor of the tent under Thorin's feet and glitters with the diamonds littered over its petals like dew on a spring morning.

Thorin has seen that flower bloom and grow and whither over the course of the quest. Perhaps the sight of his One's heart after so many years had left him off balance, for though he is prone towards distrusting anyone he does not know he had been all the more rude and demanding of Bilbo than he would normally be of a new acquaintance. For all his months of puzzling, and he has had ample time for it between the weeks spent on Rivendell, the healing time at Beorn's home and their wrongful imprisonment in Mirkwood, Thorin still hasn't figured out why Mahal would make his other half a hobbit of all creatures.

"Set him down, let me look at him," the healer instructs. She steps away from the cot she had been working at and Thorin realises that it is Bifur on that bed, without his axe. Kili obeys quickly, gratefully, and helps Thorin onto a bed as the dwarf king barely suppressed a groan.

"Fili first," he orders, watching the younger's dark eyes slide to his brother who lies still on another bed, his chest rising and falling fitfully.

"It will be you first," Bilbo replies, "you ridiculous dwarf. I didn't go through all the bother of saving you all those times for you to bleed to death because you are being stubborn." Dwalin shoots Bilbo an amused look.

"He's right," Thorin's murkhûn agrees. "Fili stirred a few times an the way down, but there's little to be done for him until he wakes. He's breathing,which is more than you will be if anymore of your blood ends up in that floor."

The healer is looking at Fili as they speak, eyes running from toe to head as she assesses him. Thorin is watching her closely enough, however, to see the way her expression slips when she reaches Fili's chest, to notice her eyes go wide and her mouth fall into a soft 'o' of shock before she forces a neutral expression back onto her face, though there is a lingering wildness around her eyes.

"It would reflect poorly on me if I were to allow the King Under the Mountain to bleed to death in my tent," the 'dam says. "And your heir is currently in no fit state to take over if you do. Hold still." She orders as she pulls a sharp little knife from her belt.

She doesn't order him to strip, not that he could if he wanted to, rather she simply used her little knife to cut through his thick trousers with calm efficiency. The sharp blade makes short work of it, aided by natural dwarven strength and the inclination to maintain their tools to perfection. Bilbo pales and looks away, taking a few calming breaths though he has certainly seen Thorin in greater states of undress than this and injured besides. The healer introduced herself as Arja while she pokes at him with deft fingers though she scowls and mutters under her breath for much of her examination, dark words about battlefield dressings and the vileness of warg mouths. He barely surpresses a yelp when she pokes at a particularly sensitive spot and pulls out half of a tooth.

"It's going to need sewing," she says , "and that means no walking for at least a week." She adds with a glare at Thorin. The king bristles, she has no right to order him to do anything.

"I'll do my best to make sure of it," Kili, the traitor, tells her and she nods curtly. "And Fili will help, when he wakes up." His confident words don't hide the slight tremor of his voice and Thorin realises how worried Kili is about his brother in the same moment that the healer does.

"If he has been stirring then he will wake soon enough," she assures him, "and I will tend to him properly as soon as I am done with our King." Kili accepts this quietly, obviously disturbed and frustrated by how little he can do for his loved ones and wanting to appear strong for all around him.

Thorin would offer him comfort if he could, but the next eternity is an agony of deep stabs and the rasping pull of thread through his skin, even with the poppy milk that she gives him to ease his pain. Eventually, he welcomes the sweet embrace of blackness, though he could not say if it is the pain or the blood loss that brings it on.

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The first time that Thorin tears his stitches Bilbo frets and fusses while Oin scowls and sews him back together, reminding him all the while that even kings are not immune to the laws of healing. The second time he tears them Oin sends the young healer, Arja, to deal with it. Oin has apparently been impressed with her skills, and unlike others she doesn't chatter on while she works. Thorin's injuries are such that they need to be checked twice a day, which he feels is a little much, to ensure that infection does not become a problem. Since he would rather keep his leg, he bears it as well as he can and as a rule Arja is unobtrusive, though he notices that she will sometimes linger in the mornings. Bilbo refuses to comment on it, though the fussy little hobbit enjoys gossip as much as the rest of them, but Oin tells him that he has heard a rumour that Arja is Fili's One and, to Thorin's annoyance, Fili is aware of it.

Thorin has no idea how or where Fili came about the information about recognising your One by being able to see the stones that make up their heart. Thorin and Dis have carefully kept that particular piece of information away from Fili and Kili both. Ultimately they would have been expected to marry to strengthen the line of Durin's position in the world and now that Erebor has been reclaimed that has become all the more important. They had felt it would be kinder if neither boy was ever aware that their One was standing in front of them, just out of their reach.

Especially for Kili.

Although that may not be so much of a problem now. Tir would always have been a good match for either of his sister's sons. Her father is a powerful figure in the Blue Mountains and exceedingly wealthy. They had tried to organise a match before, but Nirdan had insisted she marry Fili and Dis had been adamant that it be Kili she join with. Her reasons had made perfect sense and Kili had always harboured a greater affection for Tir even though he hadn't been aware that she is his One. Now that Erebor has been reclaimed Nirdan will likely be perfectly happy for his daughter to marry Kili. If only Fili's One were such a perfect prospect.

"Why would it be such a terrible thing?" Bilbo asks after Thorin has been informed by Fili that he will not be permitted to stand in the way of his heir's courtship (and while he is so proud that Fili has stood his ground with such conviction he wishes that it had not been this particular topic that had prompted it). "If your Creator thinks they will be the best match, surely it doesn't matter?"

"If Fili were any other dwarf I doubt it would," Thorin admits. "If he were already king with heirs I doubt anyone would say a word. But he is neither."

"He's one of the few who would join you to reclaim the mountain from a dragon," Bilbo points out,"surely that entitles him to some freedom of choice?" Bilbo's tone is reasonable, but over the months of the quest Thorin learnt that those are the times when his tongue is at its most lethal.

"We will make what we can of it," Thorin sighs. "It is all we can do. Fili has made his position very clear to us and I have rarely known him to change his mind when the matter at hand is of such great importance." Bilbo hums.

"What about you?" The hobbit asks after a quiet moment where Thorin contemplates Fili's stubborn determination to have his way and tries to ignore the throb of the new stitches in his torn leg.

The healer, of course, is right. If he keeps on reopening the wounds he will lose the leg to some form of rot. Dain does well enough, he knows, but he's had decades to become accustomed to his iron foot and there are still days where it doesn't sit right and causes him all manner of aches and pains.

"Thorin?" Bilbo cuts into his thoughts again and he turns blue eyes towards the smaller male. "What about you? Will you marry now that Erebor is yours again?"

"If I thought my One would have me," he replies slowly. "But there is much between us which must be addressed and more still that I would have to discuss with the council in regards to him."

"Him?" Bilbo almost squeaks and Thorin frowns.

"Aye, him. Is that not something that occurs among hobbits?" He asks.

This could cause all manner of problems if, as among Men, hobbits shun those who would lie with others of the same sex. Dwarves see little trouble with it, indeed in a race where there are three males for every one female it is almost a necessity. Dwarrowdams are in demand enough as it is and not every dwarf wants to marry their One or even gets the opportunity. Not every dwarf has a One who survives long enough to meet them and it would be a sad thing to spend all their days waiting. If they can be happy enough with another there is nothing to prevent it. Thorin had, once, believed that he could be happy enough with Dwalin instead of searching out his One. Until he had met Dwalin one evening to find his closest friend ranting about a cheeky auburn haired thief who happened to be his One. That idea had fizzled and died that night and even though Thorin had regretted it for a time he is glad of it now.

"Oh," Bilbo flushes delightfully, "No, they do, it does, but it isn't something we talk about openly. I've indulged myself often enough, I suppose, but, well, I had thought a king would need heirs."

"I have two," Thorin shrugs, "both of whom happen to be quite well suited when they deign to apply themselves. Fili, especially, shows more promise than I had thought he would before we left Ered Luin and will make a fine king. I have no need of others. Provided both of them marry, and there's no reason that they shouldn't, they will hopefully produce enough children between them to keep the line secure.

"My problem, or the council's anyway, is not that my One is male. That has happened before and doubtless will again. Their problem will be that my One is not a dwarf." Bilbo stares at him with wide eyes. "My One is a hobbit." In for silver, in for gold, he thinks.

"I didn't know that you knew any other hobbits," Bilbo says in a rush.

"I don't," Thorin keeps his tone neutral but his heart is beating so hard in his chest that he fears it might fly out.

"I see," Bilbo's voice is soft. "Say what you mean, Thorin," he continues after a heartbeat. "There have been too many misunderstandings and harsh words exchanged by the two of us. We are, both of us, too old for games."

"You are right, of course, as you so often have been." Thorin shifts uncomfortably. His bed is remarkably soft, but after almost nine days confined to one bed or another his body is aches in ways that he is unaccustomed to. "I know only one hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. You. I see your heart as clearly as Fili claims to see Arja's. I have watched the rose at its core bud and bloom and wither and I have seen it bloom anew these last days. There is, however, much that must still be said between us, many apologies I must make and more still that I must achieve here before I can offer that which my heart most desires. I know nothing of the ways of hobbit courtship, just as I am aware that you must know equally as little about our ways."

"You're right," Bilbo has sat heavily in a chair as Thorin has been talking and his usually cheerful face is drawn. "There is a very great deal that we need to talk about and much of it deeply unpleasant for both of us. Yavanna has not gifted hobbits with such deep certainty of the identity of the one grown for us as Aulë obviously has His children, but we always know them. Whatever else happens, whatever else is between us, my heart is yours, but you know that I cannot stay." Thorin moves to stand, even though he knows that he will likely undo whatever good Arja has achieved with his leg this morning. "Please," Bilbo breathes, holding up his hand and Thorin settles back again. "I didn't come for the promise of gold, or even because you were the one grown for me. By Shire standards I am incredibly wealthy and I long ago resigned myself to the life of a bachelor. I came for the adventure that my mother always wished I might have and I found so much during the course of it." Bilbo's fingers slip into a pocket, an odd habit that Thorin has noticed since they crossed the Misty Mountains.

