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The Courtship

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Oh dear, Bilba thought and barely kept herself from gawking yet only by slapping a hand over her mouth. He’s gorgeous.

And that was how Bilba Baggins, bachelorette extraordinaire – quite literally so even though her apple tart could woo any man – and owner of a lavishly decorated yet very empty Bag End, met Kili, the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen.

Suddenly life as an un-married woman lost its interest and it was by the power of sheer stubbornness that she didn’t blush as red as her tomatoes when she welcomed Kili – and, of course, his brother – into her house.

She’d known straight away he would turn her world upside down.

---

They’d been traveling for a bit over a week and Bilba was very grateful to be sitting, even if it was on a log rather than her comfortable reading chair.

At least she had warm food in her hands – quite tasteless though, but she daren’t comment as she might be glared to an early grave for that – and surrounded by joyful conversation.

The dwarves had turned out to be good company – unbelievably rude around the edges with manners worse than pigs and all that hair but quite exciting and fun, too – and were growing on her as quick as weeds on a garden.

She had to admit, though, that she didn’t mind.

Being alone had, in the end, just been being alone and even though it was hard to admit she had felt lonely with her books, shying away from others because she’d thought herself different. She wasn’t even sure if that was true anymore. But somewhere along the way she’d passed the point where she felt comfortable going out and socialize. Perhaps if she had gone out she would have found a world that was very different from the one in her head. Where women weren’t Lobelia and where men didn’t want her just for her fortune.

Perhaps.

She’d never find out now that she was traveling with dwarves across Middle Earth.

You should get out more, the Old Took had told her not too long ago.

Perhaps he hadn’t meant for her to take the words quite this literally.

Suddenly around her the dwarves roared with laughter.

She startled – almost spilling her stew over her hands – and looked around with slightly wide eyes.

An amused smile fell over her lips though at the other’s laughter. Then, she saw Kili’s dark glare at Dwalin and she wondered what happened.

She curiously watched the company – not Kili, mind you! She would surely blush – for any sign of what had been said.

“Yeah, now that’s a pretty look on ya!” Dwalin laughed.

Kili’s glare intensified. “Pretty?” He demanded.

“Well that’s what ya are. Pretty as an elf!” Dwalin continued, smirk getting wider as he got many of the company voicing their agreement.

Bilba, though, was confused. “Pretty as an elf?” She asked, a frown marring her features.

The entire company looked at her and then Bofur, sitting on her right, chuckled. “Well, he’s hardly Dori now is he?”

Bilba’s frown deepened. “Dori?” Why was Bofur comparing Kili to Dori? Kili was the most handsome man she had ever seen and Dori was perhaps prim and proper but he wasn’t handsome by far.

Bofur looked slightly confused. “Yes, of course.”

“Why?”

On the other side of the campfire, Kili let out an annoyed sigh. “Because Dori is one of the most handsome dwarves around and I’m… not.” He pointed out, sounding resigned.

Bilba frowned for a second and then burst out laughing.

The entire company looked at her and Kili huffed and crossed his arms in front of his chest, muttering something which she didn’t understand.

She grinned at Kili and waved a hand at him. “Oh, that’s funny.”

Kili frowned and, underneath that, looked slightly hurt. “Funny?” He asked, voice wavering.

“It’s not?” Bilba asked and then understanding dawned upon her. Her eyes widened and she gasped. “You’re not joking!” She cried, looking around to see if she could get a confirmation from the others.

“Completely serious.” Bofur said with a nod.

On her other side, Ori chuckled. “I think we just found another cultural difference.”

Bilba gave him an amused look. The two had been trying to find out what cultural differences there were between hobbits and dwarves and there were quite a few! “Indeed!” She said and sent Dori a quick glance before turning back to Ori. “So Dori is… uhm.”

Ori chuckled. “Very handsome.”

“Oh.” Bilba nodded and glanced at Dori again. His broad posture, beard and braids and then that nose. She didn’t see it at all.