"But you cannot stay?" Thorin prompts.

"Not indefinitely," Bilbo sighs. "I left Bag End in a very great hurry that morning. I didn't tell anyone where I was going, nor how long I was going to be. I own a lot of land, Thorin, and though I have tenants who oversee it and a foreman who deals with them all I cannot be away forever without setting my affairs properly in order. Much as you would have to do were you to leave Erebor for any length of time, I imagine.

"Yes," Thorin agrees, "and the affairs of a king are much more difficult to settle." It is not, perhaps, the answer that Thorin would have wanted, but it is the one that he expected. He knows Bilbo well enough by now to know that this venture was far outside of his usual behaviour and that he has been as dedicated to his inheritance from his parents as Thorin has been to reclaiming his own birthright.

"Until I do have to leave, however," Bilbo smiles, "there is no reason we can't indulge ourselves a little."

Thorin's startled laugh is swallowed by a rather enthusiastic kiss.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, Thorin's relationship with Bilbo, undefined as it is, cannot be permitted to distract him from the task of rebuilding Erebor. The restoration of both the mountain and the position of her occupants in the surrounding area will take time, very likely years, and while Thorin conducts the earliest parts of it from his bed, he is kept well informed by Balin, Bilbo and Nori (who apparently hears and sees everything). One of the things brought to his attention the most, and honestly Thorin is already beginning to have questions of his own, is Fili.

Fili is changed. He is no longer the eager lad who left Ered Luin brimming with confidence and desperate to prove himself a suitable heir. In truth, neither Fili nor Kili should have come. Fili because he is the Crown Prince and needed to be kept safe in case something happened to Thorin. Kili, who's One was so clearly devoted to him in the eyes of anyone who cared to see (except Kili who is apparently still utterly oblivious to it all). Tir is so devoted to him, in fact, that Thorin and Dis have both often feared that she will find herself unable to wed another even should her father order it, for all her brave words about doing her duty and marrying where she is told to and there are so few dwarrowdams that the population will always feel it when one chooses not to marry or cannot bear children. Tir has never said anything to Kili, never declared that which she is obviously already aware of, not wishing to create a sense of obligation. Kili has complained about the idiotic blindness of her One more than once in Thorin's hearing and more that once Thorin has been tempted to tell him what half of Ered Luin probably already suspects. Perhaps he should have opened Kili's eyes to the truth of things before they left, even knowing that Nirdan stood in the way of the match and it might lead to Kili doing something foolish with Tir in tow. That would have been preferable, in honesty, to seeing the stark reminder of Thorin's inability to protect either of the boys from the horror a war they were ill prepared for that is found in the scar that runs down one side of Kili's face.

Even with that obvious reminder, however, Kili is still the least changed of the two boys.

Fili is quiet, less prone to smiling and laughter, and while some of that grew during the time between the Misty Mountains and Lake Town, it is only more pronounced now. He sometimes suffers with his Ùhùrudazl, especially in the night. Kili has mentioned it more than once, but it doesn't seem to impact on his day, as though the memories that might plague him have long been dealt with.

The other members of the Company, especially Balin and Dwalin, have noticed the changes in Fili as well. They can see that his confidence is less the swagger of youthful invincibility and more the absolute certainty of self that Thorin has always tried to display. Dwalin has mentioned that Fili's technique in the practice ring seems to have shifted as well, a change that is subtle enough that it might not have been noticed at all but for the fact that Dwalin has known Fili all his life and began his training himself. It is the sort of shift that might happen over years with confidence and the discovery of new methods, or half forgotten ones remembered only by the most ancient of them, but in Fili this seems to have happened overnight.

Were it just his technique Thorin might ignore it, changes happen after all and he has learnt new tricks since the battle of Azanulbizar, some of which he picked up from old warriors there. It isn't. Balin has noted, with rather more surprise than Thorin thinks is warranted, that Fili has a fine head for diplomacy these days. True, he has his moments where he seems almost eager to drive his elders into an early grave, but those are fewer than any of them would have expected and employed far more effectively than they could have dreamed. For all that Fili complains about Thranduil in the weeks between the end of the battle and the final departure of the elf king, Balin insists that the negotiations ran far more smoothly with Fili than they had without him. Honestly, Thorin would be perfectly happy to leave dealing with Thranduil, where it can be delegated, to Fili and Dis, when she arrives, and he half suspects that the elf will feel the same way. He is well aware that his disdain for elves in general makes him a poor choice for any sort of diplomatic dealing with the immortal race, and one should always acknowledge one's faults even if it is only in the privacy of one's own mind.

Thorin would confront Fili about these changes, and as they become increasingly apparent with every passing day he begins to think that he should, but he is so proud of the dwarf that Fili is showing himself to be that he doesn't want to. Fili is still young and impulsive, true, but it has been almost tempered, now, into a young dwarf who will one day be a great king instead of merely a good one. Besides, although it has been several weeks since Thorin has been allowed to move around Erebor, albeit at a significantly slower pace than usual, Fili has yet to relinquish any of the additional responsibilities heaped upon him while Thorin was bed bound and in truth Thorin would prefer not to have them back. The reduced workload definitely helps him to take things easy enough to aid his healing, without Arja having to lecture him about slowing down more than a handful of times (in Ered Luin he would receive the same lecture from Oin, Balin and Dis daily).

"Thorin," the king is startled from his thoughts by Nori materialising from a dark corner of his office. It is only years of experience from helping to raise Fili and Kili that allows him to react with little more than a startled grunt rather than a full body flinch or the urge to hurl something possibly deadly at the intruder.

"You could just come through the door," Thorin points out, "like everybody else. The guards won't even challenge you." Although as he says it he wonders if that is part of why Nori insists on never being announced. All of the Iron Hill dwarves, who are serving wherever they might be needed until those of Erebor who are on their way with the first caravans arrive, know that any member of the Company is to be allowed access to Thorin at any time since they are among his most trusted. Nori, Thorin knows, prefers to be challenged.

"Aye, I could," Nori smiles that sharp grin that would make Thorin wary were he not utterly certain of Nori's loyalty, "but I think it might be best that no one knows that you're hearing this from me." Thorin arches an eyebrow at him. "About Kili and his elf, Thranduil's former captain. There's rumours, Thorin, that they'll be courting soon and the problems they're causing are serious, and it's far more rapidly than I would like."

Thorin wonders if his ancestors would be terribly put out if he were to remove the Raven Crown (which is uncomfortable, heavy and makes his head ache) and throw the thing into the nearest working forge. As time goes on the idea of being king becomes less and less appealing, not that it was all that nice of an idea to begin with.

"What. Elf?" Thorin demands slowly.

Nori blinks, as though this response is the last one that he might have expected. Then he explains everything he knows, including that which Bofur has cheerfully gossiped about (and probably meant no harm in given that Kili was delirious with fever when he said it), and Thorin finds himself swearing vociferously by the end of it. Once more the decision to keep the truth about Tir from Kili for his own sake seems to be coming back to haunt him. Fili must surely have told Kili about seeing the heart of his One by now, although Thorin still hasn't been able to find out who spread about that particular piece of information, but it will very likely still take Kili actually seeing Tir for him to put things together. Kili will never be able to truly love the elf, whether he knows it at the moment or not, but it is still a dangerous path to start down given the general opinion and feeling towards elves. Besides, Thorin would like to believe that no matter how fascinated with elves Kili seems to be, he would have better sense than to allow himself to become enamoured of one.

"What of Fili and Arja?" Thorin asks. The Iron Hills dwarves might be the only ones still in the mountain with the Company and the Men that have been permitted to shelter inside until the harshest of the winter has passed, but they will be the ones to pass on gossip to the returning people of Erebor.

"They say allowing that courtship is the only sane thing you've done," Nori replies, digging under a nail with one of his little knives. "Probably helps that she's Iron Hills born and raised," he shrugs, "and that Fili is so obviously arse over head for her, and her with him if I've read the pair of them right." It would be surprising if he hasn't, Thorin thinks. "I'll be the first to admit that I don't know a Mahal damned thing about being king, but I do know Kili and I like to think that I know you. It'll be tempting to let him work it out for himself," the fact that it is usually easier goes unsaid. "You don't have the time to wait for Kili to start thinking with his head. There's already grumbling about removing you before Erebor ends up with another mad king on the throne, and getting rid of Fili and Kili too because the older will let the younger boy do what he wants out of love. They'll put Dain on the throne, little as he wants it, before they'll even let there be a risk of Kili courting an elf. I'd have come to you sooner but I've been busy elsewhere and, frankly, I didn't think there was anything to it until I saw Kili talking to her a couple of days ago. He's obviously undecided, but interested enough. She gave up her home and her loyalty to her king. She'll take whatever Kili might offer, I think."

Thorin rubs his temples. He already had a headache from the crown and his musings over Fili. This has doubled it. Why couldn't Kili have waited until his mother arrives with Tir before deciding to go become enamoured of a blasted elf?

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"You're quiet tonight, love," Bilbo comments as they ready themselves for bed.

This is the first time evening that they have had more than ten minutes together for over a week and Thorin's racing mind has not allowed him to focus on the hobbit as he should. He has all manner of other problems to deal with and no idea how to make them all work out for the best. Kili, naturally, has become the foremost of these. Nori, of course, had warned Dwalin of the threat to the royal line (and those two hammering out their differences and working together is a terrifying thought all on its own) as soon as he had left Thorin's office. Dwalin, after presumably cursing up a storm and breaking a few heads, had told Balin and Balin had shown up an hour after Nori had departed to demand to know what Thorin intended to do about fixing the mess. As though Thorin has any idea what to do when he is apparently the last one to know about it in the first place.

"This isn't about me leaving, is it?" Bilbo asks suddenly and Thorin freezes.

"Leaving?" He asks. He has known it will be coming, Bilbo had said as much before they started to explore the more physical side of their relationship.

"Yes, Thorin," Bilbo sighs, "I mentioned it two days ago."

Thorin does remember, but in his defence no sooner had Bilbo mentioned it than he had been called away to deal with a tunnel collapse which had taken most of the day to sort out.

"I remember," Thorin admits, "but I had not expected it to come so soon."

"Winter is almost over," Bilbo replies. "Yavanna only knows what my friends and relations think of my disappearance. And we've had no reply from the raven we sent, though it's possible he never reached the Shire." Thorin nods.

"You will leave as the snow begins to thaw, then?"

"I rather think I must," Bilbo sighs. "Much as I have enjoyed Erebor, and will miss a great deal of what I must leave behind, I cannot be at ease when there are so many of my own responsibilities to attend to after neglecting them for so long. No," Bilbo shakes his head, "I must return home and the longer I stay the harder it will be. Gandalf promised to come back this way after the thaw and help me to get home. Besides, your people will have travelled through winter to make it here. I rather think my journey will be easier than theirs has been and they deserve your full attention." A fair point, Thorin's duties will only increase after the arrival of the caravans from Ered Luin no matter how many of them Fili, Kili and Dis take on.

"Then we had best savour these next weeks," Thorin mutters, "though you must know that I would do anything you ask if it would get you to stay."

"Silly dwarf," Bilbo says, fondly. "I know, but it is not the right time for me to make Erebor my home. I am made for the sky and rolling hills, not stone and darkness. I will not stay away forever you know," he continues, "I couldn't even if I wanted to. Quite aside from anything else, I will be leaving my heart behind me. My parents, however, would be rolling in their graves if they knew that I had abandoned everything the way that I did. So, I really must return to the Shire, but I promise I will not stay there."

Thorin believes him, cannot do anything other than believe him though his heart aches in his chest to know that his hobbit must leave him so very soon. His day, however, just seems to be getting worse and he says as much to Bilbo as he slides into the bed next to him. The hobbit tilts his head questioningly, hazel eyes shining with curiosity. Thorin tells Bilbo everything.

"And that's a problem?" Bilbo asks when Thorin says that the friendship Kili has fostered with the elf maid has somehow become the rumour of more.

"For more than one reason," Thorin sighs, "and it will hurt more than just those of us already in Erebor. My opinion of elves is not unique among dwarves, Kurdel. There are those who feel that Kili's heart being touched by an elf is a sign of greater madness in my line. They would kill us all if I were to allow him to court her. Just allowing the friendship is suspect enough to some of them."

"That is rather a tremendous problem," Bilbo agrees.

"And not the only one," Thorin continues. "Tauriel is not- There are other complications. Things Kili isn't aware of that he should have been, and to make him aware of them now would appear to be little more than a desperate attempt to separate him from what he wants. Better he find out himself."

Which leads into Thorin explaining Tir and the reasons that have kept both mother and uncle from telling the lad the truth. Bilbo's face shows the depths of his disappointment with Thorin and Dis, both, although he must know Kili well enough by now to understand why the situation has been handled the way that it has. Even if Tir didn't exist Thorin would always have refused to allow Kili to court her, Thorin points out, but the course of the quest has shown him that in some things there is a benefit of treading softly around both Fili and Kili. This is one of those circumstances.

"So, what will you do?" Bilbo asks.

"Until Dis arrives and Kili is in a position to make the discovery Balin and I will have to think of a way to put him off."

"Perhaps, then," Bilbo all but whispers, "it is a good thing that I am leaving."

"No," Thorin replies a little more forcefully than he intends. "No, Bilbo, this has no bearing on you at all. You are not the threat that she is."

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not," Bilbo admits.

"It isn't meant to be either," Thorin shrugs. "It is simply a fact."

Bilbo has nothing to say to that.

Chapter Text

The way that Thorin and Balin, with some input from an incensed Dain, decide to deal with the Kili and Tauriel problem is a mistake. Thorin doesn't need Dis' expletive laden rant to tell him that. In fact, he would give a great deal to be able to go back and handle the whole thing differently because he is very much aware that he has lost Kili's trust. Bombarding Kili with reasons why he shouldn't do something has rarely worked in the past, and Thorin knows it, and Fili will always show his brother some sort of support no matter his real opinion on the subject. It had almost broken Thorin's heart to hear Fili offer to give up love of his own so that his brother would be happy, and while Balin had obviously been tempted to allow it Thorin is too deeply caught up in his own heartbreak to wish it on either of his sister's sons, no matter what Kili might think in the moment when he tells the boy that he will not allow a courtship between an heir of Erebor and an elf.

The fact of it is, Bilbo's own rather imminent departure has been as much of an influence on how Thorin chose to handle things as anything else. The fact that the few remaining weeks Thorin has with his hobbit have flown by hasn't escaped his notice. Nor that of anyone else. Thorin and Bilbo's relationship is the sort of open secret that no one comments on but everyone is aware of. Were the council in residence Thorin knows he would be spending a lot of time defending not only his choice of partner but Fili's as well. Fortunately, the council aren't here and everyone in the mountain knows the role that Bilbo played in getting it back and keeping Durin's heirs alive. There are still some questions about his decision to take the Arkenstone to Bard so that it could be held for ransom, but most of those have been overlooked in favour of the rest with the phrase 'desperate times' being employed more than once by Balin. Thorin will count himself lucky if he never has to hear it again.

In the back of his mind Thorin will admit that he doesn't deal with the Kili situation well. Nor does he handle the lecture that Dis gives him the morning after her arrival all that gracefully, even though he learnt years ago never to get between Dis and her sons. The fact of it is, however, Thorin has been known to lumber into certain situations with all the grace of a cave troll. That said, Balin, with all of his diplomatic grace, has been known to blunder where matters of the heart are concerned as well. It is one of the reasons that Thorin has not gone to him for advice about Bilbo, in fact.

Dis' advice, when Thorin asks her, is to let the hobbit go if Bilbo really feels that it is time that he must. Forcing Bilbo to stay in Erebor will only breed resentment and hard feelings. Bilbo will come back, and if he doesn't Fili will need practice wearing the crown anyway which will free Thorin to go and find out what is happening. The advice is sound, though Thorin dislikes it on principle, and it doesn't stop him from offering the hobbit all manner of ridiculous things if he will only stay. Bilbo will smile sadly every time, or huff a quiet little laugh that lacks his usual brilliant enjoyment, and refuse every offer that Thorin makes. There are only two he accepts, and neither of those have to do with staying in the mountain. The first is the offer of a raven to go with him so that he can write to Thorin as soon as he has reached Bag End, and the second is Thorin escorting him just past Dale so that they might say a more private farewell. Only Dwalin and Nori come with them, primarily because Thorin can't seem to go anywhere without some sort of guard these days and this was the only way to manage it without Dwalin bursting into flames, and they both stay far enough back to at least give the illusion of privacy.

Bilbo's hair has grown over the months since he left the Shire, coming up to a year now, and though the hobbit has made some noise about getting it cut his friends wouldn't hear of it. His honey coloured curls are riotous about his face, a face that is thinner and harder than it was when they met. There is little of the grocer Thorin first saw left and he knows now that this Bilbo, slender and toned and still road worn even after months in the mountain, is not a healthy weight and shape for a hobbit. Even with their best efforts supplies in Erebor this winter have been stretched and meals have been rationed. Allowing an extra meal for Bilbo, giving him three instead of two, has done little to add the layers of fat back onto the hobbit's bones and he feels the cold and lack of sun keenly. Thorin fears how much thinner still Bilbo will be when he gets back to the Shire, though the return journey will be on the back of a pony all the way and far less fraught with danger.

"I will be fine," Bilbo assures him. "We knew this was inevitable, love."

And inevitable it may have been, Thorin thinks angrily, but that doesn't mean that he just has to accept it.

"I will come back, Thorin," Bilbo insists. "I promise you I will, as soon as I can settle my affairs."

Thorin's fingers drift to the braid Bilbo wears, one they have practised the weaving of every night and every morning for weeks so that Bilbo will be able to place it himself while they are parted. The bead at the end makes Thorin's intentions towards the hobbit very clear and any dwarf will be obligated to come to his aid should he ask for it. Thorin just hopes he never has to ask.

There are fewer words after that, just quiet kisses and lingering touches until Bilbo pulls away regretfully as Gandalf approaches. This is it, it will likely be eighteen months until Thorin sees Bilbo again. He is tempted, so very tempted, to simply follow even though he has nothing packed. Not only because he will miss Bilbo desperately, although that is the primary reason, but also because of everything else waiting for him in the mountain. The heavy burden of wearing the crown, of ensuring that all the returning dwarves have somewhere to sleep (it's been a week since the first caravan arrived but more will arrive soon enough and will continue to do so for some time yet) and enough to eat. The day to day business of being a king of a kingdom to be rebuilt weighs heavily even with all of the help he has from his friends and family. Then there is the mess with Kili, Tir and Tauriel that lingers and requires additional attention still. The elf has gone, left the area entirely according to Nori, but the damage of Kili's infatuation with her has been done. Kili is is understandably, and very visibly, put out with both his uncle and his mother, in fact he has said barely ten words together to Thorin since Tir arrived. Fortunately, he is not the sort to hold grudges and with any luck he will calm once the apology has been given. The visible unity of the royal family is important, however, and so this division will need to be dealt with quickly. Thorin has no idea how, only Bilbo's advice to let the boys approach him rather than trying to force another meeting. He is far more inclined to take that advice.

Ultimately, Thorin doesn't follow Bilbo. Instead he stands on the hill outside Dale and watches, the cool spring breeze whipping his sliver streaked hair about his cheeks, until the hobbit and wizard disappear from sight. Then he sighs and silently signals to Dwalin and Nori, who are stood just behind him in quiet support, that it is time for them to ride back to Erebor.

Chapter Text

Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain.

My Dearest Thorin,

One would think that after such an experience as the road to  Erebor I would greatly appreciate the quiet nature of the one back to the Shire. Does it sound terribly ungrateful, then, to say that by the end I quite longed for some excitement? Perhaps it was the company, for though I am certain that Gandalf is quite marvellous company when the mood strikes him, month upon month can leave a little to be desired. Especially when one's questions are met with cryptic replies that are no answer at all. Perhaps, instead, it is simply that I have become so accustomed to the brash gruffness and general noise of dwarves that the silence, though companionable, left me quite at a loss some evenings and more than a little bit wary of previously unheard noises. Even Bombur's snoring would not have been amiss, I confess.