“So for hobbits it’s different?” Kili’s voice drifted over, curious eyes set on Bilba.

Biba nodded and averted her eyes. She thought for a moment before admitting: "It’s… quite the opposite in fact.”

“Really?” Dwalin asked with a laugh.

“Yes." Bilba replied with a firm nod. Cultural differences were understandable but it was almost like they were trying to make a joke out of how Kili looked! That was, in her opinion, unacceptable and she wouldn't be Bilba Baggins if she wasn't going to put Dwalin in his place - or well, at least a little bit, he was still awfully intimidating, after all. "To any hobbit Kili is quite good looking.” She pointed out quite sharply, more perhaps so than she had intended for but she just felt it was unfair Kili was being teased so.

“Quite?” Bofur teased with a smirk.

Bilba made a soft noise, feeling the heat in her cheeks intensify and she was sure it was now all the way up her ears and down her neck! She hated how she always got so easily embarrassed and flustered.

“Look at the little missus, all red like a tomato!” Dwalin laughed.

“Well, that is…” She started, twirling a loose thread between her fingers and thinking of a way to say this without embarrassing herself even more.

“He’s not just a bit good looking to hobbits, is he?” Ori – shy and soft-spoken what a joke! – asked with a grin.

She wanted to deny it. Oh how she wanted to for she wasn’t sure if she could ever live down the embarrassment! But when she glanced at Kili she saw he was looking at her so excitedly and filled with hope. She just couldn’t let him down.

“He isn’t.” She admitted and oh how she hated the feeling of her entire face being ablaze by that blasted blush! “When I opened my door… well, I don’t think there is any lass back home that wouldn’t marry you.”

The company roared with laughter and Fili actually patted his brother on the back, saying that Kili wouldn’t have to worry about finding a wife if he could have every hobbit lass around.

Kili, though, looked star-struck and was watching Bilba with a new curiosity in his eyes.

Feeling his eyes on her she lowered hers and fidgeted with her trousers.

If only she was at least a little bit attractive to dwarves, she thought wistfully.

---

A few days later she was walking with Bofur when suddenly Kili joined them.

He greeted them with an happy grin and easily fell into step with the two – who were at the back because Bilba wasn’t going to run, thank you very much.

“You keeping up?” Kili asked, a genuinely interested expression on his face rather than the teasing or mockery she found in the others.

“Oh yes, quite well.” She nodded and chuckled. “Us hobbits can do anything if we set our minds to it.” She proudly said, exaggerating slightly but it wasn’t that far from the truth.

“Really? So lot’s of stamina?” Kili asked, voice taking on a more teasing note this time.

“What!” Bilba cried, flushing bright red and feeling like she was melting. He didn’t just say that, did he? Lots of stamina? She felt like fainting or fanning herself!

Next to her, Bofur had burst out laughing. “Don’t say such things, you’ll embarrass the lass!”

Bilba huffed softly at that, right as Bofur was she still had part of her dignity! “Well, we do have lots of stamina.” She admitted, even though her face was on fire. She then glanced at Kili and, feeling very daring – because wasn’t this considered flirting? She definitely thought so! – softly murmured: “Who knows, you might find out.”

Kili made a shocked noise, halting in his tracks and looking at Bilba with wide eyes and a small flush settling on his own cheeks.

Bofur, meanwhile, howled so loudly with laughter that the entire company paused to curiously look at them.

“What’s going on there?” Gloin asked, looking suspiciously between the three.

“Nothing.” Bilba quickly said and with quick steps started walking again, passing by some others of the company. When she felt their eyes on her she huffed at them. “Nothing. Now I think we should keep on walking, we don’t have all day.”

In the end, they did continue walking although everyone kept asking her what had happened and she was quite sure Kili was burning holes in her back.

She liked that quite a bit.

---

“So do you have anyone waiting for you back home?” Bofur asked her one evening as they had settled down for the night, dinner had been eaten and they were just relaxing a bit before retiring.

Bilba, taken by surprise only needed a second before she laughed – she’s laughed questions about marriage and love away for so long now the hurt only barely simmers through. “What do you think?”

Bofur gave her a sideways glance and winked, smirk on his lips. “Pretty lass such as yerself? I’d wager you do.”

Bilba pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow. “You think I would have left my home on a journey I might not ever return from if I did?” The mere idea of leaving behind a significant other for a journey like this was absolutely preposterous! If only for the fact how utterly scandalous it was for her to be here in the first place! One could think she was up to things far less honorable than she really was…

Bofur looked quite sheepish as he said: “Ah, fair point.”

“So no-one?” Asked Nori, smirk on his lips as his eyes rested on Bilba.

“Obviously not.” She replied, raising her chin just a tiny bit. Gosh were these dwarves noisy! They asked more questions than any hobbit and were far from discreet about it.

“Not even a crush?” Fili frowned.

“Not even that.” She admitted before she could stop herself, feeling quite pathetic. She averted her eyes and mumbled: “It wouldn’t work anyway.” Which was quite true albeit a very, very short version of the truth.

Then the question she had been dreading came in the form of Ori’s curious eyes and soft voice wondering: “But why?”

She huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Because I do not wish for someone that wants me merely because of my wealth.” She might not have a lot of standards, but love was at least one of them! And then she meant love for her, not her money.

“Oh c’mon lass, that’s probably not the only reason anyone’d want ya.” Dwalin said from his seat across the fire.

Bilba couldn’t help the small, grateful smile that came to her lips for coming from Dwalin, they were kind and perhaps even complimentary words. When she started her explanation, though, her eyes turned sad and her voice reserved. “Hobbits are quite different from Dwarves. We do not fight, we do not have adventures. We live peacefully with the three most important things in our lives being food, money and propriety. And while my father was of one of the most respected families, my mother was not and I take after her in more than just looks.” She trailed off at the end.

Dwalin was quick to ask, sounding almost dangerously disappointed in the entire race of hobbits. “So it’s ‘cause ye’re not respectable ‘nough they dun’t want ya?”

Bilba scrunched up her nose. “Yes.” She firmly nodded and then let out an exasperated sigh. That was just how hobbits were and she alone wasn’t going to change that. She had learned that long ago. “Just shows I’ll be a bachelorette forever.”

“Because?” Kili asked with a hopeful frown.

“Because hobbits aren’t for me and aside from all of you, well, there is little I know of the world.” She shrugged and tried not to look at Kili. Surely he was a good catch – a great one knowing the personality behind the looks, too – but that was just something that didn’t happen.

Not to her.

“You can always marry one of us.” Ori said, giving her a knowing smile.

Bilba flushed at his look – even more so when she dared to glance at Kili and saw him glare at Ori.

That couldn’t mean what she thought it did, right?

But as the rest of the company laughed and Gloin started boasting about his own marriage her eyes lingered on Kili, hopeful.

What you want can only be found in story-books. Her mind tells her. She tries to ignore it, to not let it down her mood. Kili could be interested, couldn’t he?

By then, the others had all started up their own conversations.

All but Kili.

His eyes were still fixed upon her, soft and curious.

That was when she made her decision.

She was going to court Kili.

Most likely it would end in disaster, but at least she’d tried.

---

Courting on the road proved to be quite difficult.

“What’s the first step for hobbits?” Ori asked her during their trek a day later.

“Invite him over for a home-cooked meal.” Bilba replied softly and sighed in frustration. “I can’t do that on the road.”

Ori frowned for a moment. “You could just cook for him.” He offered.

Bilba huffed. “I’d like to not be so obvious to the rest of the company.” She still had her dignity, after all, and in case of rejection she’d rather not have everyone know.

“You could bring him his food?” Ori asked, obviously not having any ideas he found good enough.

Bilba considered the idea for a moment and then brightened. “You know, that’s not a bad idea!” She said. She still had some spices and herbs with her and if she added that to a bowl just for Kili it would count as courting.