Rivendell was quite as lovely and awe inspiring as I remember. Before you get your beard in a knot over that, you ludicrous creature, I will own the truth that it is not quite the thing when compared to the ruined splendour of Erebor. The two, however, can hardly be compared, in truth, for my little experience in the matter tells me that the architecture of dwarves and elves is so very different in style and taste, each spectacular in it's own way, that it would be like comparing whether beef or pork is the better meat for a stew without taking into account the other ingredients to hand.

We spent a week in Rivendell, which is no time at all to become acquainted with the ancient wonders and splendours that place holds. Indeed, I could spend the next five decades of my life, if I am lucky enough to reach that sort of age, exploring the vast library and barely scratch the surface. I might have been persuaded to stay a little longer than I did, if not for the nagging feeling that I should return to the Shire as quickly as I may.

It is my return to the Shire, in fact, which makes me wish I had taken you up on your quite ludicrous, or so I thought at the time, offer of an escort of dwarven warriors. Though, I do confess, my grandfather probably would have feared a dwarf invasion was at hand.

As you must recall, for certainly we discussed and debated it often enough, I left Erebor to settle my affairs in the Shire so that I might spend the rest of my days at your side. Indeed my arrival was quite fortuitously timed, for myself at least, for had I arrived just a day later I would have found my affairs settled but in a manner quite contrary to my wishes. It could have been avoided entirely, of course, had I only departed Rivendell on the day I had intended instead of waiting two days for Gandalf to be ready, though what the old badger was up to I really couldn't say.

Gandalf left me at the border of the Shire with his usual farewell made up of wise sounding words with some cryptic meaning or another. I returned to Hobbiton atop the fine pony you gifted to me with a sack of troll gold among my belongings and a hastily purchased basket of fresh meat and vegetables which I picked up on my way through Bywater, being thoroughly fed up of dried meat and trail bread by that point. I quickly noticed that Hobbiton itself was quite deserted, odd for the time of day, and found it of rather more concern than I might have done before abandoning my good hobbit sense to go running off with a group of vagabond dwarves. Still, I wanted to get home and sit in my comfortable chair and sleep in my own bed for the first time in longer than I wanted to think about. So, I continued through town and up Bag Shot Row, leading Mist behind me, only to find that the path was rather busier than usual. This alarmed me further, and is the first time that an escort might have come in handy for I had to fight my way to my own front door.

You may recall my mentioning, a few times during our journey and the winter which followed, my cousin Otho's wife; Lobelia Sackville-Baggins nee Bracegirdle. Lobelia has been a thorn in my sole since my early tweens. At that time Otho and I were quite good friends, though he had very little in the way of Baggins intelligence about him he was decent enough company. That ended with the interest of Lobelia Bracegirdle. She had, I believe, her eye on my from even that early age, or, at least, she had her eye on Bag End and the Baggins money and lands I would inherit from my father who, being the oldest of five siblings, had inherited the majority of the Baggins family wealth upon the death of my Grandfather Baggins. She was disappointed to discover that my tastes ran quite firmly in the opposite direction. Even were my inclination towards females rather than males, however, I could never have been persuaded to marry Lobelia Brcegirdle. Otho, however, was enamoured of her. She has never been what I would call pretty, but she has a certain presence about her that once drew the eye and interest of more than one young hobbit. Now it tends to inspire rather the opposite reaction. Lobelia had given up on me, though not on Bag End, and saw Otho as the next best option for I am unable to produce an heir of my own unless I adopt a suitable candidate and I think she had hoped that between them she and Otho could convince me to give up Bag End, which is a very large smial for a single hobbit, so that they could move in and start a family. Would that she concentrated  more  on that task than on trying to get her hands on my home, no matter how distressing the mental image that brings forth is. Regardless, since the day she married Otho the miserable bat has harangued, nagged and made a general nuisance of herself in her attempts to take not just my home but my silverware as well.

My abrupt departure gave her exactly the opportunity she had been waiting for, for although the raven we sent had reached my grandfather he had been struck by a terrible winter fever not long after receiving my letter and the news had been lost during the course of his illness. Where the raven went after I do not know, for he assures me he sent the bird back to the mountain with his promise that he would take care of things here until I could return. I don't know if Lobelia had heard rumours of the letter arriving or if she simply hoped to circumvent my grandfather regardless, however when I finally managed to fight my way to my front door a hobbit I have never met in my life was announcing that they were about to start auctioning off the contents of my home so that the new owners, who had inherited it due to my disappearance and likely death, could move in. You know me well enough to know my reaction was far more polite than I think the situation required. Indeed, I could have been forgiven had I raised my voice and waved Sting around a little bit for I had definitely confirmed that I was perfectly well and I certainly had not made any provisions for the Sackville-Bagginses to become my heirs. The hobbit in question was the Mayor of Michael Delving, who had no business handling Hobbiton matters which are usually the territory of the Thain in Tuckborough (who is my grandfather on my mother's side and quite aware of my desire that Lobelia never get her hands on Bag End no matter what might happen to me). My identity was eventually confirmed by both the contract I signed, which I had the forethought to bring home with me, and by several residents who decided it might serve them better to have me back in control of my holdings than to have Lobelia take over them. I still had to shake the baggage down to get my hands on several silver spoons she was intent on making off with and I'm not entirely certain I managed to find them all.

That is the story of my return. One of my Took uncles has taken on the Thainship from my grandfather, who is still not completely recovered from his illness and in truth it is doubtful that he ever will be. It is only lunchtime, I have spent one night in my bed which is both too empty without you and too small when compared to the monstrosity we shared in Erebor. Already most of Hobbiton has called to try and find out where I have been and why I went in the first place. The simplest explanation is to say that it was my mother's blood longing for the road. Some I will even tell that I have found the part of my soul that I was missing, but I have not yet told any of them that I am not staying. Were word of that to break out, and it will because dwarves have nothing on hobbits when it comes to spreading gossip, I would have Lobelia on my doorstep day and night trying to get me to sign away this comfortable home. I think, perhaps, I will leave my holdings to my cousin Fosco, in part because it will annoy Lobelia but also because he has three children already and needs the space rather more than she does.

My plans right now are neither here nor there, however, it will take time to finalise them and I dislike the thought that it will take at least until spring before I can write to you and beg an escort back to the mountain I was so foolishly eager to leave in favour of sun and sky and fixing problems that I should have put plans in place for long ago. Has Kili forgiven you yet? Are he and Tir considering a future or has she given up on him as your sister fears she might have? I would hate to see either of the boys in an unhappy marriage, but Kili, especially, lacks the temperament to tolerate such a thing. Pass my best and fondest wishes onto all of our friends and please remember to take time for yourself to eat and rest. I know you, my love, and I know that you will try to while away the months of my absence by working altogether too hard. For my sake, and very likely Balin's too, remember to take some rest so that your temper is less easily roused.

I will end this missive here, for Cwarc is eyeing the ever increasing length of it with distaste and it will not be a short flight for our friend to undertake. I miss you, Thorin, and I love you.


Chapter Text

Bilbo's first letter arrives about ten days after he sends it and Thorin is sure that there is more than one occupant of the mountain who is glad that it has finally arrived. Thorin's mood since Bilbo's departure has been fractious at best. As Bilbo had obviously suspected Thorin has been throwing himself into the work of being king, often taking on more than he should just so that he can exhaust himself too fully to care about the fact that the bed he falls into each night is cold and empty. Even nearly six months after Bilbo left it still seems too empty, though Thorin has long been accustomed to sleeping alone.

On the bright side, Kili is talking to him again, and as the months go by Thorin is able to update his lover on the progress of things between Kili and Tir. Which is to say that they are going precisely nowhere. Kili doesn't talk to Thorin much about matters of the heart, though in this situation Thorin can hardly blame him. He does, however, have to deal with Dis coming to him on an almost daily basis to bemoan the fact that while Kili and Tir seem to be as close as they were in Ered Luin neither of them seems to want to move things forwards. Bilbo's letter concerning the subject, when Thorin updates him after several other missives have been exchanged, is full of advice that Thorin passes on to Dis in the hopes that it will get her out of his hair long enough for him to focus on spending what little time he has for himself making an ever increasing number of courting gifts for his hobbit. The courting gifts remove Thorin's mind from the problem of Kili, and in truth he has vowed to keep away from that relationship until Kili comes to him for permission to make it all official, and returns it to the mystery that is Fili.

It is disconcerting to realise that Dis has also seen the drastic change in her eldest son, and were the changes in Kili as profound perhaps they would worry them less. She has always worried for both of her sons, but Fili most of all in many ways. Kili has always been reckless, even seeing battle such as the one they experienced at the foot of Erebor has not changed that. Fili was always more cautious, and that has not changed, but there was still a sense of life and fun in the caution. Now he is altogether too serious. For Fili much of this quest was about proving himself to be the perfect heir, though he had already accomplished that more than once and Thorin will forever regret that he had never told the boy as much. Truthfully, the Fili he knew before this quest would have made a good king and no king raised in exile as Fili has been could have been expected to be more. Fili has always wanted to be the best he can possibly manage to be, however. Not content with wielding one blade with the skill of a master at an early age, Fili had insisted on learning to wield two with equal, if not greater, proficiency. He learnt to throw axes and knives with a skill and accuracy that is only beaten by Kili's skill with the bow, and he applied himself to his lessons with Balin that his occasional habit of stating the obvious and cocky grin would have people believing he had avoided entirely. Both of the boys are very intelligent, although much of their behaviour in Ered Luin would have others believing otherwise, but while Fili would willingly apply himself to his lessons Kili has always been more difficult to pin down.

Which is what makes Fili's sudden skill with precious metals and gems so incredible.

His heir had never managed to find a craft in Ered Luin. Kili is drawn to smithing in the same way as Thorin and if he would apply himself to more than the arrowheads he so frequently needs he will be a great smith indeed, but Fili felt no such call to the iron and steel of those forges in the Blue Mountains. Music was an enjoyable hobby for him, as for Kili, and indulged in often alongside Tir who is a musician by craft. Leather work, as favoured by his mother, also failed to inspire him as did any number of other crafts within Ered Luin. Quite why they never introduced him to the call of precious stones and metals, the delicate work to be found in jewellery, Thorin has never been able to quite work out, for just the few pieces that the king has seen his sister's son craft are of a quality far surpassing much of the work he has encountered in the years since the fall of Erebor.