Her courting anyone! Oh, how her mother would have laughed.

 

That evening, Bilba offered to help out Bombur by bringing everyone their food. Bombur was grateful for the help and Bilba was happy with the subtle opportunity.

She made sure that Kili got his bowl as one of the last, so it was still warm and added some spices she thought fit the dish well.

“Here you are.” She handed Kili the bowl with a small blush.

“Thank you.” Kili grinned and Bilba felt happy and relieved.

During dinner she kept a close, hopeful eye on Kili, waiting for a sign he accepted.

Halfway through dinner, Fili put down his bowl to get something from his pack. Kili, who hadn’t been paying attention, turned to speak with his uncle, accidentally knocking over his brother’s bowl.

“Hey, watch it!” Fili cried in vain, for his food was already spread over the forest ground.

“Shit, I’m sorry!” Kili cried. “Here, take mine. I’ve barely had anything. I’ll go clean your bowl and take the left-overs.” He said, holding out his bowl for Fili.

Bilba gasped. Her entire body froze and she felt her hands shake.

Either Kili didn’t know what was going on or she was being rejected in the kindest way possible.

It hurt.

Especially so when Fili took the offered food and Ori shot her a pitiful glance.

Kili retrieved the fallen bowl from the ground and made his way over to the almost empty cooking pot.

“Hey!” Fili cried suddenly around a mouthful of stew. “Why does yours taste better than mine? It’s a completely different stew!” He complained.

At the pot, Kili’s eyes widened and for a fleeting moment he looked at Bilba in wonder.

Bilba had never felt more relieved in her life.

At least she wasn’t rejected, she thought, if the clueless look on Kili’s face as anything to go by.

---

“That went well!” Ori commented the next day.

Bilba laughed. “You think?” She didn’t think so! She’d barely slept, thinking about it way too much. “The outcome wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Ori huffed and shook his head. “You make it sound so dull. I thought it was quite romantic.”

Bilba blinked, feeling stunned. That had been romantic? Oh dear, these dwarves certainly had different standards of romance than the average hobbit!

“So, what’s the next step?” Ori asked with a grin. He obviously enjoyed this.

Bilba, trying very hard not to blush which she found quite hard with the subject, said: “Give him a bouquet of flowers.” Oh who would have ever thought she would be talking with courtship with anyone – let alone a dwarf – and that the courtship was hers! She surely hadn’t, thinking that the ship had sailed long ago. But here she was and she felt so flustered and nervous about the entire ordeal.

“Flowers?” Ori asked, sounding absolutely delighted. “Even more romantic! And very convenient, too. He’d surely know they’re from you.”

Bilba nodded, feeling at least happy for that. But she still worried. Whether Kili knew they were from her or not, was hardly the greatest concern! She sighed mournfully and shoved her hands in her pockets – who would have thought trousers were this handy! “I can’t do it, Ori. It’s too difficult.”

Ori frowned. “Too difficult to give flowers?”

Bilba rolled her eyes with a heave sigh. “It’s more than that. The flowers you pick need to have the right meaning. Not only won’t I be able to find any flowers at all, I hardly think Kili will understand what they mean!”

“True.” Ori nodded and looked sympathetic even though he probably didn’t really see the problem. “But if you leave him flowers he’ll know they’re from you. It’s probably not up to hobbit standards but isn’t that good enough? We can hardly do more…”

Bilba hesitated. Ori was right, a bit. There was nothing else she could do and she would get points for just trying, right?

“But he won’t know how to respond…”

Ori grinned. “If you tell me how I could drop him a few hints.”

Bilba brightened considerably. If Ori did that then this could definitely work! “All right, it’s the best we can do I suppose. And as long as no-one back home finds out I’m sure no-one will mind.” She paused and laughed. “Oh no, half will mind that he’s a dwarf no matter how we courted and the other half will just be happy I finally got off of my arse and found myself a husband.”

Ori looked at her, expression a mix of humor and pity.

She sighed. “That’s sort of pathetic, isn’t it?”

“What is?” The merry, curious voice of Bofur joined the conversation.

Bilba startled for a moment before realizing it was just Bofur that had joined them and not Kili.

“Nothing.” She told him with a wave of her hand.

Ori, however, seemed to think differently about including Bofur in the conversation. “We were just talking of her courtship with Kili.”

“Ori!” Bilba exclaimed.

“How is that going?” Bofur asked and fell into step with Bilba, who was looking at him with big eyes?

“You know?” She asked, appalled, and turned to Ori with a frown. “You told him?”

Ori looked a bit guilty. Then, he softly admitted: “He asked. And besides, we could use the extra help, right?”

Bilba hesitated for a moment, too caught up in the thought that to hobbits, courting was a private affair. “You’re right.” She finally admitted.

“That’s… good.” Ori nodded with a sigh. “So, how do hobbits rejoinder?”

“Quite easily, actually. You just give a gift of your own which can be whatever you want as long as some thought went into the gift.”

“So, a thoughtful gift.” Ori nodded and turned to Bofur. “You think we can manage to let Kili know that if you’re being courted by a hobbit you answer with a gift?”

Bofur chuckled. “Even he should be able to grasp that!”

Chapter Text

The next day found Bilba gathering flowers before the company was to set out.

Both Ori and Bofur had offered their help but she’d refused. This was something she wanted to do alone. Although it was getting quite frustrating, with the lack of flowers she found. She’d collected only a few and after a while decided she’d pick the rest along that days journey. It was best not to rouse too much suspicion by disappearing for long periods of time.

 

Throughout the day she collected two more different types of flowers with some help of Ori’s keen eyes.

That night, when everyone was laughing and signing at the fire she sat on her bedroll. She retrieved one of the few ribbons she had taken with her and bound the white silk around the stems of the flowers.

Then, when as promised Bofur made some jokes that drew the attention of the entire company, she tip-toed over to Kili’s bedroll and placed her bouquet on top of it.

She joined the company and sat down next to Ori, fidgeting nervously until she was asked for a story about the Shire, which she was happy to tell.

When they retired that night, she was one of the first to leave the fire for her bed.

She couldn’t stay and wait like she had the night before. She wouldn’t be able to stand the nerves.

Not long after she buried herself in her blanket did she hear Kili and Fili retire.

She held her breath and closed her eyes, praying for a positive reaction.

Suddenly, though, she heard Kili sneeze.

And again.

And again.

“Kee, you okay?” Fili asked.

Bilba felt her heart sink and wished she were asleep already!

“It’s these –” another sneeze “flowers.” Kili sniffed. A sneeze followed the statement. “I think I’m allergic.”

“Then get rid of them.” Thorin grunted as Kili sneezed again.

When Fili said “yes uncle” and Kili sneezed again, Bilba prayed the ground would just swallow her whole.

She was doomed.

---

The next day Bilba was in a sour mood.

The mishap with the flowers hadn’t just cost her her courage to do any sort of courting, it had also cost her a night of sleep. She’d barely slept a wink, had tasteless cram for breakfast and she hadn’t even dared to look at Kili!

What must he think of her? She couldn’t even court him properly, how could she ever win him over?

She sighed and kicked a rock with a dark frown.

That probably wouldn’t happen anymore, with how bad she’d messed up last night.

Allergic! She really should have known, as a good lass ought to know such things about her intended.

“Bilba…” Bofur sounded hesitant as he walked next to her.

Bilba gave him a sideways look but didn’t say anything. Didn’t these dwarves know to leave an angry, disappointed woman alone?

“Come on.” Bofur said more cheerfully. “It’s not that bad.”

“Not that…” Bilba sputtered and paused in her steps to fully glare at Bofur. “He’s allergic.”

“Yes, but –”

“No, no. There is no but that can fix this.” Bilba shook her head. She dared a sad glance at Kili’s back and quickly lowered her eyes again. “I’m sure he won’t want to reproach the offer.” She shook her head and muttered: “I wish you hadn’t told him yet. I could live with that…”

Bofur snorted. “Nonsense! He’ll be the happiest dwarf alive to ‘ave ya.”