When asked about this sudden skill, however, Fili will simply look at the enquirer with blue eyes that seem suddenly older and darker, and shrug his shoulders. "Here and there," he will add sometimes when asked where he learnt such skills without clarifying any further. Only Kili seems to know the answer and no matter how much Thorin prods or his mother expresses her deep concern for his brother the younger refuses to tell what he knows. Not even Tir, who has long been able to mine out most of Kili's secrets, is able to get the answer from him and the only thing he will tell her is that it is Fili's secret to tell and she will hear it when he is ready. Thorin is beginning to suspect that none of them will ever hear the truth of Fili's extraordinary ability with gems or where he learnt techniques that Thorin was certain had been long lost to their kind.

"I wish we had some mithril," Fili mutters as he glares at the silver circlet he has been working on. There was very little mithril ever found in Erebor, a small seam that ran dry not long after its discovery and much of that went into the beads worn by the King Under the Mountain and the mail shirt that Thorin had gifted to Bilbo even in the clutches of his gold madness.

"We would need to retake Khazad-dum for that," Thorin replies, turning the piece he is working on in his hands. He has some skill in working with precious metals himself, but it is nothing to the artistry of his heir. "And that place is still overrun with orcs, no matter how thinned their numbers may now be."

"Not to mention the Balrog," Fili mumbles, and Thorin's eyes turn on him sharply.

"Balrog?" He questions.

"Durin's Bane," Fili corrects.

"And what makes you think that Durin's Bane is a Balrog?" Thorin asks, his work almost forgotten.

They have heard tales of Balrogs, of course, there mentions of them in the legends that survived the War of Wrath as great beings of fire and shadow. Fili will have heard of them as a part of his education, and Thorin knows that there has been some debate among those who have read the accounts of the flight of Durin's folk from Khazad-dum about whether Durin's Bane was one of these creatures of legend and time forgotten by all but the elves. There is no way to know for certain, however, unless they were to go into that lost place and find the thing. Thorin has no desire to take back the home of his oldest ancestor, and he will never encourage a quest for such a thing either. Aside from the fact that there is the chance that Durin's Bane still awaits them, and is obviously the kind of being that would tolerate or even ally itself with orcs, there is the matter of the orcs that infest the place. Thorin has seen the cost of attempting to retake that place and he will not see it again in his lifetime.

"Will you not confide in me, Fili?" Thorin asks, when his heir shrugs. "You are changed, Kidhuzurâl, we can all see it."

"Change comes to all of us, Thorin," Fili replies, "some sooner than others. Perhaps I have simply grown up."

Thorin would challenge that, but another letter arrives from Bilbo and Fili slips away in the moments that Thorin is distracted.

"Perhaps he has just grown up," Dis says later when Thorin recounts the conversation to her before she can start on the subject of Kili and Tir again. "And he spends so much time with Ori these days, as well. He's interested in that sort of thing, maybe Fili picked it up from him." Thorin grunts, not convinced, but there are other matters to discuss with his sister as well,

"Balin told me of your plans for a victory celebration," he changes the subject. "A year since the battle at the foot of the mountain. Is it really necessary?"

"Balin seems to think so," Dis shrugs, "and we need to do something, Thorin, it was a great victory and should be celebrated."

"And the other celebrations we've had to endure?" Thorin asks. "My birthday and those of the lads? The midsummer festival? Which we've never bothered with before, I'll remind you. And resurrecting the Durin's Day celebrations as well. Do we really need a feast or party every month?"

"Our grandfather would have had one a week at the height of our time here," Dis points out.

"Our grandfather was insane," Thorin replies dryly. Dis doesn't really remember Thror, she had been too young to properly remember Erebor when the mountain fell and Thror had little to do with his granddaughter, or even with Frerin. Thorin had been the only one he was interested in and that was purely to ensure that he was formed into a proper sort of heir to the throne.

"Don't bother arguing," she tosses her braids over her shoulders. "They're happening, whether you like it or not you will be there and smile and deliver the speech that Balin gives you to make. I know you miss Bilbo and you would rather work yourself into the ground than celebrate while he isn't here but I'm not going to let you fall back into that old habit."

She won't, he knows. She will pester and nag and drag him through the halls of Erebor as though dealing with an errant child (and having seen her dealing with Fili and Kili at the height of their mischievousness, Thorin believes her). He sighs and scrubs his hand over his face but gives in. Besides, he could use the distraction. There is still so much to do in the mountain, so much to repair and so many still to find their way home, an evening to relax with his friends and his family and celebrate is always dreaded until it arrives and then welcomed wholeheartedly.

"Good," Dis smiles widely, pressing their heads together. "And on that note, answer your letter then get a wash and some sleep, you're beginning to look and smell like we dug you out of your tomb to run the place."

Thorin makes a rude gesture at her retreating back, but obeys anyway.

Chapter Text

"You can't do this!" The dark-haired dwarf all but shrieks. Thorin stares at him impassively, if the general thinks that he has any chance at all of intimidating him the fool has forgotten who he is dealing with.

"I have no control over who Dis allows to approach Tir with an offer of courtship," Thorin replies blandly. "Nirdan gave my sister guardianship of his daughter, regardless of the fact that she is of age."

"And your sister has obviously set things up in favour of her son," Fuldin sneers. Thorin resists the urge to roll his eyes.

"It's done," Thorin replies. "And has been in the making since long before we reclaimed the mountain. Frankly, I'm surprised it took the lad this long to come to the point, he's been flirting with the idea for years."

"Our 'dams are rare enough as it it!" The general snaps. "Why should your family get their pick?"

"Why should they not?" Thorin responds, shortly. "They are my heirs and I need my line secured. They would both be expected to marry a 'dam, whether a suitable choice of their own or of mine. To have it accomplished so quickly and with such ease is, honestly, a relief. The sooner it is done, the sooner we can worry about the business of children. If you dislike it, General, I suggest you return to the Iron Hills and content yourself with the selection of 'dams available to you there. Unless there is a reason none of them will have you that I should be aware of?" The other dwarf huffs and marches away without waiting to be dismissed.

Fuldin is an idiot of the highest order, Thorin decides as he watches the general leave his study and he will need to have Nori find out more about him. Kili and Tir's courtship has only just, officially, begun and already Thorin is receiving calls from other dwarrow to put an end to it. Why any of them think he would do so is quite beyond him. Fili and Kili will be the first male members of the direct line to marry since the mountain fell. Frerin, Thorin knows, never would have married even had he survived Azanulbizar since he had no interest in much of anything outside his craft. His brother would never even have joined his grandfather's army if he hadn't been informed it was his duty to do so and the only chance he might have of truly pursuing his art. Dis married, and that her husband also proved to be her One was a matter of chance rather than choice. Dis had grown up knowing that she might never be permitted to marry her One, just as Thorin had been raised knowing the same and they had raised Fili and Kili in the knowledge that, while Thorin and Dis would take their opinions into account, they would still be expected to make a match for the sake of the dwarves of Erebor rather than for the sake of their own hearts. Kili had never taken it well, but Fili had accepted it without question.

It's strange how things work out.

Fili's choice of queen is not the best, she has no training in all the subtle things she will need to know to navigate court, no family wealth or power to bring to the throne. Yet her craft, as Fili rightly points out when Thorin is more ready to listen to his reasons beyond choosing his One, is a representation of what Erebor needs. Erebor needs healing, the mountain and her people, and a queen who is the symbol of that need is a very visible acknowledgement of it. Dis is happy enough with her, content that Arja is intelligent enough to learn all that she will need to for when the time comes and the courtship, that Thorin had assumed wouldn't last the year before the young 'dam realised how poorly suited she is as the wife of a prince and king, is proceeding at the expected pace. Dis is already starting to look for 'dams willing to serve as Shomakhalinh since it is clear to anyone who cares to look that it is only a matter of time before chaste kisses progress further. If they haven't already. Thorin remembers being that age very well and even though his interests never tended towards 'dams, he still remembers how easy it is for chaste kisses to turn into something more without either party intending on it to begin with. He trusts in Fili's good sense, however, though he has his doubts about Kili's.

"What put the fly up Fuldin's arse?" Dwalin demands as he saunters in.

"Take a wild guess," Thorin grumbles. "There isn't much that hasn't had the miserable bastard complaining since he got here. No wonder Dain wanted to get rid of him."

"Fair point," Dwalin agrees, helping himself to some of the wine that is kept on a side table in a crystal decanter. Thorin would prefer to have ale in the room, but a broached cask goes flat too quickly and encourages too many he would rather not linger to do so. "Let me guess," he says after taking a hearty swig and pulling a face, "he's pissed off that you agreed to let Kili court Tir without anyone else getting a chance to make a play?"

"In one," Thorin sighs. "He's been annoying Dis about having a chance to approach the girl since a week after they both arrived. Dis even went as far as to threaten him with her axe. It didn't have the desired effect."

"Persistent," Dwalin comments. "He's not stupid enough to want you to tell Kili to break it off?" Thorin gives his old friend a look and Dwalin swears. "Has he seen them together?" The guard roars. "I'd put money on the fact that the pair of them are already shagging, especially if he's anything like you."

"Do not say that anywhere near Dis," Thorin orders with a groan. "The thought of those boys getting up to half the stuff we used to is bad enough."

"They were good times," Dwalin grins, tilting his head as he remembers and the light catches off the new bead in his beard. Dwalin and Nori exchanged them only a week ago, apparently sixty years is too long to wait before laying claim to your One. Thorin feels a twinge of envy, that Dwalin has been able to achieve that while he still has to wait for Bilbo to be ready to return to Erebor. It hasn't even been a year, but Thorin feels like it has been forever.

"At least Fili is sensible," he says and Dwalin lets out a loud snort.

"I wouldn't count on that," he says. "You and Dis might want to find Arja a couple of Shomakhalinh sooner rather than later. Kili's never been good at hiding the fact that he's bedding someone, Fili more than makes up for that." Thorin slams his head onto his desk with a curse. Just what he needs. "I didn't actually come to talk to you about the boys," Dwalin continues, the lightness vanishing from his face.

In minutes Thorin finds himself caught in a discussion about the security of the treasury, guard rotations and Dwalin's concerns regarding the request Bard has made to have the most vulnerable occupants of Dale housed within the mountain again this year. It's oddly relaxing to find himself having to deal with something so mundane after everything else.

Chapter Text

Fili's wedding, urgent as it is, goes without a hitch. Thorin is honestly surprised by that, with the way that their lives have gone over the last several decades he had expected something to come up to put a stop to it, especially since Tauriel had been seen in Dale with Kili. If anything could have caused an interruption to Fili's nuptials it would be an appearance by that elf. Thranduil is still utterly furious with her, as evidenced by his approaching Thorin to find out if she had been invited. As a rule Thorin and Thranduil avoid each other as much as possible, although the elf gets along surprisingly well with Fili, but in this they are agreed. The timing of the she-elf's reappearance is concerning, but after a brief meeting with Kili she vanishes again and Thorin has to admit that he is relieved by it. He trusts Kili, certainly more than he did before Fili and Arja announced that she is definitely expecting, but the elf is an unknown element.

There are rumours, because there always are, about why the wedding has to happen so quickly and most of them are correct. It will be obvious enough in the coming months and so they haven't made any effort to hide it. The birth rate among dwarves is so low that, unlike the Men, they only care about whether the child's parents are married where that child might inherit a position of power. Since Arja's child will be the next heir after Fili, he or she must be legitimate. There would be no shame in it, and if Fili and Arja had decided not to marry no one would have questioned it, but it would make the succession more difficult and Thorin is relieved that the pair of them decided to do the sensible thing and wed.

The urgency of the wedding means that Bilbo cannot get to them from the Shire in time for it, although Thorin knows that as soon as the hobbit is back in the mountain it is unlikely that he will ever allow his lover out of his sight again. Letters are regular between the Shire and Erebor and Bilbo is quick to give advice about many of the farming problems that both Dale and Erebor are experiencing. The advantage, the hobbit writes, of being near the vast quantity of highly productive farmers of the Shire is that he can go to them for the advice that will help the land around the mountain recover from Smaug's occupation. Thorin can acknowledge the advantage in that, but he would still rather have Bilbo with him than not. They would work out how to revitalise the land, after all, without the hobbits. Thorin isn't sure how much longer he can wait before marching to the Shire to fetch Bilbo himself. It will be at least another year as he can hardly expect Fili to take on the throne, even if only temporarily, while awaiting the arrival of his first child. Raising a child is difficult enough, and though Thorin has never had children of his own Fili and Kili are as dear to him as if they were. Thorin well remembers Kili's birth and helping Dis as best he could because Vili had died long before she had even been aware she was with child. It had been hard to juggle duties he was already so familiar with alongside the unfamiliar task of helping to raise a toddler and a newborn. While it had been hard, It has also proved to be one of the most rewarding things he has ever done and, although Fili has shown a truly monumental lapse of judgement recently, he couldn't be more proud of the dwarrow they both have grown into.

It is a delay, and while necessary Thorin chafes at it nonetheless.

"You're pining," his sister says, and Thorin looks up from the letter that he is struggling to write.

Normally finding the words to express his thoughts to Bilbo isn't all that hard, so long as it is on paper (Thorin is well aware that he has a tendency to fumble his meaning when speaking), but today he cannot find the phrases he needs or the words he wants. Bilbo will have little concern for the precious stones and metals that decorated the happy couple, the challenge of blades and exchange of weapons, or the abundance of ale and roasted meat. Bilbo will want to know about the gentle things, the way the couple looked and felt, the words that were exchanged and the reaction of the people. Only Fili and Arja can assure the hobbit of the depth of their feelings, for all that Thorin knows how deeply they love one another it is not his to share. Nor is the strange feeling of heat that had swept through the usually cool hall, or the way that the stones in their marriage beads had seemed to glow with a previously unseen intensity that rivalled the shine of the Arkenstone. Thorin would say that, from the expressions on their faces, Fili and Arja had been granted the blessing of their Maker in voice as well as vision. He cannot prove it and they have locked themselves away in a set of private apartments for a week as is traditional so he cannot ask either. This is not something he can share with Bilbo, for all that he wants to, because this is one of those great dwarven secrets that cannot be shared with anyone outside of their own race. In a rare moment of polite understanding Thranduil had not asked, and had diverted Bard when it had seemed like the Man would. The blessing of Mahal upon a union is rare, as far as Thorin understands it only Durin, the Seven Fathers and a handful of others have ever received it in all the ages that dwarves have walked the land and worked within their halls. Any objections that might be made by anyone to Fili marrying a common born dwarrowdam are officially moot. Mahal has given his approval and that is all there is to it. The council, who will no doubt return as soon as they hear that Fili has married regardless of their opinion, won't be able to do anything about it. Thorin finds himself remarkably pleased about that.

"I am not," he replies, scrunching up another piece of parchment and chucking it into the fire. Unlike the delicate and fussy paper of the Shire, dwarves prefer to use a parchment that is as thick and robust as themselves. That makes it heavier and as much as Thorin would like to send Bilbo letters that are equally as long as he receives they would be too heavy for the ravens to carry all that way.

"You are," Dis replies, "and I never thought I would see the day."

"I am King Under the Mountain," Thorin mumbles. "Kings do not pine." Dis snorts.

"Well this one is doing a remarkable impression of it," she tells him. "If you want him here that badly, go and get him."

"I'll be gone for over a year, Dis, I cannot leave Fili here to take on my role as king, it would be too much with a child on the way." Thorin shakes his head. "We won't be able to travel in winter, Bilbo isn't hardy enough, I would have to spend the season in the Shire."

"So spend the winter in the Shire," Dis rolls her eyes. "We'll survive without you, we'll probably be better off without you. If Fili is anything like his father he'll be driving Arja insane with his fretting long before her time comes. It will keep him out of her hair. And you act as if I haven't ruled in your place before. If Fili needs any help I'll be there for him."

"We've barely been in the mountain for a year," Thorin argues, "I cannot just go swanning off like some elf because my One is on the other side of the Misty Mountains."

"You seem to be under the impression that this is a request, Thorin," Dis' calm is almost terrifying. "It isn't. Your hobbit has been gone for a year and you're already unbearable, I don't want to think about what you'll be like in another six months. Take Dwalin and Nori and bugger off."

"Dis, you can't just order me out of this mountain!" He thunders. She stares at him silently, one eyebrow raised and her arms folded over her chest.

Which is probably why he finds himself on a pony three days later, with Dwalin and Nori grinning widely at him, riding slowly south from Erebor on his way to the Shire.

Chapter Text

The Shire is just as sleepy as Thorin remembers it. It is also as much of a rabbit warren as he remembers as well. Eager to get to Bilbo, and minimise the delay as much as possible, Thorin does something he would never do with anyone else and allows Dwalin to take the lead. His friend smirks and mumbles something to Nori who cackles cheerfully, but doesn't lead them astray and soon enough they are outside the familiar round door. The paint is faded in places and peeling slightly, as though it has been left far longer than it should have without care. The mark Gandalf placed on the door is still faintly visible and Thorin wonders if it still glows at night as it did when he first arrived or if, after two years, that bit of magic has faded.

It is late summer and the garden at the front is filled with an abundance of sweet smelling herbs and flowers, well tended if a little wild in their growth. The path to the door is free of weeds, however, and the gate opens silently as the three of them step through, having left their ponies at a nearby inn and continued on foot. Once they are through the gate, however, Thorin hesitates. He knows that Bilbo will be expecting him, a raven was sent from Erebor on the day of his departure to make sure that the hobbit was kept informed, but Thorin has no idea whether Bilbo will welcome his arrival or resent it. After all, Bilbo promised to return as soon as he had settled everything and doesn't really need the dwarf king there to speed or hinder the process. Dwalin mutters something and shoves past him, marching up the little steps to the door with Nori in tow. The Shire is safe enough that he has no concerns about leaving Thorin to fend for himself and, in truth, before reclaiming Erebor Dwalin had always been happy enough with Thorin's ability to take care of himself.

The gruff warrior rings the bell and this time Thorin can hear the delicate tinkle it makes instead of it being lost in the sound of typical dwarven merrymaking. The door opens quietly, for all the door needs painting the hinges are well maintained, and Bilbo lets out a happy cry when he sees Dwalin and Nori standing there, ushering them in though Thorin can see the slight frown in the way Bilbo's expression is slightly pinched as he looks behind the pair. Looking for him, Thorin realises and he moves forward with quick steps, covering the small distance so quickly that he might well have done so at a run. It doesn't matter if he did, because Bilbo meets him part way, coming to a halt one step above him which puts them almost level, and flinging his arms around the dwarf in delight.

"You're here," he breathes, all signs of frustration fading from his face.

"I told you I would come, Atamanel," Thorin replies, pressing a kiss to the hobbit's lips that is returned eagerly.

"I didn't think it would be so soon," Bilbo responds, "though do not think for a moment that I'm complaining about seeing you again so quickly."

"You call this quickly?" Thorin grumbles. "It has been over a year, Bilbo."

"I know, and I am sorry for it," the hobbit says. "And it will be some time yet, the Sackville-Bagginses are contesting the transfer of my holdings to Fosco's care and inheritance when I pass."

"They can do that?" Thorin asks in surprise.

"Ordinarily, not until the will is read after my death, but they're still trying to argue that I've already been declared dead and shouldn't have been able to take back my home and belongings in any case," Bilbo huffs. "Honestly, I'm about at the end of my rope with the whole mess."

"I should have brought Balin," Thorin muses as the make their way into Bilbo's home, "but he was needed in the mountain while I'm gone."

"How did you manage to get away?" Bilbo says curiously.

"Dis organised it," Thorin shrugs.

"Threw him out, more like," Dwalin comments, large hand already stuck into Bilbo's jar of biscuits. Nori sniggers from his chair, ale in hand that he has obviously pilfered from the pantry.