Bilba rolled yer eyes. Unluckiest, Bofur meant. “Yeah, right.”

Bofur nudged her side with his elbow and a grin. “Damn right.”

 

After that, Bilba let Bofur change the topic. He chattered away easily and when Ori joined their conversation not too much later, she almost forgot about her fiasco. It was simply the case of not looking at Kili. That way she wouldn’t be able to see the disappointment or humor in his eyes.

Courting.

She should’ve known it to be a bad idea.

---

The next morning Bilba woke up feeling less sour. Instead, she felt sad and resigned. The night before, Kili hadn’t approached her at all. It was unusual for him not to ask how she was or how that day’s trek had been. Instead, he’d sat next to his brother all night, whispering about something.

Bilba was certain they’d been talking about her and her pathetic attempt.

After a quick breakfast spent next to Bombur discussing much better breakfast options – if only they had the provisions – they prepared to leave.

Bilba went to retrieve her own pack only to pause when she neared it. Because there, on top of her pack, lay a small heap of rocks.

Rocks!

She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She really wasn’t in the mood for jokes! She thought, feeling irritated.

She stomped over to her pack and brushed the stones aside.

Granted, they did look nice – as far as stones went. All about the same size, quite round and smooth. They were still just stones in a heap, but at least they looked like someone picked up specific stones.

That thought did manage to bring her temper down. Perhaps someone was trying to cheer her up. It certainly wasn’t the way and if someone really thought a pile of rocks was the way to cheer a hobbit lass up then she desperately needed to change that.

Picking up her pack she shook her head again.

Rocks

 

“Are you all right?” Ori asked her worriedly. They hadn’t even walked for a quarter of an hour so he must have noticed her mood this morning.

Bilba sighed and shrugged. They were walking at the back of the group and behind them were Bofur and Bifur. There was no need to pretend. “I’ve been better.” She admitted and kicked a rock. “He hasn’t talked to me so I think it’s a lost cause.”

Was this was getting your heart broken felt like? How terribly inconvenient, that constant dull ache of rejection was.

Ori looked sad, too, when he asked: “He hasn’t?”

“No.” Bilba shook her head, lips pressed tightly against one another. “And I understand that someone wants to cheer me up, but to use rocks…”

Ori frowned. “Rocks?”

Bilba nodded. “Yes. This morning there was a pile of rocks on my pack.” She sighed and turned her eyes to Ori. “Rocks, Ori! I understand you dwarves are –” She stopped quite abruptly when she noticed Ori’s eyes had gone wide and placed a hand on her hip. “Oh now what?”

Ori hesitated for a moment and then almost cautiously asked: “What did they look like?”

“Rocks.” Bilba frowned. Then she remembered her musings of that morning. “Pretty rocks? Smooth pebbles, I think fits them well enough.”

“Oh.” Ori said and a small flush appeared on his cheeks. “S-sorry for asking… I really shouldn’t have.” He stuttered, looking quite embarrassed.

Bilba frowned. “Why not?”

“It’s very private, so asking about it is very improper.” Ori explained in a whisper. “Oh, if I’d known…”

“Known what?” Bilba crossed her arms in front of her chest with a frown. “Ori, what do those rocks mean?”

Ori meeped softly and fidgeted nervously with the edge of his sweater. “Considering we’re on the road and we haven’t seen a village in days to trade anything… I’m quite certain it’s a courting gift.”

The words hung between them as Bilba gaped at Ori, surprise clear on her face.

“Now way.” She breathed. That just couldn’t be possible, right? How could he want her? Especially after her disgrace!

But Ori looked so serious, happiness mixed in, so it had to be true!

“Did he see you throw the rocks away?” Ori asked.

Bilba hesitated, feeling her heart sink. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Ori shook his head. “You have to talk to him to find out.” He nudged her. “Go ask him.”