"So she's running things with Balin?" Bilbo asks.

Thorin had kept his letter deliberately vague, just in case the raven went missing as the first one sent to the Shire did. He had told Bilbo only to expect him and a number of others by summer's end. Their grasp of the throne is so new that Thorin doesn't want to run even the slightest risk of someone else trying to take advantage of his absence to attempt to take it for themselves. Thorin will also be taking advantage of his proximity to Ered Luin to tie up a few loose ends in person. This could have been done from Erebor, but some things are better handled in person. The task of informing Nirdan that Kili and Tir are finally courting is one that Thorin is actually looking forward to. He remembers well how smug the old dwarf had been when denying Dis' suggestion that Kili would be a more suitable husband for the 'dam. Now Thorin is glad that Dis pushed so hard and refused to even consider Fili as an option. Tir would have made a great queen, but eventually her connection with Kili would have come between the two boys and that is the last thing that Thorin wants to see. Fili is married now, however, and that means that Kili is the best possible match Tir could ever make, regardless of him being her One. Thorin is going to enjoy throwing that back at the other dwarrow. He is aware that he is perfectly capable of being, on occasion, incredibly petty. He has no idea if that is a good thing in a king or not.

Probably not.

"Fili has taken my place on the throne for the time being," Thorin tells Bilbo. "He could use the experience, as could Ori in doing Balin's job, and there is no better time than while his mother and Balin are available to help him should he run into any difficulties."

"Is that a good idea?" Bilbo replies. "With him being so newly married I would have though that he would prefer to spend as much time as he could with Arja."

"Didn't take him all that long to mine her cave," Nori replies. "Or to strike mithril."

Thorin glares at the Spymaster, who grins unrepentantly. His new position might be the highest a dwarf with his skills might achieve, but Nori will never change. He is exactly as he was on the quest, exactly as he was when Dwalin would spend hours complaining about him in Ered Luin, and Thorin likes that. He likes knowing where he stands with this dwarf who could be so dangerous to the throne if he were not so incredibly loyal. Bilbo, on the other hand, splutters and turns scarlet. Thorin cannot help but chuckle, it has been a long time since the occasional crudeness of his people has been something to fluster the hobbit. Even Bilbo joins in the laughter and as he does Thorin feels the tension that has plagued him since the hobbit left the mountain begin to leak away. He will never tell her this, but in his heart he will accept that Dis was right to send him away.

Chapter Text

As little as Thorin likes it he cannot stay in the Shire for the entire time that he is away from Erebor. A trip to retrieve his absent lover is not the sort of thing that is expected of a strong king, either because the lover would not leave or because someone else wound be tasked with the job. Ered Luin, however, is a task he has taken on for himself. There were loans given when they first arrived that now have to be repaid, although the amount is a mere drop in the ocean when compared to size of Thorin's share from the hoard. Those chests of gold were sent some days after Thorin's departure and a guard was sent ahead to advise him of their approach to the Shire so that the King Under the Mountain could arrive in Ered Luin with it. Loath as he is to leave Bilbo again so soon after his arrival it becomes necessary nearly two weeks later. Dwalin comes with him but Nori elects to stay with Bilbo, determined to poke around and try to find something that will ease the hobbit's troubles so that they can all return to Erebor together when spring comes.

Thorin allows it, not that he has ever had much success in stopping Nori from doing anything, and with the large contingent of guards, Dwalin and a considerable sum of gold he rides into New Belegost in the Blue Mountains in triumph. The council of Erebor, those who have not yet begun the journey back to the mountain, and the Ruling Council of Ered Luin, made up of seven lords of a mix of Broadbeam and Firebeard families, wait for him upon the steps to the council chambers. Only Nirdan looks pleased to see him and Thorin doesn't want to think of the reasons for that, Dis certainly hasn't informed the dwarf that his daughter is courting the only available prince of the Lonely Mountain.

"Thorin," Rajil, one the the councillors left over from Thror's time (since he was only just of age when the mountain fell), greets Thorin with a stiff nod.

"Rajil," Thorin barely inclines his head, "Council members." There is a murmur of greeting. "Perhaps we should continue this in the hall," Thorin states and breezes past them.

Once he might have waited for them to agree with him before leading the way. Now, however, he is no longer the king of a lost realm. Now he is King Under the Mountain and it is a mountain reclaimed with almost no help at all from the fourteen dwarves who follow him inside. He has treated these dwarves with respect over the years and even his disappointment that they would not help him had not caused him to lose his temper with them. He has wondered more than once if he should have been more forceful, or let his upset show, but now he is glad that he did not. He will not, however, treat them with the same respect as he did before he departed Ered Luin. They little deserve it, especially those who should be on his council in Erebor and yet have refused to give up their comforts to aid in the rebuilding efforts.

"It is good to see you well, Thorin," Nirdan approaches quickly as they make their way into the large chamber that both councils have been meeting in for decades. Thorin grins at the firebeard. His hair is a shade lighter than his daughter's and Nirdan has brown eyes instead of green, he was also one of the only lords within the Ruling Council of Ered Luin who voted to aid Thorin in taking back Erebor.

"And you, Bâhaê 'ugmal," he replies. "I suppose you would like word of your daughter?" He raises an eyebrow and grins.

"I suspect I know what news you bring with you," Nirdan replies. "Lady Dis brings it up every five years or so, I would be surprised if she has not attempted to accomplish her dream. I only wonder if it is best for Tir. I would not have her miserable, not due to my ambitions or those of your sister."

"Your daughter thrives in Erebor, Nirdan," Thorin assures him. "And she glows with Kili's attentions. They are well matched, which is to be expected considering Mahal carved them from the same piece of stone. You need not worry that my sister's desire for a union between our families will make her unhappy."

"I should have expected something like that," Nirdan admits, "with how adamant Dis has always been about the two of them."

"You didn't suspect at all?" Thorin asks in surprise and his companion shakes his head.

"Tir has always been good keeping secrets, hers and those of others too, I shouldn't be so surprised to learn that she has kept this close as well."

Their conversation comes to an end as the rest of the various lords of both councils join them.

"What news, Thorin," one of them demands. "We can see that you have brought repayment for the loans made upon your arrival here, and we have heard the rumours about the reclaiming of Erebor, but we have heard little else."

"You would hear more if you were with us in the mountain," Thorin replies, settling himself in a chair and gesturing for an ale.

The lords of the Council of Erebor glower at him, but having faced Azog in battle once more, having removed the white orc's head and being clad in a coat lined with the fur of the orc's warg Thorin finds their expressions almost comical. Once he has the ale in hand, however, he begins to recount the tale of how the mountain was won, glossing over a few details which might make things more difficult later. Those are aspects that can be covered once Thorin is in the mountain and in his place of absolute power.

"You cannot be serious!" One of the older council members exclaims when Thorin informs them that Fili and Arja are married.

"Have you ever known me to be otherwise?" Thorin asks, eyebrow raised as he glares at the silver-haired dwarf.

"Well it will have to be annulled," another adds. " Our approval was not sought, and we cannot have the future king wed to someone of common stock. "

"Your approval is neither wanted nor necessary," the king informs him. "I would not deny Fili the same happiness as Kili had found in the 'dam he is courting. Your job as my council is to advise, not to rule, you have become all too fond of the power you have gained here. If you wanted to keep it you should have returned to the mountain sooner." There are some angry mutters. "Besides, it was too late before the wedding took place. Mahal has smiled upon the union already, Arja is with child and will likely have born him into the world by the time I have returned to Erebor."

The room erupts with voices and Thorin sits back with his ale in hand to observe the chaos.

Chapter Text

Thorin continues to keep the various lords of the councils in Ered Luin off balance while he is there. From casually announcing that Fili has managed to improve Erebor's relationship with the Woodland Realm, to informing them that Kili is also courting, to telling them about the progress of their efforts to rebuild with the aid of the people of Dale who have been welcomed into the mountain against the harsh winters three years in a row. Very few of them seem to know how to process the fact that so much has been accomplished without any input from the council at all. Nor do they seem all that happy that many of the decisions have been those that they might not have approved of. Dwarves, as a rule, are insular. They dislike approaching the other races for help, or needing to rely on them at all, but if the quest has taught Thorin anything it is that without the help of Men, hobbits and even the elves Erebor would have been lost forever and the orcs would have gained a stronger foothold in the north. Not to mention that if not for a single hobbit, who had seemed so timid and useless at the beginning, the Company would never have made it as far as the Lonely Mountain in any case. He does not, however, tell them about his relationship with Bilbo.

This is not because he is ashamed of the hobbit, far from it. Thorin would gladly climb to the top of Erebor so that he could shout his love for Bilbo loudly enough for all to hear. It is simply that Ered Luin, so far from his place of security and power, was not the place to go announcing this. Thorin has no qualms about the fact that his One is a hobbit, but there are those who will even though Bilbo is no threat to the line of succession. A line that will soon be secured by the arrival of Fili and Arja's child. Most of the council won't care, the fact that Bilbo had been brave enough to leave his home in an attempt to help Thorin's people to retrieve theirs will be enough. The ones who will have a problem with Bilbo, however, are the ones who are calling for Fili's marriage to be annulled, or talking about finding Thorin a bride quickly so that he has time to sire a more suitable heir. They are the ones that Thorin wants to watch out for and they are the ones he would rather tell when they are in Erebor where Nori and his rapidly growing network of spies can keep an eye on them.

He returns to the Shire from Ered Luin feeling vaguely triumphant, but also knowing that as soon as spring comes he will have to make his way back to Erebor with some haste. The lords who have lingered in the Blue Mountains have realised what a mistake that has been, and while they will not sacrifice their comfort to make the journey in winter they will not waste any further time in making their way back the the Lonely Mountain and attempting to claw back the power that they have lost. If Thorin isn't there when they arrive it will make the job all too easy for them and that isn't something he is prepared to risk. If he thought that Bilbo would cope with the journey he would try and convince the hobbit to leave the Shire now, rather than wait until the first signs of spring, but hobbits are more fragile than dwarves and he will not risk the life and health of his One.

It is long dark by the time Thorin and Dwalin reach Bag End. They probably should have stopped hours before and waited until the following day to reach their destination but Thorin was not the only one eager to get back. Dwalin has missed Nori as much as Thorin has missed Bilbo. It would also appear that the sentiment is true of the two who had remained in the Shire, although Thorin could have cheerfully lived the rest of his life without catching a glimpse of Nori's enthusiastic greeting of his husband. Then Bilbo has tugged him inside and is just as happily greeting him and Thorin forgets to care.

The following morning, clean of the road and with the urgency of reuniting behind them, the four gather in Bilbo's kitchen while the hobbit bustles around the stove creating a proper breakfast for them all. There is a pleasing plumpness to Bilbo now, one that Thorin would not have disappear again even though he knows that it must during their trip back to Erebor no matter how many extra supplies they take with them.

"When can we leave?" Bilbo asks as he sets breakfast before them all. 

"As soon as the weather warms a little," Thorin says, "provided your affairs have been settled by then."

"My affairs were settled a week after you left," the hobbit sniffs. "I haven't asked him how, and I rather suspect I don't want to know, but Nori managed to find proof that the Sackville-Bagginses knew I was alive in Erebor and would return before summer's end. He brought it to the attention of the Thain and the Mayor, who have been arguing over my case, and it was settled very quickly after that. Especially once word of Lobelia's actions were spread around town."

"Then we shall depart as soon as winter ends," Thorin smiles widely.

"If it's all the same, I'd rather start sooner," Bilbo replies. "I fear the longer I stay the harder it will be to go when the time comes. I know you are perfectly capable of travelling through the winter and I am keeping you from your own duties enough as it is."

"Winter travel is hard, Kurdel," Thorin warns Bilbo. "My people are hardy, as we were created to be, there is no shame in the fact that your people are less so. We can wait, as we had planned."

"Hobbits are hardy enough when they need to be," comes the objection.

"Bilbo," Thorin's voice is a low warning, but he can already see that his hobbit is determined that they will not spend winter in the Shire.

Bilbo glares back at him and out of the corner of his eye he can see Dwalin dip his chin to hide his amused smirk. The days when Bilbo was intimidated by any of the Company are long gone and while Thorin would never wish to see the hobbit nervous in his presence again it would make convincing him to wait until spring easier. There are other considerations, however, beyond Bilbo's ability to cope with the cold of the journey (something they can prepare for and work around in any case). Departing in spring, even if it is with the first thaw, will, at best, put them a week or two ahead of the lords who will be returning to Erebor. It will mean that they will have to rush ahead as much as possible and push hard if they are to beat the caravan to the mountain and foil any attempts at trying the seize power from the royal family (not that Dis and Balin would allow it). It is as unappealing an option as travelling through winter and, in truth, the more Thorin has thought on it the less he has liked it.

"It will not be easy," Dwalin says. "And once we leave we are committed, there will be nowhere warm to go so that we can wait until the weather improves."

"I'm aware," Bilbo's reply is short. "Nori and I have discussed it at length. I am ready to leave the Shire, Fosco is ready to take possession of the place and I would rather be far from here before the Sackville-Bagginses come up with something new. I want to go home, Thorin. I want to see our friends and go back to our bed in our rooms. Please."

It is with a sinking feeling that Thorin discovers he is incapable of saying 'no' to Bilbo when he asks in that tone.

Chapter Text

Winter travel, Thorin decides, is horrendous. They do end up stopping in Rivendell for a few days, much to his irritation, Dwalin noting the promise of a blizzard on the horizon as they leave the Trollshaws. The elves treat them well, for all the chaos the Company caused the last time Thorin was in the valley, ensuring that they are all well fed and warmed. Bilbo, of course, putters around the warm halls chattering with various elves (especially Elrond) and generally keeping the peace when his dwarven companions inevitably do something that the elves might find offensive. He also does the opposite, ensuring that the elves don't deliberately make things uncomfortable where he can. Still, even though the mountain crossing is freezing and the four of them spend their nights in a pile to try and conserve warmth, Thorin is still happy to be out of Rivendell. Relations between Erebor and the Hidden Valley will have to be improved at some point, but not by him. Kili is still struggling a little bit with the restrictions upon him in the mountain, and he gets along well enough with elves. Once he and Tir are married Thorin will send the pair of them to Rivendell as part of a diplomatic envoy. Another thing which will likely make the council burst into flames.

The trip through the Misty Mountains is miserable, the cold wind and snow more biting than the storm they endured on the way to Erebor the first time, but their trip through Mirkwood is a vast improvement upon their original journey. Thranduil doesn't invite them into his halls, but Thorin doesn't expect it even though it should be considered the height of rudeness. He would rather avoid interacting with the elf king if he can help it, he has little desire to undo all the hard work that Fili has put into the tentative peace between them. Besides, he would rather be in the mountain, even though spring has come it is wet and miserable still, than take shelter elsewhere. Bilbo, too, is eager to reach the mountain, keenly feeling the time he has been away and the events that he has missed. Arja must have given birth by now and Thorin is eager to meet the next heir to the throne.

"What if the baby is a girl?" Bilbo asks curiously. Throughout the journey Thorin, Dwalin and Nori have referred to the child as 'he' without fail.

"It isn't likely," Thorin replies. "There are so few 'dams born in every generation that the chances of Fili's first child being a daughter are miniscule. My sister was the first daughter born to the elder line in four generations. It is unlikely there will be another so soon."

Nori's face, however, takes on a gleam that Thorin has come to recognise well. The spymaster is a gambler and he rarely loses. Thorin has learnt never to bet against him. Most of the Company has, although Bofur will always take his chances. Dwalin shakes his head at his husband, but Nori turns gleaming eyes on Bilbo and Thorin knows what the next words out of his mouth are going to be. Sure enough, Nori offers Bilbo odds on a bet. To Thorin's surprise Bilbo accepts it, stating that he is certain that Fili's first child will be a daughter with a level of assurance that makes Thorin wonder if the hobbit knows something that the rest of them don't.

"My question still stands, Thorin," Bilbo says, ignoring Nori's mocking smirk. "What if Fili's first born is a girl?"

"She would be next in line for the throne until he had a son," Thorin shrugs, "as I imagine it is among Men and hobbits as well."

Bilbo nods and they continue on in companionable silence as the great gates finally come into view. Several ravens fly overhead and they watch as the large birds make their way to the mountain. In the distance Thorin can hear the sound of horns alerting the inhabitants that they have been spotted, likely informed of their identity by the ravens, and as they come closer a small contingent ride out to meet them.

"You're early!" He hears his sister shout when she is close enough.

"Bilbo insisted," Thorin replies. "He was ready to ride off without us." His sister laughs.

"Welcome back, Master Baggins," she smiles, "I trust this is the last time you will inflict us with my ill tempered brother in your absence."

"I was rather under the impression that was his usual mood," Bilbo replies glibly and Dis laughs.

"Love hasn't blinded you, then," she says. "Come, Fili will be thrilled to see you back so soon."

Dis remains frustratingly close lipped about Fili's child as they enter the mountain, apparently content to let her son introduce them to the future of the mountain. Which is as it should be. Thorin is happy enough to look about as they leave their ponies with a guard and move deeper into the mountain. He has been gone a little less than a year but Fili has achieved a great deal in that time. The restoration has continued at a greater pace than Thorin had expected and the markets are clearly fully open, where before they were slightly more crowded together, now they are spread out a little bit more and the stands are easier to move between.

"He's done well, nadad," Dis says, following the direction of his gaze and correctly interpreting his thoughts. "He isn't entirely ready to be king, but he's far closer to it than I would have thought before he left on the quest. I worry about him, Thorin. He says the strangest things, sometimes, and he's so much more serious these days."

"The crown is heavy," Thorin replies, but her words bring his own concerns back to the fore.

"You know as well as I that I had concerns about him before you left," she hisses. "He won't talk to me."

"Nor I," he sighs. "Perhaps he will relax now that I have returned, and now that he has had a taste of what it means to wear the crown we will see a return of his old self."

His sister shakes her head but doesn't reply. Thorin knows it is an impossible dream, he doesn't think for a second that the changes Fili has shown are fleeting or temporary. Something happened to the boy during the quest, something has changed him and Thorin realises that he cannot continue to ignore those changes any longer. He needs to know what has happened to his sister's son.

For the moment, however, the subject is put to one side as they enter the royal wing and make their way to the sitting room they all share. None of them have any desire to rest or wash the dirt of the road from themselves beyond a quick dust down with a brush before entering the room. Thorin has waited months for this moment, it has been the reason that the four of them had ploughed through snow, rain and wind to get back to mountain that little bit faster. Even Thorin had been tempted by the warmth and comfort of Rivendell. Fili and Arja are waiting for them in the sitting room, and Fili's face almost melts with relief when he sees his uncle enter. He has obviously just come from court, still wearing his heavy robes and ruby and gold circlet. He looks tired, but whether it is the tiredness of the crown or of being a new parent Thorin could not say.

"Uncle," he breathes. It has been far too long since Fili addressed him so, preferring to use his name, and Thorin finds it hits him hard to hear the affection there.

"Thorin," Arja nods to him, her arms cradling a wriggling bundle. She also looks exhausted, which is definitely a result of being a new parent. "Would you like to hold her?" She asks.

"Her?" Nori exclaims and Fili grins, lifting his daughter from his wife's arms to bring her to his uncle.

"Her," he confirms proudly. Bilbo beams at him and bounces on his toes happily. "Thorin, may I present my daughter, Maja."

He takes the dwarfling in his arms gently, it has been an age since he has held a child so small and he almost fears that he will drop her. Blue eyes stare back up at him, a picture of calm contentment, and he finds himself as enthralled by this child as he was when he first held Fili and Kili. A daughter. He already knows that she will be spoiled, all daughters are, but it is a sign of very great favour for Fili to be so blessed with a child not only so rapidly but for that child to be female. Those of the council who were still making noise about annulling the marriage won't find any support within Erebor at all, Thorin realises. That can only be a good thing.

A tiny hand weaves into his hair and he truly realises, for the first time, that the future of his people is secure.