Bilba shrieked. “Now? In front of everyone?”

Ori hesitated. “Well…”

“No.” She shook her head. No matter how much Kili might hurt thinking she rejected him, she wasn’t going to do this in front of the entire company. She had a lot more dignity than that, thank you very much. Besides, she wasn’t even sure if Kili had seen.

“I’ll talk to him tonight.” She said.

Ori smiled. “Perfect.” He then sighed and with a happy chuckle said: “I’m sure this is the most romantic courtship that ever happened.”

Bilba laughed. “For dwarves, perhaps. To hobbits this would be plain embarrassing and disgraceful.”

“Psh.” Ori waved a hand. “As long as you give me every embarrassing and disgraceful detail to write down. This just needs to be written down for future generations.”

“So they can laugh?” Bilba huffed.

Ori shook his head. “Use it as a reference to real romance, of course.”

Bilba rolled her eyes. “Dwarves.”

---

That night, Bilba barely ate.

For the first time since the death of her parents, she simply couldn’t get herself to eat. Yet this time it wasn’t from grief, this time it was from the nervousness coursing through her.

She had her bowl in a tight grip, didn’t engage in conversation and just couldn’t stop herself from glancing at Kili every now and then.

She noticed, with dawning unease and a bone-deep sadness, that he purposefully didn’t look at her. He would raise his head but whenever his eyes lingered too close to her he would lower it again.

Oh, he’d definitely seen.

She took a deep breath and put down her bowl.

She wouldn’t eat any more anyway so perhaps now would be the time to talk to Kili.

When she stood up, Ori whispered “good luck” and Bofur sent her an encouraging smile.

The comfort her friends confidence gave her was enough to give her the energy to walk towards Kili, sitting next to his brother as always, with her head raised.

Her steps faltered slightly when she neared the two. At Kili’s panicked eyes and Fili’s almost angry frown. But after a breath she kept walking, reminder herself that Kili hurt now like she did before.

This culture-differences thing might have been interesting at first when talking with Ori, but truly it was only an annoying obstacle right now.

She stood awkwardly in front of the brothers for a moment, gathering courage, before speaking in a much steadier voice than expected. “Could I maybe talk to you for a moment?” She asked and, after glancing around and seeing the entire company watching them – some with frowns, others with not-so-secret smiles – added under hear breath: “In private.”

Kili blinked and was about to reply when his brother did it for him.

“I think tonight’s not a good time.” Fili said, words carefully chosen and eyes like daggers.

Bilba huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. She gave him an un-impressed look. “I think that’s none of your business.” She then looked at Kili and her eyes softened and her tightly pressed lips loosened into a sad smile. “Please?” She asked and dropped her arms so she could give in and fidget with the edges of her overcoat. “I think there is a misunderstanding.”

Kili looked stricken for a moment. Then, though, his eyes turned hopeful and his voice was softy when he asked: “Really?”

Bilba’s heart clenched at the expression on the other’s face. Oh, how fond she had become of him! So much that all she wanted was to wrap him in her arms, brush his hair and tell him that it was all a big mistake. That they were both such idiots!

So she smiled, and with eyes filled with promise nodded. “Really.”

Kili nodded and even though his eyes lit up, he still looked nervous when they walked off together.

They didn’t go far, they even stayed in the clearing but Bilba did make sure they were out of ear-shot and in relative dark. It wasn’t all that private, but probably all they could get at this point.

“So…” She started, feeling nervous now herself, which was ridiculous, really! She knew what to say, she knew what Kili felt and that should make this easy.

But for some reason it wasn’t.

Kili, however, didn’t know exactly how Bilba felt. So when Bilba didn’t speak he lowered his eyes. “So, I saw you throw away the stones.”

“I didn’t –” Bilba started but faltered.

Kili’s head shot up, a frown on his face.

“Well, I did.” Bilba sighed and then shook her head. “But I didn’t know what they meant. I mean, I thought someone was cheering me up because…” She trailed off and now it was her that turned her eyes away. Fools they were indeed, for hurting each other.

“Because?”

Bilba swallowed. Admitting the idiocy that had been her courting attempt wasn’t something she was happy doing. “Because I thought I’d made a complete fool out of myself.” She shook her head and without really wanting to pour all of it out, her frustration just left her in the form of a waterfall of words. “Because I was fool enough to think I could court you. On the road no less! I should have known it to be a disaster for what do you know of hobbit courting? Badly done, at that!” She sighed. “I set a horrible example of myself and my person and when you ignored me after the flower fiasco I thought you would not wish to return courting me.”

Oh, she had tears in her eyes and felt horrible now! Which wasn’t at all necessary, because Ori had said the rocks were a courting gift and Kili’s behavior implied exactly the same.

But she couldn’t help herself now that she started, even though she wished she wouldn’t hiccup and that those fat tears weren’t rolling down her cheeks.

“Bilba…” Kili whispered and before Bilba could think he had her in his arms.

He was big and warm around her, his chin resting on the top of her head, one of his strong arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him while his other hand settled against the nape of her neck.

“No, Bilba, no…” He whispered softly. “Never. I would never chose to not return your courting gifts. With rubies, emeralds, gold and mithril if I could! Anything more precious than a few stones.”

“Kili…” Bilba breathed, voice filled with wonder and love and she pressed her shaking hands against his back, leaning fully into his embrace. “Me too. I would do better too. Cook you a proper meal, a family recipe. The flowers might be difficult since you’re allergic, but I’ll make-do.”

At her last words, Kili chuckled. “I knew they were from you. Gave Fili an ear-full when I found out he’d thrown them away. Even though I was allergic…” He trailed off and then silence fell between them for a moment.

Then, however, Kili pulled back a little and looked her in the eyes. His own expression was so loving and tender it almost made her swoon and she wondered how a gorgeous, brave dwarf like Kili could look upon her like that. What had she done to deserve that?

“Courting is going to be difficult.” Kili said. “I don’t know the ways of hobbits and you don’t know our ways. And I cannot ask to court you in the ways of my people for I don’t have the resources nor would you know what I meant with my offer. So I will instead ask with words we both understand.” He stroked the hand he had on the nape of her neck to her cheek, cupping it in his palm and giving her a smile that made her legs tremble and her poor heart almost falter. “Bilba Baggins, I think you are the most beautiful, brave and sweetest woman I have ever met, dwarf or no, and I would be honored if you would accept my suit, as I would be the happiest dwarf alive to accept yours.”

She had tears in her eyes the moment Kili finished.

Never would she have imagined to find love like this! Never would she have thought that leaving the shelter of her home meant she would lose her heart to a dwarf. And while she knew from the moment she saw him that Kili would turn her world upside down, this certainly went beyond what she could ever have dreamt of!

“I would be honored too, Kili.” She said and her voice sounded muffled because she was sniffling now. “That’s the nicest and sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. And coming from you, so handsome and perfect, I just…” She leaned forward then, burying her face in his chest and her voice was muffled when she murmured: “I am so happy now.”

Kili laughed, and if it sounded like one of relief Bilba didn’t say anything. She could very well imagine they both were. “Good, that’s good.” He said and wove his hand through her curls. “Could I put a braid in your hair later?” He asked. “It is the way how we show intent. I would clasp it with one of my own clasps and every dwarf who’d see it would know we are courting.”

Bilba felt warm and fuzzy at the thought of everyone knowing she, in a way, belonged to Kili. She tilted her head to give him a blinding smile. “Of course.”

“Thank you,” Kili breathed and leaned his head down so his fore-head was touching hers. Their eyes caught and Kili grinned. “As I said before, I don’t know anything about hobbit courting. But I wonder, would it be very improper for me to kiss you now?”

She replied by standing on her tip-toes and pressing her lips to his.

And when his hand slid in her hair and he kissed her back, she was convinced she’d found perfection.